Failed Story

This is the fervent work of two months, 42 pages, 28,451 words. It fits into the grandiose plan I had for basically an epic. This is 1/16 of my total plan. Get the plan here as pdf. This is way too much like a documentary. It details almost everything that happens in Inslee’s life for a period of two weeks with too many flashbacks. The writing seems almost horrible to me now. Writing it felt great at the time. TL:DR Inslee wanders through life dreaming of something more but never really getting there in any true sense. If you guys get through to the end, please tell me what worked. That would really help.

 

Later guys.

 

 

Inslee

 

I was trapped in a state between dreaming and awake. Everything felt like I was conscious, but I couldn’t exactly remember much after the fact. I woke with bits and pieces, feeling there was so much missing. He appeared in it, holding one of my near frozen hands. I pictured a bench by a duck pond, then walking around. I was so tired after, but sleep refused its company. I threw off my bed sheet and crossed my arms.

Closing my eyes for at least a few minutes changed nothing, except making me more awake. I looked up at one of the ribs surrounding the ship inside the inner hull.  High tension cabling joined almost every structural element to them. Everything above — as with every other surface was coated in some impact-resistant material. The overhead skylight showed a multitude of stars appearing overhead as if still on Earth but in a configuration suited to a nearly two-thousand-year journey from home.

I pulled the covers back over, hugged them to my chest, and arose from bed, wrapping myself with the cover. A tripped over to the only window by the foot of the bed. The hunched back of the ship truncated by the med bay wall and punctured by massive windows, crossed with invisible ribs. Spare pods barnacled the ceiling. On the deck below, eighteen flesh colored pods held the next three gens.

I moved over to the door as it opened and out onto the grated walkway. This followed with the usual unpleasantness of bare feet on grated floor. I reached a space in the rail and stepped off. I floated weightless while the ship gradually lowered me down. The blanket stayed with me, unaffected by grav through everything. I landed beside the first row of illuminating pods and proceeded over to the corner most pod, the home of DB. Pressing a spot on my left shoulder, generated a set of bedding in my hand, which I laid down besides the pod. I lay down beside DB.

He looked peaceful in the pink glow of the pod with one arm under his head and the other hand at his chin. All of us on ship now pod or otherwise would’ve spent a minimum of twenty-five years dreaming life away before consciousness with a saved neural scan. Dreaming without any outside experience ended up a jumble of user generated stimuli. They were almost empty vessels awaiting a consciousness or experience. DB dreamed with his brilliantly green eyes running around behind closed lids. I remembered him best as the moody lyricist of thirty, wandering from quarters to job with notes hanging around and the occasional rendition. His hair was growing in nicely in the month it had.

I couldn’t help but think about one of my kids, Trish as she liked to be called most of her life. She inadvertently exposed herself and half the crew to radiation, myself included in one of the labs. At the time, the hands-on three-year-old required almost two weeks in pod. The consensus was consciousness in pod helped avoid developmental issues. Two weeks exceeded all known cases. We deployed a pod into the shared three cabin space for the family. Removing the pod’s outer covering allowed interaction through the confines of treatment. When everything righted, Trish couldn’t experience the biological imperative of sleep without the pod. We reintroduced the pink pod lighting, gel mattress, and soothing white noise with the plans of future dependence removal. In about ten years, everything returned to normal and pod consciousness hereby regulated to ten days max.

Looking at DB, sleeping, and thinking about Trish delivered me safely into slumber. A few sc later, the ship lights came on. The black and white clarity of darkness replaced with the multicolor coherence of day. I rewrapped myself in sheet and returned to cabin just as the Captain came around for pre-day checks with the night flight crew.

 

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This is a guest post from my friend, Cori Nelson. She’s a writer of children’s books and middle-grade novels. Right now, Cori is writing her thesis. She traveled halfway around the globe to continue her writing career. Check out her WordPress blog and scroll through her tweets if you’re so inclined.

