Better Together

I had never been one to believe in writers’ groups. The couple times I had attempted they were too awkward and uncomfortable for me to do on a regular basis and I always ended up leaving them for one reason or another. Little did I know that it was because of passing on these opportunities that I ultimately floundered.

I completed my first real novel length work of fiction in 2009. Since then I have attempted multiple times to edit the beast, but with no success. I would get to a certain point and stop because I would listen to the inner critic telling myself “this is terrible” and “I’m a horrible writer.” When you’re working on art with an analytical approach the artist gets upset. And when you’re more of a creator than an editor it gets overwhelming.

What I have since discovered is that having someone or a community to bounce your art off of really helps with the process.

I met my buddy Matt through a former friend of ours. This previous friend used to be Matt’s writing partner but for reasons they have since parted ways. Luckily for Matt and I, we have since gotten together to talk about our projects.

Matt’s passion for the written word is contagious. The past few times we’ve met up to discuss the craft I have left our sessions feeling so energized and overwhelmed with confidence. He and I wax poetic about the other’s pieces, but also offer advice and critique when needed. He is stronger in some aspects that I still need a little polish and vice versa. Together we are helping the other through it. Plus having him (other than myself) excited about my ideas is the best high. (I’ve never done a single drug though, for any kind of comparison.)

From these get-togethers I finally understand why so many books on writing recommend participating in a writers’ group. Working alone gets exhausting, and when it’s just you and your own viewpoint on your manuscript it can get incredibly negative very fast. And I should know, it’s been that way every time I’ve worked on my book before.

When one has a supportive place to share his techniques and ideas it really keeps the fire burning. And my fire can only stay burning for so long without adding some potent fuel.

#WriterProblems

I am almost certain I have come to this fork in the road once before, when I attempted to edit my novel in the past. Evidently though I chose not to do anything about it and keep it the way it was, for whatever reason. Maybe I thought, “Well I’ll just fix it after I revise the whole thing.” Which is downright ridiculous because the changes required ripple through the rest of the story. Jesus, I really hate myself sometimes. Past Josh was an idiot, to be quite frank.

Here is my dilemma, my novel takes place in the mountains northeast of Boise, Idaho on New Year’s Eve and there is absolutely no snow.  The things that occur very much show no snow and adding it would make things difficult for both me and my protagonists.

When I was editing my Chapter 9 (‘yay’ for making headway) the question that came to mind is, “Wait, could this actually happen?” In this chapter I describe a broad green valley cut in two by a stream. Green… In January… In the mountains. Naw, girl. That doesn’t sound possible. So I did a quick google search and discovered that snow covered 99.5% of the landscape. So, you’re telling me that there is chance of snow. Then that information made me wonder if there would even be a stream.

Luckily I have a buddy who moved from my hometown to a town in Idaho. So I started asking him these very questions. And that kicked me back to the beginning.

When I originally wrote this book I did not have this particular plot point about an alcoholic father and it being New Year’s Eve.  I added that AFTER the fact to answer another couple questions that arose that needed clarification. However, because of them, this has created quite the conundrum.

How do I solve this issue? Do I go back and add in the snow and change the action to handle the new dilemma OOOOR do I just move the date of the story to a spring month? My one hang up is that it would seem too forced for the alcoholic father to have a HUGE change of heart in regards to his substance abuse. With the “New year, new you” mentality it fits better, in my mind.

The other option I had was maybe move it up to May, and make it a birthday thing. Like “Now that I’m 40…” And it could work but AGAIN another plot point comes under attack in the forms of a character that HAS TO put on a jacket. (That is 100% non-negotiable.) Is she still going to ask for a jacket?

Oh, writer problems.

My husband is such a dick. He’s making fun of me by saying that I’m going to be eighty years old still working on this book. “I just need to add one more thing.”

Anyway, I’m probably just going to go back and put a winter layover. I just don’t want to do it.

National Novel Writing Month

This Thursday, November 1st, marks two of my favorite things. The first being my wedding anniversary (5 years) and the second being the start of National Novel Writing Month or what it is colloquially known as NaNoWriMo.

If you haven’t heard of it and are a budding/want-to-be writer, I suggest you check it out. Their website is: www.nanowrimo.org. I went to their site to brush up on how and where it all began, (because I have this vague memory that it was started by a bunch of college students who wanted to finish their manuscripts) but I couldn’t find any sort of mission statement. So, I may have just made that shit up in my head. Who knows. If I did, that isn’t the first time I imagined reading information in regards to the event.

The idea behind it is that every day for the month of November you write a minimum of 1,667 words until the 30th when you reach the ultimate goal of 50,000, which amounts to a novel length work of fiction.

