When your whole life is a war,
and more battles are fought against yourself than the enemy,
and your own talents turn against you,
it takes a certain type of courage to win.
I am, by any measure of the word, a newbie. I'm only 22 years old for crying out loud. Aren't I too young to be having existential, "What do I want to do when I grow up" crises? I think so. Ideally, I'd be under the impression that I have my whole life in front of me to choose what I want out of it. But, me being me, I can't seem to think that way. I feel lost most of the times. And the times when I don't feel lost, when I have fleeting, beautiful visions of what my life should look like, I can do nothing to achieve it. I'm too bogged down with previous obligations. Pets, school, work, house, the works. I can trim the excess branches that are trying to grow in the wrong direction, but I'm afraid of change. Even though change will do me a world of good.
This fact is underlined by last night. My mother's book club reviewed draft 2.5 (or something) of my book-in-progress, BOUND TO ASHES. I used to consider it a whole book, but now it's "book-in-progress," because of last night.
Dawn, a dear friend of my whole life, said to me, "At first I was shaking in my boots (even though I was wearing Mary Janes) about giving you critique. I felt like I was either going to be the hatchet or the chainsaw."
That, alone, tells you what went down. They suggested more of this, less of that, standard book review stuff. Then Dawn said at one point, "Everything up until chapter 6 is just back story. I think you should cut that off and start on chapter 6."
W-what?! Chop off like a third of the book?! But... so much work... so many good scenes... To the book club, my book is an unfinished novel waiting to be finished. It's not the concrete building I have in my mind. I got so close to that building, got so familiar with the bricks and mortar and could trace the outlines of all the support beams, but I lost sight of the building as a whole. I failed to see the construction flaws and the exposed insulation. Metaphor aside, my whole world was shaken up after that meeting. Like rebuilding after an earthquake. The frame stands, but the bricks and concrete and drywall have fallen away because of builders who didn't know what they were doing. (Ok, the metaphor sticks, but shut up, I like metaphors.)
After the earthquake, I surveyed the building's remains. I can still salvage parts. I can still scrounge up enough mortar to repair certain walls. But whole supports and ceilings have caved in, and those will have to be rebuilt from scratch.
And you know... I plan on it.
Because even though I sometimes think I can't dedicate enough time to my writing, I'm going to re-write my book until it's the best darn thing anyone's ever read.
Or close enough. Shoot for the moon, right?
Welcome, friends, to my brain.
I think when people like Sexton Burke write books like The Writer's Lab, they have certain expectations. "If I write this clever book full of writing prompts, readers will be inspired and they will create some interesting things."
But I highly doubt that anyone, clever or not, is capable of anticipating what readers come up with. Namely, my response to the first prompt.
The prompt in The Writer's Lab I chose to begin with was simple. Your name's letters rearranged into a new name: the name of your new character that you then have to describe and eventually write a scene about.
Being a visual thinker, I had to physically rearrange my letters. I came up with something awesome.
Mad Craoll Rewnma. I pronounce it in my mind as CRAWL RUNE-ma. It uses every letter in my first and last name. And lo, it even came with a title. "Mad." Oh yes, I can work with this.
So I did. Here is what I came up with.
"Mad" Craoll Rewnma began life as a street urchin. That's about it. Not even she knew-- or cared-- where she came from. She started rough and finished rough. Long dead by a century now, Rewnma was well known in her time for having a penchant for thievery and occasionally dabbling in homicide. That was how it started. With her tangled mane of dark hair and freckled golden eyes, she was the picture of madness even before her defining adventure gave her the title "Mad". Like a jungle cat, she slunk around museums and scholarly establishments for the better part of 20 years, aging none. Then one day, she did it. Breaking into the Twixt, the realm between the living and the dead, is said to be impossible. Except for Rewnma. No one's sure how she did it, or for that matter, why. Some speculated that she wanted to find the lost souls of those she killed, just to "check up on them," because that was her style. Some thought she just wanted to prove that she was the sneakiest thief ever to set foot on the Three Lands. She baffled every prophet, bishop, sorcerer, and king.
