You’re Still Here?

GREAT.

Since you’re just hanging around, sloshing that noontime whiskey on the rocks, here’s an update.

I finished the first draft of that hero thing I was working on. It technically has a title, but I hate it so I’m not telling you what it is. Neener-neener. *tweaks your nose, cackles*

I’ve also started a new WIP tentatively titled: The Thief of Sherwood Street. Yes, it’s a Robin Hood retelling. NO it’s not going to be like anything you’ve read on Robin Hood. How do I know this? I don’t. I don’t know you or your habits. It’s not like I STALK you or anything. (The portrait of Kali in your hallway is a little crooked, BTW.) My original plan was to save this for NaNo, but fuck it. It wants to come out now, so it’s coming out now. YOU DON’T OWN ME, NANO!

Here’s a taste. I’m sure you’ll hate it. *chugs coffee, shudders*

There was little light in the market. Every few feet or so, a mound of wax sat like a melting rock on a plate, a shoestring as its wick. The small flames shuddered as people whipped past, their meager purchases clutched to their chests. Most kept their heads hidden beneath hoods, despite the dense heat of the space. With no ventilation, the market was like a sauna in the middle of January—a small blessing on days when frost settled on eyelashes and cold hardened lungs. The stench, though… Even rats steered clear of the place.

Robin tightened the strings of her smiler—a rectangle of itchy nylon with a pair of blood-red lips painted on the outside—and walked with her head down through the center of the market. Her long, dark hair fell like a curtain over both sides of her face, obscuring her features from the Omega guards posted at each exit. They were new, the guards; the product of a recent ordinance regulating the number and quality of attendees at the market. Their word, quality. ‘For the safety of all Sherwood occupants.’ Robin wished they’d come out and say what they were really looking for. Suffragists. Extremists. The ones who paint their smilers with black X’s. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed one of the guards was eyeing her. She tightened the grip on her shoulder bag and walked a fraction faster.

Milo’s booth was tucked in the back corner of the market, hugged between a wall of Omega advertisements—all glossy and pastels and exclamation points—and a cobbler. She’d just made out Milo’s sign, an ampersand, when a deafening clang of bells erupted. Every person in the market stopped where they were. Conversations died. Negotiations paused. The market became a museum of living statues.

When the echo of the bells quieted, a robotic voice came through various loudspeakers posted not just in the market, but the whole of Sherwood. “So that the occupants of Sherwood may properly observe the five year anniversary of the death of Richard Lionsart, smilers may be removed for a duration not to exceed one minute, beginning now.”

Another bell.

All around her, market-goers timidly untied their smilers. A wave of worn, tired expressions spread across the market. The only blip in the ocean—an infant who giggled at the sight of so many changing faces. Peek-a-boo. Robin loosened hers as well, but only allowed it to dip for a few seconds before retying it. She couldn’t be sure that the guard who’d chosen her to give his attention to wasn’t nearby.

Exactly sixty seconds later, the bell rang a third time. Smilers replaced, the market resumed its activities. Robin plunged into a swell of people, allowing them to cover her as she approached Milo’s booth.

A mishmash of items covered the chipped table that made up the bulk of Milo’s space. Broken appliances, bits of fabric, photographs of people no one could identify, books on etiquette and how to repair shorn buttons… the man had everything a person didn’t know they needed. The guards watched his booth closely, but Milo always pretended not to notice. He was a small man, but his boisterous laughter and showmanship made him six feet tall. Behind his smiler, Milo held a genuine smile that reached the very tips of his eyelashes.

He was in the middle of negotiating the cost of a spool of yellow thread when Robin caught his eye. Milo winked, holding up one finger.

Finished with his deal, the man skipped toward Robin. She reached out and gripped his hands in a brief show of affection.

“How are you, Miss Hood?” He asked. “Keeping out of trouble?”

Robin raised an eyebrow.

“Relax. No one is listening. Even if they were, could they hear over the chaos of this place?”

He had a point. The building was mostly metal and without any insulation to dampen the sound, the quietest you could expect an in-progress market to be was north of a dull roar.

Milo continued. “Can you believe it’s been five years?”

“Feels longer,” Robin said.

He nodded. “Indeed. He was a good man, God rest his soul.”

She rolled her eyes.

“Still clinging to your lack of belief, are you?”

