“Smithereens”

bloghopThe Storytime Blog Hop is back, and now slated to be a quarterly event taking place in January, April, July, and October. If you missed the blog hop back in August, definitely check it out. We had a great mix of stories. I found out about this January’s blog hop just in time to finish a story I had lying around. You can read it below, then follow the links at the bottom to check out the other participant’s stories. All stories are speculative fiction (fantasy, sci fi, horror, or any blend of those three) and all are somewhere in the range of PG-rated: no graphic sex or violence

Smithereens

A story by Kris Bowser

“That was the last time I tell someone my daughter was carried off by rockbats,” Hintasa announced to the darkened alcove. The latest noble seeking aid from Her Ladyship the Geomancer had barely left, and the thud of the closing door echoed through the stone hall.

Skiomeir stepped out and stared through her with graphite eyes. He had been a shadow’s width out of sight the entire time. Too close. “You said they need the lie.”

“It’s an embarrassment.”

“Only to you. The rest are terrified of the rockbats. Shall we invent another commoner to have been carried off?”

Hintasa crossed her arms and stood rooted in place. Unyielding as stone, she thought, then chased the thought away as a ridiculous bit of irony.

“I’ll do it this time. I never would have thought I’d have the imagination for it, but it’s been enjoyable. Let’s see… Ataminosz, age thirty-four, came with that caravan. His brother found cover in time and saw the whole thing.” As always, his speech tripped along lightly, water over brook-bottom pebbles.

Hintasa narrowed her eyes. A mother, a monarch, a shaper of stones, she had honed a gaze of disapproval to move a granite cliff face to contrition. “You’re the one who took her from me.” Anger heated her chest.

“Never mind. I should leave the fictions to you. Amazing natural talent. But you know this can’t last.”

Below Hintasa’s clenched, shaking fists, the stone floor had risen up into two stalagmites. “I’m too young for this,” she muttered.

A knock resounded through the hall, and Skiomeir leapt to the side of the throne. As Hintasa turned to face the entry, stone cracked from behind her. One of the guards strode in, her eyes flicking to the twin stalagmites. “My apologies, Lady Geomancer, if my interruption angered you.”

She sighed and held her palms level above the floor. The stalagmites calmed back into flooring as she steadied her breath. “Now, what is it?”

“Lady Otanivar requests an audience.”

Hintasa had only seconds to glare at the spot where Skiomeir had stood, and then to calm her face as she had calmed the stone, before Lady Otanivar walked in with an air of bureaucratic righteousness bolstered by requests and concerns and dull ideas for committees to contend with the scourge of the rockbats. Every time such a meeting occurred, Hintasa toyed with the idea of blurting out the truth, but always her mouth remained clamped.

Assured that her land would be protected, Lady Otanivar lay a hand on Hintasa’s arm. “And how are you doing?”

The answer came automatically. “My daughter was carried off by rockbats.”

“Yes, but how are you?”

“Busy. You’ll have to excuse me.”

As soon as the guard escorted Lady Otanivar out, Hintasa turned back to the throne, to the lurking statue that had not existed before. “Now she’s going to notice next time when there isn’t a statue in that spot.”

The statue flowed back into life and color, and it was Skiomeir who stepped toward her. “You’d be amazed, the things I’ve found out as a statue.”

“Only because you can’t read,” Hintasa snapped.

“Do you know how fitting everyone thought it was, when the Lord of Spire took a geomancer for his wife? What lady could be better to preside over barren mountains and used-up mines? Only someone who sees life in the stone itself could see it in this land.”

“Are you as prone to speeches when you’re a statue? I think you matched the hall after all.”

“Sarcasm? I am stone. But I finally figured out why I am. Out of your loneliness, you thought to create a new companion for yourself. Your husband was gone, but you see life in the stone.”

She nodded admittance, because she would say nothing out loud. If he would only leave. The day’s business was far from over.

“I think if you wanted to love me, you shouldn’t have made me from the things you hated, that you happened to have on hand: the flagstones that didn’t sit quite right, the statue of the general on the second floor landing. The smithereens that fell from the ceiling when a storm hit the Old West Tower. And I think you have no right to be angry that someone else could love me.”

***

Hintasa kneaded the rock arms of the throne while the midwife took care of things. Let her deal with the element of flesh, and Hintasa would stick to the stones.

