Monday Challenge: Obey Gravity! It’s The Law!

Standing on the ground was overrated, anyway.

Been reading more science fiction lately, mostly in the form of short stories, because 1) my attention span in shorter in the summer and 2) the best way to keep what attention remains is through spectacle. I’m pretty sure that’s the reasoning behind every summer blockbuster ever made, but since I love meaningful explosions, I’m okay with it.

In science fiction, however, especially space exploration, it’s amazing how many planets are just like ours.

Sometimes it’s explained: terraforming, the space equivalent of gentrification, goes on a lot. Other times it’s not. And I get why: you want characters that relate to the (hopefully) human audience, so your aliens need some kind of bridge to make them easier to understand or feel sympathy for. This is the premise on which the entire original series of Star Trek is built.* Go to a strangely earth-like planet, bang one of the locals, leave. Probably with space herpes.

Of course, this is a vast generalization. There’s lots of science fiction out there in which the environments—and therefore those who live in those environments—look so different as to be nearly incomprehensible. That comes with its own set of difficulties: how do you explain the body language of a species with shared bodies? What expression indicates sarcasm in a hyper-intelligent shade of the colour blue? Nevertheless, at least these attempts show that someone’s trying to explore their own imagination. They’re thought of what it would be like if something in the physical world as we know it was different.

So, now you get to as well.

Monday Challenge: Write a scene in which one of the fundamental laws of nature (gravity, the speed of light, conservation of energy, the makeup of a breathable atmosphere, whatever) is different. Maybe it was always different, maybe it just changed in the last five seconds**. Either way, find a thread of change and follow it to see where it leads.

*Well, that and the limitations of budgets and special effects in those days.

**Though if it’s breathable atmosphere that’s changed, that’s going to be a short scene.


Monday Challenge: In Between

No airport I’ll be in will look this cool.

I’m probably in an airport right now. What airport, on what continent, I don’t know yet, since I can never remember the time zone conversions, but if you’re passing through one and you see a woman wearing a giant robot t-shirt sacked out in a departure lounge chair re-reading Harry Potter and the Something of Something for the millionth time, say hi. It might not be me, but she still sounds pretty cool.

Airports are weird places. They’re in between. A place you pass through on your way somewhere else. Which only makes it weirder when you have to spend time there. There’s the distinct impression that you should be moving on.

They’re not the only places like that. Waiting rooms, bus stations, other people’s guest rooms, hotels, highway rest stops…these are places that you inhabit only temporarily. No matter how welcoming, no matter how comfortable, you will leave. That’s the point. Unless you’re that guy from The Terminal.

Monday Challenge: write me an in between place. A place you’re not supposed to stay. What makes it that kind of space? What hints did the builders add in to make it perfectly clear that you have to go? Uncomfortable chairs? Awful paint scheme? Chorus of shrieking demons? And what’s it like when your character has to stay there?

I’m going on the hunt for a power outlet.


Monday Challenge: Places and Faces

Can you feel the hate?

Today’s writing challenge is a shameless homage to one I did in a writing workshop a couple of years ago. This post captures the essence of it, but for the non-clickers, it was about writing places. New ways to look at settings. I learned a lot of stuff in that workshop that I still use. When it comes to writing techniques, I am like the little old lady with a pocket full of string: never throw anything away that might, eventually, turn out to be useful.

Usually, when I think of places having souls, I picture urban environments. Maybe it’s the concentration of people, or the very human marks we leave on the landscape, but I just find it easier to put a face to the place. To figure out who that neighbourhood is, not what. But I feel like stretching out today, so let’s look at non-human habitations. They don’t have to be rural or isolated, but the human presence shouldn’t factor in.

Monday Challenge: Take an inhuman landscape and tell me who they would be if they were a person. Discard human furnishings like buildings and roads and nuclear power plants; tell me about the land and the sky.

