Tag Archives: writing

Sunday Photo Fiction – August 13th 2017- Memento

A response to the Sunday Photo Fiction flash challenge for August 13th 2017– 200 words based on this image–

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Copyright 2017 Douglas Daniel

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“He needs to grow up,” Jason’s step-father said, finishing off his eggs.

“It’s only been six months, William,” Jason’s mother said.

“And he keeps carrying that stupid toy around, Amanda,” William said.

“His father gave it to him,” Amanda said.

“Still, sooner or later he needs to man-up.”  William said.  He stood, draped his suit jacket over his arm and picked up his briefcase.  “Shareholder briefing today, don’t wait dinner for me.”

“All right.”

Jason heard the front-door close behind William.  Neither of them had seen him.  He was getting good at not being seen.

He went upstairs.  September sunshine shone in his room—school would start soon.  He lay down on his bed.

He opened his hand and stared at the little blue TARDIS in his palm.  He remembered—a crisply cold winter’s night, the Milky Way an arch of diamonds stretching across the sky above them.

“There, son, there’s Pleiades, and next to it is Taurus the Bull—see the two horns?—and there, see those three stars in a row?  That’s the belt of Orion the Hunter.  Find Orion’s belt and you can find your way around the whole sky.”

Jason closed his hand on the TARDIS.

Sunday Photo Fiction – July 30th 2017- Talking Heads

A response to the Sunday Photo Fiction challenge for July 30th 2017– two hundred words based on this image–

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© A Mixed Bag 2009

Copyright 2017 Douglas Daniel

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“It is poorly preserved,” Dr. Angg said.  “The slackness of the jaw, the orange tinge of the skin— you’d think even a hundred years ago the curators could have done better.”

I said nothing.  Angg was the Imperium’s leading expert in xenobiology and off-world artifacts.  We had found the alien head in among old displays in the museum’s archive.  There were many relics of humanity’s early, freebooting days in interstellar space in the vaults.  There were alien weapons, and strange religious artifacts, and more than a few trophies of the vicious wars of that era.  Angg and I had already examined a collection of Te’measkini scalps, gathered by the members of the Fifth Punitive Expedition.  It was gruesome stuff, and offensive to modern sensibilities.  Inclusion of multitudinous species was now Imperial policy, and we had been charged with cleaning out the collection.

“How do you think it died?” I asked Angg.

“Probably a victim of the Rilhalan War,” Angg said.  “The species looks correct.  Huge beings, they were—doubtless the head was taken as a trophy, and the body left to rot.”

“A lot you know, buddy,” the head said, as it sprouted spidery legs and scuttled off.

A few random and wild-eyed speculations on “Game of Thrones”

So, we are two episodes into Season Seven of Game of Thrones, and I feel the urge to speculate on the ultimate endpoint of the series.  Perhaps this is premature; it is almost certainly foolhardy, from a critical standpoint.  It smacks of hubris; it reeks (no pun intended) of chutzpah.

But what the heck, I’m going to go with it.

But first, of necessity–

***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***

Well, maybe.  Speculations do sometimes turn out to be accurate.  More than accurate, though, they are fun.

