Holly Jolly Headache

imageI am not the world’s biggest fan of Christmas music. Even when I was a kid it wasn’t the most wonderful time of the year for me. I think a big part of it is that there only about 10 songs that are popular, and those popular songs have been done to death by fifty people. And don’t get me started on the good old date rape Christmas song.

It does seem to be good for one thing, though. I got a hell of an idea while I was standing in the recovery area listening to yet another version of Oh Holy Night.

You may not know this but I’m not a Christian. I’m actually a Buddhist and have been for 16 or  17 years now. What you may not know about Buddhists is that we respect Jesus as a teacher and honor him. My temple in Chicago even celebrated Easter with a dharma talk that focused on his lessons. Our priest discussed how Jesus can be considered a bodhisattva because he became enlightened and then shared his wisdom with others to help them become good people and enlightened as well.

I was, however, raised in a Christian family. My mother took me to a lot of Protestant churches looking for the one that fit her best, but I also joined friends for Catholic mass and attended services at synagogues. I had friends who told me about Hinduism and learned about the Sikh faith from other friends, then went to a Catholic college and had to take religion classes. I turned all this over in my head and chose to become Buddhist.

With this extensive background in what was basically comparative religion, I had Some Questions. My main character also has some questions that he really can’t get answers to because of his church. I’m not writing a religious book but parts of it may end up being seen as somewhat spiritual. I’m okay with that.

And for the record, there are a couple of  Christmas songs that I like. I like Christmas is the Time to Say I Love You, Bruce Springsteen’s version of Santa Clause is Coming to Town, and the Christmas Canon from Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

It is what it is.

NaNoWriMo 2016, the Aftermath

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It seems that every November the same thing happens to me. With a total of 58,066 words, I won NaNoWriMo on November 17th. I was doing 5,000 or 6,000 words on a daily basis and having a hell of a time. Then I crossed the finish line, finished the chapter I was on and promptly slowed waaaaaaaaaay down.

This is almost exactly what happened to me when I was writing the first draft of Escape a couple of years back. I wrote until I was at the brink of sanity and then just stopped. I’m still writing it and still enjoying it but I’ve kind of slowed down.

In any case, I won. I’m glad I did it, as always, and I’m planning on putting this crazy amount of effort into another project that just sort of occurred to me today while I was at work listening to an interminable amount of Christmas music. It’s going to take a lot of effort and some research, and there’s no way I’ll be able to hold off until April and Camo NaNoWriMo but I’m excited about it!

Thanks to Hamilton, I suddenly hear the chorus singing “how do you write like tomorrow won’t arrive? How do you write like you need it to survive? How do you write every second you’re alive, every second you’re alive, every second you’re alive?”

Lin-Manuel Miranda is both a terrible and wonderful human being.

52 Week Short Story Challenge #6 – Always Check the Reviews

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This week’s prompt was suggested by the fantastic Squirrel of Doom!

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I tried to make it feel a little mundane, like something that could happen to any of us, but I’m not sure I succeeded.

Always Check the Reviews

When she walked into the computer repair shop, Seo-yeon Kim wasn’t sure she’d come to the right place. There were only two men in it and one of them was apparently having an argument with someone on the phone while he stared at the computer on the table in front of him. She couldn’t help thinking that this wasn’t the most professional way to behave with a customer in the shop but he didn’t so much as bat an eye when she came in.

“How may I help you?” The second man got up and Seo-yeon saw on the tag on his shirt that his name was Brent.

“I’m Seo-yeon Kim, I think we spoke on the phone.” She opened the bag slung over her shoulder and took out a black box. It took more strength than she was accustomed to, and Brent’s eyebrow raised slightly.

“Yeah, I remember you. This is your mom’s computer, right?”

“Right,” she said, setting the laptop on the counter. “And as I’m sure you can tell, it’s been a long time since it was in warranty.” Brent spun the computer so it was facing him and opened it. Its screen remained dark and Seo-yeon rummaged in the bag. “Sorry. I don’t know when the last time she charged it was. It doesn’t hold a charge for very long anymore anyway.”