It was Skiomeir who brought out the tiny bundle of blankets. “Here. Your grandson. Poetic, we thought, that this is the grandson of the Lord of Spire.”

Graphite eyes blinked sleepily, unaware of the nine months of rockbat casualties that had been invented to conceal his entry into the world.

“I had an idea for pair of Suong gypsies, another caravan. But you can’t keep it up for the rest of his life.”

Hintasa stroked his tiny forehead. “You had better hope he doesn’t look like the Old West Tower when he grows up.”

***

As the midwife prepared to leave, Hintasa pulled her out into a corridor. “I want to thank you for helping my daughter through this. You know she’s had a tough time of it these last few months.”

“Yes, I had heard—”

“She was carried off by rockbats. In her condition. Eventually, I went to the mountains myself and fought them off.” Hintasa paced the corridor, and a stone punched out of the wall as she made a triumphant fist. “There’s no need to worry about the rockbats anymore. You can tell that to anyone who asks.”


And now check out the other stories!

Justine Ohlrich Two Deaths on My Birthday
Rabia Gale House Bound
Juneta Key Consequence
Mel Corbett If It’s Not Yours
Elizabeth McCleary Untitled
Katharina Gerlach Scars
Karen Lynn My Story
Angela Woodridge Uninvited Guests
Barbara Lund New Space
Kris Bowser Smithereens

Mushrooms: the danger at the grocery store

My partner posted an anti-brussels sprouts infographic on his facebook, and I retaliated in the only way I know how: by attacking what he loves most with an infographic of my own. It’s 2016. In this day and age, there should be more factual, heavily-researched, and completely not-made-up information about mushrooms.

mushrooms

The text, if you can’t read it:

All about Mushrooms

Learn about the danger at the grocery store.
Leave mushrooms in the forest and in drawings of fairies.
Punch anyone who pressures you into mushroom pizza.

Did you know that 60% of American pizzas need to be disposed of each year due to mushroom contamination occuring when a stray mushroom slips onto a pizza half that was supposed to be only pepperoni?

78% of tantrums thrown by 91% of children ages 4-12 are caused by mushrooms. The resultant elevated stress levels in parents, siblings, and adjacent restaurant-goers have been linked to increased rates of depression, anxiety, heart attack, stroke, diabetes, and leprosy.

There are thousands of different types of mushrooms, and only a small percent are technically edible. The rest will cause the following types of fatalities: literal, spiritual, emotional, textural, imagined, and hoped-for.

Nintendo is in the pocket of Big Mushroom and has received billions of dollars since the mid-1980s to promote a mushroom-positive attitude in their games.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that most serial killers have in common an experience of uncertainty concerning whether or not an eggroll has mushroom in it.

Brainstorming Story Conflict

In my last post, I went over some of the issues with trying to plot an entire novel in an hour, when you don’t actually need to. That’s kind of a niche problem to face, but I help run National Novel Writing Month events in my region of Massachusetts, and we have a planning workshop with limited time. While I think the Random Rapid Plotting exercise has its uses, I didn’t want to use it for our NaNoWriMo group’s Novel Planning Workshop a second year in a row.

Last year, I created a second plotting exercise. This one has been a lot more useful to me, and went over well at our group’s Novel Planning Workshop. It also combines three of my favorite things: lists, index cards, and rolling dice. While it is designed to be done in an hour, to fit into the workshop, it’s also a good exercise to pick up during the writing phase to generate more conflict.

IMG_20130215_210058

Index cards multiply like gremlins, except that throwing water on them also makes them soggy and useless.

Our group’s twelve-hour Coffee Crawl and Writing Marathon is tomorrow. I need all the conflict I can come up with to get through that, so I’m going through the exercise again in preparation.

The Conflict Brainstorming Exercise is exactly what it sounds like. You quickly write down lists of characters, attributes, places, and events. You brainstorm them if you don’t know them already. Then you roll a die a bunch of times, and do some freewriting about potential conflicts. Some things won’t stick, but it’s still a handy way to find conflict from all areas.

This year, I found out that the Conflict Brainstorming Exercise is also good for finding where you have holes in your story. I’m rewriting my very first NaNoWriMo novel (from 2007!) because I know there’s a story I love buried under a bunch of nonsense with a useless second protagonist who had no business being in the story. Stars Fall Out is now also the backstory of a character I’ve written a lot about elsewhere. That means that the world and the antagonist both changed. Trying to write those lists in three minutes showed me where I needed to do more thought work.

