365 WP #10: Free to Be Me


Today’s 365 Day Writing PromptFree to Be Me – What character trait to you admire most about yourself?

This is kind of a tough prompt to answer because 1) talking up aspects of your character is weird/awkward, and 2) I happen to like a lot of things about myself but am not sure what I like most. So I’m going to use my creativity (which I like) to come up with a story that indirectly explores some of the other traits of mine that I like.

Also, I just started reading The Night Circus, and am vibing on it right now… Plus there’s Halloween.


 

The mist rolling off the swamp pools around the hill. Aglow from the circus spotlights, the fog looks like an undulating spider web. The eerie melody echoing down from the black and silver tents above make clear this is not a carnival of cotton-candy laughter and balloon-animal dreams.

The barker’s voice cuts through the midnight air, though no body is present to usher patrons under the chain encircled entrance sign. “Ladies and gentlemen, do not scream with tremulous voices. Do not flee on terrified feet. Our acts are not for the faint or even the steeled of heart. Step into the darkness and behold the frights that will chill your bones and rattle your soul.”

A blind curve into the first tent leads wary patrons inside a mammoth steel cage. Few dare to snicker gleefully at the empty attraction. They are the first struck. A tickle along the back of their necks excites the hairs that stand on end at the scent of danger, setting off a chain reaction that drains their smirks and sets their hearts pounding. Soon everyone sees the spandex snake slithering through the bars. The elongated arm of man in a stretchable suit points upward. Eye more white than iris follow. The Fabulously Flexible Man has wrapped himself around the top of the cage as if he were its canopy. Though his skin groans from the strain, he does not break. His strained features appear to be melting off his face. When his ear extends downward like a bit of wax escaping its candle, a woman shrieks and begins a stampede.

They tear into the second tent and into the impenetrable-chest of Annie. Though she may have a five o’clock shadow, she’s no bearded woman. The silver plates of her bikini sparkle as much as her oiled skin in the light of the iron torches. Her guests ogle as she draws a sword and runs it against the taut skin of her bicep. A collective gasp echos as the blade is sliced to ribbons. They look eager to stay until she flicks her sledge hammer toward them.

“Don’t go,” she cackles after, “I’ll toughen you up yet!”

Skin crawls as they step into the third tent. The black void that surrounds them pushes them closer together, for warmth and for safety. A blinding light flicks on over head. Shrieks and shuffling as they huddle. Their eyes adjust. They see him, standing in the thin beam of light. From the back of his bald head, engorged veins push out of his skin as if a carnivorous sponge has come to suck his cranial fluid. He turns toward them. His features are warped by the extra load on his skull.

A strained voice echos deep in their minds, “Are you afraid?” His deformed mouth twists into a grin at their weak laughter. “Well, then. Allow Professor Mesmer remedy that for you.”

The veins on his head pulse. Their skin crawls. A thick ooze like egg yolk drips down their spines and with it rolls a tide of fear. It cracks open each rib cage and slithers around every heart. They beat faster to escape the inevitable strangling tide. He cackles and the light overhead shatters.

There are no screams. No attempts to flee. Only a still acceptance of the emptiness. The room void of light, of sound, of warmth. The touch of their neighbors long-gone as they succumb to the cloying suck of the hollowness inside. Somehow they find themselves in the fourth tent.

Silence is replaced by the steady clicking of a million clawed feet. Armies of arachnids big and small patrol every millimeter of the tent surface. Mouth are clamped shut as spiders on long, sticky webs swing around in daredevil formations. The guests move as one phobic mass to the exit that feel oceans away, desperately trying to ignore the tarantella throbbing under foot.

Its easy to overlook the woman as they pass. Her calm energy summons the spiders to her wispy frame. They wriggle through her thinning grey locks as if it is their nest. They bunker down into the crevasses of her nose and ears. They spin a fine web to entomb her as they wound a downed fly. She breaths in. She breaths out. Her serenity only nudges her guests further toward the edge.

The mist from the swamp has grown thicker. Only the barker voice carries over its stifling blockage. Their screams are muted as they flee. They claw blindly at their unscathed flesh as if covered in a great plague. They wail and thrash at nothingness. They tumble down the hill in flight from the Freaks beneath the tents.

They will return tomorrow. The barker has faith in this, he knows this with every bone in his body long gone. The greatest freaks always return.


All the traits I chose, I presented in an extreme way. I am not so flexible that I can wrap myself around metal bars.

The Fantastic Flexible Man = my flexibility (although mine is mental)

Annie, the Armor-Skinned Woman = my thick-skinned-ness (again, mine’s mental)

Professor Mesmer = my empathy (although his was sort of reverse and evil empathy)

Spider Woman = my calmness during storms and stress (and spider attacks)

 

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Top Ten Tuesday: Series I Want to Read


Several book bloggers I follow post Top Ten Tuesday lists from The Broke and the Bookish. The TTT for today, regarding the top ten new book series to start,  is actually something I had been planning to write anyway. Not that long ago, I asked my sister to beta-read my story, Tangled Webs, and she asked me a very good question: What authors’ work or other books is it most similar to? Unfortunately, I didn’t have a good answer. The main reason is I haven’t read much for fun for the past 3 (or 5… or 9) years since I’ve been focused on undergrad and then grad school reading.

