Five steps to stop being discouraged about writing

So let’s say you’re feeling discouraged about writing. I have been, in the last little while. There’s a lot of reasons you can feel this way. Maybe you got a submission rejected. Maybe you got some negative feedback on something you were pleased with. Maybe you looked at just how far you have to go, while lots of other writers are cranking out books and getting deals and making sales. There are lots of reasons you can end up this way, and really, if you wrote a novel for National Novel Writing Month and you’re now staring at the colossal task of turning it into something good, you might well be feeling like this.

Here are some steps. I hope that once you’ve read them, you’ll feel a little less discouraged.

1. Know that everybody feels discouraged

Novels or stories or poems don’t spring fully formed from the forehead. Writing, editing, rewriting, all of this takes a lot of time and effort as you not just write your material, but learn the art of writing itself. I talk a lot about the 10 000 hour rule, the idea that to master a skill, it’s going to take that many hours of practice. That shouldn’t read like a minimum to success, because maybe your goal isn’t mastery. Maybe it’s just to finish a book or some other project. But nobody achieves their goal with 0 hours spent, and probably not at 50 hours or 100 hours either. So at some point or another, everyone is going to be staring down that path with a whole lot of work left to do, saying to themselves “This feels like too much. I can’t do this.” So you’re not alone.

2. There’s nothing to stop you from quitting except you

If everyone reaches the point of discouragement, then clearly there are those who made it through those feelings. So how did they do it? They didn’t let themselves quit. Maybe you have someone in your life who keeps you encouraged, and if so, that’s great. But if you just stopped working one day, nobody can’t make you pick up the pen and force you to keep at it. Only you can do that. So ultimately, you have to recognize that if you have goals, the only way to achieve them is to pursue them. That may seem pretty basic, but if you’re feeling discouraged, you may need the reminder.

3. Get to the root of the problem

You’re probably still feeling discouraged. That’s why there are five steps. Why are you feeling this way? This is a big deal, because if you don’t know why, you probably won’t stop. So think back. Was there a certain event? What got you started? Something has shaken your confidence or destroyed your determination. Or maybe you never had it in the first place. If so, why not? Figure it out.

4.  Remind yourself why you want to write

Why is it that you want to do this crazy thing of putting fingers to keyboard or pen to paper? Do you have stories to share? Do you want to inspire emotion and feelings? There’s probably a reason, so reminder yourself of what it is. In my experience, one of the best ways to do this is to go back to a book or author you love. Something that inspired you to do what you do. Don’t be afraid to crack open your favourite book and immerse yourself. Experience those feelings again, and let them guide you back to your goals.

5. Start with something easy

So maybe you’re feeling a bit better. You know why you’re feeling discouraged. You understand that everyone feels this way, and that you’re the only one who can push yourself out of it. And you remember the goal that got you fired up to do this in the first place. That’s well and good, but are you really over being discouraged? The problem, whatever it is, hasn’t changed.

You need to get back to work. Start with something easy. If you’re banging your head against a novel, take a break and write a short story. If you’re stuck on a scene, move on and write another. If you’re feeling discouraged because you have so much more work to do, start by doing a little bit every day. It’s okay to ease back into things, get your confidence back, and start feeling good about it all again. Don’t use this as an excuse to abandon your project or get distracted, but sometimes a break from what’s giving you problems is important. Don’t be afraid to take one.

Six reasons not to get discouraged if you’re behind in your first week of NaNoWriMo

So here we are. NaNoWriMo has begun. If you’re shooting for 50k words, you need to have about 6600 by the end of today.

Have you got all those words? A quick glance at my writing buddies seems to indicate a lot of people don’t. But don’t get discouraged. Don’t quit! All is not yet lost. Here’s why.

1. There’s still all of November left. Right now, that’s 27 days. Even if you haven’t written a thing yet, that’s just 1852 words a day to win. That’s a little more than 1667, but not by much.

2. If you haven’t done any planning, starting can often be the hardest part. But as you write and develop your plot, it should get easiest as you learn about your setting and characters.

3. You’ll build the habit as you write. The first day, getting in your words can be a giant slog, especially if you’re starting from zero. But you can do it, and if you make an effort to write a little bit more every day, you can soon catch up, and even keep going.

4. Have you been to meet-ups yet? Connected with your local chapter, or with your genre on the forum? If not, it’s a good way to kick-start your writing. The company of other writers helps. Don’t be afraid to get in touch with them!

5. You’re not that far behind! In my local chapter, we have an event called Marathon, where we meet and write for 8 hours. People quite often manage 10 000 words on that day, with a lot of socializing. Not everyone writes that fast, but the point is that you can write a lot of words in one day. One good day, maybe on a weekend, and you’re caught up.

