WIP: Reality Storage

Cup of Coffee

Coffee cup

Finishing up the final polish of a story today, titled “Reality Storage”. It fits in both the Villa Encantada series as well as the category of “stories inspired by the remodeling and moving process.” Here you go:

So there I was staring at the bank of monitors. It was still early in the morning; my coffee was half-full but I’d finished my muffin. I was thinking about the way Bonnie smelled in the morning, before she showered, still a little sweaty but with a lingering edge like lilac and mint from her bodywash, and a little musty too, when you burrowed your face down into the hollow of her neck.

On monitor three, the guy entered, got a cart, and then pretended to load stuff onto it from his car. That’s what made me look a second time, catching him lifting empty air up. He did it five or six times, then trundled the cart onto the elevator and took it up to locker 234.

I watched him all the way, sipping my coffee, wondering what he was up to. He opened up the locker, mimed lifting six things into it, closed and locked it. He even wore work gloves to protect his hands. I wondered if he was practicing some kind of act. It looked so realistic, to the point where he staggered on the last lift, as though thrown off balance by the burden’s heaviness.

He stripped off the gloves, closed up the unit, and locked it again. He didn’t bother to take the empty cart back down with him, just left it there, which made me think the worse of him. It’s shitty not to do little things like that, to make someone else clean up after you.

While he was in the elevator, he looks straight at the camera. He rubbed at his ear, frowning. Then he shrugged and gave the camera a wave, as though he saw me watching.

Then he got back into his sporty little pickup truck and drove away.

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Coming Up Tomorrow in Patreon: Prairie Dog Town

Picture of an empty cage

"Like the gift shop, the zoo was deserted. Cages of galvanized wire, weathered into dullness. Had it been shiny when the place was first built? She had a hard time envisioning any part of this ever being shiny and new. It was too slump-shouldered, too almost-abandoned. "

If you’re one of my Patreon patrons, rejoice! I have finished a brand spanking new story for tomorrow and you guys will be literally the first human beings to read it in its entirety (Wayne’s heard part of a draft. Living with a writer who insists on reading stuff aloud may or may not be a bonus, depending on how you view it. I firmly insist it is one.).

Here’s a little. The protagonist’s an elderly woman with an important secret:

Like the gift shop, the zoo was deserted. Cages of galvanized wire, weathered into dullness. Had it been shiny when the place was first built? She had a hard time envisioning any part of this ever being shiny and new. It was too slump-shouldered, too almost-abandoned.

Despite the man’s words, there was no shade, only crumbing concrete benches sizzling in the sun beside lopsided tables, so she wandered through the cages. If she kept moving, the sun wouldn’t press down on her like a hand, and besides, there might be shade here somewhere.

The most interesting thing was the actual prairie dog town that the zoo had been built on. The prairie dogs were there, their heads at the top of many of the tunnels, each of which had a scattering of grain near them. Most of the prairie dogs whistled and popped their heads back in when she approached, but one fat one stayed, chewing away, even when she got within a few feet, although it tilted its head to keep her in view, cheeks still stuffed full.

Someone else might have found the place depressing, but she didn’t do emotions any more. You can’t have a heart that bleeds if you want to be in our line of work, her father had said long ago when she was a teen, just learning, and he’d made sure of that. Her thoughts moved away from that. Water under the bridge, time that had flowed away and never been recoverable.

If you’re not a Patreon patron, allow me to shamelessly point out that for as little as $2 a month, you can get two original, unpublished stories from me each month (with bonus material coming as we hit each stretch goal). Want to see me editing a magazine again? Sign up now to supoort the campaign.

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On Writing: When A Story Clicks

Photograph of wild bird-of-paradise blossoms.

While perseverance matters, breaks are important too. Yesterday we went to Manuel Antonio Park and spent a fabulous day, culminating with coming home and going walking in wonderful, warm rain for a delicious dinner. You can give yourself the day off - just make sure you do something that nourishes you in some way and that you don't make every day a break day,

One of the things I stress to students is that you cannot wait for the muse. And, in fact, the more you wait for her, the less likely she is to arrive.