When I first participated I could have SWORN I read somewhere that you just write, you don’t ever go back and revise or re-read what you’d written, and instead charge forward until you’ve accomplished your goal. Once at the finish line you can look back and begin the process of editing. When I participated the following year that whole piece was absent from their website and, just like my fantasy of “how it started,” may have concocted the whole thing in my imagination. Regardless, that piece of advice is what I pass on to those I try to entice into the event. What I discovered is that this is EXACTLY how I like to write. In addition, I don’t like to plan that far in advance (however if that’s your process have at) because I enjoy having the story unfold for me as if I was reading the book. My good friend Matt told me that is the style in which Stephen King writes and I take that as a shining omen for my process.

The first time I participated I wrote my first ever novel and, also, the one I have since attempted to edit. (That was back in 2009, to get some perspective). It sits on my desktop taunting me. It wants to be published, but the thing I hate about writing is editing, and that is all writing is, to be quite frank.

From that first novel I wrote two subsequent sequels in the same NaNoWriMo style. One of them was absolute trash and once I was complete I ended up printing it and shoving it in some dark drawer, never to see the light of day. The one I wrote after that though was fantastic. I guess I just needed to get all the bad ideas out first.

It has been a few years since I did NaNoWriMo. Life has just gotten in the way and each year I set out with the intent to do it but ultimately told myself that I didn’t need the added stress of trying to write 1,667 words a day for an entire month added to my plate. This year is no exception. I’m just as busy (if not more) like before, which made me realize life is constant and I’ll always be “busy” but that isn’t an excuse to forego my art. Going against my better judgment, I have decided to rejoin the fun, but with an added twist. I will publish my work, to my blog, as I trudge along in all of its terrible, raw glory. (I may give each sprint a little run through the Grammarly program, but otherwise it will remain unedited.)

I encourage you to follow along, because it’s interesting to see how things turn out. Full disclosure, it will also be a train wreck, which is also kind of fun to watch.

P.S. I will be saving each entry under the category “Cursed.”

NYC Midnight – Flash Fiction Challenge #1

I am a sucker for competition, especially in regards to trying to prove my intellect or skill. When it comes to writing contests, there is no other drug I would choose. I love the stress and panic that comes with the possibility of winning. The awards given would prove, once and for all, that I was worth-while and had talent. However, only until recently have I even received any kind of recognition.

As I’ve mentioned before, I won third place for my column “Gay Agenda” in the Renegade Rip.  That award gave me so much self-worth I didn’t know what to do with it or myself.

When the chance to compete in the “NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge” arose I had to enter. Sure it cost me $50, but it guaranteed two of my stories would be read and critiqued by the judges; and it entered me into a chance at winning a cash prize.

The idea behind the contest is that the entrant is put into a group of around 30 people, and in that group each person has to write a 1,000 word story in a specific genre, that takes place at a designated location and must include a single item. Whether the item is crucial to the plot is up to the writer. For the first challenge, I was given the genre of Sci-Fi. My location was “a man-made island” and the item to be included somewhere in the story was “a skeleton.”  I have included it below so that people could read it. Followed immediately after is the feedback I received, and I have to say I agree with everything noted, with the exception of one.

Without further ado, here is my first entry into the flash fiction competition, brought to you by NYC Midnight Madness. I placed 13th out of 15 spots, in a group of 31 contestants.

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SCHIFF’S ISLAND

Darris Shiff stood on the shore of his newly formed island with his arms crossed over his chest. His eyes bounced from one aluminum robo-mech to the next as they bustled about the land mass spreading like a bubble across the surface of the ocean. 

“What do you think?” he said, gesturing with both arms to the scene. 

The young woman with chestnut skin glanced around at the construction with a blank expression. 

“I imagine the Terrestrial Brethren will be pleased.”  

“Good. All it took were a few quadrillion global credits, and here I stand on the precipice of a new age, away from the stench of poverty and war.”  

The young woman licked her lips, turned, and walked to the small table that had been set up for the meeting. A large blue and green hologram spun counterclockwise at the center, with a series of dots typing out flags of data. The sound of the robo-mechs and the waves lapping at the shore dulled the sound of the robotic voice reading each tag. 

“Your assistant informed me that the expected completion date is two weeks from now. That will not sit well with the Brethren. ” 

Schiff sighed, “No, it won’t, but you can’t rush progress. So, it will have to do. Most of the heat and salty ocean air has had a hand in the destruction of the majority of my mechs.” 

“And yet you persist.” 

Schiff turned to her with a broad grin. 

“One does what they must to survive.” 

The woman circled the table and examined the hologram. The grid of illuminated digital lines formed the peak of a single mountain rising like a beak from the tropical foliage and numerous buildings, turrets, and barriers surrounding its base. 

