Another #NaNoPrep Blog

In about two weeks NaNoWriMo begins. You probably knew that; there are posts about NaNoWriMo, and NaNoPrep all over the Internet. This will be my fourth year of NaNo, and I’ve done Camp several times, too. In 2010 I led a group of high school students through NaNoWriMo’s Young Writers Program. I haven’t won every year I’ve tried, but I always have fun.

Over the years I’ve put together strategies for #NaNoPrep, and I thought it was time to share.
• Have an outline. It doesn’t have to be detailed, though mine tend to be. Even a vague list of key points will serve as a guide to keep you moving forward. If you are a pantser, try to develop at least a paragraph long summary of the story as you see it. Note any actions, decisions, or other plot points that must happen to develop the story.
• Make a scrapbook. Pictures help when it comes to description. Try to find photos of your main setting (or someplace similar) during the season in which your story takes place. Look for pictures of people with your character’s features and coloring (also known as “who would you cast when the novel becomes a movie?”) Character photos are especially helpful for consistency of description. Significant objects in the story are also good to include in the photo album, especially if it’s something unfamiliar.
• Make a playlist. Music is as vital to writing as caffeine. Here are my thoughts on playlists.
• Pay attention to your pantry. Some wrimos prepare and freeze 30 day’s worth of food prior to November, so that all they have to do is heat and serve, others put together lists of 30 minute meals, to minimize their kitchen time. Others live on sandwiches. Take a few minutes to consider the matter. If you work, are a student, or are a working student, then it’s probably a good idea to get at least a few meals in the freezer, whether you make them from scratch or just hit the grocery’s freezer aisle.
• Consider the snacking situation. While a caffeine boost can be a good thing, too much can be a problem. It can make you jittery, cause headaches and anxiety, and act as both a laxative and a diuretic. Too much chocolate can have the same side effects, along with higher blood sugar levels, and with continued over-use can contribute to weight gain. When you’re writing, drink water; save the coffee or tea for breaks. Substitute fresh or dried fruits and veggies for some of the chocolate. (My chocolate consumption: 1 snickers bite size candy for every 500 words written, and 1 extra for reaching the day’s goal. Round up to the nearest 500.)
• Discover your average writing speed. Don’t guess about this, based on the memory of the last few things you’ve written. Sometime soon, sit down and write a piece of flash fiction. 1000-1500 words. It can be about anything; fiction or non-fiction. You can work from an outline if you’d like. Don’t edit as you go. Leave the misspellings. Leave the abandoned thought. Just write. Time yourself. Don’t worry if your number seems low; you aren’t competing, you’re researching. If you aren’t convinced that you’ve found your true writing speed, do the exercise again, on a new topic.
• Consider your daily word goal. 50,000 divided by 30 is 1,666 words a day, and you’ll have to add an extra 20 somewhere. Or you can write 1667 words a day, and be 10 words over goal. But take a minute to consider: If you live in the US, you have to decide what you’re going to do about writing over the thanksgiving holiday. Traveling, family time, and increasingly, retail jobs all tend to infringe heavily on writing time during the holiday. Another schedule might work better than writing 1667 words every day. Knowing your writing speed will help you decide your daily word goal.
• Schedule your writing time. Extra writing time isn’t going to spontaneously happen during November. Decide how you’re going to make the time. Getting up earlier to write seems to be popular strategy, but I’m not a fan of anything that involves getting out of bed earlier in the morning. Writing through lunch is another popular tip, but I can’t type with my hands full of pizza, so it doesn’t work for me. For me, it’s a matter of sacrifice. I only allow myself a short amount of time per day for all my social media and news updates online. I quit television for the month. I limit the amount of fiction I read. I put all of the knitting and crochet away until December 1st. That gives me a block of time every day in which to write. (There are exceptions to this. I follow the #NaNoSprints hashtag all month on Twitter. I watch “my” college football game every Saturday, so I don’t get banished from the state. I do needlework while I watch football. I read short stories on break at work.)
• Know your writing requirements. I write best from 10 pm to 4 am, so when I can I write on that schedule. I don’t do well with distractions, so my best writing happens in my room, with the door closed, and music playing to filter out the rest of the world. I don’t write in coffee shops, and I don’t expect much from write-ins. Knowing the environment that keeps you most productive is key to winning NaNoWriMo.
• Learn to silence your inner editor. This is tough for most of us. The easiest way to do this is with total commitment. For the month of November, don’t worry about spelling, grammar or readability in anything you write. For most of us, this simply isn’t feasible. School and work require that we spell and punctuate; that our work be structured and logical. After years of wrestling with auto-correct and rewriting phrases as I go, I finally found a method that works for me: in my writing program I adjust the font color to the same shade as the background and turn off auto-spell. I admit, I cheat. My background is white, but I adjusted my font to a very pale gray. The text is almost invisible against the white background, and with auto-spell turned off there are no red lines underscoring my spelling errors. Once I got used to writing this way, my writing speed increased. This is something else to practice before November gets here.
These are just a few ideas that get me through NaNoWriMo each November. Hopefully some of them will be helpful to you.

