Short Stories

All posts tagged Short Stories

With MiniWriMo come round again, I’ve been thinking about what to write this month – which led me led me to look back on what I have written, and, more specifically, how those stories came to be.

head-113927_640Sometimes, stories are NOT born because a mommy story and a daddy story loved each other very much.

Sometimes, story ideas come about fully-formed, like little gifts from fiction heaven. (And isn’t it peachy when THAT happens?)

Other times, it takes a lot of forethought and muscle on the writer’s part – like, conjuring one’s inner Frankenstein to hack and sew words together and scream at the Gods until the Thing takes a life of its own.index

And then, sometimes, the process falls somewhere in the middle. A little prompting, a little “hmmm-ing”, a little pen-to-papering, and then… hey, look. An idea begins to grow.
For me, this often takes the form of a “What If” story.

What If… Bad Was Good?

In April of this year, my flash fiction story, DEFIANCE, appeared in Plasma Frequency Magazine.

Issue 11 Cover Preview

DEFIANCE is a fun little piece. Written in late 2012, it predates – I swear! – the Syfy show of the same name. While both the story and the tv show involve alien invasions and pockets of humanity that remain, erm, defiant, that’s pretty much where the similarities end (at least as far as I’m aware – I lost interest in the series halfway through the first season. Sorry Rockne).

In my DEFIANCE, the main character is a soldier in Earth’s resistance against aliens that have enslaved most of humanity. Poised for a sniper attack on the roof of an old elementary school, Jackson recalls his pre-invasion childhood of classroom tantrums and frowny-face notes that made his mother cry. While we learn that it was his inherent defiance that got young Jackson separated from his mother in civilization’s final hour, it was also what spared him from slavery – and presumably it is what helps him thrive in an alien apocalypse.

So how was this a “What If?” Back in 2012, my six-year-old had a disciplinary record that could put any teenaged hoodlum to shame. He is a brilliant child and the apple of my eye, but our boy was (and still can be) a holy terror to his teachers. A year later, he would (finally!) be diagnosed with Aspergers/Autism Spectrum, but at the time the “whys” of him were a mystery. One of the labels bandied about was Oppositional Defiant Disorder, which is another way of saying “irascible, recalcitrant little butthead syndrome”.

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irascible, recalcitrant little butthead syndrome

On the verge of seeing my baby expelled from first grade, I spent one afternoon crying into my hands until, when my own brand of stubborn kicked in, I poured myself a glass of suck-it-up and sat down at my computer. “What If,” I pondered, “being a born butthead was a survival skill? What would that look like?” An hour of fevered-typing later, the world of DEFIANCE had taken shape. Murky shape, maybe – it is only 800 words long, after all – but lo, I’d invented a possible future for my son that wasn’t all bad.

 

WHAT IF can offer new ways of thinking about old problems – and conjure up kick-ass stories, too.

 

What If… Left Was Right?

Science Fiction is an especially appropriate Petri dish for “What-Ifs”; it is, after all, speculative by definition. What if we had the technology to…? What would the future be like if ?

My story, GHOST-WRITER (published thiScigentasyWEBheader2s month in Scigentasy) tackles the Sci-Fi challenge of “What If” in a couple of ways. The primary question, dealing with possible technologies, comes from a note-to-self I found while flipping through old files in search for story ideas: [sic] what if someone’s brain hemispheres suddenly switched dominance?

For those of us who aren’t psychology nerds, “lateralization of brain function” describes the different but complimentary personalities of the left vs right sides of the brain. Though the subject has long made my geek happy (google split-brain experiments), I had recently read a book that was a game-changer for me: My Stroke of Insight, by Jill Bolte Taylor, in which a neuroanatomist describes how her life was enriched by a stroke that disabled her left hemisphere. Free from the constrains of language-labeling and logical thinking, Dr. Taylor describes a world she perceived as free-flowing, creative, and spiritual.

