Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Last One to Leave

I think things are going fairly well on the blog right now. I have some new things planned starting in the third quarter of 2013, so keep your eyes out.

For June, I'm giving you my short story "The Last One to Leave". This story was written just a few months ago as my first entry to the writing prompt podcast Every Photo Tells. Find the site here The podcast can also be accessed through iTunes (that's how I get it) and other sources. Check out their site for more info, and while you're there, make sure to listen to episode 114, which is the podcast version of the story I'm about to give you. Here's the link to their entry for my story: Or you can just go to iTunes and get it. It is free, after all!

Keep an eye out in July for some new updates! More info later! For now, here's "The Last One to Leave."


When you get right down to looking at it, the world is a really big place. I never realized that until I left it for the first time. This is the story of how I left the world.

I was born to a family– as we all are– and my first bed was a little pile of rags. My mother had five other children besides me, so right from the beginning, I was easily overlooked and didn’t get much attention. It was all but impossible to get any time alone with Mom, and come to think of it, I don’t think I ever had so much as a minute of time with just me and her before she left. She took all four of my sisters with her when she went, leaving me and my brother alone. He left not long after they did. I suppose he followed after them, disappearing and leaving me with nothing but the food I already had in my belly and the nest of rags I’d been born in.

Fortunately, by the time I was all alone, I’d seen some of the world while following Mom out to look for food. There were always crumbs and bits of things to eat hidden in the corners of the world. Sometimes food was covered in dust, sometimes we had to fight the roaches and other rats for it, but there was always some lying around somewhere. After I was left alone, I grew adept at locating those little caches with my nose and whiskers. As time passed, I didn’t have to fight for my meals as frequently. The other rats were showing their noses less and less, and I guessed the roaches realized I was the king of the world and that I was to be left alone.

I didn’t realize that they were all leaving the world until it was too late.

I was the definite, undisputed lord and master of the world by the time I was a year old. I supposed if I’d had someone else watching my back, I would have realized the food was growing more scarce, but I had a full stomach most days, so why should I have cared about anything else? I had hiding places, I had my rag nest, I had the fear of any other creature I encountered. My coat was thick, my teeth sharp, and my tail was respectably long and wiggly.

And I had my hoard.

I started hoarding when I was about seven months old. The first treasure I found was a dark spike-toothed something hidden in a pile of dust and lint next to a bit of cracker. The spiked thing was as big as my head, obviously broken on one end. I sniffed at it for a good five minutes before I heard the world thud and shake. Stuffing the cracker in my mouth, I made to dash back to my nest, but the spike-toothed thing called me. I nearly choked swallowing the last of the cracker, but I managed to scamper back to the thing, gather it up in my mouth, and disappear before the thudding grew any worse.

I inspected the spiky teeth of the thing for hours and eventually discovered that I could use it to scratch places on my body that my own teeth or feet couldn’t reach. It was a gift from who knew where. I wanted more things like it. So I grew more bold.

My hoard swelled over the next few months. I found round things with grooves in them, wooden things that were long and thin and yellow with one end that was pink and chewy, little silver things that curled around each other in long loops. I built a nice pile to go along with my rag nest. There were even more rags I was able to pick up and add to my nest, rags that were streaked with greasy black stuff that made my fur sticky and smelled strange. At least I had more rags to keep me warm.

The best day ever was the day I found my first white stick. I was on the second level of the world, sniffing around for something to eat, when I found it. It was a tube, sitting in the middle of the floor. The tip of one end of it looked black and crumbly. I had no idea what this thing was, but I wanted it for my hoard– or at least to take it back to my nest to inspect it. I could always get rid of things later if I wanted. I sniffed at the tube, coughed, and picked it up with my mouth.