“With both hands.” Robin wedged a finger beneath her smiler to reach an itch at the corner of her mouth. “These things are fucking ridiculous.”

Milo shrugged his agreement. “Supposed to curb the unfortunate upswing in suicide, though, aren’t they? I heard the cobbler saying his wife’s cousin jumped into the river last week.”

“If they want to keep us from killing ourselves, they ought to leave us the hell alone.”

“The rumor is…” Milo lowered his voice. “That Richard didn’t actually kill himself. They say that partner of his, John Prince, did him in.”

Robin sighed, dropping her bag on the table. “I have about as much time for rumors as I do for your god.”

“Fair enough.” Milo rubbed his hands together. “What have you got for me today?”

“Depends on what you’ve got for me.”

Light twinkled in his eyes. “You’re a woman after my own heart.”

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The 25,000 Word Curse and How I’m Learning to Break It

With Halloween just around the corner, I thought I’d share a secret with you non-writer types. If you’ve ever tried to scare a writer through “conventional” means, you soon found out that the writer species is so jaded, so obsessed with the unusual, that monsters and beasties of the dark have no outward effect. 

However…

Image

If you lean in closely, so close that only they can hear what you say and whisper these words: vast middle, you will see their skin prickle and shivers of terror pulse through their body.

As writers, we all have that point in our WIP’s that we feel the wheels begin to slow, the burst of genius flare less frequently, and the words come in useless couplets. Mine, as you may have guessed, begins at around the 25,000 word point.

It never fails.

With my novel, REAPER, once I hit that cursed word count, it was like the power went out in my head. It’s my head, so I knew where everything was (including that freaky bastard that likes to hide in the darkest corners), but without the light, I fumbled through my thoughts in search of the ones I needed. What started as a sprint out of the gate because a slow, agonizing crawl across upturned thumbtacks. It became so disheartening that I abandoned the project to pursue a new shiny idea (which, of course, led straight into the ground and now sits, molding, in my “NO FUCKING CLUE” folder). It took a month before I was able to swallow my anxiety and dive back in. 

Later, I hit the same wall with a WIP called THE BOOKSELLER. And now, with my current and longest-running perpetual WIP, SACRIFICIAL LAMB CAKE, I find myself at 26,327 words with dry mouth and a broken light bulb. 

If I told you that I wasn’t tempted to walk away from it in favor of plotting my NaNoWriMo project, I’d need an army of sexy lady firefighters to put out my pants. Actually, now that I think about it…

No. No fire ladies. Words. (Dammit).

Unlike THE BOOKSELLER, I haven’t completely hit a wall with this one. I know where it’s going and I can see it taking shape with each few excruciating sentences. I know my characters. I know the story. I know that it’s going to be great – if I could just fucking finish it. I’m a sculptor with a tiny hammer hacking away at a mountain of marble. Each time I get angry enough with it to throw it in a fire, I pep talk myself, using REAPER as an example. I wrote it. I polished it. I sold it. I proved to myself that I’m fully capable of creating something fantastic, so now there are no excuses. Only frustration.

Each day, I do something, change something, in order to try to relieve some of that frustration. Below are 5 things I’ve discovered help me get through the writing day. Maybe they’ll help you, too.

1. Realize that no two writers are created equal and that there is NO RULE that says you have to finish in an allotted amount of time. Get a feel for your own pace and keep with it. It will change every day, and that’s perfectly fucking fine.

2. When writing at night stopped doing it for me, I changed up my routine, opting for mornings at a coffee shop. A change of scenery has a HUGE impact on how the brain works. Now that I’m slowing again, I’m looking for a new writing spot to relight that spark.

3. It’s not the end of the world if you don’t write something that day. Granted, if you’re knee deep in a project, it’s unlikely you’ll go the entire day without at least scrawling a note on the palm of your hand while sitting at a red light. BUT, if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. There’s no reason to punish yourself for it. You know those times when you can’t for the life of you remember the answer to a question that’s been plaguing you all day and then – BAM – it comes to you at three in the morning? That’s because you stopped bashing it to a pulp and let your subconscious sift through the brain cave. Writing works by the same principle. 

4. Work on something else. I don’t mean abandon the project; I mean allow yourself to explore ideas completely unrelated to what you’re primary focus has been. It’ll allow your subconscious to do the sifting AND you don’t have that guilty feeling for being unproductive. For me, my side project has been hashing out my NaNo book. It’s been fun and I’m looking forward to writing it.