 


 

Writing is a lonely business. That seems like a pretty generic statement, but it’s true! As a writer, you sit alone with your computer or notebook and argue with yourself over and over and over about plot and grammar and spelling. Being trapped in your own head all the time is not only lonely, but it can hinder your ability to make good decisions (not to mention drive you completely crazy). This is why I think every writer should join a writing group.

 

This year, I’ve been studying Writing for Children at the University of Winchester. Through the course, I’ve had to share my work in progress with others and then receive instant critiques on my writing. As an introverted, I’m-fine-sitting-in-the-corner-by-myself kind of person, I was very nervous about this concept. I remember reading my first piece out, my voice and hands shaky, my brain forcing me to read at top speed to get it over with. But afterwards! After my voice faded away from the room, after the short awkward silence that follows any reading, after everyone stopped writing down their thoughts on the excerpt in front of them and looked at me, was amazing. My classmates, people I had just met for the first time a week ago, went around the room and told me all of their thoughts, good and bad.

 

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It was incredible. And it felt so good to share my writing with others and have them not only like and understand it, but give me feedback that was helpful, too.

 

Receiving the feedback immediately after reading my writing out was great, too, and something that I think makes in-person writing groups better than remote. It’s nerve-racking enough to read your work in progress out in person and getting feedback right away. I can’t imagine the agony you would feel sending your work in progress to someone and having to wait weeks for their thoughts. Plus, as a children’s writer, I like to write funny. There is simply nothing better than reading something you wrote out loud and listening to your group members laugh at the moments you were hoping were actually funny. That’s something you cannot get with a remote writing group.

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It can definitely be very scary to share your writing with others, as writing is a very personal thing, but there are so many things you just do not catch when reading through your own work. Your eyes glaze over a missing ‘the’ just assuming it’s there, your brain tells you that a sentence makes complete sense, when really it’s just a jumble of nonsense. Someone unfamiliar with your work, though, will catch all of those things. She’ll notice when you’ve used the same word twice within two sentences and when one character sounds the exact same as another and will ask the all-important “but why?” to a scene that actually, now that you’re thinking about it, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Having someone else read your work is so helpful, I can’t say it enough!

 

All of my classes here in Winchester were designed to have a lecture for the first half and a workshop for the second half. Eventually, I began to yearn for the workshop half of class, especially when it was my turn to read and there was something I was stuck on with my piece and needed to discuss.

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Along with helping you find grammar and spelling errors, and helping you to better understand your own story by asking questions and giving suggestions, a writing group is a great support system. The group I’m in now (that I sadly have to leave in less than a month!) is amazing, to say the very least. It is made up of some of the most talented children’s writers I have ever met. Each and every one of us is devoted to each other’s writing as if it’s our own. When one member of the group has a victory (like hitting a word count goal), the entire group celebrates. When a member has a setback or is doubting themselves and their work, the entire group comes together to reassure them that they’re not a terrible writer, to offer suggestions to help stimulate new ideas, to offer the sympathetic and always appreciated “it’s going to be okay”. And when a member is having irrational thoughts about their work in progress, the entire group is there to help talk them off the ledge, to remind them that an idea had mid-dream is not always the best idea, and that “no, rewriting your entire dissertation two weeks before hand-in probably isn’t the best idea.” talking from experience, here. I honestly had a thought about rewriting my entire book even though it’s due at the end of the month. Thankfully, my writing group members stepped in with some rational thinking to save the day.

 

It’s important for everyone to have people like this in your life, true. But as a writer, I think it’s even more important because they’ll help you to keep going. As I said earlier, writing is a very lonely business. It is so easy to get lost in your own thoughts, especially the bad thoughts that tell you you’re not good, that your writing is awful, that you should just give up.

 

JK Rowling got hundreds of rejection letters when she started querying Harry Potter. As did Stephen King before he made it. As did Kate DiCamillo. As did every single author who’s ever been published. And I can guarantee you that all of them had a support system of some kind to help them get through the many rejections. If not an entire writing group, then at least someone who believed in them and their writing. At the end of the day, what more can you ask for?

