Sumer, Chapter Two

 

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Echo. Seven.  They’re running their morning laps. Helen and her like to run towards the back of the pack. The boys always rush to the front and try to lap them. It’s not until they get close that the two girls will really start trying. The boys haven’t lapped them yet. 

Frank and Paul were halfway to their goal today. They were in rooms two and three. 

Paul she didn’t care for at all. He hadn’t said more then ten words to her in two years. He was serious about his studies. Every day at the end of class he would run back to his room and not be seen again until dinner. 

Echo liked this morning run too. It was better than everything that would come next. All the information. All the drilling. It was lessons for four or five hours and then it was practical mechanics, learning about the ship and traveling. It was all very intense, she didn’t know what she would do without Helen. Today Helen was turned all the way up. 

“The electrons in non polar covalent bonds are…” 

“Shared equally,” Echo answered, gasping. 

“Great, and what is the charge on the ions formed by the alkaline earth metals?”

“+1” 

“No, +2. That was an easy one Echo. All alkaline metals are in group 2a of the periodic table, meaning they have two electrons. This is what I am telling you, it all goes back to the periodic tables. You’re reviewing the material every night before bed right?”

“Of course,” she answered, dying. She wasn’t. 

She hadn’t been for a while. She was worn out. She didn’t want to disappoint her friends or anyone else, but this all seemed so boring to her. 

She wanted to go to New Plymouth, or Washington, Jerusalem, or Shanghai, any of Earth’s mega cities would be fine. 

“You better be Echo,” Helen said. “The Nanny has a big announcement today.”

“What’s that?” 

“I can’t tell you really, but you are going to love it! It is so exciting. Oh jeez we better hurry up.”

The two boys were gaining on them. Frank had a wild sloppy grin on his face. It made Echo want to burst out with laughter. Paul, on the other hand, looked mean and determined.  

A small tone pulsed through the large room, indicating the group was now on their final lap.

A large ding indicated each person’s completion of the morning run. 

Bent over, Frank and Paul congratulated themselves on being first. Paul had won this time, beating Frank by just a second. His winning picture flashed on a their large window, which would also display images during the lessons. 

Things had changed between the Nanny and Echo. The relationship had never been that warm, but for those few years she had been all Echo had known. She had grown attached to the weird, dominating woman. She had made a “mother” out of her, but two years of lesson and training had eliminated that. Her Nanny was a vast source of information and power, and most of the time she had very little patience for Echo, especially when she was making mistakes, which was often. 

They were all seated around the table, same as their first meeting. 

“Well done Paul. This is your first win in the morning race,” the Nanny said. “It was the slowest win of the week of course, but still a win is a win, so congratulations.” 

The group applauded him for a moment and the Nanny continued. 

“Today is a very special day Echo in your training. For the last two years we have been gathering information. Gathering data is a very important component of making good decisions, but it is not the only skill a person needs to survive. 

“We must also be able to apply our knowledge, and that is what I am going to introduce you to today. For millennia our forebears back on Earth used to engage in games of strength and intellect.” 

A scene exploded on the projection above them all. It was of the Roman Coliseum. Gladiators were displayed in combat with great lions and tigers, and each other. 

“These games were often savage,” the nanny continued. “They were also primitively heroic too. Ironically, in their brutality they became a civilizing tool for the government. A focal point for the innate rage of the beasts, these contests allowed many men to sublimate their own carnal urges to the game and thus the space for peace and civilization was established.

“These great games of contest morphed and changed.” The Roman scene gave way to scenes from different Olympics through history, and then it showed modern sports, soccer and football, basketball and baseball. Then it rested on a chess board. 

There were two days of chess at the end of every week. They were all quite proficient players. No one could ever beat the nanny. “Chess is another example of this ancient, primeval need for battle and competition. With all this in mind Echo, I come to tell you about the next step in your training. We will call this portion of your training, A.C.T., or academic challenge training.””

Echo didn’t like the sound of this for some reason. 

“In the A.C.T. portion of your training you will be pitted against any one of your ten classmates in a series of challenges which will both engage you mentally and physically. These challenges can ran range from trivia contests to more elaborate trials like construction of complex machines or dangerous combat gauntlets.”

“Combat gauntlets?” Echo asked, horrified by the idea. 

The projection flashed a scene of two teenagers circling each other in a ring. They had strong lean limbs. They moved quickly, keeping their hands covering their faces. In a flash one of them swung out with a kick, catching his opponent perfectly on the chin. The opponent crumpled to the ground. 

“Worry not Echo,” the Nanny instructed. “Combat challenges will not become a part of you A.C.T training for three years, until that time all challenges will be non-combat, I refer to the Section 233S of the ACT handbook for more elaboration, but most importantly pay attention Echo; do not think yourself free from challenge before then. Remember as Captain of this ship you must set the example for your subordinates. You must be a leader.

“We will not throw you to the wolves without proper training. You will have access to whatever information you find necessary in your studies. You also may get help from any member of the team that offers it. Minus of course those competitive souls who may be among the crew and any cohorts they can bring to their cause.

“This is an important point Echo. You must understand. In the A.C.T. challenge the normal procedures of this mission will be abandoned. Your subordinates may work against you in the process.” 

“I’ll never do that,” Helen said, grabbing her hand.

“This brings us to our next important point,” the Nanny said. “Your first contest. The first challenge in your A.C.T section is a trivia challenge, first person to answer a hundred questions right wins, and your first challenger will be Paul Finis!” There was applause from everyone in the room, except from Paul and Echo. Even Helen clapped wrapped up in the excitement. 

“All right everyone,” the Nanny said, “let’s quiet down now and return to our lessons. Echo if you have any questions on the A.C.T. system I direct you to the B.R.A.I.N as usual, where you can search a digital copy of the A.C.T. handbook as well.” 