5. Blog about it. Or, if that’s too much like writing for your fragile psyche to handle, email or call a writer friend and vent about it. If there’s a particular plot issue making you homicidal, they’ll work through it with you.

There they are. If you have ideas to add, please do. We could ALL use the help. 

 

NaNoWriMo Version 2.0 (download for update)

Last year about this time, my friend Renee and I decided to conduct an experiment. We would participate in NaNoWriMo so that we could bash it properly and with brain-splattering facts at our disposal. 

Boy did that bite us in the ass.

Renee and I both wrote novels as a result – she “finished” 50k within the required 30 days. I did not. I did, however, manage to finish, demolish, rebuild, polish, and submit a book called REAPER which was picked up by Melange Books early last month (look for it next fall.) 

Don’t misunderstand – the process was ANYTHING but simple. I started with a detailed (kind of) outline, but still found myself rehashing the plot when I was already thousands of words behind. I hated every second of it. The pressure was maddening! It didn’t help that every day greeted me with a feed filled with tweets by other NaNo-ers who COULD NOT STOP TALKING ABOUT HOW MUCH FUN IT WAS. They’re all fucking liars. Really. Writing is fun. NaNo is torture.

But guess what. I’m doing it again because deja vu and karma are sleeping together now. And because Renee possesses magical voodoo powers of persuasion.

This time, I’ve got a little less than a month to prepare and I think I’m ready, which of course means I’m not. I’m knee deep in the first draft of another WIP, SACRIFICIAL LAMB CAKE, which needs to at least be close to finished by the time November 1 comes around. Provided there’s no major disaster between now and then… No, I’m not even going to say it. 

Anyway, here’s a very brief synopsis of what I’ll be writing about – I’m calling it THE EVENING HOUSE:

Her name is Blythe Evening. She grew up on the Shoshone Duckworth Reservation in Nevada, but left when she turned eighteen. Being trapped on the Res wasn’t something a free spirit like Blythe was prepared to face. 
 
Years later, her (barely legal) brothel is on the rocks. Sure, according to Nye County law, her establishment is on the up and up. But with mounting registration fees, girls skipping their tax payments, and having to navigate the treacherous waters of having her “unique” girls medically examined on a monthly basis, it’s getting harder and harder to keep her head above water. When officials from the tax collector’s office show up to The Evening House with an official notice to shutdown, Blythe goes to visit an old friend – a shaman by the name of Bud Firehorse – not for guidance (she doesn’t believe in all that mystical, vision quest crap), but for the best whiskey this side of the Rockies. 
 
Drunk, she spills her issues to Bud and he gives her the same advice he’s been giving her for nearly two decades: go on your vision quest. Find your spirit guide. According to him, Blythe’s life has been destined to go downhill since her refusal of her guide’s help. Against her better judgement, she agrees to go on the quest. 
 
Early the next morning, severely hungover and high on the shaman’s special peyote, Blythe wanders the wooded area surrounding the Res. She’s gone for nearly 12 hours when the hunger and peyote deliver a punch to her mind. She collapses and dreams of the Snake guide. 
 
Snake, like all reptile guides, is despondent, violent, and prone to abnormal mood swings. But Snake is also the guide for change. Rebirth. At daybreak the next day, she is collected by Bud and Blythe tells him what she’s seen. He doesn’t seem hopeful.
 
When she returns to The Evening House, Blythe comes across a woman with scaly skin and a forked tongue – it’s her guide, Snake, and she’s here to help… or so she says. It doesn’t take long for Snake to turn Blythe’s life upside down, forcing her to have to not only try to save her business, but also to save Nevada from Snake.
 
Hope you all are as excited as I am. By that I mean take cover.
 
The end is Nye. 
 
(See what I did there?)

Short Fiction Monday – An Excerpt

Miss me, babies? Good. Squirm. SQUIRM, I SAY.

It’s snowing outside. It’s mid-March, it’s snowing, and I’m fucking grumpy for reasons beyond shit weather. But, by circumstances outside my control, I have been given a few free minutes to toss another Short Fiction Monday post into the interwebz. Today, it’s an excerpt from my WIP, Reaper, which will hopefully be in second draft form sometime next month. Thanks to a new project with a character who haunts my dreams (damn you, Tabitha!) the process is slow going. In any case, ease off the reports and enjoy the fiction. It’s the only thing that makes Monday tolerable.

from REAPER…

The drop lasted less than five seconds, but when he looked up Oz saw nothing but blackness – like a starless sky – blackness so dark you thought of it only as nothingness. He landed in something wet that spilled over the sneakers Bard had given him and soaked his socks. It smelled like he’d landed in a backed up sewer.

