Friday Fictioneers: Cheers

PHOTO PROMPT © Liz Young

By the time Lester had emptied the beer bottle, he’d wandered into a large field, no trash can or any other receptacle in sight. With a dismissive shrug and an unspoken apology to nature, he tossed the bottle aside. An unexpected thunk stopped him, and he walked over to the sound’s source.

The bottle deflected off the decapitated head of a mannequin. A tree branch lay across the mannequin’s shattered face; without understanding why, Lester picked up the bottle and rested it on the face, adjusting the branch to secure the placement.

Lester stood, belched, and laughed. “Cheers, mate.”

Every week, Rochelle Wisof-Fields hosts Friday Fictinoneers, where the objective is to write a complete story in 100 words or less in response to a photograph. I encourage you to learn more about Friday Fictioneers and view other responses to this week’s prompt.

Grinding

The revision of The Land Without Mosquitos is not going as well as I’d hoped. In the fall, I submitted the first three chapters for review by the local writers group I’ve joined, yet after nearly three months of work on chapter four I don’t feel I’m any closer to being finished. I’d hoped to submit for this month’s meeting (we meet the second Saturday of each month), but by the end of January I knew I wasn’t ready.

Part of the problem is that I’m introducing a character who didn’t appear in any of the earlier drafts, and that character will be the catalyst for a subplot that’s also new to the narrative. For those reasons, I don’t want to give in and submit what I have in its current state; this character and his story are important, and demand a proper introduction. No sense in creating a mess that I’ll have to salvage later.

I’ll play the role of reviewer this Saturday (there’s some good work done by this group), then push on with chapter four. Submissions are due two weeks before the meeting, so that gives me three weekends, with one being extended for the Presidents Day holiday. Think I should get out of the house, escape from domestic distractions; go to a coffeehouse, perhaps, or a library. Spend three, four hours just writing; repeat if necessary. Whatever it takes to grind out that chapter, craft something I’m proud to have critiqued by my peers.

Flashing into the Unknown 

Loise Jensen tells us today how responding to flash fiction prompts helped improve her writing. I’ve been using prompt responses to create background material for Gray Metal Faces, tangential vignettes to the novel’s main story. Been happy with most of those projects, but lately I’ve been feeling the urge to broaden my perspective, step outside my comfort zone. Head down an unknown path, and see where it leads. Writing self-contained stories in a 100 words or less, and engaging with other authors on our work — there is value to be found in this challenge.

Distractions

[A response to today’s prompt from The Daily Post]

“I mean, do they ever wash these things?” Lana’s scowl, and the way she held the fencing jacket at arm’s length after pulling it from the team’s equipment sack, told Annie that she needed to work with the newest potential recruit for the Bark Bay High School fencing team.
Stepping in front of Lana, Annie took the jacket from her. “Coach Dan sends them to the cleaners once a month.” The fencing team captain shook her head, waving her brown pony-tail, then released the jacket — “That one’s too small.” Squatting, she began rummaging through the sack, finally pulling one of the other jackets from the heap. Annie stood, and nodded at Lana — “This one should fit.”

Like all of Bark Bay’s jackets, this one was zippered in the back; front-zippered jackets were just as common and no more expensive, but since right-handed fencers could only use a jacket zippered on the left side, and left-handed fencers required zippers on the right, back-zippered jackets were more suited to the fluctuating membership of the Bark Bay squad. After explaining to Lana how to put on the jacket (first, step a leg through the hole formed by the nylon strap at the bottom of the jacket, then insert your arms), Annie fastened and raised the zipper.

“I mean, doesn’t it bother you?” Annie knew Lana was still talking about the distinct scent of the team’s equipment, the stale perspiration that permeated everything, even after it came back from the cleaners.

