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Posts Tagged ‘Chuck Wendig’

She’s not at all what you would expect.

No shroud of murky darkness. No raving anger. No muttering excuses. No whorls of swirling depression blasting everything else to bits.

Just a sympathetic smile.

She sits on my desk sipping from a delicate teacup, as if her appearance in the middle of the night – and the middle of my writing – is a perfectly normal occurrence.

Okay, maybe it is a little more normal than it should be. But it’s not any less annoying.

Looking for all the world like Granny from the Beverly Hillbillies, I half anticipate her guzzling from a jug of “rheumatism medicine” instead of that dainty china doll accessory. But then, I’m not entirely sure of the contents, and she’s the type that hides that kind of stuff in plain sight.

“It’s all right, dear,” she coos. “It’s for the best.”

I just glare at her. I know what she means, and what the rest of her litany will entail. I’ve heard it my whole life. Every time there’s a bump in the road. With every obstacle, every challenge, every rejection. Even with the successes, too. Always that little whisper just off my shoulder.

A raging monster would be easy to ignore, by comparison.

“It’s just the way of the world now.” She takes another sip, pinky out, and rests her cool blue gaze on me. “And it’s ALWAYS been the way of the entertainment industry. You’re battling terrible odds on the best of days.”

She’s right about that. I’m no spring chicken and ageism is rampant, even for novelists. It should be about the product – it should ALWAYS be about the product. But people are what they are. Prejudice dies hard, if at all. And being a good writer isn’t always good enough.

“You can’t help support the household with rejection slips.” Her gnarled hand rests gently on my arm, with a little pat for emphasis. “Maybe you should just stick with what makes money. There’s no shame in that.”

No shame.

No shame in settling. No shame in giving up. No shame being good, but not quite good enough. That’s the story of my life.

All my glory days were long ago. All the genius, all the talent, doesn’t mean anything in a world that favors the loudmouth, the provocateur, the bombastic. Give the masses a sequined three-ring circus and blow up the MC as the finale, and you might get some attention. Social Media is god and goddess. Repeat the inane enough times and it turns into a catchy phrase. Watch that catchy phrase all tarted up for Sunday dinner at the whorehouse win the presidency.

“No one wants smart anymore.” Granny pulls out her big brown jug and chugs a few. I’m not sure what happened to the teacup – there’s no sign of it amidst the clutter of my desk. “It’s all about fake news and alternate facts and screwing everybody but the rich in the name of Jesus H. Christ-on-a-cracker. That’s just not for you, dear.”

Ain’t that the truth. But someone has to be the light keeper. Someone has to be the repository of reason and common sense and fact-based intelligence. Who better than a science fiction writer?

“There’s already so many good ones out there.” She winks at me and swigs another gulp off the jug.

I hate that she’s in my head. I’m never really free of her. And I hate that she’s so often right. There are a ton of good writers out there, already. The David Gerrolds, the John Scalzis, the Chuck Wendigs, the Jim Wrights. All fabulous writers with scathing wit and near-prescient powers of observation. They’ll not only keep the light burning, they’ll weaponize it and napalm the hell out of the stupids. I live barely in their shadows – a cockroach hoping a crumb will fall my way so I can feel like the gods have blessed me.

The jug is proffered in my general direction. “It’ll take the edge off.”

Like that’s a good idea. Just hide in your poison of choice. Hide in that world someone else created because you can’t handle the world you live in. Or the world you should be creating. Real writers write. Fake writers dream of publishing deals while killing orcs.

Too bad I’m old and have tits. I’d probably be a damn good game writer.

“Of course you would, dear.” The jug is tipped over and drizzling its contents down the side of my desk. “Everybody loved having you run games in college. Thirty-five years ago.”

She may look like an innocent little old lady, but her delivery would rival Dame Maggie Smith’s best Downton Abbey snark.

On the downhill side of middle age, and nothing to show for my efforts. So much of my life spent dreaming instead of doing. Because of that little bitch perched in the middle of my soul.

“It’s too hard for you, dear.”

“It doesn’t matter how good you are – you don’t know the right people.”