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With my, “What If”, inspired by Dr. Taylor, I tried to imagine what it would be like not to lose the functions of one hemisphere or the other, but to have the hemispheres up and trade places – prince and the pauper-style? Would wacky hjinks ensue? Would the body even notice, short of some vertigo, a Matrix-like glitch? The brain is superbly plastic; science has shown that under the right circumstances it can recover from grievous wounds, basically re-wiring itself to restore lost functioning.

It was from this line of thinking that GHOST-WRITER was conceived. In it, my neuroscientist, Carla, has invented a means of restoring function to brain-damaged patients by getting the remaining, healthy hemisphere to annex the dead tissue and graft its own programming there. Though the titular “Ghost-Writer” project is still in its exploratory stage, wrapped up in the proverbial red-tape, an inoperable brain tumor and a pending divorce compel Carla into taking matters into her own hands.

All fiction can be a “What If” playground; as writers, we can pose the question and invent answers within the parameters of any genre. Science Fiction just happens to lend itself particularly well to pushing the boundaries of possibility.

 

What If… Maybe Was True?

For this reason, a lot of Sci-Fi doubles as social commentary: if we can imagine a future or world or an alternate universe with even a minor shift in our cultural norms, what would that look like? Sometimes this socio-political exploration can be overt, with plots that cover the author’s agenda like a dancing green alien’s chemise (*cough* Star Trek *cough*).

In other cases, like with GHOST-WRITER, the questioning can be more subtle. My “What-if” about the brain’s hemispheres was my primary reason for writing it, but because my main characters are gay women, the story naturally raised questions about the future of gender and sexual politics, in particular same-sex marriage (which was not recognizedl in most states in 2011, when GHOST-WRITER was written).

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So I wrote Carla and Maggie as a married couple –more significantly, I chose not to comment on it. I wanted to create a future where same-sex marriage is not only legal, it’s a non-issue. And I wanted to allow for fluidity, too: when Maggie turns down a date with another doctor it is for emotional reasons – not because he’s a he.

These were little things – I think I said more on the topic by not saying much – but the fact that beta readers were surprised when Carla’s spouse turned out to be a female pleased me, because it means my  take on “What If” here had the power to challenge assumptions.  And that’s, well, something.
What’s great about “What If” is that it inspires us, as writers and readers, to consider possibilities. Not necessarily large or paradigm-changing ones; we should not expect, when we sit down with our laptops or pens, that what we write will save a life or change the world. But, then again, we can always ask:  – What If it could?

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This is my favorite picture from the Someone Wicked Publication Celebration at Newark Arts Alliance on Saturday, where eight of my fellow authors and I performed excerpts of twenty stories from the spectacular Someone Wicked Written Remains anthology.

 

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photo by Justynn Tyme

I had a blast at the event – loved talking with friends and fans, loved listening to the stories,  and loved performing.  I even slipped into a southern drawl during my performance of Chantal Noordeloos’ “Mirror Mirror” – something I hadn’t planned to do, but the dialog seemed to invite it, so I rolled with it.

Unfortunately, though, this is going to be one of those memories I avoid revisiting in pictures because of how I look.  I’ve lost half of my pregnancy weight in just 10 weeks, but for me, as with many women, it’s hard to look at HOW we look with anything but a glass-half-empty mentality.

Weight has always been the Achilles’ Heel to my ego.  I was fat as a kid, and tormented for it, and turned into an anorexic teenager to make up for it.  Even after I found my ideal weight, my height has always made me feel like a giant compared to other women.  It’s been a lifelong challenge to embrace my body type, to love who I am inside AND out.  Add *cough*-ty pounds of baby weight, I end up feeling like a holiday float.

So when I look at the pictures from my reading, I don’t see a lady who is already halfway back to her pre-pregnancy figure.  I see a holiday float in front of a microphone.

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photo by Robert Lutz

But that’s ok.  Looking back through my old journals, I reminded myself that it took eight months to lose the weight from my first child (which is fair, I think, since it took ten months to put it on!) Thanks to nursing and a whole foods diet, I also lost *cough*-ty extra pounds, so that by the time my son had his first birthday I was sleek and happy in my size 10 jeans – just right for my type.

