Welcome to Iowa

Jimmy Emerson via Creative Commons

Orchid made a call to a friend in Iowa, trying to keep the panic and unprofessional thoughts out of her voice. The friend hadn’t seen what she was looking for, but his casual reassurance that he would look into it settled Orchid’s nerves for a few hours. Usually she would be furious—murderous. But the phone call from her bagman had sent her into a quiet panic. Had the runner simply taken off with the money, she could kill her way out of the situation. Hunt him down. Get it back. She believed him when he said it was stolen. Vanished. No way to track it down in time.

She still had to try to get Bashar back. He was running, but she didn’t hold that against him. She thought about running, too. The Eastern Europeans would be by in less than 24 hours looking for the money. They wouldn’t entertain excuses. Orchid didn’t fear most men, but she feared these guys.

“Jesse,” she said into her Nextel.

Chirp. “Yeah, boss?”

“You’re in charge. I need to take off for a bit?”

Chirp. “Um. Okay. How long?”

“Not long. Just need to look for something.” She paused. “Up north. Iowa.”

Nothing's too hard for God

Marshall Astor via Creative Commons

Bashar made the drive once a week from Columbia to Kansas City. I-70 wasn’t much to look at, but he liked the alternating billboards that told the story of his life: religion and porn. A mega-church advertising Sunday services, then an adult bookstore trumpeting a sale. John 3:16 in tall letters. A quarter mile later, a gentlemen’s club reminding motorists that they had girls who were not just nude but all nude.

The job was boring, but it gave Bashar time to pray. When he arrived in KC, the men in sunglasses would inspect the guns in silence. They’d nod, and hand over a locked briefcase and a small stack of bills that Bashar knew was his cut. It was always tempting to pull into one of the clubs on the way back. Or even at one of the churches. His money would be welcome at either. But he knew better than to stop until the money was safe in Orchid’s hands.

It all went wrong with six words: what’s the worst that could happen? The passenger seat, where he left the briefcase, was empty when he got back.

Bashar turned the car north and drove.

Don't Mess with Texas

Nils Geylen via Creative Commons

Jennie Sherman believed that Texas was big for a reason. She wasn’t from the South, but she was so far removed from the North she didn’t remember it. The Lone Star State suited her because she was her own lone star, and she felt the land in her bones.

“Don’t mess with Texas, and don’t mess with me,” she’d say with a silly-serious laugh. Jennie knew people thought she was overdoing it, but Texas was big to accommodate people with big personalities. At least, that’s how she saw it. That’s why she fit in so well.

The job at the bank didn’t pay much. It seemed ironic. When the men in the ski masks and ten-gallon hats came in and asked her to fill the bag, she leaned over the counter.

“If you take me with you, I’ll show you where the gold is,” she whispered.

“Gold?” the man whispered back. She imagined he was handsome underneath the wool.

“Lot of it,” she said with a wink.

Everything in Texas was bigger. So if you were going to commit a robbery in Texas, Jennie thought, might as well make it a big one.

Young America, Minnesota

MoxyJane@Spiral Bound Images via Creative Commons

Got a view of the lake out the back of my house. Beyond that, a low hill and then another lake. Ten thousand as you travel ‘round this place, so they say.

In the summer they got mud at the bottom and grass on the edges. Wintertime freezes them over and the kids slide across their tops.

Many, though none of the ones I can see from my rear window, have docks and little boats that sit on top. Some, like mine, hold secrets down at the soft bottoms.

I’ve been married thirty-eight years next spring. My wife is a loving and hardworking woman, if a little plain and dull.

Sixteen years ago I met a lady who was everything my wife is not: glamorous and lazy; distant and exciting. She lit up my life, for a time.

Thing is, no one threatens Wally Cobb. I’m a family man. You don’t threaten my family. That lady didn’t see things my way. She was always looking down on me.

Now I look out at the lake behind my house.

And I’m the one looking down.

I met a new lady. Good thing there’s another lake. Beyond the low hill.

Chemistry Spectacular

Wellington College via Creative Commons

Aspiring Voices is going on a short hiatus through the end of the year, but we’re stepping out on a high note with the spirited and unique Alexander Chantal. I spoke with Alexander about his unique take on forms, the scientific perspective he brings to crafting a narrative, and the eclectic array of authors that have influenced him.

Paul: Tell me a little bit about how you got started writing. Was it something you always enjoyed, or did you come into it at a later point in time?

Alexander: When I was young, I enjoyed writing little bits and pieces here and there. My mother got me a “My First 500 Words” book when I was very little. I read it all in little or no time, it was fun. Then I was given eights volumes of an encyclopedia, at that point in time I realized three things: I wanted to write small stories with the stuff I already knew, I loved science and reading was like alcohol, once you’re addicted, there is no way out.

