Breaking Radio Silence

An eerie quiet has filled the halls and chambers over here. Like ancient abandoned alien space stations, orbiting planets no longer bustling and buzzing with technology, the passages have grown musty with disuse, where they aren’t emptied to raw vacuum. Like visiting starships, wounded and crippled, responding to desperate queries with nought but static. Like a city gone silent, cars no longer jamming the freeways, buses running empty, the denizens hiding out in their homes while an unseen killer stalks the streets and marketplaces, ready to take the unwary traveler.

But now it is time to break the silence, to put pen to paper and fingers to keyboard once again, and… voice to microphone? More on this in a moment.

Yes, dear readers, three (!!!) months ago I last wrote on these pages, and then only to speak of my despair, my crisis of confidence. Our world has changed since that last post. Little did most of us realize that just a scant few weeks later we would be living in lockdowns and isolation, quarantining ourselves from friends, families, neighbors, and colleagues in a desperate bid to halt the spread of a novel virus. We have shifted our work patterns — if we still have work — to spend nearly all our time within the confines of our homes. We have become experts at Zoom happy hours, and also grown weary of hours in front of yet another screen, yet another camera, putting on an upbeat attitude and smiling face.

Even when we are healthy, and still employed, it hasn’t always been easy for many of us to remain in a creative headspace. I entered the pandemic lockdown already concerned about the state of my writing, and the additional concern about the health of, well, everyone has not helped. This has not been a productive time for me. At least, not visibly so.

Now, however, we begin to peer out from under our shells, come out from behind our rocks, and tread (carefully! carefully!) across the sands to dip our toes back into the waters of life. We emerge into a changed world, perhaps permanently so, but we are humans, and that means at our core we are adaptable. That is our survival trait. We adapt. And creativity begins to return.

I am ready to write again, my friends. There are three stranded astronauts who need me. They are desperate to find a way off that rock I’ve marooned them on, and without me, they cannot do it. I cannot in all good conscience just leave them there, so I need to write them a way out of their predicament. Well, some of them, anyway. No promises they’re all going to make it!

I am also ready to speak again. I am ready to try my voice at narration. Do you like audiobooks? Do you listen to podcasts? As I write and publish new episodes, I shall also record those episodes, beginning with those already appearing in these pages.

It will be experimental at first. I’ll be learning the ropes of producing podcast-style episodes. It may take a few iterations before it goes smoothly. But for those of you who enjoy listening to stories, and who also hopefully enjoy my stories, this will be for you.

And for me, of course. It’s going to be fun!

And it just may be a trigger to further spark some creativity and break me out of my funk.

It’s time to write. It’s time to read. It’s time to speak.


Image by Pierluigi D’Amelio from Pixabay

Crisis of Confidence

Lately I’ve been suffering from a lack of confidence in my story, and thus in myself as a writer, and it came about not because of any criticism or anything similar that came my way. It came about because of a writing contest, a contest I did not even enter!

How can not entering a contest cause me to lose confidence, you may ask? After all, this was (still is, in fact) a contest that specifically does allow unfinished works, so it would seem like a perfect fit for me, yes?

Alas, as with most contests of this nature, the entry requires a synopsis. Nothing particularly unusual about that, and every writer eventually needs to come to grips with producing the scary synopsis. However, typically for contests, this synopsis is limited to a single page, double-spaced, in 12-point type, with 1″ margins all around. Oh, and the first line really should be a heading stating “Synopsis,” so that’s one less line to work with. That means the synopsis is pretty much limited to somewhere between two-hundred and two-hundred-fity words, which is not a lot.

The typical five-page synopsis written for an agent or editor’s consideration has an opening statement about theme and genre, a closing statement about character arcs, and in between summarizes all the major plot points that impact and influence the main characters.

That’s impossible to do for a novel-length work in two-hundred-fifty words.

So, a one-page contest synopsis should instead focus on theme and how the character’s growth and conclusion illustrate that theme, and that’s about it.

Trust me, while it might be just one-fifth as many words, it is five times harder to write! And to give you an idea of what two-hundred-fifty words looks like, we’re at about three-hundred right here.

Still, this is a very good exercise for any writer to go through, and it should not be impossible. Indeed, it should be mandatory!

