reading and (w)riting, no ‘rithmetic

Last night, I wrote about my hope, my not-hope, and my forever-hope, all threaded through with the discouraging guanoshow that was 2016 A.D.

Today, I turn my mind and heart to lovelier things. When it came to reading and writing, 2016 was one of my best years ever. 🙂

On Reading in 2016

In 2016, I started reading 67 books, and I finished 64 of them. (The unfinished 3, I just couldn’t get into or enjoy, but I won’t mention them by title.) That’s 17 more books than I read in 2015, and I credit intentionality for the difference. Last year at this time, I purposed to read as many women authors as possible. At some point, my to-read list and to-read stack basically exploded. When the rumblings echoed away and the dust settled, I found a SMORGASBORD BOUNTY OF WOMEN’S VOICES, and I devoured them with vigor. YUMBLY IN MY READER TUMBLY.

This was the first time in my life I’ve read so many women in the space of a year, AND IT WAS GLORIOUS.

These voices rang fresh and clear in my mind. They reverberated with beauty and sorrow, disgust and joy. They spoke things I’d never before heard. They made me laugh and cry and think. They inspired me to write more. They inspired me to write more freely.

Reading these women, I found myself living the reality that I could write as they do, unbound by shackles.

HALLELUJAH I’M FREE

But more on my writing later. First, their writings.

Books I Read in 2016

Asterisks indicate particular favorites.

  1. The Singular and Extraordinary Tale of Mirror and Goliath by Ishbelle Bee ***
  2. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke *
  3. Letters from Rifka by Karen Hesse *
  4. Journey to America by Sonia Levitin
  5. Dark Beyond the Stars edited by David Gatewood *
  6. Throne of Glass (Throne of Glass, #1) by Sarah J. Maas *
  7. Servant of the Underworld (Obsidian and Blood, #1) by Aliette de Bodard
  8. Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor *
  9. The Giver by Lois Lowry *
  10. A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab *
  11. When the Silence Ends by Jade Kerrion
  12. In the Woods by Tana French *
  13. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin **
  14. Gateway to Reality (Reality Series #1) by Becca J. Campbell
  15. Kushiel’s Chosen (Kushiel’s Legacy, #2) by Jacqueline Carey
  16. “The Father Hunt” (A Flawed Story) by Becca J. Campbell
  17. The Selection (The Selection, #1) by Kiera Cass
  18. The Likeness by Tana French *
  19. Kushiel’s Avatar (Kushiel’s Legacy, #3) by Jacqueline Carey *
  20. Open Minds (Mindjack Saga, #1) by Susan Kaye Quinn *
  21. A Wind in the Door (A Wrinkle in Time Quintet, #2) by Madeleine L’Engle
  22. Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles, #1) and short story “Glitches” by Marissa Meyer *
  23. The Haunting of Gillespie House by Darcy Coates
  24. Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir) by Jenny Lawson, The Bloggess **
  25. The Three by Sarah Lotz
  26. Blood Oranges by Caitlín R. Kiernan writing as Kathleen Tierney
  27. Hopeful Monsters by Hiromi Goto
  28. You by Caroline Kepnes **
  29. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
  30. Quiet Dell by Jayne Anne Phillips
  31. The False Princess by Eilis O’Neal
  32. Sword-Bound (The Sword-Dancer Saga, #7) by Jennifer Roberson
  33. The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan
  34. The Wild Road (Book 3 of Karavans) by Jennifer Roberson
  35. Timebound (The Chronos Files, #1) by Rysa Walker *
  36. Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes
  37. The May Queen Murders by Sarah Jude *
  38. Just One Damn Thing After Another (The Chronicles of St. Mary’s, Book 1) by Jodi Taylor *
  39. Of Bone and Steel and Other Soft Materials, a short story by Annie Bellet
  40. The Paper Magician (Paper Magician Series, #1) by Charlie N. Holmberg *
  41. The Raven Boys (The Raven Cycle, #1) by Maggie Stiefvater **
  42. Tiny Bites: A Collection by Stacy Claflin
  43. Kindred by Octavia Butler *
  44. The Danish Way of Parenting by Jessica Joelle Alexander and Iben Dissing Sandahl *
  45. Asylum by Madeleine Roux
  46. The Keepers of the House by Shirley Ann Grau
  47. Dead as a Doornail (Sookie Stackhouse, #5) by Charlaine Harris
  48. Strange Angels by Lili St. Crow
  49. Toning the Sweep by Angela Johnson
  50. Candles Burning by Tabitha King and Michael McDowell
  51. Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver
  52. The Christening Quest by Elizabeth Scarborough
  53. Ill Wind (Weather Warden, #1) by Rachel Caine *
  54. Trey of Swords by Andre Norton
  55. Uprooted by Naomi Novik **
  56. The Book of the Unnamed Midwife (The Road to Nowhere, 1) by Meg Elison *
  57. The Fading Dusk (Smoke and Mirrors #1) by Melissa Giorgio
  58. The Leaving by Tara Altebrando *
  59. Jinian Footseer by Sheri S. Tepper
  60. The Kraken Sea by E. Katherine Tobler
  61. Allison Hewitt Is Trapped by Madeleine Roux *
  62. The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope *
  63. A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness **
  64. The Girl with the Silver Eyes by Willo Davis Roberts *

Recalling these stories is like thinking back on the utter joy and satisfaction surrounding delectable holiday meals. Here’s hoping for even greater tastiness in 2017.

So…what *is* in store for 2017 A.D.’s To-Read List?

