New Flash Fiction Challenge: 200 Words! Part 1

Below, please find my entry in Chuck Wendig’s latest flash fiction challenge: writing the first 200 words of a story which other writers will finish.

House of Memory

by Courtney Cantrell, Renee Elizabeths, Simon B., and ?

“I was cleaning bean sprouts when I heard the news.”

As Feral’s voice wavered out into the silence of the crowd, Berien Ghantek squirmed in his seat. The new boots pinched, and the formal shirt’s stiff collar made his neck itch. He tightened his grip on the banner pole. Above his head, the bright red flag twitched. If he kept his hands on the pole and his mind on his duty, he wouldn’t give in to the urge to scratch.

“One remembers every detail of that moment.” Feral cleared her throat, but her ancient voice remained raspy. “The earthy scent of the sprouts. The tiny snapping sounds as they broke beneath my clumsy fingers. The cold splash of water at the pump. I was but a young girl then, but we Ghanteki have not forgotten. As every year, today we remember and raise our house standard to our queen, Alarena Bright-Eye. May her rest be peaceful, her rising soon, and her vengeance entire.”

“SHE SHALL RISE,” replied all of House Ghantek.

Trembling, Berien got to his feet. Although he forced his gaze to stay on Feral, he could feel the more than five hundred Ghanteki eyes shift to his face.

Story continued by Renee Elizabeths:

“H-house Ghantek remembers the F-f-fallen Queen!” he stammered.

Annoyance flashed in Feral’s eyes, but the crowd shouted their response anyway. As she’d said herself, they’d been doing this for decades now, and they only had the one line to remember anyway.

His throat got tight and Berien swallowed a cough as she began her second reading. Feral would have him scrubbed raw and purified every day for a month if she decided he hadn’t taken this seriously.

It was just too hot. Couldn’t Queen Alarena have waited a few weeks until autumn to die?

Of course, then it would probably be raining.

The crowd shouted again and Feral began her third reading, this one about the battle to come. Her words washed over him, filling Berien’s ears without bothering to catch his attention. It was almost over now.

“House Ghantek defen–” The third standard-bearer cut off with a squeak.

Berien followed his gaze to the prayer tower at the back of the crowd. The priest there, a new man fresh from the monastery, stood and threw off his ceremonial robes.

“SHE SHALL RISE!” shrieked his withered corpse.

Thunder boomed, shaking the world, and the altar burst into white-hot flame.

Simon B. continued with:

The crowd gasped and turned as one. Berien watched with them in disbelief as a dozen robed acolytes tore themselves away from the throng and joined the skeletal figure upon the tower. The bearer who’d been interrupted – a blade-sworn whose name he couldn’t remember – had fallen to his knees, repeating his pledge over and over.

Feral was going to go absolutely pastoral. Berien looked over his shoulder to her for guidance, grimacing at the collar digging harshly into his neck.

The old matriarch stared dumbly past him. Her usually stern expression was gone; she stood, transfixed by the flames, as horror and confusion fought for purchase on her face.

A scream snapped Berien’s attention back to the prayer tower. The group of priests were pushing back into the crowd. A flash of steel, another shriek – more urgent, this time.

They’d armed themselves.

Berien laid down the Ghanteki standard as respectfully as he could and felt an illicit flush of relief as he realised he wouldn’t be leading the parade later on. He pulled open his shirt, unfastened his rapier and stepped down from the stage, making his way deftly through the surging, pressing bodies of the crowd.

Decorum be damned.

__________

Who’s next? : )

Writing Resource: First Lines #NaNoWriMo

Hile, my lovelies!

Today, with the pleasure of a thousand sheikhs bathed in chocolate, I bring you a creative writing exercise resource THING. As you might have noticed, of late I’ve become a regular reader of Chuck Wendig’s blog terribleminds. One of my favorites of his columns is his weekly, Fridayly (Fridaily?) flash fiction challenge. He posts a new one every week, and each one is a frolicking romp of a creative writing challenge, and it’s all muy inspiring and so forth and whatnot.

1stThe current challenge is to write an opening line (15 words max), which other writers will then use to craft a tale for next week’s challenge. Me, I’ve officially hied myself to the comments section of said current challenge and posted the following as my opening line:

“I can see why you don’t have any friends,” said the poltergeist.

After I posted this to Wendig’s blog, I thought that I should probably post it to mine own.

And after I thought I should post it to mine own, I thought that I should also post a few other opening lines just for fun.

