Tuesday, 30 September 2014

The book of the magic emerald





A picture says a thousand words. Write them.
Mission: Write a story, a description, a poem, a metaphor, a commentary, or a critique about this picture. Write something about this picture.
Be sure to tag writeworld in your block!
http://writeworld.tumblr.com/post/89366408266/writers-block-a-picture-says-a-thousand-words
The small boy snuck closer to the abandoned house. It was dark and cold and any child his age should have been at home and asleep at this hour. But he was the kind of child who noticed too much, at least according to the adults who knew him. He had noticed that the abandoned house was no longer abandoned some days ago and he had been determined to check it out.
The tall man with the dark hair and the permanently sour expression had been very careful not to announce his presence. Whatever stores he had were enough for the moment. He found fresh water in the well and he kept away from the villagers.
The boy saw him dig for some roots in what used to be the garden and trim the leaves from a large leafy plant with his knife. The boy thought that stuff was poisonous but the man didn’t die; at least he was still alive the next day assuming he ate the leaves. The boy’s mother was not good with the garden. The leaves looked smaller in the soup the man cooked, but still recognisably the same.
The child followed him for days. Once, he thought the man knew he was there. A twig cracked under his foot and the noise was much louder than he wanted it to be but the man didn’t react to the sound.
“You are following me,” he said that night when the child was watching him stoke the fire he had made in the sooty fireplace.
He didn’t try to deny it, just sidled closer to the fire.
The man studied him over the brim of his tea cup. “What’s your name?”
He shook his head mutely.
“Huh... fair enough.” He sipped his tea. “I will call you shadow,” he said. “You’ve been following me for days.” He dug in his bag until he found a second cup. “Tea, Shadow?”
The boy nodded and sat carefully; not too close to the fire or the man. It should be safe to drink from the same pot of tea. He took the man’s cup instead of the new one he filled.
The man chuckled but didn’t object.
They sat and drank together. The man passed him a bowl of soup. He sniffed suspiciously at the contents but the man was already eating it and he had seen it served from the same pot; his hunger eventually pushed him to try it. He held his bowl out for seconds.
“Not so fast, little shadow. I require payment.”
The boy frowned at him.
“Books. Seen any?”
The boy raised an eyebrow.
“You don’t know what a book is?”
A head shake.
“I bet you have missed too many days of school.”
Head shake. “No school,” he said.
“No school?”
“Teacher died.”
“Oh, I am sorry.” He refilled the boy’s soup. “Education is the thing that helps you get out of a village like this.”
The boy looked intrigued.
“Which is why I need a book. But not just any book, a particular one.” A pause. “You’re really sure you haven’t seen any?”
The boy gave a noncommittal shrug.
“Is there a person who keeps the books?”
“The teacher’s wife. She took them.”
“Ah.” So he did know what a book was. The man’s shoulders looked tense, but the child did not notice that. “Does she still live in the town?” he asked, trying not to seem too eager.
A small nod.
“You can show me later.”
An even smaller nod.
“Once I have the book, I will leave town.”
The child looked the question.
“I promise. I have no reason to stay.”
His eyes narrowed as he thought about the answer.
“Eat your soup,” the man suggested, refilling his own bowl.
When they had both drained the pot the man yawned and looked as if he was going to sleep. The boy poked him in the leg.
“Yes, you’re right. We should go now.” He stood and stretched. “Come on.” Then he stopped. “Which house was it?”
“Near the school.”
“Makes sense.” He brushed off his trousers as he stood. “The school is near the river, right?”
A nod.
“I noticed the large area of bare ground around it. Was it a playground?”
“Yes.”
They started to walk. The man kept up a conversation now that the child was talking a little more. He asked what kind of games did they play. Who usually won them? Those kind of questions and they reached the school without incident.
The man stopped with his hand on the gate.
The boy waited.
“Sorry... It’s been a little while since I’ve been to school.” He grinned at the boy. “But they all look the same.” Looking at the building, he added, “You wouldn’t know that, of course.” He took a breath and stepped into the yard. “Let’s check the school first. Now where were the books?”
The child showed him. He looked through them all and seemed disappointed when he did not find what he was looking for.
“Looks like we need to talk to the widow.” A pause. “I wanted to avoid her.”