For example. The last few days I’ve been working at getting back into the flow of writing daily. I held myself accountable and post daily word counts here or on Twitter. And lemme tell you, some of those words were difficult to wrestle out of my skull and onto the page. One way I can tell things are going in difficult fits and spurts is that I’ll hop around a lot from story to story.

One of those projects is “Prairiedog Town” (which is definitely getting a different title). I started jotting down mental notes for it while traveling through Kansas, but only had a thousand words or so on it before last week. It was slow writing, partially because I wasn’t sure how I was getting from one point to another in the story. I knew it was a piece about a woman reclaiming her humanity and I had a good idea of what the penultimate scene would look like.

So I kept jotting words down in sporadic clumps of a few hundred at a time, yerking the story along in an awkward and impatient way. It helped when I incorporated a prompt from Sandra M. Odell, a woman finding an abandoned teddy bear by the road. But it still was slow slogging. Yesterday I took a break from it.

And then, this morning, while working on it, things began to fall into place. A secondary character had popped up, and I understood how to bring her back into the story — and why. A piece that was supposed to take three days suddenly shortened into a single night, and with that, the ultimate scene came clear. I went through, pulling the threads into place as close to a thousand words came spilling out and into the story.

It’s not done yet — maybe another thousand words to go, but I’ve got a map of it, and comments where I need to go back and insert things. Here, for example, is what a section of today’s work looks like:

They end up chatting. Talia asks after father. Relates that he’s died. Talia asks if she’s going to the funeral.

It’s what you’d say either way, isn’t it.
That’s true
I’ll be there. On the outskirts.

She freezes again. It’s an old code word they used to use, back in the days when they worked together. It’s someplace close but (some distance) to the (direction).

And most importantly at all, things have come together to a point where I’m excited about the story, feel that some clever stuff has been worked in or has had places made for it. It’ll end up being around 4-5 thousand words, and I know I’ll finish it by the end of this month, because it’s designated as the next story to go out in the Patreon campaign.

And if I hadn’t done that picking away at it — scraping those words out of my skull, even though it felt painful and awkward and uninspired — I would have never gotten to that point at all.

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Yes, Beyoncé Can Be A Feminist

Picture of a tortoiseshell cat.

Taco, as often happens, agrees with me.

So Beyonce appeared at the VMAs and called herself a feminist. More than that, she stood in front of an enormous glowing sign saying “Feminist” in an image that’s exploded across the Internet.

I think that’s pretty darn cool. Because I am so tired of what’s been done to the word feminist by those who oppose it, the redefinition of it to a hateful caricature. I taught Women’s Studies for a while and time after time, smart, fierce, wonderful young women would say to me, “I’m not a feminist, but…” and then something aligned with feminism would come out of their mouth. And it made me want to weep, every time, that the word had been recast to the point where they did not want to be identified by it.

I read a piece today that said, “Before you call her a feminist, know she’s voted Republican!”

So what? Does that author really think there aren’t Republicans who are feminists? Another piece said OMG she poledanced in a music video. Again, so what?

Continue reading

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More About That Comfort Zone Thing

Picture of a swimming pool.

Here's a picture of that pool, taken from the balcony.

I was thinking more about the idea of writing outside your comfort zone, and found something that’s happened recently pretty applicable.

I have never been a good swimmer. It’s quite possible I never will be. When I was a kid, my parents kept enrolling me in swimming lessons, and I kept being a terrible swimmer who refused to put my head under water. Part of it was that I’d learned by then that if I got water in my ears, an ear infection wouldn’t be far behind, so every lesson was a silent battle to avoid putting my head underwater. It wasn’t till high school, when several friends decided I would learn to swim (bless you, Ann, Ann, Anne, and Maureen), that I actually got to the point where I could float long enough to survive a (fairly brief) period if I ever fell off a boat. Couple that with an illness that made me extremely self-conscious in a swimsuit for a long time, and you can see why I just don’t get in the water very much.

