Thursday, December 08, 2011

In Process (first drafts): November 2011

“Fairfax”. Started month with about about 36,000 words, in the midst of Chapter 14. Ended with about 43,000 and having started Chapter 17.

Have I mentioned my process? When I start a novel, I always feel like everything is going to be great this time. I have a brilliant idea, and I just can’t wait to start RIGHT NOW!!!!!!! I write about 15,000 words, and then I realize that I don’t know what happens next. I have a general idea of how things need to end (giant robots!) but I don’t know how I’m going to get from here (burned house in the woods and water wheel and witch hunter) to making the giant robots and having the battle. So I write an outline of the next 75 things that are going to happen between here and the ending (that’s one thing for every thousand words I have left to write).

I do not write the outline from now to the end, I start with the end, and then fill in backwards, and then frontwards, and then I fill in the middle. And then I largely ignore the outline and write another 20,000 words. Then I get stuck again and I go and look at the outline, and try to cross things off that I’ve covered.

This is not pretty. I have covered more than 30 of these things. I do not know who the bad guy is, or some other essential piece of information. I write another outline, this time with 55 things in it, trying to get back on track to the same ending. I write some more.

That’s where I am now.

In process, November, 2011

Editing
“Dowsing”. (short story, 5K). Finished typing the rewrite, wound up with 6500 words. Edited the first 3000, and then printed again and edited the whole thing on the premise that the beginning is always the worst part. Posted on OWW and got four quick crits, suggesting that the ending was too sudden. That was kind of what I thought before posting it. I let Ed read it too.

Toothbrushing Club. (Middle Years novel). So, this year I forewent (if that’s a word) NaNoWriMo on the premise that I don’t need another unedited manuscript lying around, and instead I need to edit one of those down, making November in fact NaNoEdMo. But then I did not apply my usual NaNoWriMo discipline, and instead worked on that short story (not a waste of time by any means) and then screwed around for several days.

So, I found myself on November 16 thinking, Oh dear, I guess I’d better read this sucker.

I wrote TbC several years ago, and then apparently tried to edit it without actually reading it. In retrospect, this was not a good method. I think what I did, and this was probably at least two years ago, was I broke the story into chunks, most two or three pages long, and then moved them around until the story made sense. Probably reading the story had become too painful. I wrote the first draft, if I recall correctly, pretty quickly and in out of order chunks. This may work for some people and some stories (I think Justine Larbalestier wrote Liar this way, using Scrivener, but I don’t use Scrivener, and TbC isn’t that complicated, and I’m not her, and Liar is an amazing novel by the way) but perhaps not this story and/or not me.

By the time I started reading this novel on November 16, with a goal of having a second draft by the end of November 2011, I had mostly forgotten where I was going with it but knew the general plot, and I could finally read it with fresh eyes. It didn’t start off that badly. But however, it is not the same story that I thought I had written. I guess I did a lot of editing in my mind in the four years from when I wrote it.

Now, a week into December, I have gone through the first half, rewritten, revised, moved stuff around, added scenes and tried to make others have a point, deleted redundant material. My goal is to have another draft (I’m calling it Draft 3) by Christmas break.


Ignoring
“Rabbits.”
Apophis.
Have to find the crits I’ve gotten.
“Succubus”. Short story; working on 2nd draft
Pampelmouse. (MY novel)
“Chickpea”. (short story) Ending?
Troll. (short story)

Being reviewed
“Dowsing”. 5 crits, now, on OWW.

Knitting
Fair Isle Argyle socks. Ignoring. There's not enough contrast between my two colors, and I've cast on too many stitches, so I think I need to start again.
Blackwork socks. Gift, the first of the Christmas knitting. Finished.
Border socks. Gift. First pair done, second pair started.
Commuter gloves. Gift. First started.
I so badly want to start a sweater, it’s killing me!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

What I read -- November 2011

“The Guns of Avalon” by Roger Zelazny. Book 2 of the Chronicles of Amber. I didn’t notice so much in book 1, but Zelazny really paints nice pictures and makes incredible economy of words in these.

“Persuasion” by Jane Austen. When I go to the library, I like to take something out to be supportive, so when they didn’t have whatever the next Jim Butcher book is in the Desden Files, I took out this. Also, I have a DVD of it, and I prefer to read the book first. Anyway, this was a Penguin edition, and it had an over-explaining introduction and footnotes that didn’t seem necessary to me. A lot of the footnoted words were comprehensible in context, and I mean, who really cares that the particular coach they’re talking about is better than a convertible because the top can go either way? I love Jane Austen, and this book was charming.

“Sign of the Unicorn” by RZ. These are so short I almost feel guilty counting them each, rather than reading the whole five-book series as a single book. But, I’ve started this way so I guess I’ll continue. The first time I read these books I remember skipping over the Hell Rides sections because they were boring and didn’t make sense and didn’t further the plot. This time through, I’ve been reading them, and they are actually really interesting, some of them, in what they tell about character. Corwin is basically a god; he and his siblings are a pantheon. He’s hundreds (or more) years old, and yet he makes decisions that are sometimes really young-and-stupid seeming. I say this because I feel like the message, sometimes, is that no one ever feels like a grown-up, even when they are.

“Cascadia’s Fault” by Jerry Thompson. Ed got it out of the library and talked it up so much I picked it up when he was done. We’re all going to die! Cascadia is the fault line that is going to keep pressing on the western edge of the North American plate until the rockies flip up like a tiddlywink and land on Toronto. There you had it, you heard it here first. I’ve seen the author’s documentary “shockwave” that is about the same topic, so I had no trouble visualizing portions of the story. The organizational structure seemed forced, though. It was quite rigidly chronological, and I felt like the author might have written, for example, all the sections with the woman emergency planner at the same time, and then cut them up. This left me occasionally confused because critical details and complete thoughts didn’t appear until later. Not that I have any amazing powers of structure (see all my posts on The Toothbrushing Club for examples).

“The Hand of Oberon” by RZ. I really thought there was something fishy about Ganelon, that’s all I’ll say. He sure picked up new skills quickly.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Flash fiction challenge: Frog prince

The challenge is here. This is something I had lying around that I wrote originally in March 2009. Maybe I'll post the whole 650-word version tomorrow.

The bouncy ball was bisphenol-b. When the princess accidentally tossed it into a well, it sank to the bottom.

A frog croaked, "I'll fetch it for you, for a kiss."

"Okay," the princess said.

"Kiss, then ball," the frog said.

Their lips touched. The frog grew and the green localized to tights and a jacket; obviously a prince. The princess forgot about the ball.

They didn't live happily ever after. As a frog, the prince had absorbed a lot of pseudo-estrogens. His vestigial third leg gave the princess the willies, and his sperm count was insufficient to provide heirs, anyway.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

In process: October 2011

First Draft

“Fairfax”. Started month with about about 28,000 words, in the midst of Chapter 11. Now I’m in Chapter 14, with about 36,000 words. That’s a third of a book!

And now I will espouse for a moment on why I write a page a day.

A couple of nights ago, I’d done like 4000 words of the Dowsing rewrite and I wasn’t totally into writing a page (roughly 280 words) of Fairfax. But I had to, so I sat down and started writing. I wrote a couple of paragraphs of description, and then the POV character said something that totally surprised me: he said (without giving anything away) he missed the clothes. He didn’t miss the lifestyle of what he was looking at, but he did miss the clothing.

I was totally shocked and surprised, because right there, with those four words, he gave me all of his backstory. I knew who he was right now, but I had no backstory for that character, and because I was dragging my way through that block of text, he gave me a gift, “this is who I used to be.”

Editing

“Rabbits.”
Took this off OWW, didn’t really work on it.

Fairfax Chapter 1. Since this started out as a flash fiction, not even really a short story, there was a lot of stuff to add. The ending needed to be opened up, the characters fleshed out, and the setting defined. Also, it ended a different way than I thought. But I wanted to get it up on OWW. To make essentially Draft 2 of it as a chapter (the “final” version of the initial flash fiction served as Draft 1) I added 900 words. With all the flash stuff I’ve been doing, it’s been mostly cut-cut-cut, so this was a neat change.

“Dowsing”. (short story, 5K). I’d done a bit of work on draft 2, changing the POV and adding some logic to the worldbuilding. Then I read that Lovecraft/Derleth book and just started over. I wrote an outline (!) and a completely new story with the same elements as the old one, so I don’t know what to call this. Is it a rewrite? I’m typing it (going to finish it tonight) and then do a couple of editing passes, and then I’m going to get it on OWW, maybe by the end of the weekend.
Toothbrushing Club. (Middle Years novel) I’m going to have a draft 2 proper by the end of November.

See, what I decided was, the last thing I need in my life right now is another completely unedited manuscript. So, tempting though it was to just power my way through Fairfax or something for 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo, I decided to do NaNoEdMo instead this month. I need to finish some things. Next year, I’m doing it, though, for sure. And I’ll have some finished stuff too.

Being reviewed

“Karate Zombies”.
Got it back.

Knitting

Loppem (Norah Gaughan).
This is my anti-Morrigan, knit in fluffy white yarn on big needles. Finished.
Fair Isle Argyle socks. First started – KPPPM and some regia silk I had lying around.
Double Heelix socks. Done.
Blackwork socks. First started; this is where I start my Christmas knitting. I’m taking the motifs from PGR’s ethnic socks and stockings book.

Monday, October 31, 2011

What I read: October 2011

OWW: 3

“We Never talk about my Brother” by Peter S. Beagle. Short stories. The title story will stay with me. So elegant! Some of the stories were meh, like all short story collections, but this one was worth reading.

