Confessions of a SuperFake (5-page snippet)

[Hello Humans! Below is the beginning of Confessions of a SuperFake, a sci-fi novel with superheroes. Enjoy! -ARG]

Chapter 1: The Northern University Bus Incident

I stood over a stranger.

Barely conscious of my bloody knuckles, I watched instead of running. The unknown student splayed before me, legs on the bus, most of his torso on the frozen sidewalk. If I stuck around I’d go to prison. But the question kept my feet planted- was he alive?

I’m not saying I don’t deserve to go to prison. I probably do. I shouldn’t have fought a stranger, not on the first day of classes, and not on a crowded campus bus. His cough snapped me out of my trance, cuing me to run. Shouts followed me out the exit doors. Thank god I was nobody- anonymity allowed me to get away.

I cut through a parking lot, my feet ploughed through iced-over dew. The unreasonable cold bit at exposed skin on my neck, my fingers, my ankles. I’d intended to get to classes early enough to slip in unnoticed, just like high school.

Today I’d need extra time to wash off the blood.

I hardly paid attention during the first lecture. Northern University in Winthrop, Washington, had given me a full ride in engineering, but I desperately missed Georgia. Last week, I’d been in a balmy summer with my siblings, excitedly discussing the cool things I’d build in college. Building had been my passion all my life. This was my chance.

I’d almost blown it.

 

 

*

It was snowing by the time my classes were over.

I hadn’t expected snow, even flurries, in September. My second-hand tennis shoes soaked up cold slush water, unavoidable on the sidewalk. I needed weather-appropriate clothing- a protective jacket, boots.

To escape the frigid weather, I stopped at a small coffee shop midway between engineering campus and my dorm. I welcomed the painful tingling in my face from the sudden warmth. I pulled out my sketchbook.

Still empty.

Since leaving my family, I hadn’t designed anything. In Georgia, I’d been able to fashion fantastic devices out of materials available in my neighbor’s garage. He had so many incredible tools. I had a small collection of hand tools that I’d brought with me, but it didn’t compare to my neighbor’s acetylene torch. No materials, No Tools, No Inspiration? No designs.

My pencil sat welded to the page, waiting, trying not to think about snapping at the random student this morning. My knuckles served as a reminder that I’d sucker punched him, and not for any reason that would get an approving nod from my older brother. Not that I’d tell him; Lou would put two and two together and realize that it had something to do with his phone call this morning. If Lou decided that my parents were right, that I should be kept ignorant about our sister’s relapse, he might never tell me anything. Then that jerk student had been running his mouth about the financial burdens of federally funded healthcare, like my sister needed.

I’d just lost it.

I didn’t know if my sister would even be alive when I got back home. If I could give Leccie a kidney, I would.

I’m so damn helpless here.

I switched to my less-bruised hand, to mentally regroup. The sketchbook’s gridlines rippled, mocking me, laughing at my lack of inspiration. I leaned back in the booth and refused to look at anything. A sting on the back of my head reminded me that guy had ripped out some of my hair during the fight. I still wasn’t going to get a haircut, no matter what Mom said.

It was minutes before I noticed someone had come to sit next to me.

“What am I, invisible?” The flawlessly dark-skinned intruder had a green coat, black hair in dozens of dreadlocks, and a hand extended to me. “I’m Jordan.”

I looked at the hand, offered like a secret. After a short handshake, I put away my sketchbook.

“This is where you tell me your name.” Jordan smiled.

“Uhh… Lex.”

“Alex? Is that short for something?”

“No. Just Lex. My parents are big on L’s.”

“Can I call you Lexy?” Jordan asked. I shook my head.

“No. Definitely not. Who are you?”

“Jordan Moore. Your new best friend.” I stared at the newcomer, my supposed new friend.

“What makes you think… I don’t understand… what?” What was Jordan doing, in my booth, talking to me. People don’t talk to me. Especially not attractive, well-dressed extroverts with stunning smiles.

“You’re new here. I figure you don’t have a best friend yet.”

“Why do you think I’m new?”

“Got a loner vibe.” Jordan shrugged. “And no wind breaker. Also, sneakers. Seriously? Not a veteran of NU.” The barista brought coffee and a smile for Jordan. Heavenly steam poured over the lip.

“You want some?”

I did.

“No. No I’m good.” I looked at my hands, tucked in my lap. Jordan sipped, chatting for some time about the area and classes to take. I didn’t mind listening. Very little input was required until Jordan asked if I’d go bowling.

