21 Days Later…

Originally posted January 22, 2012 (before the disaster)

 

As I mentioned in my Writing Goals post, I want to make writing more of a daily habit.

 

This means, among other things, that I need to write… daily.

 

Wow, I’m the master of the obvious, no?

 

Anyway, conventional wisdom says that it takes 21 days to make something a habit.  Although my goal was to dedicate 3 nights per week to writing, I’m happy to report that, so far in 2012, I have written (at least a little) every day!  And at least three nights per week have been even more dedicated to writing (i.e. – a minimum of one hour in front of the keyboard).

 

I’d say that I’m well on the way to making writing a firm habit.  Most days, I’ve even been excited to sit down in front of the computer, to see where my muse will take me (a feeling I can’t remember having in the last year or so!).  Even though she abandoned me, I still feel her influence.

 

I’m super excited about (most of) the stories I’m working on right now, and hope to use them to enter some contests. Time will tell, I suppose!

On Muses and Musing

Originally posted January 15, 2012 (before the disaster)

 

 

My muse seems to have abandoned me.

 

It’s hard for me to admit, and yet it’s true.  I haven’t had many “good” story ideas in quite some time, and now that I’m actively looking for new content to write (both for short stories/novels and for this blog) it seems to be even more difficult to come up with something that feels worthy of my time.

 

I’m trying not to let it worry me… not to force it… but the clock is ticking and the pressure is starting to mount.  I need to come up with something soon if I want to have it ready in time to meet some end of February submission deadlines.

 

*takes a deep breath*

 

This has happened to me before.  I think it happens to all writers at some point or another, probably more than once.  I just need to be patient, to stay alert, and to keep trying to work through what ideas I do find.

 

In the meantime, I received some valuable advice from Twitter (thank you my followers: you were very helpful!):

  • Look at pretty pictures
  • Listen to inspiring music
  • Freewriting
  • People watching
  • Local news stories
  • Working out
  • Read things like what I am trying to write
  • Mindless housework (dishes, laundry)

 

A few of these have already proven useful, and I’ll be trying a few more in the coming weeks (and hopefully reporting back in!).  What’s your favourite way to get inspired?

 

When Bad Novels Turn Good

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Photo from Dreamstime 

 

My apologies for the horrific grammar of the title.  This post is a follow-up to “When Good Novels Go Bad“, where I wrote about a novel I was none to pleased with.  The writing schedule was going well, but the more that I worked, the less I liked the story: the plot was thin and the driving actions weren’t believable enough.  The beginning dragged on and on (and on…) and nothing seemed to be coming together after 30,000 words.  I didn’t like how the story was going, my critique group didn’t really care for it, and if I don’t like the story, I can’t very well expect my readers to like it!

 

So I put the writing on hold and spent my efforts overhauling the plot.  It took longer than I would have liked (only about 25 hours of actual work over two months) but Script Frenzy got in my way.  Besides, the hardest part was thinking up what to do next, which for me is the opposite of staring at the screen trying to write.

 

About three weeks ago, I started writing again.  I’m only two chapters (6,800 words) in, but it’s already feeling much more exciting and engaging to me.  My critique group even seemed to think so too!  Now, of course, there are still problems with the opening scene(s) to fix, but those will be relatively easy now that the basic plot is a little more workable (I hope!)

 

I guess only time will tell, won’t it?

 

What project has returned to life in your writing lately?

Solitary

Written for Chuck Wendig’s Friday Flash Fiction Challenge “A Terrible Lie“.  This week, Chuck challenged us to write a short story where the conflict revolves around a terrible lie.

 

Here’s my humble submission:

 

“Red five to black six.”  The stranger’s blue eyes twinkled as she slid into the empty seat across from Emma.

 

The train tilted softly around a corner as Emma looked down at the cards in front of her.  Of course.  There it was.  She moved the cards around swiftly, pleased with herself.

 

“Thanks.”  She told the stranger, who smiled secretively and tucked a stray lock of dark hair behind one ear.  Her hands were beautifully manicured, Emma noticed, and she wore a single thick metal ring on her right hand.  “I’m Emma.”

 

“Paulette.”  Paulette’s hand was as soft as it looked, Emma realized as they shook.  “Are you traveling alone?”

 

With hardly a pause, Emma nodded.  “Just for a few hours.  I’m heading back home for Easter.”  The practiced words tumbled easily from her lips.  There was no home for her anymore.  Not really.

 

“I kind of figured that.  The cards, after all.”

 

Emma looked down at her game and smiled.  “Years ago, my mother told me that a game of solitaire was a surefire way to meet strangers.  Everyone has an opinion.”

