Machines are Patient – flash fiction

The engineer tapped his power transmitter, causing lights to come on for the first time in a thousand years. “Welcome to the last outpost of human civilization on Earth,” he told his companions.

“What is this place?” the reconnaissance party commander asked.

“It’s an underground control bunker,” the fleet historian answered. “It controlled all the nuclear missiles for this alliance. At the outbreak of war, the other alliance struck first. For some reason, still unknown, this alliance never fired its missiles back. We suspected it was because their command and control was knocked out. But as you can see, this facility’s only blemish is a thousand years of dust.”

“What they didn’t realize was that it would only take one side’s bombs to make Earth uninhabitable for centuries,” the engineer added.

The men considered the control center, with its ancient machines shrouded in a pristine layer of dust. “It’s a miracle we were able to get a foothold on Mars before the End War,” the engineer volunteered. “Otherwise this would be the last symbol of humanity left in the universe.”

“It’d be a sorry grave site for human civilization,” the historian said.

“We’re back to stay, now,” the commander assured them. “The surface has regenerated into a paradise. It has all the resources we were running out of on Mars and so many more. It was a good decision by the Council to bring everyone back.”

The men walked among the rows of machines that hadn’t seen light or life in centuries. The commander stopped short. “Look here,” he exclaimed, “there’s a light blinking on this machine.”

The others joined him. The engineer dusted off the console. “I believe that’s a printer,” he said.

“Exactly,” the historian agreed. “They used it to write onto a material called paper.” He pointed to a row of file cabinets. “Those closets are probably full of writing on paper. It was very inefficient.”

“Look, the screen is glowing.” The commander pointed to the small screen on the printer console. “It says something: ‘Paper jam in feeder tray.’ What’s a feeder tray?”

“It’s giving little picture instructions,” the engineer noticed. “The feeder tray must be this thing.” He pulled out the tray as the picture instructed.

“One of the papers is in crooked,” the historian said.

The engineer removed the flawed paper. The picture told him to close the tray, so he did. “It says, ‘Press OK button’, oh, I see it.” He pressed the button.

The men jumped backward as the printer sprang to life. It spit out printed sheets of paper on top of the ones caked in dust.

At last the printer stopped. They heard its motor ebb into silence. The historian picked up the topmost paper. All three examined it. “It looks like a list of coordinates of some sort,” the engineer declared. At the bottom of the page were the words, “End Report.”

The commander tapped the engineer on the shoulder. He pointed to a nearby machine. “Hey, is that other screen lit up under all that dust?”

“Let’s see.” The engineer wiped away the dust from the monitor. Words flashed on the screen. All three stared at the monitor as the engineer read aloud: “Target report printed successfully. Launch sequence initiated.”

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Stuck in the middle with 2

I can’t prove it, but my hunch is most people who write a novel series start with book #1, then progress to book #2, book#3, etc. This seems like a sensible way to manage such a project. As I gaze longingly at this sensible method from afar, I can only blame myself for coming at this task ass-backward.

As I mentioned here, I had a long novel I decided to split into two. Here, I documented how the two books propagated themselves into three books. So what now? Four? No. I hope not – not yet anyway.

The good news is that drafts of books #1 and #3 are complete. This took a lot of rewriting, a good deal of new writing, and much careful rearranging. It is an accomplishment and I feel good about it.

Having stretched #1 to the left and #3 to the right, I turned to the middle to see what material was left to form the core of #2. I was shocked to find a total of 30 pages left to work with.

A 30-page manuscript is not a large base to build a novel upon, but that’s not even the daunting part. The paucity of pages is merely a symbol of the bigger issue. I’ve got a miles and miles of ground to cover between #1 and #3. Chronologically, I’ve got a couple of decades to pass. That’s a chore, but not the most difficult one. The task that makes me suck in deep breaths is the chasm I need to bridge in character development. There’s a long road of change between book #1 and book #3.

“See that little gap over there? I’d like you to fit book #2 in there nice and snug.”

Since books #1 and #3 already exist, books #2 is both a sequel and a prequel. It seems to me there are more constraints to writing a prequel than to writing a sequel. You can’t just take the story threads and run with them. They have to come out lined up with a future already in existence. When a story is both prequel and sequel, the threads have to line up at both ends.

Let’s say my characters need to begin book#3 at point Z. If #2 were a simple prequel, I could start them out at the most convenient point Y. But because #2 is also a sequel, I have to start them where they left book#1, point X. I have to show how the characters got from X to Y before they can embark for Z.

They have the better part of 20 years to make the legs of this journey which is more than enough time. The true question is how many scenes it will take. Every new scene eats up more pages, and the whole impetus of this operation was to avoid producing books that suffocate under their own weight.

Which leads us back to the obvious solution: a fourth book. That just doesn’t feel right. Maybe it will seem more right later on, but for now I’m set on wrestling with book#2 as a single entity. Is that daunting? Yes. Is it impossible? No. Will I pull it off? Stay tuned . . .