  1. Dany is never going to be Queen of the Seven Kingdoms.  That would be a disappointingly straight-line narrative, and Benioff, Weiss and Martin are all too canny a set of writers to give us that.  They are certain to monkey-wrench that story-line into oblivion.  One way or another Dany will be turned aside from that path and that destiny, to find another.  A better destiny?  Hard to say, since Martin has already said that the end of the Song of Ice and Fire will be ‘bittersweet’.
  2. The Night King is going to win– at least in Westeros, where Dany’s vision of a ruined Red Keep will come true.  I suspect he’s going to destroy the Wall at some point, somehow overcoming the magical protections built into it.  This will probably be the Season Seven cliffhanger.  Winter will spread over Westeros and millions will die.  Dorne may escape and maybe the Free Cities as well, but it will snow in Volantis and even Meereen.
  3. Dany and Jon will hook up for a poignantly short time.  Jon will die again, probably after giving Dany the son she wants, the true Stallion Who Mounts the World.
  4. Jon may or may not learn of his heritage.  It almost doesn’t matter at this point.
  5. Thousands of Westerosi will flee to Meereen and the other cities on Slaver’s Bay, which will become a warm refuge against the winter.  Changes in climate will bring abundant rainfall back to the region, and it will enjoy a rebirth.
  6. Drogon alone will survive the Winter War, but since dragons are hermaphroditic, she/he will still be able to lay new eggs and hatch a new generation flying flame-throwers.
  7. When Jon dies he may see Ygritte again.  This could just be the sentimental slob in me.
  8. Jaime will kill Cersei.  Or Tyrion will do it.  Or Dany.  Or Drogon.  Or the fifth Dothraki on the left.  I don’t really care, so long as someone snuffs the bat-fuck bitch.
  9. Jaime will probably kill himself after Cersei’s death.
  10. Tyrion and Sansa may decide getting married to each other wasn’t such a bad thing after all.
  11. Tyrion and Sansa, on the other hand, may die poignant deaths just as they realize they love each other.
  12. Tormund and Brienne are probably going to die poignant deaths, too, although Brienne will probably spend the last few minutes of her life rolling her eyes at Tormund.
  13. Grey Worm and Missandei, of course, are utterly doomed.  They may have the poignant death market cornered.
  14. Assuming she lives, Sansa will advise Queen Danerys in Meereen.
  15. Arya will survive and defend Meereen with her stealthy powers.  The showrunners don’t dare kill her.  There’d be rioting in the streets.
  16. Dany’s grandkids will reconquer Westeros with hordes of dragons, zeppelins, incendiary ammo, and fuel-air bombs.  I’d pay HBO’s full price to see that series.

That’s enough wild-eyed speculation for now.  Once we have a few more episodes for Season Seven in the bag I may refine these.  Or add others.  The sky’s the limit, actually.

Later.

PRINCESS OF STARS UPDATE #7

Yes, a progress report on Princess of Stars, something that hasn’t happened in over a year.  That’s because, effectively, there has been no progress.  To be precise, I have written, re-wrttten, cut, deleted, re-purposed, re-arranged, laid the story down in the despair, hovered on the edge of deleting everything and un-publishing the first four Divine Lotus novels, considered giving up writing entirely, written some more and deleted that– with the net effect being that I have been more-or-less cycling around the same point in the story for more than twelve months.  Throw in some clinical depression and about three major life-changes (which are still all working themselves out) and completing this novel has been a goal that has seemed far, far out of reach.

What has changed?  Nothing seismic. There’s been no epic epiphany, nor sea-change in my writing.  Just a couple of small things that seem to be helping me get unstuck.

Firstly, I think I have hit upon a means to finesse some of my inability to get past my blockage.  In my flibbertigibbet way of doing drafts, I normally write passages out-of-sequence, working on later or earlier passages in the narrative when I’m stuck somewhere.  Knitting it all together into a coherent story is what happens in the second draft.  This time around, however, I am doing something a little different; I am writing the story with the intention of not necessarily adhering to a linear timeline for the action– and, in the process, I am not worrying my pointy little noggin too much about connecting passages and such what.  It seems to be helping.  The finished product may look quite different from the other Divine Lotus novels, but the whole point of this is to get to a finished product, and I’m getting kinda ruthless in pursuit of that result.

Secondly, I think I’ve finally reached the acceptance stage of grief over my writing.

When I started, rather late in life, to write in a serious way I thought that I was pretty good.  The process since then has been a slow coming to terms with the fact that I will never be anything more than mediocre.  There’s a reason why no editors ever accepted any of my over-the-transom submissions, nor any agent ever took me on.  I’m just not that good.

It’s been hard for me to get to this place.  I spent a long, long time in the denial stage (ain’t just a river in Egypt, folks).  I think I passed through anger and bargaining pretty quickly, and then spent a very long time in depression.  It didn’t help that my depression wasn’t just about my writing, either.  The last twenty or so years have been hard in many ways, lightened here and there by friendships and the arrival of my daughter (make that the glorious and splendid arrival of my daughter, but I digress…..).

I may- may-be coming out of that stage.  As I mentioned, there have been some serious life-changes, and those may be helping.  The jury is still out.  But I believe I’m done with illusions about myself and my writing.

I will never have much of an audience; I will never make much money at this; and it’s very doubtful anyone will ever make a movie out of any of my works.  If any of this were to happen, I would be pleasantly surprised and give God the glory– but I have to stop holding my breath over it.  I’ve been getting dizzy….

