Short Story: Wisdom of the Cloven Hoof

The following is a piece of flash fiction I wrote yesterday for the express purpose of writing it in permanent marker on a hydration backpack.  Thus, the story itself is neither polished nor meant to be very good.  I can’t remember what gave me the idea, but it worked and I’m happy with the result.  I hope you enjoy the story!

There was once a man who set out to test the old proverb “Never feed a camel with a knife.”  He bought a camel.  He bought a knife.  He bought a large brick of smoked Gouda.  He bought a lawn chair, in which he sat as he sliced the Gouda, laid it on the flat of the knife, and offered it to the camel.  The camel did not eat.

The experiment had failed.  The camel had not eaten, the man had not fed it, and the presence of the knife meant nothing whatsoever.  The lawn chair was the only thing that had done what it should.  So the man tried again.

The man offered.  The camel refused.  The cheese and knife began a long-term relationship.  The lawn chair bore it all.  Man and camel began starve.

On the nineteenth day, the man fainted from hunger.  When he awoke, the camel was looking down at him.  He offered the cheese in his hand, and the camel, at least, ate.

So pleased was the man that he did not notice the camel had pilfered the knife while he was senseless, and had cut his wallet from his pocket while he was feeding it, and was now galloping away at speed with his identity and credit cards, and a small fortune in mixed coin.

Moral: Nunquam pascere camelum culto.

Veritas in fabella omnia.

Note: “Nunquam pascere camelum culto” is very bad Latin for “Never feed a camel with a knife.”  The clause “with a knife” is ambiguous, presumably the reason for the above story.  “Veritas in fabella omnia” is also very bad Latin for “Truth in every story”.  It has no relevance to the story— as if the author needed a short sentence to fill up the final remaining blank space on a certain hydration backpack.  Whatever the case, it seems to imply that camel muggings at knifepoint are commonplace.  This translator cannot say for certain without risk of lawsuit by someone who had a terrible day with an ungulate.

Note to the note: These notes were not included on the original hydration backpack transcription.

Creepiness

Creepiness is a science.

Well, it’s a word that describes a feeling to be evoked.  Evoking that feeling is a science.  Some people might be born with this instinctively, inspiring it in everything and everyone he or she (usually he) encounters.  Others have to work for it, but once they can grow a mustache, he or she (again, usually he) has it down pat.

Feeling that a person, object, or place is creepy… well, it’s not something we generally seek in real life, but it’s something we actively seek in fiction.  And while some people manage to do this naturally and successfully in fiction, we mere mortals might need a bit more work to get there.

A fair amount of creepiness is generated by simple word choice, it must be said.  Just like using specific colors in a picture, you can adjust your text for a creepier punch by choosing different words to say what you want to say.  Warm and moist might paint a different picture than humid, for instance.

Similarly, choosing the details you include in your word picture could change the feel of the scene.  Describing the sensory details— and using sensory words to convey those details, rather than more cognitive verbage— could make things more visceral.  Of course, you already know all this.  These are fairly standard techniques for writing horror or just good, vivid storytelling.

A little while ago, however, I started to realize part of creepiness that doesn’t involve word choice or sensory details— in other words, the macro element of the creepy, rather than the micro.  While pretty much any scene can become creepy, it isn’t only a product of micro-editing it into submission.

Let’s look at what makes something creepy.  It’s a term we like to throw around about people in scraggly mustaches and cocked heads, or houses with broken windows and a fence that’s falling down.  Both are curious when you notice them in broad daylight, and they don’t notice you back.  But in a narrow hallway, or encased in shadow, you pick up your pace. (more…)

Calamity: A Review

This review is spoiler-free.

Good news: This book wasn’t as bad as some books I’ve read recently!

Bad news: It also wasn’t very good.

As the third book of a trilogy, this book had some living up to do. The first book was wildly creative and excellent. The second was a bit lacking, but still twisty and enjoyable. The third needed a bit more time in the incubator and some serious me-time with the author.

The characters were excellent, but… only in ways that carried over from previous books. Phase 1 characters— introduced back in Steelheart— were for the most part excellent and just as fun as ever. Phase 2 characters— from Firefight— continued being themselves (but didn’t grow in any way). Phase 3 characters— completely new to this book— had almost no bearing on the book’s emotional impact. In writerly terms, Phase 1 were dynamic. Almost everyone from Phase 1 had some sort of development or fleshing out to do. Phase 2 were static. They didn’t change, but they still felt alive. Phase 3 were cardboard. With one exception (based on spoilery things, one character could have been considered Phase 2 or even Phase 1), these characters just didn’t add anything of meaning.