For example, if I was to look out my window, the backyard thus viewed would likely turn into an icy, cruel, androgynous figure with a smile like a razor blade and long, blackened nails tap-tapping on the glass. Come out, it says. You have to come out sometime.

Like fuck I do.

I showed you mine. Now show me yours.

Monday Challenge: That House Is Looking At Me Funny

This house probably has a panel van it wants to show you. (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Let’s talk about places.

If you spend time in a place, you might start to feel like it has…something. Maybe a soul, if you’re feeling like a hippie today. Maybe a spiritus loci. Maybe just a tingling in your spider sense.  But, whatever you call it, some places feel, in your heart and related organs, like more than assemblages of concrete and wood and dust. They have a presence.  It could be the amount of time you spend there, or the people you associate with it, or the things that happen within those walls, if there are walls. Or it could just be a feeling, without logic that you could use to explain it to someone else.

I used to make playlists for writing based on characters. I still have some of those, but lately I’ve been making ones based on settings. The garage where a character works. The garage that she owns later on. The bar where they gather. The lair of the enemy. The streets where a few of them grew up. The smoking crater where the truth finally came out.

Draw inspiration from your own life. Where do you go that has a soul, even if it’s not a very nice one? Maybe your work feels like a grey vampire, stealing your life. Maybe your home feels like a flock of squabbling crows, noisy and intrusive. Maybe your favourite coffee shop feels like a pretty girl curled up in her coziest sweater with a good book, ready to relax.

Settings have character. They do more than just provide a place for your characters to stand while they work out whatever problems you’ve set them. They add tone, they help or hinder, they create a feeling.

And they could use a little love from you today.

Monday Challenge: if a setting—city, street, house, room—were a person, what kind of person would they be? What would they look like, sound like, smell like? How would they act? What kind of music do they listen to, or do they hate music? Are they on your side? What are they hiding in their pockets/under their floorboards?*

What do they want?

*I realize the metaphors are getting mixed now. Though I like the idea of a person with floorboards. Sounds vaguely steampunk.

Monday Challenge: Misplaced

English: A yellow couch on a rocky cliff beach...

Something’s not quite right. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am coming to you this morning from a strange location: the couch.

I know: I work at home, so I must fucking live on the couch, right? I must wallow in its cushioned embrace until its corduroy lines are imprinted over my tattoos. Its seat must contain lost pens and index cards and story notes to the point where it will someday be examined by future generations as the only known example of a sentient, book-writing piece of furniture.*

Not the case. I mentioned ages ago that I was switching to a standing desk, but even before that, I didn’t usually write on the couch. For one thing, it’s too goddamned comfortable. Too much time on this thing, especially in warm weather, and I’m down for the Odin Sleep. For another, it just doesn’t feel right. I prefer to work at a dedicated workspace.

In other words: couches are for reading, sleeping, and having sex on. Not for working.

The problem at the moment is that I am in the process of replacing my old desk, a lovely 1940s piece, with a big-ass drafting table that I bought from a friend’s mom. The drafting table had to be repainted, so it’s out on the deck waiting for the third coat of Gloss Apple Red–also known as Really Fucking Red–to dry. The old desk is currently enjoying its new life as a bar. Which leaves me with the temporary standing desk I was using for the last couple of months, but there’s so much junk around from the process of moving furniture and reorganizing that I can hardly fit the computer on between the photos, pellet guns, and brass knuckles.

The point of this complaining is that I am, at the moment, out of place. This is not where I should be.*** And the cognitive dissonance is weirding me the fuck out. I might as well be writing in my bathtub. Or in bed.

Today’s Monday Challenge: write someone who is out of place. They are somewhere they do not belong, and they know it. Where are they? Why are they there? What are they going to do about it?

I’m going to go check and see if my desk is dry yet.

*King of Naps: One Couch’s Perspective on Recliners and Other Pretenders To The Throne by Thaddeus P. Chesterfield.**
**Shit, I think I just named my couch. Now I feel weird about sitting on it.
***I will note that I am perfectly capable of writing in other places outside my home. Those are fine. I mentally categorize them as ‘temporary workspace’. The couch, on the other hand, is resisting all attempts at relabelling and insisting that I must be here for a nap.