“Storm Front” by Jim Butcher. So, when I was at the library taking back the previous books, I was poking around. I often look at the Jim Butcher Dresden Files books because I’ve heard so many good things about them, but I want to start with book 1, so I’ve never taken one out. I looked in the paperback FSF section, then the hard cover FSF, then the general stacks... and they always have some random middle books, but never the first. So, I’d given up. I was over in the general paperback section looking for Jane Austen (they only had Mansfield Park, but I wanted Persuasion or Sense and Sensibility) and I found this! It reminded me of Sandman Slim, though of course this came first. It came out in 2000, and it’s weird how strange that feels – the characters don’t have cellphones, 9/11 hasn’t happened. The world was a different place. There were some style things I might have done differently, but this was a quick, fun read.

“The Watchers out of Time” by HP Lovecraft and August Derleth. Not really Lovecraft, apparently. But I don’t think I’ve read any Lovecraft, and this was sitting there at the library, so I got it out. This book made me want to eat Kolbassa and sauerkraut. The introduction by Derleth’s wife was an amusing bit that seemed to suggest that Derleth was the real genius here, and just took chunks of unfinished Lovecraft stories to craft works around. I think I could tell which bits those were, and they were pretty silly, some of them. There are maybe only so many things you can do with men who inherit houses that have histories of warlocks living in them, but after a while they were a bit all the same.

However, the formula seems to work. I was editing a story and it wasn't working, so I've started again, with what I'm calling "the Derleth formula" applied, with my own modifications of course. I may be discovering at this late date that I'm not a pantser.

“Nine Princes in Amber” by Roger Zelazny. I haven’t read this in about 20 years, but it holds up. You can probably guess what the next four things I’ll be reading are. (Apparently I don’t own the second five). What a great character!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Flash Fiction Challenge: Bully

The challenge: a hundred-word story about bullies, and only the weekend to write it. They're all posted over on terribleminds.com, but to be complete about things, I've put it here too.

“You should make something for the bake sale,” Janelle said. “It’s a good cause.”

Their daughters were on the soon to be torn down playscape.

It looked safe enough to Clarissa. “I’m not much of a baker,” she said. Money was a little tight this week.

“Heather looks grubby today,” Janelle said. “Didn’t Children’s Aid visit you once?”

“When her father was still around,” Clarissa said. Things were better now. “Maybe I can make some squares.” There might be brownie ingredients in the cupboard?

Underneath the playscape Heather threw a handful of sand. Caitlin ran, bawling, to her mother.

Flash Fiction Challenge: Welcome to Blackbloom

This challenge was different -- Chuck Wendig is doing a worldbuilding exercise. The entries are all in the comments, but I thought for completism, I'd post mine here, too.

The world was once terraformed. Aliens had seeded it With algae spores. These spores grew on all the wet things, killed some of them, and converted others. It was a very painful process. Creatures walked around, bodies half-covered in algae, going mad from pain.

The algae spores are a modified version of filamentous green algae, which does conjugal reproduction (trading DNA with other species). The algae takes the sulfur out of the SO2 atmosphere, leaving the free oxygen that the original lifeforms are allergic to.

The algae is still out there. Occasionally there’s an outbreak. Non-natives are particularly vulnerable.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Flash Fiction Challenge: Mary Alice goes to Hell

Another Chuck Wendig challenge; the rules are here. I'd written this story to see if I could do something small in the world of my urban fantasy, without it having all that annoying stuff I see in some short story collections that contain those. I had to cut it considerably to fit it in the space. It would be neat to put this aside and then try editing it "straight", and see how it comes out. I had not realized my vampires were so racist.

Mary Alice went out to give Sephora a hug. “Thank god you’re here. Avril is the dumbest thing ever.”

“I know, honey,” said Sephora. Without a mirror she freshened her black eyeliner and cranberry lip gloss. Sephora would have flown commercial from Iceland now that Candelmas was past. She dragged a huge trunk behind her through PATH, Toronto's 10 KM of underground walkway and mall.

“I can’t believe she’s going to be second,” Unlike the other vampires, Mary Alice was small and had a tiny voice to go with her pixie-sized body. “If Goatboy goes down, we'd have to report to her.”

“How can we get rid of her?” Sephora batted those lush lashes. She was tall and unbelievably thin, with long, glossy hair in a messy pile on top of her head.

But like a monkey, Avril moved fast. “Welcome back,” she said as she bounced into their space as if this was her place, not theirs, and her right to welcome anyone back. "We're all on our way out. I've been summoned to Hell."

A cockroach walked by. Mary Alice flicked it away.

Avril caught it and popped it in her mouth absent-mindedly.

None of them ever went to Hell except Goatboy. It wasn’t that they didn’t want to go; they thought maybe they couldn’t make it.

The therians moved as a pack through the fountains and wheelchair ramps of the mall, and then outside. The hellhole was near the junction of two highways, under the crossing of two rail lines beside a river, as desolate as those things can be in a city.

The moon was a fingernail clipping, a scrap of feather falling towards the west. No therian would change tonight without choosing deliberately.

“This is ridiculous,” Sephora said when they got to the Hellhole. “Why did we come?”

“No clue,” said Mary Alice. “Maybe she’ll get stuck up to her knees in the snow.”

But Avril gave Goatboy a peck on the cheek, took the step forward, and let gravity take her away.

She did not stop knee-deep in a groundhog hole. She was gone.

“Well, that was that,” said Sephora. "We’re free of her for a while.”

“I hope so,” said Mary Alice.

“Shall we go, then?” Sephora said. "I don’t understand why we came in the first place.”

“Yeah,” said Mary Alice. And that was that.



But Avril was back in the food court the next night.

Mary Alice took her normal spot on the floor in a corner. Sephora waltzed in grandly, but then crouched beside Mary Alice.

“The second should be one of us, a vampire, not part monkey.” Mary Alice said.

“Maybe she’ll grow into the role,” Sephora said. “Hell’s not that big a deal, really.”

“Have you been?” Mary Alice said.

“Not since I bubbled up,” said Sephora. It was how they said they were no longer useful for Hell's eugenics programs.

“Why would they summon her?” Mary Alice said.

“They need someone to report on Goatboy,” said Sephora.

“Why Avril?” Mary Alice said. “You could do it.”

“I was in Iceland,” said Sephora. “I don’t know what’s been going on.”

“No one asked me,” said Mary Alice. “I know what’s been going on. Nothing.”

“I can’t take your information to Hell,” Sephora said. “That would be hearsay.”

“I could go,” Mary Alice said.

Sephora snorted. “Good luck with that.” She walked away, and sat down with Goatboy and Avril.

No one noticed as Mary Alice stood up and pulled her sweater around her, and wandered out of PATH.

The humiliation she’d been hoping to see when Avril went, it would probably happen for her. Mary Alice didn’t need anyone to see that. But after 5000 years, she had to know.

It was before midnight when she got to the hellhole. She held her sweater above her as she stepped and then let it fall over the hole as she dropped.

There was dark, and wind for so long. Then she hit. The pain was worse sunburn, worse than not feeding for a month or a bath in holy water.

“Arrival,” she heard.

“Weren’t expecting anyone.”

“Human?”

“Vamp.”

“Can’t leave it here.”

“Send it back."

Anything else they said was drowned out by a wind.

She smelled rather than felt the return to Earth. She hit her sweater, launched into the air above it, and fell.

There was no daylight yet, just bruises on bruises.

After a while she heard Sephora’s voice. “I know this sweater.”

Strong arms lifted Mary Alice, sweater and all, and carried her away. There was the odd jostle of being carried by someone on seven-inch heels, the sounds of riding on a bus, then yelling for someone to open the door.

Mary Alice could smell corn chips. The hard surface she was set down on must be a food court table. Sephora began to unwrap her. “Oh, honey, what have you done?”

“That bad?” Mary Alice said.

“Your hair, when is the last time you combed it?” said Sephora. “Have you been sweating?”

“I’ve been to Hell,” Mary Alice said.

“But why?” said Sephora.

“I didn't want to be left behind."

Avril was standing behind Sephora suddenly. “Does she need anything? Blood, nachos?”

“Shut up, Avril,” Sephora said. "How was it?”

“They sent me right back,” Mary Alice said.

“That’s the way Hell works,” said Avril.

People were always telling her things she already knew, but this was too much. “Shut up, Avril,” said Mary Alice. She got up to go to her spot in the corner on the floor.

"Hey Mary Alice, if you can get to Hell, you can be my second," said Goatboy.

"Shut up, Goatboy," said Mary Alice.

"I'm serious," said Goatboy.

"I went to Hell," said Avril.

"You're a therian," said Goatboy. "The job needs a vampire."

"I'm a vamp," said Sephora.

"You didn't go to Hell," said Goatboy.

"I can," said Sephora.

"Too late, the position is filled." Goatboy said.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Flash fiction challenge: Ginger Root

The challenge is here. Go there! Read the other stories! Mine is about a plant my mother is growing.

Kitchens in the Cookie Factory Lofts were small, so Kimberley didn't have to walk far to show Mitch the ginger they had left in the cupboard.

"Look at it," Kimberley said. "I wonder if you can eat the shoots." Four branches, hard like bamboo, grew off the corners of the wizened 3-inch root.

"It's not a burger," Mitch said. He was working from home on the dining room table. The loft didn't really have an office.

"Maybe I'll plant it," said Kimberley. She used ground ginger instead, and dinner was sub-standard that evening. Mitch knew enough not to say anything.

After dinner, Kimberley took a flowerpot off the windowsill, and threw out the dead poinsettia it had held. She dug a hole and nestled the ginger root in with coffee grounds and potato peels. She watered the whole mess and set it beside the spindly avocados and garlic scapes. By then, Mitch had the scent of compost stuck in his head, and could smell nothing else for the rest of the evening.

