Fictionista, Foodie, Feline-lover

Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Numbers Game

There's a seasonal rhythm to the freelance work I do. It gets busy in May and in September and in January because I'm prepping my clients for the big film markets--Cannes and American Film Market and the Berlinale. Hollywood is dead in August (there's a crime story title) and again from Thanksgiving to the New Year. This year the summer slow-down started early, which has left me with a lot of free time. You know what they say about the devil finding work for idle hands...

I should have been working on my novel--my self-imposed deadline is my birthday in mid-September--but instead I've been writing short stories. A lot of them, as it turns out. If you count the two a week I write for NoHo Noir, I have written 16 short stories this month, or one every two days. I haven't been that productive in years.

Patti Abbott's questions about a short story writer's process have me thinking about what was different this month. Part of it was simply that I had more time. While I don't have a traditional "day job," I still have to meet my monthly nut and that means stringing together income from a number of sources--the book reviews, the story reports, the editing gigs.

Another factor was fear. Like everyone else in the country, I've been frustrated by the debt ceiling debate. I don't care what side of the debate you're on, it's been surreal (in Suze Orman's words) watching the country's elected representatives posture and pontificate without regard to how their actions affect real people.

I've seen my projected Social Security payout figures and assuming I hold off drawing checks until I'm 70 or so, the pay might just cover my rent if I move to Panama. In theory, America celebrates the entrepreneur, but in reality, self-employed people get double-taxed, without the benefits of paid vacation and sick time. The upside is you don't have to deal with office politics; the downside is if you don't work, you don't get paid. And so this month I embarked on a submission frenzy--writing to prompts, writing to markets, writing just because an idea entered my head. I even went back to old notebooks filled with "half-baked" stories and finished them.

Remember Heinlein's rules of writing? The first one is, "You must write." The second one is, "You must finish what you write." This month I was all over that.

Now I just have to do it again next month. And work on that novel.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Winners/Clarity of Night Contest

There were 102 entries in this fiction challenge hosted by Jason Evans of "Clarity of Night." All the stories were inspired by a photograph he posted and could be no longer than 250 words.
The winners are now posted here. There were a number of really strong stories. Among my favorites were Col Bury's Till Death Do Us Part; Sandra Cormier's The Palace; Simon Kewin's I Saw Hearts but You Saw Stars; and James R. Tomlinson's story. James is no relation, but I'd love to claim him as kin. He's a fixture in these contests and if memory serves, won the last one.
Jason Evans posted his own story and it's pretty breathtaking. Read it here.
You can read my entry here.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Flash Fiction With Unicorns

Chuck Wendig over at Terrible Minds is hosting a flash fiction challenge this week. The topic is ... unicorns. One thousand words. Sounded good to me. This is what I came up with:

At the end of the rainbow

Anybody who was anyone knew that the best place to buy pure-bred unicorns was Amber Rainbow Starwood Farms outside of Albany, New York.
Starwood had been in business for more than two decades and boasted breeding stock directly descended from Silverhorn Trefoil, the first silver unicorn ever bred in captivity.
Starwood unicorns were known for their pure bloodlines, their amazing variety of colors (hence “Rainbow”), and their longevity.