A #NaNoPrep Blog: Music Playlists

October is the month of NaNoPrep. All over the Internet writers are meeting and sharing their tips for surviving, for winning NaNoWriMo next month. I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo for several years; I haven’t won every year, but I’ve always learned something about myself and my writing process. One of the biggest things I’ve learned is the importance of a play list.
When I’m working on a novel I usually build three separate playlists; because I am bad a clever titles I call them a) the writer’s playlist, b) the novelling playlist and c) the mood playlist. Each playlist serves a different purpose, with very little overlap.
I usually play the writer’s playlist before I start a day’s writing. This list doesn’t vary much from project to project; it’s the music I listen to when I need to purge the mundane world from my system. My writer’s play list is eclectic; a few pieces to relax me after a day of retail or classes, a few pieces to pump me up. I won’t list the music on my writer’s list; just pick out about fifteen minutes of music that takes you away from the mundane and inspires you.
The novelling playlist usually takes the longest to build, because it is basically a soundtrack for the novel. This is the music you’ll play while you write, every day, no matter what the scene. It serves to insulate you from whatever is going on around you, and keep you from getting distracted when you should be focused on the story. When I’m writing, lyrics distract me, so I focus on movie soundtracks, television themes and classical music. For the most part this playlist is simply music that represents the genre of the novel. I’ve found it fairly simple to compile a playlist for horror and fantasy writing; it took days to build the playlist for my weird western.
The mood list is a variation of the novelling playlist; for a long time I didn’t use one at all. Look at your outline; identify the major emotions of the story. This list will have a few minutes of music appropriate to each mood, staying within the genre of the story, if possible. You might want to add a “theme song” for the major characters. When you get stuck, or just need an extra push for a scene, find the appropriate music on this playlist.
Whether you’re dealing with the middle of the month slump, or rushing toward 50K at the end of the month, a playlist can help you meet the NaNoWriMo challenge, and building the list is a fun way to spend a few days in October.

My Adventures in Procrastination Swamp

I live just a stone’s throw away from Procrastination Swamp. It’s a nice little house, the latest in emo-morphic design, so it’s a vine-covered cottage, sun-drenched villa, stark, brooding castle or whatever else best suits my mood on a given day. True, there are always odd shadows in the corners, but that’s on me. Everybody has a closet they simply Don’t Open, so I don’t suppose it much matters whether it’s stuffed with outgrown winter coats, poor fashion choices from the last decade and abandoned sports, or gaunt drooling monsters, phobias and neuroses. Equally scary either way. But I digress.
Lovely house, just a stone’s throw from Procrastination Swamp. I settled down on July first, eager to write. I had a story I was pretty excited about; it was inspired by a short story I wrote for my writing class, which had been well received. I was excited about the story, and had a good idea where it was going to go.
On July first I managed less than six hundred words. On the second, I had time to write all day. Instead I surfed the Internet and wasted time with games on my phone. Today (the third) I had a short evening shift and had a few chores around the house, but there was time to write. I didn’t.
About three hours before my shift started I realized something was wrong. I looked out the window, and sure enough, the waters of Procrastination Swamp had surrounded the house.
This isn’t the first time it’s happened. I have a plan for when it does. The first thing to do is figure just what part of the swamp has claimed the house. I was fairly confused about this; usually I get caught up in water from Self-Doubt Slough. I was pretty confident of this idea, and felt like I had a strong voice for the story. I asked myself what the problem was, why was I avoiding something I’d looked forward to, something that stood a good chance of being the best thing I’d ever written? It was like I was afraid –
There is a sinkhole in Procrastination Swamp, and it is named Fear of Success. It’s often omitted from maps of the swamp, because nobody wants to admit that they fell into a big ole hole while they were paddling around where they shouldn’t have been in the first place. I’ve been here a few times.
Once I realized where I was, I set about getting out. I had to address why I was so afraid of the idea of writing well, of being successful. For me, it goes back to my folks. Writing, anything imaginative, was belittled, deemed a waste of time. Which is odd, because both my parents loved to read. They’re gone now, so there’s no chance of getting their approval for my writing endeavors. They’re gone now, so why does it still matter so much, anyway? This usually isn’t an issue, Why the Heck has it suddenly become such a problem with this story?
I thought about my issues with my folks; I thought about my story. After a while I realized that I have a situation with two characters, a father (the primary physical antagonist) and his daughter (a supporting character, but important) that mirrors the tension I often felt with my father. Their relationship affects the story fairly strongly, even though I’m still not sure how strong a role the daughter herself plays in the story. Their conflict had, on some level of consciousness, knocked me into that sinkhole. And after I realized that, it was easy to climb out.
I spent a lot of my time at work thinking about the situation between those two characters. Could I make things better between them? If the daughter was stronger, how would she deal with her father? Maybe I needed to change that part of the story entirely, get rid of the daughter and bring the antagonist into the story another way entirely? I’m not sure and there are a few scenes I’ll have to write before I decide where I want to go. When I finally got home I found that the waters of Procrastination Swamp have receded again, and now it’s just a matter of getting enough sleep before tomorrow’s shift.