6. Still more words than you had before. If you’re doing NaNoWriMo, then your goal must be to write. And even if you’ve only got 400 words, or 4000 words, that’s still more words than you had when November started. November is a crummy month to write a novel in. There are exams, Thanksgiving (if you live in the US), Christmas is coming, etc, etc. So maybe 50000 words is unrealistic. So what? Write anyway, and if you don’t reach that goal, it isn’t as if you “lose” NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo is as much about setting goals and deadlines as it is about word count. So don’t feel like you’ve failed if you’re behind, and keep writing!

Ten essential tips for NaNoWriMo

Everyone knows that National Novel Writing Month is a deadly grind which few survive. 50 000 words in a month? Unpossible. Perhaps even inconceivable!

But fear not, I am here to offer these great tips that will power you through the month to victory and probably a publishing deal that will make you at least as rich as Stephen King. Probably not as rich as J.K. Rowling, though. She’s pretty rich.

Anyway, I recommend reading through them all before beginning your implementation.

 

1. You must write all the time

It is a well known fact that for NaNoWriMo, you must write all the time. There is no time for anything else in the month of November. You’re trying to write 50 000 words. That is so many words. How can you ever achieve it without lugging your laptop everywhere as a reminder of your burden? Going to the bathroom? you’ve got time to tap out a few words. Brushing your teeth? Balance the laptop on the toilet and type with your toes. Let the warm glow of the laptop soothe you to sleep until you pass out over it. The bus? Watching TV? You must write, write, and when you have written everything you can, write some more. Not gifted with a portable laptop? Do you have a smartphone, or even a small notebook? You can be writing. Don’t have those? Consider a tattoo gun and your own flesh. The world is your manuscript! But you must never stop writing. There simply isn’t time.

 

2. Don’t tell your family and friends what you’re doing

Your family and friends are subconsciously jealous of your future success, and may even try to sabotage you by interfering with your frantic, furious typing. Deep down, they want to hold you back or distract you. Don’t let them. Deny that you’ll be attempting NaNoWriMo. When asked about November, explain that you’ll be spending the month in isolation, meditating on the secrets of the universe, or maybe that you’ve taken up World of Warcraft or something. Under no circumstances should you let your friends and family know what you’re trying to accomplish. If you’re confronted about your lack of availability, consider knocking out the questioner with the secretion of the Maji-Maki frog. They’ll come to 12-24 hours later with strange, tiger-like marks on their bodies, but they won’t remember a thing.

 

3. Compare yourself with others

Everybody knows NaNoWriMo is a race. A race to finish first. What isn’t well known is that the non-profit that puts on NaNoWriMo offers secret prizes for those who finish first. They include, but are not limited to, a lifetime supply of coffee enemas, a golden statue of a naked Chris Baty, and a publishing deal with Penguin Random House. How do you win them? By writing the most words, the fastest, of course. That’s why it is essential that you constantly compare your word output to others. Otherwise, how will you know if you’re winning?

 

4. Focus, focus, focus

Are you operating heavy machinery, or undergoing surgery, or otherwise unable to put finger, toe, or chin to keyboard? If by some chance you are unable to be writing, you must focus your attention slavishly on your novel, to the exclusion of all other thoughts. You must let your novel consume you like the fires of the sun. There is always something to be thinking about. Always. Should your hero succeed in his madcap quest to consume every cheeseburger, or will your villain halt their progress by garnishing the last quarter pounder with kale? Should the space ship’s flux capacitor fail, or should the hydrospanner? Should you use a comma or a period? There are always things to decide and heaven help you if you arrive at them without knowing what you’ll do. The process of writing this novel must consume your life.

 

5. Edit as you go

Everything that you write in NaNoWrimo must be good. It must be better than good. It must be perfect. Or else, how will you be ready for the mass acceptance of nano novels by publishers in December? It is a little known fact that publishers sit around, staring at their inboxes, for most of the year. Only in December, with the influx of nano-novels, do they have things to publish. Thus, once you’ve written something, be sure to go back and edit it. There won’t be time later. Doing it while it’s fresh in your mind is the only way to ensure that it is suitably perfect.

 

6. Follow the rules diligently

Did you know that you can be kicked out of NaNoWriMo for failing to follow Chris Baty’s draconian commandments? For example, you must write exactly 1667 words a day, or you’re doing it wrong and could be disqualified (missing out on the chance for those coffee enemas). You may not work on an old project. It must be new. Failure to adhere to these rules are the real reason that so few people finish NaNoWriMo. Don’t let yourself be one of them!

 

7. Let inspiration guide you

You can’t force writing. In order for your masterful work to flow from your fingertips, the muses must take you by the hand and lead you delicately forward. Compared to that, the work you do when you’re not inspired is mud. Literally, mud. Why would you want your novel to be mud? Await your inspiration. It will be worth it.

 

8. Wait until the end

YOU HAVE LOTS OF TIME. Of course you should spend the first week of November in a Breaking Bad marathon. You have time to catch up!