Well…lemme tell ya. The other day, during our family’s roadtrip back to Oklahoma from our Florida-panhandle Christmas, I decided to head a head start on my reading list for this year. I already had a few titles and authors in mind, but I hadn’t collected them all in one place yet. Here’s the tentative reading plan so far; the only order is “ladies first” again (with a single exception):

Currently reading: The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

Further reading
Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl
Sarah Maas, Throne of Glass 2
Aliette de Board, Obsidian & Glass 2
Lowry’s The Giver sequel
Schwab, A Gathering of Shadows
more from Kerrion’s Double Helix series?
Tana French on nightstand (that’s not the title, it’s where I’ve stacked the book)
Jemisin, 100k Kingdoms 2
Cass, The Selection 2
Quinn, Mindjack 2
L’Engle #3
Meyer, Cinder 2
Bloggess, Furiously Happy
Carrie Ryan 3
Walker, Timebound 2
Taylor, St. Mary’s 2
Holmberg, Paper Magician 2
Stiefvater, Raven Boys 2
Sookie Stackhouse #6
Caine, Weather Warden 2
Lilith Saintcrow, Night Shift
Delilah Dawson, Three Lives of Lydia
Ellison, Road to Nowhere 2
Harkness, Discovery of Witches 2
Kepnes, Hidden Bodies
St Crow, Strange Angels 2
The Power, Naomi Alderman
Slipping, Lauren Beukes
Wake of Vultures, Lila Bowen
Fifth Season, Jemisin
Thin Air, Paver
Copper Promise, Williams
Crosstalk, Willis

Wendig: Aftermath, Invasive, Thunderbird
Nod, Adrian Barnes
Dark Matter, Blake Crouch
My Best Friend’s Exorcism, Hendrix
NOS4A2, Joe Hill
Versailles, Yannick Hill
Mongrels, Stephen Graham Jones
Paper Menagerie, Liu
Lovecraft Country, Ruff

Well, then. There’s my 2017 reading list already more than halfway sorted, and the year isn’t even a day old yet. And so it goes.

On (W)riting in 2016

Compared to previous recent years, I accomplished quite a bit in 2016. Not as much as I’d planned — I published only one book instead of two — but I ain’t kicking myself over it.

Not too much, anyway. 😉

The Elevator

elevator_cvr_lrgIn tags list at the end of this post, please to be clicking “The Elevator” for more details about this novel. For now, I’ll just say that I consider The Elevator my best published work to-date. As of this writing, it has but one Amazon review to its name, which makes me sad for it. Completely objectively and also quite biasedly, I think the book deserves more. Apparently, others’ mileage varies. Oh well. Can’t make everypony happy, and I long ago decided not even to try. 😉

But come on. It’s a space fantasy adventure with a chaotic psychopath, a cross-dimensional traveler, a vampire, a mech-woman, and two adorable smartass street urchins, all tied up in the nature of Reality at the heart of the multiverse. Who wouldn’t want to read that?

*ahem*

Don’t answer that. Unless it’s with a resounding silence in which you fork over money for my book. In that case, BRING IT ON.

I…uh, what?

elvendeadThe Elven Dead & Other Legends of the Light-Walkers

Ohhhhh, did I ever have such plans to publish this anthology in 2016!

Alas and alack, ’twas not to be.

I just ran out of oomph, y’all. In its final eleventh, 2016 managed to plaster me with that guano I mentioned before, and I didn’t cleanse myself of the disgusting sludge in time to hit “publish.” The short story collection *is* complete, minus a couple of touch-ups. I even have the cover art, thanks to fabulously talented Sam Hunt. All that’s left is to put in some butt-to-chair time to get the book out into all y’all’s greedy little reader hands.

Come on, I know you want it. 😉

Soon, my inklings. SOON.

Writerly To-Dos for 2017

What’s next? Well, that’s an excellent question, dearies. In early December 2016, I counted up the number of projects I could possibly turn to next — after taking care of the pesky pubbing details I mentioned above, of course. The count numbered 9. I repeat, NINE.

Nine project ideas with equal potential for becoming my next completed work.

People ask writers where we get our ideas. The better question is how can we NOT get ideas, so that we have space and time enough to work with the ideas we do have.

When it comes to writers’ ideas, picture a closet with all the junk just shoved in and the door slammed shut, in which each junky-seeming object represents a story or character idea. Except that the closet is actually a warehouse the size of Montana.

That’s why we never need people to tell us *their* ideas for a story *we* “should” write. Our ideas warehouse is already filled to bursting at the seams. Dude. The roof has practically exploded off. FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT’S GOOD AND TRUE AND WRITERLY IN THIS WORLD, DON’T STUFF ANYTHING ELSE IN THERE

*ahem* But I digress.

In trying to figure out what to work on next, I enumerated and described my options to my writer friend Becca. She listened and asked pointed questions. Simply through conversing about my dilemma and sifting through the story ideas in my mind, I realized that I kept coming back with excitement to one particular idea:

the story of Taeven Ravenhair.

Taeven makes a cameo appearance in The Dying of the Light (Legends of the Light-Walkers 3) and gets a mention in Rethana’s Trial (Legends of the Light-Walkers 2). I penned the first 12k words of her tale for NaNoWriMo back in 2004 — and promptly screeched to a halt because I had no clue which word should be number 12,001. The story’s been shelved ever since.

But in 12 years, Taeven has never left me alone. She’s not naturally a patient person, but she has exerted a monumental amount of self-control, waiting her turn. So, as I shared a bit of Taeven with a fellow writer, suddenly it all turned crystal clear:

2017 is the year in which Taeven finally gets a real voice.

Of course, as soon as I decided this, I frantically typed out four pages of notes and then started writing a completely different story.

And so it goes, right? Busy, busy, busy.

This new story, currently entitled The Flight of Elfled unBlessed isn’t part of my Legends of the Light-Walkers series, but it does take place in that universe. It promises to be a novella, so I’m hoping it won’t take up too much of early 2017. But more on it later.

Taeven’s story has gathered dust under the title The Bearers of the Stones. I never really liked it, so I tried to come up with something more suitable while I was taking those four pages of notes. As of a couple of weeks ago, Taeven’s story is entitled Sister of the Black Flame — subject to change at my writerly whim. AH THE POWER MUAH-HA-HA-HA-HAAAAAA

So. 2017 shall be:

  • pubbing Light-Walker shorts collection
  • first draft of Taeven’s story, hopefully final draft
  • Elfled’s story
  • getting paperbacks prepped and on sale pages for all the longer works

Plus LIFE.

And enough.

For now. 😉

in 2015 i read 47 books. what about 2016?

2015’s Reads, 2015’s Faves, and Projected Reads for 2016

Books I Read in 2015

I’ve starred the ones I enjoyed most, and following the list you’ll find brief notes on each of those faves. My goal for 2015 was to read at least 50 books. Missing that mark by 3 isn’t too bad. And I beat last year’s tally of 45, so BAM.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s not important how many books I read, just that I’m intaking story and enjoying myself. But having a number goal keeps me focused on reading during the times when the sheer pleasure of it isn’t quite enough. I don’t know if other people go through phases like that, but I’ve been dealing with more of them since the depression hit. My yearly competition with my past self helps me get through the rougher patches. It’s a useful coping mechanism, keeping that little extra bit of joy in my life when I need it most.