We all get stuck in Procrastination Swamp sometimes, even if we don’t belabor the metaphor to the extent I did here. The trick is to recognize when we are procrastinating and then identify why. Sometimes it’s because we have too many other demands on our time, sometimes we just aren’t excited about the idea. Sometimes, though, it’s because the writing is deeply personal, and we would rather avoid the emotions it evokes. Whether we choose to address the issue or not, identifying it lets us stop procrastinating.
BTW, the story I’m writing is a weird western. That’s supernatural, alternative history, and horror genres. The situation between the antagonist and his daughter is not one that I experienced growing up. The emotions and the dynamics of the situation were the same as situations with my father. Sometimes it takes a while to figure out when the story is touching on a personal issue.

Acampin’ I Will Go

For the last few weeks I’ve been writing flash fiction in response to challenges from Chuck Wendig’s blog. In general I’ve been happy with the results. The first challenge gave me an extremely complex character and a story that refused to be limited to 1500 words. I’m still editing that story, and there are more waiting to be written. The next two challenges were fairly easy; one was a randomly generated title, the other simply started with a dead body. Both times I was surprised by the finished product, but pleasantly so. The hard part was hitting the word count. I learned to believe in my writing by doing NaNoWriMo, and Camp NaNoWrIMo. Brevity is new to me.

Now it’s July, and Camp NaNo is here again. I don’t know if I’ll be doing the flash fiction challenges because I’ll be spending the month expanding a story that I wrote for my creative writing class. It was an easy story to write, and very well received. Before I finished it I knew that it wasn’t really a short story, but the first chapter of a novel. I’m not sure of where it’s going, exactly, which is a bit odd; normally I’m a detailed plotter. I’m looking forward to the adventure.

Here’s the first scene from the short story, soon to be the novel, “Silver Springs”

The girl crouched behind the granite boulders, looking down at the campsite. Between the light from a first quarter moon and the campfire she had little trouble making out the features of the men camped there. There was no doubt; these were the same men that had been following her since she’d left Carson City a month ago. She thought she’d lost them when the wolf attacked, she’d gone almost two weeks without seeing them on her back trail. Somehow they’d managed to pick up her trail, and today they’d closed the gap.

She closed her eyes and concentrated, listening, identifying and sorting the sounds of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. She wished the wolf would come back and attack them again. She knew it was close, but she couldn’t control it. She opened her eyes and returned to watching the men. There were five of them, of varying ages; to her teenage eyes they all looked old. They sat around the campfire, finishing a meal.  Her stomach growled. She’d been living on a roots and berries for the last week.

“I just want to go home,” the girl whispered. “Why cain’t they just let me go home?” Home was Silver Springs, Nevada, and still three nights of hard walking lay between her and that refuge. She was on foot, starving, shoeless and not entirely sure of her route. The men below were mounted on strong, well-cared for horses; even after nearly a month of pursuit the horses were in good condition. The girl knew that she wouldn’t make it back to her home unless something stopped these men from following her.