 

“So they do.”

 

Silence fell between the seats as the train rocked again.  “How about you?”  Emma asked.  “Are you traveling with anyone?”

 

“No, I’m traveling on business.”

 

“What do you do?”  Emma admired Paulette’s crisp shirt and tailored pantsuit.

 

“Sales.”

 

“That sounds exciting.”

 

“It’s not really.  Honestly, it’s boring.  I thought I would be able to see the world and meet exciting new people, but for the most part all I see is the inside of trains and planes and hotel rooms.”

 

“Well, maybe this trip will offer you some excitement.”

 

Paulette smiled.  “I hope so.”

 

###

 

When Emma collected her things as the train slowed to a stop, it was with a strange feeling of reluctance.

 

“Well, it was nice meeting you.”  Paulette said softly, holding out one hand.  Without really thinking about it, Emma shook it, realizing that this was goodbye.

 

“Good luck with the job.  I hope things pick up.”

 

“Oh, I’m pretty sure they will.”

 

Before Emma could reply, Paulette had turned to leave, pulling a black, wheeled suitcase behind her.  Emma shook her head as she picked up her heavy duffel bag and carried it towards the exit.

 

A swift cab ride followed – not to her family home, but to a mid-range hotel not far from the train station.  As the car zipped along the dark streets, Emma silently berated herself.  She knew better than to get too chummy with strangers, even if the trip was boring.

 

What if she’d given herself away?

 

Her boss wouldn’t stand for that, she knew.  Moreover, she wouldn’t last long if she kept chatting away with strangers, spilling the beans.  Not when there were others like her out there, with similar agendas who wouldn’t mind one bit if some of the competition mysteriously disappeared.

 

At least the cover story about Easter had gone over well.  Besides, ignoring the risk, it had been a useful conversation: she knew where her target was staying.  She flipped open a small leather book she’d stashed in her purse, to reveal a small photograph of a dark haired woman with blue eyes.

 

###

 

When Emma arrived at her hotel room door, she felt strangely like she was being watched.  There was nobody around, though, and she slid the key card into the electronic lock carefully, trying to appear as though her heart wasn’t about to jump out of her chest.

 

She’d been jumpy like this ever since her boss had warned her that there might be a hit out on her.  Of course, that was ridiculous.  She was still new to the agency, out on her first solo assignment.  She wouldn’t be on anyone’s radar yet.

 

But when Emma pushed the door open the first thing that she saw was Paulette, harshly lit by a single lamp by the bed, standing in the middle of the hotel room.

Emma gasped.  “You…?”

 

Paulette’s hand raised until the gun was pointed squarely at Emma.  “I told you my work was about to become more exciting.”

Unbeatable

Originally posted on January 12, 2012, before the disaster.

 

Written for Chuck Wendig’s Friday Flash Fiction Challenge “Song Shuffle Stories”.

 

Unbeatable

The prices were supposed to be unbeatable; that’s how Ken ended up with the sofa.

 

Hung over and dragged to the sale in protest, Ken had picked the first one that didn’t make him wince when he sat on it.  The price was definitely unbeatable – $100 for a brand new leather unit was a steal.  A damaged unit, they told him, perfectly good except for a few small flaws in the leather.  He didn’t care about a couple of scratches on the back, even if they did look disturbingly like fingernails, and it made his mother happy to watch him and his friends finally haul the dinged floral piece upstairs and out the door.

 

Ken should, perhaps, have wondered why the price had been so low.  Especially when it began to smell after a few days.  Certain that her slovenly son was the cause of the household stench, his mother watched imperiously as he scrubbed the entire basement, down to steam-cleaning the carpet.  The smell lingered, despite his best efforts and he eventually collapsed in an exhausted heap onto the offending furniture and began to doze in front of the television set.

 

As the darkness of sleep closed around him, Ken felt strangely warm and comfortable, as though he was surrounded in a soft, thick fabric.  He didn’t think much of it when the fabric covered his face, but when it began to squeeze him tightly he could do little except struggle in vain as it pulled him towards the ground.

 

###

 

When Ken woke with a start, everything was dark and quiet.  Almost too quiet – he could only barely hear the pre-season hockey game he had been watching.  He moved questing hands forward, but they bumped into a cloth wall, yielding yet strangely solid.  Ken wondered idly if he was still dreaming: the room seemed to have shrunk to a size that felt frighteningly like a coffin.