 

9. Only write during NaNoWriMo

One month of writing a year is enough, especially if you want to take your writing further. The other eleven months are for other things. Like not writing. And Breaking Bad.

 

10. Don’t follow any of these tips

Really. I’ve done NaNoWriMo for a long time, and these are all examples of behaviour that I’ve seen (or sometimes done myself). Ultimately, there are a lot of ways to win NaNoWriMo, and it’s really a personal challenge rather than a race, but engaging in the above behaviour is really just a way to sabotage yourself. Don’t do it, and happy writing!

How to build and grow an online audience

I recently attended a panel by Robert J Sawyer at When Words Collide, and he had some fascinating thoughts on the subject. He argued that the best way to do this was to find your audience, be it lovers of science fiction or fantasy or erotic furry start trek fanfic, and that it was dangerous to market your book to someone outside your audience, because they’re probably not going to like it. He suggested that most people are unable to distinguish between “this was not to my tastes” and “this was bad.”

Is this llama your audience? Then why do you think he's going to read your blog/book/comic/whatever?

Is this llama your audience? If not, why do you think he’s going to read your blog/book/comic/fanfic whatever?

Once you’ve found your audience, he had two suggestions. One, determine what your “mission statement” as a writer is. That is, what do you, the writer, provide to your readers? If you don’t know it, they’re certainly not going to.  Second, he said, intrigue people so they want to spend time with you. The best way to do this, he suggested, was to be genuinely interested in your audience and try to spend time with them.

Robert was an excellent speaker, but it was in no small part due to this talk that I went “Oh yeah, I have a blog.” And it led to a shift in the way that I’ve been blogging. So far, I’ve kept my politics, my beliefs, and my opinions about a lot of things to myself, precisely because I didn’t want to alienate potential readers (and so I don’t look like a loon, like a certain hard-right science fiction writer who had a movie coming out soon, who will remain nameless). But Sawyer had an excellent point. If you don’t like who I am, he said, you’re probably not going to like the kind of book that I write.

And he has an excellent point. Now, this doesn’t mean I’m about to go spewing insane opinions and lurid details about myself  all over the internet, because I have a professional career that has nothing to do with my blog and my writing, but I can’t appear faceless. I’m a writer of, and a fan of, science fiction and fantasy, of parkour, of politics and history. These are things that I enjoy talking about, and some of them have been very absent from this blog. Also I do bring what I would argue is a Canadianness to my writing, and if you don’t like that, you’re not going to like what I write.

In short, I’m going to spend more time writing about those things here. If you enjoy some of the same things, then perhaps you’ll like what I write. If you don’t, then perhaps you won’t. And that’s fine too.

Flash Fiction: Based on a true story

I haven’t done any flash fiction in a while, so here we go. This is from Chuck Wendig’s A Game of Aspects flash fiction challenge. In it, you choose three things, a subgenre, an element to include, and a theme/motif/conflict. Mine are Sword and Sorcery, Hotel Bar, and Love Square (because love triangle isn’t enough). One of these aspects that make up this flash fiction is based on a true story. It happened to me! I am not saying which one.

Timothy dove away from the table just as the azure bolt of arcane power shattered it into a thousand flying splinters. He hit the ground and rolled forward, then came up running. Alana would need a minute to begin another spell and the smoke and haze would make it difficult for her to see him. He made it behind a stack of boxes without being hit.

It had begun so innocently, with just a bit of kissing. Now the tavern was on fire. Most of the patrons had fled and no doubt someone had called the watch. Timothy thought he could hear a few people across the room, trying to fight the fire. It wasn’t a big blaze yet, they might still succeed and save the building from burning down. He hoped they would. This was one of his favourite taverns.

There was the sound of feet pounding the floor and Timothy poked his head up over his hiding place, just in time for someone to come diving over the boxes and crash into him. The impact blasted the air from Timothy’s lungs. At least the fleeing patrons had flung open the doors and windows in their efforts to escape; it meant he wasn’t going to die of smoke inhalation while struggling to catch his breath. He managed to focus on who had struck him. Was it…

No, it was Jayden, the one person he didn’t have to worry about. “This is all your fault,” the tall, skinny bladesman told him. His goatee was singed and his wavy hair was had ash in it. There was also a sizeable hole in his green cloak.

“My fault?” Just then, there was another crackle of arcane energies. It didn’t kill him, so Timothy ignored it. “You’re the one who got Alana so drunk.”

“And if you’d properly resolved your relationship with her, she wouldn’t be tossing magic around while sobbing. How was I to know she can’t handle her liquor?”

They glared at each other for a moment before Timothy shrugged. “Maybe we both have points. Have you seen Luke?”

Jayden shook his head. “He’s either hiding from you, or hunting for me.”

“He kissed back. How was I supposed to know he’s interested in you instead?” Timothy muttered, more to himself than to Jayden. Luke was the one who’d actually stared the fire in the first place, with one of his damned smoke bombs. Apparently this one had had not enough smoke and a little too much bomb.