She sat back, thinking about her situation. There was no way she’d escape capture for another day, not with them this close. If they caught her they’d take her back to Carson City, and once there…she thought there was a good chance she’d never see Silver Springs again, if that happened. She looked up at the moon, near full and bright in the sky. “It’s a matter of survival,” she told the moon. “If they take me back there, I won’t never get home again. And if I cain’t get home, I’ll die of loneliness, if they don’t kill me outright.” She looked around, saw nothing but dirt and rocks, and a few branches blown from a lightning–struck pine. Nothing that could be used as a weapon. She looked down at the camp. They had guns, supplies, horses.

It was no use. The men down there had every advantage; she was stuck on a hillside, afraid to move for fear of sending pebbles skittering down into their camp. She caught her breath. What if she did send rocks down on the camp, good sized rocks, instead of just a few pebbles? She looked at her surroundings. Some of the boulders were nearly three feet tall. The dirt seemed loose; if she could get a few of the bigger rocks started, she might be able to send a landslide down on top of her pursuers. She doubted that she could injure the men, but if she could send the slide down on the picket line, she might stampede the horses. If the horses got loose she might be able to regain her lead and get to Silver Springs before they caught up with her again.

Moving as quietly as she could, the girl gathered a few of the larger pine branches. She studied the position of the boulders, trying to find one she could lever free and use to start an avalanche. After only a few moments, she shrugged, and moved to a tall boulder. There were only a few of the larger ones that she could move, and she didn’t know how to direct them to create a powerful landslide. She looked up at the moon again and whispered, “I’m sorry. I know killing’s wrong, but I got no choice. It’s them or me.” She maneuvered the limb under the rock as best as she could, and pushed down. At first she didn’t seem to be getting anywhere. Even though she managed to lift the rock out of the depression it sat in, it wouldn’t tip forward. She slid the limb farther under the rock, and tried again. At first there was no difference, then a few pebbles from the base of the rock started to roll. She pushed the branch as far as she could, and the rock tipped, rolled free and headed down the hillside toward the camp. As it went it dislodged other, smaller rocks and debris, and soon a sizeable amount to material was sliding toward the camp below.

As she watched, the men looked up and first one, then another yelled. Three of them headed for the horses, picketed close to the slope of the hill. The others scattered, away from the path of the tumbling rocks. The trio reached the horses just before the leading edge of the slide. The men struggled to free the horses from the picket line, sawing at the ropes. Finally, the rope parted and the horses bolted, still tethered to the lead rope and one another. One of the men looked up at the rocks and dirt bearing down on them. He cried out.

Bonnie looked away. She hadn’t expected the men to work so long to free the horses. “I just want to go home,” she whispered. She turned to watch the horses as they galloped eastward, out of the canyon. She had bought herself some time. Staying low, she began to make her way northward again, toward Silver Springs.

The Contract: Flash Fiction

Another Friday Flash Fiction Challenge from Chuck Wendig. Rules: open with a dead body, 1000 words.

Challenge accepted, Mr. Wendig.

I had to work at keeping this small; I may have cut so much that it doesn’t make sense. The initial concept was a lot creepier,and will no doubt find it’s way into another story at some point.

The Contract

“There.” The Constable Wizard pointed. “Just where dispatch said; the alley between Malkin and Dobrie streets.”

Ogilvie saw a body sprawled halfway out of the alley. A pool of blood spread from beneath it and across the cobble stones. He hurried forward. “Are we certain he is dead?”

The constable grabbed his arm, held him tightly. “By the Elements, man! Don’t touch him!” He took a small sphere from a coat pocket, touched it lightly with his wand. “This will tell us if he’s still alive, without leaving a signature.” The sphere glowed a faint rose, and floated over to the body sprawled on the cobbles. It slowly descended until it was resting on the back of the prone figure’s skull. As it made contact it turned black, and burst. “There,” the constable said. “He’s dead right enough. If you’d touched him you would have been part of the Contract.”

Ogilvie swallowed hard. “I thought the Contract was limited to a victim’s killer.”

Constable Adams shook his head. “There are several clauses to the Contract. But once the victim is dead he’s just meat. And so is anybody that touches him.”

