Category Archives: Writing

Flash Fiction: Why is it so hard to accept that the party’s over?

Preamble: I’ve been super unhappy with my productivity lately. (If you’ve been waiting for an update on this blog, you may have an inklng of why.) Turns out the best way for me, right now, to be happier with the amount that I’m writing is to write more, and more than that to lower the barriers to me writing. Maybe I don’t want to deal with the epic fantasy novel today, or maybe I need to warm up first. Undo some of the neuroses, get the words flowing again by whatever means necessary.

And then Chuck Wendig, who I continually refer to as “the sage yet vulgar uncle of the writernet,” posted his weekly flash-fiction prompt, the lyric up there in the post title.

And you know what? That’s as good a sign as any. Enjoy.

“Party’s over.”

The words struggled out of a sky the texture of velvet. Dega pressed her face deeper into the couch, blocking out the accusation and the acrid miasma of a dozen party fouls. “‘n’isn’t.”

“Yes it is.” A cold hand closed on her bare shoulder, sending a shockwave straight down to her fingertips and refreshing the pinpricks there. “Has been for awhile. You got anything to say about that?”

Dega groaned and mumbled, letting enough cursewords garble together that the result wasn’t even slightly profane. She flung her arm off her eyes, smacking Bel’s hand away, and watched her nails twinkle like shooting lavender stars in a haze of deep brown as her eyes failed to focus. Damn. Maybe she had gone overboard this time.

“You tell me,” she said, once the cotton in her mouth had cleared enough for her to speak real words. She leaned forward, straight into the kind of headache that let her read her pulse in her palms, and managed to hunch herself into something like a real sit.

Bel’s nails kept moving, the brightest thing in the room, a fairy flitting from spilled red cup to crumpled red napkin as one after another they disappeared into the glossy black bag. The blur of motion resisted Dega’s attempts to see the scene clearly, but she had more than enough mental image. “I’ve told you five times,” said Bel, punctuating the statement with the glass crash of three empty bottles. “By the time you realize what you’re doing, it’s half an hour too late.”

Most people would exaggerate, to better underscore their point, but this was Bel, and Dega counted them off on her throbbing fingers (just the headache, pounding down with her blood). Once after school,  second week of the year, when Bel had finally figured out something was up. Once after the boys’ basketball team had decided to pull a prank on the softball girls after practice. And then once after Matthew, but they didn’t talk about Matthew. This was the fifth.

Which meant the fourth…crap.

“When did I…” said Dega, wiggling her fingers. Blood and headache and sick, dark heat pulsed through them with the motion. On one wiggle, she got a wide enough angle to catch a glance of the pad of the finger. The burgundy spiderweb of blood vessels, centered on a pinprick still angry and swollen, crushed the air from her lungs and sent her tongue sticking to the roof of her mouth.

“Right around midnight,” said Bel, tying off the bag. Through the haze of sleep and pain and the prickles of tears, Dega could still see the other two bags slumping by the door, a plump pyramid when Bel took their newest sibling to join them. The shoe rack just beyond them was a mess, one shelf hanging half off the frame and at least a dozen shoes that didn’t match Bel’s fairy-goth aesthetic or each other lurking nearby. So the exodus had been…rapid. “You insisted it was fine, and I believed you for about five minutes too long.”

“You believed me?” Normally the pinprick sent her on at least a sixty-second giddy spree. Cackling was sometimes involved. Maybe she was learning to control it? Then why couldn’t she remember this one?

“For about five minutes.” Bel kicked at the shoes until they were piled up in the shadow of the dead shelf, then vanished. Dega didn’t dare turn her head and risk upsetting the agonizing-but-familiar equilibrium, so the kitchen might as well not exist, no matter how many Gatorades and pain meds it might have held. “I think you did it in the bathroom.”

Not out in the middle of a crowded party. That was smart of her. But if she’d blacked out for this, was it really her?

Wait. “I don’t–I don’t remember that.”

“Yeah, I realized way too late that you were already acting weird.” Bel’s voice moved from one ear to the other, and she reappeared, her star-nails lost in the cloud cover of pink rubber gloves, wielding a magic bottle of disinfectant spray. “That’s my bad.”

