Archive | October, 2011

Do The Monster Match

31 Oct

Classic or modern, these stories all contain monsters of one form or another.  Can you match up the opening line to the author and story?  First line of chapter one – thirteen matches.  Stay tuned for the answers!

Authors:  Anne Rice, Bram Stoker, Charlaine Harris, Charlotte Bronte, D B Reynolds, Gaston Leroux, John Wyndham. Kelley Armstrong. Mary Shelley, Robert Louis Stevenson, Steven King, Victor Hugo, William Shakespeare.

Book Titles:  Rajmund, Jane Eyre, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Phantom of the Opera, Frankenstein, Dracula, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Men of the Otherworld, Dead Until Dark, Hamlet, Interview with the Vampire, The Chrysalids, The Stand.

 First Lines:

“Who’s there?”

“Hapscomb’s Texaco sat on Number 93 just north of Arnette, a pissant four-street burg about 110 miles from Houston.”

“On January 6, 1482, the people of Paris were awakened by the tumultuous clanging of all the bells in the city.”

“Antonio.”

“You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings.”

“I’d been waiting for the vampire for years when he walked into the bar.”

“When I was quite small I would sometimes dream of a city – which was strange because it began before I even knew what a city was.”

“It was totally dark.”

“Mr. Utterson the lawyer was a man of a rugged countenance that was never lighted by a smile; cold, scanty and embarrassed in discourse; backward in sentiment; lean, long, dusty, dreary and yet somehow lovable.”

“There was no possibility of a walk that day.”

“I see, said the vampire thoughtfully, and slowly he walked across the room towards the window.”

“It was the evening on which MM. Debienne and Poligny, the managers of the Opera, were giving a last gala performance to mark their retirement.”

“Left Munich at 8:35 PM on 1st May, arriving at Vienna early next morning; should have arrived at 6:46, but the train was an hour late.”

Short Story for October – Episode Three

24 Oct

CROW’S FLIGHT

This is episode three of the Garden of Hell series of sci-fi short stories, following after Tiger Lilies and Two Moons – both posted in September’s fiction.

 Copyright J. Dianne Waye October 2011

Contains mature subject matter and violence.

 

How do you fight something when you don’t know the rules?  Everything we’d been taught, all our survival skills, camouflage techniques, combat strategies, didn’t work on this planet.  Deadly spores, deadly vines; ripe fruit denied to our empty stomachs. No meat to hunt; not a single animal roamed this Garden of Hell.  Even the grass betrayed us, lying flat and exposing us, as we crawled towards the crest of the ridge.

The last two humans left behind until that shuttlecraft streaked across the sky – and they were avoiding us.

“Why haven’t they tried to contact us?  They must have seen the smoke.”  I forced my way through a thicket of undergrowth, trying not to damage any of the bamboo-like bushes.  It would be easier to scythe it down, but who knew the repercussions involved in that action.

“They would have turned around and landed in the village, if contacting us were their intentions.”  Miller kept his voice low, the bushes and trees seeming to lean in and eavesdrop on our conversation. 

We cleared the ridge and kept our heads down, both of us scoping the scene with our binoculars.  The shuttlecraft lurched to one side, landing gear damaged in an amateur attempt to touch down.  Coveralled men milled about, tending a fire, rolling out barrels of supplies.  The flight crew lay prostrate on the field, grey uniforms tattered and bloodied; one squirming, the other three motionless.

Blue bandana around his head, Citizen Faust 96239 – the identity stitched on his clothing – kicked the surviving crewmember, grabbed him by the collar, screamed into his face.

Faust’s pantomimed questions went unanswered.  The last crewmember, pistol-whipped to a bloody pulp, collapsed to the ground.  The gun’s barrel about-faced and dug into his forehead.  Skull bones shattered, brains exploded; a fraction of a second later, gunshot echoed off the rocky ridge face.

I dropped my binoculars and reached for my rifle.  Miller placed his hand over mine, the briefest headshake stopping me.  Two fingers flicked; time to withdraw.  I followed him back down the slope, away from the ship.

“We need to burn those corpses.  Those men – they’re all going to die.”

“Good.”  He turned away, long strides increasing the distance between us and them.

“Why are we leaving?  What do you know, that you’re not telling me?”

Miller paused, the habit of rank secrecy so ingrained it still battled within him.  Just like how he had to struggle each time he touched me, knowing it was forbidden in our old life.

“It’s a Chain Gang Shuttle.  Criminals condemned to hard labour, come to clear the land.”

