Unemployed in Greenland

I can see the moment in my head like a film sequence. Or a script.

***

INT. Office. Morning.

ANDY walks in, shoulder bag jingling. He turns on the lights and heads to his desk. He only pauses when he sees his BOSS and the DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS (DOPS) seated in the glass fishbowl conference room.

He approaches his desk and drops his bag into this chair. SLOW REVEAL – Andy looks down and sees a FEDEX BOX, open and empty, sitting right beside his desk.

Andy takes a deep breath. His hands start to shake, but he quiets his nerves and puts on a smile just as the Boss comes out of the conference room.

BOSS: Hey, Andy, can we speak with you for a minute?

Andy nods and keeps up his fake smile. He knows what’s coming. But he straightens out his cuffs and turns around.

ANDY: Sure! How can I help?

***

After three months at my new job I, and four others at the company, including the CEO, were given walking papers. In an irony only found in life, and badly scripted films, it was the 2nd anniversary of my marriage that day and this kind of corporate turnover was exactly why I wanted out of my last job.

What lessons? First – you can build a lot of dread and suspense with common items in just the right context. Anyone who sees a moving box on their desk one morning knows what it means. There’s one of two things coming. Either you’re being let go, or someone is running an elaborate Borderlands / Se7en in joke.

“Awww. What’s in the box? What’s in the BOX???”

Second – time is a blessing. It allows you to do things, yes, but it also gives you too much room to get lost in thought. Best to keep busy. Make a schedule. Stick to it. Shave every day. But keep in the back of your mind – you are still in shock. You need to have time to cope.

Third lesson – times like this reveal a lot about folks. The moment my departure hit social media, in addition to the waves of sympathy I also received a half dozen “Call me when you’re ready! Let’s talk!” Good folks react to a problem by running towards it and saying, “How can I help?”

So what do I do? First, take a vacation. I did not take off between my final day with my previous company and joining my last one. So, I’m rectifying this. Will start working towards a job at Memorial Day.

Now? Now I focus on the small things that need doing around the house and on my Litreactor course with the inimitable Gemma Files as my teacher. I will enjoy the vacation weekend I have scheduled with my wife in a secluded part of the Chesapeake Bay. And then I will get back to the job search.

One day, the scene I just wrote out will make it into a story. Just not today. Today, I need to focus on a few other things.

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C.H.U.D.s of Doubt

(FYI – Amazing C.H.U.D. image from Jorge)

C.H.U.D. – Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers. Humans, through exposure to radioactive toxic waste, have turned into cannibals snacking on the denizens of early 80’s New York. They’re also responsible for recent plumbing issues in my home, but I don’t have direct proof of this… yet…

In this case, though, I’m talking about the CHUDs of doubt. They are frequent visitors to the sub-levels of my mental cityscape. Any time I feel confident and secure, they grab someone off the street and devour them. My city’s not so safe anymore. I don’t feel confident exploring it, or inviting others to explore.

I have a story. I really like this one – think it’s one of the better ones I’ve written. But I’ve been having trouble finding a home for it. Same holds true for a lot of stories I’ve written recently. I look at the Submission Grinder and look at the stories and think, “Am I missing something? What’s wrong with you?” Usually, that’s when the CHUDs of doubt start crawling out of the sewers and feasting on my confidence.

So what do you do next? How do you get the police to believe you, start sending out people to chuck napalm down there and burn the CHUDs out forever?

Well, I’m still working out that part. It may involve finding new writing groups, taking on-line classes, and looking for new ways to look at my work, and how I’m working. Or, maybe it means realizing that my CHUDs are just homeless folk and the real enemy are the folks who dumped the toxic waste that mutated them in the first place.

In either case, my CHUDs aren’t going away. So I have to deal with them.

 

“Death has a dignity all its own.”

(Feel free to re-listen to “… And Justice For All” after reading the blog subject. But, do it with the bass elements properly mixed back in. Also, think about what grief can do to people, and alter the decisions they make.)

I announced this on my Facebook feed but felt it deserved a deeper treatment here. My short story “Finding the Dancer” is going to be included in the latest anthology from ZNB, LLC called The Death of all Things. Edited by Laura Anne Gilman and Kat Richardson, you can can pre-order it here. But, before jumping on and getting  copy or two to pass around, please take a look at the amazing cover by Justin Adams of Varia Studios. You can also see table of contents by clicking on the image below.

When the book comes out, I’ll talk a bit more about the story, the process behind it, and what it’s like getting editorial comments from two authors/editors you admire. But like my last published story, this was an amazing learning experience. I re-thought many of my old assumptions about creating stories.  I also encourage you to look at all of ZNB’s anthologies. Small presses like ZNB give starting authors, like myself, a chance to stand beside bestsellers and every dollar goes to keeping imaginative anthologies like the ones they publish alive.

Until then, keep writing.

 

The End of November

November is, to most folks who write as either a hobby or professionally, NaNoWriMo month. People set themselves up to crank out over fifty-thousand words in one month’s space of time. For those on a certain side of the political spectrum, it’s probably a been a rough month. For others, they’ve probably beaten their numbers, though I’m unsure if policy briefs and manifestos count as ‘novels.’