“Uh, no. Even I don’t get how this–” Bel wouldn’t have said it unless she believed it, and she had her head on pretty straight about…whatever this was. Which meant… “Now when you say I was ‘acting weird’.”

Bel sighed, then sprayed, another constellation on the dark coffee table. “Outgoing,” she said. “Talking to people. Flirting a little. Nothing crazy. You looked like you were having fun and…yeah, my bad.”

Most people…went to parties to have fun, right? Not because they’d gotten a tip that someone with bad intentions had shown up with drugs in their pockets. Why wasn’t there a world where she could do both?

The thought pulsed straight down into her fingers. Her middle one, specifically, the newest and brightest of her pricked pads. There was, apparently. She was living in it.

“But it…” Dega cleared her throat and didn’t think too much about what had stuffed it. “It, uh. Worked, right?”

Bel’s first response was an aggressive spritz. The second, scrubbing the tabletop like she meant to strip the fake finish from the fake wood, wasn’t much better.

“Yes, it worked,” she said. “You were behind him half a second before he even got out the bottle. He didn’t get to Shawnie or anyone else.”

So it was Shawnie. Dega had had bets on three other girls first, but Shawnie had at least been on the radar; word from the locker room was that the scumbag had a thing for mixed women.

“But we could’ve just busted him,” said Bel, moving on to the end tables, the position of every cup she’d cleared off before clear from the sticky rims. “The glowing eyes and the levitation and the purple lightning were really, really extra.”

Maybe Bel could’ve “just busted him.” But Dega couldn’t have. Dega would have barely made it to the party in the first place.

That strength belonged to her: the thing that came from the pricks in her fingers, the Party Girl, as Dega had faintly started to think of her. And not just the pinpricks, apparently. The thought of it. Shy, scaredy-cat Talladega Jackson switched off, and she took over, even before the blood invitation. Before the party really started.

She levitated and shot purple lightning. The party started when she arrived.

“I…guess.” Dega pressed the back of her hand to her head, trying to kill two throbbing birds with one stone. The throbbing compounded instead. “Let me…let me help you clean?”

“Yeah, when you can stand without throwing up. Hard rain check.” Bel paused in her scrubbing, then sprayed ferociously, dowsing the table in liquid. The reflection of the single lamp on the surface was too much; Dega groaned and curled back into the couch.

The Party Girl did what was necessary, and then some. She was the definition of ‘extra’.

Maybe she could teach Dega to be…just enough. For now, she left bloodied fingertips, a few safer girls, and a monstrous hangover behind.

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WXR.R1: The New World

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I’ve been a convention rat since 2007.

I’m still not clear on how I convinced my parents to take me, fourteen and parading a homemade Ty Lee costume, to DragonCon that year, but the second I got out of the car, I was home. Never mind the social anxiety that made me sick to my stomach on Saturday nights before church youth group the next morning. Never mind the full-tilt scholastic competition I engaged in because it was the only way I knew how to relate to my peers.

Someone with a nice camera stopped me for a photo before I even made it into the con. Other Avatar fans brought me into their photoshoots, celebrated something we all loved until our various crews had to drag us from the food court. I had a twenty-minute conversation in the elevator with a stranger twice my age about dice. I spent a weekend drunk on inclusion, having the time of my life. That DragonCon placed me—very, very directly—on the life path I am now on.

So when I say that attending the Writing Excuses retreat was like going to my first con again, I want you to understand a little bit of what I mean.

Everyone I talked to was bad at small talk and professed such, so we unilaterally dispensed with it. “What are you working on?” was our opening salvo, in the full knowledge that it would be an intensely personal question with an incredible answer. I knew my yellow-badged tribe better in fifteen minutes of conversation than I know some of the colleagues I’ve worked with for two years. I stayed up late into the night playing board games and discussing writing and books and shows and anxiety and life with these amazing people I’d known less than a week. (The haze of sleep deprivation also does a lot to make an event feel like a con. I’m still paying down that debt, and will be for quite a while.)

Thing is, as incredible as all the attendees were, this kind of atmosphere doesn’t just happen. It’s crafted. And the organizers of this event are exquisite craftspeople.

