Excerpt from a work in progress: “Gimmie that Old Swamp Music”

Opening to that space gator story I started a few months ago …

The recruiters say you can’t know everything you’ll ever need to know when you’re settling a new planet. You get the basic training but once they ship you off-world you’re expected to figure out for yourself what skills you need, and then load them. The rock you land on should have breathable air and at least a little water and a little landmass, because that’s in your contract, though the best planets have perfect air and a 60/40 balance of water to earth. I’ve never worked one of those but I hear they’re out there. We come from a place with deep oceans and tall mountains and every kind of biome you could imagine, or so I’m told. That’s why we grow up with this idea that we can land anywhere and make a home of it. I thought that too, before I found myself on a tiny swamp planet 6 months out from the Central Ring.

I’d never been so far from home before. This was my third landfall, the first two being closer and easier to handle. The Sheffield-Bailey Corporation does that on purpose. They don’t want you to die the first time because financially you’d be a loss. Well, not you, because there are always more people, that’s the problem forcing us to keep finding new planets in the first place. But the training is an investment in you, and then there’s the ship and the supplies and your datajack surgery, which if you don’t have already have one you have to get. That’s in your contract too. I signed up the first time just to get that jack put in, but it ended up being kind of an adventure to set down on that ice moon and build a base. I enjoyed it. When the paycheck ran out I called up my recruiter and signed on for another tour. That one was a little harder because the ship set us down on what turned out to be a fault line, and the first two months we had to endure about a hundred tiny earthquakes, trembling at random intervals all throughout the day and night. But when the data packets finally came in and we got them loaded into our heads, we were able to find a more stable area of land. I picked up metal forging on that trip too, and Barney got mining and ore processing, so we could make stabilizing rods to run deep into the earth. Those kept the buildings from getting shook apart, and I think that’s why they asked me to take another contract right away.

“We’re coming in for a landing, friends,” Mary’s voice purred over the intercom. I’d already felt the thrusters kicking on to slow our descent but it’s always nice to know when the landing capsule’s functioning correctly. “We’re getting new data in from the sensors now so if you’d like to join me in the command center, you can take a look at our new home.” That got me out of bed in a hurry.

What do you think?

I Make Note (of things)

This is my first attempt to use the WordPress iPhone app to write an entry, so if there are terrible errors, I apologize. I’ll get them repaired when I get home. I am, at the moment, sitting outside of a Staples, using their free wifi, while I wait for my car to be done a the dealer (regular maintenance). I am sitting here making notes about writing thoughts I’ve had over the last few days when it occurred to me that I do that. I make notes. It’s part of how I get a handle on all the ideas which flow through my head on their way to being stories, or lost memories.

One of the best habits I ever got into was writing things down. It is, after all, the “writing” that makes us writers. I used to carry around a notebook and a pen wherever I went – the advent of technology means I carry paper less and have started to rely on my phone/laptop more, but the idea’s the same. Have a thought, write it down.

For example, yesterday I was driving in my car, listening to music. Some of my best work comes out of driving and thinking; my latest story sale was roughed out in my head on the long drive back from Readercon in September. Yesterday I was listening to Mumford & Sons sing about being on your knees and how the water’s rising and you need to hold on and it occurred to me: that’s a great moment to begin a story. But what story? Who’d be trapped somewhere with rising water, waiting to be saved? I was driving past a coal refinery and I saw a huge pile of black rock and thought, oh, a miner. Not a group of them, just one. Waiting. Holding on. Alone.