“I’m not sure I understand”

Adams sighed. “I’ll try to explain as we go.” He looked back at the body lying in the narrow alley. “We can’t scribe a circle here. We’re going to have to move the body.” He looked at Ogilvie, “They’ll be here with a Mover in a few minutes.”

“A Mover?”

“If we want to find whoever killed our man we have to inscribe a circle around him. Where he’s fallen, there’s no room for a circle. So we have to move him. Since you and I can’t touch him, nor can any other law-abiding citizen, we’ll use a prisoner to do it.”

“A prisoner?”

“Usually somebody who’s done violent crime. Sometimes, though, we just have to take whoever’s in a cell.” He pointed toward a closed wagon coming up the street toward then. “Here’s our Mover.”

The two men watched as the wagon drew up to where they stood. Two policemen climbed down from the seat, and headed to the back of the wagon. One of them pointed a pistol at the closed door. The other took a large key from his belt and put it in the lock. The key turned, the door opened and a man stood framed in the doorway, squinting into the twilight.

The man with the key exchanged it for a pistol, which he trained on the prisoner. “He wants to be a Runner, Constable Wizard Adams.” Adams sighed. Slowly the prisoner climbed down from the wagon. The officers motioned him toward Adams and his companion.

“Follow me, Mover,” said Adams.

“Who’s he?” The prisoner pointed to Ogilvie.

“That is none of your concern, Mover.” Adams and the others stopped a few feet from the body. “Here is your task.” Ogilvie made a strangled noise as the Mover grabbed the dead man’s hands and pulled him out of the alley and into the center of the street. Once in the center of the street he rolled the corpse onto its back and straightened his arms and legs. He looked at Adams. “Anything else, Constable Wizard?”

“Can you see his wounds, Mover? Can you tell how he died?”

“Stabbed in the throat, looks like.”

“Thank you, Mover. Now, please empty his pockets and bring the contents to me.” Barkley did as he was directed, and placed the contents in a bag Adams held open. “Thank you, Mover.” Barkley grunted. Adams looked at him. “Ned,” Adams said, in a different tone, “three days is a long time. You could stay here. It would be quick.”

The Mover laughed harshly. “Not going to tell me it’s painless though, are you? No,” he shook his head, “I’m running. I’ve got scores to settle in the Maze.”

Adams nodded. “I was afraid of that. Very well, Mover. You are released from your duties. You are now a Runner.” For a few seconds there was no movement, then the man turned, and pelted ram. He turned a corner and he was gone. Adams looked through the bag until he found a wallet, with the owner’s name in it.

“What did he mean, scores to settle?” Ogilvie asked.

Adams sighed. He reached into a pocket and took out a bag of colored sand, which he used to trace a circle around the body. “Ned Barkley is an enforcer for one of the crime bosses in the Maze. He’s planning on finding some of his rivals and picking a fight. His killer will have to face the Contract.” Adams finished the circle quickly and set about the outer inscription. He turned to the officers, “You should head back now,” he said. “No point in upsetting the horses.”

Adams watched the wagon leave, then turned back to the circle. He took his wand, pointed it at the sand at his feet and uttered a few harsh syllables. The circle blazed. Ogilvie watched in horror as a twisted shape appeared inside the wall of flame. Slowly the fires died down until they were only a few inches high. Inside the circle the demon crouched.

“This man was James Strewby. Find his killer. Bring me his name.” Adams said. “Will you honor the Contract?”
Ogilvie screamed as the demon replied in a voice like bones breaking, “I honor the Contract.” The demon lifted the body of James Strewby, and bit off the head. “Good meat. And good hunting.” The flames flared suddenly, and when they died back, the demon was gone.

Ogilvie cringed as Adams turned back to him. “We have almost no murder. Most of the deaths now are accidental, in the course of another crime. And since there’s no telling who might be chosen as a Mover, other crimes are decreasing as well.”

“You’ve sold your souls!”

Constable Wizard Adams shook his head. “Not at all. Demons don’t want our souls. They only want fresh meat.”

Flash Fiction Challenge: A Fist Full of Hearts

Chuck Wendig has a flash fiction challenge on his blog. (No matter how I try to keep up, I always miss the release date for these things, but at least this time I found it before the challenge expired.) This challenge was The Random Title Jamboree. Rules were pretty simple: use a random number generator to pick an element of the title from each column. 1500 word limit. Addition of “The” allowed. I cheated a bit on that last bit; I added “A” instead. Guess I won’t win the trophy.

