Thursday, February 28, 2008

Flash Fiction Interlude: The Written Word

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story about the aftermath of Will's first meeting with Diana is concurrent with Tin Soldier, the first book in my series.

Amalia walked into the kitchen, startling Will as he sat at the table, poring over a book and piece of paper. “What on earth are you doing?”

Will slammed the dictionary shut and shoved the paper under it. “Nothing.”

Amalia had been trying for months to teach Will to read but the eleven year-old runaway saw no value in it, having fended for himself since he was eight without the benefit of letters or numbers. For him to willingly open a dictionary was startling, but it was the defiance in his eyes and his faint flush of embarrassment that brought Amalia up short. “I thought you were going to help me with the wagon. There isn’t much time before it gets dark.” She paused, then added, “You sure took your time getting back here with that horse.”

Will looked away, his cheeks bright red. “That girl talks a lot.”

“What girl? Diana?”

“I guess that’s her name.” He rubbed the frayed edge of the dictionary spine. “She wouldn’t shut up.”

“We don’t get a lot of new people in this valley. I’m sure she was just curious who you are and where you came from.”

“She asked a lot of questions.”

“I hope you were nice to her. The Petersons are good neighbors and it was generous of them to lend us their horse.” At Will’s curt nod of agreement, Amalia said, “Let’s go hitch that wagon. We should be able to get one cartload before sundown, and we’ll do the rest in the morning.”

Will stood up, hesitated, then pulled the paper from under the dictionary and shoved it in a pocket. “You going to want me to take the horse back tomorrow?”

“I think it would be best, since we won’t need it any more. Don’t you agree?”

“I guess. It’s just—”


Will drew the crumpled paper out of his pocket and handed it to her in frustration. “She gave me this, and I don’t know what to do with it.”

Amalia scanned the brief note, her lips twitching with the effort to keep from laughing. “I don’t think you have to do anything with it, Will. It just says—”

“No!” He grabbed it out of her hand. “Don’t tell me. Just show me where the words are in the dictionary so I can figure it out for myself.”

Amalia considered. The note was only a few sentences and the longest word was “horse.” If such simplicity was beyond his ability, it was going to take more than a dictionary to help him puzzle it out. “I suppose you think you should have an answer when you go back?”

“That’s how you do it, right?” He folded the paper neatly this time, caressing the creases like a treasure. “No one’s ever wrote me a letter before.” He gazed up at Amalia, his gray eyes suddenly vulnerable. “You’ll help me write a letter back, won’t you? She acted like I was smart and if she finds out…”

“She won’t think you’re stupid. But if this is what it’ll take to get you to read—”

“Just this kind of stuff.” He dropped the note back in his pocket. “I don’t want to read those big books like what you read.”

“Okay.” She started for the door, motioning for him to follow. “What kinds of words do you want to learn first?" she asked as they walked the path to the barn. "Should I teach you to spell ‘pretty?’”


She gave him a sly smile. “How about ‘girlfriend?’”


“So what do you want to say?”

“Just ‘thanks for the horse.’”

“Hm.” Amalia nodded wisely.

“And maybe ‘nice.’ That’s an easy word, right?”

They were at the barn now and went inside. Will headed toward the tack room with an air of quiet authority. “You’ll let me do the writing part myself, though. And you won’t tell her I needed help.”

“Of course not.”

“No one’s ever acted like I was smart before.”

“I think you’re smart.”

“It’s not the same.”

“You're right.” Amalia watched him take the harness off the peg, marveling that three sentences from a ten year-old girl had achieved what months of badgering had failed to accomplish. To Diana, it was probably just a few careless words on paper— a fun way to practice between lessons. But for Will, who might finally learn to read more than his name, the note was transformative.

Amalia smiled in the dusty gloom of the barn, resolving to never again doubt the power of letters on paper.

Saturday, February 23, 2008


Nothing like getting 15,000 words into a new novel and realizing first person isn't working and you should be writing in third. I know I'll be happier in the end, and I already think it's a better story, but...grrr....

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day!

Lots of fun stories for the occasion at the Valentine's Day Flash Fiction Carnival!

Check it out and have a great day!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Write What You Know?

I came across this article yesterday. It’s about a man who discovers that his father had been the inspiration for several characters in Margaret Atwood’s early novels. I read the article with much interest and amusement, but something nagged at me.

This morning it hit me that this is precisely the sort of thing that makes non-writers think every blessed thing we write has a direct correlation to some person or event in our real lives. Friends, family and acquaintances read articles like this and start picking apart our fiction with the zeal of a linguist encountering the Rosetta Stone for the first time.

It’s so irritating I could spit.