“You’re good. But not good enough.”

“You don’t really want success, do you? Just think of all the crowds you’d have to deal with.”

If she were an ugly monster, beating her would be easy. Heroic, even. But Granny is a sweet little thing, always looking out for my best interests, of course. Protecting me from the hurt. I won’t get rejected if I don’t put myself out there in the first place. I’m okay right where I am. I have a nice house and a great husband and there’s no need for me to get myself all beat up over something that’s really a pipe dream. Let’s face it – everybody wants to be a writer. And they’re a dime a dozen. So many of them will write for free. And so many of them will write badly. The world is littered with terrible copy under noisy videos claiming to be news, and no one seems to care.

“That’s right, dear.” The teacup has returned, held between finger and thumb like it is a dirty diaper and there’s no pail in sight. “No one cares about quality anymore. So you shouldn’t waste your time.”

I lean back in my chair and scowl. “Fuck you, Granny.”

 

 

Worst thing you write

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Yesterday was my birthday so I decided to be an even bigger slug than usual. I did manage to do the dishes and clean the cat box, because some things just have to be done (especially the cat box – my, he is productive!). But the rest of the day I spent killing things on the computer and ignoring any possible semblance of responsibility. Yeah, I know, I’ve been doing a lot of that lately. The battle between my depression, my intellect, and my inherent laziness is a constant war. And like all wars, the people (i.e., me) – regardless of affiliation – are the losers.

The lists of what I should be doing seem endless. And maybe that’s why I keep ignoring them. I look at the whole thing and get overwhelmed. So many projects, so little discipline. And it is a discipline problem, not a motivational one. If people – especially creative types – waited until they had proper motivation, nothing would ever be created. (Premier Penmonkey and newest Star Wars author Chuck Wendig has his latest rant on the topic here.)

I used to be disciplined. I was that student who always did her homework first, practiced my music diligently, kept my room tidy, and wrote every day. There was a time when I set my sights on a goal and nothing would stop me achieving it. Straight A’s? – Boom, no problem. All-State Band? In the bag. Get into the college I wanted? Never any doubt. Write a novel? Hah! – here’s a whole trilogy! (Not in the least bit good, but it’s written.) My life was organized and on track for what I wanted it to be.

Somewhere along the line, something happened. Nothing that can be pinpointed, no one event that sent things careening off track. Just a gradual slide down the hill of life until you hit the bottom of a rut and wonder how you ended up there. Choices made that weren’t necessarily the best. Allowing fear to control instead of hope. And any modicum of self-confidence that might be had, beaten into a bloody pulp by soul-sucking jobs and self-serving co-workers and oblivious bosses. Eventually that rut looks mighty comfy. It’s safe in there. Dark and cool and consistent. You keep your head down because peeking out will only get you run over. Just keep trudging, kid – there’s no end in sight, but at least you know what you’re dealing with.

And it doesn’t help me that the last few years have been spent almost entirely in crisis mode: hospital visits, car accidents, bankruptcy. Can’t think about next week, let alone the dreams and desires, because we have to take care of this BIG DEAL right NOW! You get numb pretty quick. You retreat even further into your little rut. You think about smoothing out the bottom a little, maybe putting up some curtains, because you sure as hell ain’t coming out anymore so might as well like what you’re wallowing in. Friends aren’t allowed because you don’t want them to see you “this way.” Family is told everything is fine because they’re at the other end of the state and can’t check you on your bullshit. And your spouse slowly collapses into the trap with you, and you both become automatons in your dark little ditch, trudging along like mules before the plow because there’s nothing else you know.

Yeah, cheery, ain’t it? It’s easy to make that determination when you’re on the outside looking in. But it’s so very difficult when you’re down there in the dark. Life is status quo. You have your routines. You pay your bills according to which cut-off notice is next. You live in your pajamas because what’s the point in changing when you never leave the house. Sleep, eat, lose yourself in the magic box on your desk. There’s no real expenditure of effort. The boundaries are known, the results predictable. You survive.

But that’s all you do.