“Why didn’t Mothership warn them, stop them?  Make them turn around?”

“She would have.  They hijacked the ship.”

I grabbed Miller’s arm.  “We need to do something.”

“It’s not my job anymore.”

“Then what is your job?”

“To keep you alive.  Let’s go.”

Something ate away at him, chewed him up inside.  Miller was no coward.  He looked Death straight in the face when we got left behind by Mothership, pulled me out of a nest of killer vines.  He’d earned my trust.  But now his muscles tensed, his eyes clouding with emotions I didn’t understand.

I swallowed my questions and followed him into the jungle.  Whatever ghost nipped at his heels kept him moving.  We hiked until my legs trembled with fatigue.  Hours after sunset, we came across an abandoned barn, a crudely thrown-together wood-slat construction.  I stopped, looked into his eyes.  Exhaustion devoured me whole – that, and disappointment over the loss of human contact.

He held the barn door open for me, swept away our footprints from the path, and covered me over with our scavenged blanket.  The whites of his eyes darted, watchful; sentinels to the demons that plagued him.  Too keyed up to sleep, he took first watch.

 

Snake-like coils softly embraced my skin, wrapping around my limbs.  A tendril strayed, wavered and withdrew, then stroked across the hollow of my throat.

I gasped as it squeezed, choking off my breath.  Not even enough air left to scream.

“Eva.  Wake up.  You’re having another nightmare.”

Miller shook me urgently, until I blinked and surfaced.  No – no killer vines – not here.  We were safe for now, inside the barn.  The scent of hay lingered along with the smell of livestock, all perished from the spores, but the imprint of life had not yet been erased.

I smiled as he kissed me on the cheek.  Brown eyes flecked with gold crinkled at the corners, warm and inviting, the part of him I liked best.  His lips strayed across my throat, pausing, waiting for an invitation.  Dawn’s beams scattered through the cracks in the walls, shattering stripes of light across the hay bales.  He sat back on his heels, dark hair crowned by a halo as it crossed the beams.  Out of the shadows now, his skin picked up an odd purple hue, the aubergine of eggplants.

I screamed.

“Eva.  Wake up.”

A dream within a dream.  Still trapped on the nightmare planet, though.

The real Miller had green eyes now.  Something had changed them, something in the air, the food, the water, saturating his pupils first with a hazel hue; now a deeper green.  And the real Miller had a bloody nose, from where I’d accidentally punched him in my sleep.

He wiped a sleeve across his upper lip, smearing blood across the morning stubble.  He kissed me tentatively, not surprised when I turned away, still too close to that dark dream world.

I shoved some canned food into my pack, somebody’s abandoned emergency stash; he filled the water bags by hand-pumping the well.  At least the colonists had thought of how to survive if the power failed.  They’d never considered how to survive if Mother Nature fought back against their efforts to farm the land.

Miller hesitated before he slipped into the bright morning, letting his eyes adjust, his senses sharpen.  Overnight the moss had grown, climbing up the sides of the barn, bursting with new clusters of green at an accelerated rate, thickest on the outside wall where we had been sleeping.

He drew in a big breath and puffed it out slowly onto the moss, like blowing out birthday candles on a cake.  Everywhere his breath touched, the moss reacted, greening and blooming.

“It’s feeding off the carbon dioxide in our breath.  It’s ironic, isn’t it, that the plants doomed themselves to extinction with those defensive spores.  It’s just a matter of time before the environment collapses.”

“One more thing to worry about.”

“It won’t happen in our lifetime.”  His hand rubbed my shoulder.  I moved in closer, into the crook of his arm, inhaling that male scent of his, devoid now of civilization, of shaving cream and soap.  “Have you reloaded your pistol?  Here – take Reese’s ammo.”

I winced when he mentioned Reese, never considered plundering my dead friend’s pack.

Miller froze, put a finger to his lips, and pointed at the trees.  Something moved there, shifting through the undergrowth.  Branches swayed, leaves curling inwards.  Wild field flowers closed their heads.  Everything around us suddenly stopped moving.  We crouched down, trying to conceal ourselves in the long grass, but it flattened.

Something hunted us.

We fled into the jungle in the opposite direction.  I tensed as that rattlesnake vibration started up.  We dropped and crawled away from the source of pursuit, but every leaf, every branch, betrayed our efforts.