By the time I got the tube back to my nest, I had drooled enough to make the outside of the tube soggy and nearly clear. Some of it came away in my mouth, and something gritty came along with it. Inside the tube was some brown specks of stuff, little chips or really big dust flakes or something. I coughed again as some dust traveled into my nose, and a tiny flake of the brown stuff ended up on my tongue. I couldn’t get it out of my mouth and ended up swallowing it.

I threw up a minute later. I was dizzy, I was a little bit nauseous, and I was getting a terrible headache, but I felt wonderful. Some sort of coolness settled on me, and I felt like I had never really understood what it meant to be king of the world before. I had just figured it out, and I was the real king now.

Over the next few weeks and months, I carefully rationed my trove of brown flaky stuff, only eating a tiny flake at a time. I learned quickly that I got very sick if I ate too much at once. Besides, I didn’t want to run out forever, and though I searched the world high and low– both floors, all the windows, every rafter I could get to– I wasn’t lucky enough to find another white tube of brown flakes.

This is around the time I should have realized all the other rats had left the world.

I was hungry for a long time. I ran out of brown flakes midwinter, and I got very shaky. My forays out and around my domain grew longer as I grew more desperate, but I was always disappointed. I got thin without really realizing I wasn’t eating, so focused was I on finding my brown flakes.

I was down to skin and bones when the world thundered and shuddered again. I dared poke my nose out into the open and saw the strangest creatures I’d ever seen. They were huge and obviously stupid and clumsy. They moved big gaping holes that I could only assume were supposed to be mouths, making strange guttural sounds that were some strange imitation at speech.

One of them had a white tube in its mouth!

I kept my eyes locked on the creature, watching and waiting for it to make a stupid mistake and drop it. The other creatures with it kept making one string of sounds over and over. It made me wonder if they actually could communicate with their strange too-big mouths and those fat tongues.


I didn’t have a clue what they were saying, but I did see a fortune’s worth of crumbs falling from the mouth and strange flabby coat of one of the creatures, and my stomach rumbled. I was wary to go near them; surely creatures this big and dumb would be violent. Besides, what I really wanted was the stick in the other creature’s mouth. The fool creature actually plucked the tube from its mouth with a long-toed foot and flicked it away. My eyes followed it to where it landed on the floor. I didn’t take my eyes from the spot.

They finally left, and I was off. I couldn’t move fast enough. I nearly ran right over the tube as I sped to get to it. I didn’t even wait until I got back to my nest to take in a sweet, bitter, smooth flake. I nearly passed out right then and there out of sheer joy and pleasure. I don’t know how long I sat there, but I did finally drag the tube back to my nest.

The creatures came back again a few days later, and a few days after that. I began building up a whole pile of tubes as they stayed for longer and longer, pointing and grunting at each other. More of the creatures came, and more of them kept the tubes dangling out of their mouths. I saw one commit the atrocity of dropping it under one strangely-hooved foot and stamp on it, twisting its hoof on it until the tube and the flecks had been crushed into the floor. Savage!

My constant, ever-growing supply of flecks made me even more bold, and one day I dared linger out of sight on the bottom level of the world, just waiting for one of the tubes to be flicked away by one of those foolish barbarians.

My waiting was rewarded. And luck was with me. The remains of the tube came right to me, landing on the floor within easy scampering distance. One end of it was glowing just a little, and a pleasant smoky scent filled my nose as I gathered up my prize and secreted it away in my nest.

I had no idea what fire was before then. I’m a quick learner.

One of my nasty black-streaked rags touched the glowing end of my newest tube, and there were little sparks, then big sparks, then wavy orange light, then heat, then more, and the whole rag nest was smoking. The rest of my tube trove started to burn, and I panicked. The baseboards that walled in my nest began to smolder, and smoke filled my whole nest until I couldn’t take it anymore. I scampered out, only to see that the flickering orange waves were spreading.

The world was burning, and burning quickly. It was all so dry.

The tall boorish creatures were panicking, which helped calm me down. I was better than them, more educated. I could talk and be understood. But the creatures, they were all hurrying toward a big open cave in the world I had never seen before. It looked clear out there, big and blue and green and terrifying, and the creatures were all pouring out into the gaping strangeness.