The boy looked up at him.
“I’m not good talking to people.” A pregnant pause. “You’re not people.”
A snort.
The boy pushed at him to go around the side of the house. It took him a little while to understand. He heard them talking. The woman saying she didn’t know what he wanted with the books, and then the boy suggesting she make tea for them. When she had gone, he held the books up until the man pointed at one. It had a dark cover with white writing on it. It looked more decorative than the others to the boy, but he could not read more than a few letters. This book was different, even he knew that.
He handed it to him out the window; shutting it quickly when she poked her head back in to ask if he wanted bread and butter to eat.
When the boy turned back he could see through the window. The man held the book and let it fall open. His face was serious and he muttered something under his breath. The green light shot out of the book and lit up the man’s face.
The book was definitely different.
The child looked worried during tea. He itched and fidgeted as he ate the bread. He clearly regretted asking for it now. The woman knew children and she let him go before he got too agitated.
He ran back to the abandoned house and exhaled in relief when he saw the man waiting for him. His bag was already packed and the fire tamped so that it would die down. “I wanted to ask you something,” the man said. “Would you like to come with me?”
Silence.
“It won’t be easy. Sometimes I don’t eat every day.”
The child shrugged. He was thin enough that perhaps he didn’t eat every day, either. He pointed at the book.
“I could teach you to read. If you wanted.”
He nodded quickly.
“It might take longer to read this language, but I think you are smart.” Another nod. “Okay.” He stood. “So what do I call you? My name is Jean.”
“Shadow,” said the boy.
~~~~
© AM Gray 2014


Wednesday, 24 September 2014

If misery could manifest itself into household objects



In one sentence is the spark of a story. Ignite.

Mission: Write a story, a description, a poem, a metaphor, a commentary, or a memory about this sentence. Write something about this sentence.

Be sure to tag writeworld in your block!
http://writeworld.tumblr.com/post/98143751043/if-misery-could-manifest-itself-into-household-objects
~~~~~~
“If misery could manifest itself into household objects, it would most certainly be a cheap Australian boxed wine,” she announced as she waved the large but currently close to empty wine glass around.
“Cask,” he corrected.
“What?”
“Australians call them wine casks, not wine boxes.”
“Oh... do I care?”
“Probably not.” He studied her while she was not looking at him. She had knocked on his door; very late and already very drunk. She insisted on more wine even though he was seriously waiting for her to throw up. Or fall asleep. Teary and emotional, she explained that she had been stood up and she was not happy about it. “And besides,” he added, “misery is more likely to be concentrated on the sofa.”
“Huh... maybe. The hours spent alone mainlining some TV series that just lets you down when they won’t let the characters you totally ship together be together.”
“Yeah. Or they cancel it and the last episode finished on a cliff-hanger.”
“Ugh... never to be resolved. Hate that.” She waved the empty glass at him.
He stood, grabbed both glasses and refilled them from the cask. “You are really verbose when you’re drunk.”
“I forgot to eat,” she said as if that explained it and reached out to take the glass he passed to her. She started spouting off about her personal theory of Lost and how the writers of Teen Wolf should be pegged out on an anthill.
She was halfway through the glass, when she fell asleep. He rescued it from her hand. “He was a dick to stand you up,” he told her. “You are better off without him.”
Grabbing the throw from the back of the sofa, he spread it over her. He bent down to tuck it in and heard her mutter, “I ship us... you know?”
He blinked at her, not sure that he had heard her correctly. “Rose?” he asked but a snore was his only reply.
He brushed her cheek with the back of his finger. He secretly loved the way she came to him when she was hurt or upset. He was her best friend, and terrified of losing that, he had never asked her out or tried to kiss her. Maybe he should. But not yet; tomorrow he would be the solicitous best friend who would drag her hung-over butt out for a greasy full breakfast and then lie on the grass at the park and commiserate over her bad dating habits. And maybe... after another day or so, he could just suggest that they should go out with each other.
Sounded like a plan. He patted the wine cask where it sat on the top of the microwave. “Thanks,” he told it. “She’s wrong. Tonight you manifested honesty, not misery.” 
~~~~
© AM Gray 2014

Monday, 22 September 2014

The box lay in the remains of the burned house, untouched



In one sentence is the spark of a story. Ignite.