The broad ranging aggregate of information networks, or B.R.A.I.N, was the computer system which ran everything in the ship. It was essential to Echo when it came to doing the Nanny’s complicated homework assignments. It also had become a bit of a problem as of late. 

It had began in researching lyrics from the songs she had heard as a kid. This lead down a delightful rabbit hole of distractions. The Nanny was not at all pleased by these developments. She had threatened to limit what Echo had access to if her efforts began to slip. “Remember Echo,” she warned, “we know everything you search. There are records.”

The strangeness of her situation constantly swirled around her. Filtered information. Unreal digital bites. A massive history which she only was getting glimpses of. 

She couldn’t concentrate on the lesson the rest of the day. It was algebra. Echo hated all the math subjects. It was all so dry and concrete. Helen was great at math, and she took extensive notes all class. They would have to go over it later.

When she was bored in moments like this, when the Nanny was dragging on with the lesson, she liked to imagine Earth in her mind. She would draw the whole thing in there, filling in and identifying the major features. They had learned all the continents and oceans last year. She would think about where she would want her home to be. She would think about her dream Mom being there, tucking her in each night and reading her stories. 

“Echo,” the Nanny called, interrupting the daydream. “I can sense you’re not with us today. Are you consumed by the news of the ACT challenge or has my algebra lesson bored you?”

“No Nanny,” she answered, “I will try harder. Sorry.”

“No Echo,” the Nanny said. Her large square faced was framed with hard edges. Her hair hang in its rigid plastic way. “I must insist. You are obviously bored, should we switch the subject matter? To something more of your interest?”

“Like what?” Echo asked. Instantly regretting it. 

“Oh Echo, that is just hilarious. Your preference right? This is all for you. Let’s see you like music. Let’s talk about music? You enjoy rock music right?”

Her head dropped in shame. “Yes, nanny, but it’s fine I’d prefer to continue with the algebra lesson.”

“Don’t be difficult now Echo. I could use a little break myself. Let’s take a look at some of the legends of the Rock and Roll shall we class? Let’s start with one of Echo’s early favorites. Robert Johnson.

“Born on the 8th of May 1911 in Mississippi. His family had been run off their land by an angry white mob. Cursed land we might note at this point. American colonists tragically had built their new cities on the remains of the ancient ancestors of the place, perhaps this explains the macabre history of it all.

“He landed in Arkansas, attended school and was studious. He played a Jew’s harp at this early age. This and his harmonica playing got noted by musicians Son House and Willie Brown, but what was also noted was his horrible guitar playing. 

“One of these musicians, Ike Zinnerman, was rumored to go to cemeteries in the dead of the night to learn his instrument. It is rumored that perhaps Johnson had done a similar thing, because one day he arrives in Robinsonville a thrilling guitar strummer. BRAIN, play Robert Johnson.”

The moody notes of the guitar filled the classroom. The Nanny continued speaking over it. “Consider this class, people like Robert Johnson invented an art form. A new art form which captured the minds of the whole world in the century to come. An art form, which would create vast amounts of wealth, which horrifically would be hijacked by the same principalities which had enslaved Mr. Johnson ancestors a century before.

“What’s worse, class, is that despite having done this miraculous thing. Mr. Johnson would not even be able to enjoy the fruits of his labors. More proof of some strange curse, he would be dead at 27. The theories are varied on how this happened, but horrifically the story does not stop here.”

“Please Nanny,” Echo interrupted.

“This started the curse of the 27. Some of the most talented musicians and artists of all time. All ripped from this earth in their 27 year. All dead under suspicious circumstances. Jesse Belvin of hits “Earth Angel” and “Goodnight My Love”, Brian Jones co-founder of the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Pigpen McKernan, Killer Miller, D. Boon, Mia Zapata, Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, and the list goes on and on.

“Now what can we conclude from all this? We should see the cost of greatness. We should see the mortal peril of explosive imaginations. What if there is a more mundane answer? Can someone tell me what the word mundane means?”

Margaret’s hand was the first one up. “Mundane refers to the world.”

“That right Margaret,” the Nanny said. “Very good. The more reasonable answer, the one science came to prove definitively in the twenty-first century was that creativity and mental illness went hand in hand. This changed the framework of our entertainment. No longer could we all just sit by and watch insane people destroy themselves. 

“Unfortunately, we must acknowledge too that the quality of the art took a hit at first. It was centuries until a relative stability could be established that the great experiment of artistic creation could begin to be expressed again.

“Post humanity, and under controlled training and supervision, we have just begun to establish a musical culture, and it’s future looks promising. I encourage you all to look into the work of the New Plymouth orchestra, maybe you can listen to it as you work tonight? 

“Okay? I want you all to take the rest of the day and write a three thousand word essay reflecting on some of the things we just discussed. I’ll also have a series of algebra problem for you to finish too. I believe that will be all today.”

There were no groans or moans. Echo wanted to groan. There was so much work. It never seemed to end. That’s all they did was learn, study, and assignments. Echo burned with anger at the nanny. She had mocked her in front of the crew with the curse of the 27 business. It was insulting.  

The torture with Helen that night was worse than usual. She bickered at Echo the whole time working on their essays. Helen was a stickler for details. Sometimes Echo couldn’t tell if her friend cared more about her, or making the nanny happy. 

They started researching the trivia portion of the A.C.T. competition. 

Echo didn’t like what she was discovering. It sounded tough. They would exchange question until a person reached one hundred points. Each correct question was worth one point. Simple, but there was one hang up, the steals. There was a large red buzzer in front of each competitor, which the person could press if they knew the answer before the other person, if they got it right, not only did they gain the point, but a point was also subtracted from their opponents score, setting them up for a frustrating loop. 

Helen had shown her a video of a kid named, Beta at his first A.C.T. challenge. He had broken down crying on his tenth attempt at number 1. His opponent had been ruthless, smashing the buzzer each time with a gleeful wale. His opponent never let up beating him in the end 100-0, by the end the little brown haired Beta was lying on the ground crying. 

