Chuck Wendig’s Random Cocktail Flash Fiction Challenge: Cherry Blossum

Author Chuck Wendig of TerribleMinds put out a Flash Fiction Challenge for this week. Go to this random cocktail generator, take the title of the drink, and make it the title of your very short story. Go!

I got the Cherry Blossum, a brandy-based drink, and ended up with this short piece of 544 words. Here it is in its entirety:

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Cherry Blossum

Jakob turned the delicate white hand over, his own grease-stained fingers leaving smudges on the porcelain finish. The fingernails looked all but real in the flickering factory floor lighting over his work station. On the fine wrist was the small black and pink stamp, branding this as a Sakura model S14 – an older geishabot. Must be obsolete by now.

 

He bagged and stamped the hand and sent it down the line.

 

The right knee joint, flawless, came next. Then the other hand, containing a small crack across the back side. He marked the damage on a yellow tag and sent the hand on. Perhaps that bit could be recycled.

 

Something lingered in the air. A spiced yet floral smell hung over Jakob’s table. It must have been the geishabot. He sniffed his own hands: sweet, cinnamon-like, powdery, and something green like springtime. Then the smell of burnt plastic from down the line took over and he crinkled his nose. The bot’s wrists must have been laced with the scent. Built in, most likely.

 

There was the back side of the faceplate then, a kind of smooth mask from this side. He hated handling the faces most of all. For a moment, Jakob pictured himself holding it up to his own face, this perfect doll’s mask that was like a miniature of his own features (though these bots’ faces were delicate, gently rounded, and fine where his own face was made up of a series of roughly hewn rectangles). With a small shudder he turned the faceplate over.

 

At first, it appeared flawless to Jakob. An eyeless but beautiful face with a small, narrow nose and delicate flower petal lips. It was lovely. It was perfection. Then he saw it: the tiniest warped spot just below the right eye. It was a small air bubble trapped beneath the uppermost layer of plastic finish. It looked like a small tear, frozen in time. Jakob breathed out through his mouth and bagged it up with a yellow tag.

 

When the end-of-shift bell rang, Jakob stood and wiped his hands on his apron. Hanging his things over the back of his chair, he reached over to turn out his light, forgetting that the bulb had been dead for days. The foreman said he would have to wait for a new one – they didn’t have any just now.

 

Jakob hummed a tuneless song as he walked through the misty almost-rain of the late evening. Neon signs flared and glowed in the particulate water drops that hovered in the air. The air around him declared halos of Girls! and Beer! and XXX. He turned left down a narrow alley and entered an unmarked green metal door. Sitting down at the glowing white and silver bar.

 

“You want company again tonight, mister? We got some brand new bots in from Suzaku. Real pretty girls.” The barmaid gave him a languid smile and stretched her dark, slender arm across the bar top toward Jakob.

 

“No thanks, Brandy. Not tonight. Just a drink,” he sighed and pulled his own hand back to his lap.

 

“Suit yourself.” She shrugged and went back to polishing a glass. “What’ll it be?”

 

“The usual.”

 

The spiced lily perfume that hung in the air made his nose twitch.

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Plotting Along: Outlining a New Project

I didn’t use to outline my novels. In fact, I was grumpy and opposed to the whole idea until I was required to create one for part of a writing group project. I dragged my feet. I whined. I’m amazed I didn’t blog about it before, whining.

I thought that it would somehow squash or restrict my creative process. That it would ruin the way that I wrote. That it would take something away from me.

I’ve changed my mind, though. After being “made” to create an outline for my urban fantasy manuscript, I was forced to ask myself plot and character questions and then address them before I had more than a few chapters written. It was like getting advanced notice on what to watch out for in the near future, giving me time to prepare for it.

So now I’m working on the outline and characters for the second book in the same series (while the first manuscript is in beta reading this month). There are some important questions that everyone needs to ask themselves while in the outlining/plot planning phase:

  1. Are character motivations consistent?
  2. Is the conflict set up early and clearly? Is it resolved?
  3. Does the setting contribute appropriately to the overall mood or tone of the scene/novel?
  4. Does the narrative voice reflect character, genre and tone effectively?
  5. Is there a theme (or themes) you can identify in the story?
  6. Is this an original idea/characters? Is it too much of a familiar trope?