This miner would have to have a way to communicate with the outside world or we’d never know his story, so he has a two-way radio, which makes him modern. He’s scared, and shouldn’t have been there in the first place, so he must be a young guy, probably ran from another part of the mine when the walls caved in, and his older co-worker must not have made it. We’ll call him Charlie, the old guy, and the young guy is Jim. Jim got a girl pregnant just after high school, which is how he ended up taking such a dangerous job when he’s so young. 19 sounds like a good age for Jim, which means his young wife already had the baby. We’ll call the child Ruth, or Ruthie, after Jim’s wife’s grandmother. The wife needs a name too, so we’ll call her Tammy, because that sounds like the sort of name that goes with an 18-year old mother in Pennsylvania, waiting long hours in her sparsely furnished apt for her husband to come home. The kind of girl who is exhausted after a day of crying baby and no help and who won’t get any when Jim’s home because he has to drive more than hour to get to the mine, each way, and since he works a long shift on top of the commute (because they need the overtime pay), when he gets home he just wants a hot shower and his share of the hot dog casserole and to be left alone so he can sleep.

I think they fight a lot, don’t you?

So Jim’s alone in the rising water and the mine controller, the guy in the nice dry office on the other end of the radio, is telling him to hold on. Hold on, Jim, help is coming. But of course there wasn’t supposed to be any water there, and the diggers will never reach Jim in time, and he’s a young guy but he isn’t stupid so… he knows. The controller, let’s call him Rick, is college educated, wears a tie, and has never had a mine accident before. He doesn’t want the press, or the inevitable inquiry, or the insurance payout to the families of he dead. He wanted efficiency and progress and a nice bonus at Christmas. But he’s stuck in this situation now and he’s trying his best to keep Jim alive. So he’s not a bad guy. Not really.

But the water’s rising.

Tammy has been told about the accident and she’s scrambled to get their things together and get Ruthie into the car but she won’t make it in time. She knows. They all know, the ones who grow up in this part of PA. Miners die. Her daddy wasn’t a miner but her grandfather was and she heard stories when she was a kid but she never thought (was always worried) that it would happen to Jim. The baby was supposed to be her salvation, a guaranteed marriage and a man to take care of her, not so much work and now the death of her husband. She’s had to get a neighbor to drive her because she can’t drive while she’s so busy thinking about how she’s a widow at 18.

Rick’s saying all he right things and the diggers know where Jim is but the ground’s unstable and the water’s up to his neck and all Jim can think now is that he doesn’t want to die alone. Even dying with old Charlie would have been OK, he tells Rick, but Charlie’s dead, under the water. Charlie tripped and got his legs trapped under falling rock and drowned while Jim watched helplessly. Rick tells him he’s not alone, he’s never alone.

Maybe he isn’t.

We can’t let Jim die alone. He will die, we’ve seen to that, we can’t write a way out of this for him without the story getting implausible and that’s the death of stories. No way out, Jim’s a goner. But who can be with him? Who can hold his hand? I think it’s Charlie. And Henry and Billy and Robert James (the third) – all the others who died in this mine, died knowing it was coming, that this mine would open its maw for only so long and in exchange for the coal it needed sacrifices. Little morsels to gobble up. Charlie will explain this to Jim, and Henry will comfort him, and Robert will call him a “brother” and so as the water covers his mouth and his nose Jim will feel their hands on him and their arms around him and he will not die alone.

And Rick will hear it all, because someone has to.

And I know the story now too, because yesterday I heard a song, thought my thoughts, and made a note of it.

Excerpt from a #WIP, “Monsters, Monsters, Everywhere”

I am trying to be braver about my writing. I am trying to put it out into the world more, let more people see it, encourage feedback, and in a way, be held accountable for actually finishing it. This bit is from one of the stories I’m currently writing on:

A waiter brought out another pitcher of fruit-filled water with real ice cubes, not the synth cubes that glowed faintly blue while staying permanently cold. They always tasted of plastic to me. I didn’t argue at the extravagance; getting fed properly was one of the few perks of this job.

“Between towns I live on protein bars and what I find on the road,” I said, smiling. “Thank you for this meal.” Paco grinned, suddenly looking younger than I’d assumed.

“I was not sure you would eat this meat,” he said. “The animals, they have changed so much since I was a child.” He glanced down at the mostly-cleared plate of scorpion gigantesco cooked in goat’s butter and cilantro. It tasted a bit like shellfish if you could forget the sound of their feet chittering across rocks or the wet ripping noise of their massive claws tearing through a cow. I’d eaten mine with warm tortilla.