 

He called out, quietly at first, and then louder when he realized that there were people nearby, muffled voices that sounded like they were underwater.  He pushed at the walls around him, trying to claw his way through, kicking and screaming in frustration when no one responded, feeling only the unending encircling of the walls and the irregular scratches on them.

 

###

 

“Excuse me, sir, can you tell me more about this lot?”

 

“Yes ma’am.  This sofa, along with the television and the table, were taken from a repossessed house just outside of downtown.  The owner stopped making payments on it after her son disappeared.  They’re in excellent condition, as you can see, but the sofa has quite a few scratches on the back.”

 

“Is that why the starting point is so low?”

 

“Yes ma’am, although I don’t expect that it will stay that way.  This is an unbeatable deal.”

Quilted Memories

Originally posted January 23, 2012, before the disaster.

 

Written for Chuck Wendig’s Friday Flash Fiction Challenge “Random Photo Story“.  The challenge was to generate six random Flickr images, pick three, and write a story.

Like a rebel, I used all six, and 704 words.

 

Quilted Memories

handmade quilt sits alone on a neatly made bed.  She’s left it there, unwilling to even fold it, lest it disturb the silence of the room.

 

The quilt reminds her of happier times.  Of better times.  Once upon a time, that quilt was hung across branches to make a fort.  It wrapped a red-haired dolly tenderly while a “mama” carried her around in her arms.  It was laid across the sand on a beach, supposedly to protect soft toes that were too busy trekking back and forth to the water with a little pink bucket to care.

 

That quilt hadn’t moved in nearly a year.

 

It had all started with a rash.  Probably from the sand at the beach, the doctor had said.  When it didn’t get better, another doctor diagnosed a food sensitivity, a third suggested changing laundry detergent.  When nothing helped, more tests were run and eventually came the dreadful day when they learned the truth.

 

Leukemia.  A word that they had heard of only in relation to other people was suddenly an intimate part of their daughter’s life.

 

It had all started then.  Doctor visits, trips to specialists, journeys to and from the hospital, each accompanied by a small, stuffed goat in overalls that was held and squeezed during every procedure, cuddled for comfort, and whispered secrets to late in the night.  She had been brave, their darling child, much braver than either of her parents had been.  Most days it was her who reassured them that everything would be alright.

 

Of course, it hadn’t been, but at four years old, you don’t really know that.

 

Still, it had been Audrey who had known first that she was going to be a big sister.  How she had known, neither of them could tell, but it seemed to give her some new strength and new hope.  They had encouraged that positive thinking, and it had broken their hearts, two months later, when they had to tell her that the baby was gone.

 

Audrey took a visible turn for the worse after that news, although the doctors were confident that it was only a coincidence that it had come so soon after the miscarriage.  Still, within only five months of losing the baby, they had been forced to say goodbye to their daughter.

 

Had it only been a year?  It had felt like much longer than that, although the medications  had messed up her perception of time.  She had tried at least four antidepressants and none of them worked, although she’d lied to her doctor to avoid having to experience the side effects of a fifth.

 

Her husband had know the truth, though.  He’d grown tired of it and left her two months ago.  Now she had nothing but the objects in this room to keep her company.  Just a blanket and a doll and a few bibs that she’d pulled out one glorious sunny afternoon when Audrey had been home from the hospital.

 

They had all been so excited then, back when the idea of a new baby was new and fresh.  Looking through Audrey’s old baby things had provided a brief moment of comfort and normalcy, before the shadow of the cancer had taken over their lives again.

 

That was the last sunny day she could remember.  The world had grown darker without Audrey in it.  And now she was all alone, with only a few stuffed animals for comfort.

 

She picked up the goat and clutched it tightly to her chest.  It still smelled faintly of chemicals and vomit, but mostly of Audrey.  She inhaled deeply, trying to remember the good times, the happy times, and not the dark sadness that she’d anticipated ever since the day of the diagnosis.

 

It was no use.  Her sweet angel was gone forever.

###

They found her body two weeks later, lying on the floor of the dusty children’s room, surrounded by dingy stuffed animals, a very dirty plastic bucket, and a few worn bibs.  Her body was wrapped in a small quilt that was drenched in the blood that had quite clearly seeped from the gash on her left arm.

 

She was smiling, for the first time in a year.

Bear 16

Originally posted January 14, 2012, before the disaster.

 

Written for a Friday Flash Fiction Challenge by Chuck Wendig: “Three Sentences for Bear 71″

 

I first learned of people three years ago when I discovered grain near the road that ran through my woods and back then they used to stop to watch me. Then, they called me a pest and brought me here, where I watch them through glass and wander an area from which there is no escape. They tell me I’m one of the lucky ones, but my cage tells me otherwise.