“I really can’t…” I couldn’t pay for bowling, or any activities.

“C’mon… My treat.” Jordan insisted.

I did need something to distract me. My normal building-based methods weren’t working.

“Ok.”

“You free Thursdays?” Jordan asked.

“Sure.” I shrugged. “Wait, Thursdays?”

Jordan started to get up.

“Best friends hang out at least weekly.” Jordan said, returning the mug to a dish bin. Jordan couldn’t leave yet- I needed more logistics from this strange, friendly person.

“Where?” I asked.

“Meet me here Thursday, Seven-ish.”

Jordan waved from the door.

Apparently, I had a new best friend.

 

*

Post coffee-shop, in the warmth of my dorm lobby, I browsed bus routes. If I didn’t want to have to walk four miles to the engineering campus, I needed a route where I hadn’t committed felony assault. Avoid recognition. Avoid arrest.

In my hour-long search, I came across a brochure on plain paper. The route inside–  labeled Northern University CHA transport–  had a 6:30am stop a few blocks west, and would let off on a side road on the southern edge of campus.

I reread to make sure I hadn’t imagined it. From other maps, the stop would only be a half mile from the engineering campus, if I cut through the woods. A woodsy morning walk? Sounded almost pleasant.

My roommate hated my extra-early alarm, and I hated the pervasive cold that followed me onto CHA bus. I had my flimsy hood up and my nose tucked awkwardly under my collar. Warm face coverings seemed common on the route.

No one spoke. I preferred the silence to another fight.

The silent students trotted off northward while I lagged in confusion. I’d intended to walk through woods, not several stories of unlabeled box-building surrounded by tall pines. The black rectangular building and massive adjacent greenhouse hadn’t been on any map I’d seen.

Hoping for central heating, I followed the students inside. They must be students, to meet on a college campus and take a school-affiliated bus to a building on school property.

Inside, the crowd dispersed, leaving me to explore the unknown building. The floor shone with fresh wax, next to faded wall paint. Why wasn’t the old, well-maintained building on my maps? The question compelled me forward.

I found a large, single-stall restroom, an odd dispenser next to the hand dryer.

The unhelpful label read: You only get one. Keep it safe.

I pressed the button. A small black mask dropped down the slot.

I studied the paper mask. Leccie, my comic-loving little sister would appreciate the of eccentricity. She would have insisted I wear it. I pulled the surprisingly comfortable cord around the back of my head.

Lou hadn’t called with any hospital updates today.

I peered into rooms along the hallway, keeping a mental track of the variety- classrooms, empty rooms, small gyms.

Around seven, one of the classrooms had bodies. The instructor looked over at me, as if I’d interrupted.

“Are you going to take a seat?”

I considered. This was clearly a lecture, and but on what? I filed in and sat in the only empty seat. Front row.

“Welcome to your first class in the College for Heroic Aptitude at Northern University.”

 

 

[END SNIPPET]

[If you’re interested in reading more after that, the full first chapter is available at https://alpingeist.com/works/superfake. Readers welcome. -ARG]

 

The Middle

[Contemporary short story, ~1400 words. -ARG]

 

Fire don’t care that it’s winter.

The air gets hazier as we rocket through the Smokies, Mom and me, taking mountain curves like she doesn’t remember she’s a cop five days a week. We’re already later than we would be, with traffic from the rain that ain’t where it needs to be, and we’ve been in the car six hours and I’m on no sleep.

Wildfire ain’t supposed to be out east. East we worry about storms, like Katrina or Fran, way back when. But turns out droughts can happen anywhere, and fire don’t give a damn that we ain’t prepared for it.

“If we have to evacuate, the dogs go in my car. Papaw can’t go with them, because they tear his skin.” Mom tells me. She’s right. I’ll drive Papaw and Nana back, in their impala. Only if Papaw gets discharged. I don’t know what we’ll do if the fire gets to the hospital.

“If we gotta.” I agree. “They’ll stay with you? What about the cousins?”

“It’ll be tight.” Her knuckles are white on the wheel. “But we’ll manage.”

We been looking for a way to get them moved outta the mountains for a while now. With Papaw’s heart, and Nana’s memory going, it’d be easier to have them closer. But they won’t do anything they don’t wanna.