But as I floated into the Twixt, a bodiless soul myself, I found her. She was cutting away the souls that formed the walls and structures in the chaotic realm. I addressed her. Why was she doing this? Why was she setting the souls free of their containment? I thought you killed people, Mad Rewnma, not set their captured souls free!
In reply, she grinned and said simply, "I don't relish taking away life, or giving it for that matter. I found that killing had lost its fun. I'm on to better things. You see, I'm really just in the business of mucking things up."
The souls floated away from us in silence, though their mouths were ajar in soundless screams. They faded out of the Twixt.
And that, my friends, is how the Undead War of the Three Lands came to be. One woman. One madwoman. Mad Craoll Rewnma.
Alright, Sexton Burke, if you're reading this, I hope you're happy. My brain clamped over that prompt, tore it to shreds, and buried the remains in the backyard. Somehow I've created worlds, realms, thieves, and zombie outbreaks from one simple exercise.
The brain is a marvelous creature, is it not?
I'm coming out of printmaking class. I cross the street to the bus stop. My heart beats a little faster like it always does when anticipating the the great accordion-waisted metal creatures. I sit on the bench and pull out my headphones to lose myself in music. A little mini vacation from the busy city. Everything is always happening in the city. I can't keep track.
My bus pulls up. 73X to downtown Seattle. If I get on this bus, it will take me to international district, which will take me to Kings Street, which will take me home. Precious home.
I had lost my U-Pass card earlier in the week. Even though I got it replaced today, the bus pass feature won't be active until Wednesday. Today is Monday. I fumble in my pockets for bills and change. I wave the person in front of me to go ahead, she can cut me.
The bus shuts its doors and starts driving off.
My heart shrivels and I clench the money in my fist and wave with my other. "Wait, wait!" The bus stops. "Can I still get on...?" I say it in such a small voice I doubt even the people at the stop hear me. The driver opens the doors almost deliberately slowly. He stares at me. No words. Grey eyes. Vacant expression. "Sorry." I feed my money in and look down. His reluctant hand hovers over the pink transfer slip. "I don't need a transfer, that's fine."
There are no seats except for the ones designated for disabled or elderly. 5/6 people do not fit either of those descriptions. One seat is open. I pass it and stand in the isle. The bus jerks and sways and I grip the bars and grimace every time I stumble.
While the one-sided conversation plays on slow-motion repeat in my head, I maintain other imaginary conversations with strangers.
"Why didn't you take that seat up front?" She is in her mid 30's and looks nice enough.
I don't answer. Maybe I make noncomittal sounds and shrug it off. Don't cry.
"There arent any seniors or cripples."
I stare straight ahead at nothing.
"Why didn't you sit there if you hate standing so much? You can walk on the bus while it's moving, you know. It would be much easier. Then I can hold on to the bar, your hand will be out of my way."
"BE QUIET!" I scream.
But I'm screaming it in my head, not to the woman next to me.
The bus continues. We go into a tunnel, stop, and a seat frees up. I take it. But I can't stop talking to people in my head.
"This stop is Convention Center," the imaginary bus driver says, "anyone ELSE need off?" I feel his imaginary eyes bore through me in the rear view mirror. He is talking to me; singling me out among the other passengers for my slowness. In the pretend-scenario, I sniff angrily and cross my arms, like I'm tough and aloof. But what would have happened is I'd squeak a, "No thank you." I would avoid the stares of the other passengers and fend of the tingly-hot-water feeling of crying. I'm getting pretty good at that.
I avoid eye contact the rest of the day. I try to think about school and what I need to study. But the only thing my mind goes back to is that bus driver's cold stare, and the woman who thinks I'm stupid for being scared of taking an empty seat.
The strangers in my head are not nice people.