So my Top Ten Books or Series I Want to Read is as follows. I’m mainly focusing on stories that sound similar to my own so I can one day answer my sister’s question, although there are a few outliers. I guess they’re supposed to be new series, but like I said I’ve been living under a rock for up to 9 years so my definition of ‘new’ is flexible.

1. The Clockwork Century Series by Cherie Priest

I’m actually in the process of reading Boneshaker (the first book) now. I’ve been wanting to read it since it came out, but at the time I was in Korea where few books were written in English. Books/series that creatively explore alternative timelines always catch my eye.

2. Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

I saw this at the library while picking up children’s books on immigration for grad school research. This book’s totally unrelated to that topic but the cover was interesting and the opening lines of its blurb hooked me:The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Also, I’ve been seeing this on a lot of people’s To Read lists.

3. City of Dark Magic & City of Lost Dreams by Magnus Flyte

I saw these two on the same trip that I got Night Circus, and not gonna lie, I checked them out purely based on the shininess of the covers. But I read their summaries on the walk home and I have feeling I’ll like them.

4. The Parasol Protectorate series by Gale Carriger

I’ve already read Soulless and Changeless, having check them out of the library. I ended up buying the series box set after reading Soulless. Based on my enjoyment of this series so far and Boneshaker, I apparently like Steampunk.

5. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

My sister recommended I read this. Unfortunately, curiosity got the better of me and I spoiled the ending for myself before I could get a copy… But I still plan to read it. I generally enjoy psychological thrillers. I’ll probably follow it up with Gillian Flynn’s other (but unrelated) stories, which also sound thrilling.

6. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

My sister also recommended this to me, and then a friend promptly reported that it was a book enjoyed by pretentious d-bags (or something to that effect). Of course, while writing this post I found my sister’s review of the book on GoodReads- only two stars?! It’s a massive book but apparently a whole chapter of it contains pages with only one word on it. It’s an experiment in book and for that reason alone I want to read it.

7. The Network Series by Katie Cross

I can’t remember how I found out about the first book, Miss Mabel’s School for Girls, but it was only a few weeks ago and the desire to read it was nagging me so much that I ordered it off Amazon last night. Being a fan of both minimalist design and nature motifs, I LOVE its cover. On her blog, Katie Cross posted about the progression of that cover, which was an interesting and enlightening read.

8. The Ren Crown Series by Anne Zoelle

A few months ago, a beta reader of my story recommended I read the first book in the series, The Awakening of Ren Crown, and so I ordered it along with Miss Mabel’s School for Girls. I’m actually really looking forward to reading a story from the POV of a college student. There aren’t enough (to my knowledge) of those POVs out there.

9. The Tir Na Nog trilogy by Ali Isaac

I previously posted about what caught my eye with this series. Bottom line: disabled protagonists are unusual, but a series where the POV character is (pardon the un-PC term) a vegetable? Other than Johnny Got His Gun, I can’t think of another book like that. Come to think of it, JGHG should be on this list, too.

10. The Discworld Series by Terry Pratchett

I’m not putting all 40 covers on here.

I mostly put this on here as tradition. Every birthday/Christmas for the past several years, I’ve asked for Discworld books. (Gotta catch ’em all!) Although I have almost every one (there are 40 last time I checked), I haven’t actually read every one… yet.

Having finished my list, I see that 8 of the authors are women and several are indie authors. I am okay with this.

365 WP #9: Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious


I decided to switch up the theme for this blog. I wanted something with two columns and I wanted the column containing the actually post to be wider. I don’t know that I’m in love with the current theme, so we’ll see how long I keep it.

Today’s 365 Days of Writing Prompt: Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious – You get some incredibly, amazingly, wonderfully fantastic news. What’s the first thing you do?


Their usual table at the bar sat empty. No one had yet arrived to pull up extra chairs. A drink menu sat directly under the yellow bar light, woefully unread.

Not even a mile away, they toiled over humming computers in the basement of the University testing centers. Fingers clattered over ancient keyboards. The clock on the wall ticked down the final minutes of the qualifying exam. Each one new they could knock the quantitative portion out of the park, but only if they got everything down in time.

One by one, they pumped out their final answers. The few that had time enough to review past responses and execute any mistakes with prejudice did so. The others just had to hope for the best.

After they pressed the submit button, they exited the testing room in silence. First Nancy, then Joe, then Robin. They shoved overworked hands into their pockets and trudged to their old haunt, slowly adding numbers to the once bar empty table. It wasn’t long before Amal selected his last multiple choice. And Brandon. Ruth and Kylie.

Peter was the only one left. He thought back to the answers he’d give over the past three hours. There wasn’t enough time to honestly correct anything. He had to just hope for the best. His fingers trembled as he hit the last submit button. The computer whirred for a few seconds as it calculated his score. Waiting for the final grade: the worse part of the exam. Success meant he’d cleared the final hurdle for graduating with his degree. Failure meant facing a table full of eagerly awaiting classmates with his tail between his legs.