“Delicious, all of it. I am too full.” Laughter from the street, and we all turned to look at a group of small children running past. A bright pink dress caught my eye.

“They can only play together now,” Paco said with a sigh as we turned back to face each other. “Never alone, and even when they stay together, at night we count and some are missing. When will you hunt the beast?”


The Things I Don’t Talk About

The more I write, the more people ask if they’re seeing bits of my life in those sentences. It’s bound to happen; it happens to nearly every writer. My writer friends who are women tell me it happens to them more than it does to men, but my writing friends who are men aren’t exempt from it either, so I think it’s this thing where a reader wants to have uncovered the greater truth of the story – and the greatest mystery, the greatest truth, is “What The Author Really Meant”. It’s why we read interviews, isn’t it? This desire to know the author is why we read blogs, and why we authors write blogs. If you want to know us, it stands to reason, you’ll read our work too.

But I don’t talk about myself. I talk about writing. I have a Facebook page and a Twitter feed and a Google+ account and I almost entirely talk about writing. This is on purpose, as I think it’s the writing you’re all really interested in, and the writing is all you really deserve to get. If you know me, in person, up close, you know other things about me, because you’ve been there for those events. I don’t hide anything from the people I spend my time with, and I don’t really hide anything from all of you. I just don’t mention it. If you read carefully you will have discovered that I have a child, and you might even know he’s a boy, and that he’s 8, a detail I mentioned I’ve mentioned once, in a tweet. You may know that I was married, and I am not in that relationship anymore, and if you are very astute you may have guessed that I am in a different relationship now. I have a day job, in some kind of office, I don’t work weekends, and I have just acquired a cat. That’s quite a lot of knowledge, really, if you think about it. You know, too, that I am a woman, probably since birth, that I have reddish hair and pale skin and freckles, if you look closely enough. You might know that I am overweight, but have lost weight recently, that I read quite a bit, and write not as much as I’d like, and have published a little, and been published a little more. You might guess that I am in my late 20s, which is what everyone says they guess, or you might know that I am actually 37, which I’ve never been afraid to tell people.

See, you know so much about me already. Is it enough? Will you read this, and feel satisfied, and go on to read my stories as if the words on the page are the only ones you need to know?

Of course not. You want to know everything.

What else could I say that would inform you, as a reader? The truth is, I don’t think I have to say anything. I don’t think the things I’ve already said should change your opinion of my work. I know it will, for some people. For some people, something as basic as my gender will shape their thinking of my writing for the rest of my life. I have avoided joining “women writers” groups simply because I don’t think you should care. (I went ahead and joined Broad Universe a few weeks ago because I realized refusing to do so means I lose out on people who might only pick up my writing because I am a woman but who might stick around because I am a damn good writer.) I don’t think it should matter that I am white, either, though I’ve discovered there are people for whom that matters quite a bit. I don’t think these things should make the tiniest bit of difference in whether you decide to buy my books, or in what you think of my stories. I know a dozen women, about my age, with at least once elementary-school-aged child at home and at least one divorce, and I can guarantee that we all write differently. We are each individuals, with secrets that will never be known, made up of factors that you will never completely understand.

My writing is informed by all of this, and none of it. It’s just as likely that the next story you read of mine will have been inspired by a news article, or a piece of fiction I read as a child, or a story I thought failed (and you’re holding my written attempt to do it right). I don’t make an effort to write about my life, and I doubt very much that there’s an autobiography in my future. I’ve explained this, over and over again, and I know it doesn’t matter. Some of you will still read my writing, and want to know what I’m really trying to say. The question is, if you knew everything about me, what would it change? Would my horror be less frightening? My erotica less sexy? My science fiction less inspired by science fact? Let’s find out.

Here is the quick and dirty story of me: (more…)