Erta Ale North Pit Crater Magma Lake

pierre c. 38 via Creative Commons

Krivoth gestured with two folded black claws and his mandibles clicked a hard, wet rhythm as he spoke. “In here is the break room. Coffee, snacks, suffering-sticks, fresh fruit, ichor, the usual.” Ms. Pollibutton’s sagging, chinless face reflected a thousand times over in Krivoth’s faceted red eye. “You get one fifteen minute break every four millennia.” The tone in his lubricated clacking voice suggested he expected some resistance on this point. Ms. Pollibutton remained stoic and pushed her glasses back up her nose.

After a somewhat disappointed pause, Krivoth’s hind legs drummed in sequence creating an agitated, impatient air. “Anyway, moving on,” he said. The tour continued, Krivoth being sure to tick off the points of interest: The Floundering Abyss; The City of Pain; Dyre Labyrinth; Nightmare Valley. Ms. Pollibutton nodded politely at each, never slowing her short, rapid strides. The soft clink of her Cromwell buckles steadied into an incessant grate against Krivoth’s nerves.

“So here’s your workstation,” he said after an age. The loose folds of Ms. Pollibutton’s throat wobbled ever so slightly as she ran a white glove along the dusty outcropping of red stone. A massive anthropodermic book lay on the slab desk.

Krivoth flipped the book open to a page marked with a bone hook using his spiked foreleg. “It works like this: an entrant will arrive at processing. Once Foharr is finished with intake and cleaning, Sinestine will usher it in here. You record the data and let Nesti know which plane is next in the rotation. This is important, okay? If you start double- or triple-stacking the Murdergrounds or whatever, you’re going to have some very grouchy underdaemons. We can’t torment properly if we don’t have time to do the orientations.”

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I’m starting a new series of posts here called Aspiring Voices. These are interviews with other aspiring writers discussing writing craft, inspiration, breaking into the business, the learning process, books, and probably a lot of other stuff, not all of it necessarily on topic.

My first guest is Anma Natsu, whose YA novel Aisuru will be released next year and is currently the host of The Lackadaisical Writer podcast. Anma and I sat down to discuss dog training, charging creative batteries, what grown-up writers need to do to create effective YA, and why she tears up every time she reads a particular graphic novel.

Cherry Blossoms

Bart via Creative Commons

Paul: When did you decide to pursue writing seriously? Was there a catalyst to it or have you always been sort of picking at it?

Anma: Well, I started writing back in middle school, but back then it wasn’t truly serious for my fiction writing; it was more of an outlet for dealing with being an extreme introvert in a school of bullies. When I was in high school, I did a presentation in English class on caring for and training dogs, complete with a hands-on demonstration with my own puppy (the one time in school I was popular [laughs]). Part of that was a 30-40 page manual that my teacher raved over and encouraged me to expand and publish. So for awhile, I did have an idea of doing that and writing non-fiction books. But eventually I realized there were already tons of dog training books and wrote it off as a silly dream.

Many years later, I was still dabbling with fiction writing but I wouldn’t say it was a truly serious pursuit until I tried participating in National Novel Writing Month for the first time, which was in 2006. I failed miserably at the goal to get to 50,000 words, but I wrote more in that month on a single work than I ever had before and it helped me realize I could do more than just write a few story starts. Two years later, I actually finished writing my first novel, though it was just below 50,000 words.

I would say that was the real catalyst for me to truly decide to fully embrace my writer side.  Seeking publication wouldn’t become a firmer goal though until maybe 3-4 years ago, after meeting my sweetie, because he actually encouraged me with my writing. While I had friends who would “cheer” me on, no one really encouraged me or even read my stuff, but he did, gave me his honest feedback and his unmitigated support when I shyly mentioned considering eventual publication.

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Peter Dutton via Creative Commons

White wine spritzer sloshed in Gabriella’s glass as she spoke, her half-captive audience of fellow preschool moms fidgeted uncomfortably. “I just never know which one to choose,” Gabriella repeated.

“I use the same ones every year,” Jennifer said. She knew how crazy parents could be about the details of their children’s parties, but Gabriella had been talking about balloons of all things for twenty minutes.

“And that’s the thing,” Gabriella thrust the glass at her, “the beautiful thing about finding the right one on the first try. You can have them every year and they just work. Not all of us are that lucky.”

“I’m sure there are plenty to go around.”

“You would like to think so,” Gabriella said, her intensity further unnerving her acquaintances. “Every year I think I find something good, only there’s something wrong with them in the end.” She stared with distant longing at the bouncing child in the pointed hat. “I can’t settle when it comes to poor little Josh. It’s not just that I have to find the right one, he needs to love—“ a pause. “—Whatever I choose as well.” She took another sip; the group used the opportunity to disband.