It’s said that the first step to recovery is recognizing you have a problem. Most people never get even that far. And those that do often never get any further. It takes effort to make changes. It takes thinking outside the rut and putting forth energy not used in ages. It takes risks and unknowns and – most rare and difficult of all – faith in yourself. You look at how far it is to the top and are convinced you’ll never make it. How could you possibly do all that climbing when it takes everything you have just to put one foot in front of the other down there in your nice, deep, endless rut. Not to mention all the crazy, fear-mongering wackos that await anyone who sticks their head out, playing whack-a-mole with their zealous, bigoted, prejudicial rhetoric useful only for pounding us back into our hidey-holes and being afraid.

Let me tell you a little secret: don’t worry about any of that. All you need is one step, just one step to start. Focus on building one perfect, decorative, level, supportive step. Plan it, build it, admire it. You’ll soon come to realize it’s all alone and needs a friend. So you’ll build a second step. Then a third and a forth and a fifth, and on until you finally – Surprise! – breach the top. And you’ll be so strong by the time you get there, nothing will bother you. No war-mongering politicians. No apocalyptic doomsayers. No too-big-to-fail corporations.

It won’t be easy or quick, but it beats living forever in the dark.

My first step is to fix my attitude. Attitude is everything. If your attitude is crappy, so is your life. I have to stop looking at the whole picture and being overwhelmed, and focus on just one thing – finding something good in every day. Doesn’t have to be big or shiny or popular. It just has to bring a spark of positive to your energy. Today my good thing was a snoozing cat in my lap. And that’s enough to keep me going until tomorrow.

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There’s an evil genius lurking over at terribleminds. Some day he may use his powers for good, but until then the cornpunk puppet master known as Chuck Wendig likes to torture us less worthy creatures with writing prompts. Thanks to him, I’ve come up with ideas for several stories that I hope to eventually put together into an anthology and release into the wild. And I’ve experienced how much fun it is watching other people tormented by toddlers while enjoying my bourbon and chocolate undisturbed.

Also thanks to him I’ve learned just how much I’m not a writer.

His latest prompt wasn’t to inspire fiction, though, but to inspire thought. Hence the title above. My first response was “fuck if I know.” I just write. Sometimes it’s simply out of habit because I’ve been doing it since dinosaurs roamed the earth. Sometimes it’s therapy as I try and work through emotional issues. Most of the time I just need to escape to a place I haven’t been able to find otherwise.

And that’s where I started to really think about why I write.

I was unable to be very active as a child due to a congenital defect in my knees known as bilateral discoid meniscus. Back in the dark ages of my childhood the medical field didn’t have the imaging capabilities or the orthoscopic surgical procedures it does now. Which means most orthopedic surgeons probably didn’t know as much about the defect as the Wikipedia page I linked to above. It’s not that I couldn’t walk or run or jump: I could, but I would pay for it days afterward, with swelling and intense joint pain. Such results kind of discourage a kid from trying to do any of that stuff, so I spent most of my time indoors. When I wasn’t doing schoolwork or practicing my music, I was reading.

I devoured books by the truckload, and read far above my age/grade level. As a child growing up in the Air Force in the middle of the Space Race, science fiction made more sense to me than anything else. So while most other little girls were giggling over Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, I was digging through Herbert and Heinlein and Asimov and Bradbury, and fighting my sister over who got to change the TV channel to Star Trek (the original series, in it’s original run. Yes, I’m that old…*sigh*…).

Reading and science fiction opened my eyes to worlds only a select few seemed to see. It introduced me to physics, genetics, psychology and all those other scientific fields. It showed me equal amounts hope and despair for the human race. And it wasn’t just the gadgets (though, where do you think flip phones and iPads came from?), but the exploration of ethics and morality that stuck with me. Science fiction could delve into touchy issues with less flack than regular fiction. Race relations, discrimination, sexuality, and dozens of other taboo subjects were the meat and potatoes of science fiction. I was given an education in humanity unparalleled anywhere else.