Anyway, without further ado or adon’t, here’s my 2015 list:

1. Plague of the Dead by Z.A. Recht
2. More Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon *
3. Queen’s Own (Valdemar: Arrows of the Queen, #1-3) by Mercedes Lackey (*)
4. Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt *
5. Stellar Science-Fiction Stories, #7 edited by Judy-Lynn del Rey
6. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle *
7. The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor by Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga
8. From a Buick 8 by Stephen King
9. Legends II: Shadows, Gods, and Demons (Vol. 1) edited by Robert Silverberg (Robin Hobb’s “Homecoming” *)
10. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss *
11. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Chronicles of Narnia, #3) by C.S. Lewis
12. The Day I Met Jesus: The Revealing Diaries of Five Women from the Gospels by Frank Viola and Mary DeMuth *
13. The Silver Chair (Chronicles of Narnia, #4) by C.S. Lewis
14. The Horse and His Boy (Chronicles of Narnia, #5) by C.S. Lewis *
15. The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis *
16. The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis *
17. Prophet by Frank E. Peretti
18. Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King *
19. 77 Shadow Street by Dean Koontz
20. The Moonlit Mind by Dean Koontz *
21. The Lurker at the Threshold by H.P. Lovecraft
22. Beyond the Shadows (Night Angel, #3) by Brent Weeks
23. Resist the Devil by Watchman Nee
24. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
25. The Marvelous Land of Oz by L. Frank Baum
26. The City by Dean Koontz
27. The Harvest (The Heartland Trilogy, #3) by Chuck Wendig *
28. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
29. Rite of Passage by Alexei Panshin (*)
30. Ozma of Oz by L. Frank Baum
31. A Demon in the Desert (Grimluk, Demon Hunter Book 1) by Ashe Armstrong
32. Red Rain by R.L. Stine
33. Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
34. Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber *
35. The Road to Oz by L. Frank Baum
36. Three Slices by Kevin Hearne, Delilah S. Dawson, and Chuck Wendig *
37. House by Frank Peretti and Ted Dekker
38. Catwoman: Selina’s Big Score by Darwyn Cooke
39. The Whirlwind in the Thorn Tree (The Outlaw King, #1) by S.A. Hunt
40. Protector by Becca J. Campbell
41. The Walking Dead: A Larger World (Vol. 16) by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Cliff Rathburn
42. The Walking Dead: Something to Fear (Vol. 17) by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Cliff Rathburn
43. Nightwalker (Dark Days, #1) by Jocelyn Drake
44. City of Lost Souls (The Mortal Instruments, #5) by Cassandra Clare
45. My Life as a White Trash Zombie by Diana Rowland
46. Even White Trash Zombies Get the Blues by Diana Rowland *
47. Hounded by Kevin Hearne *

The Faves

More Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon
–a great story with unexpected twists
–cramazing character development
–classic sci-fi
–a writing style that turns the reader’s imagination into a co-storyteller

Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt
–utterly engrossing and heart-breaking
–McCourt’s style is so vivid and immediate, I felt like I was right there living it with him through the whole story.
–made me keenly aware of my own privileged upbringing; expanded my world

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
–HOW did I never read this book as a kid?!?
–SO GOOD
–in the vein of C.S. Lewis, which means brilliance & excellence in imagination, theme, message, story

“Homecoming” by Robin Hobb in Legends II: Shadows, Gods, and Demons (Vol. 1)
–Hobb’s story gets my vote for best character-development of this year’s reads; I’m just a sucker for the redemption of the snobby, spoiled, rich-girl type 😉

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
–GAH THIS IS SO INCREDIBLE
–some of the best fantasy I’ve read in YEARS
–almost read this too fast; it’s truly UPDA
–can’t wait to read Book 2 this year!!!

The Day I Met Jesus: The Revealing Diaries of Five Women from the Gospels by Frank Viola and Mary DeMuth
I don’t talk a lot about my faith on social media. But I will say this: “high church” has done the world a disservice by painting women into a powerless, subservient, subjugated role for the past two millennia. Whether you’re a believer, an atheist, or an agnostic, Viola & DeMuth’s book challenges what you think you know about the Christian Bible’s treatment of women (especially in the New Testament). I can’t imagine anyone reading this book and not finding something that surprises or even shocks them — in a good way.
This book about women is a wake-up call.

The Horse and His Boy (Chronicles of Narnia, #5), The Magician’s Nephew (Chronicles of Narnia, #6), The Last Battle (Chronicles of Narnia, #7) by C.S. Lewis
–simply a pleasure to re-read as an adult
–beauty, truth, challenge

Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King
–classic King, thrilling and excellent from start to finish
–HOW does the man manage such perfect character development?!
–loved the female characters in these stories — such powerful agency!

The Moonlit Mind by Dean Koontz
–classic boy-and-his-dog-in-creepy-world Koontz
–dark and gritty, captivating and ethereal

The Harvest (The Heartland Trilogy, #3) by Chuck Wendig
–another UPDA
–sucked me in from page 1 & refused to let go
–excellent wrap-up to the trilogy
–really hope to read more stories set in this cornpunk world!

Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber
–another non-fic that all of my fellow Jesus-followers need to read
–insightful, heart-breaking, heart-warming
–this book will offend a lot of Christians
–I loved it. 🙂

Three Slices by Kevin Hearne, Delilah S. Dawson, and Chuck Wendig
–loved getting another *slice* of Miriam from Wendig
–perfect intro to Dawson and Hearne, made me want to read more of both
–cheese?!?
–delightful

Even White Trash Zombies Get the Blues by Diana Rowland
–thought I loved the first book in the series until I read this one
–rare that a sequel upstages its predecessor, but this one does
–fun, “fresh” (LOL) take on zombies
–MC Angel’s voice reminds me of Sookie Stackhouse
–will read more in series

Hounded by Kevin Hearne
–fun frolic of a druid story
–reminded me of Expecting Someone Taller by Tom Holt
–loved the characters’ voices
–at first distracting but then fun to puzzle out the Gaelic names as I read

Runners-up:

Queen’s Own (Valdemar: Arrows of the Queen, #1-3) by Mercedes Lackey
–rich, detailed world-building
–enjoyed seeing how the main character’s growth determined the intricacies of the plot

Rite of Passage by Alexei Panshin
–yummy to read some classic sci-fi with a strong, scrappy heroine!