Mission: Write a story, a description, a poem, a metaphor, a commentary, or a memory about this sentence. Write something about this sentence.

Be sure to tag writeworld in your block!
http://writeworld.tumblr.com/post/96876622133/the-box-lay-in-the-remains-of-the-burned-house
~~~~~~
The box lay in the remains of the burned house, untouched.
It had taken a few minutes to move aside the debris and locate it.
“Okay... that’s weird,” he said, brushing ash from his hands.
“Makes it easier to find,” she replied. They had come to this address to find a box and here it was... waiting for them. It was lying on its side as the wooden table it had clearly been sitting on had broken up underneath it.
He had not wanted to look; she had convinced him to do it and now his face reflected his concern. “It’s too weird,” he added.
She reached out to pick it up.
“Don’t touch-- oh, crap, now you’ve done it.”
“It’s not magic.” She wiped the top of it off with her sleeve and tucked it under one arm.
“Well what is it, then? Nothing wooden should have survived that fire.”
“I don’t think its magic,” she corrected.
“It has to be!” He stepped back away from it, as if it frightened him. “Wait... did it make the fire?”
“Oh, please... now you are reaching.”
“They told us to be careful-”
“They didn’t tell us it was dangerous.”
“No. And yet the house is burned.” It wasn’t destroyed, but it was damaged.
Silence for a beat.
Crouching down he poked at the ash. “Whatever. I just know that I am not touching it.” He shifted more debris. “Lucky the floor is concrete, otherwise we might never have found it.” A glance at her before he added, “Don’t move.”
She watched him pick his way out of the rubble. When he came back he had a large yard broom.
“I saw the garden shed,” he explained.
That wasn’t actually an explanation. “What are you doing?”
“Fire leaves flash marks on concrete.”
“How do you mean?”
“There’s no sign of explosives, no major damage, and no smell of accelerants. If the fire started where the box was sitting, then the marks will be on the floor.”
“We don’t have time for this,” she protested.
“No.” He pointed a finger at her. “I want to know.”
She rolled her eyes and obviously refused to help him.
As he swept the floor clean, she didn’t need him to explain it to her; she could see it. He pointed the marks out anyway. “See how they start here and look how they move out. The fire started right here.”
“Where the box was.”
He gave her a superior look. “Yeah.”
She paled but she didn’t put it down. She did eye the lid off tentatively. “Any remains?”
“Human? No... why?”
“Nobody touched it, then. It didn’t explode on opening.”
“It’s still here and if they did, they got away.”
“So why not take it with them?”
It was important. Anyone would have taken it with them.
They exchanged a look.
He spoke carefully, “You realise that implies that it did it by itself?”
“It’s a box.”
“Remote trigger?” he tried.
“I-I don’t know. I’d have to try and open it.” Her face looked slightly panicked at the thought.
He sighed. He knew she was not going to put it back and she was not going to leave it behind. “So maybe we should be careful where we leave it?”
She gave a strained chuckle. “I am not going to sleep with it.”
“Right.” She hadn’t put it down since they had found it. He thought she might well sleep with it; fire or no fire. But he did think of a bright side. “So I get to drive, now?”
She laughed.
~~~~
© AM Gray 2014

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Don’t worry, everyone does that on their first day


In one sentence is the spark of a story. Ignite.

Mission: Write a story, a description, a poem, a metaphor, a commentary, or a memory about this sentence. Write something about this sentence.

Be sure to tag writeworld in your block!
http://writeworld.tumblr.com/post/97507311813/dont-worry-everyone-does-that-on-their-first-day

~~~~~~
“Don’t worry, everyone does that on their first day.”
The wall in front of her had collapsed in a heap of rubble. As they stood there, looking at it, an occasional brick fell down with an echoing crash. Clouds of dust filled the air, making it hard to even see what had happened.
When the dust cleared, he added, “Oh.” A pause. “Maybe they don’t do that...”
There was an enormous hole where the end of the alley used to be and their suspect was under the rubble. His foot protruded out from under a particularly solid piece of wall. The foot was not moving and it looked as if it hadn’t moved for a while. Her companion crouched down and reached out to put his hand around the foot, just above the ankle joint.