A sound made them both look up. A first, Timothy couldn’t place the noise. Then it devolved into a high pitch whine. He had half a second to glance at Jayden; his friend’s panicked expression must have compared to his own. They took off running in opposite directions.

It was just fast enough to avoid the beam of solid, blinding light that eradicated the boxes, searing everything down into a cloud of dust. Timothy took cover behind the bar. Many bottles lay shattered and the harsh smell of strong alcohols filled his nostrils.

“Alana!” He called, regretting opening his mouth the second he did so. “Don’t you think you’re going a bit far? That one would have killed us both!” He blood was pounding in his ears. Perhaps it was from all the running, but his last drink was really hitting him hard, and there had been too many.

“You pulled your sword on me!” Her voice wavered as she spoke.

“I’m sorry! It was a mistake.” It had seemed like a good idea at the time. She had raised her slender hands towards him first. He’d seen lightning and fire burst from those hands, to the detrimental effect of both beasts and men. His sword wouldn’t have done him much good against such magic, but a lot of things had seemed like a good idea tonight. “I’m going to come out. Please don’t kill me.”

He slowly raised his head above the bar. If he stayed down there any more, the fumes were going to get him before the magic did. Alana was standing there, her arms partially raised. A spilled drink had stained the front of her tunic and her coppery hair was ragged around her shoulders. She seemed to sway as she stood. Damn Jayden, how much had he given her? He knew from the look on her face that the tears were coming.

“Why don’t you want me anymore?” She sank down to her knees and buried her face in her hands.

“I’m sorry, but things weren’t working out.” Timothy protested as he glanced over. Her last spell had put a large hole in the wall, and cool air was streaming in from the night outside. “Why don’t you come outside and have some water? We can talk about it?” He had no intention of talking about it. He could have made a run for it, but even after everything else, it didn’t seem fair to leave her in the burning building. Plus, there was nothing left to hide behind between him and the exit. She might still fry him.

She looked up and for a moment he thought she was going to argue. Then she just nodded. Timothy left the bar and came over to her. It looked like they had the fire under control, so he offered her his hand and she took it and stood up.

Jayden and Luke were waiting when he got Alana outside. Luke was sporting a growing bruise on one cheek, and Jayden was standing well away from him. Beside him, Alana’s eyes were drooping.

“Well. I guess we’d better find another tavern. Let’s all get separate rooms tonight, shall we?” he said. Everyone nodded. All in all, it wasn’t the worst night of drinking with his adventuring mates he’d ever had.

Flash Fiction: Hyper-intelligence only goes so far

This week’s flash fiction challenge made me think of the recent paper that ended by supposing that we would be better off not meeting super-intelligent dinosaurs. I tend to agree with this idea, but perhaps you should read the article that explains this baffling ending to a serious paper. You can find it here. This inspired the following.

————————–

“I say, I do wish to reiterate our opposition and indeed disgust of these comments,” said Rararaphnalmasia Adoluphina, otherwise known as Rex. He adjusted his monocle as he stared down at the monitor featuring the puny primate president.

“Indeed!” said Karlasasataaanait Vaaroulophinn, who was usually called by his nickname “Steg.” We resent the idea that your humanity would be better off not meeting us. Why, think of the potential cultural exchanges alone! The learning could be terrific.” Steg’s top-hat slid down to cover his eyes just then, and he adjusted it back onto one of his kite-shaped armour plates.

“But instead, we have to deal with these paranoid suggestions. And we would also like to protest this idea that we are well-advanced versions of your dinosaurs. We did evolve millions of years ago, its true, but in an entirely different star system, which circles two white dwarfs and a blue hyper-giant, wholly different than your Earth. We share nothing in common with your dinosaurs, or their avian descendants!” Rex pounded his fist onto the console. All these baseless accusations made him so mad. He was barely able to contain himself.

The primate president started to open his mouth, but Steg cut him off. “And furthermore, we would like to protest the prolific, problematic characterization on your internet of us as red-wine swilling, for health or otherwise. Like all civilized creatures, we enjoy a wide variety of alcohols in moderation. I enjoy a nice brandy from time to time.”

“I prefer a good white wine to red, myself.” Rex had just finished pouring himself a glass of scotch. “We do not appreciate the characterization of us as potential alcoholics. We are very responsible when it comes to consuming alcohol and piloting our vast space craft. Drinking and driving is a very serious crime.”

“Indeed, I can personally vouch that Rex did not have a single drink before he piloted our vessel into orbit.” Steg told the president.

“Well, what do you have to say for yourself? After these grievous insults?” Rex demanded, and they both started into the monitor.