But how can I say that? Surely they added something. Why else would they have been introduced? Well, they changed the plot, aiding or opposing the main characters in some way. But no Phase 3 character (with the aforementioned exception) had any bearing on any Phase 1 character arc. No Phase 2 or Phase 3 character had any arc to speak of.

Let’s keep examining the book, though. Perhaps these books are t0o short for dynamic characters to emerge in the third act of a trilogy. Perhaps there are redeeming factors in the other aspects of the book. (more…)

Do You See?

I’m not a great micro-editor.

I write instinctually; sometimes a long sentence feels good, sometimes a short one.  I mess around, but don’t put much thought into it.  When editing, however, I’m not in the moment— I can’t tap into that instinct.  Often I don’t know what makes good writing beyond good grammar and spelling.  Rhythm, tone, flow… it’s kinda lost on me.

My instinct is starting to speak up in strange places, though.  This is bad, I think as I write blog posts.  This feels confusing.  I’m not getting my point across.  Usually it’s the form that bugs me— not this time.  It’s taken a while, but I think I’ve pinpointed that feeling.

Over the past couple weeks, I read through the Query Shark blog archives.  I wanted to learn how to write a good query letter.  The form of a query letter, however, is simple.  The author of the blog spent more time on flow, rhythm, and word choice.  One in three queries had a note offering another version of a sentence, or another word choice, or a revamped paragraph.  She kept asking, “Do you see the difference?”  After reading about 200 queries and revisions, I started to see.

My ideas weren’t confusing— my sentences were clunky. (more…)

Further Songs

Howdy!  A couple nights ago my sisters and I got together to write a song.  I told them it would take less than twenty minutes, but we took about five times that.  Nevertheless, we emerged from the darkness with a song which, out of the two I’ve written, might be my favorite musically.  You know that cool thing they do in musicals where everyone’s singing a different tune at the exact same time?  Yeah, we kinda did that.

Anyway, that’s me.  You can listen to the song at the end of the post.

A lot of things have come together for this project in crazy ways.  A friend gave us a pretty high-quality microphone several years ago, which we had never used until now.  Only a couple days after I wrote my first song, a graduating senior gave me— completely free— a used computer.  Immediately I set up Audacity (a sound-editing program) and LMMS (a program similar to GarageBand, but for Windows, meant for actually creating music).  Even better, one of my brother’s old guitar pedals connects to a computer and can record to it fairly easily.

In short, I can record anything I can play, and I haven’t spent any money on it.  I’d call that a blessing. (more…)

Beta Readers Wanted!

With the end of Spoon-Fed Camel, I have turned my attention toward editing my previous novel, The Tailor’s Song.  I almost can’t believe I didn’t post here when I finished that novel— I had a blast writing it, and personally I think it’s my best yet.  But I’m biased.

Anyway, as part of the process, I need a beta readers to help me see this thing from other angles.  And not just any beta readers will do— I want you as a beta reader.

“Oh, but I’m not a writer,” you say.  Or, “Oh, but I’m not a very good writer,” you say.  Or, “Oh, but I’m such a better writer than you are,” you say.  It doesn’t matter.  If you’re at all interested after you read the pitch below, please comment.  Beta reading requires no particular skill set besides enjoying a good story.  If what I’ve written rubs you the wrong way, I just need you to make a note and tell me which part.  You don’t have to fix it for me— let me do the hard work.  Just point at the spots I missed.

I’d really appreciate your help!  I’ll take as many beta readers as are willing— just say the word.  Without further ado, here’s the pitch.

Tessa thought nude magicians were the worst of her problems.

For the last nine months, Tessa has run her parents’ clothing shop.  Her powerful, entitled customers appreciate her ability to take their nonsense in stride.  Her senile, penniless tenant appreciates her ability to pretend that yes, the rent was up-to-date, not almost a year overdue.  Tessa, in turn, appreciates her punching bag’s ability to absorb her frustration; it dies a thousand deaths after close of business each day.  Life is manageable.

It doesn’t last.  Tessa soon learns her city business license will expire in a month if she can’t renew it.  Her father’s lack of records makes mundane paperwork a scavenger hunt as she searches the city for people who knew her parents well.  Her punching bag lacks power against the mounting stress— however, a young magician, entitled as they come, quickly becomes the focus of her pent-up rage.

As Tessa struggles along, one of her customers falls dead at her feet— rather, hanging upside-down in the air by magic no one understands.  The police, with few options, pinpoint Tessa’s shop as one of their only leads.  Tessa must close down.  Faced with an expiring license, unhappy customers, and a murder investigation side-eyeing her, she can give up and accept the consequences, or fight to stay afloat, innocent, and sane.

If that appeals to you, let me know!  I’d love your help.  Thanks.

Stuff To Which I Am Up

Fun fact: when you arrange “Stuff I’m Up To” in order to remove the preposition at the end, you still end with a preposition.