Having said that, I’ve gotten to the point where I want to finish this story and the others still in my head, for my sake and for the story itself.  It’s not going to be great literature and it’s not going to wow the masses.  But I think the story is worth completing.

So– 49,000 words out of a projected 150,000, not quite one-third.  I am finally on the verge of getting Kathy on the road in pursuit of the Lady Rose Adamant– yes, the core action is a chase– and hopefully I will be able to report solid progress from here on out.  Not that there won’t be missteps and recalculations– knowing me, it’s pretty much guaranteed.  But I think I see a path forward, and that’s progress.

Later.

Oh, and PS– I got to use the word selbstgefällig today in the story.  I am so jazzed…..

 

 

 

Sunday Photo Fiction – October 16th 2016– A Pest Problem….

A response to the Sunday Photo Fiction flash fiction challenge for October 16th 2016– 200 words based on this image–

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Copyright 2016 by Douglas Daniel

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“I don’t care if they’re an endangered species,” Frank said.  “Next one I see gets shot!”

“Granddad, you don’t mean that,” Cindy said.  She stood and watched the bird feeder through the living room picture window.

“Why not?  Damn liberals, always trying to protect this dicky-bird or that spotted snail or whatever.  Poking their noses into people’s business.  But if it’s on my property I should be able to do as I please.”

“Granddad, they’re wonders of nature,” Cindy said.  Two blue-jays had landed on the feeder and were pecking away at the seeds in the feeder.  Cindy could hear their squabbling through the glass.

“You, young lady, should take all those science classes with a bigger pinch of salt, is what I think,” Frank said.  “Balance of nature this and global warming that—half of it’s hooey….”

“Wait!” Cindy said.

Outside the blue-jays looked up from their feeding, squawked in alarm, and took wing.  Another winged form landed on the feeder, gripping the plastic with sharp talons.  It hissed at the departing jays, folded its leathery wings, and began to eat.

“Look, look!” Cindy exclaimed.  “It’s an Eastern Green dragonet!  Isn’t it beautiful?”

Frank looked sour.  “Damn pest.”

Been gone so long….

No one is likely to have noticed, but for the last several months I have been largely disconnected from my blog– a couple of movie reviews, a few short political rants, but nothing about the core reason I created this blog in the first place, which was to share my writing experiences and struggles.

I won’t go into graphic detail about why.  My writing efforts tend to go through cycles of enthusiasm and despondency as it is, but for the last few months I have been particularly disconnected from my major projects, and could only doodle away at other pieces that have no hope of being published any time soon.  More than that, I came perilously close to closing out and discarding the Divine Lotus series of novels altogether, and had to be talked out of it, to a large extent, by an old friend whose enthusiasm for the books exceeds my own.

Life changes and personal failures contributed to my malaise.  I have been actively depressed, if that’s not a contradiction in terms, to the degree that it was hard to see a point in my writing.  A sense of futility often made it hard for me to even get my hands to the keyboard.

I cannot say that is all over and done with.  I’ve taken certain steps to redirect my life, but it is unclear at this hour whether these steps will be effective.  I have, however, resumed writing Princess of Stars.  The Horseman (a terrible title, but it’s only tentative) is also in the pipeline.

The truth is, I am not a very good writer, and I never will be.  My writing is mediocre, at best, and it was that sense of dissatisfaction that nearly caused me to dump the Divine Lotus novels.  I’m also never going to make any serious money at this.  That’s become more and more apparent to me, as well, but I think that I have recovered enough from my depression to simply want to see the stories completed for the sake of being completed. That seems a worthy and sufficient goal in itself.

Hopefully this new resolution will hold, and I will be posting more often in the coming months.  In addition to talking about my progress on my projects, I’d like to get back to doing more movie and book reviews.  I might even once more take up the cudgel of flash fiction challenges, but I make no promises.

Of course, this all assumes that a certain bloviating blowhard is denied access to the nuclear codes and doesn’t thereby blow us all to hell.

But that’s another post.

Later.

 

 

 

Sunday Photo Fiction – March 20th 2016– The Door Between Worlds

A Sunday Photo Flash Fiction challenge– 200 words based on this image–

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Haven’t done one of these in a while, so this is probably meh.  Plus, I couldn’t quite squeeze the story into the 200 word limit. Sorry.