Book 2: The Characters that Make the Tapestry

The Trouble with Dreams requires really strong characters to pull off the story I have in mind. Six characters that allow us into their lives to see it for what it is. Then we need to peer deeper to understand their inner dreams. Also what factors are preventing them from what they truly, deeply want in life? That’s a lot of weight placed on small human shoulders. Let’s make them mighty.

 

What prevents people from getting addicted to prescription drugs? A support network. I wanted this place addiction to be stronger than reality. Showing people at various levels of success would do that. I wanted average people for their lot in life. And what’s the best way to reframe addiction in a way that’s new, visceral, and real? Make the addiction instead an experience that’s their dream life incarnate. And there we have the concept.

 

I needed compelling characters that go through this experience. I started with a homeless veteran with PTSD and cancer. Uplifting, right? Jk. A large percentage of the homeless are veterans. I wanted to make it a choice superficially, but we all know there’s more to it than that. Chris manages his PTSD by limiting stimulus that triggers his symptoms, like sound and movement. He has a family ready to help, but everyday things trigger him. The potential for him to hurt a loved one is always there.

 

Then we have an ex-con. It started as a male character but later turned into a woman. Getting a job as an ex-con is really difficult. Most ex-felons are black and reoffend. Unable to get a legal job, she returns to the only thing she knows, car theft. I know very little about low-tech car theft. Mix in those wireless key fobs and then it gets interesting. Software defined radio, RFID, Bluetooth hacking, wifi hacking, deep packet inspection, copying packets and retransmitting. Computer stuff. Never actually done it. I know the general principles and the thought process. She’s trying to be reunited with her daughter.

 

Then we have Elise (Lotus Elise comes to mind). Elise is a high-end call girl. The company keeps employees under tight control by getting them hooked on prescription painkillers. I wanted Elise to have surrogate relationships with her clients. I also wanted the story of how she got there.

 

Then we have an author. Michael wants to publish a romance novel, but his first book is a tremendously well-selling pick-up artist guide. He’s hung up on a patient he had as a therapist and is nearly in love with his escort. I connected each character to every other to resemble the fact that everything’s connected. Michael stays sane by picking up women for fun. That should work out really well for him, right? Sarcastic.

 

Then we have a closeted lesbian lawyer. She has a partner that the firm doesn’t know about. Add a nice apartment and a few cats. Her struggle is getting pregnant through IVF. Some medical issues causing it to be very difficult.

 

Then a millionaire founder like Elon Musk. Supermodel wife and the works.

 

Finally, we have a psychologist that interacts with all the rest. Larissa Emery is the common thread through the story. I wasn’t clear on her storyline at the beginning. It grew into her suspicion that her husband was cheating on her. She finds the truth and deals with it. Her interaction with her patients (the other characters), help her decide what to do.

 

I wrote each point of view separately as if writing an independent story without worrying about fitting everything together. I started with Chris. To get the story under 50,000 words, each of the seven parts should be 7,000 words. Chris’s part took 10,000. My word counts would be higher for the other characters. My vision for the story was too big for my goals. I cut back the characters to four. Chris, Elise, Michael, and Larissa. That grew into The Trouble with Dreams. The entire first draft took ten months and now out to beta readers.

Book 2: The Law of Averages or The Trouble with Dreams

I tried getting Remember an Agent. That work was the best I could manage then. It was sheer audacity to believe Remember was the correct fit to be published. Since then, I’ve learned so much about writing. I needed something more relevant and approachable. More than that, it needed to be marketable. Would the work be appealing beyond the angle of dropping the reader into the character’s shoes?

 

That gave me a hit list. A list of things that the next book required. Some givens were already established so far in my writing career. A psychological thriller, futuristic optional, character driven, and involving love somewhere along the line. I also wanted something that’s set in reality, relatable, 50,000 words, and with average characters. Not all analytical scientists. I also wanted a few hangers-on from the Remember Sequel. That ended up as multiple points of view. I also wanted simple, easy to understand prose that allows the story to get across.