I've had it in my head that my book, my story, Bound to Ashes, is not what it really is. But now I have come to realize it is much more than just some words on pages.
A story in my head first, a story on an online data storage cloud second, a polished Microsoft Word Document third. Translated into hand-written notes, print-shop hard drafts, PDFs, website code, .docx, .txt, .mobi. All those formats and I was missing the format that it truly belonged in-- and no, I'm not talking hardback, softback, or or eBook. Think... more of a metaphorical format. A format that transcends physical forms and data points and travels to the mind instead.
A book is a living thing. But think of it like a sea sponge or, for comedy, a sea cucumber. That sea cucumber lays on the bottom of the ocean (book shelf), filter-feeding on other creatures's byproducts (readers, critics). But it was put there by someone. God? Evolution? (Creationism makes more sense for this metaphor, bear with me.)
God made the sea cucumber for a purpose. Not to just sit there and feed on particles floating by or even to be eaten by another animal. He/She made it for a higher purpose. A diver, a first-time diver, on their first excursion to the sea. The first animal they see is a sea cucumber. They mistake it for a piece of coral first, but as it wriggles, they see it for something else. They pick it up and find that its squishy, not spiky at all. And they get to know that cucumber a bit. They go home and look at its Wikipedia page and read books on sea cucumbers (and get funny looks from librarians when they check out a pile of books on nature's most boring animal.) They go diving again, and again, and again, and find that same cucumber, and smile. That's my cucumber. And as they dive more and more, they see more sea creatures. They learn new things. And they perceive their reality differently. They have a new sense of wonder about the world. All thanks to that one sea cucumber.
I may or may not have lost that little gem of an extended metaphor, but the fact remains: my story is more than words on paper. It's more than ink on a page. And in the future, it will be more than a book on a shelf.
Those words might inspire someone to write a story themselves. Someone might see those ink strokes on a page and want to produce some fan-art. Someone could read my main character's struggle to want to stay alive in an apocalyptic wasteland and become inspired by his strength. You just never know. Those infinite possibilities that lie within something as simple as words make it special. Luminous, alive, beating, thrumming with meaning and potential and worth.
That is what I've made. No matter what happens in the future, published or not, I am proud of what I've done.
A finless-variety 'Pembroke welsh pearlscale' goldfish dog.
Goldfish Dogs-- Genetic Abomination, or 'The Next Big Thing' in Exotic Animal Husbandry?
by Maranda Cromwell
Since humans emerged as an evolutionary powerhouse, harnessing agriculture and claiming ownership over the lands, they have also taken control of animals. I'm talking about domestication.
With the power we hold over the animals, we can control their fates. From wolves, we have made chihuahuas and maltese. From small wild cats in Africa we have created the common house cat. Fancy goldfish are no exception-- from the sleek and noble koi's ancestors to the 'fancy' goldfish: round and wiggly fish kept by aquarium enthusiasts all around the world.
But humans did not stop at wolves and koi.
In a frenzied quest to create the perfect companion, breeders and geneticists working together have made a breakthrough in the field of domesticated companion animals. The rationalization is clear: combine the loyalty and adaptability of dogs with the simple-mindedness and somehow cute appearance of fancy goldfish. At the time, perhaps that seemed like a good idea. Like the fabled story of the Two Headed Cat, scientists quickly discovered their folly as the first goldfish dog was created.
With all the enthusiasm of a puppy and the relative brainlessness of a goldfish, the goldfish dogs proved to be many things, none of which was the scientists and breeders's idea of a good companion. Scatterbrained, moronic, clumsy on land and water, the goldfish dogs had one thing going for them: they were cute in the same way a two-legged-dog is cute. Pathetic, but well-wishing. In training classes and standard obedience courses, they only barely passed: just for trying their best.