I’m hoping to do the same thing this time around.  I’m eating healthy whole foods again,  aspiring to exercise (heh), and watching the weight come down in a natural way (read: slow).  In the meantime, I’m trying to be kind to myself.  I’m enjoying my baby girl.  I’m embracing the things that I love, like writing.  Like performing.  I may never be able to gaze at those pictures of me at the mic with a warm fuzzy feeling, even when (and if) I lose the weight… but at least I’ll have the memories.  Float or no float, I did go to that party, I did get up to that mic, and I did do my thing.  And it was awesome.

I think that’s key to a full life: you don’t HAVE to love every inch of yourself, but you do need to be kind to you, and love you as a whole.  You need your whole self to show up, after all.  If you’re half-glassing it, you’re only half living.

I do need to get a babysitter, though, so I can get myself to that salon.    Note to self.  A nice cut and color can do wonders for self-love.

 

I have a lot of announcements to make in the days to come, including an explanation for why this blog has been quiet for so long (it’s a good one, I promise!).

In the meantime, please accept my belated congratulations to my friends and colleagues at The Written Remains Writers Guild and Smart Rhino Publications for the release of our much-anticipated anthology, SOMEONE WICKED, now available in print and e-book editions at Amazon.com.

206_SomeoneWicked_Amy_1“Avaricious, cruel, depraved, envious, mean-spirited, vengeful—the wicked have been with us since the beginnings of humankind. You might recognize them and you might not. But make no mistake. When someone wicked crosses your path, your life will never be the same. Do you know someone wicked? You will.

The 21 stories in the Someone Wicked anthology were written by the members of the Written Remains Writers Guild and its friends, and was edited by JM Reinbold and Weldon Burge.”

Someone Wicked is an eclectic web of stories spun around the central theme of evil incarnate, with a diversity of genre and style that is the hallmark of Smart Rhino Publications (and good anthologies everywhere).  The authors featured in this collection include veteran storytellers as well as virgin word-wrights for whom Someone Wicked is a first-time publication.  Contributors include:

  • Gail Husch – Reckonings
  • Billie Sue Mosiman – The Flenser
  • Mike Dunne – The Fire of Iblis
  • Christine Morgan – Sven Bloodhair
  • Ramona DeFelice Long – The Chances
  • Russell Reece – Abracadabra
  • Carson Buckingham – The Plotnik Curse
  • Chantal Noordeloos – Mirror Mirror
  • Patrick Derrickson – The Next King
  • Barbara Ross – Home Improvements
  • JM Reinbold – Missing
  • Shaun Meeks – Despair
  • Liz DeJesus – Sisters: A Fairy Tale
  • Doug Blakeslee – The Flowering Princess of Dreams
  • Justynn Tyme – The Semi-Aquatic Blue Baker of Borneo
  • Ernestus Jiminy Chald – The Tail of Fate
  • Weldon Burge – Right-Hand Man
  • Joseph Badal – Ultimate Betrayal
  • Maria Masington – Impresario
  • L.L. Soares – Sometimes the Good Witch Sings to Me

and – hey, that’s me! –

  • Shannon Connor Winward – The Devil Inside.

Interested in learning more?  Someone Wicked is being featured at The Mortuary, an online forum dedicated to the horror genre in all its forms.  Creep over to the discussion to see what readers and authors are saying about the Someone Wicked stories.

By the way, the illustration for the cover for Someone Wicked (which I absolutely LOVE) was created by Jamie Mahon and designed by Amy York.  Learn more about all the Someone Wicked, as well as news and updates, over at www.SmartRhino.com.

 

 

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Coming in late 2013!

SOMEONE WICKED
A Written Remains Anthology

a production of Smart Rhino Publications.


An anthology of stories by members of the Written Remains Writers Guild and its friends, SOMEONE WICKED is being developed for publication in late 2013.  It is edited by JM Reinbold and Weldon Burge.

Stories include “Missing” by JM Reinbold,”Right-Hand Man” by Weldon Burge, “Reckonings” by Gail Husch, “The Fire of Iblis” by Mike Dunne, “The Next King” by Patrick Derrickson, “Impresario” by Maria Masington, and “The Devil Inside” by Shannon Connor Winward.