Destroying Genre Fiction, One Under-Represented Group at a Time

Last June (2014), something strange and amazing happened: women destroyed science fiction. It was far from a tragedy. Rather, prominent online literary magazine Lightspeed published a special issue featuring science fiction and speculative fiction by all female authors and guest edited by Christie Yant.
And somehow – somehow – the world continued to turn.
In fact, literature at large may have come out the other side of this terrible rebellion a little better off.
Why? Because in literature, as with all things in life, inclusivity makes a huge difference. Sex, gender, race, sexual orientation, economic status, region of residence: all of these voices are different and all of them matter. We live not in an increasingly-diverse world but, rather, in a world that is finally, increasingly, acknowledging its diversity.
This year, Lightspeed has returned to promote another underrepresented group of writers with their new Kickstarter (which has taken off like a rocket): Queers Destroy Science Fiction. This one will be guest edited by the incredible Seanan McGuire (who wrote WDSF’s anchor piece, Each to Each).
I know that I, for my part, can’t wait to submit something(s) to this year’s amazing guest edition and I hope that, my dear readers, should any of you qualify, that you submit something as well.

Trapped Tales Book Release

One of my short stories, Bloom and Fade, was selected to appear in the anthology Trapped Tales. The book features 10 short stories, all from very different genres and in differing styles, so it keeps you turning pages! It’s an easy afternoon’s casual reading, check it out.

I want to share Bloom and Fade with you, readers! I’m sort of in love with this story; I dedicated a lot of time to it and it went through well over 30 drafts before it was just right. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do! Give it a read under the cut.

Continue Reading

Some Rules on Writing

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In 1947, author Robert A. Heinlein published “On the Writing of Speculative Fiction.” In it, he made clear his now-famous 5 rules of writing.
  1. You must write.
  2. You must finish what you write.
  3. You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.
  4. You must put the work on the market.
  5. You must keep the work on the market until it is sold.
As my husband would say, these are all of them SIMPLE RULES but none are EASY. There’s a difference. In theory, anyone CAN do these things but that doesn’t mean they are easy to do well, consistently, and with passion. And that’s the kicker, isn’t it? These all require more than passion. Passion will kick-start a project but only perseverance and dedication can see you through a novel manuscript or the fifth re-write of your short story. So keep going.Keep writing, keep editing, and keep trying to sell your work!

Show Up. Shut Up. Put Up.

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(OR An Accidental Part 2 to Remind Your Brain Who’s Boss)

Having examined how the creative process works inside of the brain (at least briefly and from the standpoint of a severe laywoman), it’s time to figure out how better to train the creative mind to be more productive. As someone who writes as a profession, I really should be writing every day.

I’m not. Most days, sure. If I had my ‘druthers, I’d love to sit and write fairly consistently for 4-6 hours a day, every day. I don’t have that kind of time most days or, if we are being honest, maybe I don’t make that time. Between dealing with a chronic illness and pain, housework, and caring for our three parrots, I don’t have much quiet and uninterrupted down time to just focus on work.

If you are a writer who sits and works 6, 7, 8 hours a day most every day, I salute you. That’s fantastic. If you’re more like me, you might also be wondering how to improve those writing habits. And that’s what they are, aren’t they? Habits. Without an office job with regular hours and pay, it’s up to the individual to just plant his or her butt in a chair and write. With no absolute promise of pay more often than not, consistently working on a writing project can seem daunting.

Being creative is easy. Being consistent is what’s difficult.

I used to work in kitchens. I’m actually trained as a pastry chef! And if there is one line of work that requires consistency above all else (don’t let Food Network fool you with its pretty, well-lit home kitchens because those are a LIE), it’s the world of the restaurant kitchen. That was a low-paying job that required showing up 6 days a week for 10 or more hours of intense physical labor each day and you didn’t have room to mess around with being creative in the grind of daily work.

I developed a mantra for myself when I was having a tough time working through pain or fatigue or frustration and I think it works here, too. If the first part of this article duo was about the physical/chemical aspect of the creative brain, then this part is about the more physical part of writing consistently.

Show up. Shut up. Put up.

It looks simple, doesn’t it? It isn’t always or we would all do it merrily and constantly. Life gets in the way – trust me, I know – but forming habits that put life on pause to be productive is the key.

Show Up.

No, really. That’s it. His is probably the easiest step of all. My illness has kept me from holding down a 9-5 but I can write and work from home! Whatever Show Up means to you, it’s time to do it. No excuses. Get there.

Shut Up.

This is where it gets hard. In the kitchen, this was very literal – no back talk, no excuses, just keep your head down and work. In this case, the question is more about avoiding distraction. Close Facebook and twitter and tumblr and all of that good stuff and just work. Reward yourself every 30 or 45 minutes if you need to (I know I do) with some silly browsing, a snack, or just dancing around your kitchen like an idiot for a few minutes. Whatever works. But when it comes to work, it’s time to Shut Up.

Put Up.

Do the work. Do it. Make goals, work toward them, and (this is the most important bit) finish things. Publishers don’t want to accept 2/3 of your masterpiece brat American novel so you had better actually complete that manuscript. Start small if you need to. Write twitter posts on a professional account. Make blog posts (hint hint!). Write flash fiction or short stories or personal essays or creative non-fiction. Decide on something to do and dot it.

Show up. Shut up. Put up. Now lets see what you can do, Internet!