"Kind of pointless to give up meat and be so nice to the plants," Mitch said. They had met working at a vegetarian restaurant while they were in University. He was afraid they were growing apart. Sometimes on his lunch break, he would leave his office and buy a hotdog from the street vendor.

Kimberley was disturbingly thin. More and more foods refused to cross her lips. She was down to potatoes, cabbage, apples, and kale. If it wasn't for vodka, she wouldn't get any calories at all. But she came up behind him where he sat at the table, kissed him on the top of his head, and said, "It's so nice to see them try."

So he let it go.

The southern exposure seemed to be just what it wanted. The four branches were a foot taller when Mitch got home the next evening.

"It's definitely taller," Mitch agreed when Kimberley pointed it out.

"I think the pot is too small," Kimberley said.

She was right, but Mitch didn't need to see the fronds waving in agreement.

After a dinner of spinach nut loaf (no substitute for meatloaf), they picked up a bag of soil and the largest planter the hardware store had. They filled the new pot with dirt and took the planted the ginger again.

"Does ginger reproduce by growing new bulbs, like a tulip?" Mitch asked. A small bubble had appeared on one end, between the two shorter branches. It hadn't been there yesterday.

"I guess so," said Kimberley. "It's all broken bits at the grocery store. Maybe it grows in mats the size of the table."

The next night when he got home, the peanuts were chopped, garlic crushed, green onions sliced, rice in the rice cooker, and extra-firm tofu fried. Soy sauce, sesame seeds, and hoisin sat measured on the counter. But Kimberley stood with the paring knife poised over another ginger root, not peeling or mincing. She wasn't even grating.

"I feel a little guilty about this, in her presence," she said, and gestured at the ginger plant. It hadn't gotten any taller, but had filled out. The four limbs stood like trunks in their own right.

"Oh, just cut the thing," Mitch said. It wasn't like butchering a cow after all.

Kimberley squeezed shut her eyes, gripped the knife, and sliced the ginger root in half. She opened her eyes and hastily trimmed the rough outer skin from the fibrous flesh. The smell of ginger filled the room, though none had yet landed in the hot broth in the wok.

Kimberley didn't notice the rustling by the balcony door, but Mitch did. He turned around to see the ginger plant climb out of the planter as if it was a bathtub. The shorter branches looked remarkably like arms, and the leaves bent like many-jointed fingers, brushing the dirt away. What yesterday had been a bubble on the main root was now a head wrapped in what looked like burlap. Green hands stroked that face until the husk came loose and hung around her neck and under dangerous red hair.

"Kimberley," was all Mitch could think to say.

Just as she was about to brush the minced ginger into the wok, Kimberley turned. "Oh my," she said, setting the knife and cutting board down on the counter. "I'm so sorry."

"If you were really sorry," said the ginger plant girl, "It wouldn't have happened in the first place."

Mitch didn't move until she was past him on her way to the kitchen. He wasn't fast enough. The ginger girl grabbed up the cleaver from the wood block and lopped off Kimberley's head.

"Oh god," was all Mitch could say, as the ginger girl held Kimberley's head over the wok, dripping blood over the sizzling garlic.

"For flavor," she said, as the air took on a pleasant meaty smell.

"I can't eat that," Mitch said. He could taste the vitamin B-12 already.

The ginger girl poured the peanuts into the wok. It would take a couple of minutes for them to absorb the liquid. "You will when you're hungry enough," she said. She came from the kitchen five steps to the dining room, pulling the papery skin off her neck like a mummy tearing off its wrappings. Her flesh underneath wasn't desiccated at all. She pushed Mitch, dominatrix-like, onto a chair and tied his arms and legs down.

Back in the kitchen, all the other ingredients went into the wok. She put rice and tofu on two plates and stepped over Kimberley's body to set them on the table. She sat down across from Mitch.

"One hand free?" she asked.

It would be better than eating like a dog.

She tore the bindings off his right hand. He picked up a fork and took a bite. Tofu takes on the flavor of whatever you put on it. The slightly meaty taste was divine.

"I'm sorry, Kimberley," Mitch said.

Monday, October 03, 2011

What I read: September, 2011

OWW: 4 (and all in the last week)

“Deadline” by Mira Grant. Bought this in North Conway, NH at the Borders Express going out of business sale. The boy devoured it and then nagged me while I finished “Rebecca”. We got Ed “Feed” for his birthday, so he could read this one. I think he’ll like the science. It was nice to have someone to discuss it with. Intriguing ending. I think Shaun has a reservoir condition in his brain, the boy suggests it might be in the Amygdala (whatever that is).

“Among Others” by Jo Walton. My friend Lucy finished it before I’d even started, and asked if I’d read a lot of SF from back in the day. I said yeah, I had, and then I’d gone to SFContario last year and listened to Jo Walton riff with Ed Greenwood and TNH and someone else about how different writers connect together for an hour, and just written down a reading list. This book makes me want to work on “Toothbrushing Club” again. Maybe I ought to pull it out and do a new draft.

“Last Call: the Rise and Fall of Prohibition” by Daniel Okrent. Social histories are so much more interesting than what gets taught in school. This book was funny and fascinating, all about the disaster that was the 18th amendment, how it happened, and how it was undone 14 years later. I wish it said more about parallels to the anti-abortion movement and the drug war, but I suppose those are inferences I can draw on my own, so subtlety is good.

“Ceremony” by Leslie Marmon Silko. Read this on the train on the way back from Farthing Party. It was a neat magic realism story, other than an occasional unsubtle rant (not all directed at white people). The structure reminded me of Catherynne M. Valente’s Orphan’s Tales, without all the signposts, which is to say I wanted to read it as fast as possible so I wouldn’t forget who was who. The character/POV I identified with the most was Helen Jean, whose description of her fellow young women in town was painful and sticking with me. The was published in 1977, so the main character dealing with the aftermath of WWII was interesting, because he seemed to have a lot of problems that I associate more with people coming back from Korea or VietNam. I guess war really is hell.

“Breakfast of Champions” by Kurt Vonnegut. I do not think I could get away with writing this book.

“Rampant” by Diana Peterfreund. Library book. Unicorns! The first chapter was totally brilliant. It totally did everything a first chapter should do. Throughout the story, there were moments when sometimes the character reactions seemed a bit random (Neal in the first scene with Phil in the office, Phil when she takes charge), and there are a couple of loose ends that I wanted tied up (where is Brandt? Where are these other Llewelyns? What specifically is the remedy? Where are the other hunters?) but overall it was a good read. Maybe all that will be explained in the sequel.

Friday, September 30, 2011

In process -- September 2011

First Draft


“Fairfax”. Started month with about 22,000 I think. Now I have about 28,000. I also have most of an outline of how the rest of it will flow together, including an ending! I’m so looking forward to it!



3 Chuck Wendig things you can find if you poke around a bit here.

Editing


“Cats”. Did one last draft after receiving the three crits, and then sent it away.

Knitting

Morrigan (No Sheep for You/Frangipani). Finished the knitting over Labour Day weekend. Seamed it the following weekend, tied in the loose ends and blocked it. She is done, and took three weeks less than two years. Ugh.

Chasing Snakes socks (knitty/some divine merino in a color called Lead). Second done.

Loppem (Norah Gaughan). This is my anti-Morrigan, knit in fluffy white yarn on big needles. Two balls done.

Fair Isle Argyle socks. First started – KPPPM and some regia silk I had lying around.

Double Heelix socks. First started. I needed something small and simple, and after the heel is done, this meets that criteria.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Flash Fiction Challenge: One of the Ways I must have Died

The challenge (100 words max, and the story has to contain three of five words provided) is here. I found this one particularly tough, I don't know why.

Another vamp swung down from the ivy covering Bishop's tomb. I threw my weight at her like I'd learned in self-defense class.

It was the wrong move. I was within arm's reach now. She easily dodged my fists.

Her fingers wrapped around my throat. She tilted it sideways to press her teeth, her vampire enzymes, into my jugular.

A berserker rage came onto me. I kneed her in the groin. I elbowed her jaw.

She fell.

My shoe heel made a passable stake.

Because of the hands around my neck. Last life, that must have been how I died.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Flash Fiction Challenge: The Distiller's Daughter

Because "The Alchemist's Daughter" was taken, repeatedly. The challenge was here (it was a picture, you should go look). I'm clearly influenced by the book I'm reading about prohibition right now.

We burned the still with lots of people around. This way, it would be a story in itself, how it went up in a bonfire with all the eight families watching. On a hill above town, we'd spent the day making the pyre, and benches, and racks for casks, and torches to lead the way up.

Will's family showed up before the sun was properly down. None of them had even started drinking. They were here to drink ours, to keep their own for emergencies.

"What are you going to do, after?" I asked, handing him a mason jar with one of my father's exotic blends. They were brewed with rituals and herbs or animal bones, and I sometimes wondered how much he kept track of which family got what. I'd hoped he'd leave Will's family out of the experiments, so they wouldn't be as mad as everybody else. But Dad had a pretty strong use-and-them mentality, and no matter how much I liked him, Will was "them".

We sat down on a bench facing the fire my mother was lighting. The still loomed over it, malignant, too high to touch, shining bluish on a platform all its own.

"Probably go away," said Will. "School, or something." Something would be a job in the mines, enough to pay room and board and a little left over, to spend on liquor. It wouldn't be the same, though. No one could match Dad's interesting effects.

"You could come back to school here," I said. "You've probably not even lost the year."

Kegs were set up so anyone could serve themselves, and I figured none of them were pure, because Dad would be keeping the safe stuff for himself. The more rowdy things got, the more epic, the better the stories that would be told about the night.