“We won’t let that happen to you,” Helen assured her. 

It didn’t help that Frank and Paul were doing their nightly sprints up and down the hall, why the girls watched all this. Neither of the boys had said a word to her. She was assuming this was a bad sign. 

She knew Margaret would be against her. She had made that clear after class. “Good luck, you’ll need it,” she taunted. 

This meant the Lana girls were probably against her too. 

This was all fine with Echo. She didn’t want all the attention. Helen was bad enough. She made an excuse of a head ache and went to bed early. Helen had conceded, only after she promised to watch some videos Helen was sending her, and to meet her before classes the next day to work on their plan for the challenge. Echo had agreed out of exhaustion and slumped off to her room. 

She had gotten in the bad habit, according to the Nanny of course, of falling asleep with the wall screen on. The background noise soothed her. She was watching the documentary Helen had sent her. It was on the history of cinema. It was describing the mechanics of film. She liked the classic films of the projector era. Charlie Chaplin, physical comedy. It made her giggle. She thought about herself moving like him, being silly.

Then there he was in her doorway. She hadn’t even hear it open. 

“Echo,” Frank said, “can I come in?”

“Oh, hi Frank,” she said, sitting up in the bed. “Sure you can come in I was just watching something Helen sent over.”

“Thanks.” He looked embarrassed and shy. Echo had never seen him like this. He had always been very out going and loud during the day. 

  “These old movies are the greatest. Have you seen any Buster Keaton stuff yet? His movie “One Week” is hilarious.”

“I haven’t,” 

“Gosh, you got to. Brain play movie, “One Week.”

A loud piano number burst filled the room, and her wall light up. It slipped into a ragtime, then there was a church bell, and then a newlywed couple. 

 

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“Frank I’m not in the mood to watch a whole movie. I was about to go to sleep, so,”

“That’s okay, sorry. I wasn’t trying to bother you. I just wanted to come wish you luck with your A.C.T. training. If there’s anything I can do to help you–”

“What about Paul? Wouldn’t he be mad?”

“Paul’s my friend, but you’re the Captain. Besides Paul doesn’t have to know I am secretly rooting for you.”

“You are?”

“Yeah, Paul get’s so serious about this sort of thing. It would just kill him to lose to you. You’re special Echo, I want you to win.  Anyway, sorry. I’ll let you get back to your rest. Goodnight, Echo.”

She watched him leave. She didn’t know how to feel about him. 

She watched the newlywed couple hilariously try build their house. Buster’s antics made her giggle. It was all so silly. She feel asleep easily. 

 

 

 

Second Chapter Posted (What Do I Expect)

 

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So I posted the second chapter of my book on to scribophile.com for review and I thought it would be interesting to critique myself before I get any reviews. 

I think that like the first chapter, there could be the accusation that things aren’t moving fast enough, and frankly looking further ahead things don’t really heat up action wise for two chapters. I’m still having a hard time imagining the story sped up. I have a sort of “Running Man”, “Hunger Games” thing going here and so that localizes a lot of action to those chapters. Working the story out, right now I feel it like its rhythm is a chapter on a chapter off, sort of thing. 

I don’t know. I think that’s the main criticism at this point is that it is just boring. There’s sort of a lot of information there, and the strangeness and tension is sort of subtle in the character’s experience. That’s what weirds me out too about the couple of reactions I have got is that it is sort of ho-hum nothing happening vibe, while the character is like locked up by freaking androids! 

The actual writing itself I think is getting tighter, but I still don’t know if we are going anywhere. I’m going to post the second chapter up here too, so maybe you all can let me know. Still desperately waiting for my first comment! 

 

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5 Tips For Writers New to Editing

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So here are five tips I posted on the wall of my workspace to help me when I am editing:

1.  Stay in the past tense.

Yeah so I won’t go through a whole tense lesson, though it would probably help me, but the default verb in Fiction is past-tense. It can be fun and purposeful to buck convention, but first you have to understand the convention or it can get sloppy.

2. Eliminate Unnecessary verbiage.

Writing that sounds good when your jamming out in your own creative space just sounds wordy and affective to others. People are reading for the story. Overly complicated and confusing metaphors and similes only distract them from the story which should be interesting enough. These beautiful pieces of imagery should work into the story itself. They should arise naturally in detail. Don’t try churching it up on folks.

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3. Where are we? And what are we doing?

This connects to the butchering we talked about last post. I’m having to just ditch pages to get to the little nugget of action which is what we are after. We repeat ourselves in the initial writing phase because we are trying to figure it out, by the time we share the story it needs to be figured out.

I think new writers can wander. We have a general outline of a story, but we have undeveloped legs and so we stumbled around. We need to soberly evaluate where am I and what in the hell am I doing here?! If this is unclear it needs to be brought into focus. Meandering without purpose is perdition.

4. How does this help the story?

Once I know where the hell I am at, I need to ask, why in the hell am I here? Do we need to see your protagonist at age seven eating her Cheerios, probably not. This is exactly what I was accused of in my initial critics, giving too many pointless details.

5. The critic is right. The reader is god.

This one is hard to swallow for me. I bet many others suffer with this too. Writing is a narcissistic exercise for sure. Books are edifices created for an individual’s glorification.

The problem is our glorification cannot occur until we share and are found approved. It is a contradiction of intention to offer the world something to eat and then say I don’t give a damn what you think about it, choke on it for all I care. I am not yet a mad enough bastard to say that, so at this point I say the reader is god. I must appeal to their pleasures.

6. DO THE WORK!

Writing is a pleasure and editing is work. That’s my opinion anyways. You can ignore the world and the criticism and make the stories just for yourself, and maybe your manuscripts will be picked from your dead hands, and the world will discover you and you will arise with some new-age Hermetic disciple holding your ghostly hand and manuscript, and you can rest then in the ethereal realm and bask in rays of your shared glory. Even then though, a good story requires loads of work. If you want it, you have to earn it.