Hospital’s a big, pretty place, and we gotta confirm where Papaw is. The news is on in his room– a cycle of reporters talking about the fire, people that lost their homes, videos of smoke covered mountains and hills of flame and one pair of guys driving down with fire on both sides. We’re all waiting to hear if they’ll call an evacuation for the trailer we ain’t at. Papaw and Nana fall asleep to the noise, the little green lines on the EKG, the hum of the heparin IV, Gatlinburg mayor giving a speech on TV. The governor talks about how special this place is, but it’s hard to care about the outside world.

A lab tech comes in to take blood, but her pulling tape rips Papaw’s skin. Paper thin, fragile. I guess she didn’t know because she felt bad, but ‘feeling bad’ don’t stop the bleeding. We call a nurse and she wraps up his arm. We won’t let that happen again, but that doesn’t undo the damage.

We feed Nana from the cafeteria. She hasn’t been eating, but she will if we watch. Time passes like molasses, and we wait. The chairs are hard, and there’s only two, so I walk around, or I sit on the floor. The nurse doesn’t like that. Doesn’t stop me.

Mom points to the TV, the one I’m trying my damnedest to ignore.

“That motel ain’t two miles from you.”

That perks me up. I hope the dogs aren’t in danger. When men face danger, people like to say they have a fight or flight response. Ain’t right. Men also freeze like deer do. I freeze, I know I do.

“I don’t think it was wildfire.” Papaw says. He sat up for dinner, needs help to do it. He’s hurting. He’s been going all his life and he don’t stop unless he’s hurting.

“Arson?” Mom asks.

“Yea.”

The TV drowns out the rest. I don’t doubt it, but I don’t want it to be arson, and I don’t wanna listen to the damned TV. I don’t wanna listen to anything else either. I get glued to my phone instead.

Embers can float a mile, it says.

 

Papaw needs help getting to the bathroom. Mom helps.

“This little gown they give you don’t cover your backside anyhow.” Papaw says. Temp’s set to eighty and he’s still shaking cold. I talk to Mom. Nana ain’t been home in some days, and Doctor ain’t coming today, most like, so I gotta drive Nana back. Back, toward the fire, where their dogs are. I keep saying we’ll run if they say, but they don’t say yet.

Fight, flight, freeze.

I drive back toward the fire, Nana my passenger. I make a turn too quick and loll her neck- I forgot how gentle I gotta be. She sleeps some after that. The fire glow doesn’t overrun the city glow, the Winterfest lights, the advertisements. I can’t see stars. Maybe smoke. Maybe light pollution. Maybe I just ain’t looking hard enough. Wind’s rough on the highway.

Embers can float a mile.

I sleep for ten hours, fitful, with a tornado warning blaring around 2am. I ignore it, pass back out, and hope I’ll even wake up for an evacuation. Morning comes like it always does, and Mom wants us back at the hospital, but I make sure Nana eats first. I drive back with blinking eyes, oil and tire lights on in Nana’s car. She reaches over to switch off the warnings, and I wonder how long she’s been doing that.

“What did it say?” I hadn’t caught the warning that time.

“Oh, I don’t know. It wasn’t what I wanted to see.”

Nothing to say to that.

We get there, parking in the pouring rain since Nana won’t let me drop her off. She walks slow, and I hold the umbrella. Mom texted asking for prayers since Papaw already got wheeled into the procedure.

My nails got picked apart from chewing, which I shouldn’t do around so many sick, but I’ve got an itch in my gut. Papaw wakes up, and we wait more, and sometime Mom and I go get oil to put in Nana’s car. There’s gotta be a bubble in the line somewhere, but it doesn’t get too hot on the road, so we’ll look later. The air is wet, and cold. Fire must be contained, right? We’re safe now, right?

The nurse comes in for midday pills, and we help Papaw sit up.

“You sound alright. How’re ya feeling?” The nurses treat Papaw kindly, and he teases them and jokes on, amiable as ever.

“I may sound alright, but I ain’t chasing no twenty year olds.” Papaw chuckles. I can tell he’s cold though. His hands shake, legs are mottled, and his arms got a dozen thick red bruises. My hands shake too, but I can hide that. Ain’t nobody looking at me anyway.

I leave for walks every so often. When the rain lightens up, I even go outside. People light up on the sidewalk, even though there are signs all over about how the hospital grounds are smoke free. Wonder if the wildfire can read.

That ain’t funny. People are dead. Count keeps going up each day, from finding the bodies. Tornado fatalities not included. I think they ought to be.

Cold bites.  I should’ve brought a thicker coat.