My numbers were 4 (Fist Full of) and 18 (Hearts) and I added that illegal article, A. Oddly, I got the story I wanted in only 1154 words. ENG 246 would be shocked that I came in under word count. Since I’ve been on a western kick lately I was pretty surprised with what the little voices in my head dictated.

Anyway, here it is.

A Fist Full of Hearts

Inquiry into the Creation of Artificial Humans, Vol. I
A scientific record by Amanda Stevenson
June 30th, 1887
The creature struggled against its restraints, but they held. After so many failures, one of the few things I am sure of is how strong my creations are. I placed the syringe next to the thing’s neck. “This is your fault,” I said. “I told you the rules. You chose to ignore them.” The creature roared its defiance as I slipped the needle beneath the skin, into the carotid artery. I pushed the plunger, sending the amber poison into the creature’s bloodstream. It jerked, and roared again, this time in pain. The massive body jerked against the restraints, then sagged limply. Its hands clenched spasmodically, once, twice, then stilled. I replaced the syringe on the instrument tray, rinsed my hands with a sterile wash, and left the operating theater.

I inspected myself in the mirror of the antechamber. The last time I terminated an experiment the creature somehow managed to get blood on the hem of my dress. I hadn’t noticed it until later, when I was preparing to receive guests for tea. This time, however, there were no unwanted fluids on lab coat or frock. I spent a few minutes adjusting my lace cuffs, and tidying my hair, and then left the lab for the day.

The afternoon was devoted to social calls; they are a dreadful waste of time, but necessary. Papa warned me when I announced my intention to follow him in the practice of medicine; society would not approve if I deviated too far from normal, and without society where would I find my patients? Unless I want to spend my time ministering to the poor, I would do well to attend to society’s demands as much as possible. At times it seems that I might do better to work among the lower classes; it might afford me more subjects for my research. Unfortunately, that research requires a great deal of money, and so I continue my career as a doctor among the pampered wives and daughters of society, who are so willing to pay a hefty fee to someone with a sympathetic look, who “truly understands how they suffer.”

The first few households I visited were a complete waste; I spent a few minutes listening to the latest gossip while trying to avoid dispensing free medical advice. It’s a delicate balance; I must be willing to listen and make small, helpful suggestions, but nothing that will allow “my friends” to avoid a professional visit for very long. Midway through the afternoon, though, I visited Mrs. S—. This was the social call which I most dreaded; Mrs. S— has children.

She isn’t the only member of my social circle with progeny; indeed, for a woman to be married for longer than a year and without children means that if she is not under my professional care it is because her husband prefers the services of one of my colleagues. Mrs. S— is unique among my acquaintances in her treatment of her children. Normally, when one calls on one’s acquaintances the children aren’t a factor. Nanny may, on occasion, lead the little darlings in for a quick inspection and then whisk them back upstairs, but for the most part one only sees the girls when they are being prepared for their introduction into society, and the boys, not at all.

Mrs. S—, however, has several small children of whom she is inordinately proud. When one calls upon her, instead of lengthy discussions of the latest scandals one receives a brief sharing of the highlights, and then Mrs. S— calls upon the children to entertain. One daughter sings, another plays the pianoforte; the boys, at their mother’s direction, recite, perform gymnastic feats, and on one memorable occasion, unsuccessfully attempt to demonstrate the various tricks they have taught the family dog.

Today was no different; over tea we exchanged news of the most trivial sort, and then “You must see the children!” Mrs. S— said. “It’s been so long since you last called, and they have all made such progress.” In short order the children were called, and the exhibition began. It was obvious, from the children’s expressions and attitudes, that they no more relished the ordeal than did I, but they made no complaint. In order, oldest to youngest, each child demonstrated some perceived skill or talent on maternal command. They were quiet, biddable, and even when fiercely embarrassed, they were obedient.

As I watched them I reflected on how Mrs. S— was able to command each of these, her creations, as it were, while I, who have brought forth vastly more complicated life in my laboratory, struggle and ultimately fail to control a single creature. So intent was I upon the problem that after all of the children were finished, and were hopefully awaiting the reward of a teacake and dismissal, I asked if they could repeat various bits of the performance. Mrs. S— happily agreed, and though I received dark looks from the children, they each reenacted their parts with the same obedience, and apparent enthusiasm.

