The Red Book in an Alternate Dimension

Jodi Cleghorn and Dale Challener Roe have thrown down the gauntlet and challenged me to think about my story, “Out of the Darkness”, and what character I might wish I’d have written about if I could do it all again. Not being one to back down from a challenge, and especially not being someone who wants to stop the ball from rolling on this sort of thing, here are my unscripted and written-way-too-late-at-night thoughts on the subject.

As background, The Red Book is the first in the Chinese Whisperings anthologies.  It has been available as an eBook for almost two years and is coming out in paperback form on October 11, 2011.  The book was co-written by ten authors from around the world, many of whom have never met or spoken outside of social media and email.  The book was written in a one-after-the-other process where one author would write their story, the next author would choose a secondary character from the prior story and write that character’s story, and so on… providing a unique and interesting exploration of the lives of ten distinct-but-related characters. None of us knew what we were getting from the prior author until we got it and then had to choose our character.

I was the eighth author in the book.  I was also one of the last authors added to the mix, a replacement player of sorts when someone else couldn’t go.  That meant I had a lot of insight into where the characters had gone and I also had a lot of big footsteps to follow in terms of keeping the story writing at a high quality. Being a computer (software) geek, I built a spreadsheet detailing every major and minor character that appears in every single story before mine, along with details about them and what we knew about them. I had the honor of following Jasmine Gallant in the writing process and her terrific story, “Not My Name” had plenty of characters from which I could choose.  Specifically, (as I refer to my spreadsheet) I had seven choices:

  • Ronnie
  • Professor Jacobs
  • Frankie
  • the short female cop with bushy hair
  • the tall cop
  • Susie
  • Verity

If you read my thoughts on writing “Out of the Darkness”, you’ll recall that I started thirteen separate stories as I wrote (the thirteenth being what became “Out of the Darkness”). Three of them focused on the short female cop with bushy hair. One was related to the tall cop. One was about Frankie. All the rest were about Susie.  Ultimately, I chose to write about Susie, a character who actually appears in two stories before mine, Paul Servini’s “Discovery” and, of course, Jasmine’s “Not My Name”.  In these stories we learn about where Susie ends up and about one of her stops along the way.  But we don’t know how she got on this path in the first place.  In “Not My Name”, we see Susie through the eyes of Sam as she comments about how tired he appears. It was Sam’s thought, “You’d look tired too if you were me,” which made me choose to write about Susie because Sam’s reaction made me wonder why he assumed Susie was not as tired and not struggling as much as he was. I saw an opportunity to look at how we should not just assume we understand what someone is going through, whether they are happy or sad or look tired or energetic.

But what if I could do it again?

If I could do it again and was still required to choose a character from “Not My Name”, I’d write about Verity.

Verity appeared in Dale Challener Roe’s “Not Myself” and is simply a captivating character. I like how she was caring and compassionate—to me she was caring and compassionate almost to a fault.  I like her outlook on life and how she seems to look for the positives even in bad situations.  At least that’s how I imagined her.  She stayed strong and steady, even as others around her felt their world crumbling.  The description of her sigh in “Not Myself” intrigued me. Essentially, Verity just feels like a character who has a lot of positive stories to tell…and if I had another shot I think I might help her story be told.

If I could choose any character in any story, I’d choose the veggie delivery boy who appears in Jodi Cleghorn’s “Mercurial”.  Why? Well, the vegetarian in me feels there are not enough stories about vegetables and the people who love them.  And frankly, I think it would be a heck of a compelling read.

“We should run away together,” said the veggie delivery boy.

“No, no, we mustn’t,” sighed the short female cop with bushy hair. “Mama would be so disappointed.”

“Well…” said the veggie delivery boy as he bent down on one knee, “if we cant-eloupe, then how about we get married?”

“I’m not real sure that’s a good idea,” she replied, scratching at her head.  “I think my cats don’t really like you all that much. But, don’t despair, we all like your veggies.”

Ahem.  Well, I did warn you that I’m writing this way-too-late-at-night.  I’m sure the story would be more compelling if I were writing this in the morning.