 

It’s past midnight, and we wait for the cardiologist again, but he’s not coming. I need to take Nana home while I can still drive. I can’t stand the TV anymore, taking any excuse to be out of the room. Everything’s still closed, still cold, still dangerous. My hands shake, like I know I’m on the cusp of disaster. If I leave tonight, will it be the end? I just want the cardiologist to come by like the nurses said he would, to tell us how much danger Papaw’s in, whether he’d get to go home soon.

I’m irritable on the way back, driving gentle but following my GPS to the letter. Nana’s lived here her whole life, but sometimes she gets lost or her directions get flipped, and I’m still worried I’ll blow a tire and have to change it in the dead of night.

We get back and I pass out, and it’s near noon before I wake up to a call from mom. I mutter that we’ll leave soon, and try to blink the tired out of my eyes.

The car starts outside. I bolt up to look out the blinds.

Taillights.

Nana shouldn’t be driving, but she don’t care. I pull on my jacket and step outside to watch her car whizz down the gravel.

I wrestle the emergency Marlboro out of my wallet. My shakes calm long enough to let me text mom. I let the cold bite, filling my lungs with that sweet, deadly relief. Fire, Tornado, danger, nothing. This ain’t the end. It’s the goddamned middle.

I stamp the butt out, because embers can float a mile.

And fire don’t care.

Zombies Don’t Eat Cheez Whiz

[A short piece of surreal fiction about accepting our weird, gross bodies. -ARG]

Zombies cheezwhiz pic

I think I just died.

I can’t be sure yet. This could just be a very strange third-person dream.

Given that my body is lying on the ground below me, being munched on by the living dead, I’m seriously hoping that this is only a dream.

There’s definitely a dream-like quality to the motion around me. The bodies moving around the corpsified version of me leave behind trails of light, like I’m looking through one of those old school two-color 3D glasses. My body is the only one not moving. I watch for a bit longer, and decide that if this is a dream, I really want to wake up.

The zom-zoms, my personal pet name for the dullards, soon move on from my body to chase fresher meat- my companions, of course. I don’t much like them anyway. Everyone I’d really liked had gotten zombified weeks ago. Or however long ago. I’m having difficulty remembering timelines, which favors the dream theory I’m rooting for.

On the positive side, I’m sorta getting the hang of floating, if no one takes an objective measure. It feels like I’m on the first level of a video game, and all my controls are sticking. This level would be quite a bit less disturbing without my dead body on the ground, covered in zombie-bites like giant gross chicken pox.

Ew.

I’ve never been a looker. But even as an acne-covered teen with an affection for Cheetos, Cheezits, Cheez Whiz, and other cheese products, I’d still never looked this bad. My skin has been replaced by slimy gray candle wax, and some white foam oozes out of my gracelessly slack mouth.

I avoid looking directly at the bite marks as long as I can, because I have always been very squeamish. I faint at needles, I can’t stand the sight of blood, and I both vomited and gotten crazy severe shakes after a documentary on poultry farms. Since then, I’ve been a life-long vegetarian. Even during this zom-zom rodeo, I shut my eyes every time somebody gets bitten. If this isn’t a terrible dream, then my weak stomach is probably the reason I’m corpse food. Zombies are gross.

Finally looking closer, I’m gross too. Along with red, angry bites everywhere, a whole huge chunk is missing out of my clearly broken right forearm.  Those zombastards must’ve chomped right through the bones!

Perhaps this horrible maybe-dream is telling me to give up the guitar. Good riddance, I’d never excelled at finger picking notes. I’m better with chords, by which I mean I’m not very good at all. I can’t entirely blame my recent six-month hiatus on the apocalypse though. I’d stopped practicing long before I’d witnessed somebody turn from conscious person into gross hungry candle.

At least I don’t feel queasy! Thank goodness. I don’t want to vomit all over my own corpse.

My corpse, which starts to groan and twitch.

Oh no. No no no no no. I hadn’t considered this possibility.

Wake up, me!

Wake up, wake up, wake up!

The groan echoes throughout the room, and the twitches made by my body leave behind shimmering shadows as it moves. My own eyes open below me, now made of gray zombie wax. My body slowly rises of its own accord, groaning.

Even pinching doesn’t wake me up. Can’t even feel it. I’m watching my own corpse turn into a zombie.

My body pushes itself up and drags its own gore across the tile toward some small sounds in the house. I’d gotten killed in a kitchen. I hope I hadn’t been doing something stupid when I died, although there is a distinct chance I had been looking for Cheezits.