I began writing in junior high (middle school to some of ya’ll). First as an assignment in English class for a scary story at Halloween. Then as extra credit when the teacher told me how good she thought I was and read my stories in class. And finally because I just couldn’t stop, despite the teasing from the other kids about how I was obviously an alien. I had worlds to explore and people to meet and great adventures to live. It was somewhere to go where I was cool and heroic, instead of dorky and invisible.

It still is. As the real world progresses and descends deeper into madness, the need to go somewhere else increases. I read what’s out there today, and I can’t connect with most of it. The shallow characters don’t resonate with me, and the stories are often so far out there, I have no idea what they’re trying to say. It’s almost like we’ve lost touch with what it means to tell a real story, depending on gimmicks and gadgetry instead. Maybe I’m too old and set in my ways to understand this new way of things, or maybe – just maybe – the Emperor has no clothes.

Whatever the truth, I will continue to translate the voices in my head into words on the page, and hope that one day someone else will stumble upon my ramblings and discover a place they can hide for awhile, too. It’ll be nice to have the company.

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Hi. Remember me? Yeah, I’m a bit late this week. Hubby and I had a big camping weekend with our historical group and I’m just now getting to the point where I can stay awake longer than it takes to roll over. It was exhausting, but a lot of fun. Made me realize just how in shape I’m not. Lots of walking and schlepping and dealing with temperatures I don’t usually let the AC get to. Now that I’m actually getting up in the morning again, I think it’s time to take advantage of the cooler morning temperatures and get out and walk. I’ll get right on that. Next week. Maybe…

Anyhoo, I decided to try another of Chuck Wendig’s writing challenges. This time a 100 word Flash Fiction thing. REALLY flash fiction. Like micro-flash fiction. Short forms not being my strong suit, I feel the need to push myself in this area. Plus, it’s a quickie way to fill this space. Hope you like it.

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Conquered

She was the last of her kind. And, yet, the first of another.

Standing bloodied and exhausted at the final hilltop, her gaze panned over the expanse of bodies below, tens of thousands broken, burnt. The shredded arm of her power armor still sparked in half-hearted attempts to function. Blood blinded one of her eyes and dripped to the dead ground at her feet. Only wisps of smoke stirred between her and the horizon.

Never again to be a slave, she allowed a cold smile.

With the cleansing behind, the rebuilding could begin.

This time on her own terms.

 

 

© 2014   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

 

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So, I follow this crazy guy named Chuck Wendig, whose blog is called terribleminds. Besides being a total wack-a-doodle with a major potty mouth, he’s also a pretty darn good writer. Read his fiction for a rollicking profanity-laced escape, or his non-fiction for helpful writing tips in between imaginative (and often disturbing) invectives. You’ll probably need to go to confession afterwards, though.

Anyway, he posted a flash fiction writing challenge last week. The idea is to generate a random title using dice or a random number generator and then write a story to match the title. It’s been so long since I played with my gaming dice, I had to do it just for the excuse to dig them out and roll them across my desktop. That, and I’m trying to find ways to dig out of my rut step out of my comfort zone and challenge my skills. So I decided to take on the task.

The random title that came up was “Flight of the God.” I was quite unimpressed with that one. I had hoped to get something colorful that might spark something, but I’m not one of those people who keeps rolling dice until I got the numbers I want, so I stuck it into the Mobius loop of a brain I have and let it fester for a few days. I came up with the first line and the last line pretty quickly. The rest kind of wrote itself.

Tell me what you think. And, yes, it’s pretty obvious now that I need to be on more medication.

Flight of the God

It all began when Harold declared the game over.

“You’re just pissed because you’re not winning.” I sighed, glaring at him as Bast rolled her green eyes in frustration.

“You’re cheating!” he growled. His eyes glowed redder than usual.

“How can we cheat when there are no rules?” Loki asked. He was perched on the back of the couch between Harold and Bast, cradling a bowl of popcorn in his lap. “It’s not our fault you have no imagination.”

“Everything has rules,” Harold sputtered. “Even chaos has rules. How can a game have no rules?”

Max – we called him that because Camaxtli was just too much – leaned forward in the wing-backed chair he always claimed as his own, his gaze intense, and gave Harold a smile that was more warning than support. “Think of it this way: having no rules IS the rule.”