 

When a friend invited me to participate in an upcoming pulp-inspired “giant monster” anthology, I initially turned him down – something to the tune of “well I don’t… do? giant monsters?” But he asked me to think about it, and I did, and I’m glad. I won’t say too much, as the project is still pulling bits of matter into it’s orbit, but I started with a “what if”, and ended up somewhere I never expected to go:

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Mosaic of the Schiaparelli hemisphere of Mars – USGS Astrogeology: Martian Hemesphere Images

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve decided I like writing to themes. I like challenging my own habits and tropes, trying out my voice to other people’s songs. The resulting arrangements can be very interesting – like…

pagan gods and terra-forming

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‘Sapporo Underground Pedestrian Space Station Road”’ in Sapporo, Hokkaido prefecture, Japan} by 663highland

 

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From http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/women.htm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

magic, black-eyed maidens, and destiny –

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“the goddess” by Eddi van W.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/spiritual_marketplace/3003158871/

 

 

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Mercury Spacesuit – NASA

 

 

 

 

 

 

– on Mars.

 

Speaking of Mars, and playing outside our comfort zones, here are some interesting Red Planet-related oddities I discovered while writing my story:

 

 

942_streamPRINCESS OF MARS – by Chase Toole

Searching for illustrations of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars series, I stumbled across this image by contemporary artist Chase Toole.  I honestly thought at first that it was taken from some 60s pulp cover.  Although the heroine in my story is (mostly) fully dressed, I’m in love with this girl.  Just look at those colors, and contrasts.

 

THE MARS SOCIETY
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Featured recently on NPR, The Mars Society is an organization dedicated to “furthering the exploration and settlement of the Red Planet” through “Public outreach fostering Mars pioneers, worldwide support for government-funded Mars research and exploration, and private-enterprise Mars exploration and settlement.”

 

I didn’t know there was such a thing – did you?

Want to sign up?

Or, you could just SEND YOUR POETRY TO MARS and touch the cosmos that way.

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“haiku” – Monrovia Public Library
http://www.flickr.com/photos/monroviapubliclibrary/2594040178/

 

A part of the Going to Mars Project, NASA has invited citizens of earth (yes, you!) to write  mars-related haiku.  Three global winners will be recorded on a dvd that’s to be sent with the MAVEN spacecraft into – yeah – outer space.
Everyone who participates will get their name on the dvd, at least.  To find out more, visit Going to Mars with MAVEN.

 

 

Want to know more about giant monsters, beautiful (clothed) ladies, and colonies on Mars? WATCH THIS SPACE – there’s more info to come!

 

 

 

The editors at The Alchemy Press have been posing Q&A to the writers of the Book of Ancient Wonders

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Read the original interview at the publisher’s blog ALCHEMY PRESS

Q&A: Shannon Connor Winward

Under the spotlight today: SHANNON CONNOR WINWARD
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Tell us a little about yourself, and what you like to write?

I’m an American author and poet. Most of what I create is speculative – some sci-fi, fantasy, and what’s been called “mythpunk” – though I write a little bit of everything. On my blog I talk about real life: the writing process, the emotional ups and downs. I chronicle my experiences raising a child with special needs, because I feel there’s a lack of information and empathy for families who have to go through this, and it’s my way of contributing to a larger conversation. I like to write about what touches me, what fascinates me. A lot of my stories deal with death and madness, but not in a macabre sense. I like to explore liminalities.

What inspired you to write Passage?

I minored in anthropology as an undergrad, with a special interest in the Celts of Britain and Ireland. I was writing a thesis on Celtic death rituals, which is largely speculative due to a scarcity of archaeological evidence. I came across a discussion of how the Celts may have used the monoliths as a means of connecting themselves psychologically to the landscape, since they had emigrated there, and places like Newgrange and Stonehenge predated their culture considerably. I became so distracted with the idea that I wrote “Passage” instead of what I was meant to be working on. I scribbled it in the middle of my research notes.

If the TARDIS could drop you off to any one site in its heyday, where would you go?

I’d love to visit Great Britain in the Iron Age – though, to be honest, if the Doctor came to get me, I wouldn’t be picky.