I confess that my first-ever novel drew heavily on people and events of my own life. It was about 90% autobiographical. It was also pure and utter crap, which is why it’s a trunk novel and will never see the light of day. My second novel had two characters based on real life acquaintances and other than that was pure fiction. I haven’t used a real life person or event in my fiction since then.

Oh sure, I use composites and archetypes. Obnoxious, sex-obsessed Boeing from Bella Diana and my Will and Diana stories is a familiar type to any female past the age of puberty. I can name half a dozen guys who are like him and yet I didn’t have any of them in mind when I created him. And where on earth would I have come up with someone like Coyote, who hears voices and loves trains so much he feels compelled to destroy them? Real life? Please.

Unfortunately, as long as famous novelists like Margaret Atwood are on record as using their personal experiences and former lovers in their fiction, folks like me who channel characters out of the non-autobiographical ether will never be believed. Our protestations of true creativity will be treated with condescension, as if we're hiding dark secrets or engaging in false modesty.

And that, Gentle Reader, is why I don’t share my writing with my family. If I did, they’d tear it apart, searching for themselves when they aren’t anywhere in it. They would think I have all kinds of scary and wacky friends with tortured pasts and questionable morals. They would think I had first-hand experience with people and situations that I hope to never encounter in my real life.

What they would end up thinking about me as a person I don’t even want to know.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Love Not Wisely

(A Will and Diana Adventure)

NOTE: New readers may want to read up on Will and Diana's world before proceeding.

Will and Diana moved silently through the darkness with only the pale light of a solar lantern to illuminate the path to their tent. Once inside, Will took off his boots and began arranging his guns, canteen and lantern beside his pallet. Diana slipped out of her moccasins and dragged her pillow and blankets to make a nest beside him.

Lately Amalia had been trying to make them sleep apart, reminding them that they weren’t children any more. Diana thought being sixteen was a silly reason not to sleep with the young man she thought of as a brother and she subverted Amalia's orders at every opportunity.

“So what should we do?” she said as she settled herself on her blanket.

“Nothing. It’s none our business.”

“But she's—” Diana raised herself on an elbow. “You know. And with our commanding officer, of all people.”

“It’s not like we’re a real military unit.” Will's weapons were now as he liked them and he sat down. “What’s that word Mother uses to describe us?”


“No, the other word.”


“We’re not monkeys. Quit making fun of me.” Before Diana could answer, he remembered. “Insurgents. That’s what she calls us.”

Diana flopped on her back and stretched her arms overhead. “What does a word have to do with anything?”

“It means we’re not real enough for it to matter who Mother sleeps with.” He lay beside her and Diana snuggled against him like she always did.

“I feel real,” she said. “And what they were doing in there sounded pretty real, too.”

“As long as Mother’s happy, that’s all that matters. She’s had a hard life.”

“So have we.”

“Which is why we shouldn’t mess it up for her.”

“Okay. It’s going to be hard not to say anything, though.” She moved against him in a way that wasn’t intended to be suggestive, but aroused him nonetheless. By the time Will regained control of his desires, Diana was asleep in his arms. He tried to doze too, lulled by the warmth of her body and the faint whisper of her breath.

An hour later they were awakened by a movement of the canvas tent flap and the sound of tentative footsteps. Will pushed Diana aside and sat up.

Amalia froze. “You’re supposed to be asleep.”

“We were,” Diana said, blinking in the glow of Amalia’s lantern. “But you—”

“We’re glad you’re back,” Will interrupted. “We were worried.” He lay down and pulled Diana to him.

“I’m fine. Go back to sleep.” Amalia set down her solar lantern and fumbled with her shoes. “And Diana, I believe your bed is supposed to be on the other side of the tent.”

Before Will could silence her, Diana blurted out, “And yours is supposed to be here, not with Harley.”

“I’m a grown woman. I’ll sleep wherever I want.”

“And now that I’m old enough to go on missions and shoot people, so will I.”

Will squeezed her arm, silencing her. Then to Amalia he said, “Maybe we should talk about this in the morning. How about you read to us?”

It was their nightly tradition that Amalia read aloud, but Will had never acted like he enjoyed it. After giving him a suspicious glance, Amalia drew the lantern closer and reached for her Bible.

“You have nothing to repent, Mother.”

She and Will locked eyes. Slowly, Amalia put the Bible away and reached for her only other book, a volume of Shakespeare.

“No Romeo and Juliet, okay?”

Diana stifled a giggle.

Amalia opened the book and flipped through the pages in annoyance. “It’s not like that at all.”

“What is it, then?” Diana asked.

“None of your business.” Amalia slammed the book shut and turned off the lantern. She lay down but sleep didn’t come. Instead she listened in growing exasperation to the rustle of whispers from the other side of the tent. “If you two aren’t going to sleep,” she finally said, “Go trade watch duty with someone who’ll show a little gratitude to be offered a chance to rest.”