Always – Flash Fiction

Always

It was too dark to see what caused the noise, but it was a real noise. Maybe Mommy was banging something around downstairs. Yeah, that was probably it, just Mommy downstairs.

Thump. There it was again. It wasn’t too loud, but it sounded loud enough to be nearer than downstairs. He had to face the fact that it came from inside his room.

Cameron held his breath, listening for any recurrence. If it didn’t happen again, it should be all right. Sometimes rooms just made a noise or two before settling down to sleep. But if it kept up, it was probably a monster, and monsters were the last thing you wanted in your bedroom on a dark night.

Thump. Okay, that was definitely in this room and it wasn’t just the house going to sleep. Cameron lifted the blanket over his nose. His body shook. If he kept shaking like this, he’d have to go pee, and that meant crossing the dark room and maybe bumping into something horrible.

Did the closet door just creak? It did. He thought so. Maybe it was just a breeze blowing it open. All his breath poured out as he remembered Mommy closing the window when she put him in bed.

This was bad. There was no explaining away the monsters tonight. They were here, and they would get him any minute. Cameron curled himself up tight, shivered, and waited for doom.

A sliver of light widened onto him from beyond his bedroom door. “Cameron?” a soft, comforting voice called. “Are you all right?” Daddy had developed a way of sensing when Cameron needed him.

Cameron breathed a sigh. “Daddy, I’m scared.”

“Of what?”

“Monsters.”

“Would you like me to get in bed with you for a while?”

“Yes.”

The light evaporated. Cameron felt his father’s weight on the mattress. “Shove over there, kid,” his father said. Cameron shimmied to let his father lay beside him. He pressed himself against his father’s strong chest and pulled a warm arm around him.

“It’s all right now,” his father whispered. “I’m here with you. I’m always here with you.”

Cameron let himself melt into his father’s strength. He didn’t hear any more noises. He didn’t even listen for them. Daddy was here and the monsters were gone.

Cameron woke to a room filling with sunshine. He was alone in his bed. His mother peeked her head into the room. “Cameron, breakfast is ready.”

He threw off the covers. “Coming.”

She smiled her almost-perfect smile at him. “Remember to brush your teeth.”

Cameron nodded. His mother went. As Cameron rose, his eyes turned to the picture on his dresser. It was of him and his dad, more than a year ago now. Cameron was much more grown up since then. His dad hadn’t changed one bit. In the dark last night he’d looked exactly the same.

Cameron stared at his smiling father in the picture and put his hand on his chest. “Thanks, for always being here, Daddy,” he whispered.

 

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The novel series I didn’t know I was writing

Last time, I wrote about dividing my long novel into two novels. Part of the reason that last post was nearly three months ago is because I’ve pushed blogging to the back burner to work on splitting the baby. I’ve been writing new scenes and thinking about future scenes I think would add to the plot. A few months of this has led me to a revelation:

Two books are not enough.

This thing is going to take three.

More books, more paper

“We’re gonna need more paper!”

The story covers the span of several decades. Originally, it was heavy on the latter end of the timeline, so I’ve been adding material to the beginning of the timeline to balance it. I think these are interesting scenes that add to the development of the characters, but beefing up the beginning to match the end has begun to show how lean the middle years are.

It’s not unheard of to skip over a number of years from the ending of a book to the beginning of its sequel. I could do that, and I might be able to get away with it. There are a few reasons why I don’t want to try that.

Continuity of Character

By the end of the saga, one of the major characters develops into someone quite different from the person he was at the beginning. The scenes I’ve added to the early years make this change less subtle than it used to be. There needs to be more middle to show how this change came about. I could tell it as back story at the start of the sequel, but that doesn’t seem like a winning strategy. The change needs to be shown in its pieces, rather than explained in a few pages.

Fertile Ground

My research, as well as the detail I’ve already added to the early timeline, has given me lots of ideas about interesting events I think would be entertaining to readers in showing the means of transition from the early to later years. There’s a lot of good story in the history of the era to be told. If I am equal to telling it, it would become more than a necessary transition; it would be a compelling story in its own right.

Bonus book

Two is an awkward number for a series. Is it really a series or merely a sequel? Having a third book would make me more comfortable talking about a series. I could begin imagining series titles without worrying about being a fraud, and I would worry about that; it’s the kind of thing I do. Besides, what author wouldn’t want an extra book to their credit?

housebreaking fun

Splitting books is a lot like splitting houses: if you go crazy with your bulldozer, they just might fall to pieces.

You may wonder if I will come back in three months talking about a fourth book, and so do I. I truly hope that does not happen. At some point, fiction has to stop multiplying conceptually and begin the process that results in actual books.

Number four may come after all this, but now I’ve got to limit the number of books I’m writing inside the book I’ve already written.