“Sumer” Chapter One (The Work In Progress)

 The arms tossed her about with ease. They simulated an organic arm, even warmed, as not to alarm. Black artificial hair tickled her as they brush past. They made her giggle. 

She lived in a ten by ten room. Music played during the day. She rested for days, comfy in her clear plastic crib. The music vibrated off its walls. The darkness and her weak eyes left her locked in her crib.  

It was classical music early on. Mozart. Beethoven. It startled her, but usually the smooth sounds made her laugh and coo.  

Her ceiling lights up above her bed. It shows stars twinkling in the sky. 

She could cry forever and there is no person to help her. Only the arms come, grab her, change a diaper, pop a bottle in her mouth, raise her in the air and pat her on the back, but then she is right back in the clear plastic bassinet. 

When she was really upset, she cried until the arms have to come repeatedly. They would go through the whole routine a number of times, but sometimes she just kept crying relentlessly. The arms don’t care at all. They can’t be frustrated. 

Instead, when it was obvious she didn’t want any of its options, she was right back to bed. This time wholly perturbed. 

She would cry and cry until her throat burned and hot tears gushed from her eyes. Her whole mind and body became a rage, shaking in frustration. The thick walks of her room muffled the sounds and the rest of the ship remained in perfect silence. 

The only out in this torment was a memory. A strange occurrence for a thing which had so newly arrived in the world. Yet there it was. 

A memory of a Mother, maybe not her own, but a Mother all the same. She’s standing over her, picking her up, patting her on the back, and whispering soft words of comfort in her ear. This memory took time to conjure up, but it usually did the job and then baby Echo would fall back asleep. 

One day, she was brought out of the crib and put on the floor. 

The arms deftly tossed out a large soft blanket, and nimbly placed various colorful rattles and stuffed animals on it. She rolled all over the floor playing with these things. Drooling and chewing on them, she played until she was just about to pass out and then the warm capable arms would be on her again, wrapping her up and placing her back in the crib. 

Around one, after mastering the crawl, the arms begin to help her walk. She was given all variety of stand up toys, which had reflective panels on them. She was surprised to see herself in them, her first other. It did for her to figure out she could smash on the buttons and provoke a barrage of sights and sounds. 

She loved staring into the shiny panels and engaging her reflection in long marathons of baby babble. 

Strong enough now, she could kick free from her swaddle. If it’s time for her to sleep, the arms rrewrap her until she gives up. 

Life continued on in this peace, with very small changes. 

There was different music. Jazz. Blues. Miles Davis. John Coltrane.  The beep-bop of the music seemed a new evolution of the baby babble which her and her reflection had become so fond of. Her face squeezed in concentration to the music trying to figure out some meaning in it all, perplexed by the new, complicated sounds. 

Two years went by in this simple, peaceful routine. She wanted for nothing, besides a Mom. She could not sense the  strangeness of her situation. The world was whole. 

Her Nanny arrived at three. Unexpectedly, she just showed up one morning. Through the bright silhouette of the doorway Echo was just barely able to see her. She seemed a large blob. Her muscular frame blocked the doorway.

A new bright lights filled the room. The new nanny walked towards her, easily filling the space of her tiny room. The woman’s shoulder length brown hair was pulled tight around her head. Her thick arms rested at her sides. Her meaty hands seemed to hang to her knees. 

The nanny did not swoop her and unleash a deluge of kisses and hugs on the toddler. The nanny has a different agenda. 

“Good morning Echo,” she said, finally hoisting the child up at the arm pits. 

Her grasp squished a scream from the child. She was safe though in the worked arms of the nanny. The child’s kicked her bare feet against the rough denim dress of the nanny and cried.

“I’m here to watch you and teach you, Echo. I am your Nanny.” She speaks right in the toddler’s face, inches away. Calm. Deliberate. The Nanny doesn’t mind repeating her message. 

She has a utility bet around her waist, which was filled with plastic vials and baggies. She used the vials to collect spit and other fluid from the baby. The arms helped her in the tasks.

She searched the Nanny’s face for some sign of intent. It is blank, emotionless. She begins to cry. The Nanny sat her on a soft blanket, and handed her a chew toy. She took a seat in front of her, smoothing her dress over her large thighs. 

“Echo, the first thing you will learn are colors. There are three primary colors. Red, yellow and blue.”

As she said each color the room would pulsed with the corresponding color. 

“The second lesson you will learn is how to count to five. Here we go. One. Two. Three. Four. Five.” 

As she did this she extended her hand in front of the curious toddler’s face, counting it off on her fingers. The numbers flashed on the wall beside them, showing different graphic representation of the numbers.

The first day the Nanny looped these two simple lessons for an hour. When she was finished, she patted Echo on the head, said good job and left the room. Then the arms shot out of the ceiling and went about their routine with her until she fell asleep. 

The Nanny made regular visits like these for the next two years. 

For the first few weeks it was just those two lessons over and over. It got to the point where Echo was screaming out the colors and numbers at the same time the Nanny was. The lessons grow in complexity. 

She screamed out the colors by herself when she is alone. Some primeval attempt at dialogue. She squealed with delight, when the room flashes in the color as she called them. This became her favorite activity when she was frustrated and alone. 

A year in she founds the nanny a compete bore. As in response, the nanny began to not show up for days. The arms just left her out on the floor with her toys. She played around by herself then. 

When the nanny returned after an absence, she continued with the lesson from the last day. Echo tried to ignore her sometimes. She would lap the nanny as she sat on the floor. The nanny made no move to stop her, but the arms in no time snapped out and gently placed her back on her butt in front of her teacher.

Echo screeched for hours and the nanny sat unfazed. 

