Free-Range Fiction: The Exclusion Zone

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This is in response to Chuck Wendig’s weekly Friday challenge to do some flash fiction. This week he challenged us to do no more than 1,000 words on this sentence:  The noticed android walks past a wondering chamber.  I did have to change the tense of the sentence and the article, but other than that, I’m fairly interested in what I came up with. (Edit:  I missed the, it should be your opening sentence bit. Oh well. It got me writing.)  It’s hard to build a world and make it interesting for your reader in less than 1,000 words.  I penned this while sitting in an art fair booth in the heat on Saturday.  It is in its rough state. I’ve made no edits to what I originated on that day.  Feel free to leave comments, especially if you’re a science fiction fan.  Enjoy…

Exclusion Zone

The signage all over Black Cat Space Station said, “NO ANDROID ALLOWED” in seventeen different languages. Public service announcements every three hours gave even more details. The Universal United Governors had declared this an android exclusion zone during the Selah Convention and was enforced by the United Planetary Army.

Guards everywhere with ocular implants scanned without stopping to see the spinal cord signal that gave away the identity of a generation nine android. Most visitors came to Black Cat simply for recreation and pleasure. It was the Vegas of quadrant three of the Cascadian System. The Army recruits mostly came from the Appalachian System, which was mostly populated by the Neruvian species, who never had to blink and whose average nine-foot height was perfect for surveying the Black Cat’s population, which surged and shrank in regular ocean-like waves.

The Army had stationed an entire platoon of Neruvians at the new feature at Black Cat, The Wondering Station. This new tourist trap took people into basically a recycle quick flight personnel carrier made for intersystem travel. But with fuel issues personal intersystem travel was frowned upon. However, there was millions of these aircraft, especially close to Black Cat, because they had been manufactured on a moon base not too far from Black Cat.

Once a customer was inside The Wondering Station, they were hooked up to biofeeds and were hooked up to ocular and auditory stimulators. The customer drank a “wondering” elixir. The whole process took the dreams of the customer and made them real for up to thirty minutes – if they paid for the “grand level.” There was a line of visitors from the moment The Wondering Station opened until the time they closed.  Even after closing time people waited the “dream high” as those who’d experience it referred to it. It was that intense, as real as any experience for the customer. Testimonials advertised to the waiting patrons and the curious: “I can die happy now;” “I think it was better than the real thing;” or even the real seller, “Best fuck for my buck.” Most of the sales were for interspecies sex fantasies, since the real thing was outlawed in most systems.

Hours passed and the Neruvian soldiers kept sentry. At station point 42.9, Corporal Sunburst – so given that name because of the shock of hair atop his red wine Neruvian skin was bright yellow like a solar flare – stood scanning back and forth his sector. Just before his shift was scheduled to end, he spotted an android. He put a bead on the individual and radioed the survey base, which was in the central tower of the Black Cat Space Station. It looked like the center of a gigantic top. The spotter that sat in the center of the circle of screens – some video, some heat sensor, some hooked up to sentry points of those that called in like Sunburst. The spotter and Corporal Sunburst watched as the noticed android walked past the wondering station. The androids chip blipped and buzzed on the various screens in the security center. Corporal Sunburst watches ad the android turned and looked right at him – used his humanoid hand to make the shape of a gun and mock fired it towards Sunburst. If he could have blinked he would have. Instead he swallowed and drew his weapon and awaited word from the command center. A moment later The Wondering Station’s windows exploded. A huge mushroom cloud plumed and raised high above the space station. Sunburst began to feel the metal beneath his feet tremble; his large nine-foot frame swayed a bit and then the 42.9 platform crumbled beneath him. Soon the android, The Wondering Station, and all of Black Cat was smoking, flaming and collapsing in ruin.

The only ting left when help arrived was a “NO ANDROIDS ALLOWED” sign in seventeen languages.

The pen name debate

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Should I take a cue from S.E. Hinton?

Theodor Geisel became Dr. Seuss. George Eliot was really Mary Ann Evans. The ‘Out of Africa’ author was not Isak Dinesen, but rather one, Karen Blixen. Alice Sheldon became James Tiptree, Jr. Hell, even Stephen King penned books under the name Richard Bachman.

It always is curious to me when people use pen names. Oftentimes in Georg Eliot’s or S.E. Hinton’s case it was to cloak the fact that they were women. King said he wanted to try and distance himself from both his prior success and failures and have his novel judged on the work alone.

Regardless it is an author’s choice to publish under a pseudonym or their birth name or somewhere in between.

My spouse has suggested many times over the years as I’ve worked towards becoming an emerging writer that perhaps I need to assume a pseudonym. He has sent me links to stories about why other authors, especially women writers, have done it; how it’s helped others maintain their family’s privacy, etc.