And after I thought that I should post other opening lines for fun, I thought I should invite you all to use these lines as you see fit: either as inspiration for other opening lines, or as inspiration for stories, or as inspiration for poetry, or as inspiration for a collection of fictional tweets from the bathroom. It’s up to you.

At any rate, please to be finding below a list of first lines (some longer than 15 words). You have my permission to use them as thou wilt. If you get rich and famous off the resulting stories, though, do be kind enough to drop my name to the press, won’t you? Thanks.

Creative Writing Resource: Opening Lines (Free!)

The humans slept.

The book fell open to a well-read page, and what she saw there made her heart race.

After dinner, he took the guests’ tongues one by one.

He always knew some small thing would bring his destruction, but he’d never suspected a bobby pin.

“Ow, my elbow joint! Hand me that oil can, willya?”

The whispers wouldn’t stop.

Maybe nobody would think to look for her under the bubbles.

In the nineteenth year of Goriakin Warhound’s reign, the owl people came down out of the mountains.

“Try again.”

She stared out over the rim of her glass, still tasting the poison on her lips, and wondered which of her brothers had tried to kill her.

Look. I was just doing what I had to. Everybody knows the only good crilli is a dead crilli.

It wasn’t until he was ten that he realized he was the only one who could see the blood.

“Don’t you effing dare hang up on me! I have exactly three more points on my li–”

In a certain light, the back of the door looked pink.

The storm refused to break until the fever did.

The house was an adorable combo of Victorian frill and oversized 1980s slouch, and he was sure that it was trying to kill him.

I like music that tells a story. What was happening onstage was more like a tech manual for vacuum cleaner assembly.

“My goodness, get in here. What have you done to yourself? Your hair looks like a mullet.”

Years later, they would reassure each other that she deserved it.

When the priest levitated over the altar and up past the crucifix, Mrs. Denby finally bolted from the front row and ran shrieking down the nave.

He glanced at it just in time to see it move.

___________________

Annnnnnd that’s a wrap. Share your thoughts, inspirations, stories, world domination schemes, and whatnots in the comments!

Fantasy/Sci-Fi Resource: Ent Larva and Dances With Testicles

Or: Writerly shenanigans with words, cuz that’s how I roll.

In case you didn’t know, I grew up in Germany and speak German fluently. I also speak a fair amount of French and a smattering of Italian, and I’ve had four years of Ancient Greek. This is the reason why in many of most of my novels, I make up words such as “Saltmarch” and “banegold” and have characters who speak in dialects. (I’m trying to dial back the dialect stuff, since it turns off some of my readers. See? I love y’all enough to kill my darlings!)

*ahem* Where was I?

Oh. Languages. Yes. Well, today I read something German that included the word “heimsuchen.” I’ve always considered it a peculiar word. It’s used to describe uncomfortable or scary events, mostly related to natural disasters. It’s translated as beleaguer, infest, devastate, afflict, obsess, haunt.

So, a stalker “heimsucht” a victim. Or Moore, OK, was “heimgesucht” by tornadoes on May 11th. Or the spirits “heimsuchen” the graveyard. Et cetera.

But directly translated, “heimsuchen” means “homeseek.”

That just flips my bangerang switch penchants all over the place. Homeseek. It could be a verb: the action of a specially programmed missile. It could be a noun: a tiny creature you carry around with you on your quest, only for emergency use when you’re hopelessly lost in Thornbird Forest. It could even be an adverb, although I don’t recommend those and don’t know how you’d use “homeseekily,” anyway.

Ooh. A title. Pillars of the Twelve: Homeseek (totally arbitrary number). Go do something with that.

The more I thought about this strange word “heimsuchen” and its incorrect translation “homeseek,” the more excited I got about finding other German words or phrases to translate into fantasy/sci-fi inspiration. So I did some pondering and came up with the following. Use at will–it’s all free inspiration! Credit me if you like, or not. But don’t be surprised if I use some of these myself. ; )

German word: PECHVOGEL

Correct translation: jinx, unlucky person

Direct translation: tar bird

A mech bird that dumps tar or something equally unlovely upon citizens for public infractions? A bird made of tar, created by a wizard to plague people?

German word: SÄUFERSONNE

In this case, the correct and direct translations have to be one and the same, because I don’t know of an English phrase for this. The word translates to “drunkard’s sun” and refers to the moon: Either the person is too drunk to tell the difference and thinks the moon is the sun; or s/he spends the day sleeping off a hangover and never sees the actual sun, so the moon must suffice.