So here we are in Costa Rica, with a swimming pool right outside our balcony, and a temperature that makes that pool pretty darn inviting. So I got in and splashed around, and finally decided to do a little swimming. And you know what — I liked it. I liked it a lot. And found myself going back repeatedly. Right now I’m going to finsih up this post and then go do it some more.

It took a while to get over the panicked feeling that I was falling forward, that the water wouldn’t hold me up. I kept insisting on starting on the deeper end and swimming towards the shallower, because that way if I put a foot down, I’d be able to hit the bottom. But with every time I made it all the way, it got easier. I started trusting the water (and myself) more.

I’m not claiming I’m going to become a good swimmer anytime soon, or that I’m ever going to like getting water up my nose. But I’m better at it, and certainly more confident about it. And I’ve found something that I like doing, and that I will be trying to incorporate more in my life.

And that — as with so many things in life — applies to writing. Those first attempts to do something new and scary may well be awkward and uncomfortable. In fact, they probably will. Because that’s how we learn. It’s very hard to get good at something without being pretty bad at it at first. And in doing these things, you learn to trust the universe a little more. Which I see as a pretty good thing.

So it’s a Monday morning. Here’s my challenge for you. By Friday, go write or do something that scares you. And come back and tell me what you did.

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Today’s Wordcount and Other Notes (8/24/2014)

Picture of a Book Shelf

Here's the science fiction section of the local bookstore. I

What I worked on today:

Stated reading back through Circus in the Bloodwarm Rain to make sure things aren’t too wildly diverging from the outline. There’s going to be some serious word wrangling and wrestling to get it to all make sense. Added 200 words.

Prairiedog Town (working title) (story): 224 Figured out a sticking point in the story, which makes me happy. It’s modern horror (I think? Dark fantasy? What do we call Stephen King nowadays when there’s no longer a horror section in most bookstores?)

Carpe Glitter (story): 341 words

The Nondescript Bear (flash): completed and clocked in at exactly 700 words.

Crows & Dragons (story): 51 words of outline.

Total wordcount: 1516. Not too bad, but I’ll try to add in an extra 500 tomorrow so I can keep the average wordcount up. And that makes a pretty solid chunk of words produced this week, so go me!

Today’s new Spanish words: la almohada (the pillow), la ardilla (the squirrel), la arena (the sand), la hoguella (the flake, as in corn flake), lanzar (to throw)

Had a lovely conversation via Google Hangouts with my BFF. I love technology. Even got to show her the view out of the window. :)

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Today’s Wordcount and Other Notes (8/23/2014)

Wayne Rambo in Costa Rica.

Wayne, looking carefree with his limonada at Taco Bar.

What I worked on:

Sent out a story to an audio market.

More on Circus In the Bloodwarm Rain (novel): 574

Prairie Dog Town (working title)(story): 715 words. I’ve rounded the 3k mark on this, and think I’m in the home stretch. I want to finish it soon, so I have a few days to lay it aside and let it cool before I pick it up to polish as the next Patreon story.

Letters to My Father (story): 474 words, which finished it off, and sent it back to my charming collaborator/spouse.

Carpe Glitter (story): 457  words, still a long way to go.

Total wordcount: 2220. As always I may try to get in a little more tonight, but probably not.

New Spanish vocabulary: a la parilla (grilled), la acera (the sidewalk), el barro (the mud), el largato (the lizard), la libreria (the bookstore)

Today’s been gorgeous and sunny, though very hot. We walked to Taco Bar for lunch, and found the food both delicious and a pretty good bargain. Then past the super mercado for dinner supplies and the trudge back home.

As noted on Twitter, I’ve been reading The Wheel of Time series since embarking on this trip, and I’ve finally hit the Brandon Sanderson part. Between that and spending so much time in travel, I haven’t had much time to read anything else, but I did finish up the first two books of Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, Authority and Annihilation, which I highly recommend. The final volume, Acceptance, comes out September 2.

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Writing Outside One’s Comfort Zone

Abstract Image

Outside the comfort zone is where the best art lies.