“You’re not helping,” scowled Harold. His cologne smelled like sulfur and only got worse as he grew more agitated. Wrinkling her petite nose in distaste, Bast eased her slim form off the couch and slinked to the bar in the corner.

“Mebd, dear, remind me again why we invited him?” she purred, popping the top on a fresh beer.

I dropped my face into my hands and let loose a groan. “Because the boss said we all need to mingle more. Something about gaining new understanding and acceptance.”

“I think Harold’s a fine addition,” Loki grinned. He clapped the brooding hulk on the back. “He just needs to loosen up a bit. Bring him a beer, won’t you, Kitty?”

“You know I hate it when you call me that.” Pulling a couple more bottles out of the mini-frig, Bast casually strolled back to the couch, her almond-shaped eyes narrowing in silent threat as she handed over the beer. Loki only grinned larger.

“Maybe we should have started with something more normal,” Max ventured. “Risk, or Civilization, maybe.”

“Fizzbin,” said Loki, his eyes twinkling with mischief. “Fizzbin would have been perfect.”

“That’s little better than Calvin-ball.” Bast returned to her favored spot on the couch, tucking her feet up beneath her. She always looked so regal, no matter how she moved or what she wore and it really annoyed me. “But I think Max is right. We should try something simpler. To help Harold get up to speed. He hasn’t been out much, so we should be more sympathetic.”

“You’re right,” I nodded. Glancing at the three of them sitting across from me, I couldn’t help but think the start of a good joke was there somewhere. “How about Risk? I have the Lord of the Rings version.”

“Oh! Dibs on the elves!” from Loki. “I’ll clear the table.” He rose to his bare feet and handed the popcorn to Harold. “Try some. It has real butter.”

Sullenly, Harold accepted the bowl and dug his ragged nails into the kernels.

It took me a while to figure out exactly what happened next, it all happened so fast. Loki had barely cleared the coffee table when a flock of white doves erupted from the bowl of popcorn, right into Harold’s face. I’ll never forget his expression. A mixture between horror and surprise and rage. In his line of work, I could almost understand.

The next thing I know, Harold had Loki by the scruff of the neck and his shorts and launched him out the nearest window. Didn’t even bother to open it first. We could hear Loki cackling all the way down to the rainbow bridge.

Harold stormed out, bits of skin sizzling from where the doves had touched him. He left quite the cloud of sulfur behind, and slammed the door so hard it broke off the hinges.

Max sighed and shook his head at me. “I warned Loki about initiating Harold. I told him to pass on this one.”

“Like Loki listens to anyone,” yawned Bast. She blinked at me, unfazed by the outburst. “So, Risk?”

I sighed and nodded, and went to retrieve the game from the hall closet.

Needless to say, that was the last time Harold came for gaming night. Demons just have no sense of humor.

© 2014   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

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Friday, November 1st begins the fourteenth annual creative frenzy known as National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Founded in 1999 by a couple crazy kids in San Francisco, it has grown to be a world wide phenomenon, with over 166,000 aspiring novelists already signed up to participate in this year’s marathon. If you’ve been a writer of any kind for any length of time, you probably already know what it’s about, so I won’t bore you with any more details. Or you could go visit their site, which is infinitely more giving of their time and attention than I am.

At any rate, many of you will be nose-to-keyboard come Friday, so I thought I’d offer you some hopefully helpful tips to get you through. Many of these are gleamed from a series of articles I did for Examiner.com in November 2010. No, that’s not cheating – it’s retreading an old wheel instead of inventing a new one. Writers do it all the time. You’ll see for yourself soon enough.

I wrote a little bit last week about characters (“It’s Made of People”) and how I try to develop them. Chuck Wendig (a seriously deranged, yet amazingly talented individual), lent his take on it with “The Zero-Fuckery Quick-Create Guide To Kick-Ass Characters,” a much better explanation (but not at all suitable for work, children, the Amish, or people with weak hearts) of what you need to do for your characters. Without decent characters, you might as well be adrift at sea in a bathtub, so if you do nothing else to prepare for the Great American Write-athon, at least write some notes on who will be dancing across your pages.