But describing how a character’s growth and plot arc illustrates the novel’s theme is difficult to do when you don’t actually yet know how the story ends, or even perhaps what theme you are illustrating, because you’re making the story up as you go, by the seat of your pants, in an episodic nature because you publish each scene online as you write it.

After spending an entire day struggling mightily, and ultimately in vain, with this one-page synopsis, I came to the conclusion that my story has deep structural flaws, because I’m currently unable to figure out how the main character’s plot progression drives, or is driven by, the theme! I’m not even sure if the story has a theme. Surely a contest loser.

I brooded on this for most of this past week, and a couple days ago came very close to stopping all further development of The Silence of Ancient Light and starting over on an entirely new story, one that would not be pantsed, but instead properly and traditionally plotted. Which, interestingly, is what I was trying to do two years ago when I started SoAL as an exercise to distract me from my analysis paralysis of developing a plot.

The good news? After two years of this distraction, I still really do want to go back to that original project. I still think it has fantastic potential, and I now have some better ideas for how to work out the plot roadblocks I had encountered. That project, by the way, was tentatively titled A Drive of Light and Shadow, but I will probably change that (but I love the title, so I’m keeping it, even if it ends up stuck on a different story).

The other good news? After two years, I still think The Silence of Ancient Light has promise, and I still like the story — even if it is devoid of any theme and the main character is flat and without growth. I know some of you are enjoying it, because you have told me so and I trust you when you do, but I also know that not very many people have read it, so the sample size is not large.

So no, I am not discontinuing SoAL, I will continue to churn out (or drizzle out, more likely) episodes for you, and I will try to figure out my own angst along the way. Perhaps I can pass some of that to Anna in the story to amp up the tension, although it’s not as if she doesn’t have enough on her plate to keep her angsty already!

Crisis averted. Though I have decided, for the health of my own stress levels, to pass on the contest this time around.

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For SoAL readers curious about that original story from two years ago, there’s an oblique reference in a casual comment Anna makes to Laxmi in the 2nd scene. Yes, that’s right, these stories take place in the same universe. Can you spot it?

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And for those curious about the contest I almost entered, it’s the Pacific Northwest Writers Association Unpublished contest. The deadline for entries is in about a week, so technically it’s still not too late! But no, I’m not ready, so you go right ahead.


header image credit: user:Free-Photos / Pixabay under Pixabay License

Telescope (WIP)

(The Silence of Ancient Light, continued)

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The ship was not huge in the telescope view, but her shape stood out clearly. Anna could see the double ring structure of the Alcubierre drive, one ring forward and one aft, both tethered to the central fuselage much like the orbital ring was to the planet. She could almost, but not quite, make out the blister of the observatory on the nose of the ship, and the bay windows of the cockpit just above. She could see the hangar doors from which she had launched the shuttle, open wide in the belly of the larger ship, awaiting the return of the smaller craft, a return which now would never come. That shuttle lay smashed and abandoned in the lagoon of a forbidden island.

A sense of loss and of longing came over Anna, and her vision blurred a little. She wiped the moisture from her eyes, upset at her own emotional reaction when she knew she needed to remain laser-focused on survival, dedicated to the task of getting her crew and herself back to that starship, more than forty-one thousand kilometers away, no matter how close the telescope made her seem.

Read more at

Telescope

(2,000 words; 8 min reading time)


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Did I say last week that this chapter was a little slower? Well, it’s not slower anymore. We’re going to end the chapter on a cliffhanger, one that makes it obvious that the tension is about to ramp right back up again as we head into Chapter 7. Of course, you’ll have to go read the scene to see what I mean!

Seriously, it will take just 8 minutes of your Sunday afternoon. Go read it!

Are you done yet? Because I want to discuss what you just read! What do you think the ending of the scene signifies?

You may have noticed a few devices I’ve been using all along to ratchet up the narrative tension. Almost from the beginning, there has been a time lock, a deadline by which Anna and her crew need to figure out their own rescue, and in this scene I gently remind the reader that this deadline is approaching. Many stories use either a time lock or an option lock to introduce tension, but in SoAL I’ve opted to do both. As the scenes progress, our heroes have their choices gradually narrowed down to fewer and fewer options, and there are plenty of hints that later there will be fewer options still. Remember how many space suits they have with them? Hmm, yeah, future problem brewing there.