But it makes me think of the phrase “drinker’s sun,” which leads to “drink the sun,” which could be really creepy in some evil ritual by the bad guys in a fantasy story.

German phrase: HEILIGER STROHSACK

Correct translation: Holy mackerel!

Direct translation: Holy straw sack (Batman)!

German word: HEUSCHRECKE

Correct translation: grasshopper, locust

Direct translation: hay scare

German phrase: SCHWEIN HABEN

Correct translation: to be lucky

Direct translation: to have pig

I think this would be awesome in a fantasy novel with villager characters. : )

German word: EISBEIN

Correct translation: knuckle of pork (in cooking)

Old usage: ice skate (noun)

Direct translation: ice leg

German word: ENTLARVEN

Correct translation: to unmask

Direct translation: to de-larva

Maybe Tolkien’s ents start out as larva? I dunno. O_o

German word: ELFENBEIN

Correct translation: ivory (the dentine, not the color)

Direct translation: elf leg

What’s the connection between elves and elephants? Write it!

German word: HOTTEHÜ

Correct translation: horse (babytalk)

Direct translation: rightleft (noun)

German word: FRIEDHOF

Correct translation: graveyard

Direct translation: peace yard

German word: EIERTANZ

Correct usage: to beat around the bush

Direct translation: egg dance

BONUS: can also translate to “testicle dance” O_o

German word: JEMANDEN MUNDTOT MACHEN

Correct translation: to muzzle someone, to shut someone up

Direct translation: to make someone mouth-dead

So there you have it, folks! Some of my favorite, inspiring mistranslations. Feel free to share which of these inspires you — and then go write it! Or draw it, or paint it. Whatever you want!

Me, I’m having visions of mouth-dead elves made of ice, tending to peaceyards full of larva that hatch into tiny trees, all whilst dodging the tar birds sent to drink the sun.

Dances With Eggs. Because really, why wouldn't you?

Dances With Eggs. Because really, why wouldn’t you?

Writing Prompts for Sci-Fi and Horror

Hile, writers all!

Remember last week when I told you about my friend and fellow indie Tony Healey’s call for sci-fi and horror short stories? Remember? REMEMBER?

If you don’t remember, I hope you’ll click on the link and peruse and ponder Tony’s invitation. This thing is gonna be a blast, and I can’t wait to see how it all comes together!

What? Oh, yeah. I’ve told Tony to count me in. Yes, I know I keep talking about blah blah writing time is limited blah. (Tell me if you get that reference; I’d love to hobnob.) But I’m thinking a deadline (October) might spur me on to finishing my WIP and getting a fairly decent short story together.

I’m thinking I’ll do a Grace and Jack story. Those two are always up for some sci-fi, and Grace pretty much put the spec in specfic. So we’ll see what I can cook up.

In the meantime, Tony has graciously provided a fabulous list of sci-fi and horror writing prompts. I think they’re all helpful — each one triggered in me a hey-I-can-do-something-with-this. But of course I do have some faves. Here are a few of them:

From Tony Healey’s “Some Writing Prompts”:

What is your favourite SF movie? How would you have made that movie even better?

What is the most effective Horror novel you’ve ever read?

Why did it work, and where did it fall down? How would YOU have tackled it?

What scares you? What keeps you awake at night? [Courtney’s note: I especially like this one, as I take it to mean more than the typical monster-under-bed, spiders, creepy-crawlies stuff. I take more as, you lie awake in the night wondering about the potential horrible death of your spouse or your kid and how you would handle that. Throw in something supernatural, and there’s a huge potential for horror there — more of a psychological nature than the creepies, which I think is infinitely scarier.]

Take the worst SF or Horror movie you have EVER seen. …How would you have made it…(to quote Court) CRAMAZING? [Also: Hey, I got quoted!]

Read 2 SF stories. Do the same for Horror. What did you like? What didn’t you like? How did they approach their subject matter?

A few things to think about.

A few things to think about, indeed! Click through to read the rest of the prompts and get to thinkin! And then get those fingers writin’ or typin’. There’s a specfic anthology to make!

Depression and Creativity

The Depression Part

I’ve felt depressed lately.

Sad. Lethargic. Numb. Angry. Frustrated. Disinterested. Dark view of life. No hope. Blech.

I’ve blogged about depression before. And I’ve blogged about one of the main triggers of depression for me: not exercising my creativity.

When I realized that I was depressed, I said to several people who love me, “Hey, I’m depressed.” NOTE: Telling loving people that you’re depressed is helpful in starting the process of getting out of the depression.