“We can get her set up with a new battery,” Brent said. “Provided we can fix it. Sometimes with these older models it’s cheaper just to buy a new value model, especially if she’s not using it for any heavy lifting.” He took the charger from her and plugged it in. “What’s going on with it?”

“I’m not entirely sure. She just called me up last night and said her computer wouldn’t work, then asked me to come fix it.” She sighed. “I have no idea what to do with her computer, I make pottery.”

“Pottery?” Brent smiled. “That sounds cool.”

“It’s pretty fun. My brother and I do it together and sell it online. That’s pretty much the extent of my computer knowledge, though. Twitter, Facebook, and Etsy.” Seo-yeon watched him boot up the computer.

“You don’t have a website?”

“We do, but it’s pretty basic. We’re looking for someone to make us a real one now that we’re making some money.” She leaned over the counter and looked at the screen. The Windows screen was still on it and she looked up at Brent. “Do you know anyone?”

“I do a little web design in my spare time,” he said. “If you’re interested, I can give you my info.”

“That’d be great,” Seo-yeon said, her eyes widening. She and her brother had been looking for a web designer for months and hadn’t found anyone that was both in their budget and professional, but if he worked at a computer repair shop there was a good chance this guy would work out. The computer had come on by that point and Brent was looking at it curiously.

“Hmm,” he said. “This is interesting. I’ve never seen this happen before.” He turned it to face Seo-yeon and she could see that the screen had gone to black, and windows were opening and closing all over the place. From what she could see before they disappeared, long strings of gibberish filled them. As much as she hated to admit it, she had halfway been expecting to see porn windows. After all, her father used it too and he wasn’t terribly internet-savvy.

“What is it? Do you know?”

“A virus, I’m sure,” Brent said, turning the computer back to face him. “I’m sure I can fix it, it’ll just take me a couple of days. Do you know if your mother backed it up anytime recently?” Seo-yeon sighed heavily.

“I doubt it. I don’t think she even knows what a backup is.” To be fair, the only reason Seo-yeon had experience with backups was because her brother insisted she do them regularly. He was the one who took all the pictures of their work for the listings and he didn’t want to lose them to something as stupid as a power surge. “She’s going to lose everything, huh?”

“I’ll do my best but that’s probably the case.” Brent looked over his shoulder at the other technician, who had taken a short break from shouting. Seo-yeon assumed it was because he’d hung up the phone and she couldn’t help being a little relieved. She hadn’t realized how hard it was to hear herself think until he’d stopped. “Give me—“ he looked at his watch, then back at Seo-yeon “—an hour with it. I’ll see if I can get a better idea of what we’re looking at, then I can give you a quote.”

“Sure,” she said. “I’ll go grab some lunch. Thanks.” They shook hands and Seo-yeon headed for the door with her phone in hand, intending to find someplace cheap and cute in the neighborhood. She stood outside the shop and looked around, trying to see what streets were nearby. Nothing looked familiar so she decided to let Yelp’s location finder do the work for her.

She was just opening Yelp when she heard shouting coming from the shop behind her, loud enough to make her jump. It didn’t sound like the first technician’s voice and she hoped he and Brent hadn’t gotten into an argument.

What could they have possibly gotten into a fight about in less than five minutes? Curious, she backed up to the shop so that she was closer to the window while still looking at her phone. She shifted her eyes to the shop with her head still bent, keeping herself behind the window decal that read ‘Computer Repair’ in tall blue letters. Her mouth fell open when she saw what Brent was shouting at.

He was standing in front of her mother’s computer, looking down at it. Unlike his partner, there was no phone in his hand or any indication he was talking to someone else. From what she could see, it looked like Brent was shouting at the computer.

What the hell is going on here? Seo-yeon forgot that she was trying to be subtle and stared into the shop. She couldn’t tell exactly what Brent was shouting about but he was really getting into it. It didn’t look like he was even doing anything to fix the computer, just yelling at it. While she was wondering whether or not she should go back in to see what the problem was, the other technician started shouting at the other computer. His voice was louder than Brent’s and Seo-yeon could hear him cursing, berating everything from the operating system to the hard drive.