She saw a faint green sheen rise from his hand and creep up the calf. He waited for a few seconds, as the sheen travelled back to him, and then he looked up at her and shook his head. “He’s gone. Massive head injury, too.”
“Crap.”
Standard protocol was to bring people in alive. Stunned was okay but alive was the main aim. It was tricky to question dead people; not impossible, mind you, just tricky. It meant calling in the heavy duty guys and no-one wanted to do that. Although how much information they could get from a guy with a caved in skull was another moot point.
She sighed.
“You might just need more practice?” He sounded as if he was trying to be conciliatory.
“I just killed the only lead.”
“Yeah... you did.”
“I can’t even aim right.”
“Well... to be honest, if you had hit him with that bolt, there wouldn’t have been a foot left for me to touch. You would have blasted him to smithereens.”
That was true, too. Her aim was off and her power levels (she had meant to stun him) were out of control. And she didn’t know why.
She was better than this and she wasn’t just saying that; she really was better than this poorly executed arrest looked. They might never let her out on a job again. “There’s something wrong,” she muttered.
He was staring at the foot again; almost as if he was willing it to move. “Hmmm?”
“Something’s wrong.” She said it very low and very quiet. “Can you scan me?”
He stepped towards her.
“Try not to touch me as you do it,” she added. “Just in case.” She was starting to think that there may have been a reason for the suspect’s increasingly erratic behaviour.
He gave her a very odd look. “I haven’t tried this for a while,” he said. Palms facing her; fingers spread - the green light danced and whirled between his fingers as if it was a living thing. It kind of was. “I’ll just see if I can read your aura. Close your eyes.”
She felt a faint tingling buzz pass across her face. The hairs on her scalp lifted and she resisted the urge to shiver.
“Kiss my artichoke,” he said.
“What?” Eyes open now.
“I don’t like to swear,” he said.
“No... what did you see?”
“Black.”
“And that’s... bad?”
“Your aura should at least show that you are alive and currently highly stressed. It should be green - for life - with a touch of orange for stress and maybe blue for sorrow or worry.”
“And it isn’t?”
“It is... it’s just buried under something.”
She pointed at the buried suspect. “I touched him... back at the apartment.” Before he had run and they had pursued him.
He stepped back, held his hand near his temple and spoke, “Healer 12 to Base.”
“Go ahead, Healer 12.” She could hear their response in her own head.
“I need a body pick-up and stabilisation chamber for the recently deceased...” he paused. “And I need a magical quarantine for my spell-partner.”
“Repeat that!”
He did.
“They’re coming,” he told her. It was unnecessary; she had heard their response and she knew protocol. She gritted her jaw and tried very hard not to panic.
“Try not to get angry,” he suggested carefully. He put his hands up in a placating gesture and they both saw it; a smoky tinge to his normal healthy glow.
He gave her a sad smile and touched his temple again. “Base? Make that two quarantine units.”
~~~~
© AM Gray 2014


Monday, 15 September 2014

Writer mind

This weekend I had to drive kid 3 to a party held in a suburb a long way north of us. Stopped at a red light, I saw a young woman get out of a taxi cab; she had a small suitcase. She spoke a few sentences to the driver and then he drove off.
She looked a little bit lost, and I wondered why she hadn't caught the train; the railway station was only about a block away and she didn't look like she could afford a cab fare.
Maybe she was coming to the station? But why not get the cab to drop her there?
She walked one way and then turned and went back a few steps. She looked as if she was lost or was waiting for someone, but why wouldn't she get the cab to their address? Why meet them at a service station?
And why wouldn't she meet the person she was clearly waiting for at the railway station if they were catching the train together?
It made my spidey senses tingle.
And almost before I could help it, I had imagined an entire scenario for how she got there and why; who she was waiting for and why they were making it so odd.
And I had noticed all of this and thought it through before the light changed.
That’s what having the mind of a writer is like...


Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Finding the frog was supposed to be the easy part


In one sentence is the spark of a story. Ignite.

Mission: Write a story, a description, a poem, a metaphor, a commentary, or a memory about this sentence. Write something about this sentence.