I counter to him that I’ve been building a reputation with my work under my own name and that I would need to start building my platform all over again.

However, I’ve been thinking more and more that it might be a good idea and maybe it’s time I consider the coming up with a pseudonym.

I’ve taken lots of different versions of my own name and tried to come up with something that is genderless and still has that rhythm, like other best selling novelists —   J.K. Rowling, A.A. Milne, M. J. Hyland, S.T. Joshi, and even. H.D. (the poet). But, I can’t decide if I’m going to take this plunge.

Many of the ways that some of these pseudonym or initial-only authors got their start is wasn’t a requirement of publishing at the time. There was no ‘platform’ required. No blog required. No social media aspect to being a published author. It was all about the writing first. Of course, it’s still about the writing first, but there are valid points to having a pseudonym.

I’m curious to know what my readers, friends, and family think about this choice. I can see the value in my work not being held up to the gender filter; I like perhaps keeping my children out of the potential limelight, etc. Do readers have more affinity for authors who have a certain rhythm to their name along with good writing? Does the gender of a writer influence what you read? Have your say below!

Tell me if you think I should make a “short-list” of potential names, and maybe we’ll vote on which is best. Or if I should just keep on keeping on as I’m doing now.

Please comment and let me know your thoughts.

While you fill up my page here with comments, I’m going to go write for a bit. And, maybe, a nap to sleep on the whole idea.

 

The War on Art: The rise of criticism for criticism’s sake

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AKA Being an Artist Ain’t For Sissies

Booyah!

The first year of living as a writer has brought into focus a struggle that I was unaware of until I was completely immersed into an artist’s life – the write life, as I call it. There is an assault, if not a full-fledged war, on much of the art that inspires me, speaks to me, and brings love and grace to my world. Hell, I hated to even type the words “war on art” as headlines today overuse that phrase for anything and everything.

It doesn’t matter the medium or genre, either. Music, film, books, blog posts (check the comments – especially by Lara Croft), hell even Facebook, are being pelted with criticism just for criticism’s sake. It’s not just the blowhards and media whores doing it either. There are people whom I respect which are participating in this, too. Everyone’s entitled to their opinion, but this latest trend is making an environment where artists are becoming afraid to do their art the way they would normally do it. They are afraid to describe a man as black for fear of offending someone, where an actual black man may not find it offensive.

Who is “they?” I’m talking about folks who have become “sensitized” to social justice issues and then expect that never ever should any of those “isms” appear in art, ever. Because, you know, art never gets dialogue started about real issues. Because, you know, art isn’t a reflection of real life or imagined life. Because, you know, every piece of artwork, story, film, song should be non-offensive, empty of transgressive characters, actions, or themes. It should only be what these critics say it should be.

Case in point: the meme about the actress playing Harriet Tubman in the film ABRAHAM LINCOLN, VAMPIRE HUNTER. People are upset that the portrayal of Tubman by Biracial Danish actress is too unrealistic. Because, you know, Abraham Lincoln was a vampire hunter. IT’S FICTION, FOLKS. If, for instance, the film was on Tubman’s life – more biographical, I would say, then, yes, the film should reflect more of reality. To me, the filmmaker in ABRAHAM…HUNTER is telling the audience that he felt Tubman was a beautiful person. He does that with imagery. Much as he makes Abraham Lincoln a badass and not the neurosis fighter for which deep historical understanding has taught us.

Imagine, if you will, if any of the great artists of yore had such constraints upon them. We wouldn’t have work like Huckleberry Finn, Frankenstein, Little Women, most of Shakespeare, In Cold Blood, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, 1984, To Kill A Mockingbird, and Of Mice And Men. The list could go on and on.

I’m cognizant and appreciate that everyone has their opinion. I don’t wish to stifle it. I wish to elevate it to a point where they are having a conversation and not a shouting match. I want it to bring art to the forefront, not throw it back to the Stone Age. Couple such prolific criticisms for criticism’s sake powered by the tubes and you have all this Art Gestapo opinion smeared all over the place making an unnecessary stink, much like any sort of waste left to abandon.

It's my art, and I'll do it as I like

The internet is fabulous.  It allows people to seek out things they like, don’t like, give a look, have a listen, and then—here’s the often missing piece:  critically think for themselves. Those that THINK they are thinking critically and then extort their opinion and believe their ideas are the only ones which are right, are much like the principal in Ferris Buehler’s Day Off.  (I really wanted to think of some metaphor which was more profound, but Ed Rooney will do the job.)  Ferris is like the artist, in that he knows the best thing for him and his friends. Pretend that art is the mental health day that Ferris takes off. The opinion of Ed Rooney disallows that. But Ferris takes the day, the artist makes the art. Ed Rooney spends all his time discrediting and trying to catch Ferris “being bad.” These critics for criticism’s sake do the same thing. They want to discredit the art, the artist, and force the work to be as they believe it should be.