Except one of them. It was tall, and the air had gotten thick and black, and the creature had been up on the second floor of the world. It stumbled down the mountain to the ground level, and I couldn’t help but notice it had a whole forest of tubes sticking out of a pouch in the top of its oddly-striped coat. It was coughing loud enough to shake the very foundations of the world. The air grew thicker, and I couldn’t see the creature anymore, even from the corner where I was huddled.

But I felt it when it hit the ground.

Terrified or not, I couldn’t help but think of the hoard I’d just lost, and I knew that after a trauma like this, I would need my brown flakes to keep calm. I dashed to the creature, leapt up onto its coat– it was surprisingly soft on my feet– and poked my head into its coat pouch to dig out a tube, my tail swishing back and forth.

I suppose I didn’t realize my tail was whumping the creature’s face. It stirred beneath me, and I felt its huge ugly eyes on my back. It coughed, made some guttural sounds, and I was in its claw.

I’d never been so high. The creature carried me, and I waited for it to eat me– or smush me under a foot or who knew what else these things could do– as its steps thundered across the floor of the world toward the horrific cave of openness.

And I left the world in the claws of the creature. The creature turned, and I was able to look back at the world. It had more floors than I’d thought– at least three, maybe four. I’d only ever explored two. All the floors were spouting huge orange waves of light and heat, and the walls that had apparently been white were turning black. Snaps and crashes and other breaking noises filled the air, and I couldn’t resist the instinct to cower from it. I backed up against the coat of the creature that still held me and nearly slipped off of its claw. I had to get hold, and my own feet weren’t doing me any good. I sank my teeth in.

I was falling all of a sudden to the sound of a shrill cry from the creature, and I hit the ground with a thud. Beneath my feet were strange gritty textures like I’d never encountered before, and green stalks of something that blew in the wind. I scurried as fast as I could, away from the creatures and away from the bright orangeness of the world. I ran for hours, for miles.

And there was another world in front of me. It was smaller, squarer, and I could see there was a perfect place for me to crawl inside and get away from flames, big stupid creatures, and...

TUBES! There was a trove of old tubes just lying in a corner! I could live forever on the brown flakes in these!

I burrowed into the pile and curled up. So maybe my old world was gone. I could deal with this new one.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Outlining Process

I've heard it said that writers fall into two categories: pantsers and outliners. Gardeners and architects. Those who write by the seat of their pants and those that bullet-point the crap out of their works. What it boils down to is how much planning you do before you write. I'm both at different times. But primarily, I'd say I am an outliner.

I wasn't always an outliner. Up until 2009 I was definitely a pantser. Sure, I'd have a basic idea of the story in my head, but I let the words take me where they would. And if you'll see my post about the I Can't Finish Trap (, you'll see where that left me: with a lot of starts and few finishes to my name.

I still tend more towards pantsing when I write short fiction. Okay, when it comes to short fiction, I AM a pantser. Until I get stuck and then I might figure out the outline through to the end, but it's bare-bones bullet points, and then I pants it again. But this post isn't about that. It's about my outlining process.

My first outlined work was the project that eventually became my first novel(la) Empeddigo. I'd never outlined before, but if I was going to win my first NaNoWriMo, I was going to need the guidelines. So I basically did a first draft in outline form in the 6 weeks leading up to November 1. And I finished NaNo that year, passing the 50,000 word mark on November 15th. Since then, I've outlined and completed my epic poem, The Trials of Hallac, my blogject/novella Mere Acquaintances, and a few other projects I'm working on. The Blood of Princes trilogy with my best friend and co-author Erin Pruett is underway being outlined. I also have novel Criminal from Birth and its unnamed sequel, novel Guaine's Gift, and novel The Extra Son. I don't italicize because they aren't finished.