Friday Flash Fiction – 2011/09/16

Originally posted on January 5, 2012, before the disaster.

 

This is a short story written for a flash fiction challenge before I had a blog.  The challenge required the use of three words from a short list.  I chose: bishop, lollipop, and ivy.

 

 

The bishop slid forward. “Check.”

 

She sucked on the lollipop thoughtfully. The board was nearly empty; she was trapped in one corner.

 

He grinned and rested his elbows on the ivy-covered stone. “Well?”

 

It always ended this way: peril with no obvious escape.

“Just give up, Amy.” He advised gleefully. “You know you’ve been beaten.”

 

Clarity. Finally. There was only one move left.

 

“Checkmate.” She slid her queen forward.

 

He stared at the board in shock. She slipped the ring off her left hand and hung it over the neck of her queen.

 

“It’s over, Mike.”

The Fire of the Gods

Fire-in-Calgary-12-28-2005

My thanks to Chuck Wendig for this week’s prompt.  The goal?  Write a story (under 1,000 words) with the title “The Fire of the Gods”.  Here’s my submission (983 words).

The Fire of the Gods

 

Rachel’s mother always said that her father’s words were filled with the fire of the gods.

 

Rachel thought her mother was full of it.

 

She hadn’t always – in fact, when she was younger, she had listened raptly to every word he spoke.  She would run her hands through his silky hair as he read to her: he had a way unlike no other of making stories come alive.  As she would drift off to sleep, she used to wish that the stories would never cease.

 

Now all she wanted was for him to shut up.

 

As she grew older, she began to realize that her father’s words weren’t filled with fire, but with venom, spitting at anyone that dared cross him.  At ten she kept quiet, hoping not to provoke him.  At thirteen, she deliberately avoided him.  At sixteen, she began talking back, hoping to convince him that the young men that wandered the streets late at night weren’t out to steal them blind or kill them all.

 

Of course, he didn’t listen, and when discipline didn’t work he disowned her.  Now all that she could do was wander those very same streets, trying to scrounge together enough money to eat.

 

Not that she minded: anything was preferable to being back under his roof.

 

###

 

Rachel’s father’s words were filled with the fire of the gods.

 

Ethan hadn’t heard them himself, but all the men and most of the women had said something similar over the course of his life.  The elves idolized him and obeyed without question, turning viciously against anyone who dared cross him.  Over the last twenty years they had evicted many from the town: only a few humans were left and they kept their heads down as they scraped a living out of what they could grow in small rooftop gardens.

 

He was more interested in the daughter than the man.  Ethan had known her all his life, albeit from a distance.  She had never even looked his way, although it would have been difficult to see him in the brush or shadows he always hid in.  Of course, it had always been a wasted cause: he would never be allowed to speak with her.

 

It broke his heart to acknowledge that Rachel always looked sad.  He couldn’t remember ever seeing her smile, which was a pity, because she probably had a beautiful smile.  All he had ever wanted was to see it.

 

###

 

Daniel’s words filled the square with the fire of the gods.

 

He could see it, in the faces staring up at him.  He could sense it, in the energy of the crowd.  He could taste it as it flowed in burning waves off his tongue.

 

The humans had to leave his town; them and their filth.  “They have leveled the forest and polluted the water.  They have ruined the soil and sullied the meadows.  They make our children sick and our animals barren.”  He could see the crowd nodding with every beat of his speech.  He had them in his grip now.

 

“And when they grow tired of destroying our land, they come after us.  They steal from our women when their backs are turned.  They prey on our sons and turn them against us.  They kidnap our daughters for their own sick pleasures, returning them to us alive and broken, if at all.

 

“It is time for this travesty to end!  It is time for us to take back the land that is ours!  It is time we stood for what is right!  Are you with me?”

 

The square filled with the passionate yells of dozens of men, hefting axes and swords high into the air.  Daniel smiled as the noise died.  “Then, my friends, we should – ”

 

“I’m not.”  A single voice, uncertain but powerful, rang through the near-silent square.

 

The words died on Daniel’s lips.  “Rachel?”

 

Her clothes were tattered and her face was dirty, but she held her head high and looked him in the eyes when she spoke.  “Are you surprised to see me, Father?”

 

He turned his back on her.  “You’re dead to me.”

 

“You didn’t say that last week.”  She said to his back.  “Or the week before that, or the week before that.  It’s funny how I’m conveniently not dead when you need a warm body to care for your soul.  Or is it only your cock that I’m caring for every Friday?”