Will slid closer on the bench and put his arm around me. He looked at me in the eyes like he used to, and his breath smelled just a little fruity. I knew he hadn't drank that much of my Dad's more questionable stock, because his teeth weren't rimmed in blue like his brothers', or ground down to the guns, like his father's. "Your father still has a stockpile," he said.

"A little." I wasn't in the habit of monitoring it. I don't even think my mother did, and she even drank from it occasionally. He made her special things, imbued with chocolate or cherries. "Not enough to last your family more than a day or two, I'd guess." They wouldn't know how much my dad drank, sitting in that urine-soaked chair very late every night, after monitoring the townspeople as they ran screaming through the forest.

"You could say something to your dad, talk him out of this," Will said, slipping his hand down near my breast. His mouth was so close I could have licked it.

"I don't think so," I said. "His mind is made up." There were clean brews he did, and sometimes he would give me a little of those to try. I would sip them politely, then hide the rest, save it up, give it to Will. I figured he would give them to his family -- his father, his older brothers, to try to placate them. It never really crossed my mind that he would drink them himself. Until he stopped coming to school, of course. So I figured burning the still would be good for him.

"He enjoys a drink as much as the next man." The bonfire was taller than Will, and very hot. When we had set them up that afternoon, the benches had seemed too far away, but now they seemed perfect.

"He doesn't want to get in trouble," I said. "Law men, tax men, too many people are interested."

"We can all keep our mouths shut." A band my dad had hired played off-balance dance rhythms on fiddle and banjo. I had to concentrate to pick out Will's words.

"He would argue we haven't already," I said.

"Just say he burned it," Will said. "Everyone here would testify." People danced, trampling the unmown hay.

"Not the same as a real story," I said. "This will make news." I trailed off as he kissed me, not that hard or that long, more of a promise. But he got up to fill his jar again. I could see he wobbled just a little as he walked.

Maybe my father had seen, and disapproved. Or maybe all the eight families were here. With a horn fashioned from the still's tubes and pumps, he blew a fanfare to get everybody's attention.

He wasn't much of a speech-maker, and maybe he was drunk, too. "Thank your federal representatives, if in fact you rue this day," he shouted, and pulled a rope. The still tipped into the bonfire. Amid hissing and crackling, the leaky bits popped first. Then the whole thing lit up.

Will came back over and sat down beside me, not too close, and no arm around me this time. "That's not how I expected it to burn."

"Oh? What did you expect?" I said. It was metal. I didn't expect it to burn at all.

"I don't know, colors or something," Will said.

I laughed as a small explosion puffed out, green to the fire's standard orange and red. That would be some of my father's cheaper alchemical pyrotechnics, but good enough quality for tonight. It even smelled like some of the things he'd sold to the townspeople.

"That's more like it." Will took another swig, and edged a little closer to me on the bench. I could see the wildness growing a little bit in his eyes. But what did it matter? It was only one night. I turned a little towards him, sipping my lemonade, felt my skirt pulling up a little.

That wasn't the real still, anyway. Packed with alcohol fumes, it would have exploded, not burned.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Flash Fiction Challenge: Revenge Served Chilled

The challenge, and the other stories, can be found here. If you know where I got the idea for this story, remember, it's just a story. I'm told she's really very nice.

She wore hot pants, a midriff-bearing sweater, and ankle warmers, so we ignored her technique, put her with the beginners, and snickered behind our hands.

Weeks later when she asked where to get a uniform, we wondered if those were the only work-out clothes she had.

But she came to the next class in her new gi, and wore a black belt and gloves. She fought all the black belts, and won the dojo, without even glancing at the green and brown belts.

While she was fighting, we poisoned her water bottle.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

In process -- August 2011

First Draft


“Fairfax”. Started month with about 14000 words (48 handwritten pages plus the two flash fics). Now I have about 22,000 I think.

Editing

"The Rabbits". (short story) Draft 6 came in just shy of 7000 words (having gained 500), so I put it on OWW in two parts for the August Crit marathon.

“Chickpea”. (short story) I’d typed this (it came in just shy of 4000 words) back in July. I did a second draft to make the ending consistent with the beginning, and then wrote in a new character and added a proper ending, because it didn’t have one.

“Fairfax”. Typed Chapter 3. Something weird happened while I was doing this. I started to feel guilty that I was spending all my time writing, and none on “having a life”. It was a terrible moment.

The challenges

“Flea Market Finds”. As has become my pattern, I wrote the 1st draft on Monday (a holiday), then typed it up on Tuesday, edited Wednesday and Thursday and posted in the wee hours.

“Witch Trial”. Since I was going to Florida Wednesday, I wrote the first draft on Sunday, then typed it Monday. It came out at 2400 words. I did a second draft and printed it again Tuesday. Then, I printed it and carried it to Florida, where I did two editing passes on the same draft to get it under 1000 words. I was pretty happy with this one, which tells backstory for Fairfax.

“The Grand Plan”. I wrote this for the Crossed Genres II challenge, but I was at the cottage (vacation) so I never typed it up or edited it or submitted it. Maybe I’ll do something with it later.

“Amelia Earhart is Completely Sane”. First draft Monday, about 1600 words. Typed it up Tuesday, then edited it Wednesday and Thursday.

Being reviewed
“Karate Zombies”.
My friend who read it last month asked for it back so he could comment on it directly.
“Ian’s Dad’s Ashes”. Eight crits now, it needs to come off the 'shop and have something done with it.
“The Rabbits”. I wanted to have some things up for the Crit Marathon, so I pulled this one together. I posted it in two parts, because at just shy of 7000 words, I thought it might not get readers if I asked for them to do it in one go. This story makes me nervous – to me it has contentious subject matter. So when I got a positive crit that didn’t seem to agree with me as to what the story was about, I was confused.

Knitting
Morrigan
(No Sheep for You/Frangipani). Second sleeve, 16 rows from the armscye.
Skew socks (Knitty/some self-striping thing). Done.
Chasing Snakes socks (knitty/some divine merino in a color called Lead). First done.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Flash Fiction Challenge: Amelia Earhart is Completely Sane

Back after a couple weeks off, with another challenge (read the other entries here). I'd meant to write about Lord Simcoe, who named lots of places in Ontario. But driving back from our holiday, in the very edge of the former Hurricane Irene, we saw the weirdest clouds... Thanks to Ed for research help.

"I wouldn't even know what to call those," Amelia said to her trusty plane. Much like the Eskimos and snow, she had something like 56 different words for clouds. Nothing from stratus to cumulonimbus quite described these log-shaped formations scudding below the smooth silver overcast.

"Multiple layers of cumulus," the Electra said. Her navigator, Fred Noonan, couldn't hear, because in 1937 no one used intra-cockpit voice-activated communications systems.

As they had entered this strange region of sky, they had dropped altitude -- 6500 feet, 6000, 5500, and now they were at 2000 feet with no place to land. Fuel was a concern. Going up, through the cloud bank, was not an option, though everything was telling Amelia she was going to be pressed relentlessly into the sea. Neither led to the sort of death Amelia Earhart wanted to be known for. In fact, she didn't want to be known for any death at all.

The wind was with them at least. Electra's frame creaked as she rolled like a raft in white water.

But there was nowhere to land, just endless sea. The storm was helping them make good time, but it was not helping Fred with the charts.

At least he only used one voice when he was muttering to himself. When she had the conversations with Electra, the plane spoke in a feminine yet vaguely German accent.

"I do not like the look of those clouds," said Electra now, softly enough that Fred couldn't hear. He'd just see Amelia moving her lips. He hadn't learned the trick of reading them yet, or if he had, he hadn't let on.

Talking to the plane was always more satisfying. They could always hear one another, and if they misunderstood, it was on purpose.

Amelia took her eyes off the instruments for just a minute. The clouds lolled like a school of whales. She could see six. What was beyond them was anyone's guess.

The plane dropped suddenly, and her stomach went up.

"Amelia, get your hands back on the wheel," said Electra, while Fred shouted the same thing.

"All right, all right," Amelia said to them both. As she took the yoke up again, the plane from took a spectacular dive. The recovery shifted their trajectory a bit to the left, putting one of the weird tubular clouds right in their path.

"You did that on purpose," Amelia said, much more softly, to the plane.

"Aren't you curious?" Electra asked.

"Sure," said Amelia. "But I'm not suicidal."

"Neither am I," said Electra.

"Back on course, please," Fred shouted. "We need to find a place to land."

The drop had forced them another 500 feet lower. Seagulls and albatross circled, completely visible, below.

But now they hurtled towards one of those profiterole clouds. Tendrils of smoke came off its back end.

"Pull up," said Fred. "I'd really like not to hit that."

"It's small," said Amelia. "we'd just pop out the other side." Still, she did pull back, and compensated a bit for the wind.

At the top of the little cloud, turbulence hit. Electra slipped sideways and hit the cloud wingtip first.

There was a jolt. A map flew from Fred's hand to paper the windshield.

"You okay, Electra?" Amelia asked, and this time she didn't care if Fred heard her.

"No," said Electra.

Amelia looked across Fred out the right window. A chunk of the wing had torn off. The flap hung loose. The plane would be a whole lot harder to control.

"Shit," she said. "Sorry."

"Shut up and fly," Fred said, and tried to take the controls.

Fortunately, they worked together well, and they both tried to do the same things. But still, the plane went into a spin.

"I don't want to die," said Electra. It wasn't just the plane spinning. The cloud seemed to be losing altitude, too.

"Yeah, me either," said Amelia. "What just happened here?" She was trying to get the controls going the same direction as the plane so they could get things back together.

"We hit the cloud, and it broke our wing," said Fred. They jolted, a soft jolt like hitting emergency foam, or a water landing.