Stunned, and at a loss for what else she should do, she looked up at the sign. WYACR Inc. was written over the door and Seo-yeon frowned. She’d never considered what the letters stood for when she looked them up, only that she’d found them under Computer Repair on Google. It had been a promoted ad and they’d had the lowest price she could find so she’d thought she would give them a chance. Now it seemed like a good idea to find out.

Since she already had Yelp open, she typed in WYACR Inc. and tried to ignore the two voices shouting behind her. She was dismayed to see several one and two star reviews at the top and scrolled down. One review caught her eye and she paused.

* DO NOT TAKE YOUR COMPUTER HERE. I brought my computer here because it wasn’t turning on and they not only didn’t fix it, they kept it for two weeks and I had to call them to find out what was going on. Turns out they don’t even know how to fix computers, they just take your ‘consultation fee’ and tell you to take it somewhere else. I should have known better than to trust guys from We Yell At Computers Repair Inc.! I have no idea how these guys are still in business. STAY AWAY! —Viveca A.

Seo-yeon looked up from her phone and into the shop. Brent was still yelling at the computer and his face had turned red from the effort. Deciding she wasn’t going to wait another forty-five minutes, Seo-yeon turned around and went back into the shop. Both Brent and his partner stopped shouting and looked at her.

“Miss Kim? Is something wrong?” There was sweat on his forehead and she looked from him to the other young man. She was literally speechless, so she did the first thing she could think of. Without a word, she reached across the counter, grabbed her mother’s laptop and ran out of the store. “Wait, Miss Kim! Come back!”

Halfway down the street, she realized she’d left the charger in the shop. Deciding she’d just buy her mother another one, Seo-yeon pointed her car in the direction of the nearest Best Buy and started driving. “Should’ve just gone there in the first place,” she muttered to herself. She sighed.

Her brother was never going to believe this.

The Great NaNoWriMenace

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I am excited and proud to be taking part in NaNoWriMo again this year!

I’ve been doing NaNo since 2002 (!!!) when I was living in Colorado and doing my externship for my vet tech degree. I stumbled upon it while probably whining about something on Livejournal and thought it sounded kinda fun and terrifying at the same time.

My memories of that first NaNoWriMo are a little hazy but I still remember parts of it with amazing clarity. Writing on my lunch break, taking the weird little mini word processor I had everywhere so I could write a little whenever I was sitting still, calling for my husband to bring me another Coke so I didn’t have to get up and get one myself. It was cold already in Colorado and even though it’s not particularly cold now I’m still under a blanket because it feels right.

every year I feel a little more comfortable but I still have that same feeling of panic when I look at my word count and I’m not where I want to be. That first NaNo I completely pantsed it but now I usually work off some sort of an outline.

This year I’m working off an old outline and writing the second part of the Escape trilogy. A Couple of years ago I wrote the first part of Escape for NaNo and though a lot of stuff has been changed and rewritten, I have discovered the zest for it again that I had lost. More about what changed that for me later.

Saturday morning I was way behind on my novel but thanks to determination and word sprints (which didn’t even exist when I first started doing NaNo) I’m back up to par. Hopefully today I’ll be able to get my word count up enough to support a day or two of sad numbers. Work is hard, y’all.

52 Week Short Story Challenge #5 – Sacked

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This week’s prompt was a little different. We were invited to go to Page to Pixel’s writing prompt generator and let it find us something to write about.

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Then we take that information to the Most Dangerous Writing App and write for three terrifying minutes then share the results. This is what happened:

 

Sacked

“What are you doing?” Brandy looked at Sammy in surprise as she walked to her car. The sun was just coming up but he was headed back to the factory with what looked like a duffel bag under his arm. “Let’s go to the Waffle House and I’ll buy us some hashbrowns.”

“I can’t,” Sammy said, shaking his head. “I’ve got to go blow up the factory.”

“Sure,” Brandy said with a laugh. “And then later we’ll tear down some voting booths too. Full-on anarchy will ensue, I’m sure.” She opened her car door. “Come on, I’ve got my dad’s car. Hashbrowns. And waffles, if you play your cards right.” Sammy didn’t answer her, only walked toward the building in the midst of the crowd of people that were coming out of the open doors. Cursing, she relocked her door and ran after him. “Sammy,” Brandy called. “Seriously, what are you doing?”