Soon enough they are on to simple sentences. The room flashed with the images related to the lesson sentence. So when the nanny read “a dog chased a ball” on the wall behind her was shown video of dogs chasing balls. This fascinated to the three-year old. 

They learned about shapes. New toys popped up in the room. Her floor becomes a mess of geometric blocks. Like magic, a desk appeared along one wall. It has slots for the blocks. The nanny showed her how blocks can fit in them, if she could match them. 

They began to play rock music in the morning. Robert Johnson. Muddy Waters. Hank Williams. Roy Brown. 

At the end of lesson, if Echo had been good, the Nanny read a story. Echo likes this most of all. As the Nanny read, images related to the story flash around them. 

The read about all sort of things. Monkeys. Tigers. Jungles. Other little children. Fairy Tails. Adventures.

Echo dreamed about these stories, and the people in them. She dreamt herself among them. 

Each night before bed she wished that when she woke up, she would go have breakfast with the characters from the stories. 

Two years go by and the lesson grow more sophisticated. Her room grew bigger. New slides and other climbing toys were brought in. The nanny helped her climb these things. She encouraged her, in her strange controlled way, approving, but passionless. 

She taught Echo to read. She was given her own library of children’s book. She laid in her bed at and night flipping through them. When she comes to a word she doesn’t know, she sounds it out. When she does, her wall screen lights up and shows her the word, and sounds it out for her. When she get it right herself, out loud, the room goes dark again. 

Then one day comes that changes everything. As usual, she was up playing with her blocks. She doesn’t like to be caught asleep by the Nanny. 

The bulky woman appears in her doorway. “Echo,” she invited, “would you like to come out and play with the others?”

Imagines of characters from her books flashes in her mind. She imagined a fat little yellow bear out there with his pot of honey, or maybe it’s a long blond haired girl? Or her mind pushed, what if it was the three bears whose house the girl walked through or worse the wolf from little red riding hood? Curiosity got the best of her. 

She entered a long hallway. There were ten other doors. She counted them up like the Nanny taught her to do. 

“These room are occupied by your friends,” the Nanny said. “Can you say friend Echo?”

“Friends,” 

“That’s very good Echo. You have ten friends. They are at the end of this hall, in the class room. We’ll walk and meet them. 

She walked and Echo followed. It felt she was walking for the first time again. She wobbled in the new environment. The nanny made no move to balance her and continued to explain what all this meant. 

“From now on Echo, you will no longer be alone. You will eat and drink and learn with your ten friends. Each friend offers you something different Echo. Remember that and make sure you get what you need from each one of them.”

The nanny made passing remarks as they walked past each room. 

“The room next to yours is Helen’s; you’re best friend. Next to her is another important crew member Frank Merchants, who will be the crew’s top mechanic. Next to him is Paul Finnis. He will be of the most competent and able of your crew.”

She made passing remarks like this by all ten rooms. Most of it went right over Echo’s head. Her brain was bewildered, run over by information. A whole new world crashed in around her. 

Her nanny for the first time doesn’t seem so bad. She realized too late she should have paid more attention to what the nanny was telling her, but then they were almost out of the hallway. “Number 9 Echo is occupied by your one enemy, Margaret Marduk.”

“Enemy,” she repeated. 

“Yes, enemy,” the Nanny worded slowly. “That’s very good Echo. You’re language skills are quite impressive. An enemy is someone who opposes you and challenges you. We must face challenges so that we strive to be our best. Let’s continue.

“Room ten is occupied by Ben Pours. I have my doubts about him. Union says he is needed for rebirth. Whatever that means. I understand it’s something to do with creative solutions, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.”

Echo had no clue what means. She had no time to ask either, because the nanny leads her right through a large set of doors, and then she was in the classroom. The room was brightly lit. It hurts her eyes, and she couldn’t see any thing.  Her eyes frantically blinked, trying to see where she is at. 

There is just one piece of furniture in the room. A large round marble table with twelve chairs. One is biggest of all and built specifically for the Nanny. Echo is led to the nearest chair and told sit. She watched the nanny march to the other side. 

Ten children stared at her. She felt panic like she had never known. Her mind told her to run back to her room and hid. She looked to the girl to her left. She smiled at her, and reached out a hand. “It’s okay, I’m Helen. I’m your friend.”

Without thinking, Echo took it and looked wildly at the faces around the table. Something seemed immediately off. She realized she is much darker skinned then they are. That isn’t the only thing though. There is something much stranger. She couldn’t begin to express what it is, but her gut screamed that something isn’t right here. 

They all had varying degrees of interest in her. She can’t help but notice the one girl, sitting directly next to the nanny was scowling at her. She remembers the name Margaret and the word enemy. The Nanny began to speak and the whole crew focused on her. 

“Echo I would like to congratulate you on your entry into the Custodial Captain Development program. Myself, these ten class mates, and four more teachers you will meet along the way have joined you on the ship Sumer in this program. I would like to take a moment to tell you more about yourself.”

She knew like the hallway, she should be paying attention, but she was more focused on the kid’s at the table. The Nanny’s words washed over her in a numbing wave. “Your instructors and your crew here represent the participatory elements of the Endangered Species Act of 2077. It was declared in that August period of 77, with the utter decimation of your species, Homo sapiens. Oh, could the whole class say that together? Here we go, one two three…” The whole class answered in unison. Echo followed along caught up in the wave of energy in the classroom. 

“It was decided that the Homo Sapiens were too important to let them self destruct. Humans in their desperate attempt for survival had already seceded the majority of control to the automated systems of the World Union, specifically under the supervision of the Nexus system. It became self-evident to our forbears, that the mere 120,000 remaining of you’re species, must be put into isolation, until the environment and the person could be rehabilitated and reintroduced. This is where you come in Echo.”