We’ve all got a comfort zone, the place where we can function easily, where we know what to expect. It’s a nice place. It’s…well, it’s COMFORTABLE. Hence the name. It would be easy to stay there all the time.

But for writers, I think it’s very important to go outside it on a regular basis. For one thing, your characters are going to be outside their comfort zones, being challenged, tested, thwarted, more often than not, because one thing about comfort zones is that they can be pretty darn boring to read about. Who wants a character for which everything goes right? (This is, I will argue, why the Richie Rich comic books were pretty darn bland.) How can you write a character outside their comfort zone if you don’t know what it’s like?

And outside our comfort zone is where we learn new things, new skills, new things about ourselves. Here in Costa Rica, my Spanish skill is leaping upward in a way it wouldn’t at home, despite all my best resolutions about daily Duolingo workouts or buying books in Spanish from Amazon. And that in turn has prodded me to try some new things with it, like using one of my stories as a practice piece in translation.

This is why, when I talk to students about going into a workshop like Clarion West or Viable Paradise, I urge them to try to fail. Because you learn so much more from a story where you tried something new and failed than one where you did the same thing you always did. I wrote Zeppelin Follies while at Clarion West as my very first try at a screwball comedy, and I will confess that the first draft was a horrible mishmash of stuff. And boy did I learn a lot from that.

Fortunately, for the vast majority of writers, we like new things. New words, new vistas, new thoughts. And we find them outside that comfort zone, in a place that is frightening and exhilarating all at once. Whizzing along a zipline, diving into waters over our head, talking to strangers. If you doubt that you are brave enough to do such things, remember that you do something braver everyday by putting your writing out there for other people to look at.

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Today’s Wordcount and Other Notes (8/22/2014)

Street art - mural.

Street art in Jaco, across from the sushi restaurant.

What I worked on:

1007 words on Circus in the Bloodwarm Rain, although I really need to start going back and making some of the early parts make more sense. Right now there’s an awful lot of leaping about between the original short story it’s based on (news of that coming soon) and the final outline for the novel.

1005 words on Prairiedog Town (working title)

Total wordcount: 2012, but there’s still time to get a little more in

Today’s new Spanish words: la abeja (the bee), cienca ficción (science fiction), mamar (to suck, as it mother’s milk), el mamon (a kind of fruit), el lavavavillas (the dishwasher), el rastro (the flea market).

We walked down to the farmer’s market in the morning and bought lovely fruit, including bananas and rambutan. After some work in the afternoon, we took a swim break and tried out the pool here, which was delicious. But holy cow, I’d forgotten how tiring swimming can be, and what it’s like to step out of the water and feel gravity reclaiming what was just light and buoyant.

Later on, we went for an evening walk and were forced by rain into a sushi restaurant where we had terrific sushi (although the spicy tuna was a bit too much for me). We’ve been told that Jaco picks up considerably during the weekends, when everyone from San Jose comes down to spend some time here, and it does seem a good bit livelier this evening.

And a little translating! I’ve started “Panecillo tostado, con devoción para acompaña” and am undoubtedly mangling it considerably, all in the name of practice.

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Today’s Wordcount and Other Notes (8/21/2014)

Photo of a humpback whale

Three whales this morning - they came out of the water enough that we could see there was one large and two small and think they might have been humpback whales. Vida pura, indeed.

Lots of skipping around, often what I do when I’ve got several projects in the works.

So here’s the breakdown and total:
650 words on Circus in the Bloodwarm Rain
673 words on “Carpe Glitter”
534 words on “Prairiedog Town” (working title)
200 words and editing finished on a story in a semi-accepted state, plus sent off to the magazine that requested the changes.

Total word count: 2058

Not too bad, particularly when I’m working on getting back into productivity’s swing.

Today’s new words in Spanish: aire acondicianado (air conditioner), apogon (power outage), ballena jorabada (humpback whale), cafetera (coffeemaker), calambur (pun), picadura de mosquito (mosquito bite), la puerta de teja metallica (screen door), reinicializar (to reset, usually a machine).

And Wayne woke me this morning to watch three whales (we think a large humpback and two smaller ones) in the surf.

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