I felt this battle most recently while editing my current work in progress, SECOND THOUGHT. In the margins are little notes to myself “be careful,” or even “check your privilege.” Why did I write those notes to myself? I envision being called on the carpet by these new breed of reviewers – the criticism for criticism’s sake crowd – about the characters in my story and why they happen to be who they are. The way they are is why the story happens. People’s faults, bad choices, each and every action has a reaction. Cause and effect. It’s the same with all stories and all art. But, what I realized was that I wasn’t staying true to my art. I wasn’t making, as in the words of Neil Gaiman, a work for which I could be proud. My excitement to create was being tempered by what I perceived would be the reaction by certain crowds and or individuals.

It's my story, I own it. Not you.

When this epiphany landed on me, I heartily scratched out “be careful” on the manuscript and wrote “fuck you.” I will not bow to some perceived criticism. I will not temper my themes and intent because I might offend someone. If I made you feel something – good or bad – great! I did my job. Anyone who wants to criticize that can be prepared for me to not give a flying rat’s ass. My hope is that all writers, musicians, filmmakers, and artist’s choose the same attitude.

A conversation was started on this topic over at the LiveJournal Blog of one of the writer’s whose work and worth ethic I highly admire: Caitlin R. Kiernan. Go over there and read that, too. Look for more from Kiernan in the weeks to come, I’m sure she’s just getting started.

As am I.

 

 

 

Hey Girls…a meme that shows that sexism doesn’t just come from the guys

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So there was this meme:

And

Then my daughter did this response:

And

Now there is this discussion.

My reaction? First thought was:  Hells yeah!

But I rarely go with my first reaction. Events, ideas and thoughts simmer in my head. Over and over. That’s a good thing for writers.

As a parent, however, it’s a bit different. My friends will tell you that I sometimes grumble about raising a social activist, as my daughter’s strong sense of social justice and current (vocalized) popular values collide often. It’s tough when you’re viewed as “too young” or “too inexperienced” to be taken seriously. When you want to make positive changes in your community and people think you are just a misguided youth. But, if there’s anything I’ve instilled in my daughter, and all my children, is the value of which the great Horace Mann spoke, “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.”  My daughter clearly takes that philosophy seriously and I’m happy to support her in those efforts.

With her response she was lashing out on the sexism she has been enduring — even given she’s just a teenager. This year as she transitions from junior high to high school she’s had time to reflect on the personal experiences that made her jump to respond to that meme. During her junior high years she was one of only two girls that competed for the wrestling team. Her record wasn’t bad — sometimes buoyed by situations like this. However, the amount of what I would term as archaic sexism she ran into was ridiculous. Not from the coaches. They were great. Very supportive. But from fellow wrestlers, competitors, and especially parents — they were the worst. She came close to quitting over it, but persevered (which was a great lesson for someone who declared three years ago she wanted to be a social activist). And this year Washington state has a female wrestler that placed in the high school state tournament. This last year, my daughter became aware of the discrepancies in dress code emphasis between males and females in the school district. Example (although there are several):  Girls were not allowed to show their shoulders, but boys could. She processed these differences and asked questions of the administrators and teachers in the school. “It’s a distraction for other students.” Without further input from anyone else she critically determined that this line of thinking was much like the line of thinking that a woman who dresses provocatively is asking to be harassed, or worst raped.  “That is so sexist,” she declared one day. “Since when is it my responsibility to dress in a certain way so that some boy doesn’t get distracted. And why is it that such ‘regulations’ aren’t aimed at the boys? Why aren’t the boys brought into an auditorium before graduation and told they need to not wear something low cut or short skirts or high heels…or…the football players told, like the cheerleaders, to not dress like a slut? Huh? What a patriarchy!”

Oh, to have her clear headed thinking and big-picture perspective skills when I was her age.

As she and I, together, watched the responses on the interwebs to her retort meme, the big jokes made from it were amusing in that head-shaking-silliness-to-the-extreme way, but it was made clear that sexism and feminist values were seen as laughable  and  not important. The fact that the original meme came from a girl was very disheartening, yet very telling about what is wrong with our society, particularly here in the United States.