Most fancy goldfish owners will tell you that goldfish do not have a 3-second memory, and that their memory is closer to 3 months instead. And as we all know, dogs are among the smartest animals on the planet, the smartest of which can remember vocabularies up to 2,000 individual words and are the only animals to understand the concept of pointing-- looking at the object being pointed at instead of the hand. Sadly, goldfish dogs did not receive the long end of the stick. They remain famous for being "the most unintelligent animal ever to be created by man." And that includes chickens and guinea fowl, which are rated 2nd and 3rd on the same chart.
But despite their lack of redeeming qualities in the mental faculty department, they somehow remain popular as household pets. The scientists and breeders are not sure how their popularity came about-- the operation was supposed to be top secret, yet somehow strains of several breeds were loosed upon the exotic pet trading networks. The smooth-coat shubunkin terriers, the Pembroke welsh pearlscales, and the black moor chow chows are among the most popular, though mutts are gaining quite a following as well. Thankfully, the goldfish dogs are considered too simple to experience advanced emotions such as fear or aggression, and generally have easygoing and aloof personalities.
As of yet, there are no ongoing attempts to reclaim the "top secret" goldfish dog population, because as the head developer claimed, "We really just don't care anymore."
"My goldfish dog is the best animal I've ever had the pleasure of keeping," one owner told us excitedly. I interviewed her at the 2nd annual Goldfish Dog Fanciers Association Meeting, which consisted of a grand total of 13 individuals, all claiming ownership of one or even several of the strange creatures. "When she borks at me at the door when I come home from work, my heart just melts. I love Bella so much," the owner went on to say. As I came to understand, "borking" is the sound the goldfish dog make: a garbled version of a dog's bark.
The Goldfish Dog Fanciers Associations meeting consisted of various competitions, including 'Best Bork', 'Cutest Face', 'Buggiest Eyes', and 'Most Endearing Gait'. As opposed to the dog shows put on by the AKC, these meetings tend to be more casual, and 'breed standard' is more like 'breed suggestion'. Goldfish dog judging is more based on personal preference than a set-in-stone set of rules. Even the finless varieties of goldfish dogs, considered 'improper', have been known to win ribbons in a few categories.
"The good thing about goldfish dogs, or gofogs as we call them, they're just so cool with everything! Marshmallow lets me put little shoes and sweaters on him, and he doesn't care! They don't bite, they don't scratch, and they only wet the carpet sometimes. I mean, compared to an actual dog, I'd much rather have a gofog," another fan said.
The public seems to have other ideas regarding the 'gofogs', however. A random passerby, when asked what her opinions of the animals were, simply said, "Those things? They're gross." When I pressed further, she explained, "They're horrible, like, inbred things. I mean, either have a goldfish or a dog, don't put them together in some science lab!"
Other opinions varied from outraged, to somewhat amused, to downright apathetic. It may be a few more years until the Goldfish Dog Fanciers Association picks up more members.
But what does this mean for the well-meaning goldfish dog? "We have a very extensive breeding regiment," the president of the GDFA said, "we have a very small gene pool to work with, but thanks to one of our members who also breeds pomeranians, we have a genetic expert on our side. In a few generations, we should have a healthy breeding stock so that more people can obtain the gofogs and see what amazing, loving, adorable pets they make."
Who knows what the future holds for the goldfish dogs? But somehow, many people doubt that 'gofogs' will ever reach the popularity of dogs or cats, or even goldfish. But time will tell. In the next few years, don't be surprised to see someone walking a celestial calico shepherd down the street, or see a red ranchu pug peeking out of a woman's purse on the subway.
Look at me, writing 50k in a month. Hot diggity.
It's been a great month, all in all. I didn't lose a whole hell of a lot of sleep, surprisingly, but I did cut back on my tumblr-ing and Twittering. Okay, that last one is a lie. I might have kept a Twitter tab up the entire time I was writing. So sue me.
Anyway, as you know, I've written a book. That was one book, and this year's NaNo was the sequel. A sequel full of different settings, more danger, more fight scenes (yesss), and an absolutely gut-wrenching cliffhanger at the ending. Cue evil laughter.