The Nanny was just beaming, an orangey glow. Echo had never seen her so prideful and excited. “You are the fourth attempt at reintroduction. If you can successfully complete the Custodial Captain Development program. You will obtain your Liberty. Can everyone say that word for me, liberty?”

Her ten friends responded in unison. 

“Oh Echo,” the nanny said, “you didn’t say the word, can you say the word Echo, liberty?”

Helen squeezed her hand. “Liberty Echo, you can do it.”

“Liberty,” Echo said. 

“Perfect Echo, now if we could all just do it as a group, you especially Echo. Okay here we go, one, two, three.” All eleven of the students said it in unison.

“Just perfect,” the Nanny said. “Ship Sumer,” the nanny lifted her hands high above her head, “is now your home. It is a state of the art vessel, with a wide range of abilities and functions, which you will come to experience in your training. Before we begin today’s lesson, the Global Union would have me make one last, sentimental point. 

“We want to emphasize just how important you are to us Echo. You are literally “one of a kind.” For that reason you have been put on the fast track to Captainship. This is another high honor, one which your people have not enjoyed for almost two centuries now. We don’t seek to put any undue pressure on you, and the same time we can’t help put have great hope for you. We love you Echo.” She said this last bit, very seriously, and a small cloudy tear ran down her broad face. “We just want you to know that if there is anything we can do, as a crew, to help you in this process, we are here for you!” 

There was a thunderous round of applause from the rest of class. Terrified and confused, Echo didn’t even realize she had joined in too.

The Butcher. (On Writing and Editing)

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I would like to begin by apologizing to the critics I bemoaned in the previous posts; they were absolutely right. The story wasn’t working. It was too slow and didn’t get to the point. It gave the reader nothing to latch unto. That was my failure as an artist.

Writing is a very intimate process. Alone reading it by myself, I am attached to it like a parent. I don’t judge it for its deficiencies. I recognize those are my responsibilities. I am happy letting it be a “child”. It is good enough to me. The world doesn’t give a shit about that though, and I respect that. I understand that.

We are all too busy and there is too much good stuff out there to waste too much time on things that aren’t working. Now this can be a fickle attention, no doubt about it, but the exercise is not how do we fix people’s criticism or what is right criticism, but how do we capture their attention! I want people to read my book, that is my hope. If someone tells me they didn’t like my book, that is my fault, not theirs.

Now this does’t mean chase every whim of the reader, but it does mean in the construction, editing phase, if you are hearing the same criticism repeatedly, you better deal with that issue.

It has taken me about two weeks now to get a decent revision on my first chapter. First rewrite I made a tense issue, rewriting it all in present tense absentmindedly, then I had to go back and rework that. I also had to make dramatic changes to the story line to pick the pace up, so this means a lot of work coming in the rewrites of the later chapters.

That’s where butchering comes in. I am dedicated to the basic premise of my story, and the basic shell/structure of the story and major plot points, but other than that I need to let go of all these chapters. The story I wrote for myself is not the same story I am going to tell the reader. I have got to remember the reader and give them their respect and attention.

Art is a bit like making love! Meaning to be good at it you need to remember your partner. Oh god, I just mixed metaphors, butchering, parenting, lovemaking, what the hell is that?

I was considering how to share the story I’m working on, and it became obvious to me that I might as well just post it here as I work on the chapters, so that as we go along we can all be on the same page about the story. So I am definitely excited to see if I can get any responses from people here to the story. On that note, blogging is a bit like an open mic night in an empty room, so if anyone one is reading this leave a comment and say hello! I would especially love to hear from other artists and about their process!

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Back In The Fight

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Cue my montage. Picture me back at the desk, strumming my fingers. I got slush piles all around me. I got a red pen in the other hand. I’m about to burst. 

No, really, I have been a mess. One bad critique and for two days I felt lost, adrift in the wilderness. I was ready to give up on writing. Ready to accept that I was a mentally challenged nobody. Ready to pack it up and go back to flipping burgers. No insult to burger flippers of course, I am one of you and I love you. 

I truly was a mess. I reread my chapter. Now all the obvious problems stood out to me. How could I have been so goddamn foolish? I have read this thing so many damn times. I was subconsciously aware of the problems. I could sense that it didn’t read well, that the story was choppy, but I had gone ahead and put it out there anyway. Why, I psychoanalyze, would I put my own crappy work out there, knowing damn well, I am going to be called out for my errors, and that it is going to get me all riled up?

It’s a post for a another day. Let’s focus on the present. I took a day off of writing. Saturday, I spent the day listening to crazy videos on youtube, and getting deeply involved in chess for like four hours. I also read a little, Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”. I cooked a delicious calzone for the family, drank a coupe glasses of white-wine, and beat Bio-Shock Infinite (which was an incredible story, video game experience). 

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Today I woke up, the resistance was strong. My plan was to attack chapter one, but suddenly I felt no love for it. It was stupid. Pointless. I felt bugged by the wife and kids. It was all mediocre. Tapioca. Everything had yellowed. I could feel the impending stress of commonness. But I went through the routine. I ate a breakfast sandwich. It was delicious, to be begrudgingly honest. I pounded a couple cups of coffee and then headed for the office. 

Another hour of distractions ensued. I listened to some music. Checked youtube. Went upstairs and lectured the wife on positive thinking, and parenting, about how parents need to immerse themselves in with their children. “Like gorillas in the mist,” I said, “we need to blend in with the children’s environment, take their habits. Smell and think like them. They must take us for one of their own, or we will never lead them.”

I end up back in my office. I got pages open. I decide to start a new file. I realize I must pick over the remains of my shoddy first draft. Rehabilitate the quality material, excise the yellow gelatinous growths. I decide to have a horizontal document. The new orientation is appealing. I realize right away that one of the problems in the story is a tense issue. I am forcing the passed tense. I realize that is one reason it all sounds like a big info-dump. I am not in the story.