When at last the children were released, I asked Mrs. S— how it is that her children are so exceedingly well behaved. She seemed surprised at the question and after a bit of thought said that it was due to love. “They know that I love them, and they love me. Because of that, they are willing to do things they dislike, just to please me.” We talked for only a few minutes more, then I apologized for taking up so much of her afternoon and left. So excited was I with what I had seen, I dispensed with the rest of the afternoon’s calls and returned home to consider.

Inquiry into the Creation of Artificial Humans, Vol. II
A scientific record by Amanda Stevenson
July 7th, 1887
I have at last solved the problem of how to control my creatures. Always before I have demanded their obedience through duty; after all, without me they would not exist. Each creation has, at some point, rebelled against this obligation and forced me to destroy it. If I replace obligation with love however, they will, as Mrs. S—‘s children do, obey me at every instance. For a while I was puzzled as to how to command the love of my creations, but again, I found the answer in Mrs. S— and her children.

The hearts that I designed to power my creatures do not love, but it took only a small modification to make room for a second, smaller, heart, one capable of love.

Tomorrow I will announce the opening of a free clinic, serving the needs of the city’s poorest children.

Love is, after all, the product of an innocent heart, and who has a more innocent heart than a child?

Flash Fiction Revenge

Thursday in my creative writing class our professor asked if anybody knew what flash fiction was. To my chagrin, nobody answered. Tentatively I raised a hand. Tentative not because I wasn’t sure, but because it was the first class meeting and I had already answered a couple of questions. I try not to be that woman in my classes. So I explained what I could about flash fiction. Then my professor told us to use the last fifteen minutes of class to write a piece of flash fiction. To be turned in. As the first piece of writing this man has ever seen from us.

My mind went into overdrive. Screaming, crying overdrive. I’m a confirmed plotter and the idea of writing something for review in only fifteen minutes…well. I started scribbling, with only the faintest of ideas. Five minutes into the assignment I got a much better idea, but there was no time to reboot. After ten minutes an even better idea occurred to me and I had to ignore it as well.

As expected, I didn’t finish. I managed about two hundred fifty words and a half-finished work. I was miserable as I left class. On the drive home-I have a commute of about an hour-I kept turning over ideas and rejecting them. I couldn’t shake the assignment. Twenty-four hours later I finally sat down to write the piece I wish I had been able to submit to my professor.  Re-reading it, I want it to be longer and more detailed, but after I had it (mostly) plotted I only gave myself fifteen minutes to write it. Anyway, here it is, my flash fiction revenge.

The scenario he gave us: two men are having coffee in a diner (or a Starbucks.) One of them finds a dime in bottom of his cup.

As he drained the coffee cup something clicked against Bill’s teeth. He spit it into his hand. A coin. Bob recoiled. “What IS that?” he asked in a tight voice.

“It’s a dime,” Bill answered. “Specifically a Mercury Dime.” He turned it over, looked at it a bit closer. “1942. It’s in pretty good shape for its age.”

Bob looked ill. “Those are—who would put such a thing in somebody’s coffee?”

Bill looked at the girl behind the counter. Young, auburn hair, dark eyes watching them intently. “It could have been a mistake. Fell into the cup when she was making change.”

Bob’s thick brows drew together. “You think that’s it?” Nervousness roughened his voice.

Bill shook his head. “No. She put it there deliberately.”

“But why?”

“I can think of a few reasons why a pretty girl would spike a coffee cup with a silver coin. Maybe she recognized you, my fine lycanthrope, and was hoping you’d swallow it and die.”

Bob shot a glance at the girl behind the counter and growled, a deep and rumbling sound. She looked around nervously, noticing for the first time that the diner was empty except for the three of them.

“But I prefer to think that she recognized me and offered the coin as tribute.” The interior of the diner rippled, the air shimmering as with intense heat. A lithe reptilian shape replaced Bill’s somewhat dumpy human form. He unfurled his wings and stretched his neck over the counter. “You must have meant it as tribute, didn’t you, my dear. You couldn’t have thought such a tiny bit of silver could harm a dragon? Or perhaps it was a bribe?”

The girl stood transfixed, staring into the gently swirling eyes of the dragon as he delicately took her head into his mouth and bit. He swallowed, ran his tongue daintily over his face to clear away the blood that had sprayed him as the corpse crumpled to the floor. He looked back at bob and said, “Stupid wench. The silver totally destroyed the taste of the beans.”