The president inhaled visibly. There was moisture on his forehead. “I fear that we’ve gotten off on the wrong foot, and given you the wrong impression of us. We meant you no insult through these comments. In fact, they were published as something of a joke, as we had no idea that your kind actually existed. Still, I would like to convey my deepest apology for any insult that you’ve suffered. Certainly, the person who published these comments does not speak for the government of the United States, or for the world. Nor do the people who have made further comments on the internet.

Furthermore, I know that our peoples could learn from each other. You mentioned the possibility of cultural exchange. That would be something we would be very interested in, and I wish to convey the hope for peace and prosperity between our planets.”

“Well.” said Rex, as the haze of anger lifted. “Your heartfelt words are appreciated.”

“I think we can accept your apology. We thank you. I hope you will excuse us. We should return home, or else we will miss happy hour and the appetizers.” Steg turned off the monitor before the president could reply. “I think that went well.”

Rex punched the coordinates for home into the computer. The ship rumbled as the engines powered up and began to break up the Earth to extract the fuel they needed to return home. “Yes, I think they will think twice before insulting other races again. As well they should.”

“Well done, old chap.” Steg patted him on the back.”We’ve struck another blow for decency. But perhaps you should let me drive.” He pointed at the drink in Rex’s hand.”

“Oh, of course. How thoughtless of me. Yes, please do.” Rex slid into the co-pilot’s chair and sipped his scotch. Their ship was now leaving this solar-system, and he enjoyed a well-deserved glow from both the alcohol and the feeling of a job well done.

Flash Fiction: The Huffy Assassination

The latest flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig has us generate five random military operation names, and then pick one to be the title. Here were the ones I generated.

Huffy Assassination

Don’t Mess With Our Foreign Policy

Everlasting Kitten

Nuclear-tipped Lilac

Flaring Cobra

 

I had a real struggle between choosing Everlasting Kitten and Nuclear-tipped Lilac, but eventually I went with Huffy Assassination.

———————–

 

“What do you mean, I’m being assassinated?” The President had been shot. Special Agent Eric Johnston lay on top of him. He’d seen the glint off the rifle scope too late to avoid the first bullet, but now he shielded the President with his own body.

“I have six more speeches to give today! And I’m visiting a cheese factory!” The President squirmed underneath him, as if oblivious to the bloodstain spreading across his blue shirt.

“Please try and stay calm, sir.” Johnston had developed a tin ear for the President’s bluster. Other agents were between them and the church tower now, and Johnston sat up, his automatic appearing in his hand. “I repeat, the President has been shot.” He touched the lapel of his suit to transmit through the microphone there.

“Roger that,” came the reply in his ear. “’Ambulance is on the way. “ That was the mobile command that accompanied the President everywhere. “What is the President’s condition?”

Another gunshot rang out, and Johnston wrapped himself around the President and dragged him down again. There was a third shot. Then the agents around them responded, with a hail of gunfire. The few people from the crowd who’d remained behind now scattered.

“I don’t have time to be assassinated!” The President was still protesting, still trying to sit up. “It’s an election year, you know.”

“Irate.” Johnston replied into his microphone before he could help himself. “He’s been shot in the chest. He’s speaking and attempting to sit up. I don’t yet know…”

Hands grabbed him, tugging at him. “Come on. We need to get the President out of here.” Other agents. “We think we got the assassin.”

“I hope not!” The President told them. “I’m going to wring his neck myself! Don’t you know how many terrorists I killed in Iraq? And then, in Afghanistan?” He kept up his protests while Johnston and the other agents lifted him up. They carried him as fast as they dared, a quick walk, towards the edge of the town square. They’d  been heading for the stage before the first shot. There were no more bullets now, and Johnston thanked God for small mercies.

“We’re at the north end of the square. Near fifth street.” He told his microphone. “Where’s the ambulance?”

“It will be there in a minute,” the voice replied. “Just hold on.”

“Hold on sir. Everything will be alright.” Johnston reached over and ripped the President’s shirt open. The bullet had taken him in the left side, just beneath his ribs. The wound bled freely, but the President was still squirming, so it hadn’t hit his spine.

“That shirt cost more than your salary, you know.” There was some blood on the President’s lips, now. That was bad.

“Try not to talk, sir.” The wail of an ambulance’s sirens was suddenly loud in his ears, and there were paramedics all around him.

“I don’t think the wound is serious” One of them told him after a minute. “The bullet went through him, and I think it may have missed most of his important organs.”

“Assassin down.” The voice in his ear told him. “You are safe to proceed to the hospital.”

They were loading the President into a collapsible gurney when he waved a hand towards Johnston, who approached warily. “You tell my wife,” the President said, his voice quiet. “I don’t want to.”

“Yes, sir.” Johnston agreed.  Was it worse than he’d thought? Was the man he’d sworn to protect, the fiery fighter, really worried? The ambulance doors closed, and other agents hopped into cars to accompany it. Johnston pulled out his cell phone.

From inside the ambulance, he heard the President shouting. “Where the hell do you think you’re going to put that? I’ll have your whole hospital bulldozed! Take this bullet out, so I can feed it to you!”