Q: What’s in store for 2016?

A: IT’S ALL ABOUT THE LADIES.

Right now, I’m reading Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke. It’s a humdinger of a novel, penned in Jane Austen style (in A.D. 2004, mind you) and clocking in at 1006 pages. Uffda. I’m unused to reading this style of doorstop anymore, so it’s slow going and takes a lot of concentration. BUT it’s a fabulous challenge and a great read. I’m loving all the subtly sarcastic asides about early 1800s British culture. And reading these characters is like watching a movie. And it has magicians and fairies. Just fun.

Projected reads this year include: Jade Kerrion, Tana French, Susan Kaye Quinn, Marissa Meyer, Kiera Cass, most of the female authors listed here, Delilah S. Dawson, Cidney Swanson, Carrie Ryan, and Julie Hutchings. After these, I’ll turn some attention to Wendig, Gaiman, Hearne, King, Koontz, Yancey, and others.

Why all this focus on female authors? Because I realized some time back that I read mainly male authors, and I want to support my sisters of the written word. Plus, women’s voices simply aren’t heard enough, and I want to redouble my efforts to hear them. I’m exited to hear them, to discover the nuances of their words and imaginations, to let their sounds thread through my soul in new ways. The gentlemen will have their turn, but for now, it’s the ladies who get all my love. 😉

Happy reading in 2016!

In case you miss me, I #amwriting. (NEW PROJECT! Next Legends of the Light-Walkers!)

So, I log on to my blog today and find that it’s been over a month since I posted.

I blame Bernard Schaffer.

Long story VERY short, Bernard issued me a writing challenge, and I am doing my blurglemamjufloobelschnitzenest to face that challenge head-on and blast it into submission. I’ve got two major short stories in the works, both set in my Legends of the Light-Walkers universe. I’ve also AS OF TODAY started work on my NEXT LIGHT-WALKERS NOVEL, which might be of interest to you LLW fans out there.

More on that in a sec.

Elevator People

But significant to all of this LLW writing is this announcement I was tinkled every shade of pink and purple to make YESTERDAY:

PEOPLE! The first draft of my low sci-fi or soft sci-fi or whatever-you-call it novel ELEVATOR PEOPLE is finished! IT’S DONE!!! In celebration, I hereby grant all of you the rest of the day off! Two years, 4 months, 13 days, 97,314 words, and I am DONE! WOOT!

Y’all, I don’t think I’ve ever felt so relieved to write THE END after the last line of a story. For all the various reasons I’ve blathered on about here before, this book was the hardest one I’ve ever finished. Probably the hardest one I’ve ever written. I harbor a sneaking suspicion that this means it’s either the best thing I’ve ever written…or the worst. Time and beta-reader feedback will tell. OH MABEL THE READER FEEDBACK ON THIS ONE. I might need to be institutionalized for the duration of beta-reader feedback.

That, however, is far in the future. For now, I can remain straightjacketless, as I shall let Elevator People sit and stew in its own juices for at least the net six weeks. Maybe eight weeks, I dunno. When I do return to it, I’ll read it straight through (doing as little editing as humanly possible), then tackle the editing and restructuring and rewriting. I’m actually looking forward to it, so it’s possible I’ll have to force myself to wait the entire six weeks. We shall see.

In the meantime, I get to leap fully nude into my next project, and I say fully nude because this one’s gonna be mucky and I really don’t wanna get it all over my clothes.

Legends of the Light-Walkers #3

This next project, my dears, is the COMPLETE REWRITE FROM THE GROUND UP OF MY LLW NOVEL FORMERLY ENTITLED LEGEND’S HEIR. Now entitled either Legends of the Light-Walkers: Legacy or This Novel Doesn’t Have a Title Yet or TNDHaTY.

For simplicity’s sake, I’m just gonna call it LEGACY for now.

Here’s the timeline of this novel:

1994 (age 17): began writing novel
1999: finished novel for Senior Seminar bachelor’s degree project in English/Creative Writing. And by “finished,” I mean, “completed first draft, gave it an editing once-over, and stuck it in a drawer for 13 years.”
2012: pulled novel out of drawer, measured

wordcount2

2012 (continued): said NO; butchered manuscript until usable parts drifted to the surface like choice meats in a vat of flesh-sludge; wrote new outline, new synopses, new character descrips, and story question
March 13, 2014: plunged nekkid into rewrite

So far, I’ve only gone through and sorted notes, trying to get a clear picture of what material I have to work with. That’s been a fun and illuminating trip down memory lane. I found a ton of stuff in the LEGACY notes that had nothing to do with the novel, such as German Bible verses, dates & times of doctor’s appointments, notes from my time as an Elfwood moderator, and lists of names that generally could suit a fantasy universe. Fun stuff, but not conducive to massive story rewrites.

rewriteAfter I finish perusing the notes and refamiliarizing myself with the story, I’ll start the actual writing. I’ve been going back and forth on whether or not I should dig up the old digital file and just cut, cut & paste, and reword within that file. But really, that would be me being INCREDIBLY UNFORGIVABLY LAISSEZ-FAIRE, and that’s not something a writer can afford to be (she said mournfully, longing for the days when she neither knew this nor cared to).

Instead, I’ll be typing it all out from scratch, following my outline and referencing the ancient, massive manuscript plunked on my table. Last night, I asked the husband where I should put it while I’m working with it, and his response was to offer me his entire desk. Either I have incredible support, or he’s more deeply sarcastic than I ever dreamed*.

So, there we are. If you miss my blogging, just know that I’m working on something that’s gonna be way more fun for you and me both. 😉

Heart-felt thanks to Bernard for giving me a healthy kick in the ass. And I mean that.

The Light-Walkers short stories “Rethana’s Tower” and “Untitled, so far,” as well as the novel Legends of the Light-Walkers: Legacy, will be published before December 31, 2014.