The average lifespan of a Starwood unicorn was 25 years; almost twice that of animals bred from other stables. The secret to the elongated lifespan was a germline mutation introduced to the breed via some phooka cells. Other breeders who tried to replicate their success with genetic engineering ended up with still-born foals and dwarf animals.
They kept trying, though.
Although Starwood’s main source of income were sales of “classic” unicorns, the breeder also offered the adorable “mini-unis” the size of a standard poodle, and “flunies” (flying unicorns) cross-bred with pegasii imported from Spain.
The flunies were beautiful creatures, but delicate. They often suffered from congenital defects in their joints and leg bones. Stress fractures in their wings were not uncommon and almost impossible to predict.
Watching a flying unicorn fall out of the sky was both heart-breaking and horrifying.
When the mated pair of flunies plunged to their deaths during the half-time show at the Super Bowl, their terrible fate was captured by hundreds of cell phone cameras and uploaded to YouTube within hours of the event.
The video that got the most play was posted by Uli Schlicting, a German tourist who’d won his tickets in a contest sponsored by Facebook.
Uli didn’t really like American football but his partner Erich was mad for it, and so the tickets had been a birthday present for him.
Uli had been filming the half-time show when the mare, a pink flunie named Rose Dawnrider, suddenly lurched to the side. Her right wing had collapsed like an inside out umbrella, throwing all her weight on her left wing, which sheared clean off under the strain.
The YouTube video was hideously clear. Uli followed the mare all the way down, the sensitive microphone built into his camera catching her screams.
He captured the impact as she hit the football field and exploded like a watermelon dropped from a high-rise.
Moments later, Uli had pointed his camera back into the sky as her mate, known as Impossible Blue for his rare pale blue coat, tucked his wings flat against his back and dove after her, hitting the ground so hard he left a crater.
Unicorns mate for life.
Cody Lomax must have watched the video a hundred times and every time he watched it, he got angrier.
A card-carrying member of PETA and the World Wildlife Federation, Cody had contributed to countless campaigns, signed petitions, written emails, tweeted entreaties, and generally made his voice known in the cause of animal rights.
After watching the video he knew he could not stand by and let unicorn exploitation continue. He knew he couldn’t salve his conscience by writing a check or volunteering to answer phones at a charity pledge-a-thon. He knew this time he was going to have to take direct action.
He opened a new twitter account @CAUGHT (Concerned About Unicorns Getting Horrible Treatment), and created the hashtag #fluniecrash and began “following” every animal rights organization and activist in the twitterverse. Within three hours he was up to 1245 followers himself.
Amber Rainbow Starwood Farms’ website was hit with a denial of service attack not long after that, a cyber shot-across-the-bow that Cody couldn’t claim credit for but admired.
The owners of Starwood counter-punched with a shrewd advertising campaign that was heavy on cuddly pictures of “cornies,” baby unicorns with blunted horns that would fall out when their spiraled adult horns grew in.
The message of these ads was “We at Starwood Farms care about our unicorns and are grieving over the loss of these beautiful animals.”
Cody didn’t believe it for a minute.
As long as they continued to breed unicorns, the potential for exploitation was there.
They would simply have to be stopped.
Cody considered killing the owners but realized there was a flaw in that plan. The owners had relatives and had surely made a will leaving the farm and the stock to someone. For all he knew, the new owners might be worse.
The only way to really shut the place down was to kill their stud, Midnight Moon.
A full brother to the legendary racing uni Moonmadness, sired by Moondancer, Midnight Moon was pure black with a pearl-white horn and shock-white mane and tail. He stood 17 hands high, which was big for a horse and gigantic for the smaller-boned unicorns.
He did a lot of research into the most painless and humane way to accomplish his task and finally decided shooting him would be the most efficient method. Problem was, the most direct path to the unicorn’s brain was underneath the horn.
Cody figured he would aim for the unicorn’s eyes.
It wasn’t a bad plan as plans go. And it might even have worked if Cody had been lucky. But despite his devotion to the rights of unicorns large and small, Cody had never actually owned one.
He therefore didn’t know what all uni owners learn the first day they bring one home—unicorns are the most territorial creatures on earth.
They really, really, really don’t like it when someone invades their space.
The touch of a unicorn horn can heal any wound on earth except for one made by its own horn.
Cody was gored to death within two minutes of entering Midnight Moon’s stall.
The security camera captured the whole thing.
The video went viral within a day of being uploaded to YouTube.

Unicorn image: Tokidoki

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Envy--not just a sin any more!