 

I came up with a few ideas/concepts.

1. the Earth is really one big machine that can teleport

2. a ghost sucks life force and vanishes after the people die

3. a cat turns into a human, helped to become a successful human designing cat toys

4. an alien world with varied population, mainly very thin humanoids that neatly float away without gear weighing them down, from high gravity home world chases down criminal just to allow escape

5. snake civilization of high intelligence makes heaters from fire to stay warm and hunt down larger animals  for food

 

And finally the idea I stuck with:

  1. place addiction

 

That idea came from a weird place. We all know about addiction to chemicals like cigarettes, alcohol, opioids, methamphetamine, benzodiazepines, marijuana, and various other things. The jargon abounds with these obviously. Let’s extend that to something more like love. Put on your nihilist hat, please. Love is basically an addiction to a person. Being around a particular person you love, triggers a highly complex, not well understood the neurochemical cascade of dopamine, oxytocin, and numerous others. Now, what about a place? Can people become chemically addicted to a place? Yes, if there’s an association or neural connection that links getting high with a specific place. The next obvious question is what happens if the place no longer works or the dosing ends? If a junkie can only get subpar dope, what happens? Well, we have a pretty good idea. What happens when a great relationship ends abruptly? Hate? Confusion? Betrayal? Inconsolable pain? Suicide? Take your pick. Initially, the idea just appeared as if from nowhere. Looking enough gave the root and stem of the idea/flower.

Walking Through the Forest of Night to a House so Bright

A story of transformation, finding something unreal, and seeing things in a new way.

Walking through the black forest shakes trepidation through this vessel. I just walk from some unknown location to the warm comfort of my home, each step concluding in pain, as branches thick and dense scratch up every square inch of open flesh. The continual movement through this underbrush offers a constant reminder of what hides just out of sight in the utter darkness all around. The unavoidable trip over an up-turned root or impact with a hearty low hanging branch adds punishment to my circuitous, wandering journey. I need some way to escape this blind torment — a slight reprieve from this suffering — just something, anything to change this sightless wandering.

 

A deep thumping moves through the forest floor and into my very bones. The need to brace myself to the strength of a behemoth tree possesses my deliberate action. My touch turns into a hug that becomes a death grip with another mighty, ground shaking vibration. A light reflecting back onto the trees — showing their full depth and complexity — grows with the intensity of a dozen suns in the utter darkness of this endless night. A menacing, throaty, animalistic roar from the omnidirectional distant wood sends a shiver down my spine, raising hair as if preceding electromagnetic discharge. An unwitting glance in the general direction blinds and reveals. I will and force my body to unleash the hold upon this mighty protector, this sentinel of a tree. I reluctantly gaze at the source of bright emanations floating ahead of this feeble body. The illumination acts as a giant obfuscation of my true savior, whatever form of creature may yet it be? I approach with a heart halting terror and unbridled curiosity, unhindered by neither. This encroachment continues until the ultimate conclusion of facing this thing.

 

The light fades to a faint glimmer of the once magnificent beacon, facing me with the stuff of nightmares — a monstrous feline form waiting to tear meat from bone. The shiny salivating mouth, at the ready, takes no action except to show itself. I feel this undeniable need to touch the top of its slick, black hair covered head, so much so that I just do it. Combing my fingers through the thick, luxurious fur that encompasses this unearthly beast coaxes purrs of the cat’s pleasure. The agape mouth recedes to that of a happy kitten with no interest in ingesting my delicate flesh. Another one of pure white enters the clearing, looking for some unknown treasure. The newcomer requests the same tender moment, displaying its gentle face near that of the other. I indulge the arrival with the same strokes to receive the much needed safety and security. With each stroke, the wild and feral nature of these beasts transforms into the kinder, gentler forms of pet cats with diminutive size.