“They fired me,” he said. “Nothing to lose now so

52 Week Short Story Challenge #4 – Short Term Plans

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This week’s writing prompt comes from @TheWriteList, who put forth the headline from this Guardian news article as a prompt:

“Poor people don’t plan long-term. We’ll just get our hearts broken.”

Not one of my best pieces of fiction, which is why it’s so short, but I did it. Sorry that it’s a little depressing.

 

Short Term Plans

People kept patting Lucy Bale on the back and offering her fist bumps or high-fives as she walked through the station toward the interrogation room and she forced a smile on her face as she returned them. She hated the Boys Club feel of it all and wanted more than anything to just get her confession and go home to help her son with his history fair project.

“Nice one, Luce,” a beefy detective with red hair said, nodding for her to follow him. Lucy did so with relief, grateful for the way he walked close to the side that faced the desks and acted as a buffer for her. “You off soon?”

“Yes, thank god. If I had to spend the night here I’d probably lose my mind.” They went down the stairs to the ground flo or where there were two interrogation rooms behind doors with tiny reinforced windows. Jenny, Texas – population 5500 – didn’t have the money for two-way glass or covered parking but in a state that loved guns and knew how to hide them, no one wanted to take the chance that a window could be shot out.

“They’re just trying to be supportive,” Hank Connor said. “It’s the only way they know how to do it. It’s still a little weird having a woman in the house.”

“Thanks,” Lucy said. “I’m sure it also doesn’t help that I’m a city slicker.” This made Hank laugh, and he shook his head.

“Talking like that makes you sound like one for sure. Don’t worry, they’ll get used to you. Catching this one is gonna win you a lot of brownie points with the Captain.” They had reached the interrogation rooms and Hank looked at Lucy. “You want me to sit in on this one?”

“No thanks. This is pretty open and shut. All I have to do is get her to sign her confession, type it up, and put it on the boss’ desk. Then I can go home and pretend to care about the 1930s.” She smiled at Hank, a genuine one this time. “You up for burgers at Duke’s tomorrow?”

“Hell yeah,” Hank said, his face lighting up. “And since you made the collar of the year, it’ll be my treat. Whatever you want.”

“I’m going to hold you to that.” She opened the door to the interrogation room and went inside, leaving Hank in the hallway alone. Lucy looked at the young woman in the hooded sweatshirt and jeans sitting at the table in the center of the room and smiled. “Hello, Patty. I’m Detective Bale.”

“Whatever.” The girl, who couldn’t have possibly been more than nineteen or twenty years old, folded her arms across her chest. The sullen set of her jaw told Lucy that this was either going to be very easy or extremely difficult.

“You were caught stealing several DVD players and cameras from the electronics department at Wal-Mart over the last two months. I don’t know how you managed to do it with all their security but we’ve been keeping an eye out for you.” She shook her head. “Needless to say, you’ve been fired from Wal-Mart and Dan Davenport is pressing charges.” Patty was silent and Lucy sat down across from her, trying to seem a little friendlier. “Why don’t you tell me why you did it.”

“I took them so I could sell them,” Patty said. “I needed money for food and no one wanted to let me borrow any, so I stole the stuff.”

“Six times?” Lucy looked in the folder she had brought along with her. “This says that when you were arrested you had a Kate Spade bag and an iPhone in addition to the DVD players in your backseat. And if I’m not mistaken,” she said looking under the table, “aren’t those Uggs?”

“Yeah,” Patty said defiantly. “It’s cold outside.”

“If you have the money to buy a Kate Spade bag and limited edition Uggs, you shouldn’t have to shoplift to put food on the table. Didn’t anyone teach you how to manage money?”

“Oh please,” Patty said, her eyes darting away from Lucy’s. “Poor people don’t plan long term. We’ll just get our hearts broken.”

“Would you care to explain that?”