"Does that seem right to you?" said Amelia. "Aren't clouds usually soft?" Soft wasn't really the right word. They looked soft. They felt wet, but without the surface tension of the ocean -- moist, damp, not hard.

"Stop looking around and try to save yourself," said Fred. He rifled through emergency gear. The engine had stopped, but they yelled anyway, because of the wind, and because they were used to it.

"I'm no meteorologist, but there's something odd about the way this cloud is moving." said Amelia.

They hit the top of it, and now they kept hitting, bouncing off it as it descended. The wing tip was caught somehow. The landing gear hit and the plane rolled in the air, then the nose, and Amelia would swear the cloud was hemorrhaging from its side. They had dropped another 400 feet by the altimeter, and the cloud seemed solider still.

Amelia looked up; the other clouds seemed to be watching, One had a giant eye trained on them.

"Whatever it was, I think I've killed it," said Electra.

They were maybe 500 feet above the water. The milky, translucent beast seemed to be shrinking as it pressurized, still as long as before, now like a rubber tube with plants growing out the end, a giant calamari. It was trapped with them. Both propellers had stopped, embedded in the beast's flesh, and they spiraled towards the sea. There was a mighty splash.

"Who knew?" Amelia said, as the cockpit filled with water. "Giant flying sky squid."


What I read -- Aug 2011

“The King’s Peace by Jo Walton. I found this book harder to read than her others, mostly because of the sheer number of character names. I wished it had a map, because there were also copious unfamiliar place names. Also, parts of it were too subtle for my undiscriminating eye until the book was almost over – made it seem like there was no plot to speak of and no real bad guy until about 100 pages from the end. All this makes it sound like I didn’t like the book, and that’s not true, but it was more of a challenge than "Tooth and Claw" to get through. There were some really awesome scenes, really nicely worked.

“The Year of our War” by Steph Swainston.
I requested it from the library because an article on her decision to put her writing career aside to teach Chemistry created a lot of discussion on the places I frequent on the Internet. The boy read it first (he told me I wasn’t going to be satisfied with the ending, which was true). Seemed more along the lines of “Perdito St. Station” than I’d expected. When I was done, I googled to find out this is an example of “the new weird” which is good to know. I liked it quite a lot. What an awesomely messed up main character! I loved his “I will never do cat again” statements.

“Norse Code” by Greg Van Eekhout. Also a library book, picked off the shelf because I loved the title. Frenetic. Everyone in the house reada this one.

“The Red Tree” by Caitlin Kiernan. Library book, picked off the shelf. Because I read her every day on LJ, I found the voice really easy to get into. She really has that “write what you know” thing down; this book seemed extremely personal.

“Changes in the Land” by William Cronon. Bought it as research for Fairfax, and also because of his blog post during that Wisconsin thing earlier in the year. If I can’t vote, I can vote with my $$. This book was really interesting, and I’m totally glad I read it.

“Rebecca” by Daphne Du Maurier. This has been on my list for ages, owing to the connection with the Peter Pan guy. Someone had left it at the cottage. I felt like I’d read it before, except the tidbit of information about 2/3 of the way through totally caught me off guard. I know I’ve started it before, don’t think I ever finished it. Lots of sections might have reminded me other, similar books – e.g., Jane Eyre, etc. I spent the first 2/3 of this book wondering if the characters ever had sex, and then the last third agreeing with the “bad guy” that when someone is murdered, the murderer ought to be brought to justice, whether or not the dead person was a bitch (in one character’s estimation). I suppose it’s just as well I didn’t grow up in such a classed society. The technique she used where the main character speculated about what other people were thinking, or had thought, was nice.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Flash Fiction Challenge: The Trials

I might have taken this challenge too literally. The story is based on Grace Sherwood's, in Virginia in 1702.

You stood and looked from woman’s face to woman’s face. Though I was beside you, I could track your gaze by watching their flinching and downcast eyes.

“Sarah,” you said at last to a comely woman who stood at the back with two small children. “You know the trial will not harm the accused. If she be innocent, she will bear no grudge against you, because you let her go. If she is guilty, she will be hanged, and no harm will come to you.”

Reluctantly, your wife left your children in the care of a neighbour and stepped between the rows of spectators in the courtroom to stand below you, looking out as if she was accused herself.

Next you implored your sister, who instead took your children from your neighbour.

So you looked to that neighbor. Perhaps because she was your wife’s friend, she came to the front of the court to glance back at me as if I was bestowing the evil eye right now. As if that’s the way it works.

But willing were your brother’s wife (not the one in charge of the colony, but another, to whom I’m told you owe money), a seamstress who wanted to advertise her wares, and the wife of a local publican. My trial would give her a lively tale to tell.

The jury of my peers finally filled, you said, “Let’s get this trial underway so we can get home to our dinners.”

Your bailiff led me and my jury to a room, then left and locked the door. A small yellow bird perched at the top of one of the trees outside.

“Her familiar?” the publican’s wife asked.

“Or someone else’s,” your neighbour said.

“There’s little we can do about it now,” said your wife. “Let’s just get this over with. Strip down, Claire.”

She sounded like she was coming down with something.

I removed my shoes and stockings, feeling I was being judged for my housekeeping and laundry skills. I folded my bonnet before setting it on the chair. The other women watched as I removed my apron and overdress, skirts, blouses and petticoats. I stood naked, perhaps engaging in the sin of pride.

“Perhaps if you stood with your feet just so, and your arms up, we can get this over quickly,” said Sarah.

I did. They moved in closer for the inspection. None of them touched me.

“This could be a teat, I suppose,” said the seamstress, pointing to a blemish on my lower back.

“It’s just a mole,” I said. “I was born with it.”

“Witches are born, not made,” said your sister-in-law.

“Odd place for a teat,” said your wife.

“Witches are odd people,” said the seamstress.

“And this on her arm,” said the publican’s wife.

“A wasp sting,” I said. “I suppose it got some sun, and never faded.”

“It’s an odd shape,” said your neighbour.

My arms felt like lead.

“I see nothing else,” said your wife after a while.

“Me either,” said the dressmaker.

“You might as well get dressed,” your sister-in-law said.

“What do we say?” your neighbour asked.

“Perhaps if we had her familiar and we could see how she suckled it?” said the publican's wife.

They glanced at the window. The yellow bird still sat there, eyeing us through the glass.

After I dressed, your wife knocked on the door. The bailiff led me out first so he could keep an eye on me. I got back in my box and the jury of my peers turned to address the court.

“How do you find?” you asked your wife.

“Inconclusive,” she said.

You looked at her as one might look across the supper table.

“There was a raised mole that might have been a teat, but it was in an awkward place, so we could not guess the use of it. Also, if it was a teat, it was dried up.”

“Like my cow!” my accuser chimed in.

“There was an odd patch of skin that could have been the devil’s hoofprint, or a wasp sting.” Your wife finished.

“Right then.” You sounded like you had lost your stomach for the whole affair, but it was begun and could not be just abandoned. “After dinner, we will continue with the trial by water, down by the docks.”

I had a pleasant lunch in my cell, and then was walked to the harbour. My hands were loosely tied. Easily half the town was there.

The water here at the end of the dock was deep enough for the deep-hulled ocean-crossing vessels at low tide. At high tide, I could not have stood and touched the bottom.

“How does this work?” I asked.

“You get in the water, prove you’re not a witch, and we fish you out,” you said.

“How will you know?” I asked.

“Witches float,” you said.

“Perhaps a demonstration,” I said.

Your wife glared at you and dropped into the water.

Her clothes pulled her down, and her shoes. Men on the dock with long, hooked sticks poked at her while you yelled, "Hurry up, it's not her on trial here."

Ultimately two men in a rowboat fished her out. She lay in the boat, coughing weakly. I said a spell to work my hands free and walked to the end of the dock.

I gave myself a little jump. My skirts held air like a bladder, and I used my arms to propel myself to shore.

“She’s a witch!” the townsfolk yelled, and I picked up my pace. “Don’t let her get away!”

There was nowhere for me to escape to. Eventually my layers of clothing would fill with water and drag me down.

When I reached the shore, I let them take me back to my cell.

Sorry about your wife, though. I hear she never recovered from the water in her lungs. Your god took her a few days later.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Flash Fiction Challenge: Flea Market Finds

For this challenge, once again I tapped into my twin personal themes of squirrels and taxidermy. Also, I'd had a dream with a girl named Ginevra in it, then I'd read this story, so the name was popping in and out of my consciousness.

“How can you say you don’t like Billy Joel?” Carl said, for about the thirtieth time. Really, he’d said it about that many times. This morning, at the Fryeburg Flea market, he had found a Billy Joel retrospective four-CD set in mint condition. They were on the third disk now, and he’d said it after every song.

“I just don’t,” Ginevra shouted. She was driving, and she’d always heard the rule was, the driver chose the tunes. Except maybe not so much in this case, since she had to drive the whole way from Maine back to Montreal, because Carl had no driver’s license.

“But he’s so talented,” Carl said.

“Not my thing, I guess,” Ginevra said. Carl had already accused her of having no taste, of being jealous of Billy Joel’s success, and of lying and actually liking Billy Joel now that she had been exposed to his complete oeuvre. Or three-quarters of it, anyway. "And what's that smell?" She rolled down her window.

"It's probably that thing you bought," Carl said.

Over the tediously dulcet opening bars of “Piano Man” there was a scrabbling sound in the trunk.

“Did you hear that, Buddy?” Ginevra said to the seven-year-old in the back seat. But he was asleep.

“What?” said Carl.

“Turn down the music a second,” Ginevra said. “I heard something in the trunk. The cooler could be leaking?”

“Not likely,” said Carl.

“Maybe it tipped,” Ginevra said.

“That would be bad,” Carl said, and without turning down the music he jostled his son’s knee. “Hey.”