My aunt and uncle own an apple farm, Jim's Apples. (The farm is named for my late Uncle Jim who mocked customers who wanted to buy Red Delicious apples and often refused to sell them.)
The orchard specializes in heirloom varieties of the fruit and feature apples you never heard of. My favorite is the Arkansas Black, which is darker than a winesap and deeply delicious.
I shop at three different supermarkets here in L.A. and they all feature varieties I'd never heard of when I was growing up. (There were Red Delicious, which I liked, Golden Delicious, which I didn't, and Granny Smith apples. My mother and grandmothers made pies and applesauce out of the Granny Smith apples, along with a southern delicacy called "Fried Apples"--ambrosial with pork chops.)
When I moved to L.A. I branched out in Pink Ladies and Cameos (a cross between Red Delicious and Golden Delicious) and Jazz.
I was still barely scratching the surface though. Just to give you an idea of how many different apples are grown for the table, check out this Wikipedia listing.
Yesterday I stumbled across the Envy Apple, a variety developed in New Zealand by crossing a Braeburn (not my favorite apple) with a Royal Gala (never had one). The result is ... the world's best apple.
It is crisp. It is sweet without being cloying.It's juicy.
It doesn't start turning brown for hours.
And it's beautiful.
There are a lot of red and gold apples out there, but Envy has pure colors and a wonderful scent.
They're not cheap. My supermarket sucked me in by offering them at $1.99 a pound (that's cheap in L.A.) but they now run $2.99. And they're big apples, heavy, so a pound is around two apples.
But--did I mention they are the tastiest apples in the world?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

New Clarity of Night Contest

Jason Evans at Clarity of Night has a summer fiction challenge: Elementals. Contest is open until July 20, or until Jason receives 95 stories. At that point, he'll post a 12-hour countdown.

I've entered the last couple of challenges and enjoyed writing to specific word counts from a photo prompt. I think it's a great exercise. For more info, go here.

Megan Abbott's The End of Everything

Megan Abbott’s new book, The End of Everything, is a strong story about family secrets and misunderstandings and a girl who doesn’t really know what’s going on. Abbott underplays a lot of things and the most haunting; the most visceral moments in the book are very low-key.

When her best friend Evie is kidnapped, 13-year-old Lizzie Hood launches her own investigation into the crime, uncovering a series of lies that change everything she thought she knew about herself and her friendship with Evie.

As always in Abbott’s work, the characters are strong and realistic. Her view of teenage life is not unsympathetic but utterly without sentiment. When Lizzie starts hanging out with a couple of toxic teens who have their own theories about who might have taken Evie and even her own mother seems to be relishing the drama a little too much, it confirms our worst fears about suburban schadenfreude.

The plot is laced with a suppressed violence that’s almost poetic and ratchets up the intensity without being obvious. Lizzie’s imagined scenario about a character standing outside Evie’s house, smoking and dreaming, is beautifully written.

Abbott never overstates anything, never overdoes the emotion or lets anything get melodramatic. Lizzie is not a particularly credible narrator—she’s always remembering things slightly different from the way they happened—but that works for the kind of story this is.

There’s a lot going on here beneath the surface and in the shadows—the concept of “shadow” is important here, both explicitly and implicitly—and the consequences of both intentions and actions have weight.

Nominally a YA novel, The End of Everything occupies territory somewhere north of the paranormal fantasies and dystopian dramas that clutter the genre. It’s the kind of book that reminds us that labels on fiction are meaningless.


Interview with Megan Abbott here.

More on L.A. Nocturne...

Review of L.A. Nocturne here. By someone I don't even know!!

Brotherly Love

There are times I think that being a freelancer is just another way to say "I'm a workaholic." Without the security of a day job to pay my bills, I keep a constant running count of cash flow in my head (as well as in Microsoft Money). My goal is always to have the next month's rent in the bank by the 15th of the month. If I don't, I kick into a higher gear, take on some editing gigs, write some book reviews for paying sites, scour the internet for paying markets for short stories, check my amazon sales stats obsessively. (I know, that last one is not particularly productive but I find it soothing.)

When I'm in "get the rent" mode, I am a machine. I can work most people under the table. Except my brother.

My brother makes me look like a sloth. He's an attorney, a sole practitioner based in northern Virginia. He's so busy it's a wonder his head doesn't explode. And on top of that, he has a family and two cats. I know how busy he is so outside of copying him on every single email I send out with a link to a story, I don't ask him to read everything I write. But he does. Which makes me happier than I can tell you.

He may not always like my stories, but he reads them. And when I sent him the story I'm submitting to the Machine of Death 2 anthology (there's still time to submit, see guidelines here), he vetted it for proper courtroom procedure. (I've been called for jury duty twice but never served, and everything else I know about the judicial system I learned from watching trials on TV.) It's a much better story now. I got lucky with my family. I know a lot of people who didn't.

So this is a shout-out to my brother. Thanks Rob.