Anyway, here's the process I use. Take it or leave it, but I'm still polishing my way of doing things. Also, I call these outlines, but in truth, they're more like a first draft. They may not be fully prose, but my outlines are detailed enough that I personally can justify calling them my first draft. For the purposes of this blog post, I'm going to use my outline for Guaine's Gift, a novel I've been plotting for awhile and that I hope will be on my writing block late this year or early next year.

Step One: Develop the Idea.

This one's easy. I have tons of ideas. What's hard is figuring out what to do with them. Guaine's Gift came about from two ideas: the setting of a matriarchal society that hails its ruler as a goddess and a what-if. What if a Christopher Columbus-like figure discovered a new world inhabited by people with magical powers? Now what do I do to build this story?

Step Two: Build.

For me, this is a lot of fun. This is my world-building step. The key here is to ask questions. I quickly decided that since the society is matriarchal, men are considered property. From my idea, here are some questions that spawned:

Do they really think all men should be property?
Where do they get their slaves from? Colonies elsewhere? Are they bred? Or are they captives from conquered lands?

Are there women slaves?
If so, what could put a woman in the position of a slave? If not, does it cause contention with their buyers that only men are sold as slaves

Are their soldiers men or women?
Are slave men "trusted" enough to follow orders, or are women considered the superior sex?
Or are women too valuable to be expended in military matters?

Why are men so looked down on?
Is it a religious outlook?
Are they merely a more advanced stage of civilization than the other continent, who stamped out the god-given Guaine's Gift form their men, and that disdain is all that is now remembered?

Females cannot be born into servitude in the empire. Since only women are natrually free, children are born to free women impregnated by men who are property. So obviously, they hope for girls. Are the boys immediately given up, or do they remain with their mothers?

If they're taken away, how are they cared for? Cow's milk? Goat?

Or are there women slaves who deal with this kind of thing?

Are female slaves forced into celibacy or made sterile?

These are very basic questions. I didn't bother trying to answer any of them yet. Just asking them. Eventually, I have a nice little list. Once I get bored asking questions and start getting antsy to answer them, this happens:

Do they really think all men should be property? Yes, they do, but they also know that their power doesn't hold outside their own borders, so they don't immediately clap a collar on every wandering man they see. They do look down their noses at them, though.

Is there any respect to be had for foreign men, especially kings? Only by proxy, because respect for titles is something they understand.

Or does the Empress only treat with women? The Empress does treat with men, but it's very condescendingly. She really doesn't believe they can hold a candle to her power- or intelligence-wise. As a result, foreign kings tend to bring a female representative or a wife with him... or simply don't go at all in favor of sending one.

What kind of relationships would they have with neighboring kingdoms where men aren't mere property? Tenuous. They are very arrogant (think the Red Ajah's attitude) but they see the necessity of having men around. In most cases, merchants will address the woman if they have the choice in their dealings. Some men like to simply stick it to the women and force them to deal with men out of pride, but some also know that women will receive more respect and will be able to haggle for better prices. In some cases, men will bring their wives to do their talking but expect their wives to be submissive. Gender relationships in other kingdoms can be pretty strained because of this kind of dealing.

Where do they get their slaves from? Colonies elsewhere? Are they bred? Or are they captives from conquered lands? Slaves are bred in W'Ltair and can also be any man who has proven himself unwanted, or a woman whose credibility and honor have been completely destroyed.

Are there women slaves? Yes, there are women slaves.
If so, what could put a woman in the position of a slave? If not, does it cause contention with their buyers that only men are sold as slaves? It takes great dishonor to have a woman fall so far, but it does happen. Crimes that can cause a fall include (but are not limited to): Stealing a male; sleeping with another woman's male; murdering a male, a free woman, or a child.

Aww, answers! It goes on and on. But these answers led to more questions. The best one is "Why?" Answers lead to questions, to more questions, to more answers, and so on. Eventually, I had a huge list of questions and answers that expanded into the world and the society of its people. And yes, sometimes I use references to other works, other things I've read that can help me develop an idea in a few words rather than a lengthy paragraph.