 I begin rewriting the sentences using the present tense. Now portions begin to connect with each other. It reads smoother. I am working now. A couple hours later we have two thousand words, which are better than what I started with. I’m back in the fight. 

Still waiting on the third critique. I want to get the new version up, try to cut my bad critic off at the pass. That’s what this is about, being embarrassed about failing. I have to accept that my story was failing. That’s not the reader’s fault, that is mine. There are too many good story tellers out there for people to waste their time on my poorly written book. This is my challenge. Don’t suck. 

 

Two Critiques In And I’m Losing It…

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Not really. And I said this would happen. I made a pathetic joke in my last post about how I would soon be feeling that my work had not received enough praise, and that’s exactly what happened…

So here I sit, trying to figure out am I right or are my two critics right? The criticism, first chapter is too much of an “info-dump”. I know exactly what they mean, and I think ultimately they are right. I’m man enough to admit that. It needs shortened up and tightened up. i need to start more in-scene, in the action.

At the same time, it is the first goddamn chapter! And isn’t all reading ultimately an info-dump? I mean, you are reading hundreds of thousands of word of made up information? How much more dumpy can we get?

And like, earlier today I read some random person’s criticism of Tolkien that he was boring, and all the background information in his work was unnecessary, and I find that fucking shocking, because I absolutely love taking that slow, detailed journey with Tolkien. Not that I’m some Tolkien, not even close.

And like a sick bastard I had to go read the second critic’s story, who I’m pretty sure stopped reading a few hundred words into mine, and whose own posting is a massive info-dump!

It’s petty and ridiculous, and I basically agree with the criticism so I should’t be salty, but fuck. And I’m the one who asked for it, and it’s just one person’s opinion, two people’s opinion actually, and it’s not that great of a story, but man I have worked and worked, and it’s like fuck if you thought this three thousand words was an info-dump, what are you going to think about the other eighty thousands words!?

Breathe. That’s the key. You have to breathe. This is the work. This is the process.

We got one more critic coming down the pike, so stay tuned. (Oh god, more bad writing. Who says “coming down the pike”? It is colloquial and fake, betraying affectation. And then I say “stay tuned” which is again cliche, and anachronistic. You’re not tuning into this at all, goddamn it. Why would I say that?”

First Chapter Submitted. The Panic Begins.

What in the hell have I done?!
What in the hell have I done?!

I’m about to submit the first chapter of my book to scribophile.com for review. The “resistance” as author Steven Pressfield coined the term has been strong today. He uses the term to describe distractions which seems to pop up in the artist’s life as he goes about his work. This resistance comes in many forms, a real job, family, sports and entertainment, sex, twitter, youtube, long walks in the park.  Sometimes you have to submit to the resistance.

The resistance is coming today in the form of the impulse to organize. I decided to declare my desk a sacred work place, casting out all non-key project materials. I declared sovereignty over my desk.

The desk came like the chair from the post before. It’s old, beat up, missing parts. We have to put it into a corner, so it can lean agains the wall.

So about this first chapter. I don’t know what people are going to think. I’m excited to find out.

I have now read this chapter at least ten times as a reader/editor. In the earlier writing, meandering phases, I’m not even sure how many times I read it. Sometimes at night when I would think about cleaning it up, while it was still being written, I would go back to earlier parts and just get a feel for them, maybe fixing up typos here and there, but just sort of tasting them to see what it was like.

The thing my morose, self-hating self, can’t help but think is I will probably still get called out for grammar errors, run-on sentences, incomplete sentences, typos, something. I also feel like I get a little hurried in the narrative, and collapse into a little bit too much telling as opposed to the showing.

I also am very worried that my concept is trite and cliche, and I have basically  just created some hackey shit! But I had fun doing it, and that’s got to be worth something right?

I do like the overall feel of the first chapter though. It now dawns on me that I ought to share a little bit about the story itself. But I think I will do that it in a later post.

Unfortunately I feel there is going to be a lot of spoilers and that sort of thing in this blog. This is definitely a sacrifice of the experience for some potential readers, I guess. But since I don’t have very many readers anyway no point to get all sanctimonious about it.

Update:  Days later, the resistance was so strong it didn’t even allow me to finish the blog post. First chapter has been submitted,  feeling panicked. Good panicked though really. I am excited to hear people’s reactions to it. I did a few more read throughs before I submitted it, basically deleting more and rewriting some. It’s a really hard thing to apply, “the less is more” concept. You just got to learn to let go of the bad sentences, and let the good sentences do the work!

Stay tuned for the impending sense of failure, when I am not worshiped for my authorial abilities! That’s a joke. I’m very humble…

Where I’m at…

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I’ve spent hours and hours sitting on a cheap rotating chair, that I bought with surplus student loan money years ago. The seat is hard now. I use a blanket and an exhausted children’s novelty pillow to cushion it.

Those were the good days though, when I am somehow finagled my way into spawning large sums of interest vomiting money, which I used to drag out a long meandering adventure through secondary education.

I barely graduated high school, with a G.P.A that was bottoming out. I took a year off and moved to Iowa City, not to attend the university there, but just because I was eighteen years old and had to get out of the house. That was all long before I dedicated myself to sitting in the chair.

The sitting came before the chair of course. I had dedicated myself to the sitting in childhood. I have put my time in sitting, earning my love handles. You don’t just get your own chair for nothing. It’s more than just sitting on your butt.

I love to read a variety of things. I inherited the love of reading from my Mother. She tends more towards the lowbrow woman stuff, so a lot of my exploratory reading early on, outside of homework assignment or stuff my for age like R.L. Stien or Tom Sawyer, would be with books like V.C. Andrews Flowers in the Attic, or dramatic real life stories like a Child Called It, or Go Ask Alice, or sensational memoirs Running With Scissors.