I follow myself, which sounds strange. What could I call my own zombified body?

Me-bie? Other, Grosser Self? Zom-me? Zombody? Zombuddy?

I favor the latter two, but can’t pick. I guess I’ll stick with “Body” for now. I watch Body shamble toward the… what was it? Living room? I float through the wall, frustrated at my lack of speed. Body hit the counter at stomach level, smearing blood from its limp, useless right arm as it stumbled about.

The living room is bright, sparkling almost, with sun-drenched draperies that left little star-shadows wherever they moved. Sunlight is incredibly bright, shining in the air like suspended zirconium. I can’t remember the house perfectly, but my blurry memories definitely disagree with my current senses.

While I’m distracted by the shimmering sunlight, Body runs into a coffee table and falls flat on its waxy dead face.

I whack my forehead with my own palm in annoyance. It doesn’t hurt a lick.

The realization hits me like my palm to the face didn’t: I am a ghost. I am a non-corporeal phantasm, separated from my mortal coil. And my mortal coil’s clumsy husk had just tripped over a coffee table.

I try to sit on the couch to think, but I accidentally float too far down and get hopelessly lost in the cantaloupe-colored foam inside the old-school flower motifs. I flail uselessly until I have the brilliant idea to just float my way out, which takes longer than expected. Honestly, having to float in three dimensions should really come with a freaking game controller.

When I exit the couch, Body is gone. I hyperventilate for two seconds before I realize that I’m not actually breathing, and it’s not affecting me. I guess it’d been a mental reaction, not a physical one. No shakes, no overwhelming panic.

Maybe being a ghost isn’t so bad, just as long as I don’t try to sit on any couches. Those things are deceptively dangerous.

I float toward the next room, and the next, before finding Body flush up against a bookshelf. Gross coagulated blood is smeared all over the wood, various trinkets, and useless shelved Blu-rays. The books had been spared, but only because Body’s sleeve snagged on a metal hook holding orphan keys.

Body could easily release itself, if it would just stop going forward. Its groans echo throughout the room. I never remembered zombies being this loud before, or echoing in the slightest. Body’s vocal complaints are matched by significantly more alive sounds from another room. Taps of boots, heavy breathing.

Body swings around haphazardly and attempts to shamble toward the alive-noises. Its sleeve is still stuck fast, resulting in the worrisome wobble of the bookshelf.

My worry is short-lived. One good jerk from Body topples the whole thing, with pale trails of the movement cascading as the bookshelf falls. Body collapses underneath, feet flailing like it had slipped on a cartoon banana peel. The heavy wood shelf pins Body’s shoulder and twists its leg in a strange direction. It’s even stranger to realize I don’t consider Body’s legs mine anymore. Does ghost-me have legs? I’m a little afraid to check. Procrastination seems like a solid plan.

The humans enter, glance at Body, and move on. A small train of zom-zoms pursue at a slower pace. The alive people are fleeing, and anybody (ha!) who isn’t trapped by a toppled bookshelf is following at as fast a pace as those dead little legs would allow.

The house is quiet soon, except for Body’s noises. The groans are starting to sound more whiny to me, like a puppy begging to go out and eat the tasty humans. I wonder uselessly if Body is housetrained.

I briefly consider trying to lift the shelf, before abolishing the thought. Even alive-me wouldn’t have been able to lift it. In addition to having a pizza-style face, I used to have laughable upper body strength that my meager prowess at guitar had not enhanced.

Lying down beside Body, I put my hands behind my head and crossed my ankles of questionable existence. I glance over at the gross, waxy thing beside me that I had once inhabited.

“Would you prefer Zombody, or Zombuddy?” I ask.

Body continues grumbling without recognition that I’d spoken. I roll my incorporeal eyes and think. I could stay like this forever, and might end up doing that. It doesn’t seem so bad. I do the exact same nothing every summer. My world is much more at peace now that I’m not running. This frightening thing has happened, is still happening, and I’m adjusting. I’m okay. Chances are this isn’t a dream, but it’s also not a nightmare.

By far my biggest concern about ghost-hood?

No Cheezits.

WIP: Confessions of a SuperFake

Although this may be not terribly useful to some readers, I thought I’d describe one of my Works in Progress (WIP) today. Since I tend to have several stories at different levels of completion, this will probably be part of a series.

Without further ado, I present Confessions of a SuperFake!

COSF_text_alt

Confessions of a SuperFake is a science fiction superhero novel that is currently being prepared for beta reading, which will start in August. The story follows college freshman Lexus Roberts, who is the first Technopath ever recognized by the secret superhero society.