If you were Anna, what would you do next?


header image credit: user:Free-Photos / pixabay.com under Pixabay License

Taboos and Discoveries (WIP)

(The Silence of Ancient Light, continued)

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The sun passed its zenith and shadows lengthened outside, but inside the cavern the changing hue from the light ducts provided the only hint of passing time. Anna and Laxmi continued to interrogate Li-Estl about her world, with Jaci acting as interpreter and filling in what he had already discerned, but Li-Estl was equally curious about their own origins.

“I’ve tried to explain about Earth and how far away it is,” Jaci said, “but I don’t think I’ve done a very good job of it. Li-Estl understands that she lives on a planet, that it’s a sphere, and that it revolves around their sun. They don’t seem to be hampered by any flat-earth kinds of fallacies here, or at least she isn’t. She knows that there are other planets also revolving around the sun, because she has observed the difference in their motion compared to regular stars in the night sky, and because she has texts from earlier astronomers that describe their motion. She gets that.”

“Wait, so they have astronomers here?” Anna asked.

Read more at

Taboos and Discoveries

(2,087 words; 8 min 20 sec reading time)


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Clearly I did not maintain the NanoWrimo momentum of a week ago, but I’m still pretty happy with publishing another scene in only a week’s time. My average scene length does seem to be creeping up, however, with a handful of 2000-word scenes within the past several, including this one. Still not my longest yet, though.

You’ve probably noticed that Chapter 6 is a bit slower, overall, than the preceding chapters. Is it too slow? Too much exposition and explanatory dialogue? Too much telling, not enough showing? I admit, I was almost as exhausted as my characters must have been after the harrowing ride of the previous chapters, when they lurched from one emergency to the next, so I sort of felt like they needed a bit of a break.

Not to worry, however. They aren’t out of the frying pan yet, and out of the frying pan leads to… you guessed it… the fire. There’s plenty of danger still, and things are definitely going to ramp up another notch in intensity. I’ve slowed down on the pace of killing off characters, too, after knocking off nearly half of them almost right away, but don’t let that lull you into complacency. One wrong move, and your favorite gets it! Don’t make me go all GRRM on you!

Of course, his works are international bestsellers and have been made into the most highly rated and watched show in all of HBO history, so perhaps a little GRRM isn’t a bad model to emulate.

So, if these scenes seem slower, you should also pay attention to a fair bit of foreshadowing for coming tension and conflict. Tell me, reader, what do you think is going to happen next?

Leave me a comment and let’s discuss it!


header image credit: Evgeni Tcherkasski / pixabay.com under Pixabay License

Where Are They Now? (WIP)

(The Silence of Ancient Light, continued)

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Anna handed the tablet to Laxmi when she finished reading it and looked at Li-Estl, then Jaci.

“Orta?”

Several of the young students in the chamber heard the word and looked at Anna with heads cocked to one side in what she presumed was a quizzical expression. Jaci, on the other hand, grinned and nodded vigorously.

“So you think the Orta are… were… another space-faring species?”

Read more at

Where Are They Now?

(1,534 words; 6 min 8 sec reading time)


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Two scenes in two days! I guess NanoWrimo is having an effect, even if I am far, far behind their suggested word count for day 3 of the month. No matter, I’m happy with the progress, and I hope you are, too.

Please DO follow the link above to read the entire scene. I promise the link does not take you anywhere except to another page within this same website. You can also always find each scene in the website menu, under Works in Progress / Alpha Reads -> The Silence of Ancient Light.

Nano word counts notwithstanding, with this scene the novel has passed the mystical, mysterious, elusive 50,000 word mark! We’re perhaps just a little over halfway done, so even if that would be enough for Nano, it’s not enough for Silence. No, I don’t really have a word count target, but I do have a scene count target, and that is in the neighborhood of 60 scenes. We’re now at 33.

Will I publish a new scene every day this week? Doubtful. But I may publish one or two more before the week is done.

As always, comments are welcome!


header image credit: user:Waldkunst / pixabay.com under Pixabay License