Brian Ng via Creative Commons

I thought of her and walked a crowded street. A doorway beckoned me inside away from anonymity and there I found a curious shop of shopping curiosities. No keeper greeted me at register, no labor there was found, I walked in narrow aisles and shivered. In incense clouds she stared at me, everywhere her trinkets; things that belonged to her and those she had not purchased.

Behind a beaded curtain I found a plinth upon which sat a tome of dust and flesh. I drank a book about the tome and felt the words sustain me, taking place of her for maybe one more hour or a day. When sunset came I left that place beneath a weight of packages. No purchase had I made. Before I reached my aching loft I wondered whose arms she warmed that night and the many grisly nights to come.

I spread her objects on the bed and wrapped them in the quilt. With strips of drapery I tied the sack and watched them drown upon the street below, scavenged by the desperate urchins and quailing clergy. One day I might join them all but for now I let it go and wept.

Troy Springs State Park:  Algae formations

Phil’s 1stPix via Creative Commons

You expect to lose a few toes to the wet-rot during a contract. Not a single contractor offers hazard pay for getting three of them shot off. I wish I could tell you I took it like a tough guy, but the truth is I howled like a baby sea lion. The deeper truth is, most of my howl of agony had nothing to do with the fearsome pain of taking a zipshot bolt to the wee-wee-wee piggies. It had a hell of a lot more to do with the fact that my ex-wife was on the trigger end of that transaction.

Darla and I didn’t start off as fire and ice. She was a fisherman’s daughter, a naive hick with hair that never dried and a sweet voice that sang songs no one else could remember. I thought bringing her along on a couple of contracts would be good for her, toughen her up a little. But the open water did more than that; it changed her. I didn’t begrudge her taking up a contract of her own, and I didn’t really mind when she was promoted to captain of our skiff ahead of me.

The part I minded was her sleeping with the steward and throwing me overboard when I caught her in the act. That, and when she shot off my toes.

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MIT and Boston

David Wiley via Creative Commons

Human language is brimming with offensive words and phrases referencing life as an assumed state. The first to protest this presupposition was Jahe Houler, an Undead American from Vermont. Later, the self-aware AI lab over at MIT—identified by her designers as rAIn but preferring the name Loa—joined the crusade. The case was brought to court as Houler, Loa, et al v. The State of New Hampshire. They challenged the wording of the state constitution, in particular the bit from Article 2, “…the enjoying and defending life…”

The screaming heads on vids debated the technical definitions of life. All Houler and Loa and the others wanted was a shift to include non-life sentience in the laundry list of experiences we equate with other non-equivalents. That is, not identical, but carrying the same value. You’d think after fighting this battle dozens of times like a channel stuck broadcasting the same six reruns it would have gotten easier.

They killed Houler. The weapon was high-tech, maybe government. If he were still around, he’d hate the reporting language of “killed.” He’d say it was presumptive and offensive. It was Loa who suggested we level the playing field.


sub diversity via Creative Commons

Tiny Marcie was the perfect specimen. Small for her age, young and with a sweetly melodic voice, her silky black hair in perpetual pigtails and massive brown eyes made her innocence defined. The air was humid and sticky, the sun lurking like a devil behind thin clouds, and she played in the yard, humming a gorgeous tune to the spread of dolls before her.

Vincent wiped a handkerchief over his brow, the run of hairspray melting with the wet heat into a caramel along the creases in his regal forehead. He had watched Marcie for five days, knew her mother would be out in under ten minutes to offer sunscreen or lemonade or plead with the child to come inside and cool off. It was more than enough time. He exited the pickup and walked casually, capturing Marcie’s song with a harmonized whistle, drawing her attention.

“Well hello there,” he said.

“I don’t talk to strangers.”

“My name’s Vince, what’s yours?”


“Now we aren’t strangers. Would you like a lollypop?” He produced one.

Things went wrong. Marcie’s teeth sharpened, her eyes went red. She smiled with menace. Vincent stepped back from her hungry approach and screamed his final breath.


Mingo Hagen via Creative Commons

Her mask was made from the head-bones of an aurochs and she ran. Each footfall landed in a violent clatter, the assault of her soles on earth sending the pouches and hanging weapons from criss-crossed belts and harnesses colliding, rebounding off each other. This was no stealthy flight.

Ridgen Village perched at the edge of the great gorge, squatting there as though trying to defecate into the chasm. When the woman clanged and thudded her way into the muddy slums on Ridgen’s western outskirts, her pursuers were nowhere to be seen.

She paused at the rough sign driven into the sticky grey ground at the village’s limit. The words above the faded whitewash of an arrow, gesturing south, read, “Ridgen. Population 1,300. Bridge customers welcome. Gorge floor path.” Words came slowly to Fian; she relished the opportunity to catch her breath while she made sure she understood the sign’s meaning: the bridge lay ahead, through town; to the south, the long road through the canyon.

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