Anyway, I told you I was going to fill you all in on my productivity plans, and here I am.  I don’t usually do this, because sometimes I can’t be as productive as I’d like to be and I never get to the things I say I will.  But that’s human, and I hope you all understand that I, too, fall into that category.

So let’s jump in.  Here, in no particular order, is the Stuff To Which I Am Up. (more…)

My Favorite Author

Today, I didn’t get to meet my favorite author.

Maggie Stiefvater writes some fun books.  She lives a fun life.  She’s inspired and inspiring.  For a long time, ever since I realized she had written a book that wasn’t primarily kissing, I’ve read and enjoyed and sought out her writing wherever I could.  I’ve read a lot of her books.  I’ve learned a lot from her books.  And right now, I’m only talking about her books.  Y’all can research for yourselves what else she gets up to.  She’s multi-talented— nay, she’s dedicated.  To a lot of different things.  All at once.

She’s inspiring, and has been for a long time.  That’s why, when I realized she was coming to NYC on a weekend I was free, I made a plan to go get some books signed.

At first, it sounded like a large commute and small window of fun.  You see, I have obligations.  As a freshman at a service academy, I’m a bit confined as to when I can do things.  This confines what I can do.  But, trekking out into the city for a couple hours to see the Stiefvater seemed like it could work.

Then doors began to open.  I could cut down on the commute.  I could get a little extra time to get over there and get back.  In fact— and here’s the exciting part— I might even get some books signed.  That’s better than just being in the same bookstore.  All this because I got to go home this weekend instead of just traveling from my school.

It was a great weekend.  I got a lot of fun stuff done, listened to a sister’s orchestra concert, made progress in a couple of other projects I’ll break to you later, and in general pushed my life forward a couple more baby steps.  I achieved what I had to do.  When the time came to hit up the bookstore, I was riding a wave of productivity, inspiration, and feel-goodiness.

We show up just before the event is about to start.  The bookstore is crowded.  I’m in my white dress uniform.  We can’t find the checkout line, but eventually we get there and buy a copy of The Raven King.  We get our number for the signing line.

#281. (more…)

Novel #8

I just finished a novel.  My eighth.

I call it Spoon-Fed Camel.  My progress bar on the right of this blog doesn’t let me update the wordcount anymore, but it is complete at 93,836 words.

It contains no camels, no spoons, and very little food.

A short pitch: When virtual reality magic gets out of control, it sucks two patrons into its chaotic world, forcing them to face and fix parts of it they had never imagined possible.

It’s an adventure story, I think, at its heart.  (I just listened to a bunch of Writing Excuses podcasts that seemed to describe my book pretty well, so I’m calling it adventure.)  Even though the world sucks them in at first, it’s because they chose to be there and chose to have that adventure.  But I also tried (and failed) to put several more layers into the story.  The successful parts were the ones I didn’t expect.

This was a fun story to write.  I always enjoy creating a lot of strange creatures for my characters to meet, and a lot of different environments— think of Star Wars or Star Trek— but this time I took it to a new level.  The virtual reality could become anything it wanted.  I ended up with some pretty interesting stuff to write.  Giant birds, giant snakes, giant monsters made of rock.  Swarms of bugs, swarms of gophers, swarms of pieces of my protagonist.  Rabid zebras, rabid buffalo, rabid cat people.

If it helps, I can list more things in threes. (more…)

Your Setting

Surround yourself with things that make you want to write.

This is a lesson I’m learning more and more.  As you learn more about the world, you begin to find a million things that lead you in all directions.  Watching a foreign film makes you want to learn French.  Reading about adventure makes you want to travel the world.  Meeting a champion juggler makes you never want to juggle ever, and that’s that.  All these are great.  If you’re like me, you know that most things are within reach, and with a little work you can achieve them.  Learning French, traveling the world, never juggling— all worthwhile goals.

But do you remember the moment you decided you wanted to write?

If you’re a different kind of artist, or your career lies elsewhere, substitute your dream whenever I say the word “write”.  This applies to anything.

As a kid, I read a lot of Brian Jacques books, and I’ve posted before about how much they mean to me.  Through reading and imagining, I began to dream about writing my own stories.  For the past four years, that’s what I’ve been doing, and I love it.  I love daydreaming about it and pushing toward that goal.

The path has its ups and downs, though, like anything.  You start off shot from a cannon, propelled by your amazing inspiration and genuine love for what you’re doing.  Then, of course, comes the letdown when you actually realize you’ve got a long way ahead of you.  But you pick yourself up and keep moving, and you enjoy the work for a while.  Then you poke your head up and look around, and start comparing yourself to other people, and you wonder what you’re actually doing. (more…)