HERE WE GO. Oh, Mabel.

___________________
* Just kidding. He meant it. : )

Flash Fiction Challenge: Continuing Someone Else’s Story, Part 5

Post-Christmas salutations, y’all! I hope your holidays have been splendid so far and that your eggnog and pie are sitting with you quite comfortably. Me, I ate too much, but let’s just not talk about that, eh?

In author Chuck Wendig’s December flash fiction challenge, we’ve now arrived at Part 5, in which we’re writing the final 200 words of four other people’s story. To me, this is the toughest part of the challenge, since I have to take into consideration all the elements the other four writers have brought into the story, *and* I have to pull it all together into a satisfying conclusion.

THIS IS NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART. Don’t try this at home. Keep away from water. Keep away from children. Do not use while operating heavy machinery. This product is not intended for use as a flotation device. Do not eat. This bag is not a toy.

My entry for Part 1 is here. Genre: fantasy, coming-of-age.

My entry for Part 2 is here. Genre: horror? There’s a vampire, anyway.

My entry for Part 3 is here. Genre: paranormal. Witches, a priest, and mutant skeletons.

My entry for Part 4 is here. Genre: sci-fi comedy.

And here’s my entry for Part 5!
Joe Donahue wrote Part 1.
Morag Donnachie wrote Part 2.
Jeremiah Boydstun wrote Part 3.
Justice wrote Part 4 and gave the story its title, “The Veteran.”
My concluding Part 5 follows Justice’s part.

The Veteran

by Joe Donahue, Morag Donnachie, Jeremiah Boydstun, Justice, and Courtney Cantrell

Joe wrote:

Lying nude in the middle of this cotton field, I sense things differently than I have in sometime. I’m cold. It’s the first time I’ve felt cold since she died. The air flows over my body like ice cold water from a stream. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I can’t help but to hope that I die in this field. I’m, however, smart enough to know that’s not going to happen.

Nothing has felt the same since they killed Adrianna. Every day I roam from city to city, hoping beyond hope that someone will recognize who I am and decide to take my life away. It never happens. Every now and then someone will recognize who I am, but usually they are too frightened to do anything about it.

I don’t blame them. I did some very nasty things at the end of the last war. Several countries banned me from entrance. I, however, did what I needed to do to make sure that the war ended. I did what I was paid for. Little did I know that the immortality they offered as payment would be spent in exile, trying to come up with ways to bring back Adrianna.

Morag wrote:

I lay there vaguely enjoying the sensation of feeling again after having been numb for so long. I was pondering my next move – I’d heard a rumour of a woman in a nearby village who might be able to help me – when I heard voices calling in the still morning air.

I moved quickly, careful not to disturb the cotton in my haste, on to my front bringing my knees up under me so I could spring up quickly if I needed to. As I did so my hand darted to the pile of clothes by my side and the slender yet deadly blade concealed beneath.

As the voices moved closer I sought the quiet place in my mind,the place where I could leave my self behind. I needed to disengage my emotions, to leave my humanity behind and find the monster within.
I had hoped to be able to leave that part of myself behind but it seemed I would have to hold onto it, for now.

I stood slowly, aware of my nudity and how it would affect my seekers, and held my blade out ready for whatever was thrown at me. Every sense on high alert.

“Over here. We’ve found her,” a voice called.

Jeremiah wrote:

The morning sun filters through a ragged line of trees to my left, laying bands of apricot light across the field of cotton, and the cold morning air feels charged with the energy of a million lodestones.

About fifty yards to my right another voice takes up the call, and then another, transmitting across a line of a dozen men who wade slowly through the thorny sea of cotton. Some cradle their rifles, others walk stockade-style with their arms hanging loosely over the ends of the weapons slung across their shoulders.

I keep the knife handle tucked into my palm so that the blade rests against the length of my forearm and conceals it from view. I want to cover myself but reaching for my clothes right now isn’t a good idea.

When the men are within ten yards they stop and form a half-circle around me.

“Put down the knife.” A tall, flinty man with grey hair steps forward.

“And if I don’t?” I’m ready to spring. To see blood. To feel the pulpous give of fat and muscle.

“Then you’ll never see Adrianna again.” His smile parts the thin lips enough to reveal a pair of sharp, white canines and my blood turns to ice once again.

Justice wrote:

“Put it down,” the man commands, “or I’ll tell ’em to really let your pretty little girl have it this time.”

I place the knife on the ground.

“Kick it over here.”

“I’ll cut my foot,” I say, my voice even. “Aren’t antibiotics getting pretty expensive these days?”

“Christ,” the leader mutters. He gestures to a younger man nearby – a kid, really – who darts out from the circle and grabs the knife. I see beads of sweat glisten on his forehead, and he purposefully avoids my eyes.

Good – I need fear; perhaps it will be catching.

“Well, go on,” I say. They put a bag over my head but do not let me dress. I walk naked through the field. There is a slice against my bare skin and a trickle of warm blood. The sound of rotating blades approaches and a dart punctures my neck. I swat at it like it is an annoying gnat.

“Told you it wouldn’t work!” A voice cries out.

“She’s immortal, not invulnerable,” their leader says. “Triple it.”

When I wake, Adrianna is beside me.

Not breathing.

I wrote (210 words):

We’re alone. I recognize the white-and-pink tile of The Facility’s central room. Since I ended the war, they’ve repaired the two-way mirror.

I smile. They’ve hunted me as I’ve hunted to bring her back. And now they want me to try.

Oh, the fools shall have what they’re asking for.

I roll to my side and cradle my daughter. We’re both still nude, but it doesn’t matter. We’ll wear the skins of our enemies soon enough.

I lay my lips against her cold ear. Within, I plunge into silence and face the monster. It waits at my core, hearing my thoughts of blood, and it is already slavering.

I let go, and the monster comes forward.

HEAT.

The heat whispers into Adrianna’s mind, calls to her soul, calls her back. The moment she returns, the heat intensifies. My sweat hisses when it hits the metal table white-hot beneath us.

Adrianna breathes.

I reach out.

Beyond the two-way mirror wait the minds of our “captors.” The monster’s heat enters them. Pillages. Their screams are like those of the ones I mind-raped to end the war.

“Mama?”

YES.

“Can we go home?”

YES.