A short distance in front of him, a faint, swinging light shone against the brick walls of – wherever this was. Oz assumed by falling into the crack in the earth he’d be entering Hell, but he’d yet to see any fire or politicians.

Walking on tip-toe to stay as far out of the water as possible, he inched toward the light.

The light, which turned out to be a lantern attached to the front of a small boat, cast a large enough glow that when he was close enough, Oz saw a group of seven or eight people huddled together behind a tall red-headed man in a grey mechanic’s jumpsuit. The man dribbled a blue yo-yo as he watched Oz approach. In the other hand, he held a small, tin bucket.

The name tag on his jumpsuit read, Arizona.

“You’re just in time. We’re about to shove off,” he said as he held out the bucket. “Drop your coins in here and we can be on our way.”

“You’re the boatman?”

“So you’ve heard of me? The name’s Arizona.”

“Oz.”

“Spectacular. If you’d be so kind as to drop your coins then, Oz?”

He jiggled the bucket inches in front of Oz’s face.

“I don’t have any coins,” Oz said.

“That’s impossible. Sure you do. Maybe you just stuck them in your pockets and forgot. Unless…”

Arizona tucked the yoyo into his pocket and poked Oz’s arm with an extended finger.

“Shit. You’re one of them aren’t you? Fuckin’ A. Doesn’t anyone trust a man to do his job anymore? Now they gotta send one of you folks down here to make sure I’m not dumping Bas over the side or something? You people think that just because I spend my time talking to the shadows and learning how to ‘walk the dog’ that I’m not competent enough to pilot a tiny excuse for a boat across an even tinier excuse for a river? Huh? That it?”

“What are you talking about?”

“Because I can guaran-damn-tee that you won’t find anyone else to do this thankless job in this stink pit.”

Arizona moved closer to Oz with each accusation, finger still jabbing his arm.

“No, calm down. I’m not here about your job. I need to find someone. A kid. He was brought down here by – by accident.”

Arizona shook his head noticeably calmer now that he knew his performance wasn’t up for scrutiny.

“Sorry, Oz. Can’t help you.”

“It’s okay if you haven’t seen him. Just take me across and I’ll look for him myself.”

“Can’t do that either.”

“Why not?”

He jiggled the coin tin again.

“Seriously?”

“Sorry, kid.”

Arizona turned away from him, preparing to load the group of Bas huddled behind him – oblivious to the interaction with Oz – onto the boat.

“Wait!”

Oz cupped his hands and attempted to manifest a pair of coins for Arizona.

“Your tricks don’t work down here. It’s a whole new set of rules.”

He was right. No matter how many times he tried, the only thing Oz could blow into his hands was air.

“Please,” Oz said.

“I’m sorry. Really.”

He turned toward the Bas.

“Alright, now, everyone in.”

A plank formed between the boat and the stone step where they’d all gathered. They trudged across, one by one, until they were all seated. The boat was so small that they nearly sat on top of each other, packed together shoulder to shoulder. They didn’t seem to notice.

Arizona pushed the boat away from the step with the end of the stick that held the lantern, and as the plank sank into the water, as did Oz’s stomach and his hope of reaching Jamie.

No. It couldn’t be over. Not when he was so close. He knew Jamie was here. He felt it. He just had to find him, and in order to do that he needed to be in the boat. Fuck the coins. Fuck the rules. He’d broken them all so far. He wasn’t going to start playing fair now.

With little regard for what may or may not be lurking beneath the surface of the cloudy green river, Oz reared back and dove in.

It was like swimming through oil, slimy and clinging but not impossible to move through. Oz kept his eyes closed and pumped his arms in wide circles, hoping to hit the boat with his hand before his head.

Something cold and angry gripped his ankle and pulled him straight down.

In his panic, Oz opened his eyes and he felt as though they had been set on fire. Closing them again did nothing to cool the burn so he chanced a look down and saw –

Nothing.