Never before in my life have I been to an event of any kind that places so much importance on the physical and mental safely, comfort, and care of its participants. The WXR crew had a chief safety officer whose cabin number we all had written down, in case something should go wrong, as well as additional staff of five dedicated committee members. I never heard about any problems on the ship, but I have absolute faith that any that happened were handled well.

We all wrote our pronouns on our name badges, regardless of whether that’s a thing we normally think about, because, well, we’ve never met one another and we’re looking at each other’s badges anyway. Why assume? Why single anyone out? To me, a cis woman, it felt like a small thing, but it contributed to an atmosphere of inclusion and comfort and, honestly, love.

We had the Newmans. I’ll talk more about that in another post (I’m anticipating three of these), but two of the instructors went so far beyond what anyone expected, and I owe them an immense debt of gratitude—for helping me get unstuck with my story when what was really happening was that I, myself, was stuck. Every instructor was incredible and available, but the Newmans really set the tone for the event, and it was richer for having them.

At the beginning, we had the image laid out for us that we were sitting in a loading screen: that we would emerge leveled up, with better gear, but that we hadn’t yet. That we would need to be patient and be prepared for it to get harder, but that we had our party with us.

And in the end, we had the acknowledgement that leaving was going to hurt. That writing was going to be harder. That we would grieve.

I’m grieving. I’m ecstatic and thoughtful and catching up on sleep, and I’m grieving.

I had everyone I could sign the little blank passport notebook I won during one of the shipboard writing challenges. Instructors, new dear friends, people I met once, a collage of the hands and pens that changed my life. On the second-to-last page, while we waited to disembark, Mary Robinette Kowal jotted the line I needed: You are out of excuses.

Now write.

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It’s the Simple Things

Welp, it would seem that my intent to blog during Camp NaNo was a wash. I did complete the 50,000-word challenge, 12k of that in the last two days, but I didn’t get the story to any meaningful conclusion and I’m a little burnt out on that world. Not a wasted effort, but not one that’s going to pay dividends in the short term, and that’s okay.

However, I am now free to get back to rewriting Lord Luck, my 2010 NaNo, and it’s taken me a week to even partially re-immerse myself in it. I love this world and these characters so much, even my absolute plethora of witting and unwitting villains (seriously, I just did a tally and my scorned minor deity of death is directly or indirectly using seven different characters in her schemes…who does she think she is, Mr. Gold?), and I want to do them all justice. Which is why, I think, rewriting is so much scarier than writing the first time around (and why, incidentally, I now know from personal experience why bringing a work-in-progress to any kind of NaNo-style challenge, even the much less formal Camp NaNo, is a bad bad bad idea. The burnout I mentioned? That’s totally my own fault. DON’T BRING A PREVIOUSLY STARTED WORK INTO NANO, KIDS).

Getting back into this rewrite, I’m really trying to get to the heart of my main character development arc, and it’s pretty standard coming-of-age fare: character starts off unprincipled and irresponsible, becomes more principled and responsible, eventually confessing to crimes and shouldering the consequences. “And how,” I have asked myself since November 2010, “can I show this character as unprincipled, even a thief, as he’s stated to be?”

And today, after nineteen long months, the answer came to me.

By actually showing him steal something.

It’s the smallest things that evade me sometimes. Always check the simplest solutions first.

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Wasting Time (for the Greater Good)

June’s almost here. When it arrives, I’m starting Camp NaNoWriMo, a light summer version of the 50k-in-a-month challenge that I’ve done since I was twelve. I’m doing that despite the numerous projects I’ve assigned myself this summer (most of them costumes) and the book I’m picking away at revising. Objectively, in writing a new work (okay, finishing an existing one–summer isn’t sacred the way November is, and I’m openly rebelling) when I already have seven redeemable novels is a waste of time.

Don’t care. I need to be writing, and these characters want me to write about them. I would say something like “Don’t you hate when that happens?”, but it’d fall flat. I don’t hate it. I love it when my characters perk up enough to talk to me (even when those conversations include an attempted roundhouse kick to the face).

I’ll be posting a lot about Camp NaNo, and I hope that anyone who’s drifted over from my NaNoWriMo profile will join in. June is a challenge for me because of the smaller community (and community, for NaNo-like projects, is essential). Good luck, Godspeed, and write like you can’t fail.

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