And honestly, I'm surprised I did so well. It's amazing that after writing one book, 1,667 words a day doesn't seem like that much. And I'm on the computer so much anyway, "I might as well be writing," I would think. And hey, it worked! If my attention deficit self can do it, anyone can. Here's an excerpt from my book that none of y'all are going to understand, but maybe you'll enjoy it anyway. And here's to everyone who finished NaNoWriMo, on time or not! Here's to everyone who went out there and wrote something.
[ Background info: narrator is Ashton, genetically enhanced supersoldier (Altered), 7' 1", digitigrade legs (think kangaroo/dog), tail. ]
The main door slammed open; there was a collective sound of everyone looking at it at once. I did, too. Light poured in from outdoors and in strode a few Altered, all carrying big bags. They cast shifty glances around, taking in the scene, and then the last one entered. I think my mouth might have fallen open.
She was taller than I was. With legs like stilts she padded forward, her face a stone statue, stoic and judgmental. Her hair was cropped short and her clothes were nearly skin-tight and in layers, torn and stained, but it lent her a sort of fleeting look-- like how a ghost would seem. Her tail moved back and forth lazily. My god, she had a tail. Like me.
Her eyes were a golden brown, the color of the moon with an orange film of pollutant-sunset over it. Her pale scars-- and there were many-- stood out like stars against her midnight skin. She stared into me. With absentminded flicks of her hand, she sent her associates off and padded forward.
She was inside the circle. Everyone backed up as if on cue, giving her space. She nearly towered over me. I knew what everyone else felt when they were around me, now. I was immediately sorry for all the people I made feel small, insignificant, and perhaps even terrified.
She said nothing, which was the worst part. I swallowed the bloody spit pooling in my mouth and winced. She did nothing. Those amber eyes just dug holes in me.
When she pushed her feet apart into a stance, I knew what she was here for. She wasn't just getting a good look at me. She was sizing me up.
And you know, now that NaNoWriMo is over, I've found myself thinking, "What now?" Every time I'm not writing, I'm thinking of what I have to do to to get my word count up. No, self, you don't have to write almost 2k words a day anymore. You're okay. Write as it comes to you. Sigh. It's going to take some getting used to, falling out of the NaNo-Habit.
But then again, what is NaNo good for if not urging writers to write?
No, not free stuff for you. Shoo. Free stuff for me. If I win the giveaway, that is. Check it. Cool folks over at Pen & Muse are not only inspiring me to keep working on my NaNoWriMo project (and simultaneously distracting me from it via this post) but they're also offering free writing critiques and a bunch of books. So basically I'm stoked. You should enter if you think you're cool enough. Which you are.
Anyway, NaNo continues. Even getting sick and being tempted away from my book by ferrets and half-promises of adopting a dog (more on that later) haven't deterred me. Well... Maybe they did just a little... and by a little I mean 3,000 words. Heh.
And to make things worse, I have to participate in a Waffle Cook Off tonight! Never under any other circumstances will that phrase be uttered. For those interested, Jessie and I will be creating a fruity dragon waffle. Full story at 11.
Sometimes my mind gets to lost and out of touch with itself that I just have to draw a skull. Now I'm not talking lost and out of touch as if they're bad things-- no, more like... rearranging your room and enjoying the change. It didn't help that my boyfriend bought the new Mumford and Sons album and it's fabulous. I got a little wrapped up in all them emotions.
The thing I like most about this piece is that I didn't really even think about it. I did the outline, didn't even stop to nitpick it, and continued. I stopped before I could over-think anything and didn't overwork it. There were two light sources and I didn't even consciously acknowledge that fact until this morning. I just drew what I saw and enjoyed it.