I also remember she had the Confessions of St. Augustine, but I’m not sure if that’s true, seems a little high fluent frankly. But she is a Catholic, a mystic really in her on way, so it is possible. She definitely had a Bible around, though I don’t think she has ever read much of that either.

I always had an eye for the macabre, the strange, the fringes of society. Drama. Voyeurism. The Magical. I realized early on you can learn a lot from the comfort of your own home. You can learn a lot about things that are completely foreign and cut off to you. You couldn’t do that without books.

So I spent a year or two after High School flirting with prison and I realized my only hope was to go hiding back into academia, and hopefully find some path to stability.

Now I knew that this was somewhat fruitless in the sense that I have no real desire for anything resembling a normal career life. My worldly aspirations are pretty small. To be honest paradise to me, is a family, safety, and a good book, maybe on a cold windy snow day for mood. But this is absurd and backwards, and probably a little negligent of course, but that is where I’m at.

So I go to a community college no real goals here just wanting the quick cash and the respectability. I get a job banging out pizzas, and make enough to supplement the loan shark money, and just sort of muddle through a couple years, until whoops wouldn’t you know I actually graduated and now could pass “Go” and collect my two hundred dollars.

In this time I met the lovely woman who would end up my wife and the Mother of my two kids. Now this is a long complicated story, and not really the scope of this plot, but to get a clear picture of where I am at, we need some of these details.

So my future wife and I both decide to go to the University of Iowa, where this muddled relationship with college continues. But now I am having more success, even qualifying for Honors classes (which I never completed) and Dean’s list and silly stuff like that. But I am still just basically cruising because I have no clear vision for the future.

I go back and forth between English and Philosophy. I don’t want to be a teacher. I don’t want to work in academia. I just like to read and learn about the world, and think, and maybe get around to writing my own stories or something in the future.

Faster than I know it I have graduated with a Bachelor’s and a couple minors and a ton of student loan debt, and really no future prospects.

Honestly if it wasn’t for my wife I would probably be homeless or something…maybe not homeless; I like the comfort of home too much. I’m soft.

I became a cook somewhere in this block, and was even a manager at a couple places, but ever since my first job at a grocery store, I am notoriously flaky, forgetful, and strange.

So realizing all this I do the only sensible thing sometime close to the end of college and just ignore it and say whatever. I just start writing stories and journaling and reading the whole time voraciously, trying to study the craft. I work odd jobs when I got to. I live by the skin of my teeth. I tread a poverty level water. And I begin to learn the craft of writing.

This is a process that will pick up steam as it goes along, until one day down the road from there I’m five years in, hundreds of thousands of words in, with a dozen short stories, three awful books, a couple journals full of rantings and ravings, histories and anecdotes, a wife, two kids, two dogs, a mortgage, and everything else.

I haven’t been employed in years now.

I am a stay at home Dad. I love being with boys. My wife has proven herself to be a great supporter and amazing person overall. She believes in my dream.

Everyday when she isn’t working I wake up and head down to my basement, where after lots of coffee, and music, and all sorts of other inspiration, I zone out and write a thousand words or so. I’m still just in the paying dues phase, earning my seat.

I’m doing it, not very well, but I am dedicated it and in love with it and am just glad to be playing ball. Then something happens, ego starts to take over, and those calls from the student loans companies can really wear on ya, and I’ve had the budget conversation so many times, and things are stretched so thin, that you can’t help but think well damn man, can’t you make one of these stories work, can’t you make any capital from the skills that you have?

So I started letting my wife read the stories, and then one day I joined scribophile.com and started posting there. I really like that website and for the first time I had other human beings reading some of my stories and giving me their reactions.

I love and hate this at the same time. It made my heart pulse and my skin crawl knowing other people are trying my work. Then you get to experience other people chop up your stories, and point out all the mistakes, and you’re left emotionally confused (just like with wife and children) wanting sort of to hear the criticism, but also wanting to protect the ego and the fragile dream. It’s was a whole new world.

Finally after some really great and true criticism I had to run back to the lab and reorient myself. I was beaten and bruised, ego damp and flaccid, but there was something else. I realized by god, somehow I was getting there. They liked my basic ideas, even if my form had some issues.

There is a lack of polish to my writing. I am nota rigid thinker, nor worker. A lot of my submissions were sloppy. The last thing I submitted someone made the comment that I really ought to give this thing a thorough edit before I put it out there, and that was so true and so crushing. Goddammit, my mind raged, why couldn’t it just work the way I imagined it.

I was doing my stories a real disservice by putting them out before I had really done the work. I kept writing and geared myself up for a more intense editing phase. I have currently been in this phase for about six months now. And that brings us to this blog.

As an amateur (not paid) writer I have discovered that writing is a very unique profession. Though I have read a lot of great books on writing, like Stephen King’s book “On Writing”, writing is still a process that you have to go though yourself to be any good at.

No one cares about your imaginative ramblings right away. It’s crazy to think about the thousands and thousands of stories that are forgotten and never finished that never see another human being in their life. I recently saw a series of photos on slush piles and it was demoralizing to say the least. I was even ashamed of my own meager slush pile, which isn’t even a slush pile yet, but instead a awkward tower in my computer desk. Point is, there is nothing that gaurantees my writings won’t meet the same fate.

So in an effort to combat my own obscurity, I am rededicating myself to my editing. I am going back to scribophile.com, and this time I refuse to run away like a little boy. I will take my lickings!

I am creating this blog for future explorers of the word and the craft. My own director’s commentary in a way. That way though I will likely fail, my process may at least serve as a warning to other journeyman.

I am one more edit away on my book “Sumer” before going back to scribophile.com and submitting it for public workshopping, and plan to use this page in tandem with it, to capture my experience.

I also plan to use this blog to share my other musings and writings as they develop. I really do have a wide range of interests so who knows what else might pop up here from time to time. We’ll see.

I’d love to hear from anyone else who is somewhere in the writing process.