Anyway, I’m pleased to have chosen Susie Lim as the focal point of “Out of the Darkness”.  There are things I’d change about the story, things I’d do differently, things I’d add or remove.  But all-in-all, I’m glad I picked her and had a chance to get to know her and the people around her. You can read an excerpt from “Out of the Darkness” as well as read some behind-the-scenes commentary, as well as story excerpts and commentaries from the other authors in the anthology by clicking over to the post on the Chinese Whisperings website.

And I am tagging Paul Servini to talk about what he might do differently if he had another shot at “Discovery” for The Red Book.  Take it away, Paul!

 

Edit: You can read each author’s thoughts on hypothetically revisiting this project by following these links:

Annie Evett

Dale Challener Roe

Jodi Cleghorn

Paul Servini

And for an added bonus, read what Dan Powell might have written had he been involved with the project.

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Writing Is My Time Capsule

I was tagged by Icy Sedgwick in her meme and while it has taken me a few days to get to it, I absolutely do not want to be the one who breaks this chain letter… so here’s my post about what writing means to me.

Writing is my time capsule.  Or maybe it’s a scrapbook.  Whatever stamp I may put on it, writing is a history.

I have written for as long as I can remember.  Poetry, short stories, plays, novels, limericks… whatever it was, it contained a part of me.  Much like someone might build a scrapbook of important events for themselves or their child, my compiled pile of writing is a memory book of thoughts, ideas, emotions and dreams.

While I lost quite a bit of the writing I did in my early years thanks to yellowed paper, faded pencil marks and water damage, I still have most of what I wrote from my middle school years and beyond.  Whenever I go back and read any of it, no matter how good or bad the writing itself was, I remember where I was, what I was doing and what I was feeling at the time.  I remember who inspired each piece, as well, so I am reminded of friends or family or unrequited teenage love.  I can see patterns in the writing that show me periods of deep depression, periods of extreme happiness and periods where I was (or was not) at ease with myself and who I was.

Even though the majority of my writing is fiction, there is a lot of truth to be learned from it. When I wrote things as a teenager, I couldn’t see it then. Nor can I see it in the writing I do today.  But the passage of time allows me to look back and see what was really going on inside my head and, sometimes, remind me of how I dealt with situations that have come up again.  While it would be easy to say “wow, Rob, you deal with everything by hiding on a different planet, with different rules which make your problems go away”, it isn’t really the case. Escaping to a different time or place is certainly a part of the reason I write, but I could tell stories that are set on a sandy beach just as easily as I tell stories set in alien landscapes.  While the settings, the aliens and the abundance of free coffee are included to entertain people who might read my writing, the emotions and plot elements are straight from my life, usually something I’m trying to work through without yelling at too many people. Putting them on the page allows me to review them and analyze them later to see how I did.

What is the writing I’m doing today reflecting about me and my life today? I don’t know. But in five or ten years, when I re-open this time capsule, I should have some interesting things to sort out.

Tagging:

Matt Robb

Virginia Diaz

Heather Dudley

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Nothing But Flowers, A Literary Mix-tape

It has been my privilege and good fortune to be asked to be a part of a new anthology!

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“Nothing But Flowers: tales of post apocalyptic love” is the second offering from Literary Mix Tapes (a quarterly crowd-sourced short fiction anthology inspired by music).

Inspired by the Talking Heads song of the same name, Nothing But Flowers explores the complexities and challenges of love in a post-apocalyptic landscape. From plague to fundamentalist governments, comets and war, from terra firma to outer space the people on these pages face up to what it means to love and be loved when you’ve lost everything.

My story, “Escape from Paradise”,provides the “comets” portion of the above blurb as it details the last-minute attempt to escape of the last outpost of humanity.

You can get information about this book and about the many, varied authors from around the world by checking out the Literary Mix Tapes website.  Starting on February 17, 2011 you should be able to purchase web-access to the stories or an eBook version (ePub, mobi or pdf format) as well as pre-order the paperback.

All proceeds from this anthology go to support the Grantham Flood Support fund, supporting the victims of the January 2011 flooding in wide areas of Queensland, Australia.

Thanks to all who have or will support this great and worthy cause.

As an update, you can now purchase the paperback version of this anthology from amazon.com. It is available here:  http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/098074461X

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My 2011 Anti-Resolutions

(written based on the [Fiction] Friday prompt on December 31, 2010: “What are your Anti-Resolutions for the coming year?”)

