The Stagnant But Not Yet Stale Sci-Fi Saga

“Individual science fiction stories may seem as trivial as ever to the blinder critics and philosophers of today – but the core of science fiction, its essence has become crucial to our salvation if we are to be saved at all”. ~Isaac Asimov

On July 11, 2015, I had a crazy, elaborate dream. It was so visceral and bizarre that soon after I woke I grabbed my phone and created a note about it, recalling every detail that I could still gather to capture what happened before it was lost. I don’t make notes about my dreams, but this one felt like the story could be a publishable work of fiction. I am primarily a memoirist. That is my wheelhouse. I have never been big on writing fictional stories because they require a honed imagination and careful story planning and dialogue skills that I have not developed. Fiction is frightening. Telling honest stories about my life is natural for me because I began my writing life with a collection of journal entries. My blog posts are a continuation, my online, open-to-everyone journal. I strive to tell it like it is, not make stories up.

So, I have sat on this dream/story idea because it starts in a dystopian future and has science fiction elements. Again, not my forte. Four years ago, on a whim I found some inspiration and managed to pen a first chapter. It felt foreign, forced, and feeble. Still, I managed to get three-thousand words on paper and a couple characters introduced. Then I put it away again, not sure where to go next or if I should even bother.

About a month ago, I rediscovered the beginnings of this story. I printed it out and took it to my son. Luke is a voracious reader of all things, but especially science fiction. I gave him my printed pages and said that if he had a chance and was interested, he could read what I had written. I had zero expectations but, since he is our resident sci-fi nerd and the other writer in our four-person clan, I thought perhaps he would find value in it. He read it and came to me immediately to discuss it. He was excited about the idea. I was excited he was excited. I still didn’t know, however, how to proceed. So, I shelved it again.

Yesterday, Luke came to me with a printed page of his own. It was filled with suggestions about my story from the sci-fi perspective. On the document, he had outlined proposed themes, information about the sci-fi aspects, and a suggested sci-fi book he thought might help me get unstuck in my process. At the top of the page, there was a heading (A Few Suggestions From Your Nerdy Son) followed by this introductory paragraph:

Dear Mom…You are a great writer. I want to see you and your story succeed. You have helped me improve my writing and I want to return the favor. Your story’s premise is fascinating and your writing is clean and elegant. I have a few suggestions, which may improve the science fiction aspects of your tale, however. I am not trying to impose my will on your creative process. I love the concepts you have instilled in your narrative and I want to see them brought to their fullest potential. Please keep me updated on your progress, and I am always ready to help and brainstorm. Love you, Sincerely, Your Son

Seriously? I shed a couple genuine tears over his thoughtful kindness and eagerness to help. I couldn’t decide what to feel the most proud about. Was it that my son was being my support, cheering me on about writing a work of science fiction that frankly scares the hell out of me? Was it that he had taken his own free time on summer break to come up with a page (front and back, mind you) of science fiction insight, themes, and encouragement? Was it that he had done such a great job formatting and presenting his information? Was it that I felt loved and seen? Was it that the one chapter he read a month ago was still churning around in his head? Was it that there might actually be some value in my narrative idea? So much to consider.

I hope Luke will continue to embolden me to write, to move beyond my comfort zone, get some knowledge of the genre, and stop telling myself it makes no sense for me to write a dystopian, sci-fi story focused on a lost and struggling, middle-aged female protagonist. Every writer needs a Luke in their corner, someone who not only provides encouragement but is also a valuable sounding board and idea person. If I ever do finish my story and publish it, you can be sure that Luke’s name will appear prominently in the Acknowledgments section and probably in the Dedication section as well. Writers need other writers. And how much better does it get than being a writer with another writer in your house and your corner?

How awesome is co-creator?

Surviving The Fire Swamp

This photo is not relevant to this post. Just wanted to see if you were paying attention.
This photo is not relevant to this post. I just happen to find things my boys do amusing.

Buttercup (referring to the Fire Swamp): “We’ll never survive.”

Wesley: “Nonsense. You’ve only saying that because no one ever has.”

~The Princess Bride

Someone asked me yesterday where I am with the book I am working on. It was a polite question, meant only to show interest in my progress. I have been dreading this question because, well, the truth is that I am nowhere with the book I am working on because I haven’t really started it. Wait. That’s not totally true. I have two ideas fleshed out and a couple chapters in each story attempt. I also have another story idea that I really kind of like, but it is still flipping over and over in my brain like a rock in a tumbler until I decide it’s shiny enough for me to write. So, I guess I have started writing. I simply haven’t made any real progress on an actual book.