It also shows that so much of the work that my grandmother’s generation, my mother’s generation,  and my generation did for for women’s rights and equality still has a long way to go.  Granted the original meme was taken down after my daughter’s response and so many others. So, perhaps the young woman who “joked” about cleavage and boobs and where you should keep them realized the irony? I don’t know. Maybe it was just a manner of not wanting the attention, which is seemingly why she feels flashing cleavage is not for her. To each their own. That’s cool. I served in the military (another place women are still slashing through barriers), in part, because she has that right to feel that way. However, it doesn’t mean that my daughter and me won’t feel differently. Is my cleavage really hurting you? Didn’t think so. Is it a distraction to you? Look the other way. Think about baseball.

I have gotten a little flak (and more probably after this post)  for allowing my daughter to touch her *boobs* and post it on the internet, because, you know, having critical thinking skills our founding fathers would be proud of –for which education is all about, and for being a social activist is a bad thing for a parent to allow for their child. Because, you know, thinking apparently is worthy of judgement and soon will be illegal.

Regardless, I’m still a proud mama bear.  I stand behind my daughter’s response. I hope and pray that all of this a learning lesson for all — male and female.

In a writing dream she was born; today is its birthday

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Today is my anniversary. It is my anniversary of jumping off the cliff and building my wings on the way down (thank you, Mr. Bradbury). One year ago today was the first day that I lived life as writing-centric.

Within the first few months I had a couple of regular freelance clients and was paid for a submitted short story. Things seemed like they were going to just go gang-busters and there would be no looking back.

Scraping by and using some community resources, I kept my children fed. Despite the difficulties, my spouse stood by me and served as lead cheerleader. His support has been critical and necessary to keep me going in those moments the rejection letters and emails came. Claims of adoration from fellow writers for my seeming stupidity disguised as bravery also buoyed me in the rough-writing seas. Rejections that said, “It was hard to say no to your (submission/application), please (reapply/resubmit),” kept me pumped to soldier on.

Right as the holidays descended on us all the freelance work dried up and I took a bit of vacation from creating anything new as far as stories went. I concentrated my creative energy on creating other art projects and opened my little Thrasher Studios Etsy shop.

At the dawn of 2012, I vowed to send one thing out every week.

In February I had my first public reading at the University Bookstore in Seattle. It felt so surreal. Could I actually be doing this? I was doing it. But still my insurance, my phone, my lights every month were at risk of being shut off. Yet, I persevered.

I continued through April 5th submitting something each week – a short story or a grant application. Peppered through these weekly “messages in a bottle” I sent inquiries to agents for my novels.

By the end of May all of my submissions and applications had been rejected. Ouch. However, some included those kind notes I mentioned above which testified that I chipped through – cracked a smile even – the Crown Jewels Guard Regiment blocking my path to the publishing tower.

I’m a week away from completing the edits and revision on a novel I wrote in 2009 (SECOND THOUGHT) and had shelved and now feel I’d be proud for this to be my debut work. Getting this work in front of agents will be my focus for the beginning of summer.

I’ve missed two deadlines for short-story submissions this month, caught up in familial obligations* as I have been. But freelance work has been absent for more than six weeks. I have some eggs in a basket here and there, but I don’t expect anything to hatch there until the Fall. Meanwhile, I have three children home all summer looking to me for movie and ice cream money, and never ending pursuit of shoes that fit last month, but don’t today. Salaries in the tech industry, where my spouse works, have tightened down and there’s just not the kind of paycheck to support the entire household as there may have been in the past. So, some things have to change. It’s hard to create when you’re rolling pennies to purchase toilet paper.

Today I applied for a service industry part-time job. No telling if I’ll get it. But, I figure I can get back out into the world beyond the cave of my writing studio and maybe, just maybe, my wings will be complete soon and I’ll be soaring through publishing success.

I’m not giving up. We all know that success is not an upward straight arrow. It squiggles up and down and all around. Regardless I’m continuing with the attitude that I expect good things to happen.

But the universe is requiring that I not throw all my energies at everything. I’m going to focus on a few things and shelve everything else – at least temporarily.

I knew going into it that this starving artist life was going to be tough and austere. I’m fortunate enough to have a supportive partner, and this little set back is not going to define me, it’s not going to alter my goals or my spirit or the elements of my writing life. It’s just going to look different than what I first envisioned it.

The fall off that cliff of security to the sea of my dreams is a long journey – heck the journey just to get to the cliff was a long one, too. I’m okay with that. Regardless, I’m still finding my wings. It’s like this song/video here, Sigur Ros’ Glósóli. If you’ve jumped off that cliff and are building your wings, comment below and tell me about your journey. If you’re just thinking about it – put on your red bandana, march to a different drummer, and come join us.

Meanwhile, there’s a manuscript staring at me awaiting my attention.

 

*In the spirit of full disclosure, part of my leaving a full-time stable job was to also be able to be home for my children more – especially my special-needs child.