 

The crowd gasped.  Daniel stared fiercely at the stage, barely cognizant of the figure slowly creeping through the crowd as he willed the words to return to him.

 

“Why can’t you admit it, Father?  Are you ashamed of yourself?  You didn’t seem ashamed when I was thirteen.  Or ten.  You certainly weren’t ashamed when I was six, were you?  It was all a game to you then.”

 

He shook his head and opened his mouth to speak, but no words came.

 

“Or are you simply too afraid to admit that you’re no better than the men you demonize?  Good, kind men, who want nothing but a peaceful life?”

 

He remained mute as he stared at her, mouth slack.

 

She sighed.  “You disgust me.”

 

“Rachel, I…”

 

The end of the sentence never came.  The words left him for good as he gasped one last time, bending over the hilt of the dagger that was buried in his stomach.  Pain radiated from it to his chest and the air swirled with tiny dots of light as he gasped for air.

 

A shadow had come from the crowd for him.

 

He fell to the stage, struggling to focus his vision on the face of his once beloved daughter.

 

“I know you.”  He heard her say.  “You used to play on the other side of the park.”

 

“I was too afraid to say hello.  I’m Ethan.”

 

And as his eyes closed, Daniel thought he saw his daughter smile.

 

Seven Tips for Passing the Stress Test

Skeletal hands

Image from Dreamstime

 

I posted a little while ago about some stresses I was dealing with.   I’m sure my post made it sound like nothing, but I’ll admit to minimizing things a little bit (typing out every little detail that was stressing me was, in itself, stressful.  And not really necessary to the point that I was trying to make).

 

I don’t particularly want to end up in a situation depicted in the photograph above and I’ve been consciously working on reducing my stress levels lately.  (Regardless of the fact that small bursts of stress may make you live longer, I know that high, prolonged levels are bad for me, personally.)

 

I certainly can’t claim to be an expert, but I have been, generally, feeling better over the last two weeks.  It may help that a major source of my work stress was removed just after I returned from vacation when I was essentially removed from a project.  It meant a little bit of personal pain, as I initially felt like I had failed, but it eventually turned out to be a bit of a blessing in disguise.

 

So what are some other things that I am doing to reduce my stress load (and help my mind and body heal)?  Here’s my top seven:

 

1. Eat Right.  I’m still failing somewhat on this one in that I have an ongoing love affair with anything chocolate.  Add that to the fact that all of my favourite Easter treats are out in the store and… well, you get the idea.  Still, I’ve been making an effort to eat healthy balanced meals, getting the right supplements into my routine, and cutting back on the sugary snacks.

 

2. Reduce Caffeine (and Sugar).  Again, not doing so well on the sugar thing, but I have not had a cup of coffee in over three weeks (decaf notwithstanding – sometimes a hot drink in the morning is pleasant).  It’s certainly not hurt my moods and it’s nice to not need something to help get me going in the morning.

 

3. Get Enough Sleep.  I try at this one, with varying levels of success.  I am quite frequently tired at bedtime (a far cry from my previous bouts with insomnia) and sleep deeply, although not always through the night (having a cat walk across your head is a bit distracting).  My partner and I have also managed to return to our normal routine after our vacation, which helps a great deal.

 

4. Reduce my Workload.  This one is kind of two-fold.  The first part was that I am no longer working as much on my difficult project, but the second is that I recently cut back my work hours from 8 hours a day to 7.5 (I am lucky to have a flexible work schedule).  This doesn’t sound like much, but it keeps me from staying late like I am known to do and lets me catch the same bus every morning and night.  Now I don’t have to take the crowded train, and get to relax while the express bus takes me right to where I need to be!

 

5. Do Things for Me.  These include playing with kitties, visiting my godson, talking with friends, knitting, reading, writing, or walking around at the zoo.  Taking time just for myself is one of the better things that I’ve started to do.  Recently, this meant passing up a free ticket to a fancy dinner with coworkers.  I think I benefited more from the time spent at home than from a late night out.

 

6. Maintaing Healthy Relationships.  When I am really stressed, good friend and family are invaluable.  Usually they manage to cheer me up and deflect my negative thoughts for a while.  In the worst case, they listen to me vent about what is stressing me and can offer suggestions I might not see myself.

 

7. Relaxing.  Hot baths, a good book, writing, knitting, watching TV, playing with kitties, or even just reading an amusing blog all help me relax and forget about my troubles.  Meditation and bio-feedback, yoga, and progressive muscle relaxation can also work, although I find it hard to focus my thoughts for long enough to be successful.  Something to keep working at, I suppose!

 

What are your top tips for beating stress?