The other thing you’ll be sweating over is the plot. You want a slick, interesting, page-turning story to keep your reader hooked until the very end, but sometimes what you want and what you get are two very different things. NaNoWriMo writing isn’t slick – it’s guerrilla warfare writing. It’s slamming words on the page as fast as you can so you can get something, ANYTHING in writing toward your goal. Write now, edit later. But you’ll get stuck. You’ll find you’ve written yourself into a hole, or that your characters are wandering aimlessly without a purpose. Time to shake things up. Try some random plot points from The Future is Fiction, and see just what your characters can do.

There will be plenty of other reasons you get stuck, too. Mainly because you’ve allowed yourself to get caught up in what you perceive to be a negative aspect of your ability. Don’t just circle the drain on the way to giving up. Take your excuses head-on and find a work around.

(1)                   Story line is lame: We don’t need War and Peace here. One of the writing teachers at the American Film Institute said that all stories can be distilled down to one of three main themes: man vs. himself, man vs. nature and man vs. man. Pick one and go for it. Details can come later.

(2)                   Dialogue is lousy: go watch a few science fiction films from the 1950’s, and then we’ll talk about lousy dialogue. Dialogue exists to allow the characters to connect to each other and to give the reader information or descriptions. Listen to the people around you in the real world, watch how they interact and converse, and write what you hear. Keep the speech of your characters as natural as possible, and even the simplest of dialogue will keep the pages turning.

(3)                   Can’t describe things: not everybody needs to be Steinbeck. It’s okay to write, “It was a beautiful sunset” and move on, instead of lapsing rhapsodic for three pages about every nuance of the sunset. Sometimes simpler is better, because now your reader can remember their own beautiful sunset, putting their own personal touch on your story, and thereby being more invested.

You can also substitute one of your strengths for a weakness. If you just can’t get your dialogue to work, but you’re great at descriptions, put it into prose. Describe what your characters are doing and saying, give the reader the feelings behind the scene, and let the dialogue be imagined. If you’re still struggling with your descriptions, but you have strong dialogue, go ahead and let your characters fill in the blanks with their conversations. In the strict confines of NaNoWriMo, you don’t have time to angst about what “should” be on the page. Just get it there in whatever form works best for you.

But even after all that, you may still find yourself struggling to meet that 1,667 words a day output. Stressing about it only makes it worse.

(1)                   Walk away: sometimes you just need to take a break, whether it be just getting something to drink, or walking the dog, or taking a weekend at the beach. Focus on giving yourself a few minutes every hour to get away from your writing, stretch out, have a cup of tea, read the paper, or look at the flowers. Getting your mind off the task at hand, even for a few minutes, may be just enough to snap you back into your story. And ergonomic specialists everywhere will be pleased.

(2)                   Write anything: jot a note to your mother, pen an editorial, scribe an outline for your blog, whatever. Just the mere act of writing outside of the confines of your novel can get the creative juices flowing. A variation on this theme is to write what you already know about your novel and your characters, even if it isn’t in what you think will be the final order. The point is to get your ideas on the page, even if only in their most raw forms. Dressing them up can come later.

(3)                   Write with others: meet up with a friend or group of fellow writers and bounce ideas of each other. Often a writer’s block comes about because we’re stuck on something in particular and our brain gets trapped in a Mobius loop. Trading off with other novelists can often bring you a solution you would never have imagined. Many NaNoWriMo participants are part of a regional group that offers “write ins” through out the month. Hook up with your local group and see what happens.

Since I’m already hip deep in my current novel, I’m not officially participating this year. But I have decided to play along the side lines, so if my entries over the next few weeks are short, lame or just plain stupid, it’ll be because I’m trying to stay coherent long enough to cross that 50,000 word goal line myself. I don’t think I’ve ever written that much in a month, so it’ll be an interesting challenge in self-discipline. Whatever that is.

Writers, start your keyboards…

© 2013  Cheri K. Endsley  All Rights Reserved.

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