Johnston relaxed. There was the man he knew. He flipped open the phone and began to dial.

Flash Fiction: The Nebelwald

Some flash fiction from Terribleminds.com. This week, write in a setting. I choose the enchanted forest. Everyone loves a good old enchanted forest. Mine has a vaguely Germanic setting, because I’ve been playing Darklands and it seemed like the thing to do.

 

—————-

The pale mist wrapped around Katharina as though it sought to smother her, to choke the life from her. A wave of the haft of her spear drove it back, temporarily. It was all around her, wrapping around the trunks of the towering pines, flowing across the ground like a living river, reaching cool, wet tendrils beneath the collar of her coat and around her legs.

“The mist is alive.” Her first memory was of the warning, spoken to her older brother. Her mother had repeated it daily to her children. “You must never go into the enchanted Nebelwald. The mist will pluck out your eyes, and you’ll wander blind, forever alone.” It had taken on new meaning when her brother had disappeared from their farm on the edge of the forest. Perhaps she would never return, either.

Katharina banished the thought as she had banished the mist. If she didn’t return, she couldn’t bring back the mushroom her brother needed needed, now could she? Waving her spear again to banish the pervasive mist again, she resumed walking.

Soon the sun vanished as the mist closed in and air grew cold. She turned up the collar of her thick coat, but the mist slipped around her clothes like icy fingers and left her clammy and chilled. Icicles covered the branches of the pines, and hoarfrost crunched beneath her boots. Outside the forest, on the farm, it was early summer. At least she could follow her footsteps home.

A soft moan seemed to reverberate around her. Katharina spun, her spear ready, but she saw nothing. Had it even come from behind her? Everything sounded muffled. Her eyes swept the trees, searching, but if anything lurked there, the mist kept it secret and hidden.

Five steps later, an eyeless leapt up from the ground and lunged at her, dirty fingernails outstretched and yellowed teeth snapping. She had been holding her spear in both hands, and now she caught the thing at arm’s length. Its fingers clawed her breasts but it proved unable to penetrate her coat. Katharina let it claw for a moment. It seemed to be a man, but the face above the snarling mouth was smooth and flawless, with a mop of shaggy brown hair covering its brow. Then she snapped her head forward.

Her brother had never taken good care of his helmet and it had been made for a bigger head than hers, but the rusted dome shattered yellowed teeth and the eyeless fell away. The impact jolted her neck painfully, but she ignored it and readied her spear. The eyeless did not come again, though. It lay still in the frost, emerald ichor leaking from the broken mouth. She kept the point of her spear between it and her until she was some distance away, but it did not come again.

She had been walking for perhaps an hour when the moaning resumed. The cold had begun to sink into her bones by now, dampening her all the way to her underclothes, and even seeping into her boots. This time, the groans echoed for all around her, seeming to surround her. Katharina didn’t wait for them. She was the fastest runner in the village, and now her long legs carried her away, shaking the weariness from her muscles. She never saw a single one of the eyeless as she left them far behind, her breath steaming in the crisp air.

She emerged from the Nebelwald as though she had stepped through a door, emerging into a clearing. An ancient, bent tree shaded the bank of an azure pond into which a lazy brook flowed. Green grass grew on the gentle slopes of the bank around the water, and wildflowers bloomed, interspersing the lush green with displays of lavender and rose. She glanced over her shoulder; the frozen forest loomed behind her and all around the clearing, but it was as if the mist could not follow her. It swirled indignantly, as though disappointed.

Wiping her brow, she pulled off her heavy coat and helm, letting her midnight-dark hair fall free. She had made it. Sweat from her run had made the dampness of the forest worse, and so she unbelted her slate-coloured tunic and pulled it over her head, then removed her underclothes to stand naked in the warm, welcoming sunlight.

Pulling her offering from her pockets, she spread her clothes out on the grass to dry in the sun. The old healer had been specific. You needed to make an offering, or the sprites would take you, instead. Sometimes, they did it anyways, to young men and women. So she took the sausage, the apples, and the slices of bread and laid it out on a flat rock. Then she stepped into the warm, clear water to wait. That, too, had been what the healer had told her, but the water felt good on her aching neck, and she kept her spear within arm’s reach.

She didn’t have to wait long. The sprite had been invisible to her eyes until she saw the sausage rise up off the rock. Barely larger than a child, it shimmered in the sunlight, and for a long minute it watched her. Then it began to devour the sausage, followed by the apples and bread. She held her breath, waiting. Would it? She blinked and lost sight of it until her eyes found it again, now beneath the tree. It plucked a trio of red-topped mushrooms, and placed them on the rock where the food had been. Then it vanished. The trade was complete.

Now, all she had to do was get them home, and put them into a stew for her little brother. Rising out of the water, she seated herself on the flat stone and waited for the sun to dry her. She hoped getting out of the Nebelwald would be easier than getting into it.