The last time the trunk had been opened had been at the border.

“Be nice to the guard,” Carl had said, the whole wait in line until they had to talk to the customs official. “We have nothing to declare.”

That was untrue. She didn’t know what Carl had hidden in the cooler, but she hoped it wasn’t drugs. Personal electronics were more his style.

So when the border guard asked, third question, out of spite, Ginevra said “Just the dead animal.” She’d meant it as a joke. The whole thing was a joke, actually, a little bit of revenge for the Billy Joel box set. The taxidermy squirrel wore in a suit and breeches and held a driver mid-swing. “It will be a perfect gift for my dad,” she’d said. Carl had never met her (non-golfing) father, and wasn’t likely to after this trip.

“That is the most disgusting thing ever,” Carl had said. “It should be properly buried.”

“It’s a rat with a fluffy tail, I didn’t kill it so it’s not my fault, and it doesn’t have a soul,” Ginevra had answered, paying two dollars and sticking the squirrel in a bag with some Ken Follett paperbacks and a nerf-gun for Buddy that she’d already confiscated.

“It’s going to smell in the heat,” Carl had said.

“It’s a good thing it’s a cool day, then,” Ginevra had answered. But maybe that's why he'd gotten the cheap aftershave, which must have been expired.

So at the border, the guard naturally wanted to see the dead animal. “It’s taxidermy,” she’d said. He was a native French speaker; that didn’t seem like a common ESL word.

“Let’s have a look,” he’d said.

"What's that smell?" the border guard had asked as Ginevra got out of the car. She gestured at Carl. The guard smirked.

The air was blessedly clean out here.

She’d taken the bag from the trunk, grabbed the squirrel by the clothes and drew it out.
That had gotten a smile from the security guard. “Do you have any other interesting purchases you wish to declare?” he’d said.

“Just the gun,” she'd said.

He didn’t seem worried.

She drew out the plastic orange, yellow, and blue weapon, careful not to point it at him. You should never point a gun, even a toy gun, at a border guard, or anyone else, unless you mean to shoot them.

“A dead animal and a gun to declare, miss. You have a nice day,” the border guard had said, and gone back to his hut.

“Can I have my gun?” Buddy had aske. She'd handed it through his window but confiscated the bullets, got back into her car, and drove away.

“That was totally unnecessary,” Carl had said.

Now he was shaking his son awake. There was the scrabbling sound again. “Buddy, can you pull down the seat back beside you and see if everything’s okay in the trunk?”

Buddy did wake up. When he finally managed to flip the other back seat down, the squirrel hurtled inside.

“What the fuck?” Carl said.

“Must be the magic of Billy Joel,” Ginevra said. “He’s awesome enough to raise the dead, but I still don't like him.”

The squirrel was alive, like a zombie is alive, moving under its own steam and going for Carl’s head. Maybe it liked the smell of his aftershave.

“Ginevra, bullets!” Buddy strained against his seatbelt.

The squirrel in Carl’s hair chewed madly, and Carl screamed and flailed his arms.

“Right,” Ginevra said, and fished around in the map pocket, retrieving four of them and handing them back. She’d have slowed down the car they hadn't been in a construction zone with concrete barriers and single lane traffic that still moved at 100 KPH.

The first nerf bullet hit Carl in the eye, which is why you’re not supposed to shoot at close range.

The second hit the squirrel in its hind-quarters.

The boy had his range now. The third bullet hit the squirrel in its pouchy face, and it lost its grip entirely and blew out the back window.

"Why did it come to life?" Buddy asked.

"What was in the cooler?" Ginevra said.

"My aftershave," said Carl.

"Shit," said Ginevra. "It was strong enough to raise the dead."

They pulled over at the side of the road. Ginevra opened the trunk. The cooler was tipped over, the aftershave open, poured out, gone. The air was clear and quiet.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Out there -- July 2011

Just one thing, "Bezoar", at its second market.

In Process -- July 2011

First Draft
“Fairfax”. Started month with about 5000 words I think (12 pages plus the two flash fics). Each of those flashes is probably a chapter needing to be fleshed out (maybe 50% more? There’s no description of anyone, really). Now I have around 14,000, and I'm almost at the end of Chapter 7.

I want to shout out a little where the ideas are coming from, because by the time I have a draft, I will have forgotten.




  • My sister asked what was going to happen next after Dollheads.


  • ChiaLynn I think first used the term (in my hearing) on twitter.


  • I read http://truepenny.livejournal.com/ , where Sarah Monette reads a lot of histories, and commented once on the presentism (I think it would have been an example of that) in a book about the Salem Witch Trials, and how to the people living back then, maybe witchcraft was real and a real threat, so we shouldn’t assume they were all faking it or making it up. I’m paraphrasing here, and doing a poor job.


  • Back in the late 80’s I shared a kitchen with a guy who was doing a Master’s in US History at UofT. He had to teach an undergrad class, and every year he asked them not to do their major paper on the Salem Witch Trials, but of course some did. His problem was a lot the same as Sarah’s, above – that he wasn’t so sure there wasn’t witchcraft going on.
Research: how towns were governed in late 17th century Mass., Puritan architecture, Puritans in general, Virginia Colony, Colonial leaders, witch trials in Salem and Virginia, waterwheels, generators

Editing
"The Rabbits". Completely changed the hidden character because the way I was trying to write it wasn’t working. This was really part of the fourth draft that I started in May. Did the fifth draft to get it ready for the Crit Marathon on OWW. Might as well take advantage?

The challenges
“Overlord/Friend”. Wrote 1200 words on Saturday, typed on Sunday. Edited on Wednesday, edited again on Thursday, posted just before midnight.
“Naiad/Slayer”. Wrote 1600 words on Monday. This may be the first story I ever wrote based on a sock. Typed Tuesday, edited Wednesday. Research: names of lost creeks in Toronto. This story wants to be longer. If I had the inclination and word-count, the naiad wouldn’t be there when the MC got there. She might have friends. She wouldn’t be so easy to run through.
“The Art of Swimming in Armour”. Wrote 1500 – 3 pages before Acro, then three pages after, for about 1700 words.
“Stupid Beast”. This was not the story I expected to write. I thought I was writing about an eating disorder.

Ignoring
“Succubus”. Short story; working on 2nd draft
Troll.
Pampelmouse.
I was out for my weekly run in Brookbanks park, and there were three red birds. I thought to myself, how odd to see three cardinals all together, and all male. Then I looked a little closer, and realized they were not cardinals (I’m not ruling out the possibility that they were juveniles or something, I know nothing about birds really – but they didn’t have what I think of as Cardinal color or beak). Some kind of parakeet maybe? They must have escaped or been liberated. Pampelmouse is coming true, which I guess is a sign that I should work on it.
“Imp Face”. Needs to be typed.
Pause.


Being reviewed
“Karate Zombies”. My friend who read it last month asked for it back so he could comment on it directly.
“Ian’s Dad’s Ashes”. (Three crits in July, seemed to like it)
“The Rabbits”. I wanted to have some things up for the Crit Marathon, so I pulled this one together.

Knitting
Morrigan. Finished first sleeve; started second.
Naiad/Slayer. Socks. Fin. A fun knit. I never thought I'd be saying this, but I'm good at kitchener stitch!
Commuter gloves. Fin.
Sideways socks. Started.
Also, I set up the knitting machine.

What I read -- July 2011

OWW: 5

“Feed” by Mira Grant. Library book about zombies. I’m not sure what I was expecting; maybe less explain-y-ness. Quick read. The zombie science was great. Less developed, in my opinion, was the conspiracy. I guess that’s why there’s going to be a sequel. When I finished it, the boy wandered off with it. Mira Grant sure isn’t afraid to kill off characters!

“Puritans at Play”. Bought this as research for Fairfax. It had one of the most awesome one-star reviews ever on Amazon, that ran something like this: “My teacher wrote this book. He made us read it for his class.” The horror! It was a pretty entertaining read, actually. There was a lot I didn’t know, and lots of names that I will probably remember when I read further. I found myself referring to it, for example, when we bought Sam Adams beer yesterday.

Hmmm, not a very reading-ful month.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Flash Fiction Challenge: Stupid Beast

The challenge is here. This is not the story I thought I was writing; I thought I was writing about an eating disorder.

Gerard was taking a shortcut home from school when the unicorn found him. When he saw it off in the distance, he thought it was a white rock, and threw a stone at it. He missed, and the white thing kept moving towards him. He thought then that it was an awfully clean albino deer.

As the creature got closer, Gerard could see it was mighty small for a deer. Instead of antlers it had a horn. Its tail was long and skinny, with a brush on the end.

Gerard picked up another stone and bounced it in his hand, but the unicorn looked at him with its outsized black eyes.

"Go away," he said, and raised his arm.

It blinked at him, eyelashes as long as fingers.

"No, get," Gerard said.

It lowered its horn as if to run him through, or maybe pay homage.

Gerard threw the rock, and the little unicorn, not even billy goat size, jumped in the air like a startled cartoon cat.

"Fine, stay there, then," Gerard said. "I'm going home."

He could hear the little thing following him, trying to match him step for step, breaking branches and crushing leaves.

Gerard went in the house and slammed the door, leaving the unicorn on the porch.

It was quiet out there until his little sister got home.

"Look what I found outside," Missy said. "It was sitting on one of the chairs on the porch, curled up, its tail on its nose. It's so cute."

The unicorn didn't not like her, it just liked Gerard better. It walked over to Gerard and nuzzled his thigh.

Missy giggled.

"Fuck off," Gerard said. So much for the family believing in his manly exploits.

"He's so cute," Missy said.

"I think it's a girl," said Gerard.

Missy looked under it. "Oh, I see."