No matter where we ran, an armed prisoner awaited.  Herded like cattle, we were forced towards the shuttle, twisting and turning, running, running; flushed out, with nowhere to hide in the fields of wheat.

Six figures stepped out, guns pointing.  “Drop your weapons.”

Miller froze, cool gaze appraising the odds.  Not in our favour.  Three more of them perched in the trees.  I counted Miller’s blinks, then he clenched his jaw twice: the signal to surrender.

I threw my gun to the ground and raised my hands to the back of my head.  Faust patted me down, ran his filthy hands over me, finding everything – my pocket knife, my hunting knife, even the coil of garrotte wire in my hair.

Lean and bald, a man stepped forward, eyes dancing over Miller like he’d just won the grand prize at the fair.  “Well, well.  Look who it is.  Captain Andy.” 

Miller swallowed, every muscle straining, tightening.  “Hello, Crow.”

“Bet you regret surrendering now.  Would have gone out in a blaze of glory, wouldn’t you, son?”  He strutted over to Miller, poking him in the chest with our machete.  “Too late.”

Laughter bounced through the clearing.  The trees shivered and hummed, but the Chain Gang didn’t understand the warning sound.  They marched us to their campsite, leaving us bound and gagged until dusk.

Flickering firelight, greasy faces in the glow; the dank odours of fear, canned beans, and decay.

Faust ripped the tape from my mouth.  “How many colonists?  Where are they hiding?”

I stared at him, silent and defiant.

“Tell me.”  He grabbed my hair, pulling back my head to expose my throat.  “Talk.”

“I am Private Perez 4930.  I am a hostage.  I cannot be broken -”

Crow threw his head back and laughed.  “Miller’s been feeding you that crap.  I’ll break you Perez.  You’ll see.”

“You are my enemy, but you shall not defeat my will.”

Crow signalled; two men dragged Miller upright, held his head. 

“You want me to fix her good, boss?”  Faust leered out of focus; spotted four eyes, then two.  He came closer, foul breath reeking, broken teeth grinning.  “Make him watch.”

Miller struggled against the men holding him.  “I’ll kill you, Faust.”

“She’s mine now.”  The edge of Crow’s blade danced inches from my eye, ready to flick out my eyeball if I moved.  Instead it caressed the skin of my cheek, carving a half-circle into the flesh.  Blood swelled and dripped.  “I’ve branded you.  C for Crow.”

“You bastard.”  Miller wrestled free in a twisting jerk, head-butting the two men restraining him.  He charged Crow, heedless of the blade.  Faust reached him first.  They collided, toppling into the yellow grass.  The knife slid into Miller’s chest, puncturing a lung.  Blood erupted, bursting from his lips, his nose. My Miller, the reason I was still alive, tried to stand, dropped to his knees.  An involuntary scream erupted from me.

Black eyes, red rage.  Crow knocked Faust down, next to Miller.  “No.  You idiot.  I told you not to kill him.”

Miller sucked in a gurgling breath and spit out a mouthful of blood, right into Faust’s eyes.

Faust blinked, wiped his hands across his eyes, and threw his arm over his face.  “It burns.”  He rose to his feet, stumbling, staggering, as the rash bloomed across his throat, down his neck, like wild fire over his skin.  Blisters rose, broke, oozing green goo.  He melted head first, arms and legs flailing, torso dissolving into a puddle of slime.

The Chain Gang stepped back, away from me.

Out of the jungle came that rattlesnake chorus, rising and humming, shaking with a storm wind that didn’t blow from the sky.  Dragging footsteps; low guttural groans.  An army of misshapen warriors emerged, a parody of the dead flight crew: aubergine skin, eyes without whites, mouths without teeth, mutant freaks with a zombie gait stroll.  Relentless.

Chaos erupted.  The Chain Gang screamed, ran; fired rounds into exploding targets, like smashing pumpkins.  But the mutants kept coming.  They gored and strangled the humans, dragging them away to God knows where, for uncertain purpose.

I threw myself over Miller; his blood pooled into the tall grass.  One of the broken freaks crawled towards me, sniffing my legs, sniffing Miller.  Motionless and quiet, I felt no fear; there wasn’t anything it could take away from me now.  It ignored us, turning away, attention caught by the last living prisoner squirming near the campfire.  I closed my eyes until the screaming stopped.

Miller squeezed my hand, staring unblinking at the two moons.  Not quite dead – not yet. 

“Don’t leave me,” I whispered.

Moss crawled and thickened where his last breath kissed the ground, resisting my attempts to tear it away from his limbs, until I finally stopped fighting it, accepted it; let it shroud him with soft tender leaves.

