This post originally appeared over at GayYA.org.
Like a flailing restaurant patron who has a chunk of beef stuck in his windpipe, I write speculative fiction. It’s a messy process, of combing through research so I retain a kernel of accuracy in the story, say of physics or history, of plot points and character sketches, scratched out, erased, and written over in my notebooks. There are many notecards and scraps of paper tucked into my journals, so many that I tend to break the bindings of lesser-made books. Don’t forget this detail, that sub-theme, this one scene that keeps popping up in my daydreams. I go back, rewrite, reconceive, get frustrated, re-execute, finally feel satisfied.
It could very well be that all of my energy is in vain, and none of it is any good. I think it’s healthy for writers to drink a cup of hubris with a side of humility every so often. There is so little that keeps us honest. Writing is supposed to be sellable, and to make it to the commercial market, it needs to be definable—what’s the synopsis, who’s the audience, is it like any other bestseller out there, what’s the genre? It had better not fit in too many boxes, or the marketing department at the publisher will implode like an old Vegas casino.
Octavia Butler was one of those writers who defied pretty much everything in publishing—its tightness on genre categories, certainly, but also its expectations around audience appeal, topics that could be covered in fiction, and what bestselling authors should look and sound like. Read More…
The tracks stretched so far toward the horizon that the individual rails merged into one point, and then they devolved into something indistinct. If men had laid down a railroad here, at some point it became lost to the wilderness. I followed the tracks, using a scrap of paper I’d received a couple of hours earlier. Edgar camped out where the tracks took on a look of modern sculpture, the result of a terrible derailing several years ago. Not that modern art was anything anyone had heard of yet. The old conductor told me I couldn’t miss it.
I’d been tracking him for a week, and I was running out of time. I crunched through a stream of broken glass and pottery. Moonshine bottles, brown beer glass, growler jugs, or so I guessed. Hopefully I was getting close. If the story was right then he hadn’t started to spiral down yet, but this was the last night for his sobriety. Read More…
For those of you following along, here’s the latest piece I’m sharing of my work in progress.
Closing my eyes made the experience feel more familiar, even if I knew I was sitting back on Jeannine’s friend’s couch and not in a lab. I appreciated Dr. Stanger’s voice, strangely comforting even after everything I’d put him through. Without seizures anymore, we weren’t sure if this would work. I should have been more nervous about the hand-built EEG machine than my own capacity for out of control neuron activity, but I didn’t think the doctor would have subjected me to anything that could hurt me. Even if he’d gone through a terrible ordeal on my account.
“Just relax, Jack,” he said, and it occurred to me that I didn’t know why he cared to do all of this for us. Was he interested in inventing a time machine? Wanted to prove himself correct? Was he actually insane?
I considered ripping the wires off of my head, held to my scalp with some kind of hair product instead of the medical putty I was used to. This was reckless, dangerous. What was I thinking? I should jump up and get out of here, explain to my parents that I’ve been stupid and desperate. They’ll have to get over it at some point. Read More…
For those of you following along, here’s another excerpt of the first draft. Enjoy!
While Dr. Stanger worked on building a crude EEG machine, I drove out to Conestoga for more information on the town and its residents. Whatever town square I’d seen was gone now, subsumed into a street grid. Only on the outlying areas were there still farm lands, but the vast majority of the area had been developed. I pulled over, seeing a yellowed sign in the window of a storefront: Historical Society. I fumbled for dimes in my pocket and bought an hour’s worth of parking time, and headed inside. An older lady with curly white hair greeted me.
“Suggested donation is one dollar,” she told me, “but you can see if that’s worth paying after you walk through.” I smiled and put a bill in her metal box. It didn’t appear they had visitors often. Read More…
My latest bit of Parallax, from the first draft. To read the earlier excerpts, click on Parallax in the tag cluster on the left side of the screen.
Sanjay looked much older in scrubs.
“Green’s a good color on you,” I said, sitting in my car.
“Oh shut up.” He clipped his brother’s hospital badge on his shirt and said, “Wish me luck.”
The plan was for Sanjay to say Dr. Stanger needed to go to respiratory therapy, and he was the orderly to remove him. With all the smoking the doctor did, we hoped it wouldn’t look suspicious. According to Jay’s brother Prabal, lots of patients on the mental wellness ward smoked a lot and it was common for them to get checkups from the respiratory therapy staff when they inevitably had problems breathing. Read More…
I’m gearing up to write a novel for National Novel Writing Month this year—for 2010 I plan to write a young adult speculative fiction story that will have LGBT themes and some homages to the 1970s, adventure tales, and classic time travel sci fi—so I had to put together my “to do” list before All Saints Day rolled around. For this novel, named PARALLAX, my list looks like this, in no particular order: Read More…
My heart was on fire, or at least, it felt like it was on fire. I kept one hand over the middle of my chest to double check. A nurse noticed and came over to me.
“Inez, are you in pain again?”
I nodded. I still wasn’t any good at talking. Not on a consistent basis.
The nurse leaned in and squinted at the monitor behind me. “I can only give you one more increase,” she said, twisting something on my IV line. “The pain should start to subside soon.” She patted me gently on my shoulder and I resisted jerking away. I smiled at her in as small a fashion as possible, so I wouldn’t tear the corners of my mouth. Read More…
He handed the jar to me, a small glass container with a fluttery light inside it, some kind of hybrid between electricity, butterflies, and lightning bugs. The glass lid clattered a little as there was nothing sealing it to the jar itself.