Summary:

Lexus (Lex) Roberts just enrolled in Northern University on an engineering scholarship, almost 3000miles away from home. With no friends, a bit of an anger management problem, and a designing block that just won’t go away, Lex is struggling with freshman year. But when Lex accidentally infiltrates the top-secret College for [Super] Heroic Aptitude everything turns upside-down. Lex gets friendly new bestie with a dark side, a love interest with superspeed, and a whole lot of secrets. Can Lex balance college classes, faking a superpower, and a healthy dose of crime? Or will everything come toppling down in an explosive whirlwind of doom?

 

Personal Notes: I love this story and will start to search for the appropriate place to publish this novel sometime this year. If you have questions, or would like to participate in beta reading, please contact me! I would love to hear from you at any time. Sometime in August, I will be posting the first chapter on my website (IT’S COMING I SWEAR).

Write On!

-ARG

Writing Chapters

Determining what is and isn’t a chapter can be a challenging thing. I’ve been writing novel-length prose for a long time, and I’ve really only come across a few truths. So what is a chapter?

Answer: It depends.

It really does! I’m not just copping out of a blog post! These are my three requirements when I’m writing chapters. I don’t use page lengths or have a rigid list of must-haves.

  1. A chapter should tell a mini story. I think this is absolutely necessary to breaking up a longer work into shorter works. If your novel is a house, then the chapters would be your rooms. A room is hard to consider a room without a few walls, a floor, and a ceiling, and maybe a bit of furniture or art. Not every chapter is going to be the same length, or style, or have the same characters, but it needs to tell a small story. This small story could be in the form of a common theme or chronologically connected narrative, but if your chapter doesn’t tell a story, then chances are it’s a hodgepodge of scenes rather than a coherent chapter. Try this: Boil your chapter down into a sentence of what happens, e.g. “The MC gets into an argument, loses his glasses, and falls into a stupidly placed well.”
  2. A chapter should add to the overall narrative. The scenes contained within the chapter should move the story forward in some way. Whether that’s major character development, an important discovery, or a big battle sequence, a contribution to the main plot is necessary to lump the scenes into a chapter.  A chapter is a main division of your story, a puzzle piece, and if it could go missing without changing the outcome, then it’s not really a puzzle piece. Inconsequential clumps of scenes serve more as an intermission than a chapter.
  3. A chapter should feel complete.  Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether a chapter is too long or too short or too rambling or too terse. Going to one extreme or another can happen with little warning, but there is a sense of wholeness about a complete chapter. When I write, I try to put a piece of most subplots and plots into the scenes, which serve as a reminder as to the story’s stakes and don’t allow a reader to let an important subplot drop off the radar. (Wow, do humans still use radar? Legit EM waves bouncing off of stuff? Ew.) In any case, this feeling is personal to the writer, and comes with time, practice, and a lot of reading.

In any case, don’t be afraid to experiment with your chapters! I’d still stick to these suggestions, but I made them, so take that with a grain of 1:1 ratio sodium chloride. Long, short, etc- the important part is that they work for you and your story.

Happy Writing!

-ARG

(Happy Birthday to MSB!!)

Camp Nanowrimo, 2016!

I’ve done National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) for many years, and I’m usually successful.For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo is a writing challenge that takes place during November, where thousands of participants attempt to write 50,000 words in 30 days. Yay!

This year, I’m finally trying Camp Nanowrimo, which is a July writing challenge with a camp theme! In fact, I’m in an active cabin with quite a few awesome people. I thought I’d talk about a few of the Camp Nano things I’m really excited about!

The Challenge: Camp NaNoWriMo lets users set their own goals, which is great for those writers who find the 50k goal too daunting (or not daunting enough). If you want to write 10k, great! 80k? Great! If you want to focus on editing, sure! If you want to write a screenplay- there are guidelines for that. I’m planning to write at least 50k, so I’ve set that as my goal.

Cabins: In Camp, you can build/join a virtual cabin with other participants, or get sorted into a random cabin by the site, or neither (opt out). I’ve been working over the past week to find and gather active participants into a cabin, and we have ~9 people! Yay! The conversation flows on the message board, and we’re using discord as well. After July, I’m hoping a lot of us will keep in touch, and help one another meet writing goals year-round!