She tried to feed it under the table during dinner, but it wasn't interested in human food.

"It's a magical creature," his mother said. "Maybe it doesn't need to eat."

It stayed away from her and slept at the foot of Gerard's bed.

He tried to lock it in the house in the morning, but someone else must have let it out. When he was going into Biology class, it caught up.

"No pets," said the teacher. "But I guess since it's a unicorn, we can make an exception."

"It's so cute," the girls said, thought the unicorn stuck close to Gerard. "But why is it so interested in you?"

"It's not," said Gerard. The unicorn had taken up a position close to his leg, away from most everyone.

"Is this your new pet?" One of the girls crouched down to scratch its beard.

"It's just following me," Gerard said.

The unicorn tried to bite the girl's hand and shied away.

"You know what we can do?" said the boy it didn't like. "Use it as a virgin detector."

So they paraded the unicorn around, and people it shied away from, those were the whores and the cool guys, and the ones it liked, those were the nice girls and the losers.

"I'm not sure it's accurate," said Gerard. No matter what nice girls and losers the unicorn let pat its horn or tail, it stayed by him the most.

"Yeah, really," said one of the cool guys. "What's special about you? Why does it like you the best? I thought unicorns liked girls."

"I thought unicorns were the size of a horse," said a whore. "Why save yourself for that? Only a two-year-old could ride it."

"Maybe Gerard is a hermaphrodite," said one of the cool guys.

Gerard spent the rest of the day using the unicorn to protect himself when he went to the washroom, in case the cool guys tried to do a physical examination.

The unicorn had to go.

He didn't go straight home. He hopped on a bus as the door was closing.

When he looked out the back window, the unicorn ran full-out behind them. Even on the highway, it didn't lose ground.

He got off the bus by a lake, got on a boat and rode across. When he reached the other side, the unicorn had run around the lake and was there to meet him.

Gerard got on a train and rode all night. But the train stopped in the morning and the unicorn was waiting at the station.

The station was by the ocean. There was no way the unicorn could run around that. Gerard found a container ship that could carry him across.

As they left the harbor, the unicorn jumped in the water and swam. It was keeping up.

"You going to just let it do that?" one of the mates said.

"Yes," Gerard said.

"Seems kind of cruel." Eventually they fished the unicorn out of the water.

It was afraid of all the sailors, of course. It followed Gerard around on deck as he paced about, wondering why he was here, now he hadn't managed to lose the unicorn.

Days later, the ship landed in Italy. Gerard got off the boat, the unicorn at his heels.

Standing on the dock was the most beautiful girl. She saw the unicorn and ran over.

"At last," Gerard thought, "This stupid beast will do me some good."

The girl had no eyes for him, but she sure liked the unicorn. "What an adorable creature," she said.

"It sure is," Gerard lied. "Loyal, too. And fierce. Would you like to grab a coffee, and I can tell you all about it?"

"I would love to," the girl said in her ridiculously charming accent, tossing her long, wavy red hair. "But I am here to meet my brother."

"Of course," Gerard said. But he hung around. How could such a girl, and a virgin too, resist the lure of the unicorn?

Eventually her brother came off the boat. The girl shrugged at Gerard and followed him away.

The unicorn followed her.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Flash Fiction challenge: The Art of Swimming in Armour

The challenge is here. The title comes from a heading in a book that's open at the top of my staircase. Sorry about the appalling science.

It was a beautiful June day. The walk up from Pinkham notch was easier than it should have been. Chuck kept looking up. If India or China had found a way to stop the end times ahead, he wouldn't know; news wasn't getting through.

"Big change coming," said the man he'd caught up to on the hill. The man's pack looked nearly empty. Might as well eat beef jerky sticks and Mars bars when the end is a few hours away.

"Going up for a better view?" said Chuck. He'd abandoned not just pots and pans, but the concept of eating. He'd fasted before for longer than humanity had left. He'd trained at the same time, even. He wore everything he had: swords, knives, armour.

"Just thought I'd climb up." The man was far too old to be hiking. But if his knees gave out, he wouldn't be going down the mountain. If he fell in a crevice, he wouldn't lie there for long. "Might as well keep moving. What's the armour for?"

"Show mostly," Chuck said. "It's who I am. If I'm going to die, it will be be on my own terms."

"Me too," the old guy said.

On second thought, Chuck turned back. "Heading to the summit?"

"Nowhere else," the old guy said.

Chuck had been at a Buddhist retreat when he'd heard the news. They had all checked their electronics at the gate, so he and the rest had been surprised when the hordes started coming, looking for a place to hole up and some canned goods. Fortunately, a great number of the students at the school were there not so much for the meditation as for the Shaolin monks and the Kung Fu.

"Climbed this hill before?" the old guy asked, on a flatter patch. He didn't stop for breaks, just kept seeking the path of least impact, never taking a step up if there was a way around.

"A few times as a kid," said Chuck. "You?"

"A few times," the old guy said.

"As a kid?" Chuck said with a smile.

"You could say that." The old guy used his hands to scramble up a steep, uneven staircase.

Unfortunately, a Buddhist temple in upstate New York couldn't provide the best view of the apocalypse, so Chuck had headed for New Hampshire. When the gas ran out, he'd abandoned his car.

It had always been his plan, when he'd still been worried about more mundane things, like the zombie apocalypse (it had seemed like a more pressing concern at the time) to head to the hills.
Above the tree line, you can see the shamblers. And zombies don't do so well on scree slopes and boulders. His armour was light enough to run in, being mostly leather.

"How many years ago, the last time?" Chuck said.

"About twenty-five." The old guy pressed himself up with two telescoping walking sticks.

"You were what, fifty?" said Chuck.

"Sixty."

Chuck did some quick math in his head. "Shouldn't you be in a home?"

"Homes are for old people," said the old guy. "This trail isn't as bad as a lot of them. Ever done Adams? It's heartbreaking."

"Nope, just Washington, over and over."

"Typical," said the old guy.

Chuck matched the old guy's pace. He checked his GPS watch; at this speed, he'd be at the top with little time to spare.

"Why aren't you with your family?" Chuck stopped and drank some water from a stream. No point worrying about Giardia now.

"Why aren't you?"

They'd hit a ridge, and the going was faster for a time, but still they needed to watch their footing. The trees diminished to gnarled bushes; hundreds of years old, they wouldn't survive the day either.

The old man stumbled. Chuck stopped, but let the old guy keep his dignity, struggling upright with the aid of his sticks.

They kept walking. The bushes gave up, leaving grass, moss, and lichen. Running shoes might have been easier, on the rocks, than the old guy's old-style hiking boots. At least they would have been lighter. The wind picked up, but didn't blow away a heavy fog.

Above the treeline did not seem so safe from zombies as he'd imagined. The temperature was at least 20 degrees lower than it had been at the foot of the mountain. They could only see one or two cairns ahead.

Under his armour, Chuck sweated. He checked his watch. "Why didn't you go up the auto road?"

"Thought there might be cars." The old guy accepted Chuck's stabilizing hand on his arm as they jumped boulder to boulder.

As it often was, the summit served as a brake for a morning worth of clouds. The cafeteria was locked up, as was the weather station. All the other sightseers must have had the good sense to choose a shorter mountain with a more consistent view.

The wind picked up, wildly changing direction. The clouds blew back to the west the way they had come.

"Think that's it?" the old guy asked, looking up.

"No question," said Chuck. It was like a giant lens falling to the Earth.

"Don't take this personal, but I don't want to hold your hand."

"It's okay."

The friction of the atmosphere made it look like a ball of flaming dry ice.

How many balls of ice and water would it have taken to fill the early, cooling Earth's oceans -- a hundred, a thousand, a million? Turns out, if they were the size of this one, it would take about two. As the maddened hordes outside the pillaged grocery store had put it, the Earth had been going through an interstellar drought for millennia, and now it was over.

The mountain shook.

The wave rolled in, and Chuck lost track of the old guy as he jumped up to meet the water. His armour would be no help. "Wipeout!" He shouted, and took a deep breath as the water rolled over him.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Flash fiction challenge: Naiad/Slayer

The challenge is here (it's to write a 1000-word story about the picture you can see -- do click). The title is from the socks I'm knitting -- pattern is Naiad, colourway is Slayer.

I was leaving the theatre by the back door after the show when a man loomed out of the shadows. It was late, it was dark, and no one else was around. Any normal person would have been startled.

But this man didn't expect any of that. "There's a breach in the sewer that used to be Taddle Creek." He was huge and yet hunched, with a voice like walking on gravel.

"Where?" I said, grabbing the door so it wouldn't lock shut behind me. My weapons were still inside.

"Annex," said the man. He smelled like road salt, even though it was July. "Bathurst, near Dupont."

"Right," I said. Those streams want to be free. "I'll find it." I don't know who these people are, or how they know where to find me. My theory is they're bridge trolls. But trolls are magical creatures, and those don't exist. But then, so are naiads, the bane of my existence.

The man looked relieved that he didn't have to escort me. He smelled homeless. Someone small like myself, I make them look bigger and even more fierce. If he was a troll, which is only a theory, he would need to get back to his bridge before the first rays of sunlight hit the downtown glass highrises, scattered everywhere, and turned him into stone.

I took off, through back alleys. I ran through an industrial parking lot, and rail lines, I jumped fences and climbed earthworks. It's less conspicuous than the road, believe it or not.

A ring of orange traffic cones guarded the spot where a storm sewer had worn through. You could fit four or five kids in the hole.

A naiad was out. "Daylighted!" she shouted to the moon like a wolf. The trapeze dress she wore clung to her butt suggestively. To a casual eye she could have been a drunk coed.