The monster and I lead my daughter from the central room as, once again, the mirror shatters behind me.

THE END

Flash Fiction Challenge: Continuing Someone Else’s Story, Part 4

Hile, inklings! Today I bring you my latest entry for author Chuck Wendig’s December Flash Fiction Challenge.

My entry for Part 1 is here. Genre: fantasy, coming-of-age.

My entry for Part 2 is here. Genre: horror? There’s a vampire, anyway.

My entry for Part 3 is here. Genre: paranormal. Witches, a priest, and mutant skeletons.

What follows is my latest entry!
Rebecca Douglass started it with Part 1.
Connie Cockrell picked it up for Part 2.
Andy Decker continued with Part 3.
My addition follows Andy’s.

UPDATE: Jeremiah Boydstun picked this up for Part 5! His conclusion to the story follows my part.

Millions of Cats

by Rebecca Douglass, Connie Cockrell, Andy Decker, Courtney Cantrell, and Jeremiah Boydstun

Rebecca wrote:

Things never worked out according to plan when there were cats involved. I knew that, and I should have known better than to take the job. Either don’t try to plan or stay far from cats, and I knew which would have been better for me. But Keelan made it all sound so easy: we just had to pick up the consignment from Alpha-Centauri 4 and take them to Exilion 17. Four days, max, and two of them in hyperspace.

“What could go wrong?” I should really have run when Keelan said that, because you know as well as I do that anytime those words are uttered you should run, very fast, in the opposite direction.

Unfortunately, we needed cash, and the cat people had it. So we went and picked up the load of cats.

That was where the trouble first began. They were supposed to be crated, sedated, and ready to be picked up by fork lift and stowed in the cargo hold. But when we arrived, a team of cat-wranglers was still chasing them around a pen. We had to wait an extra three days for all of them to be properly prepared for flight.

Connie wrote:

Now we were late. We hadn’t started and penalties were being assessed. “Don’t worry,” Keelan said. “There’ll still be plenty of credits. We’ll be able to pay off the bank as soon as we get to Exilion 17.”

I knew better, Murphy’s Law was in full effect. We loaded the crated cats and took off. The first day we built up to hyperspace speed and cleared the solar system. I hit the button. Nothing happened. I stared at Keelan. “I’ll fix it.” He unstrapped. I grunted in reply. He pulled the cover off of the panel after I got up to get some tea. He was tracing the wiring when I came back, cup steaming.

“Got it.” He held up a burnt wire. “I’ll just reconnect the two ends and we’ll be on our way.”

I knew what he meant. He was going to twist the ends together and tape it. I’m supposed to trust my life to that? “What if it fries again? We’ll never get out of hyperspace.”

“No, no,” he mumbled as he twisted the wires. “This will be fine. We’ll get it fixed the right way when we get to Exilion 17.”

Andy wrote:

Six types of burned tape later, and Keelan not remembering those doomed for not remembering history, I unstrap myself and handhold to the tool closet, next to the cargo’s vapor-lock. That’s where the real nightmare began. There’s a certain fragrance wafting past the three layers of polymer-aluminum seals. Plastic baggie of red electrical twist-caps in hand, I make it back to the cockpit.

Keelan looks up, preparing yet another type of tape for the splicing. I hand him the caps and ask, “Smell anything?”

He smiles. “Just burnt tape. What’s up?”

The question lingers as I buckle in and run a quick ambient contaminant scan. Sure enough, we’ve got an increasing level of uric acid, sodium chloride, male cat steroids, and several unidentified detoxified substances. I point to the screen.

“What’s FUS?” he wants to know. Keelan never reads the fine print; always quick to say he’s the idea man. Sometimes I want to strangle him.

“Feline Urinary Scent.” I leave it at that. The projection trend shows we’ll need air-masks by the time we arrive at Exillion, assuming drive fires in the next several minutes. We’ll need new air filters and a fumigation of the entire ship. Credits, schmedits!

Courtney wrote (202 words):

I’m itemizing the penalties of slaughtering my co-pilot when Keelan tugs on my sleeve and asks, “What’s that noise?”

I pinch the bridge of my nose. “Catcalls.”

He frowns. “Meaning?”

The wailing from inside the crates gets louder.

“They’re out of their cradles.” I sigh.

“Out of their cradles?!”

“Yes.”

“What do we do?”

I close my eyes. “Keep no more cats than will catch mice.”

“What?”

“Nothing.” I grab the stun gun taped to the underside of my console. “C’mon.”

He follows me to the first crate. I peer into the monitor, gaining a bird’s-eye view of the interior. Sure enough, the whole clowder is up and at ’em. One of them is standing on its hyperspace cradle, tinkering with the inside of the crate’s first seal.

“Great,” I mutter. “A cat burglar.”

Keelan snorts. “You kidding?”

I’d like to see him dance on a hot tin roof.

“Look,” I say. “We’re gonna have to open this sucker up. And when we do, we’ll have a fight on our hands. But we have to herd them. Or they’ll take control of the ship.”

Keelan swallows. “Do we have a chance?”

“As much chance as a wax cat in hell.”

Jeremiah wrote:

“Man, listen to ‘em. They sound really pissed.”

I glance at Keelan, who is unaware of his own bad joke. Actually, he looks like he’s going to toss his cookies. I’m sure that would go great with the FUS. Whatever. I am not about to lose a paycheck to a bunch of oversized rats.

I swipe my freight card and begin punching in my access code when Keelan grabs my arm. “Wha—?” He taps his lips with an upraised index finger. Keelan is looking at the crate like it’s an algebra problem he can’t figure out. It’s only after I stare at the crate in a similar fashion for a few moments that I realize the caterwauling has ceased.

Oh man . . . what if the hypersleep settings were off? What if the cats were given the wrong dose of sedatives? Keelan reads my eyes like a news ticker and knows what I’m about to do, but before he can stop me I’ve swiped my card again and entered my code.

The outer shell of the crate bifurcates with a hiss of argon, momentarily obscuring the containment unit. I’m expecting the worst. Shrunken pelts. Lumps of viscera. No. What we get is way worse.

“Howdy boys!” A hundred pairs of furry bipedal legs, a hundred tiny pulse rifles. A large tabby with an eye-patch steps forward and snaps back the operating bolt on his rifle. “I believe we’ll take it from here.”