I didn’t start off writing like most people, writing small stories on a notebook, but rather making board games with ridiculously elaborate stories and rules. It was crazy, but then and there I realized I loved Sci-Fi. What really got me writing was the Left Behind series. I was’t much of a religious person, but the story was so interesting, then my love for anime grew in intensity.

Initially, I started writing poetry. Didn’t think for a second I’d try and become a writer. A poet, that’s what ran through my mind. Seven years ago, I started writing my first story, I never gave it a name, and then my recent work-in-progress: Adagio for Canon.

Continue reading

Lightning 1

azglenn via Creative Commons

Way out on the non-existent wind, off where the twilight sky is that bruising color between purple and gray, you can see the sparks. The low clouds just before dusk have a hunger, and they gnash their teeth until sparks come off. You don’t even have to stare too long or very hard.

We drove toward those sparking rips at a pace that might have made one think what we wanted was to light ourselves up in those arcs of static that glass the ground. Maybe if you’re hit just right you turn to glass yourself. But that wasn’t it. We had flashing blues and reds behind us, and a trunk that hung low on the axles. Fitting, I suppose, where we were headed with all that gold. First we needed to get across the Grand Canyon state, where the real canyon is between the lives lived by those who only watch the lightning sparking on the horizon on hot autumn nights, and those who live in pursuit of hungry clouds and intimidating sunsets.

The road blazed past; we heard harmonicas on the radio; we pretended the roadblock wasn’t just ahead. It helped to watch the sparks.

NaNoWriMo 2013

I’ve been trying to write a post to provide some updates for various happenings in the past month or so. But my efforts to make such a post informative and clever have run up against my decided lack of cleverness. Therefore I will leave the frills behind and simply info dump a few assorted tidbits.

  • I had a piece set for publication last month (it was Lost And Found, if you’re curious). Then a week or so before the issue it was to appear came out, the publication shut down. It was disappointing, but from talking to some of my other writer buddies, this happens a not-insignificant amount of the time.
  • So, while that temporarily kept me in the land of the unpublished, I’m hopeful that my next acceptance will actually see print. The wonderful folks at Buffalo Almanack picked up my story, From The Blog Of Exceptional-Man, and its issue should drop in a mere five days. @BuffaloAlmanack has been tweeting about it (and the other intriguing-sounding stories in the issue) for a little while now so I’m pretty excited. I should mention here that based on the ironsoap.com ratings system, had this been published here I would have rated it R for strong language. It deals with angry Internet postings, so if you spend any time online it’s not something you don’t see a thousand times a day. Still, fair warning.
  • I participated in, and completed, NaNoWriMo last month. They call it “winning” in the sponsoring organization’s materials, but I don’t really like the idea of referring to it as such. The implication is that the people who attempted it and did not complete are somehow losers. In any case, I made it to 50,000 words on a novel I titled Lessons In Necromancy. I intend to have a much longer post about the experience, but on the very real chance I won’t get to it, I wanted to at least highlight the accomplishment once.
  • One of the side effects of the madness that accompanied my efforts to finish NaNo was that I totally dropped the ball on Aspiring Voices for a couple of weeks there. If you’ve been enjoying the series, I’m sorry for the interruption. But, in addition to slipping on the posting schedule, I’ve also been falling behind on the in-progress interviews as well, so I may run into a position where I don’t have any completed ones in the next couple of weeks. Tomorrow you’ll see my interview with the fascinating and unique mind that is Alexander Chantal. Following that, though, there will be a break which we’ll call the holiday break until the new year. I have some great young and working authors lined up, too, so look for 2014 to start off strong.
  • However, while we’re on the subject of Aspiring Voices interview subjects, I thought I’d put out a wider call for additional volunteers and/or recommendations and requests. If there is someone you’d like me to interview, or if you’re a writer working to break in and would like to be featured in the series, add a comment to this post or drop me a line at paul@ironsoap.org. For Aspiring Voices, I have a loose guideline that the subjects should be writers who do not write full time (i.e. their income is not entirely earned through writing). It’s my site and my feature so I can make exceptions if I want, although in some cases I’d be happy to interview people who are more well established, it just may not be posted under the Aspiring Voices banner.
  • I also slipped and goofed a bit on the 200 CCs schedule over the last couple of months. Planning for the future is hard. Anyway, I had originally thought I was set through November (the idea being I didn’t want to have to worry about pumping out two flash pieces per week on top of my NaNoWriMo word count), so as of earlier this month I finally burned through all my backlog of 200 word stories. So when I sat down to write some more I thought back to earlier stories I had done and, recalling Deep Carolina, thought it might be fun to do something else in that vein. So I came up with the Fifty States Of Crime sub-series. Basically I’ll do one 200 word crime story for each of the 50 US states. Sometimes the state-specificity may not be all that heavy. This is intended to be an exercise in quick research and thematic variation, not an effort to capture to the true essence of a bunch of places I’ve never been. As with all my 200 CCs posts, I expect them to be hit or miss. I do these quickly with minimal editing and almost no outside feedback. They’re basically my writer’s scratchpad to try new things and flex my creativity a bit. But I think this will be fun detour. As always, if you see any of these you particularly like, I’d truly appreciate a retweet, Facebook like, Tumblr share, Pin, whatever suits you. They take a few seconds to read and the exposure of getting my work in front of new readers is invaluable.