Copyright 2016 Douglas Daniel

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Clarke shoved the garage door open.  Dust motes danced in sunbeams.  A bare concrete floor, a wooden bench on one side, a bricked-up back door.  “What’s this about?” I asked.

“It has to do with the gravity wave activity we’ve been picking up,” Clarke said.

I wondered how, but said nothing.  I was just glad Clarke and I were on speaking terms again.  Radical changes in physics as we knew it and personal conflicts were a bad mix.

“Look again, Peter,” Clarke said.

I stepped into the garage.  I saw nothing, until I peered down at the floor.  A dark discoloration– not an oil stain, but a perfect circle.  It seemed to shimmer.

“What is it?” I said.

“A physicist of your caliber should be able to figure it out,” Clarke said from behind me.

I shook my head.  “Sorry.  I need a clue.”

“Okay.”  Clarke’s tone changed.  “Carol belongs to me.”

He shoved me.  I stumbled into the circle.

I fell, and fell, and fell.  Wind that was not wind rushed past me.  Tortured vacuum screamed in my ears.  I stretched, pulled ever downward.

I hit the ground.  There was grass beneath me, all around me.

I looked up.  The garage was gone.  I was in open country, grass in every direction, and hills in the distance.

Above those hills, three moons stood in the sky.  None of them were the Moon.

“Oh, God,” I said.

Suspension of disbelief and its limits

My recent post on The Guardians of the Galaxy got me to thinking about a part of story-telling that gets mentioned every now and then, but which (it occurs to me) is actually extremely critical, in any genre, anywhere, anytime. I’m talking about the reader/viewer/listener’s suspension of disbelief.

I’m not sure this is talked about a lot in writing classes, and I hardly ever heard about it in the various writing groups I’ve been associated with over the years- at least, by its full name. Many times, however, readers would say to me, “That just threw me right out of the story.” In other words, something about the narrative prevented the reader from suspending their disbelief in the fictional world I presented to them.

Suspension of disbelief– the ability to say “I am going to temporarily accept the baseline premises of a fictional universe in order to enter into that world and enjoy the sensation that the world is real and happening now.” That’s a little long-winded, but I think it covers all the bases.

Here’s the point– suspension of disbelief on the part of the reader/viewer/listener is essential to the story’s success. Without it, without the implicit agreement between the story-teller and the recipient of the story that they are going to pretend, for just this moment, that this fictional universe is real, the recipient of the story cannot enter into the tale, and cannot enjoy it. Period.

And this is true for all fictional endeavors. Science-fiction and fantasy have to work harder than some other genres to achieve suspension of disbelief, but SoD is in operation in every sort of narrative story, because it permeates every critical aspect of a story– world, characterization, action. If Jane Austen had written Lizzie Benet in Pride and Prejudice as her independent self in one chapter and a compliant mouse in the next, her readers would have said, “This threw me out of the story” (or early 19th Century words to that effect)– in other words, they would have been unable to suspend disbelief.

In an important sense, this was what I was complaining about in my review of Guardians of the Galaxy— there were moments (thankfully not that many) that threatened my suspension of disbelief. That giant head, for instance, for me just doesn’t work as an object in a science-fiction story– my brain starts gnawing away at questions like how is it possible to have a giant organism in space, and how are the bodily components of a giant space alien valuable? etc., all of which immediately interfere with my enjoyment of the story. The head violates what I assumed were the basic premises of the story.

Failure to maintain SoD is a threat to the very success of a story. Do it too often, or to too great a degree, and the audience turns off the television, walks out of the theater, throws the book across the room. Worse, the disappointed are likely to spread poisonous word of mouth– Yeah, that book/movie/show sucked, it made no sense. Not making sense to a reader or viewer is the kiss of death.

Or it should be. However, suspension of disbelief is actually a personal thing. Elements of a story that might absolutely destroy the experience for me might go completely unnoticed by others. It is, in fact, a factor of personal taste.

Which brings me to this–

In ordinary circumstances, the thought of a new Mad Max/Road Warrior movie would leave this particular fan-boy gibbering with delighted anticipation. Watching this trailer, however, fills me with dread. The original Road Warrior had a simple, gritty sensibility, which was actually enhanced by its low-low-low budget. Among other things, its effects and stunts had to be practical and guaranteed not to kill anybody. This gave it more verisimilitude than you would have expected from a stark description of the film (post-apocalyptic survivors fight over gasoline).