Note:  Most people put in 5 or 10 of these… but somehow, 13 seemed more appropriate for me.

  1. I will not continue trying to find a legitimate way to claim my coffee investments as a business expense, even though I drink most of it during business hours.
  2. I will not blame Microsoft for everything that is wrong with technology in the world; clearly, most of the blame belongs on Apple.
  3. I will not blame the cats or the dog for smells that most certainly came from my daughter.
  4. I will not sing about compost and pig slop at my next audition for a role in a musical; clearly, it’s better to sing about gang violence and infidelity instead.
  5. I will not continue to float the idea of coffee-flavored cigarettes and coffee-flavored alcohol products because I am completely against supporting such addictive behaviors as smoking and drinking.
  6. I will not go into local steak houses just to place “Meat is Murder” stickers on all of the tables, chairs, menus and light fixtures; I will make sure to order a blooming onion and use the “For Customer Use Only” restroom first.
  7. I will not allow my son to blame the cats, the dog, his sister or his mother for smells that most certainly came from him.
  8. I will not continue my lobbying efforts to make March 30 a national holiday in honor of the glorious day in 1971 when Starbucks opened its first store in Pike Place Market in Seattle, Washington.
  9. I will not continue to blame science for letting me down by not having invented flying cars and teleportation devices yet when it is obvious that these technologies do exist and have been suppressed and hidden by a little-known, right-wing government conspiracy.
  10. I will not make my apocalypse story be about December 21, 2012 because the world doesn’t need another story about that specific apocalypse on that specific day; clearly, the real apocalyptic event would be due to a shortage of broccoli and garlic on December 22, 2012 and will take everyone by surprise because of the media’s focus on December 21. (Multi-million dollar movie contract for this unique idea… here I come!)
  11. I will not goad my wife into breaking her anti-resolutions by bringing Caxton or the Great Vowel Shift up in otherwise ordinary conversations, even though it would be a lot of fun to watch her try to avoid her inevitable rant about the subjects.
  12. I will not make fun of the dog for wearing the ridiculous outfits my wife puts on him; I’m sure that if he had opposable thumbs, he’d change out of that stuff and into ripped jeans and spiked studded collars as soon as he got out of her line of sight, just like any self-respecting dog would do.
  13. I will not continue trying to find a legitimate way to claim my coffee purchases and intake as a healthcare expense, even though I drink it for the health of those around me and I once had it prescribed by a doctor (No lie! This happened on November 9, 2010 – along with a slip for antibiotics and codeine-laced cough medicine, I got a slip for a cup of coffee).
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And the Winner Is…

The first thing I want to say is thanks to everyone who posted comments describing their worst travel experiences. I’m sorry that you all had such harrowing experiences, but I thank you for sharing them. I, personally, have had many bad experiences. One of them includes paint can lids flying out of the back of a truck while riding down Route 95 South in heavy traffic. Another is roofing shingles flinging off a pre-fabricated building that was being pulled by a big truck – this also occurred on Route 95 south.

Still another bad experience, and possibly the scariest

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Launch of the Yin and Yang Books (Chinese Whisperings)

As many of you know, for the past eight months I have been involved with the second set of anthologies coming from the Chinese Whisperings brand. Last year’s debut anthology, The Red Book, was an exciting event consisting of 10 authors from around the world. It is a great book and has generated a lot of interest in the project. (You can read about The Red Book or buy it here!)

Today, the second Chinese Whisperings project launches!  Initially planned to be called “The Jade Book”, this follow-up anthology project was expanded to include 22 authors from around the globe and became two separate but interconnected anthologies known as The Yin Book and The Yang Book (or the combined The Yin and Yang Book). Again, you can learn about or buy these great anthologies right here!

The blurb for the two anthologies only tells a little of what happens in the books:

In the international terminal of a large European airport, Monday morning is about to get a whole lot worse. At 7.35am Pangaean Airlines, one of Europe’s major carriers, is put into receivership grounding all flights, stranding thousands of passengers and impounding tonnes of luggage. But all is not as appears on the surface and the sliding-doors moment of one woman deciding to abandon her suitcase will ricochet through the lives around her.

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