He took a deep breath and looked at the score as it flash onto his screen.

The others watched Peter closely as he approached the table, head down, hands in pockets. Each had order their drinks of choice to celebrate high marks. Everyone knew what Peter would choose if he’d passed: a nice, old fashion rusty nail.

“How’d you do?” Ruth asked carefully as she ran her finger around the rim of her second vodka cranberry. Peter sighed, ran his fingers through his hair, and looked at his friends.

“What’s a guy gotta do around here to get a rusty nail in his hand?” he asked through a smile.


This is sort of based on what my classmates and I did after we passed our first stats grad class (i.e. went to the local bar for celebratory dinner/drinks). I’m not in love with the story. This’ll probably be one I come back to edit later. It needs to pizzazz.

 

 

Would You, Dear Reader, Pick Up This Book?


If I’m being honest, putting today’s post out in cyberspace makes me a tiny bit nervous. If I’m being super honest, I should drop the ‘a tiny bit’.

I’m starting to work on the little steps I need to take to get my first novel published. Little step #1: Summarizing my story in a paragraph or two (i.e. set up for the query letter). So I thought I’d post an intro to the story up here on my blog to 1) see how well I could introduce its basic premise and 2) see if anyone is actually interested in the story. If anything tickles your fancy, please (pretty please ;_________;) comment!

A little background before the intro…
Title: Tangled Webs (yes, the allusion to the Sir Walter Scott quote is intentional)
Genre: Fantasy; YA or NA (I like to think it’s NA but…)


With no family willing to take them in, Holly Ambrose drags her little brother on a job hunt to the town of Nowhere. And why not move to the middle of Nowhere, if it means working beside witches and ghosts in a hotel guarded by enchanted suits of armor with vampires right around the cor–okay, she could do without the vampires, who thirst a little too eagerly for her blood. Luckily, any darkness they bring to her new doorstep is brightened by Nate Pierce, a co-worker as eager to please as he is to teach her about the world of magic she so desperately wants to join. But as dire warnings stack up, Holly is forced to consider that her confidant is a bit more sinister–and a bit more involved in her parents’ demise–than he appears.


So there’s the intro. Any thoughts? Comments Criticisms? Does it make you want to read more?

So cover art is not a decision I need to make any time soon, but I'd love to have something like this spanning the back and the front. The image is from Educational Technology Clearinghouse.
So cover art is not a decision I need to make any time soon, but I’d love to have something like this spanning the back and the front. The image is from Educational Technology Clearinghouse.

 

Diversity in Writing: Ali Isaac’s Tir na Nog Triology


A few days ago I stumbled onto Ali Isaac’s blog, specifically the post where she’s promoting two contests to win free copies of her Conor Kelly books. As I read about these books, I knew I’d be writing a blog post about them and putting them on my To-Read list. The Conor Kelly books (…and the Four Treasures of Eirean; …and the Fenian King) tell the story of Conor who cannot move or speak or otherwise let the world know he’s aware and engaged and who is recruited to save Tir na Nog, a land of Irish legend. So first of all, I love Irish mythology. But I mainly want to read these stories to see how the author develops the character of Conor.

Ali Isaac’s “Conor Kelly and the Four Treasures of Eirean”, photo from her blog.

Before I go further, let me backtrack…

Two years ago almost to the day, I severely sprained my foot and ankle, injuries that took about six months to heal.  That semester, I was taking a psych course on cultural awareness in psychology. For the class we had to think about our culture and to do an activity that introduced us to an unfamiliar cultural group. I ended up using my sprains as my activity because I was basically forced (albeit temporarily) into disability. Although I’ve thought about my ability status significantly more since than, ability is one of those cultural groups that I and I’m sure many other’s take for granted.

With the ongoing push for diversity in writing, I have to wonder how often ability status is considered. Sure, there are plenty of stories out there in the fantasy and sci-fi genres with characters that have supernatural abilities, but what about characters who have a mobility impairment, or deafness, or even an invisible disability like depression or epilepsy or a learning disability? And how often are these characters shown in a positive, non-condescending or pitying light?

I suspect two reasons why people wouldn’t write about differently abled/ disabled characters. 1) People tend to not write about things they don’t know or don’t think about, and it’s really easy to not think about disabilities if you’re able bodied. 2) I know I would be nervous writing an MC that had a disability I had not experienced. I’d want to get that character’s experiences just right. Without living with a disability yourself, or having a loved one/friend/colleague/student, etc. who can help show you what their life is like, writing about a differently abled character is daunting.

Also, mini-rant and then I’m done with the post. Pretty much every main character in every major sci-fi or fantasy series I’ve seen or heard about recently should seek counseling help. PTSD, anyone? Harry Potter’s gonna need years of therapy, y’all. How did Dumbledore not send him to at least one meeting with the Hogwart’s school counselor after book 4, if not book 1 when someone tried to murder him at school?