 

The two cats pull back as if something calls their attention away from this. They move past me deeper into the overly dense growth. I follow as they are now my acolytes in the unfamiliar terrain, giving myself over to their animalistic instinct with no other recourse than belief in their prerogative. I trust them implicitly as sheep lend themselves to the whim of the herder. They move from branch to branch with a graceful ease, occasionally leaping to ground without faltering. The white lioness, the feline is bombarded with distraction meant to disrupt — wandering thoughts of something unknown. She flees at some indiscernible input abandoning him and me. I follow the member of our party devoted to our mutual interest, getting me out of these accursed woods. We approach a house of black smoking chimney and yellow glow through window. He makes himself comfortable here, a sign for me to enter the hidden, secret chambers within. He swiftly climbs an overhanging tree, drops down upon the lowest eaves, and curls up onto a ball. A peaceful slumber is the lofty goal of this lowly, once majestic creature.

 

Entering the bleak, sterile innards of this home leaves something to be desired besides modernity. The organic, although dark forms outside provide more of a comfort than this… barren cold. I go through the myriad of metallic cabinets and bins, looking at everything and searching for nothing. The white floor offers the only change from this… storage on every side. I pantomime my way around the room, searching the cold walls for the misplaced door, failing at a hidden compartment or any other such thing. The cold leaches into my hands, trying to rip my very essence away. I stop in futility. A noise startles me into looking one way. The cold at my back melts away to nothingness. A look back offers nothing, except black air surrounding this body. The limited surroundings are no more. Trying to escape the whiteness below, running into the dark proves this space inescapable.

 

Somethings come out of the black void and surround me in tight ring after ring. The objects flicker into life showing him to me, the black feline lounging above in various states — anything from growling to purring, eating to sleeping, back arching to scratching, and hunting for some elusive prey. The images send me through waves of reflected emotion. The scratching comes to gradual focus. The images look too real for my own good, the scratches too close. The hot searing pain cries out from every part of my outsides. The resulting outflow of blood provides a limited relief. I just want and need this perpetual torment to cease! This unavoidable pain must come to an end. I just have to get out! I welcome the sweet slumber of sleep that is death alone.

The Schizophrenic or (The Pessimistic Voice that Says No.)

I liked Birdman in general.

The casting added something that felt real to me, Michael Keaton (Riggan). I remember him well from that 90’s Batman franchise directed by Tim Burton, That was the only time I remembered who he was apart from the character. I recognized Naomi Watts (Lesley) from somewhere, probably King Kong. The character that really got me in the story was Sam (Emma Stone). I found the problems in her attractive, probably because I wrote a similar character a few months ago.

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The cinematography drew me in. It was a window into the normal world, walking and how everything looks from that angle. I sit or lay down throughout my day. Every rarely am I looking from eye level of someone standing. The camera shifted in and out of third person to different character perspectives. I liked the closeness to the characters talking. The frustration of Sam when spoke about how outdated her father was became visceral in a way that movies almost never have for me. I sit all the time. People are either right next to me or in front 4 feet away. Imagine never directly facing someone when you talk or being 4 feet away. Looking over railing is impossible for me. I have to parallel park my chair or look at the railing from feet away. This was shown once in Birdman.

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The rooftop scenes were scary. Heights are down right scary if you can’t stop yourself falling. I can’t. Truth or dare seems so unrealistic and overused. Do people actually play that game in situations of hidden attraction or friendship? That part where Mike (Edward Norton) describes Sam as special, “burning the candle at both ends”, sounds written. The options there are either call it out or change that part into something else. I would have described it differently. Still good.

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The superpowers were interesting even if we couldn’t be sure they actually existed. Levitation, telekinesis, and flight. Everything the fictional Birdman could do. Riggan became so invested in the character, it became a part of him as a voice that degraded him. We all have a little voice in the back of heads, telling us everything that could go wrong. It was an interesting plot piece that severed as an easy source of motivation.

A great movie.

Ella Dawson, A Letter from a Fan

 

(For those of you that haven’t heard: Ella Dawson is internet famous for various reason. Being an optimistic person, fighting for a better future, her writing,  and blog make her famous.)