If you want to try your hand at the Conflict Brainstorming Exercise, download it here.

Random Rapid Plotting

Why would I until the end of National Novel Writing Month to share a plotting exercise with you? Mostly because things happened, and I didn’t get around to it earlier. But also because there’s room for plotting and planning towards the middle and end of the month. At the beginning of NaNo, there’s always a lot of talk about planning versus pantsing: do you plan before you write, or do you write by the seat of your pants? Most of us are in between. I like to start off with solid character and setting details, and I can wing it for quite awhile before I have to stop and figure out how things come together.

DSC02698

Why this picture? Do I need a reason? Can’t we just be happy I didn’t attempt to use it to create an extended metaphor about seeing where your plot is going?

Every November is National Novel Writing Month, a time when thousands of people all over the world challenge themselves to write a 50,000 word novel in one month. If this is the first you’re hearing of it, fear not. There are twelve days left. You can take two days to stock up on index cards and candy bars, one hour to do some Random Rapid Plotting, and ten days to become a writer-hermit.

I created this plotting exercise for my local NaNoWriMo group to use at our Novel Planning Party in October. Since we also go over character and setting, there’s about an hour to do the plotting exercise. The first time we ran this event, we used Holly Lisle’s “Notecarding: Plotting Under Pressure,” which is also found in Mugging the Muse. It’s a lot of fun, and I’ve used it successfully for three of my favorite November novels. When I printed it out for the first time, I realized that the instructions are lengthy, which is tough with the time constraint of the planning party.

The problem with having an hour to plot a novel is that any method comprehensive enough to be good is going to take longer than an hour. And since the event is in mid-October, we all have longer than an hour to spend plotting. So while we need to have a plotting method that can be done in a hour, it’s also unnecessary in the larger scheme of things.

Two years ago was the first time I tried making my own plotting exercise, and this is what I came up with. It basically involves throwing whatever random stuff is on your mind into a chart, linking things together in a more cohesive, scene-based form, and extrapolating from there. Drawing on the chart in colored pencil to make connections was fun, as well as a nice visual change from my normal novel notes. I think it’s a decent enough exercise, and I came up with a fun plot when I did a test drive on it. It was a contemporary fantasy with an electrician-wizard tracking down a spirit in the power lines, but there were also subplots with a sinister pet groomer and delinquent teenagers, which are my favorite type of teenagers.

However, I didn’t actually use it to plot my own novel that year. The thing is that doing a one-hour plotting exercise when you actually have several weeks to work things out at a more reasonable pace feels slapdash. There’s a such thing as overplanning, but if you’re starting plotting with a few weeks before November, there’s time to let plot ideas percolate and come together naturally.

There are two things I think Random Rapid Plotting would be awesome for.

The first, and the reason I still decided to post this so late in the month, is planning middles and ends. Ends are tougher than beginnings. Everything has to come together and make sense at some point. I had interesting results when I tested this with my current work-in-progress. It helped me think of new ways to put my characters in different situations and connect seemingly unrelated events. It’s a nice way to tie in bits and pieces I came up with in the earlier part of the month.

The second is deciding, at the very last minute, that you don’t want to go into NaNoWriMo with zero planning. Maybe it’s 11:00p.m. on October 31, you’re in the middle of a horror movie, and you remember that NaNo is starting in an hour. You don’t want to fly seat-of-your pants, but if you take your time to plan, you’ll be 10,000 words in the hole by the time you start writing.

That’s what I would use it for, anyway. Last minute plotting, and fast. So I guess the name was appropriate.

Download “Random Rapid Plotting” here.

“Tantrums” and other tales

The Storytime Blog Hop is here, so welcome, blog hoppers. If you’re coming through from one of the other writers’ blogs, you know the deal.

Does anyone else think a blog hopper sounds like a type of shoe?

If this is the first you’re hearing of the blog hop, here’s how it works: this post contains a short story that I wrote. You can read it, and then follow the links to over one dozen other stories. Every story is either short or flash fiction, and somewhere in the genre of speculative fiction—fantasy, sci fi, horror, or any crazy cocktail of those three. Stories in the blog hop are all somewhere around PG-rated: no graphic sex or violence.

I’m excited about this. From what I’ve seen, there’s a nice variety of speculative fiction represented in the link list. Also, it’s probably the closest I’ll come to having a miniature library installed on my website.