“Look, you get a regular paycheck right? You know about how much you get.” Still looking away from Lucy, she picked at the edge of her hoodie’s sleeve. “You pay your bills and you maybe get to save something. Go on a vacation. Buy a house. I don’t get to do any of that.”

“Plenty of people make it on minimum wage,” Lucy said. “Especially in Jenny. Maybe not in Dallas, but it’s different here. You don’t need a lot to get by, and you definitely don’t need an expensive bag to impress anyone.”

“Maybe not but it makes me feel better to have a couple of nice things. And I’d save my money to go live in Dallas if I could afford it but not on what Wal-Mart’s paying me. I’m stuck here in this miserable, shitty town and I’m gonna be stuck here ‘til I die using every last dime from my paycheck to pay my bills with nothing left over for food. What’s wrong with spending my babysitting money on something for me?” She sounded on the verge of tears and Lucy suddenly felt sorry for her.

“Patty, listen to me,” she said, her voice turning from stern to kind, “I can help you. Write down your confession here, then write a letter to Mr. Davenport apologizing for what you did. You’ll probably get off with some community service and I can help you figure something out. Maybe get you on food stamps until you can get a better job.” She slid the legal pad across the table to Patty.

“Food stamps,” Patty said, staring at the legal pad. She picked up the pen and pulled the pad over to her. Lucy stood up and went over to the door, then leaned out into the hall. It was empty and she decided she could just take Patty to the holding cell by herself. She could sense she’d made a connection with the girl and the more time she could spend with her the better it would be. She wasn’t about to let this girl fall through the cracks again.

Behind her, she heard the pen slap down on the paper and Lucy turned with a smile. Patty’s arms were folded tightly across her chest and she pulled the pad across the desk toward her. When she saw the two words written on it, her smile disappeared.

SCREW YOU.

“Fine,” Lucy said. She stormed out into the hall and slammed the interrogation room door. That’s the last time I bother trying to help anyone, she thought as she went back up to her desk. She picked up her bag and threw it over her shoulder, then went to the front desk where a couple of uniformed officers were having coffee and chatting. “Take the idiot in the interrogation room back to the holding cell. Let her spend the night there.”

“Yes, ma’am. What do you want us to do with her in the morning?”

“I don’t care,” Lucy said, taking out her car keys. “And I don’t think she does either, to be honest. I’ve got to go home, I’ve got a bunch of posterboard to buy.” She went out into the evening, Patty’s words still on her mind. All of a sudden she wanted to hug her son. Tightly.

The Wave of the Future

Exciting news! Drowned History is going to be published!

I submitted it to Booktrope after seeing something from them pass by on my timeline and thought maybe it would be better to go that route than trying to self-publish it. I don’t have the money right now to get an editor and cover designer and this way I get to have a creative team without up-front costs.

See, Booktrope is a hybrid publisher: somewhere between self and traditional publishing. Your book gets accepted and you put together an entire creative team who each have a stake in seeing the book do well. No one gets paid if the book doesn’t sell! It’s a good model to me because rather than just paying someone to do these things and having to market it myself I have help and guidance. I work way too much to try and do it all myself again.

And speaking of Plans (we are now, keep up), they republish books too! So if things go well, I may try and get them to republish Plans. I feel like it deserved better than it got because nearly everyone who read it – even randos! – loved it but I just had no idea about marketing and such. It would be weird to see it with a new cover but I guess I’d get used to it. It would be nice to have a real editor to help me polish it up and re-release it.

Getting DH published has really given me back some of the zest I had been lacking. I finished The Weather but hadn’t gotten around to editing it because I just didn’t feel like dealing with finding an editor, then a cover designer, and as I said before I don’t have the money for that. I get a little jealous of people who self-publish and have the time and money to do it themselves but that’s life. Now that I’m feeling validated, I am ready to work again and might even be able to pull Kitsune out of storage and get the outline worked up. And then of course there’s the Escape series!

I used to be worried I would run out of ideas one day. This is not that day.

Pushing Along

Still hard at work on the Escape project, and the outline of the book that sort of splintered off out of it. A few life changes pushed me a little off track with both the project and my crocheting and I’m trying to get back on track.