Postcard Swap: This year, I’m participating in a postcard swap set up by an awesome fellow camper, and I’m getting to exchange motivation postcards wit people all over the world! It’s exciting, and I’ve written 9/10 of the ones I’ve signed up for.

There are a ton of other resources, discount coupons for sponsor items, and generally awesome things. I suppose in short, I’m really excited about this challenge I’m undertaking in July. NaNo and Camp NaNo are free to participate in, so if you want to take the plunge, go for it! Welcome!

-ARG

Magic Systems: General Process

Or ‘Alpin Attempts an Iffy Metaphor Using Earth Flora’

Whenever I work on a magical system, it usually starts out with one concept, and grows outward from there. The concept is sometimes a mechanic, or a general idea, or an abstract feeling. But any way the magic starts, growing the fantasy magic system is especially important. These are the steps I follow once I have the seed.

  1. The Waiting: Take your itty bitty seed concept, and wait. Consider it, think about it, wait it out. Don’t smother it. Sometimes seeds take a while to grow. It’s also ok to toss it jack-and-the-beanstalk style and see if stuff comes to mind.
  2. Careful Growth: At some point, you’ll notice your idea growing a little, becoming more than just a single concept. When the little magic seed becomes a little magic seedling, and it needs some attention. Think about your magic system, how the concept might work in a story, and jot down a bunch of ideas. It’s important not to kill the idea at this stage- If you trim your concepts here, it’s like trimming plant roots. It’s brainstorming. Let the concept sprout roots until it hits water.
  3. Identifying Root System: So if you imagine your main concept as a seed, then the seed has sprouted roots, and some have thrived in your brainstorming session(s). From your brainstorming sheet, identify the concepts that work best together. It might sound ridiculous, but this can include cutting your original concept. If your concept seed has produced an offshoot that you like (love!) more, then pursue that route. Your magical system may be complicated at this point, or it may still be simple, but at the very least it needs to be tangible. This is where you can say: This event could happen in this system, and here’s how.
  4. Planting: Now that you have a solid base, it’s time to plant the metaphorical magical system into an actual world. Give the system stories, by giving it a world (or galaxy, or multiverse!). Take time and find the difficulties and benefits to your magical system, and how these affect the universe surrounding it. Ask ‘What if’ and ‘How’ and ‘Why’!
  5. Blooming: Once you’ve grown your magical system, it’s time to reap the benefits. This is where you can find or produce characters, conflicts, or arcs that will drive a narrative. Whether you’re intending to place a series of independent drivers into your story (as with community storytelling, like Dungeons and Dragons),  or you plan to write it yourself, you have a solid foundation in your magic system that will serve as a major mechanic in your story. Make something beautiful!

Happy Planting!

-ARG

“I know how plants work!” Alpin lied.

 

Alpha Readers & Critique Partners

Hello humans!

Today, I’m going to address how I handle Alpha Readers and Critique Partners. To avoid any semantic arguments with myself, these are my definitions.

Alpha Readers: These are the people I send first draft work to, in order to see how they feel about the story, and bounce ideas, plot points, and twists off of them.

Critique Partner: This is a fellow writer whose writing and critique styles mesh with mine. We try to encourage, give feedback, and generally check in with one another.

I have two alpha readers, and I’ve known both of them for a LONG time. Like, 8-12 years long. I’ve been told it’s weird to refer to time lengths in human gestational periods anymore, but that’s 9-16 full-term singleton larvae?! That’s so many!

My alpha readers are two of my best friends, and they give me support and encouragement, as well as super-early reader feedback. I send them pieces of my work, including my first three chapters, and they tell me what they think, what they like, and if the chapters make them excited about reading the rest. I get a lot of influence from these two, believe me. (E.g. One loves puns, one hates them, and I enjoy both reactions immensely.) Alpha readers are great for world-building as well. If I can’t explain the world to these two, then I don’t have any business writing in that world yet.

My critique partner is pretty fabulous too! And Hella fast- I usually get feedback on my work in a few days, max. We check in on one another from week to week, which is a good timeline for us. Some do more, some do less. A critique partner should help with structure, tense, character development, identifying plot elements and lack-of-elements (HOLES), continuity… All sorts of things that you might miss on a first draft. Plus! Critique partners know how difficult and soul-devouring writing can be.

In my opinion, having both alpha readers and critique partners is important to the writing process. Maybe some people can get by without them, but I definitely don’t recommend it. Having this small support system for my writing makes me feel much more confident and competent, and fuels me to improve my work.

Do the thing. Find good humans.