The Aspiring Voices Contest

The bullhorn poet speaks to the horizon.

lau via Creative Commons

So, while we’re on the subjects of social media and site features, to compensate for the slippage in posting and the sort of unplanned holiday break on the interviews, I thought I’d take a minute to look back on the wonderful guest writers I’ve had the pleasure to talk with and take the opportunity to try and spread the word a little as well as get these amazing writers’ words in front of some new people. I am going to need your help, but I’m willing to game it up a little to make it worth your while.

I’m running a contest with the astoundingly original name The Aspiring Voices Contest. I’ve asked each of my guests so far to tell me about the best book they’ve read recently. They had some fantastic recommendations. I’m going to give away a copy of one of those recommended books to anyone who promotes an Aspiring Voices interview on social media between now and December 31st.

There are some minor stipulations. One is that you have to be able to prove you promo’d the article. This means the easiest way to enter is to promote on a public network and post the link in the comments. You may also promo interviews on private networks (I’m thinking here of Facebook shares behind privacy settings), but you’ll have to provide a screenshot or some other method of showcasing the signal boost. In any case you must comment on this post with a point of contact, the name of the author whose interview you are recommending, the method/network used, and some kind of verification to be eligible. The post must include a direct link to the interview and be an original coming from you (i.e. retweeting someone else’s promo does not count, you have to post it yourself). Also, maybe it goes without saying, but you must be complimentary to the featured authors. I’m not going to reward you for bashing one of my fellow writers. And you don’t have to promote the interview where the book you want is recommended, but I think that adds a nice bit of synchronicity to the deal.

On January 1st I’ll select one verified signal boost from the qualifying entries and ship them a copy of the book that looks the most interesting to them from the following list:

Anma NatsuPride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughan

George WellsSpark: A Creative Anthology, Vol. II by Various

Callie HunterImpulse by Ellen Hopkins

Maggie GilesBefore I Go To Sleep by S. J. Watson

Lea GroverThe Year Of The Flood by Margaret Atwood

ED MartinStrange Pilgrims by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Noel AshlandGrave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

Alexandra LynwoodMacRieve by Kresley Cole

Melanie DrakeMagic Rises by Ilona Andrews

Krista QuintanaA Tangled Web by L. M. Montgomery

Alisia FaustJapanese Tales Of Mystery And Imagination by Edogawa Rampo

Sam WittBad Games by Jeff Menapace; Wool by Hugh Howey

Note that these are just the available prize titles. You may promote any Aspiring Voices interview that is posted between now and the end of the contest. Also, there are 13 instead of 12 because Sam cheated and recommended two titles. That scoundrel. Personally, I think any of these books would be a great choice, so I don’t envy you trying to choose.

So get posting and win yourself a free book!

 

 

Undersea Landscape

Danielle Strle via Creative Commons

No matter how long Huang stayed above the waves, he could not get used to the sharpness of everything. Below, the infinite blue blanketed the smooth, living edges of every surface. Even debris that came from above quickly had its sharpness coated with comforting moss and rounding lichen.

Up here, it was all angles and hardness: concrete upon glass upon jagged metal forged into squares and boxes. They stacked them and lined them in rows, lacking any serenity of open space or collective clustering. Huang kept his eyes down in the city. He’d asked for this life, begged the whalelord to grant his wish. If only he’d anticipated how grotesque he would find the deliberate order these air-breathers insisted upon.

The reflective cliffs looming over the street crowded him. The sun burned his flesh. He missed the colors of his kin, even the dull grays of slick-skinned murkers would be preferable to the ceaseless shades of brown and pink, masked by skins from other creatures, draped by plants processed into more order and shapes.

It was repulsive and Huang lived in regret. He tried to fight another shudder, and turned his eyes down, dreaming again of the sea.

Suitcase

Eric Smith via Creative Commons

Eight years with Jamie began to feel like a relationship with a child’s talking doll, just a series of catchphrases repeated regardless of context or appropriateness. Priscilla thought she might have a clean getaway, but she couldn’t find her cat or her keys and the latch on her suitcase refused to snap. Jamie came home early, saw the pile of belongings.

“You’re leaving.” Jamie made it into a half question.

“Yeah.”

“Do I get to ask why?” Catchphrase. “Did I miss something?” Catchphrase.

Priscilla picked at a fingernail. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

“Little late for that.” Those green eyes looked flat, painted on.