A couple days ago I began analyzing my situation to determine what is causing my writing paralysis. Originally I blamed it on a lack of time. I used my blog as an excuse. Well, I’ve been off my blog more or less for over a month now and I haven’t added one lousy, stinking word to any of my started stories. Not one. I haven’t worked on a character sketch or written an outline. Aside from giving a couple hours’ worth of mental massage to my stories, I haven’t done a thing. I don’t suppose I can blame my blog for my lack of progress anymore. I have time now that the boys are back in school. As I documented the other day, I’ve had enough time to clean out my pantry, hand wash the floors, and dust baseboards. All those housecleaning maneuvers are clearly nothing but the actions of a desperate woman. I’m uncomfortable enough with the idea of having to write something creative that I cleaned out my pantry. I hadn’t done that job properly once in the ten years we’ve been in this house. Interesting that I should decide now is the time to remedy that situation.

Tonight, though, during a conversation with my sister it hit me. I was able to admit what is at the root of my procrastination. It’s fear. I’m afraid I won’t be able to do it. I’m afraid that if I do finish it that it still won’t be worth reading. I’m concerned that perhaps my putting myself forth as a writer was a mistake because if I do this and I’m not successful then I won’t even be able to claim that I am a writer. And, I only just got up the nerve to admit that I’m a writer a little less than a year ago. What if I’m a sham?

I’m a smart gal. I know there are no guarantees. I know that the best things in life come when you take a risk. I know that life is a growth proposition and to make forward progress you actually have to move. I know all these things. So, what the hell is my problem? Why am I being such a scaredy cat? And, how do I get beyond my fear? How do I make it through the Fire Swamp when I don’t see any way to survive?

I’d love to believe I could face the Fire Swamp the way that Wesley did, with optimism, blind faith, and complete confidence that it would all simply somehow work out. But, I don’t work that way, which is what has gotten me into this predicament in the first place. Rather than taking Wesley’s approach, like Inigo Montoya, I think I need to go back to the beginning. I need to make mini-goals that aren’t as scary as the goal of writing an actual book. Perhaps, first I will write a paragraph and see how that goes. Maybe I can do that every day for a week and then gradually, over time, I will find that fiction writing isn’t really as terrifying as I’m imagining? I nearly stalled out on my 80-page Master’s thesis due to this same type of writer’s paralysis, but I survived that Fire Swamp so I’m fairly certain I can negotiate this one. I have to stop telling myself I can’t. There are no flame spurts, lightning sand, or R.O.U.S. here, anyway, so that means my chances of survival are pretty good.


Something Completely Different – Part Two

Part 2 of 2

Blue Ribbon Banana Bread

Feeling it was my duty to investigate the situation, I went into the kitchen, opened my freezer, and grabbed a loaf of my Blue Ribbon Banana Bread. I always keep some of my banana bread in the freezer because you never know when you might need to cheer up a convalescing friend or greet a new neighbor. My banana bread is famous here as it won the Blue Ribbon at the county fair for three consecutive years. The judging is done by blind taste testing, so I am one hundred percent certain that my membership on the county fair steering committee has no bearing on my prize-winning baked goods. I tied some of my signature royal blue ribbon around the bread and fastened it with a lovely four-loop bow on top. I stopped at the mirror to make sure that my hair was in place, straightened my skirt, and casually strolled across the street to find out what Ms. Purple was up to.

As I walked past her car, I noticed that the license plates were from California. At least that explained the car. Hard to believe that yellow clown car had made the trek over the Rockies and across the country to land here. If she was from California, she was going to have a rude awakening in six months when winter came to Waterton. Good luck to her.

I approached the front door and rang the doorbell. It was odd to be ringing the bell like a perfect stranger when for most of my life I had come and gone through this heavy wooden door without so much as a knock. Liz Carville had been my best friend since the day she moved in when we were 9 years old. Of course, we grew up, went to different colleges, and life took us in different directions. I stayed here in Waterton, and Liz moved to Atlanta where she got a job as an emergency room nurse. She met her husband, Brian, and I was maid of honor at their wedding. Then, I met Gary and she was maid of honor at my wedding. Liz and Brian have three little girls now. They are my virtual nieces. When the whole family would travel back from Atlanta to visit her folks, they would stay in this house across the street from mine. It was almost like when we were 9 and would play Barbies, ride our matching pink, banana-seat, Huffy-brand bicycles, and play the Mystery Date board game. Her parents died within two months of each other last year, though, and that changed everything. Liz, as an only child, had to come take care of the estate. It broke my heart to see her suffering through the loss of her two wonderful parents, but when she said she was selling this home I thought I would die along with them. She was the best friend I’d ever had, and it wasn’t the same here without her. I’d kind of hoped maybe she and her family would have moved into it. But, they both had good careers in Atlanta and they were warm weather people. So, the house went on the market. I took care of the roses. I hired a local kid to mow the lawn and keep the home’s exterior in tip-top shape for Liz. It was on the market for nine months. Every day I looked out of my living room window at this house and imagined who might move into it and become my new best friend.