THE END

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!

Works-in-Progress Update and Getting Naked

Sci-fi novel Elevator People

First draft still in-progress. Still one to two chapters away from completion. I spend more time thinking about why I can’t finish the story than I do trying to finish the story. Which is a stupid way to spend my time. But there you have it. My theories as to what my problem is:

(a) I don’t want to kill off the character who’s probably gonna die in the last chapter.
(b) I’ve been spending too much time on social media, and it’s rotted my brain.
(c) The antagonist kicks the bucket too soon, and that’s made me lose momentum.
(d) Part of me thinks I should slog through and finish the first draft as-is, then go back and fix the problems.
(e) Part of me thinks I should fix everything I can fix and then finish the story.
(f) I keep wanting to play with sparkly new story ideas for my Legends of the Light-Walkers universe.
(g) I have ennui.
(h) ALL OF THE FREAKING ABOVE.

Dash it all.

Sci-fi short story “The Mercy and the Schadenfreude of the Soulless”

Yes. That is the actual title.

My beta readers have finished the story, and their response has been overwhelmingly, blush-elicitingly positive. Which, of course, makes me panic that these two people, whose opinions and clear views of life I generally trust, are, just in the case of my story, wholly blind to reality and deceived as to the merits of my story. Which makes me an angsty, ego-driven writer, I suppose, but then, what else is new?

Tonight’s blog post is, apparently, brought to you by Courtney’s Penchant for Commas. You’re welcome.

Anyway, edits on TMatSotS are going well, and I plan to have it done and turned in to Tony by the end of the week. BANGERANG.

Advice

Especially in the shower.

Especially in the shower.

My latest Works-in-Progress Update (Sci-fi stuff!)

Hile, my lovelies!

It’s been a while, I think, since I’ve regaled you with anything seriously writing-related. At least, I think it’s been a while — and since I can’t remember for sure, that tells me I’m right. This might be circular logic, but I’m not sure about that either, so let’s just move on.

Here’s an update on my three latest/current writing projects:

1. I am still plugging away at my soft sci-fi novel Elevator People (working title). I am approaching what should be the final chapter BANGERANG ZOUNDS CAN I GET A HALLELUJAH?!? I love this story, I love the characters, I love it all, but I will be SO everlastingly glad to be done with this first draft. BRING ON THE EDITING, says I! But no, first they have to climb a staircase, then they have to cross into the Prime Dimension or whatever, then they have to talk to The DUDE Dude, and then they have to decide if their story ends here or not. All of that should take fewer than 10,000 more words. I’m excited.

2. Work continues on the Grace & Jack sci-fi short story for Tony Healey’s charity anthology. It’s surreal and poetic and I’m enjoying immensely. Getting into Grace’s head is always a weird experience, and I kinda like those. So.

3. In the space of a few days, I wrote another Grace & Jack story entitled “At the Funeral of a Marriage”. Josh read it and said those two confuse the heck out of him, which means I did my job. ; )

All of this proves that the BLURGLEMAMJUFLOOBELSCHNITZEN is receding, which pleases me no end and affords me copious peace of mind. So yay.

danceswithtesticles

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve also put together a post full of fantasy/sci-fi inspirations, including ent larva, elves made of ice, and something I shall now call Dances With Testicles.

These come to you directly via the weirdness that is my brain. Click through if you dare. ; )

At the Funeral of a Marriage

Hile, beloved inklings!

I come to you today with entertainment. Skip the next four paragraphs if you want to bypass the preamble and just get straight to the opium.

Over at writer Chuck Wendig’s blog, you’ll find a flash fiction challenge containing ten random words as prompts. Mr. Wendig issues such challenges on a regular basis, and this is my first time to answer one.

My story is a bit longer than Chuck’s suggested wordcount (1700 vs. ~1000), but that’s just what the story wanted to do. If you follow my blog and/or my writings, you might remember my talking about “Grace and Jack stories,” my incomplete series of short stories about insanity, love, choice, and cross-dimensional time-travel. (Check here for more info.) Today’s story is one of those.

You might also remember that I’m writing a story for Tony Healey’s charity specfic anthology. That story is also a “Grace and Jack,” but that story is not this story. This story is a good way for me to get into the characters’ heads, and it fits in great with the “Grace & Jack” timeline. So, without further ado or adon’t, here’s the story:

Random words provided by Chuck Wendig:

Funeral, Captivate, Deceit, Brimstone, Canyon, Balloon, Clay, Disfigured, Willow, Atomic.

“At the Funeral of a Marriage”

a Grace and Jack story

by Courtney Cantrell

August 10, 2014

A month after the ballgame, I remember my sister’s words and consider divorcing my wife.

Beneath me, the bike’s engine roars its defiance and its despair as I race the setting sun to the horizon. It’s summer, late evening. Everybody’s either tucking their kids in or at the bar. The highway is mine. Out in the arroyos, the coyotes are my only witnesses, and they don’t give a damn about any challenge my bike and I might issue.

It would be like a funeral, our divorce. A solid, traditional funeral with lace veils and stopped clocks and mourners in black. I should list the clocks first, because they’re the most important. I would want to stop the clocks because right now, I don’t know when our marriage died, and I would want to know.

The bike and I approach a sharp curve and I lean into it, feeling my momentum in every atomic particle of my body and wishing I could just surrender to it. A different kind of funeral, then. But I don’t want to go there–that’s too much Grace.

In my mind, Grace and I stand at the open grave of our marriage and look down into it. The corpse doesn’t get a casket; it just lies there desiccated on the cold ground at the bottom of a hole. Grace and I excavated that hole together: she with her insanity and her refusal to accept my love for her, and I with my weariness. Exhaustion isn’t dull or blunt the way people think. Exhaustion is a sharp tool that digs hard and fast, more effective than madness ever could be. My wife and I might have conspired to murder our marriage, but it was my weariness that delivered the killing blow.

So Grace and I stand at the gaping hole, looking down at the shrunken corpse of our marriage, and I say to her, “You still captivate me,” because it’s the truth.

Grace turns her face toward me, but I can’t see beneath her veil of black lace. Her eyes might still be assessing our dead marriage. “You’re not usually into that kind of deceit, Jack.”