Flash Fiction: The Fire of the Gods

Chuck Wendig kindly offered us this flash fiction prompt. 1000 words, entitled “The Fire Of the Gods.” I could easily have written twice this, but here we go.

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Image: ponsulak / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

 

Kind of macabre.”

Huh?” He had only been giving half his attention to Ensign Edmond Blais, who sat at the console beside him.

The name. Kind of macabre, don’t you think?” Edmond said. His friend motioned with his cleft chin towards the nameplate on the wall of the gunnery bay.

How do you mean?” Jerome turned back to the holographic display. They’d only just arrived on board the The God’s Fire, and was on their first shift. He was familiar with the controls, but he couldn’t find the data from the last missile tube calibration test.

The name. You don’t think it’s kind of ominous?”

Jerome swiped into another menu. The data he needed appeared and his eyes scanned it. All four of the tubes in his battery were  ready. Reassured, he turned to his friend.“Edmond, we’re an orbital weapons station. You don’t think we’re trying to send a message with the name?”

Exactly. Orbital weapons station. With all the damage we’ve done to the Shanghai Seventeen’s ground to space capabilities, they could have called the station The Fluffy Rabbit, and it would still be threatening. You know what this station can do.” They both wore formal dress, and his midnight blue buttons gleamed on his black tunic, in stark contrast to Edmond’s sun-bleached hair.

Jerome just shook his head at his friend, and turned back to his console. They had spent the last six months in Jamaica at St. Andrew Space Force base, working on their tans and training for the then-unrevealed task of crewing this station. In doing so they’d missed the bloody final assault against the Shanghai Seventeen’s space and air superiority infrastructure, a grinding campaign that had cost the lives of a million of the American-European Treaty Organization’s brave men and women.

We’re about to end twelve years of war.” He said after a minute. “It’s the only way. A ground campaign is impossible.” The Shanghai Treaty Organization simply had too many men, too many weapons, and too much strategic depth.

Boots echoed on steel grating. Edmond had been about to reply, but he shut up while wiry Lieutenant Wilkins paced behind them. The dark-haired little man seemed a viper in wolf’s clothing. The gunnery bay was quiet, though, and he passed them by in search of other prey.

When the pressure doors had slid closed behind Wilkins, Edmond looked up from his console. “Assuming the Seventeen surrender.”

They have no choice, now.” Jerome protested. ”With the weapons on this station, we can annihilate them. Hasn’t the war already been bloody enough? They have to surrender.” The memory of the aftermath of the chemical attack on Winnipeg flashed unbidden to his mind. He focused on his console and banished the visions of withered corpses at his sister’s home.

What if they don’t? What if they call our bluff?” Edmond asked, and he leaned closer to Jerome. “We’ve spent this entire war saying that we fight for democracy, and freedom, and that we won’t use the same tactics, the chemicals, the biological weapons. But didn’t we create something worse? You remember what they said the main gun on this station could do.”

Jerome did remember. The weapon needed solar panels six hundred kilometres across to power it… a full-power shot would be hot enough to turn a mid-sized city into glass. In fact, the ultimatum to start doing just that had gone down to the Seventeen almost an hour ago.

I don’t know” he said. “I just assumed they would see reason.” He pulled his cap off and ran a hand through his clipped brown hair, aware that he was sweating despite the cool station air. He’d never heard Edmond talk like this before. “What’s gotten in to you?”

I saw Tampa. I saw what they did at Dresden. But, for the sake of military targets, we killed five and a half million people in Hangzhou. And then, there was Manilla. That was “retaliatory.” His fingers made quote marks in the air. “Suppose it was the other way around, and they had this station. With our way of life and our pride threatened, and the ghosts of our dead screaming in our ears, would we surrender?”

Before Jerome could reply, the holographic controls in front of him flickered. The man who appeared at a tenth normal size, and seemed cut from granite with a laser. “Crew of the Fire of the Gods.” his voice was as proper as his appearance was. “The Shanghai Seventeen alliance has rejected our peace overtures. The Combined Parliament has given me authority to carry out our threatened strike. As you know our target is Moscow. You have your orders. We will all do our duty. Admiral Lawrence out.” There was a half second delay, in which Jerome saw the admiral’s throat tighten, and then he vanished.

Immediately lights flashed on his console. Non-essential systems were powering down to supply the main gun. As a missile gunnery officer, he had no direct part in the firing process. His job was to scan for the missiles that the Shanghai Seventeen no longer had.

Sixteen million people in Moscow, pre-war. More, when you account for refugees.” Jerome kept waiting for Edmond to say something else, but he didn’t. He knew that his friend was thinking, though. With a press of a button, Jerome could direct power towards the missile tubes, away from the firing. It was an emergency measure, designed to re-power his defences in case of attack, but it would delay the firing, maybe by hours. Would it give the Shanghai Seventeen enough time to decide to surrender?