Be sure to tag writeworld in your block!
http://writeworld.tumblr.com/post/96130363412/finding-the-frog-was-supposed-to-be-the-easy-part
“Finding the frog was supposed to be the easy part,” she muttered as the branch her friend released hit her in the face and she swore vehemently.
“What’s that, Beth?” her friend asked.
“The frog! The damn frog!” she exclaimed as she tried to lift her feet from the cloying mud.
“I know, right? How hard can it be to find a frog in a swamp?” Her usually klutzy friend Lori, seemed to be navigating the swamp with much more ease. She delicately pushed the hanging moss out of her face.
“Oh, no but this is a special frog,” Beth whined.
“Well it doesn’t talk like the ones in the movies or the variety shows, but it is meant to be special.”
She gaped at Lori. “Oh, my God... you believe it?”
“What?”
“That this thing can work.”
“The old lady said it could.”
“And you believe everything old ladies tell you?”
She shrugged. “Well... no... but she seemed very clear about it, and if you don’t believe, why the heck are we taking this stroll through the swamp?”
Beth shrugged. “Last ditch effort?” she asked.
“If you don’t believe in it, it will never work. Magic requires conviction.”
Silence as they both searched the undergrowth. Lori was searching with much less effort than Beth.
“So we catch it when we find it?” Lori checked.
“Yep. She gave me something to put it in.”
“And then what?”
“I don’t know... she boils it up in a tea or some potion for me to drink.”
“That seems kind of cruel,” Lori mumbled.
Beth hadn’t missed her comment. “What do you care? It’s a frog.”
“Frogs are important. They are like the barometers of environmental change.”
“Good God! Who have you been talking to?”
“I know about environmental change,” Lori defended.
Beth snorted. “Since when?”
She grinned at her friend. “Since that cute eco warrior dude I ran into at that protest. The guy with the dreads.”
“You lied to me.” Beth’s eyes narrowed. “You said you did not have sex with him.”
Lori rolled her eyes. “I knew you’d get all moral on me.”
“Moral? It’s not moral to want to get to know a guy before you have sex with him! You met him that day.”
“Oh, right... says the girl who is in the swamp looking for the ingredients for a love potion.” She said love with several vowels and extra r’s. Luuuurvv.
Beth’s mouth shut with a snap.
“And I got to know him just fine,” added Lori. She sighed happily.
“Ugh,” Beth grunted and pretended that she was searching under a log. “Bet you’ve never seen him again,” she muttered.
Lori stifled a laugh and that just made her friend more annoyed.
“You could help me, instead of standing there laughing at me,” she griped.
“Fine. What colour was it again?”
“Blue; bright blue with black markings.”
Lori tilted her head, reached out both hands and carefully scooped up the small blue and black frog that had landed on her friend’s back. She took several steps back, her hands cradled in front of her chest, and then announced, “I’ve got it.”
“REALLY? Aack,” she complained as she banged her head on the log. “Let me see.”
Shaking her head, Lori drew her hands away protectively. “No. You’ll hurt him-” She peered into her clasped hands. “-and he’s such a cute frog.”
Snort. “How do you know it is a ‘he’?”
“I know a fine male when I see one.”
“Whatever.” She shook out the bag from her pocket. “Hand him over.”
“No. I don’t want him to be boiled.”
“It’s what we came for.”
“I know. But I've changed my mind.”
She ignored her and held out the bag. “Put him in here. And I can’t believe I called it a him.”
“No. Look at him! He’s adorable.” And she kissed the frog.
“Ugh! Are you kissing that?” Beth looked horrified.
There was an odd silence followed by a weird buzzing hum. The air felt statically charged. Lori dropped the frog. Beth wailed as she saw it start to fall. But it stopped and hung in the air.
And then there was a loud pop; like a balloon bursting.
A tall, dark skinned man stood in front of Lori. He looked almost as surprised as she did but then his face softened and he stared at Lori with a look of wonder before he grabbed her hands. “Thank you,” he said.
“Wow.” Lori blinked. “I kissed the frog.”
“Yes, you did.” His voice was low and throaty.
“Aack! He’s naked!” Beth protested.
“He’s gorgeous,” Lori corrected. She glanced down and then made a small happy sound. “Ha. I can definitely pick a fine male when I see one.”
“I am so thankful,” he crooned to her.
“How thankful?” she asked. She leaned towards him and brushed a fingertip seductively down his bicep.