For all of its importance Jayman pressed it into my hands without much care, not waiting to see if I had a firm grip on the thing before he headed back off toward his cubicle. I almost dropped it, and that would have been a disaster.
Here’s a little bit from my work-in-progress, SuperQueers, which I swear I’ll finish by this fall, even though I keep changing things up plot- and character-wise. I’m hoping to have it sit a little on the shorter end, somewhere around 70,000-75,000 words, so it’s a quick read. Without giving much away about the plot, let’s just say that an offhand wish this protagonist had has come true when she wakes up the next day. It’s not actually something she’s happy to have afflict her. Feel free to offer feedback on the writing, or not, but genuinely mean people’s comments won’t be admitted into the conversation (you know who you are).
Jess typically woke up four to six minutes before her alarm went off each morning. She was proud that her body was a regular, coordinated event, that it followed her wishes and bent to her will, even causing her to rise before the safety net of electronics kicked in.
Today, however, she slept through the alarm. She opened her eyes and saw that it had been buzzing for 20 minutes.
I’m so tired, she thought. She rolled over, groaning, wanting to go back to sleep. Ah, but it was Sunday, and she had a whole host of things to accomplish: clean the kitchen, dye her hair, reorganize the linen closet, and finish the literature review she’d begun last week. Maybe she could even get up the nerve to go to the office next week.
She sat up, slowly, because the room was tilted off to the left. Possibilities of why this was occurring flashed through her mind—she’d had an aneurism, a small stroke, or she was developing some kind of inner ear infection. If it didn’t go away in the next few minutes, she would have to call Dr. Rogers’ office, and he was convinced she was always coming up with psychosomatic illnesses. Jess knew she needed to find a new doctor who didn’t think she was crazy.
It was passing. Everything straightened out a bit. She moved her legs over to the floor and stood up carefully. Still fine. She should be okay for her shower.
She didn’t notice it at first—she was soapy with Antibacterial Dial liquid soap, which was the first phase of her showering routine—but as she was rinsing off, she couldn’t miss it. There were little bits of some sludge-like substance on her fingertips, the print side. She stared at her hands, the water running down her back. It couldn’t be dirt, not after washing as she did. What was it? She looked more closely at her left index finger. It was a viscous substance, shiny but sticky at the same time, and it seemed to be extruding out from between the ridges of her fingerprint. Jess didn’t want to, but she sniffed it. Almost instantly, she screamed and pushed her hand as far away as possible because launching it off her body like a missile wasn’t possible.
It smelled like shit. Actual shit. Bacteria-laden, disgusting, repulsive, stinky, canine excrement. And as she tried to wrap her brain around how such a thing would wind up on all of her fingertips, she was also wondering what it would take to clean herself of this, short of cutting of her own skin.
She scrubbed her hands with more antibacterial liquid, until her skin was absolutely raw. But each time she cleaned off, more oozed out of her skin like blood from an open scrape. It started slowly and almost imperceptibly gathered form. She couldn’t wash anymore. She sat down in the tub as the water gradually got cooler, sobbing over her predicament. And then she noticed that the substance stopped flowing, or whatever it had been doing. She let the water run over her hands and then she dared to look at herself one last time. Her fingers were bare of it.
And then the strangest thought entered her mind, seemingly from nowhere: I could control this, too.
* * *
Jess walked to and from her front door exactly 17 times. Prime numbers were strong, with few fissures that could be exploited to break them down. Seventeen was a good number. Seventeen was the number of the apartment she lived in, and it helped make her feel like the very door could withstand an assault, which of course, was necessary for someone who saw it as the boundary between her level of care and the disaster of the rest of the world.
This grand hope of hers had the unseen effect of creating animosity between the door, which had been fashioned in the mid-1930s along with the others for this building, and which was thus no more or less strong than any of the others, and the small brass numbers 1 and 7, which over the years of housing Jess, had come to believe in their own imperviousness. The door was embarrassed by their bravado, and knew that all of the other doors considered it ridiculous and more than a little pathetic for getting stuck with two obviously stupid brass numbers. But door 18 noted bitterly that it was the only one who actually was placed in view of door number 17, so it was the only one who had to put up with their incessant posturing.
But now things were different for Jess, although she wasn’t sure how or why. The very air smelled strange, as if the dog crap had infected the local atmosphere. It was cloying, as was the scent of the anti-bacterial soap. How had she used the stuff so constantly without noticing that it had infused itself everywhere, on everything? It seemed to her, this morning and not yesterday nor any of the other before it, that she had settled for a false cleanliness.
She looked at the door for she wasn’t sure how long. She reached out with one hand, which held an anti-bacterial tissue. The knob was cool, slippery under the cotton-paper fibers. She grabbed a strong hold of it, and turned. It didn’t pull forward because in her intense focus on opening the door, she’d forgotten to unbolt all of the locks, and there were several. One by one she twisted, pulled, unlatched, and slid the devices open, breathing deeply before taking hold of the doorknob again.
It was open to the hallway. There was no reason for this sudden turn of events—no deliveryman, no emergency, and no masculine policewoman inquiring about a strange break-in. She put one foot onto the obviously unclean hallway carpet, then the other. She turned and closed the door behind her, and slid her key into the lock, her hands shaking a little. Jess stared at the door from this other side, a side to which she hadn’t given much prior consideration. The counting started, an automatic reflex, but she stopped at six.
“You’re just a number,” she said to the brass markers, who immediately became overwhelmed with grief, and then, shame at having taken her at her word all these years that they had a secret strength.
Jess turned and walked slowly down the hall to the stairs, deaf to the sounds of the other doors, laughing as only doors can.