Silence. Then a shifting of blankets and the soft sound of footsteps.

“I’m sorry,” Diana said, kneeling by her side. “We didn’t mean to make you mad.”

“We like Harley,” Will added, coming to sit beside her, too. “And if you’re happy, we’re happy.”

Amalia sighed. “As your guardian, I’m supposed to set a better example than this.”

Had there been enough light to see by, Will and Diana would’ve looked at each other in confusion.

“Why is it wrong if you like each other?” Diana asked.

“My parents used to yell and beat each other up,” Will said. “You’re a lot better example than that.”

“And my mom never did find another man after my father was drafted,” Diana reminded her. “I think you’re lucky.”

“But I’ve tried to teach you. . .and the Bible says. . . .”

“Someone must’ve wrote it down wrong,” Will said. “It makes no sense that God would want things to be hard for us.”

Diana leaned forward, her voice conspiratorial in the dark. “Are you in love, Auntie?”

“If he breaks your heart, I’ll kill him for you,” Will offered.

“What kind of values are you learning?” Amalia sat up. “Turn on the lantern. And hand me my Shakespeare.”

“You’re not going to read Romeo and Juliet, are you?”

“No. Now go back to bed. And Diana—”

“I’ll sleep where I want,” she said, guessing what was coming next.

“You don’t want everyone knowing that you sleep where you want, do you?” Will added. "It would be bad for camp morale."

Out-maneuvered, Amalia watched in dismay as Diana settled under her blankets, pressing against Will for warmth and oblivious to the way he was looking at her. "Fine," she said, opening her book. "Then we'll read of those who 'love not wisely but too well.'" Getting only blank looks in reply, she found the tragedy she was looking for and began reading.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

The Whys and Wherefores of World-Building

I was thinking this morning about why most of my fiction is set in dark places, often in a low-tech, post-disaster future. Since I’m next up in the Absolute Write January blog chain, and Thomma wrote about optimism and pessimism, I suppose it’s time to put a few of my world-building thoughts into pixels.

For me, I think the worlds I choose are simple laziness.

It might seem like creating the world of Will and Diana is a lot of work. It is. I’ve done years of research into what happens in both ancient and modern societies when governments, resources and economies falter and collapse. I read about matters as diverse as donkey cart harnesses, well-digging, how to build soil in the high desert, and how to survive in various types of wilderness environments. I read about economic inflation and deflation. I read about petroleum, coal, wind and water power. I read about how to make soap and batteries, and how to knit socks. I’ve studied the fall of the Roman Empire and the collapse of Zimbabwe's economy.

So, how can my choice of fictional worlds be laziness?


In a world without Google, cell phones, 911 and GPS, the possibilities for missed connections, ignorance and confusion abound. The angsty problems of our own time take a back seat to the very real issues of survival. With no ready information at one’s fingertips, courage and self-reliance are essential. Sure, a character with a cell phone can wander into a place with no signal or have their batteries die, but in our time, these matters can usually be resolved by a quick walk or car trip. In the worlds I like to create, I prefer that one not be able to google “how to milk a Nubian goat” when they’re starving. There will be no helicopters searching for you if you get lost. You're on your own. Figure it out or die.

Alternatives to a dystopian world would be historical or fantasy fiction, but for the most part, neither has much appeal to me as a writer. Still, I think anyone writing in these genres can appreciate the unique appeal of a world without GPS and where medical emergencies can’t be dealt with by dialing 911.

So yes, my fictional worlds tend to be dark, dirty, and difficult to live in. I give my characters few opportunities for angst. No one cares what shoes you’re wearing to the Apocalypse.

I’d love to hear back from some of my writing friends about why they choose the worlds they do!

Here's the rest of the Blog Chain-- Happy Reading!

living my life all over again
Spontaneous Derivation
Jenn Hollowell: Working Writer
Anything That Pays
Polenth's Quill
wfg thinks out loud
Spittin' (out words) Like a Llama
A Thoughtful Life
The Speakeasy
Virtual Wordsmith
The Writer's Round-About
My Copious Notes Blog
Tennessee Text Wrestling
Twisted Fantasy


Friday, February 01, 2008

My Story!

My story, Masquerade at Well Country Camp is up! Drop by and take a look. Then come back here and tell me what you think! It's based on a photo I found in a book I got for Christmas.

Be sure to read the other fine stories at Flash Fiction Online. They're a really professional group of folks over there and would appreciate comments in their forum, a few dollars in their kitty (if you've got 'em) and your best flash fiction submissions. They're a paying market, so if you've written something good, don't be shy!