“A little, at the start.” Annie actually couldn’t remember her initial reaction to the scent, but felt she needed to establish some sort of bond with Lana. “But when I started scrimmaging, trading touches with other fencers — I didn’t care what I smelled.” She laid a hand on Lana’s shoulder, and smiled. “I knew right away, that fencing was the coolest, most exciting sport ever. From that point, all the smelly equipment, the noises, the bruises — those were all distractions. And I was too busy having fun, to let any distraction get in my way.”

For a moment, Lana stared back blankly. And then, to Annie’s relief, she smiled. “So when can I start scrimmaging?”

“Soon as we find you a mask.” Annie then led Lana to the team’s other equipment sack, which promised to have an even more pungent odor.

Price

[A response to the latest prompt from The Daily Post: Privacy]

Leonard did not have the patience for cooking, yet also abhorred restaurants. He knew that having food delivered to him was costly, but justified the expense as the price for maintaining his privacy.

Explore, Seek, Go

One last self-indulgent post about “The Chosen,” then I promise to move on.

When a story bounces around in your imagination for over three decades, you’re bound to develop several ideas about that story. And if you’re smart, you’ll write down at least some of those ideas. Somewhere in the dusty bins of my memorabilia, I have extensive material about “The Chosen” — character sketches, political and religious histories, plot summaries, even some maps and crude caricatures — that I considered digging up last month when I became inspired to start the project at last. But at the time, I was a few days from beginning a long journey, and I knew finding all that material could be a frustrating task. Made the decision to just go with my instincts, and find my notes later; I’m entirely satisfied with that decision.

Yet as I look ahead to that unspecified time when I pick up the story again, I realize I need that material. While I like what I did with the first two chapters, I fully realized while writing that I was leaving out a great amount of detail. Countries and cities are named and there’s an allusion to a budding colonial revolution, but there’s little backstory; there’s a reference to a religious schism, without any context; all the characters conveniently speak the same language. I decided not to address these problems when drafting the first two chapters, but going forward I realize these issues need to be resolved.

Part of the appeal of the high fantasy genre is the creation of fascinating new worlds — similar to ours, but engagingly different as well. When I read good fantasy, I feel like an explorer, discovering an alien land that I don’t want want to leave. It’s an experience evoked by the introduction to “Star Trek,” a classic of space fantasy:

To explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no one has gone before!

I want the reader to have that same experience when reading “The Chosen,” but that experience can only come through a meticulous attention to detail. Consider two classics of medieval fantasy, “Lord of the Rings” and “A Song of Ice and Fire” — the historical backstory in both epics is staggering. And the languages! Tolkein’s Elvish, Martin’s Dothraki, and yes, the Klingon of “Star Trek” — if authors can create an entire new language, how can their readers not think they’ve entered a new world?

So before I start chapter three, I need to dig up those old notes, and have a good deal of additional work to accomplish. There are lands to create! History to craft! Maps to draw! Languages to birth! And most important of all, characters to bring to life!

Yeah, I need to get busy before coming back to “The Chosen.” But I’m going to enjoy the work. And I’ve got a feeling that when I do get back to that story, what comes out is going to be pretty cool.

Journal-ism

I’ve kept a journal for close to four decades. Nothing fancy, just a series of spiral-bound notebooks, which I’ve used for a number of purposes over the years. While drafting the first two chapters of “The Chosen,” I used it to make notes, generate ideas, craft and revise outlines — 25 pages of pre-writing exercises. All that work helped make the last three weeks as productive as they were fun.

A couple journal pages with my notes on "The Chosen." Yes, my handwriting is that bad.

A couple journal pages with my notes on “The Chosen.” Yes, my handwriting is that bad.

When it comes to the craft of writing, I’m not a believer in rules. There’s very few things that I feel all writers must do; I keep a journal not to fulfill an obligation, but rather because the activity has demonstrably improved my writing. I’d certainly recommend experimenting with a journal to any writer, and see what happens. If it works for you, keep doing it, but if it proves to be an unproductive burden, then stop and try something else.