I should really get back into drawing. And I mean actual drawing, not doodling my book's protagonists as Adventure Time characters. (Sidenote: I'd pay top dollar* for someone to animate these guys in an Adventure-Time-esque episode. See, it's funny, because AT is post-apocalyptic, and so is my book... My jokes, let me force you to endure them.)And hey if you guys haven't read the first chapter of my book, do so!
With Ash the dog and Dev the human, the fun times will never end! ... Ok sorry I'll leave
* about $17
Once upon a time I participated in NaNoWriMo-- National Novel Writing Month. 50,000-word novel in one month. I failed miserably, of course, but I'm willing to attribute that to my flash drive corrupting and school repeatedly punching me in the face*. I didn't come away from NaNo with nothing, though-- I still have about 5k of the story I started, called The Dreaming Wonder. Since I started it, it's gone under several revisions and still isn't finished, but I have plans for it in the future. Florence, pictured above, is my favorite character from the story. She's a foul-mouthed white fox with black eye markings and one big giant eye in the middle of her head. She doesn't like you and will talk behind your back about how stupid you are. Deep, the stuffed spider on her back, is her fiancé. He is very wise, if only he could talk.
Anyway, here's a snippet of the story.
...On to more pressing matters: where was he? Who was he? Why had someone decided to cover his feet in silly-looking contraptions? Surely whoever thought up foot-covers was the silliest of people, he decided. That was his only concrete fact about himself, other than his looks: he firmly believed in going barefoot. Well, you have to start reconstructing your identity somewhere, he thought. "I am a person dressed in a material strange to me in a land of floating... things," he said aloud, as if to finalize this discovery. Though he didn't quite know what he meant by "person". Was he a person? Or was he perhaps a mutated glob? The scorn of all glob-kind?
No, not more of that nonsense. Besides, something was coming his way.
He turned to look. In the distance was a faint shape, darker than the globs, and moving with a sense of purpose. It tread upon the ground as he did, though it was a great deal smaller. As it drew nearer, it appeared to be a dog. He wondered what a dog was. Best put that little notion aside for now.
The thing approached him and looked up with a judgemental air. Or perhaps it didn't, he wasn't sure exactly how to read the face of a dog. Thing. It's back only reached to his knee. It seemed to be a dog-like creature indeed, with a massive puffy tail and dainty feet dotted with black claws. The shadows of the two creatures, man and fox-thing, danced around their feet as the glowing globs circled and wavered above them. The fox creature snapped its tail impatiently back and forth and quickly snapped, "What 'chu lookin' at, guy?"
The man quickly realized the animal spoke to him in a language he understood. This surprised him. But what shocked him further was the fact that the creature had one big eye in the middle of its forehead. Where normal foxes had eyes, it had sly-looking black markings. If the man knew anything about Japanese folklore, which is doubtful, he would recognize the markings as similar to a kitsune, a fox spirit known for causing trouble. This one, however, just seemed to be rude.
"I... don't know," the man replied. He wasn't clever enough at this point to make a snarky comeback. Speaking seemed like a novelty to him this early in the game.
"Yer starin'! At me! That's rude!" The creature bounced with every sharp word that came out of its slender snout. Its white fur bristled in irritation. "Why're you in the Pre-Fields anyway?"
Uh oh. More things he didn't know about. "The what?" He asked.
The fox's one eye narrowed. "Yer not funny, ya know."
"Yes, probably," the man replied.
The fox looked at him with utter confusion. "Deep, this sucker's tryin' ta pull our leg. Let's go." With that, the animal began to trot off, throwing its head back in a snoody way. Who was it talking to? Deep?
"Wait, no, sorry? Come back, I'm lost. I think. I'm not sure..." the man wasn't sure what to say to get the fox to stop. He knew, somehow, that it could help him get away from the white-land-with-globs, or the Pre-Fields, as it called the place.
The fox turned around and shot him a contemptuous glare with its one green eye. "How can you be lost?" It asked, as if getting lost were comparible to something completely stupid and unimaginable. Which it might be, he thought. He just didn't know.