My own story is about a powerless noble in the frigid city of Yauglesk, a place where an uneasy two-hundred year occupation is beginning to falter. The story universe is a secondary world fantasy with a sprinkle of gears and steam. Within it, I’m currently working on two novels, Stars Fall Out and Bitter Machines. This story takes place between them, and is one of five telling how the principal characters of Bitter Machines come to be involved with a rebellion in Yauglesk.

[EDIT 5/16/2016: “Tantrums” has been removed from the site, at least for the time being. Feel free to check out “Banshee” and “Smithereens,” as well as the stories below from other authors.]

* * *

Now read on…

Virginia McClain: Rakko’s Storm

Grace Robinette: Georg Grembl

Elizabeth McCleary: The Door

Dale Cozort: Two Letters In A Fireproof Box

Katharina Gerlach: Canned Food

Rabia Gale: Spark

K. A. Petentler: The Twisted Tale of Isabel

Shana Blueming: Paper & Glue

Amy Keeley: To Be Prepared For Chocolate

Cherie “Jade” Arbuckle: After I Died

Karen Lynn: The Family Book

Angela Wooldridge: An Alternative to Frog

Thea van Diepen: Are You Sure It’s That Way?

Paula de Carvalho: Body Double

Kris Bowser: Tantrums

Pumpkin Goblins–Coming Fall 2015

There’s been a glaring omission on my part. Though, it’s not so much glaring as it is a one thousand dollar fireworks display that some guy sets off in his yard at midnight. The omission is a book, one that I’m revising and trying my hardest to publish this fall. I’ve mentioned to it, and alluded to it, and even wrote the blog post “Halloween Profanity—for Children!” about a process I’ve been using in the revision.

I announced it on my mailing list. But I didn’t announce it here, on my blog, as one is supposed to do in this situation.

Pumpkin Goblins is a middle grade chapter book in which a Halloween-deprived child and a squad of pumpkin goblins work to generate Halloween spirit when a mysterious source of summer magic threatens to destroy Halloween for good.

Check out the Pumpkin Goblins page for the full summary.

Scribbled-on manuscript.

My revision manuscript, a survivor of the Traumatizing Coffee Spill of 2015 and also the horrible, disfiguring plague known as My Handwriting.

I’ll be honest. It feels nice to say, “Coming Fall 2015,” but the fact is that I set my deadline for September 20th, and “Coming Fall 2015” is a cheery way to obscure my deadline. September 20th may be slipping out of my grasp. I’m worried that Fall 2015 could slip away as well. But I’m trying. I’ve cut some bad habits as I work to find the remaining revision time I need. Even better, my TV actually broke.

Unfortunately, I can’t quite kick the habit of “having a full time job.” I’ll be cutting my hours in September and October so I can take a course. That’ll net me some Pumpkin Goblins time as well.

Despite all that, I’m ridiculously happy with how the revision is coming along. Every aspect of the story is becoming a story I want to read myself. It’s funnier, scarier, and more goblinish, with stronger characters and better descriptions.

Every now and then, I mention my writing to people. They often say something like, “So, you enjoy writing, huh?” And sometimes, when this happens, it’s a frustrating writing day and I’m irritated with a draft. I’ll shrug and say, “Yeah, I guess,” because at that moment, I can’t muster the enthusiasm.

I think if anyone ever asked, “So, you like revision huh?” my answer would be more excitement than they want to deal with. Like the fireworks of my glaring omission. And that’s how I feel about the Pumpkin Goblins revision: fireworks and excitement, fall leaves and that chill in the wind that makes you feel alive.

Here’s an excerpt of some dialogue I like:

“What’s your name?” asked the first goblin.
“Amber.”
“Ember?”
“We like embers,” said another.
“Because we like fires,” said the third, all of them talking so fast that Amber could hardly tell which one was speaking.
“No, Amber. Like dead bugs that were fossilized a million years ago.”
“Oh.”
“Amber.”
“Like dead bugs.”
“That’s a lovely name for a girl.”

The really cool part is that a friend of mine is doing some illustrations for the cover and the chapter headers.  I’ve improved my drawing a lot in the past few years, and the process no longer seems mystical to me.  But I still can’t do figures well, and I’m always impressed by his characters.  They have an awesome cartoon style, and they really look like they’re moving around on the page.  I’ll definitely post some sketches if he lets me.