“You weren’t supposed to see.”

“I think I’d have figured it out.” Jamie stood. “I don’t get it. Didn’t I give you everything? Everything you wanted?” Catchphrase. The catchphrase. An arm reached for Priscilla, “Cil—“

“No!” she withdrew. “Not everything! Of all the times you asked me that, did you ever bother to find out from me what I wanted? You gave me everything you thought I wanted.” Tears fell.

There was a pause. “That’s not the same thing, is it?” Jamie asked.

“No.”

Jamie said, at last, the phrase Priscilla had waited to hear.

We’re back after a short break with a new installment of Aspiring Voices. This week I’m happy to welcome Susan Stuckey to the interviewee seat. She talks about the spirited inspiration that keeps her writing, the challenges of staying on track with your vision, and highlights the importance of teachers.
Fire

master.blitzy via Creative Commons

Paul: What would you say was the catalyst for making the pursuit of writing a priority for yourself? 

Susan: Back when i first started writing I was told by a member of a writing group I belonged to that i would never write anything worth reading. I decided to prove that statement wrong.

Paul: That’s an incredibly positive response to such negativity. Have you found a different (hopefully) better in-person writing group, or did that experience kind of turn you off from the whole scene?

Susan: There aren’t any “in-person” writing groups anywhere nearby, and feedback is important. I searched for on-line groups. Tried several of them. Found one that was tolerable (better than the others in most ways).

Paul: Is there a part of writing that you find particularly difficult?

Susan: Motivation

Paul: Describe your process a little. Do you plan and outline extensively? Do you discovery-write?

Susan: I think that is has become part of the motivation issue. When I first started I was a pantser. All I knew when I started writing was the beginning and the ending – and the adventure was finding out what came between those two points. Then I was convinced by others that I should outline. I tried. I really, really tried, but discovered I couldn’t work with an outline. But I think the damage was done and the stall induced by trying to outline just continues now fed by my own self-doubt.

Paul: What would happen when you tried to write with an outline? Did the structure get in the way of your process? What are you doing now to try and overcome that doubt?

Susan: With an outline it means you know it all already – you have point “X” beginning & point “Y” and everything inbetween. So where’s the adventure, the fun of discovery? So I wrote nothing. After I realized the issue, I tossed out the outlining and and now trying to recapture my old “pantser” fun (and frustration when the writing heads down a sidetrack).

Paul: So when you discovery-write, do you have any idea of the ending or are you taking the journey along with the characters, as clueless as they are where it will lead? You mentioned the sidetracks that pantsing can sometimes lead to. How do you identify when a discovery-written story has gone off the rails and what do you do to bring it back?

Susan: I know the beginning and a general ending. The “off track” is either discovered in editing – or when a block is reached and I’m trying to figure out why the story won’t progress. Usually those scenes/chapters etc that are off track are snipped out and put in another file. They sometimes become another story.

Paul: What was the first story you remember writing where you finished and thought, “Yeah, there’s something here”?

Susan: I wrote a ghost story in high school. I kinda thought it was “cute” but the English Teacher called me into her office to talk about it. You have to understand this English teacher was demanding, strict, and didn’t believe in false praise. I was scared to death (knees quaking, hands sweating etc) as I made my way to her office. She totally floored me because she loved the story and told me I had talent and from now on she wouldn’t accept anything but the best from me.

Paul: This is a nice flip side to the writer’s group thing. Was this teacher instrumental in shaping your interest for writing? Have there been other teachers that helped ignite that fire to write?

Susan: Just the one about writing, but there were several who encouraged and ignited the “fire” to always do one’s best.

Paul: Tell me about the best book you’ve read recently.

Susan: Wheel of Time: A Memory of Light. The book has been discussed to death by people. Suffice it to say that I thought it was an amazing conclusion to the fourteen book series and very well done.

Paul: Were you familiar with Brandon Sanderson when he took over the series after Jordan passed away? What did you think of his handling of the series’ end? Did you notice a distinct shift post-Jordan?

Susan: I had no idea who Sanderson was before the announcement. I thought the books he wrote from Jordan’s notes were some of the best of the series.

Paul: Have you read any of his solo books? I actually gave up on the Wheel of Time before Sanderson took it over, but I’ve read a couple of his Mistborn books and found them to be really great. 

Susan: I’ve read his Mistborn Trilogy. I started the first book of another series he wrote, can’t remember the name of the book now, but I couldn’t finish it then. I’ll pick it up again one of these days and try it again.

Susan StuckeyAlways an avid reader, Susan wrote her first fantasy story on an Apple 2E – and lost it when the computer died. She resumed her affair with writing when the “nest” emptied and has continued writing (off and on–usually off) until the present day.
Check out her blog, follow her on Twitter @SusanStuckey3, and like her Facebook page.