Tiny yellow flowers opened where my tears damped the growth, raising petal faces to the brightening emerald sky.  Dawn always rises, whether you’re ready for it or not.  Whether grief and loneliness overwhelms you, or doesn’t.

To give up now would dishonour Miller – everything he stood for.

Authors in the New Era

23 Oct

Things have changed in the world of writing.

Finding information is easier in the internet age.  You can source out agents, rank them, find out all about what they want to read, follow their blogs, research what makes them tick.

Learning resources are a click away.  Countless articles are posted about what to do, or what to stay away from.  Social connections can be made on twitter, on-line writing groups, and writers’ blogs.

How-to textbooks line the bookstore shelves.   There’s workshops, classes; you name it.

So much information, a non-stop stream, all of which should be improving the quality of what ends up on the bookshelf.  But who’s written the classic of the new era, something that will stand the test of time?

And the more I learn, the more questions I have.

Has blogging actually advanced anyone’s career as a writer?  Does anyone get discovered this way?  Does all this social networking work, or is it just another time-drain?  E-publishing is the new trend many frustrated writers take, a route available for those that don’t fit that main-stream mould.  But does e-pubbing make a wider selection of good books available to readers, or is this another form of vanity press?  And how about those agents?  Some declare that they’re swamped under an endless stream of e-mails from prospective writers, to the point they can barely breathe.  Is this true?  Are certain genres dead, and who gets to decide this fate?

Maybe it’s the economy right now, holding back the risk factor for agents to sign on new authors.  Maybe the market is inundated by a flood of new authors, writing that novel that blooms in their imagination, spurred on by other writers’ success stories.  Maybe the e-pub business is the new counter-trend, liberating us from mainstream cotton-candy.  But it seems to me that the factors that should make this journey easier are making it harder to publish an actual hold-in-your-hands book, the path to selling buried deep under an avalanche of the tools of this new era.

As a writer, R U redi 4 these obstacles?

Interview with Marianne Su

13 Oct

Marianne Su belongs to the Kelley Armstrong Writer’s Forum – that’s where we connected.  She’s not in my critique group, but friendships bloom across boundaries.  She’s someone I’d call The Perfect Storm – that special combination of craft and creativity, writing in a hot genre, with a personality that makes working with her a pleasure: an ideal candidate for an agent to take a chance on a new writer.  And Marianne has a new voice, strong and clear.  Check out her blog: http://www.mariannesu.com

Now despite the fact that it “feels weird” for her to talk about herself, she’s agreed to answer a few questions.

JDW:  What made you decide to join the Kelley Armstrong Writers’ Forum?

MAS:  As a fan of Kelley’s writing, I knew of her forum and the writing group but was nervous about other people reading my work.  It wasn’t until I got some very honest feedback on my writing from a writer I barely knew that I decided to join.  She made some helpful suggestions including one that I join a critique group.  Immediately I thought of OWG.  She was so right!

JDW: What’s the greatest benefit to posting your work there for critiquing?

MAS: Every month when I get crits back, I’m so grateful for what others find that I missed.  At first, the learning curve was huge because I’d never been ‘taught’ how to write so I learned a lot from everyone.  Sometimes it’s just having one or more people confirm what works or doesn’t work that’s most valuable.  Also, I was surprised at how the process of critiquing others’ work can be so rewarding.  It gives me a different perspective on other writing styles and helps my own writing.  

JDW: What was the most significant lesson learned from her Toronto Writers’ Workshop?

MAS: I want to say hanging with Kelley over coffee and hearing her speak about her characters but I’m guessing you want something more literary.  In that case, I’ve always thought of myself as a character-oriented writer.  The characters come first for me, both as a writer and a reader.  Kelley helped me see that I didn’t know my characters as well as I thought I did.  It was a shocker.  I think it was day four before I would admit this to myself! 

JDW: How has the workshop changed or influenced your work?

MAS: The week left me with an overall positive feeling about my writing.  I felt encouraged and recharged.  Before this, I was beginning to feel confused and unsure in some ways but the week reassured me that I was on the right track.  Also, there’s something about spending all day every day for a week with writers, talking about writing and reading each other’s work that is inspiring.  I got to immerse myself in that frame of mind and came out of it feeling more than ever that writing is what I love.

JDW: How do you manage your time?