This film, on the other hand, looks like a badly-made video game– overblown, filled with explosions, hurtling cars, hurtling bodies, and pieces of action that either seem to violate basic Newtonian physics or just not make any sense (people on poles? Why?). It looks as if George Miller, now that he’s George Freakin’ Miller, is bathing in money, and has thrown most of it at this production. But to me, it is the apparently nonsensical and over-the-top action that has already set my SoD to trembling. To my eyes, the action doesn’t look plausible– and, as a consequence, I will hesitate to dive into this particular film experience without at least seeing a goodly number of reviews. Lots of reviews. And I sure as taxes will not be camping out at the Cineplex waiting for opening day.

Of course, judging a movie by its trailer is probably even more problematic than judging a book by its cover. This movie may yet redeem itself to me. But here’s where the part about SoD being an expression of personal taste comes into play. This movie will doubtless make buckets of money, because, quite simply, there seem to be an incredible number of people nowadays who, in my opinion, are undiscriminating action junkies who will watch anything with a sufficient number of very large explosions and/or fast moving objects. Think Fast and Furious or Transformers. We’re talking about people for whom, apparently, no explosion is too big, no piece of action too outlandish. People whose SoD, it seems, has acquired a nearly infinite elasticity. As a consequence, classics like The Road Warrior are betrayed by junk sequels, and movies (and story-telling in general) are left all the poorer.

I seem to have slipped over into a rant. I will therefore stop here, leave poor Max alone, and just come to my point. Suspension of disbelief is one of the absolutely critical elements of the story-telling art. Not pushing your readers or viewers into disbelief, not breaking that implicit contract with them to create a plausible world, is essential. Every creator of a narrative needs to pay attention to it.

Unless you want your story to feel like an overblown cartoon.

‘Nuff said. Later.

A quick emergence from my cave to squint at the sun…

And we’ve been having entirely too much of that sunshine stuff here in Seattle lately. I have a mind to the tell the Sun to knock it off.

A quick note, just in case anyone wondered if I had been kidnapped by aliens (I wouldn’t mind, if they looked like Gwenyth Paltrow)– other matters continue to pull me away from the blog, but progress is being made on Princess of Fire. I think I’m re-engaging with Kathy in a way I haven’t been able to the last few months. She’s starting to deal with the Deep Serious that’s about to land on her and the people she cares about, and the pace is picking up as I get excited about what I am writing.

On another matter, which I may talk about at more length in a near-future post– I have made a decision to resume the effort to seek traditional publication, in a small way. There are a number of reasons for this, one of which is that self-publishers are not eligible for SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America) membership. As irritating as that is in one way, in another I totally understanding the logic. SFWA doesn’t want the slush pile to come knocking on their door….

This re-entry into the pursuit of trad publishing doesn’t mean my novels will be leaving Amazon– I plan to try my hand at short stories. And the first might be based on an idea I got from Chuck Wendig’s challenge from last week, which I started to write, and then realized I might be able to do something more with. Mixing and matching sub-genres is fun, and the two I got out of the random selection was “dystopia” and “superhero”.

I can do something with that.

More later, when it’s not my bed-time. Good night.

A memory

In honor of a certain young lady’s sixteenth birthday.

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I saw the look on the physician-assistant’s face– alarm, perhaps horror. She turned away from taking my wife’s blood pressure, muttered, “Please wait here,” and left.

She came back and said, “We’re admitting your wife to the hospital.”

They gave me a new word to learn– pre-eclampsia. My wife’s body was rejecting her pregnancy. They would have to induce labor and deliver our baby.

It was too soon, by almost seven weeks.

When my daughter was born, she was too small. She was just three pounds, eight ounces. She should have been over five pounds. She was small and red. She cried, and the sound was weak and thin.

They had me carry her up to the neonatal ICU. She barely filled my two hands together.

It was after midnight. Two-thirds of the lights in the halls were turned off. We moved through gloom into brief patches of light and back into gloom.

In the light my daughter shut her eyes tight. When we entered the gloom, she opened her eyes and looked up at me.

Now she sings arias in Italian, and tells me, “I can take care of myself, Daddy.” She thinks her old father is silly.