Those several people who love me replied, “Hey, we’re not thrilled about this. Do you know why you’re depressed and/or how we can help?”

This was an excellent response for two reasons.

One, it let me know I’m not alone in this.

Two, it helped me figure out how to handle this.

You see, I had to answer them as follows: “There’s nothing that you can do, really. I have a baby whom I love dearly and deeply. I don’t resent her or begrudge her the time I spend with her. But the fact remains that when I’m taking care of her, I’m not writing. And when I do have time to write, I’m so exhausted that I fall asleep at the computer. There’s nothing anyone can do, really, to ‘fix’ this situation (which isn’t actually broken).

“However, having this conversation with you makes me focus on ways I can exercise my creativity in writing without sacrificing my daughter’s needs. So thank you for talking with me about this. That helped.”

The Creative Part, Pt. 1

And then I went and wrote a blog post, and I felt better. And then I invented a recipe for almond chicken, and while cooking doesn’t do a lot for me, it’s still a creative task, so I felt better after completing that, too. And then I reorganized two rooms and a closet, and the exercise in creativity required for that gargantuan task was a humdinger of a creative exercise, lemme tell ya. And then I made up a song about giraffes for my daughter and videoed myself singing it. After that, I was practically glowing.

So. I’ve felt depressed lately. But I’m on my way back up.

I still feel a ton of frustration that I nod off every time I sit down to continue my WIP (Elevator People). But at least I’m doing little creative things here and there. I think I just needed a reminder not to neglect that part of myself — and not to let exhaustion fool me into thinking I don’t have time for that part of myself.

After all…crippled, demented, or crushed: still, I will create.

The Creative Part, Pt. 2

And then, my friend J.T. posted the following on his Facebook status, and I thought it was utterly brilliant:

“Art is not about talent or skill. Art is about you. Spending time with you, getting to know you. Seeing parts of yourself that you love, some that you hate, but mostly parts that scare the very breath from your lungs. Art is not about technique or style. Art is learning who you are, and being brave enough to show the world. You can’t be bad at art, unless you are simply afraid to try. Art is a terrifying pursuit, because there is nothing more frightening than our own selves.”

~J.T. Hackett, artist

I’ll be blogging about J.T.’s ideas more in the near future. But for now, here’s how I’m relating his words to my depression:

I need to know who I am.

When I don’t know who I am, I get depressed.

When I am not creating, I am not spending time with me, not getting to know me.

When I am not creating, I am not seeing myself fully.

When I am not creating, I forget who I am.

When I forget who I am, I get depressed.

I could flesh this out a bit more, but I think it suffices for my current purposes. More than ever, I see the truth in my belief that I am created to create. To dig more deeply: I am created to get to know exactly who I am. If I am not doing art, I am not getting to know who I am.

If I am not doing art, I am neglecting a main purpose for which I was created.

No wonder that sets me adrift.

I am finding my anchor again.

Cures from the Past

"Castle in Her Coils" by Courtney Cantrell

“Castle in Her Coils” by Courtney Cantrell

"No More Room in Hell" by Courtney Cantrell

“No More Room in Hell” by Courtney Cantrell

"Sea Creature" by Courtney Cantrell

“Sea Creature” by Courtney Cantrell

"Redemption" by Courtney Cantrell

“Redemption” by Courtney Cantrell

#Amwriting Your First Draft: The Editwock Will Steal Your Soul

NOTE: I wrote a version of the following post for JuNoWriMo 2013. Becca Campbell, one of the founders of JuNoWriMo, was kind enough to ask me to write a Pep Talk for this year’s event. I was only too happy to oblige. What follows is a version of that Pep Talk, altered to suit the needs not only of WriMos, but of first-draft novel-writers everywhere. Enjoy!

Greetings, O Ye Warriors of the Mighty Pen!

Word documents. Word wars. Word mongering. Wordiness. WORD COUNTS!

If you’ve committed yourself to writing a novel (which is not unlike committing yourself, period), then you’ve committed to hammering out that first draft no matter what it takes. Some of you have done this before, some of you are doing this for the first time. But whether you’re an oldtimer or a newbie, you know that words are key to succeeding in this crazed endeavor we call noveling.

This could be an Editwock.

This could be an Editwock.

Well, duh. It’s kind of hard to write a novel without using words. I suppose you could try using music notes instead, but you’d probably end up with some kind of post-postmodern, Wagner-derivative opera suffering from an existential crisis, and I don’t think any of us want to hear that. And writing your novel using Morse code might be tedious. So, words it is.