I rang the bell again. I had no idea what she could be up to that would make it so difficult to answer the door in a timely fashion. I’d seen her go in. I knew she was in there. I rang the bell one last time, just in case she’d been outside or for some other reason had been occupied. Finally, I gave up. There was an old wrought iron plant stand on the porch that had remained behind when Liz sold off her parents’ estate. I used the hem of my skirt to dust it off a bit and left my Blue Ribbon Banana Bread there for her as a welcome gift. I figured even crazy Californians with measled, yellow cars and purple-spotted leopard shoes would appreciate the gesture of a handcrafted, homemade bread delivered by a kind neighbor. I just hoped she wasn’t one of those vegans you hear about because I have no idea what those people eat.

And Now For Something Completely Different

(Author’s Note: I am absolutely sick to death of listening to myself whine on this blog, so I am trying something new today. Here is a bit of fiction I wrote a while ago. I figured anyone who reads this might enjoy the respite from my whining too.)

Part 1 of 2

Want these shoes?

Hadley Barker. Hadley Barker. If I had a dollar for every time someone in this town mentioned Hadley Barker, I’d be richer than she is. Ever since the day she stepped those peep-toed heels onto the porch of the Carville place, I’ve heard nothing but Hadley Barker stories, Hadley Barker quips, and Hadley Barker wisdoms. It makes me so sorry that I ever reached out to be neighborly to her in the first place. Since that afternoon, I’ve ceaselessly wondered when she would take her carpet bag of goodies and leave. I’ve even tried to encourage her in that quiet, sneaky way I have to traipse off onto a new adventure. She’s been on her own too long if you ask me because apparently the only one who influences Hadley Barker is Hadley Barker. There isn’t a thing another person could say or do to get her to move on until she is good and ready to move on.

I remember every detail about the day that woman arrived. I play them over and over in my mind trying to figure out the exact moment when everything changed. I was standing on a ladder in my living room vacuuming the top of the drapes, like I always do on Thursday, when I happened to glance out the window and see the most curious car I had ever seen. It was one of those little European cars, the kind they have to have there to get through those narrow cities where only the tiniest of people could possibly live. It’s not that it was unusual to see a car like that here. Some folks have them, the folks who insist upon showing off how green they are and the folks who would be too small to see over the steering wheel of a proper vehicle. What caught my eye was that the car was the brightest shade of yellow I had ever seen painted on a car. It was so bright I had to look away from it for a minute and when I did I saw haloes as if I had been staring straight into the sun. I nearly fell off my ladder. When my eyes recovered, I went to stand at the window to get a closer look. That was when I noticed that the car wasn’t just yellow. It was yellow with red polka dots. Yes. Red polka dots. The dots were roughly the size of a ripe cantaloupe, which made the car look like it was sick with the measles. Why on earth would you do that to a vehicle?

The appearance of that sick car against the backdrop of that stately red brick home with the perfectly pruned white rose bushes was abhorrent. Certainly the driver of that car was lost. Perhaps they’d seen the For Sale sign and stopped out of curiosity, I thought. The car door opened and out popped a curious-looking woman. She was very tall and very thin and wore a gigantic, black, floppy-brimmed hat with a clump of brightly colored feathers that stood straight up at the back of her head. I couldn’t see her face because it was obscured by that monstrosity of a hat. She wore a long skirt the color of an eggplant and a prim, white blouse with audacious ruffles on the front. From her shoulders hung a furry-looking, lavender-colored sweater. I was too far away to be able to tell if she had a wedding ring on, but from the looks of her I guessed she was single. You can’t wear an outfit like that and expect the men to come running. She was as covered up as a preacher’s wife on Sunday. The thing that really stood out about her were her shoes. While they matched her color scheme, they were completely inappropriate for her outfit. They were leopard-printed, peep toe pumps in sparkly shades of purple. They were nearly as distracting as her car.

The woman straightened her sweater and started up the front walk. Then she stopped at the For Sale sign. She cocked her head to one side and regarded it for a moment. Then she stepped into the lawn, pulled up that sign, and carried it up to the front porch. I leaned a bit closer to the window wondering what she was up to. I knew the realtor selling that house. His name was Sheldon Shankly. He sold many of the houses in our area. He had a large billboard in town which prominently displayed his balding head along with his catch phrase, “Shel Sells.” I had seen him just two days before at the grocery store and had asked him about the Carville place. He hadn’t mentioned that it had sold, which is why I didn’t see why that tall, skinny, purple woman with the sickly car should be removing that sign from the lawn. It seemed awfully brazen of her. I was about to cross the street and tell her as much when I noticed she’d gone inside the home.