“Seriously?” Beth snapped. “Are you kidding me?”
“Hey, he’s mine. I kissed the frog and I believed.”
“That’s how it works,” he added.
“No boiling,” said Lori. “I knew there wouldn’t be boiling.”
“No.” His arm reached around her hip and pulled her in against him.
“Oooh,” Lori hummed as their faces got closer together.
“Ahhh! Sex? Here?” Beth screamed. “I am not watching this!” They ignored her. “I am going back to the car.” She took a final glance at them before she made another frustrated noise, waved her arms around and then tried to stomp off through the swamp. It wasn’t successful because they were too busy kissing to even notice her leave, the mud did not allow adequate noisy stomping and after some minutes progress, she had to stop. “Which way is the damned car?” she shouted.
No response, unless you counted a breathy moan.
“Oh, my God,” Beth swore.
“Can you grow dreadlocks?” she heard Lori ask before she stomped away again. She sat on a log that she hoped was bug free and put her fingers in her ears.
~~~~~~
“Is she going the right way?” he asked Lori.
“No... and anyway, I have the keys.”
He laughed.
“Oh I like the sound of that laugh.”
“Just as well; you’re stuck with me.”
“Are you, by any chance a prince?”
“Sadly, no.”
“No problem. I rather not have a prince.” She kissed him quickly. “I am willing to bet that you’re an environmentalist.”
“Frogs are important,” he said with a grin.
“Don’t I know it!”
~~~~
© AM Gray 2014


Friday, 29 August 2014

I think I’m a gardener

Not in the real world sense but in the writing sense. There is an idea that you can be a story architect who plans it all out to the ‘enth degree and builds a beautiful constructed story OR you can be a person who throws out a whole lot of seeds, sees which ones come up and then prunes them or transplants them until you have a finished story.
This is often termed plotters and pantsers - as in they work by the seat of their pants.
To think of writer examples, Ken Follett - Pillars of the earth - is a plotter/architect. He starts with a plan for each chapter and then expands it all out. He talks about it here in his masterclass lectures.
He thinks it out and writes a twenty five to forty page outline. It contains everything chapter by chapter that will happen in the book. He also writes out biographies for each character. This process takes him about a month. He is famous enough to then send that outline to his agent or publisher and, if they approve, he can get paid for writing it. That’s a pretty big incentive in my eyes.
The snowflake guy, Randy Ingermanson, does a similar thing. He starts with a one sentence synopsis and expands that to one paragraph and then expands that out to one page and so on…  
I have read all about this method and I have downloaded a template for Scrivener and I have tried to use this method but… it’s just not me.
Examples from the other end of the spectrum are Dan Wells, the horror writer, and George RR Martin, Game of Thrones writer. Terrifying isn’t it? The guy who makes up the incredibly wordy, detailed and complex world of Game of Thrones is making it up as he goes along.
Dan has a rough plan, not for the story itself but for the marks it should hit. He calls it a seven point plan. He has uploaded some lectures on this to YouTube and the link is on his website. The marks are things like: the hook - the idea that grabs you as a reader, the turning point, and the resolution.
Or here for a pdf slideshow.
Brandon Sanderson, epic fantasy writer, says he is somewhere in the middle. He outlines the story but his characters emerge as he writes it. In this situation, how will my main character react?
Neither way is better than the other; they are just different.
Having tried both, I think I lean towards pantser/gardener.
My most popular fanfiction stories were written in pretty much the order they were posted with daily updates loaded as I wrote them. I had a vague idea of the ending; very vague - as in X ends up with Y and they are happy and to get there and this has to change about Y. I totally wrote Apologies in six weeks (all 90k words of it) and pulled the ending out of my ass in the last chapter and I had one review that said I had intricately planted this winding thread right through the story. I wish I had planned that, but… Nope.
Same with Best Friends share everything. I was just writing sex and then had to go back and find the story. Maybe I left some hints for myself? I don’t know… but I had to make sense of it all later.
I have been trying to be more planning oriented and in the process I think I have squished myself worrying about what my main character’s favourite food is or whatever else I am meant to be filling out in his character sheet.
Start at the end, start in the middle, or fill out characters later - whatever. Who cares, as long as you are writing?