Monday Challenge: Scorcher



Sacrifice to the burning god of summer. (Photo credit: Seguromy)

do not deal well with heat.

It’s true. For every degree it is above twenty Celcius, I lose about three IQ points. By the time it gets over thirty, I’m in trouble. If it gets to 35, I might as well be brain dead. In fact, I am brain dead. Ask me to do a puzzle and I’ll probably just eat it.

If anyone finds my brain wandering alone of the side of Highway 104, please bring it home to me. I miss it.

I’m not a summer person, as you can tell. All I want to do is find a place with air conditioning and camp out. Which explains why I’ve seen so many movies this month.* But, since I am no longer a student**, summers are no longer free time. There’s writing to do. There’s editing to get done. There’s submission letters and queries and proposals to wrangle into shape and ship off in the night, like packages of ebola.

And I’m not the only one. I note on my newsfeed and my other tendrils of information that there are others out there, slogging away in the heat. Doing Iron Writer challenges. Taking a notebook to the beach. Writing at two in the goddamned morning to avoid the discomfort of your fingers sticking to the keys in humid weather.***

To those people: you’re awesome.

So I’m here with a tall cold glass of inspiration for you on this sun-scorched day.**** The Monday Challenge: tell me how the heat feels. Go outside if you have to, or stay in the shade, but tell me about the sun sliding down the side of the house, the hot breeze coming off the ocean, the smell of the grass withering in the front year or of flowers bursting into bloom. I want to hear about grass fires and BBQs, drought and beaches, sunstroke and tanning.

Love it or hate it, we’ve got to deal with it for at least another little while. Might as well pin it down on the page where you can deal with it.

*By the way, Pacific Rim: you should see it. Unless you hate giant robots and awesomeness.
**Thank all the known and unknown gods. Because of my studies, I still occasionally wake up in the middle of the night, thinking I have an exam the next day.
***All right, this one might have been me. Because that feeling is fucking disgusting.
****Seriously, I’m not going outside unless I’m wearing SPF 1,000,000.

Monday Challenge: Open the Door


We’ve got a long way to go. (Photo credit: garryknight)

We are going on a trip.

Yes, I mean us. You and me. Bare Knuckle Writer and Bare Knuckle Reader. Do you mind if I call you Read? Really? Too bad, I’m doing it anyway.

No, you don’t need to pack. Not even a toothbrush. Where we’re going, you won’t need anything.* Just your eyes and maybe a few words. Because, when we get where we’re going, you’re going to need to tell me about it.

You see, there’s a door. It’s down below. It takes you…somewhere. That’s all the information I can give you. Just somewhere. Probably on this planet. But it might just be a copy that’s been placed somewhere else. A mirror universe, an alternate dimension. There might be another you here. There might be something worse.

That’s another thing: going through the door could be…weeeeeell, it might be a little dangerous. Just a little. Maybe two littles. But no more than that.

Well, unless you open the door onto something really fucked up. But that’s part of the fun, isn’t it?

What? No, of course everybody comes back. Like, ninety percent of the time. Well, ninety percent of ones I thought would make it back. So…maybe fifty percent total. And I’m pretty sure the ones who didn’t return were just, you know, busy or something. I don’t put any stock in the blood on the floor. That could have been from anything. It might not have even been blood. I certainly wasn’t going to walk through the door and find out.

This trip is the Monday Challenge, and here is your task, Read: Tell me where you are. I won’t be able to see it, not unless you show it to me. So use your words. What does it look like? What do you imagine it smells like? What sounds are there?

And why have you been sent here?

Ready? Time to open the door. And good luck out there.

You’re going to need it.

The Secret Door

The Secret Door is presented by Safestyle UK

*What? No, not because you’ll be dead. Fuck, what do you people think I am? You’ll be scarred for life at the worst.