Me, I set myself up to fail. And I did so in the most spectacular way possible.

My goal wasn’t to write a set number of words. Instead, it was to write at least three short stories by the end of the month. My writer’s group, as part of their NaNoWriMo prep, sectioned off five hours of time at a local library just for writing. During that dedicated time, I was able to crank out about 5k words per session.  Most sessions ended early, so my rate is a little over 1.5k words per hour. Had this been extrapolated across the month, I could have cracked the goal again.

But my goal was reached. Three short stories written, and a fourth almost completed. One has already been submitted to the intended market.  So how do I feel about losing?

8ec

I regret nothing because I learned a lot.

  1. Screenplay outlines are my happy place – I was able to plot out the stories and get everything set because I returned to my home, the good old-fashioned Syd Field screenplay outline.  It helped me know exactly where I had to go, what each scene had to do, and how to ensure I was never lost in the woods of ‘Well, what should I write now?’
  2. Given a clear vision, I can write and research at the same time – some of my stories involved looking up real events, or people. I was digging through and confirming information at the outline stage, but also as i wrote.
  3. Time is my enemy and friend – if I have time and I can focus, I can produce quite a bit.

So what was the hardest part? The usual: “that’s five hours wasted – think of all the chores you could have done” or “Hey, shouldn’t you be working on trying to cross-sell to all of your clients even if they don’t need a product?”

My brain is still wired to never see writing as a ‘useful’ act.  It’s not work. It doesn’t earn money (so far) and won’t get me life insurance, mortgage payments, etc. I have to constantly fight my wiring and says, “I need more than a salary in my life. I want to tell stories. I hope, some day, someone reads those stories.”

At the end of November I know, the biggest enemy I still have (next to time) is this guy named Andy Popovic.

Alien Artifacts, and a new Kickstarter!

alien artifacts cover I wanted to provide folks with an update. As I mentioned before, my short story, “The Captain’s Throne” has been selected for publication in the Alien Artifacts anthology edited by Patricia Bray and Joshua Palmatier,

Well, my author copies have arrived, as well as the eBook copies I got through Kickstarter. The general public will be getting access soon. So f you are interested in pre-ordering, visit the Zombies Need Brains order page:

https://squareup.com/market/zombies-need-brains-llc

You can also get art prints of the amazing cover. But that’s not all. If you’re looking to help ZNB and get copies of this anthology and Were-, its sibling anthology, how about supporting their new Kickstarter?

This project will fund three science fiction and fantasy anthologies, titled ALL HAIL OUR ROBOT CONQUERORS!, SUBMERGED, and THE DEATH OF ALL THINGS, containing approximately 14 all-original (no reprint) short stories each from established SF&F authors in the field. The books will be edited by Patricia Bray & Joshua Palmatier (ALL HAIL OUR ROBOT CONQUERORS!), S.C. Butler & Joshua Palmatier (SUBMERGED), and Laura Anne Gilman & Kat Richardson (THE DEATH OF ALL THINGS).

If the Campaigns get enough funding, they will open the anthologies up to solicitations. This is a great chance for newer authors to stand alongside great, established talent and get a chance to shine. I encourage you, support the campaign. Only 26 days to go.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/543968884/robots-water-and-death-anthologies/widget/video.html

“The Mirror Man” on Daily Science Fiction

For those who may not know, Daily Science Fiction has published my flash story, “The Mirror Man.”  It’s the first story of any sort I’ve had published in quite some time and I’ve gotten some good feedback from it. I hope I’ll be able to continue the trend, improving with each story and publication.

I still think my favorite reaction came from my Dad, who said, “Andrija, I’ll read your story. I won’t understand it, but I will read it.” Ah, family!

Hope others enjoy it, and understand it.

Dialog or Get the Chatter Down

I’ve been thinking about my process for building scenes and crafting prose. Slowly, I’m admitting to myself I go for dialog above description. If a building needs to appear in the story, my first instinct is to have the characters talk about the building. (“Huh. Your apartment looks like the one from Ghostbusters.” “What, the place with Signourney Weaver?” “Yeah.” “Oh, I should be so lucky.”

This is the danger of learning to write screenplays and investing time in creating them. I learn to think in terms of scenes, “actors” and dialog, with the rest as set dressing.

I’m working on a story for an anthology and I realized how much I was relying on dialog in the beginning. So, I decided on a small experiment. Instead of fighting my training, creating full descriptions in the first pass and aiming for lush prose, I’m doing the dialog first.

Very simple, very quick, and a few stage directions along the way so I know what’s happening.

Then, I go back in and fill in the rest. It’s less like sculpting from stone and more like building stop-motion puppet. You start with the armature first. Then, layer on the muscles, and the skin, and the features, until you get a full figure you can start to painstakingly photograph.

I’m hoping this will help me get working faster. If my first instinct is to hear the character’s talking, then I need to have them talk. I’ll then get in the descriptions in.

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