What appeals to you most about ancient sites/landscapes?

I feel a closer kinship to ancient religions than to modern ones, at least in a spiritual sense. Our ancestors were more intimately tied to nature and her cycles, and that is reflected in their sacred sites.

What do you have coming out next?

I have poems due out in various magazines, all TBA, and I’ve been invited to participate in some local fiction anthologies. Right now I’m working on a sci-fi story inspired by Egyptian mythology and Edgar Rice Burroughs, and a modern-day fairy tale about a wicked librarian. I’m also working on my second novel, an urban fantasy, and my first poetry collection. I publish updates and links to my work on my blog.

[Shannon Connor Winward’s writing has appeared in many venues including: Pedestal Magazine, Flash Fiction Online, Strange Horizons, Illumen, This Modern Writer [Pank Magazine], Hip Mama Zine and the anthologies Twisted Fairy Tales: Volume Two, Jack-o’-Spec: Tales of Halloween and Fantasy and Spectacular: Fantasy Favorites. Her poem “All Souls’ Day” is nominated for a 2012 Rhysling Award.]

I have discovered that writing short stories is dangerous to my mental health.

I strive for balance. I’ve said this before – my dearest wish is to portion out my have-to’s (housekeeping, exercise, balancing the checkbook, doctor’s appointments, childcare), want-to’s (gardening, meditating, learning), and MUSTS (writing… also, writing) in some kind of predictable routine. I want to feel peaceful, accomplished, and satisfied in life

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rather than constantly fighting to catch up with one thing or the other.

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As it turns out, though, my muse is a bipolar bitch who refuses to be yoked.

After months of crippling writer’s block, largely due to frustration with my current novel, I started work in February on several short stories I had promised to anthologies. Moving them out of my mental queue would be helpful – obligations to other people always loom large in my mind. I feel guilty, and distracted from anything else I mean to do.

Plus, I figured that short story work would help me transition back into writing the novel – being shorter projects, self-contained and conscripted to a certain theme. Like running sprints to get ready for a marathon.

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And I was right – come April, I’ve gotten back in the habit of writing, got the juices flowing, won my confidence back. And I think I’m ready to start the long journey once again, for all those reasons…

but also because, damn. Writing short stories is apt to kill me.

It’s like this: when I start a project, I start out slow. I like the 250-words a day challenge – a promise I can keep on any given day, doable even over morning coffee while the Kinglet eats his waffles and watches Spongebob before school. If I don’t know where I’m going yet, or need to think about a scene, I can write enough to still see the story grow, even if I don’t come back to it for the rest of the day.

Eventually, the daily wordcount gets higher. I get to know the characters, get invested in what’s happening. The project blossoms from something to play with into something I need and want to do. Then – voila – I’m writing a story.

With novel writing, this process works great for me. I can build a routine around it, writing something almost every day, feeling good that I’m chugging along, every day another step in that journey of a thousand miles…

The trouble with shorts, though, is that it only takes a few days of writing before you can start to see the end. For me, that’s where the crazy kicks in.

I think, oh, look. I’m almost there. If I push it, I can make it… just a little farther. Come on now, girl, work it. Dinner? What? No. Mommy’s working. Let me just kill of this character, finish this scene, search and replace all those -ly words, wait. This passage isn’t working, I just need to DAMN IT LEAVE ME ALONE.

*TWITCH*

No more writer’s block – now I’ve entered into a compulsive, manic creative state. When finally (HUZZAH!) the draft is finished, I look up to realize it’s eleven PM, my child has been sent to bed without a hug, my husband has slunk off to amuse himself with Netflix, my back hurts from sitting so long, and (lately) I’ve chain-smoked my way through an entire pack of Djarum specials. *cough*

BUT THE DRAFT IS DONE. Now what do I work on next? Hmmm. What about that other story…

I’ve completed three shorts since February, two for the anthologies and one I hope to start shopping soon. But I think now, for the sake of my family and my sanity, I need to chill.

Novel writing is hard – damn hard – but at least the end-game madness is a long time in coming.