But the thing about words is…they’re tricksy. They flit like pixies across your page or screen, all innocent-like with their serifs and curlicues…and then they just squat there. Brooding. Staring back at you from your work-in-progress and making you care about them. Making you want to change them. Daring you to change them.

If you change one, you’ll want to change others. You won’t be able to help it; editing when you’re not an editor is some kind of weird addiction. Once you start, you can’t stop. AND THE WORDS KNOW THIS, PEOPLE.

One minute, you’re writing merrily along, something about Our Heroine rescuing the doomed prophecy puppies and drinking the magic elixir in the nick of time. Next minute, you start editing, and before you know it, your Plot Point #3 has turned into Carrot Magnetic Demolition Force 7 and there’s really no turning back after that.

What I’m getting at here, y’all, is that while you’re first-draft-ing, you must avoid editing. The words will tempt you to edit. They will lift their lovely faces to the morning sun, open their lovely mouths, and give voice to lovely siren calls of editing bliss. Do not listen to them! “Beware the Editwock, my son! The affixes that bite, the compounds that catch!”

*ahem* Sorry. Slight Carrollian digression there. But you get the point. First drafts and editing don’t mix. If you let yourself edit, you’ll slow yourself down. Those chapters won’t write themselves, y’know. You gotta put in your butt-to-chair time, and if you take that time for editing instead of writing, you’re going to be hard-pressed to slog through the Middle-of-Story Blues or have the energy for the Finish Line Sprint.

Your best friend, dear writer, is the admonition emblazoned upon the JuNoWriMo homepage:

JUST WRITE.

Don’t worry about the “mistakes” (better known as “happy little accidents,” right?). Don’t worry about the typos, the synonyms, the passive voice, the dangling participles. After you’ve used the last of your strength to type “The End,” you can give in to the sweet seduction and edit all you like. But for now, resist. Don’t worry, and just write.

You have a novel to finish. And the great news is, you can finish it and you will finish it. You’re sacrificing sleep to get there. You’re sacrificing time with friends and family. You’re sacrificing the calm that comes from not over-caffeinating 24/7.

And yes, you’re sacrificing the luxury of poring over your own every word and tweaking each word to perfection.

But all this sacrifice is worth it. In the end, you’ll have a first draft in your hands — and editing it will be glorious. So just write, hon. That’s your only job right now, and you can do it.

Now stop reading this and get back to it. : )

__________________________
Other JuNoWriMo Pep Talks by Nina Post (contemporary fiction), Hugh Howey (WOOL series), and Rayne Hall (dark fantasy fiction).

Prepare Ye the Way of the Novel

Hey y’all,

I have a poor little pink baby with an ear infection, so I’ve been neglecting the blog (mea culpa) and have failed to post guest-columning news in a timely manner. But yes, indeed, my weekly guest post over at UnstressedSyllables.com is live. This week, I’m discussing “prewriting”:

  • what it is
  • and why those of you who are writers extraordinaire need to engage in it. By which I mean do it.

Click righ’cheer to read and rejoice!

beprepared

Dragons, and Something to Blow Your Nose On

frenchheadshot1Hile, inklings!

As I recently mentioned, February (read: NOW) is Ye New Officiale Relaunch Monthe for Unstressed Syllables, the writing advice site where I once-upon-a-time was a regular columnist.

Well. My regular columning days have begun again.

So, hop on over to Unstressed Syllables and peruse my all-new post “Dragons, and Something to Blow Your Nose On,” in which I discuss that mythical beast known as Prewriting: what it is, why you need it, and how you wrangle it.

Happy reading! : )

Your New Writing Coaches

Hey y’all,

Just FYI, I’ve been writing a lot of blog posts. You’re not seeing them here because they’re not for my own blog. They’re for the writing advice site UnstressedSyllables.com.

unsylbanner

For those not in the know, I used to write a regular column for Unstressed Syllables. I believe my last post was in October 2011. Then NaNoWriMo hit, I got pregnant, and my UnSyl column kind of got shoved onto the back burner. (Mea culpa.)

But no longer. UnSyl’s owner, Aaron Pogue, is in the process of revamping the site. Starting in February, Unstressed Syllables will begin publishing all new material and new columns from a handful of excellent writers and a talented graphic designer. I’m in the process of reading all the upcoming posts, and lemme tell ya: This stuff is CRAMAZING. UnstressedSyllables.com is about to become your one-stop shop for fiction writing and publishing in today’s adventurous new market.

You’re welcome. I’ll let you know when we’re ready to go. : )