A green and black abyss that went on forever. But the grip was there, cutting into his skin. Swirls of blood rose from his ankle as he was yanked further and further down. He looked up, lashed his arms and kicked the invisible attacker while looking for something, anything, to grip onto.

He was choking. The collar of his shirt had been ripped backward and dug into his jugular. He was going to die here. The oil-water rushed over his face. He’d lost all sense of direction. Up or down, it didn’t matter. His lungs were ready to give up.

Oz’s face broke the surface and something hard rammed him in the gut. The breath he held was expelled in a mucousy glop and he breathed in. And he breathed in again.

“Should’ve known you’d try something stupid like that.”

Oz gagged and was lifted by the armpits. His chin rested on the side of the boat.

“Nuh uh. You’re not puking in my boat.”

He couldn’t breathe again. His body was determined to purge everything from his system. Finally, it was over and his jaw ached. Soaked, Oz leaned backward against the side of the boat with his legs curled beneath him.

“Thanks,” Oz wheezed.

“Don’t thank me yet,” Arizona said.

Short Fiction Monday – Excerpt AND Contributions?

‘allo, dearies. 

Here is your short fiction fix on this lovely Presidents’ Day Monday. It’s like a double-whammy of shit, isn’t it? It’s Monday, AND you can’t go to the bank and get laundry money because they’ve closed for some obscure holiday that doesn’t really mean anything anymore. Never fear, Crunchy-Smooshy is here for you.

Excerpt from a yet-to-be-titled WIP:

 

There’s a formula for gauging phone calls before the other party has answered. One ring, and they’ve been waiting for something important that isn’t you. They’ve been staring at it, playing with it, willing it to ring. And then finally, FINALLY, it comes to life. It’s better to just hang up without introducing yourself, lest you send your own hide in for verbal slaughter. Four or five rings, and you’ve torn them away from something; dinner with the family, an engrossing novel, a homemade explosives project. Take these on a case by case basis. Women are more likely to turn you away than men, especially if you’re me. I’ve been told my voice is sultry when detailing the many uses of a telephone book.

Three rings, though, that’s the sweet spot.

This isn’t something they teach you when you answer an anonymous internet ad looking for people who wish to ‘work from home!’ ‘All you need is a computer and a telephone! It’s EZ!’ You learn by doing.

Three rings and they’ve been waiting for you to call. No, really, they have. It’s their day off and nothing interesting has presented itself as a suitable distraction. You are their distraction.

Don’t worry about selling, the anonymous emailer attached to the anonymous ad tells you. Just log your calls and collect your money.

Sometimes I don’t even market what I’m supposed to. The spreadsheet in my weekly email will call for entertainment magazine subscriptions; I sell them slippers made in the likeness of their favorite United States President. God bless America!

Sometimes, a girl just wants to have some fun.

 

I’d had a productive morning. One entry left on my daily spreadsheet, and it was just past two.

One ring. Two rings. Three rings.

“Hello?”

Perfect.

“Good afternoon. Would you be so kind as to connect me with the matron of the home?”

I cradled the phone between my shoulder and ear while fingering a copy of Little Women. I’d finished reading it over lunch and was itching to try it out.

“Who’s calling, please?

Her voice was calm but reserved.

“Jo March, madam. I’m calling to invite you to participate in an unbelievable opportunity in literature.”

I wished Jo March had a British accent. I loved doing British.

Shuffling against the speaker on the opposite end. She was switching ears.

“Is this a joke?”

“Fiction is no joke, ma’am, unless of course you’re reading comedy. Then all of it is a joke! Unless it’s bad comedy, in which case it’s better used as kindling in my humble opin –“

“Just get to the point, please.”

“Yes, yes, of course. I am offering escape in the form of words. Penny Dreadfuls, specifically. For the cost of a typical novel you will receive five stories in which you are taken through perilous adventures, one after the other.”

I paused.

“Hello?”

She’d hung up.

Unfortunate, since I hadn’t had the chance to tell her about the imaginary friend that accompanied every purchase.

Classic characters are always a risk.

I logged the call, sent my end-of-day email using an out-of-date but perfectly useable desktop computer, and considered my options for the rest of the afternoon.  

 

CONTRIBUTIONS?

Would you like to contribute a story to short fiction Monday? Email me at authorlady22@gmail.com. 

Submissions are also STILL open for Asfixia. Send me ALL THE WORDS!