Journaling has done wonders for me, especially over the last few weeks. As I draft fiction on this blog, I’ll continue to rely on my spiral-bound notebooks to explore my ideas before clicking Publish.

“The Chosen” Will Return

Nineteen days ago, I started a new fiction project on this blog, with only one objective in mind. I was going to have fun — there would be characters, but I wasn’t going to fret over characterization; there would be a plot, but where it would lead I neither knew nor cared; there would most likely be themes, but I wasn’t concerned about what they meant. All I wanted to do was write, and enjoy the experience.

Mission accomplished.

As I mentioned at the start, “The Chosen” is a story that’s been bouncing around in my imagination for over three decades, and finally getting it started has been enormously gratifying. I hadn’t expected to write that second chapter, but after completing the first there was no way I was going to stop. But as I reached the half-way point of chapter two, I knew that pressing on to a third chapter would be an effort. Mind you, I don’t mind the work; writing is the only job I’ve ever wanted to do. But I wasn’t going to make “The Chosen” another burden. So for now, I’m setting the project aside.

Not sure when I’ll get back to Crim, Archilochus, and their crew. Perhaps when I feel the need to have some fun again. One thing I know for certain, though, is that this tale isn’t over.

The Chosen, Chapter 2J

The stranger raised his arms, and turned slowly towards the guards. “Officers — ” the stranger’s voice was as calm as a still lake in the morning — “you have us at your mercy.”

The guard on the left removed the bolt from his crossbow, strapped his weapons onto his back, and came forward cautiously as the other guard kept his aim at the stranger. The guard searched the stranger, discarding the weaponry he found on the forest floor. Wolf remained on the ground, contemplating her next move; she could easily overpower the first guard, and liked her chances against the second. But now wasn’t time to act; wait for the first guard to attempt binding her, then strike.

Completing his search, the first guard spun the stranger around. “Hands behind your back.” The stranger complied slowly. “You and this damn woman have given us a lot of trouble these past few days,” the guard grumbled as he bound the stranger’s wrists, “but there’ll be no more of that.”

“Indeed.” Wolf saw the hint of a smile curl on the stranger’s lips. “Your prospects appear to be looking up.”

A snap from behind, then the second guard yelled. Wolf saw the guard’s crossbow fall to the ground, as the guard struggled against a man who had him in a chokehold from behind. At the same time, the stranger snapped his head back, striking and surprising his captor, and threw his right elbow behind him and bashing the guard in the temple. The first guard fell to his knees; in the moonlight, Wolf could finally see who the guard was struggling against — the Islander, from the party of pilgrims she had attempted to rob.

The Islander slipped a loop from a rope around the first guard’s right foot, and a moment later the guard was lifted upside-down into the air, the rope hanging from a sturdy branch, its other end now secured to a root by the Islander. Meanwhile, the stranger had the second guard pinned face-down on the ground; soon, he was also hanging upside-down, suspended by a similar rope snare.

The stranger nodded at the Islander, as the guards struggled awkwardly against their captivity. “Killing them would have been so much easier.”

“And also would have brought the entire colony down on our heads.” The Islander shook his head, then glared down at Wolf. “Expected you to run off again.”

Wolf frowned, then pointed up at the guards, grasping at their legs like trapped bats. “Seemed futile, given what’s happened so far.”

The Islander lowered an open hand, and helped Wolf to her feet. “I don’t blame you for not trusting us — ”

“That woman, you still travelling with her?” The Islander nodded in response to Wolf’s question. “She made me a deal last night. Tell her, I’m going to hold her to that deal.”

“You can tell her yourself.” The Islander looked behind and to her left, and nodded. Before Wolf could react, a large burlap sack descended on her, and she was promptly thrown to the ground. Her arms constrained by the sack, she kicked wildly — “What the hell are you doing?

She heard the stranger’s smooth voice over her struggles — “Demonstrating how little we trust you.”

End Chapter Two