-ARG

First, Write Three Chapters

This is a method that I’ve started implementing in the past year.

Before I’ll commit to any story, I write the first three chapters. Why? Why do this before you outline, before you know how the story’s going to play? This sounds a lot like pantsing. I swear, why did you write a post on outlining if you were just gonna write a bunch of chapters without it?

OK OK OK, devil’s advo-alpin. Time to chill. Lemme ‘splain.

Writing the first three (or so) chapters helps me in a number of ways.

  1. You can get feedback from critique partners, or alpha readers. If you’re bouncing ideas off of people, it helps to have these chapters as a basis to start off. Sure, this could be done with an outline or discussion, but I find that my outlines are messy, and my discussions are messier.
  2. You find the voice for the story. In a recent horror story, I started writing it in first person. After the first 20 or so pages, I realized that third person limited would allow a reader some emotional distance as these horrific (horror-fic!) things occurred. If you’re writing with the wrong perspective, these chapters can help you figure that out earlier rather than later.
  3. You get to know the characters. Sometimes, the way you expect your characters to be can be a little different from how you end up writing them in practice. If you have to make changes to your plot due to character manifestation, catching it before the first draft is hella nice.
  4. You find out if you straight-up hate actually writing the story. It’s one thing if there’s a routine that you’re forcing yourself into, but if you hate what you’re writing that’s a great reason to move on. If you don’t enjoy writing the three chapters, I sure as hell don’t recommend continuing on that story.

If this doesn’t work for you, that’s fine. Every human is different! But always give yourself permission to write, even if it’s not perfect, or won’t make it into the final draft. Perfection is one of those myths, like the holy grail or polite martians. They’re all jerks.

Happy Drafting!

-ARG

The Outlining Process

I’m working on an outline now- generally. Right this second, I’m doing b-loggy things, but my current project is in the outline phase.

I did not remember how much work it is. I suppose I should have- but because it’s been a while since I did proper novel outline, I largely felt like rolling on the floor whining. (No one can prove I actually did though. I’ve had all those videos destroyed.)

Before I even start outlining, I start by writing the first (or any) three chapters of the story. I’ll write a post on this later, but it’s really important to figuring out the general themes, voices, important characters, and eventual length.

After I’ve written those first chapters, I follow these steps.

  1. Spend a BUNCH of hours thinking about the story, talking about the story, and daydreaming about the story.
  2. Open a word document. Remember that a blank screen is not very helpful for outlining novels. Ask roommate for notecards at midnight. Wait for him to get up and answer the door.
  3. Cut notecards in half (if you’re stingy, like me). Write down all the plot points you can think of on these. Crazy emotional points, awesome conflicts, and twists- those get their own little cards. I had thirty or so (correction: 36). Depending on how long your story will be, there could be more or less.
  4. Throw them on the ground! You’re going to pick them up, read them, and put them in an order that makes sense to your story. This can take a while. You might come up with more ideas on the way, or necessary side plots- That’s fine! Just add more cards.
  5. Once you’ve got a good order, look for natural chapter breaks. I’ve seen some authors recommend color coordination for their characters/plots during this phase- like dotting each card with a marker. I didn’t do this, but mostly because I don’t have markers. Maybe I’ll try it next time.
  6. Those cards you can’t get to fit? I very sadly looked over my outcast card, and put it in the recycling. It is OK not to use every idea. Hell, it’s OK not to use half your ideas. It’s your book. Do your thing.
  7. TAKE A PICTURE!! I sent these pictures to a couple humans (roommate, friend, some poor sap who gave me his number), although this was just to annoy them. I like the faces they make. Plus, it helps to remind me of the chapter-breaks when I have to pick up the cards to keep the house-creatures from messing with them.
  8. Now put the cards into a document. I write down all the stuff on the card, and then add notes and thoughts to each one. Sometimes there’s a bunch, sometimes there’s not. Shrug your shoulders to demonstrate that you don’t give any UFOs.
  9. Go through each part of your outline, and think carefully over the scenes that should be in there. This is just an outline, so it doesn’t have to be perfect. If you find plot holes, address them here (or at least acknowledge them!).

There! That’s my process for creating a story outline. An outline serves as a guide for the first draft (at least in this case), and can be particularly helpful when your emotional state differs drastically from the one in the story- just skip ahead and write a different one.

I hope this was a helpful, human-friendly post. If you have questions, ping me! I’ll attempt to be helpful. Alas, I must return to my own outlining.

Happy Outlining!

-ARG