MAS: I’m a night writer.  During the day, at home with three young kids, I only get to write in snippets and some days more than others.  But when they’re in bed, the night is mine.  I write about 4-5 hours when the house is quiet and dark, uninterrupted.  It’s funny that I had visions of myself spending the morning with a laptop in a coffee shop when the kids went back to school but that just hasn’t happened.  I’m gonna stick to my night routine – it works for me.

JDW: What made you choose Young Adult as a genre?

MAS: I like reading and writing YA because the angst and insecurity that usually accompanies that phase of life.  It makes for interesting character growth.  If I’m also being honest, I wonder if I had enough fun as a teen and that maybe I’m living vicariously through the characters.  I’d love to be that age again.     

JDW: At what point in your life did you realize you were a writer?

MAS: I’ve written off and on when I was in school but it wasn’t until recently that I considered myself a writer.  A couple of years ago I told a writer friend of mine that I’ve always wanted to write a book and her response was “why don’t you?”  At the time my youngest was getting a little older and I felt like I was beginning a new phase of my life where I could do more for me.  Writing was top of the list.  I wrote my first novel in six weeks and haven’t looked back. 

The Virgin Writer Effect

5 Oct

Now I’ve been writing for a long time (cough cough – never mind exactly how long) but I’d never experienced what my sister has aptly named “The Virgin Writer Effect” until a few years ago.  It’s what happens when your story swallows you whole, consumes you, obsesses you, changes your world forever, and then spits you out the other side.

Not exactly a pleasant thing.  But it’s a rite of passage.

I spent twelve weeks writing Inner Demons, a novel set back in my old stomping grounds – Acadia University – where the main character lives in the haunted farmhouse I once lived in.  Even the old lady ghost managed to find her way into the story.  I can hear the leaves crunching under my feet as I walk across autumn campus grounds, smell the tang of Bay of Fundy water, see the fireworks display of the Northern Lights flashing across the night sky from the top of University Drive.

But what happens when you bring so many real elements into a work of fiction?  For me, it makes it impossible to have perspective towards the story itself.  I cannot separate what’s on the page from what’s in my mind.  Too close, too personal.  I poured out everything I had into this story, believing it was going to end up in that storage box in the closet with the rest of my writing.  I didn’t hold anything back – no inhibitions – so certain that no one was ever going to read it.

After I finished it, I missed the intimacy of the characters, missed having them in my head.  I’d cheered for them, wept for them, plotted out their lives with great care.  I felt empty, alone.  Drifting.  I wanted that powerful feeling back – that Virgin Writer Effect.

I’ve written two other novels since then – but haven’t lost myself inside a story like I did with Inner Demons.  Maybe it’s something you only get to experience once.  Cheers to you if you’ve survived this. 

Is the novel I wrote any good?  Does it really matter?  In life, just like as in writing, it’s the journey that counts.

One Lovely Blogger Award

2 Oct

OK – so I’ve been awarded the One Lovely Blogger Award, but I’ve been having a hard time coming up with seven (interesting) facts about myself.  Here’s my modest attempt at this task.  And like Lisa, I need more blog friends to nominate!

 

I am a workaholic.  No doubt I will perish either at work, or face down in a stack of homework.  I cannot conceive of retiring – ever.

I ask a lot of questions.  Did you notice this already?  Do you often feel like you’re being interviewed when we talk?  Does it bug you?  Should I stop now?

I like to cook.  I like to try weird new food.  When I go to a restaurant, I’ll order something I’ve never had, if I can.  My family does not embrace this philosophy, and dreads when I get a new cookbook – unless it’s The Giant Book of Cookie Recipes.

The Universe is a funny place.  It makes me laugh.  Like the week my shopping list included: hamster food, mouse traps, sledgehammer.  You just can’t make this stuff up.

I can sew, draw, paint and make stuff that works.  This week my kid and I knit a hat.  It’s a good hat, despite the fact that neither of us knew how to knit before we started.

Most people fall into the category of optimists or pessimists.  I’m a poptimist.  I’m absolutely certain my car will break down again, and I’m absolutely certain someone will stop to help push me off the road and let me use their cell phone to call a tow truck.

I have a collection of Star Trek stuff.  Blinking spaceship Christmas ornaments that talk in Borg and Klingon, a lunch box, a Jim Kirk action figure complete with phaser and tribbles, a CD of Shatner and Nemoy singing duets, a Cardassian coffee mug, biographies, books, movies, games.  Everything I need to know about life, I learned from Star Trek.  Go boldly, my friends.