My bike takes me across a bridge spanning a deep canyon, and I wonder what lies at the bottom and if it’s cold. The conversation in my head is different from what I expected. Maybe the disinterest of the coyotes isn’t the only thing that can dry my tears.

“I’m not lying,” I tell the Grace in my mind. “You do still captivate me, and I am still deeply in love with you.” Since this is the Grace in my mind and not the real Grace back at our small house, I can be brutally honest. “I don’t care if you’re crazy. I love you. I don’t care if you do believe you’re responsible for someone’s death. I love you.”

My foot gets heavier and heavier on the accelerator.

“I don’t care if you do imagine you can hop dimensions and time-travel to try to fix that mistake. I love you.”

The wind makes me squint, and I find that the coyotes were not successful.

“I don’t care if you do drink yourself into oblivion so you can stop thinking. I love you.”

Maybe the high speed will tear the pain out of my chest and I can leave it behind on the pavement of the highway like roadkill.

“I don’t care if my sister is right and staying with you is stupid of me. I love you.”

The wind and the bike are a universal roar in my ears. But at the graveside of my marriage, all is silent. The stillness spreads, embiggens, balloons out into my hearing until even the sound of my own rushing blood disappears.

The first mourner steps up beside me. It’s Frannie, Grace’s medieval-fair-ing mother who has always liked me but has trouble loving anyone in jeans and a T-shirt. Frannie tosses a long-stemmed flower into the open grave. The purple petals smell like brimstone. Do bad marriages go to hell when they die?

“But this wasn’t a bad marriage,” Frannie says. In my mind, she turns and looks at me. “It wasn’t bad. It was just fragile.”

Grace lifts her face to the sky. “Fragile does not mean good.”

Frannie goes away, and my sister takes her place. In a black silk blouse, black skirt, and black cowboy boots, Reese looks like the country-Goth version of the Grim Reaper. Even her blond hair hides underneath a black bonnet with feathers. Reese drops a clod of dirt into the open grave and addresses Grace.

“Lunatic,” says my baby sister. “You should have died before you ever married him. At least then he could get on with his life.”

Grace lays a gentle hand on Reese’s arm. “Sometimes, death isn’t the end. Sometimes, death is just the clay and we use it to mold something worse.”

Reese goes away, and a man with hazel eyes takes her place. At first, I think a shadow lies over his face, although I can’t tell what might cast it. Then he reaches up to brush a strand of long, brown hair out of his eyes, and I realize it’s not a shadow. The right side of his face is disfigured with burn scars that turn his skin purple. None of this is real, it’s all in my mind, but my bike swerves out of control for a moment anyway. The scarred man is only in my head, but I know I should speak to him before he speaks to me. It’s the only sign of respect I can give him.

But as I fight to force the bike back into the right lane, he beats me to the punch. “Where is your honor?” he asks.

For once, Grace is silent.

My arms are trembling. I should pull over, let the adrenaline rush away to wherever adrenaline rushes go after they hit and pass. I should sit at the side of the road in adrenaline’s wake and then maybe push the bike the 40 or 50 miles back home instead of turning the engine back on.

Instead, I press the accelerator a little harder and face the scarred man at the graveside of my marriage. “I don’t know where my honor is,” I say.

He smiles a little, and the scars pull one side of his mouth into a grimace. It hurts my heart. If I were an asshole, I’d think the effect of the scars comic. Then again, I did marry this man’s wife, so I guess I’m an asshole anyway.

“She wasn’t my wife when you married her,” he says.

“I wanted her when she was still your wife.” I already know I can counter his every argument. “I loved her when she was still your wife.”

“But you did nothing until she wasn’t my wife anymore.”

I make a bitter noise that even I don’t recognize. “Only because you died first.”

“She wasn’t responsible for my death.”

“Tell her that.”

“You tell her enough for us both, Jack.”

“Why are you here?” I ask.

Finally, the scarred man looks down into the open grave. Before I can stop him, he leaps into the pit, right beside my dead marriage. “You pay homage to the dead,” he says. “Especially when the dead is someone you respected in life.”

I realize that he holds a shroud in his hands. He unfolds the shroud and drapes it over the dried-out husk. A knot forms in the pit of my stomach as the scarred man leans forward to pull the shroud over the sightless face.

“Don’t,” I whisper.

The scarred man stops mid-motion and stays that way, leaning over my dead marriage, prepared to lay it to its final rest. “Are you sure I shouldn’t?”

“I don’t know,” I whisper to the wind.

“Or would you rather I applied this?” He reaches into his pocket and pulls something out. It’s two wide twigs bound with a third thinner twig into the shape of a cross. He grips it in his right hand.

“Every grave must have its marker,” he says. “But this is a marker of resurrection. The wood of the willow infuses the essence of love. So what shall it be, Jack? The comforting death shroud, or the cross of love and life?”

My gaze drifts from the grave up to my wife’s face behind her veil. “Tell me what to do, Grace. Tell me if it’s worth it. What do you want?”

For a moment during which my entire universe trembles on the brink of oblivion, Grace remains silent and still. My lungs shudder and my heart skitters. But then Grace lifts the veil from her face and her eyes to my gaze. Her eyes are so dark, they infuse me with light. Her smile makes me want to touch her, but there’s a canyon between us and I fear that something worse than coyotes inhabits it.

But Grace smiles.

Grace smiles at me.

“I want the truth, Jack. The truth is all I’ve ever wanted. I know there’s nothing in you that would deny me the truth.”

Though I don’t want to, I look away from her and down into the grave where the specter of her first husband awaits my answer. The scarred man raises his eyebrows–again, a caricature of deformity, but I do not want to laugh. My mouth won’t work, but apparently my glance at his right hand is enough. He nods, then turns to lay the willow-twig cross upon the forehead of the dry corpse.

In that moment, the scarred man disappears. At the bottom of the cold grave, my dead marriage open its eyes and stares into my soul and says, “Remember me.”

I slam on the brakes so hard, I think I might go over the handlebars and catalyze a funeral after all. The screech of my tires is loud enough to trigger an answering, indignant chorus of coyote wails. But the beasts no longer matter. I slide to a stop, almost laying the bike down. But even if I broke an ankle or road-rashed my leg, that wouldn’t matter either.

Grinning like a loon, I turn the bike around and ride home to Grace.

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!