For a long moment, Jerome’s finger hovered over the button. Then his hand settled back on the console, where it remained as the station shook around him with a force that made his teeth rattle. He waited for another half-minute or so, before the room stopped shaking and a computerized voice announced. “Target destroyed.”

 

 

 

Flash Fiction: The feeling

Here`s some flash fiction from Chuck Wendig`s flash fiction contest this week. You can see it here.

 

He hated the institute. He feared the sensation of the needles sliding into his skin for the injections. He hated the choking sensation of the huge pills he had to swallow.

Most of all, he hated their droning voices. “Freddie.” The voice said. “What word am I thinking of, Freddie?”

Fred knew, of course. “Beast.”

“Very good, Freddie. And what word am I thinking of now?”

“Brooch.” Fred said. “Cape. Dove. Finger. Flea. Gate.” The words came without effort. They were just there, just behind the scientists’ bald head, just beneath the sheen of sweat, for him to know.

“Well done, Freddie.” He reached out and put a hand on the plastic covering of the mattress that Fred was seated on. “You are very special.”

Fred didn’t reply. He didn’t care about the research, and didn’t watch as the scientist slipped out of the white-walled room. There were a few toys in here, some trucks in a box on the ground, a slide, some crayons and paper. None of those toys interested Fred, and the table, the chairs, and the bed were equally boring. He simply sat on the bed and stared. How long had he been there? He wasn’t sure.

He looked up as the lock clicked and the door swung open, expecting another scientist. It was; the fat one who shaved his head and always wore sweaters, even when it was hot. This time, though, he was holding hands with someone else, a woman. She was pretty, Fred realized, with midnight-coloured tresses that hung down to her shoulders, high cheekbones, and a delicate face.

“Freddie.” The fat scientist said. “This is Angie. She’s like you, we think. Why don’t you come over here and talk to her? She would like that.”

Fred studied her face. She had green eyes. No, he realized, they were gray-green, like chips of jade. They felt familiar. Warm. He hopped off the table and walked across the room, then held out his hand. “My name is Fred. Pleased to meet you.”

“I’m Angela.” She took his hand and shook it. “Shall we talk?” The fat scientist turned and left the room. They would be watching, Fred knew. They always were.

“I’d like that. Let’s sit down.” He led her over to the table, and pulled out a chair for her, just like his mother had always taught him to do. She sat down, and he slid into the chair across from her. “Did you just get here?”

“Yes.” There was a long pause. “I was brought here yesterday.”

“Ah. I don’t really like it here. But they tell me it’s important.”

Angela shrugged. “That’s what they told me, too. I don’t know why.”

Fred didn’t know either. There was a flash of memory; faded like an old photograph, of children playing here. Then it was gone.

“Military.” Fred shook his head, trying to clear it. “Military research.” The memory had shaken him. Why?

“I remembered it too.” Angela said, and for the first time, there was emotion in her face. She leaned across the table. “Freddie. You liked trucks.”

“Trucks.” He repeated. “Angie.” He said, the memory of a raven-haired little girl emerging from his mind. “You liked to draw. With crayons. We were here.”

The realization didn’t shock him. Why not? He wasn’t sure. “So we were.”

Angela was waiting for a reaction. Some kind, any kind. When she didn’t get it, she settled back into her seat. “Is it only us?”

“I don’t know.” Fred told her. He could remember lots of children, his age, older, younger. Some had even been teenagers. He had never met anyone else since then that he could remember. “Can you feel me?”

“Yes.” The corners of her mouth dropped. “You feel sad. Empty.”

“You feel the same, but there is something else. Like a ray of light inside you.”

She took a deep breath. “Hope. I feel hopeful. I found you. The others could be there.”

“I hope they are.” There was no clock in the room, so he had to cast outwards. Outwards behind the cameras and the mirrors, reaching into the watching scientists. They knew what time it was. It was nearly seven thirty.

“I’m sorry.” Fred stood. “I have to go. I’ll be back tonight.”

Her fingers reached for him. “Wait. I don’t want you to go.”

“I don’t want to go either, but I have to. I’ll be back. I promise.” Those words, that promise. It meant more than anything else he had told anyone in a long, long time. But he avoided her fingertips. Instead, he went through the ceiling.

He emerged out onto the rooftop. They always tried to take his briefcase, and his coat. Maybe they thought that, if he didn’t have them, he wouldn’t go. But he had to, and he could always find the coat and briefcase. Yesterday, he’d hidden them on the roof, inside an air vent, and now he reached inside and retrieved them. The morning air was cool and crisp in his lungs, despite the city rising up around him. It would be a warm day, but he swung his coat on anyways.

He dropped off the side of the building, and passed through the fence. The guards shouted at him, like they always did, but they couldn’t stop him. It was time to go to work. All day, though, all he could do was think about Angela, with her dark hair and her haunting green eyes.