Drowned History finished last Wednesday with 29 chapters. I’m not going to lie, I got a little teary-eyed when I posted it. I started it to get my head back into the writing game and finished it in a little under a month. It was so much fun. And now that I’m finished posting it I feel a little empty.

Thankfully a good friend on Twitter gave me a really good idea for a short(ish) story and after letting it stew a week or so I think I’ve got a really good handle on how to make it work. I’ll probably post it on Wattpad, provided I can come up with something resembling a cover. I really don’t want to just make some crappy, slapped-together cover but I’m also not able to buy a cover for something short and simple like this.

Maybe I’ll figure out a simple cover whose title can be changed whenever I write a short story and post it. I wish Photoshop didn’t cripple my old computer, I have a nice template I worked on for about a week that would have been great with a cheap stock image on it. I can afford a cheap stock image.

This story idea is almost entirely about dreams and dreaming, and certain parts of Drowned History had a very strong emphasis on dreaming, which makes me wonder if maybe I shouldn’t figure out another short story about dreaming and put them together in a sort of collection. I wonder if anyone would buy such a thing?

Indecision!

Hovering back and forth between putting Escape up for free or hanging onto it until I can publish it. I really enjoy serializing Drowned History but I feel like I would be losing money by giving it away for free and then just hoping that people would buy the collected bits as a book. I may gain readers but there’s no guarantee of that.

Maybe I’ll just put excerpts of it up here and tease it that way, or maybe put excerpts up here and short backstory pieces on Wattpad. Just thinking out loud here, really. I want to keep people updated on what I have started referring to on Twitter as #EscapeRedux so people can mute the hashtag if they want.

As for the project itself, it’s moving forward. I got the outline for the first part finished and am almost through with the second. Once I get through with the third I will probably take a week off and then start on the first book. Or part. I still haven’t decided how I’m going with this. It’s going to be a little large for one book but I feel like the second book won’t be as interesting and people won’t buy it, which means they won’t buy the third and miss the grand finale. Basically I’m going to try and write the whole thing at one time and decide whether or not I’m breaking it up later.

This is all terribly exciting, I know, and I’m going to try and update as much as possible. If you want to get more updates, cat pictures, and screenshots from my epic victories on Love Live, follow me on Twitter. There’s also a fair amount of family stuff and lots of vague talk about my work that doesn’t quite qualify as subtweeting. Oh, and retweets about cat stuff. If a friend of mine is talking about their cat licking the floor or eating a bee, you can bet I’m retweeting that.

Back Again For the First Time

So I decided that if I’m going to make any kind of an online presence for myself I should probably set up a Goodreads page. I’ve always had one but I’ve never done much with it. Imagine my surprise when I went on and discovered that I have reviews!

Sadly, no one likes Minor Side Effects much. I can’t make myself be too terribly concerned about it because it was originally a Livejournal project that was just for fun while I kept myself writing every day. My skills have definitely leveled up since then, judging by the good ratings for Plans both on Goodreads and Amazon.

Something interesting I had heard about Goodreads through writer friends was that you can do book giveaways through them. I just so happen to have restocked myself with hard copies when I did a book trade with Jennifer Foehner Wells, so I may do that this week. I’ll be sure and post a link to the giveaway as soon as I have one!

Work continues on Escape. I finished the outline for part one last night, and it came out to being 17 pages long. Yeah, breaking it up into three parts was definitely a good choice. I started the outline for part two last night also. I think I’m going to get the whole outline done before I start writing because I want to make sure I’ve got all the things in the right places first. I don’t want to retcon. I hate retconning. This is why I had such a hard time with The Lost World.

I also found about fifteen pages of a story that could easily be worked into a book in the same universe as the Escape ones, and about the same size. If I get working on it and release one book a year, I’ll have four years worth of books in the can just in case life blindsides me. Again.

One last thing about Goodreads for now. I plan on going back through my recent readings and doing small reviews of them, so if you’re a friend and suddenly get slammed with reviews from me, I’m sorry. I read quite a bit more than my past performance would have you believe.

If you’re interested, my Goodreads page is here: http://www.goodreads.com/Natalie_Smothers