“I could survive here,” she said.  

Darris walked to the table and pressed a single button on the panel at its side. The hologram flickered away.  

“When can we expect them? I am ready for the Dalian Eclipse.” 

The woman smirked. “Are you so certain of that?” 

“Who are you to-” started Schiff, but the loud hum of an approaching ship cut through his response.  

The two looked up toward the sound to see a hover yacht emerged from the dense fog that circled the island. A long, red flag trailed from the rear to signal their station and identity. 

“Finally,” Schiff said. 

The woman narrowed her green eyes at the back of Darris’ head. 

The leisure cruiser pulled close to the island and dropped anchor only a few meters from where the two stood. A shimmering electron gangplank birthed forth from its side and rested at the edge of the shore, as a group of five men in billowing gold garments stepped to the edge of the craft. 

Schiff rushed forward and took his spot at the end of the walkway, as he tugged, tucked, and pressed his clothes to impress. 

“It is a pleasure to meet with you, gentlemen,” Schiff said, with half a bow. “Welcome to my island.” 

The man at the head of the group, with a gaunt face and a hooked nose, pursed his lips together and nodded. 

“Indeed, Mr. Schiff.”  

The men stepped around their host and walked onto the shore. 

“As you can see, everything is coming along nicely. I have developed the technology to build new lands, away from the coppers, for those willing to pay the price.” 

The five men moved about and appraised the scene before them like a flock of birds. 

“Pay?” one of the five said. “Hopefully, that does not include us. Considering what we’re offering you.” 

“Of course not, gentlemen.” 

The men chittered their approval. 

Schiff stepped next to the table and ignited the hologram.  

“As you can see the look of the finished product. We have all the amenities to protect us from pirates and the poor.” 

The Brethren circled the display and gestured to each of the features with their commentary. 

“You’ve done well. A man with your talents deserves what the Brethren offer.” 

Schiff moved to speak, but his voice escaped him. Instead, his jaw opened and closed like the limbs of one of his malfunctioning robo-mechs. 

“Provided you guarantee our own private property in this ocean world, you can join the brotherhood and live forever, like us.” 

Schiff nodded. 

The man with the hooked nose grinned and pulled from a pocket a clear plastic box that contained a single squirming creature that resembled a grub. 

Darris’ hands shook as he lifted them to grab his prize. For so long he had heard the rumors of what it took to be a Brethren, but he had never believed it until the leader placed it in his open palm. 

“Thank you.” 

The growl of an engine drew the attention of everyone gathered on the beach to the ship that exploded from the fog flying a tattered acid-green flag, adorned with the skeleton of a shark. 

“Pirates!” One of the men shrieked, sending the brethren into a panic. 

The young woman seized her moment. With moves as quick as lightning, she pulled a pistol from her boot and shot a single bolt at the gangplank where it short-circuited the walkway, trapping the men on the island. 

“You’re not going anywhere.”  

“We will give you money!” one of them shrieked. 

The young woman sneered. 

“I don’t want your filthy credits.”  

The young woman fired a charged bolt into each of the Brethren’s heads and stopped when she came to Darris. 

Schiff dropped to his knees, with the box still clutched in his hands. 

“Why are you doing this?”  

“One must do what it takes to survive,” the woman said. “And the world without your kind is better off.” 

Schiff glanced from his captor to the dead men on the ground, to the Kubuli in his hands. 

“Thank you for building us a beautiful new world.” 

With one final bullet, the Brethren were no more. 

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JUDGES’ FEEDBACK:

{1751} I truly appreciated the revenge that the young woman takes on the people who would obviously have only used the newly invented land to serve themselves (because that’s what they do best).  {1739}  Schiff’s struggle to join a secret society is intriguing. The tech that he has developed to prove himself, makes him a sympathetic character.  {1743}  This is quite a taut and penetrating flash science fiction.  The slam bang ending is a working hologram itself, italicized with a “Kabuli.”  That pirate ship bursting through fog, flying its shark flag is a real keeper.  Fine piece of writing, this.  WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL NEEDS WORK – {1751}  It seems astounding to me that the men who have such power and wealth would have no bodyguards and only one ship on and off the island; you might improve the story if the young woman had disabled even more obstacles, such as bodyguards or more ships, as it might make her victory seem less miraculous and more plausible. However, this is only a suggestion.  {1739}  The story really begins once the Brethren arrive. Consider truncating the opening sequence. Nothing is written that makes the Brethren or Schiff bad people. They all seem to be pretty hard working folks. Schiff mentions that steps are taken to protect against pirates, yet his facility is immediately overrun. This is a big conflict.  {1743}  An em dash is rendered as: –.