Dear Ella Dawson,

You are a great person. You have an optimistic outlook for the future interaction between different people. Despite the opprobrium, you continue to fight for your vision of the future. There is no reason for the stigma against STI’s except personal fear.

I learned about you through a creative non-fiction piece you posted on Medium. It, put simply, was amazing. Your simple, clear language brought an extremely complicated concept into focus. It drew me in and gave me something to think about. A quote stuck with me. “it sits on my tongue like a sugar cube” That phrase so clearly depicts what was going on.  I knew from that moment, I had to learn everything I could from you.

I was only previously affected by heavily literary works like The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon and The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. This pulled my earlier writing too far in the flowery, literary direction. This trend caused confusion and reduced my potential audience. For a relatively unknown author like myself, too much complex language becomes a problem. I needed a new goal. Didn’t Mark Twain say something about simple language?

I started reading your WordPress blog from the beginning. That Medium piece was too advanced for me to see the underlying technique. I needed more and earlier writings. The second blog post about your college thesis caught my eye. It was a definition of feminist sex writing. Basically, you were saying the feminist part comes in when the writing questions the social mores around sex. For example, what constitutes acceptable sex? What types of relationship work and how do they function?

A really surprising thing happened. I had been writing a book for the previous 6 months that started to ask those questions and provide what I believed were my answers. I have never tried to label anything. I find it extremely frustrating to squeeze myself into boxes. I stopped trying long ago. That definition you provided was something new, expansive and inclusive.

I also read a book you reviewed and liked. It gave me a window into your preferred genre. Reading helps me figure out what fits into a genre, the characteristics that make something good, and the established boundaries. Finally, I look for what works and try to incorporate those into my own writing.

The three short stories you guest blogged on Exhibit A gave me a chance to learn about your approach to writing fiction. I read Homecoming first. The relationship descriptions were so on point. ‘There was some Peter Pan syndrome to explain why she was here, lurking in the back of the library at just after midnight.” The story was real. There were the good things and a little grunge on the edges. The entire piece was about familiarity and comfort.

Camille was great in a different way. I left it with this picture of Camille through the eyes of another. I imagined a petite woman possessed with unbelievable strength. The true description of a character should be by someone that loves this person.  A couple of lines stuck with me. “She reached out with one of her tiny hands and brushed his hair out of his face, and she smiled as she poked some of the freckles littering his cheek. He grabbed her wrist and kissed her thumb.” That last line felt especially real to me. I suspect that originated from an actual experience. This story had a fierceness to it, paired beautifully with reverence.

The last one was Slush. It felt a little angry, frustrated, and wrapped up in itself, but isn’t that the way some relationships go. The two people are stuck between the end of psychological intimacy and the end of everything. The entire thing was evocative and filled with emotion. Your use of simile was superb. “Anger keeps them tangled like the links of a snagged chain. She knows eventually something will give and let them swing free with stunning ease but that day has not come yet.” I have yet to crack that.

A prerequisite to creative writing is going to different places and seeing ordinary, more importantly, relatable things. Having those physical experiences also helps. Consider those the raw materials for simile. Instead of loosely associating like with brainstorming, jump through ideas with an over-arching similarity. I can do that in social interaction but not yet in writing. Asking what could be a simile for things I’ve written about and things I feel, might be exactly what I need.

The metaphors were educational. It’s the precursor to the things that wowed me in that creative non-fiction piece mentioned earlier. “They used to love each other. The memory is a splinter driven too deep in her palm to dig out with tweezers: a dull and irritating hurt, worsened by the temptation to pick.”

Handy mnemonic device. A simile is like Red (Taylor Swift, Red). A metaphor is Clean (Taylor Swift, 1989).

Awesome writing. You are doing good things, not that anyone has to say it. Hopefully, everyone will see that soon. Keep fighting the good fight. Rock on!

Thank you for everything you’re doing.

Graham Kar AKA Girish Karthikeyan