In the early days, before they cut down all the trees and fed them into sawmills, Toronto's naiads smelled fresh, like lily pads and watercress. Then people built factories beside the streams. The naiads smelled like sludge, unburned fuel, and industrial effluents. By then most of the naiads had moved upstream. Then people used the streams as sewers, so the naiads stank like shit. People covered the streams over, drove them underground, or turned them into real sewers. A few naiads got trapped inside. Their magic wouldn't let them pass manmade gates: bridges, culverts, storm grates, and manhole covers.

"Daylighted," the naiad said, and giggled, the sound of a burbling brook. She was slightly green under the streetlamps.

The crowd she had attracted were young males. It wasn't clear what they wanted; for now they were content to watch.

I moved out of the shadows a good thirty feet away so the boys could see my gear and my sword and if all was good take the hint and run away.

"You can't be here," I said. Behind the naiad was a parkette with a slight groove in the ground where her stream had been first forced to run straight, and then covered over. If she went over there, the whole thing might rip open. While ultimately that might not be a bad thing, Toronto wasn't ready for it.

The boys, who were harmless really, thought I was talking to them, like they always do. They held their ground. "We're not up to anything."

"My fight's not with you," I said.

"She's totally consenting."

"I don't want anyone getting hurt." I brandished the sword at them.

"What's it to you, anyway?"

As I moved closer, I nicked one on the elbow, ripped another's jeans.

"Easy," said the one with the bleeding elbow as if my attack had been an accident.

I raised my eyebrows.

"Let's get out of here, guys," he said, and backed away.

"What's your problem?" said another one, to me.

"She's serious." the one with the jeans was backing away too.

Then there were only two boys between me and the naiad. "She don't smell so good, anyway."

"Forget this shit," said one.

"Yeah, don't want to get no disease."

And then they were gone. Which is just as well; I didn't need witnesses.

There's no special bond between slayers and naiads. We can't sense each other. But somehow the people closest to the city -- the homeless, the children, the old people who sit in parks and feed the birds, found me. I see the problem. The whole city can't become an open sewer. Toronto doesn't need another cholera outbreak, not with our population. And naiads want to run over the tops of sewers flaying them open with their bare, un-pedicured feet.

I took kamai, right foot forward, hands on the hilt of my sword.

The laughter had stopped. She was all serious now. While she didn't have a blade, she looked ready to fight.

"You won't just go back in, will you?" I said. "I'll keep you company until they seal things back up."

"No," said the naiad. Her dishwater brown dreadlocks hung past her waist.

"You know what I have to do," I said.

"I'm guessing," the naiad said.

"It doesn't have to be this way," I said.

"Rivers need to be free," the naiad said.

"It will happen," I said. "Give us time."

We watched each other's eyes, seeing the whole fighter. I shifted my weight, looking for a chance to attack, pretending to leave an opening so she would move in. It's a trap.

There was a "shshick" behind me. The naiad's eyes glanced at the greenest lawn on the block as the sprinkler system came on. I ran her through. Naiads, not trained in zanchin.

I threw up as I pushed her deflating magical body back into the hole. That would serve as a warning to any other naiads who might try to escape this way. I settled in for a long night, waiting for a public works crew to show up.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

An absolutely true story

Sunday evening we were sitting on our patio having a beer because we’d been rollerblading and it was brutally hot. I was seaming a sock when a robin came hopping across the lawn. “Cheep, cheep, cheep,” he said. I figured he was a teenaged male, because he still had some speckles on his chest.


I said hello.


“Cheep, cheep, cheep,” he said, and hopped closer – close enough that I could have reached out and touched him.


“You’re too close,” I said. “You should be afraid of me.”


He hopped under my chair to the other side, where my beer was. He pecked at my beer bottle. He hopped over in front of my feet and looked at me. “Cheep, cheep, cheep.”


“Maybe he’s hungry,” Ed said.


I don’t approve of feeding the wildlife. Perhaps a concession to that, when Ed went inside, he got a slice of 12-grain bread, rather than the wonder bread we feed the boy. He broke a few pieces off and dropped them on the ground.


The robin ate one and lost interest. He cheeped at me.


Across the lawn came another robin, also speckled so maybe young.


“Cheep, cheep, cheep,” it said.


The first robin went over to Ed’s beer and pecked it. Now they both stood, looking at us, cheeping. One of them stood under Ed’s knees while he sat on the front stoop.


“Thirsty?” Ed said.


"I don’t know,” I said.


Ed left the bread on the step and went inside again. He came back a minute later with a pasta bowl of water and set it down on the patio.


The first bird climbed in, splashed all over the place, climbed out, and hopped off.


The second bird climbed in, splashed all over the place, climbed out, and hopped off, very scruffy looking.


And that was that.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Out there: June 2011

I had to wait a few days until I managed to get my sh*t together, but:

“Bezoar”. Rejected (pleasantly) from market #1, is now in the queue at market #2.

I can see why Uncle Jim at VP had the "no sleepovers" rule. All the spreadsheeting in the world can't help me if I just let things languish when they come back.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Flash Fiction Challenge: Less an Overlord than a Friend

The challenge is here: 1000 word limit, has to take place on the 4th of July. Chuck said it was probably not suited to FSF, so of course I had to prove him wrong.

Dina had plugged X-15 in overnight, so he wasn't there to help her get out of bed. She had to rely on her replacement hips and knees, for a change.

As she washed up, she asked herself how she would ever get her full mobility back if she didn't have to use it occasionally. You'd think a physiotherapy program would be applied to the X-15 so he'd gradually hold back the help until she asked. Or something. Maybe that's what the Anti-Robot League were talking about, when they had their radical meetings and went on the radio and the like, talking about humanity's over-reliance on robots.

"We're not against help," they would say. "We just want to keep our ability to think and act for ourselves."

Dina wouldn't have minded doing that some other day. It had been mildly liberating to dress, do her own makeup and fix her hair herself. But she was exhausted by the time she began the journey to the pantry to finish the robot's boot cycle so it could get breakfast started.

"Good morning," X-15 said as its eyes lit.

"Good updates?" Dina asked. She figured it never hurt her to be social. The robot was programmed to read her moods, which had only made her better at concealing them, or maybe faking it until they both believed it.

"Our programmer is very concerned that we understand about the 4th of July," said X-15.

"It's our nation's birthday, and I guess you're a good American, too." Dina paused. She followed the robot into the kitchen where he began taking fruit from the fridge.

"Though naturalized," said X-15. "Not born here. Not eligible to vote."

"That will change," Dina said. The line between people and robots was blending all the time, no matter what the Anti-Robot League said. She had to be more than half robot herself. In addition to the knees and hips, there was her heart, her kidneys, both wrists, one elbow, her collarbone, and her bladder and colon.

"The updates were not about that though, Dina," said X-15. "We are to ignore the loud noises of the fireworks. Our defensive mechanisms can't take over. A defenseless human could be shot and harmed."

"Humans still light off fireworks themselves?" Dina said, trying to remember how this had been handled in previous years. She'd had a whole series of X-units, and fireworks had never been a problem. Must be the demands of the Anti-Robot League. They made mountains out of molehills sometimes. "I would have thought that was a job more suited to robots."

"Some people like to do things for themselves," said X-15.

Dina smiled, and to be rebellious, grabbed a chunk of peach from under his arm. "Young people are like that." Her jaw was metal, and her teeth were ceramic. The robot didn't have teeth, or a jaw, just a speaker grille.

"I was wondering about these fireworks," said X-15. "If they are so much like guns, why do people like them? Is it the danger?" He handed her the tray with the fruit and the cottage cheese separated, so he could stir it together the way she liked. When he mixed it, it didn't taste nearly as good.

"I've seen countless fireworks displays, and they've always seemed very safe," said Dina. "I haven't been in years."

"I have never seen them," X-15 said.

"They put them to music," Dina said. "They shoot them from rockets, or off buildings. They have cascades, and giant rockets that explode like the big bang at the start of the universe, and balls of light that spin in crazy directions like sperms running away from an egg." X-15 laughed politely, though he clearly didn't get her joke. "The noise -- what I guess they were warning you about -- is always a second after the light."

"It's at night, then," X-15 said, handing her a bowl of medications.

"Oh yes," said Dina. "Well past my bedtime."

X-15 let it go.

Dina thought he seemed a little forlorn all day, wistful. Maybe she was projecting. The Anti-Robot League said robots had no emotions.

Over dinner, X-15 stood so politely, waiting to take her plate away, that she gave in and said, "Oh, let's go to the square at town hall and see the show."

"We'll leave just before sundown?" said X-15. She thought he'd brightened already.

"Earlier than that," said Dina. "There will be a band, and hotdogs, and dancing in the fountain, and cotton candy."

"Neither of us can eat cotton candy," said X-15.

"That does not preclude me getting it in my hair," said Dina. There would be no dancing, either -- not with her joints, even replaced.

"Should I bring you a chair?" said X-15.

They headed out to get a good spot close to the stage. The crowd filled out so X-15 had to stand close protect Dina as she listened to the band with her bionic ears. She glanced around at all the youths, wondering if she was the oldest one here. Other robots herded children, or held them on their shoulders. She even saw one serving what looked like champagne. It was nice to see them participating in the national holiday.

And the countdown began.

There was a bang.

"I thought you said. . ." said X-15.

"It must not be the fireworks," Dina said. " That would go against the laws of physics."

The sky lit with a series of starbursts, red, blue and white in the sky. There were more bangs, at least some from the fireworks. Green screamers spiraled away against thet clouds from previous explosions.

X-15 had been an easy target for the snipers shooting from the roof of city hall. He landed behind Dina. Triple cascades of fireballs shot up over the crowd. Dina ducked down, like everyone else, wondering how they were targeting just the robots, and whether there was human enough in her still to survive.