It is very easy to get caught here, so you have to learn when to stop. For me, that's all based on feeling. Eventually, I just feel like I haev enough ideas swirling around in my head and on paper that it can't wait any longer for fleshing. I go with my gut. I wish I had a more concrete way to tell when you're ready to move on from this step, but I don't right now. Sorry.

Also, no, I didn't answer every single question I asked myself. Tons went unanswered in this planning stage. Some answers changed later on when I realized the story I'd created had no place for that answer. Sometimes new questions popped up, or answers to questions I'd never asked. To quote a repeated line in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, "They're more like guidelines than actual rules." Remember, you're the writer. For all purposes, you are a god.

Step Two-point-Five: Who's There?

Somewhere in all those questions, I started to figure out WHO my characters were. As society emerged, I realized that my Christopher Columbus character was just one drop in an ocean of life here. This would be more of an ensemble piece than a single-protagonist work. I could have characters be men who were property, their owners, trainers, even characters that weren't from that particular belief system. There were so many different viewpoints I could explore and exploit, and they would help mold the plot.

Step Three: Bullets.

This is the beginning of my first draft. I seriously sit and figure out what happens. For this step, I'm actually going to move away from Guaine's Gift and look at my first finished novella, Empeddigo. At the time I was working on Empeddigo, I wrote it through, start to finish. I suppose this could be considered pantsing, after a fashion. I didn't know what was going to happen until I got there. I honestly, figured out what was going to happen in the first chapter, did bullet points, and then moved onto chapter two. Eventually, I reached the end. Sometimes, I'd have an idea for some dialogue, and I'd include what was said and who said it.

I won't lie. This step is NOT pretty. My outlines are ugly, and just to prove it, have fun making sense out of this example:

Chapter Fifteen Nien
  • They follow Trem up the side of the mountain. It's rocky but there is lots of growth that keeps it from being a slick climb. Nien starts to get a weird feeling. Trem: "Kind of lightheaded? I felt that way too. But come look at this. Just a little farther."
  • They come to a level area. trem hushes them. "Up a tree."
  • "I caught eye of the monster when I climbed up here earlier and followed it here. But when I got here, I saw a person heading for that same crevice opening the monster did. I think someone's controlling it. I think it's been set on the village."
  • Nien sees the monster resting near the opening of the cave. He points it out to Gaella, who shoots an arrow at it. It goes straight through and chinks off the rock behind it. Confused, or thinking she simply missed, she tries again. Same result. They climb down and when their vision is clear of the tree limbs, it's gone. They peer into the cave.
  • People inside are wearing facemasks to cover their mouths and noses. They're crushing the leaves of the plant that's so common around here and in some of the fields. And they're not dressed like anyone any of them have ever seen. No sign of the monster. Gaella: "What are they doing?"
  • Trem: "I don't know... but I'm coming back tonight and finding out."

See? Not pretty. And as I've outlined more, they get uglier. But I can make sense of them, and that's what matters, because I'm the one that it's intended for anyway. But I think you get the idea how it really functions as a draft rather than an outline.

These days, I'm not outlining quite the same way as I did in 2009 with Empeddigo. In light of my new methods of finishing things, I'm actually not pantsing quite as much as I used to. I need that ending to be figured out earlier in order to make getting there easier. Now I tend to do a "Big Three" outline. Three bullet points: Beginning, climax, ending. Since the beginning and climax are pretty easy for me, this helps point me toward the end rather than have me floating above the world wondering which way I'm supposed to come in for the landing. Then I start spreading things out into the gloriously scary outline like you see above.

Step Four: Write!

Outline finished. It's time to do my first real draft of prose. Technically, this isn't part of the outlining process, but it's still important. My own experience has taught me that this is about sixty-three times easier than outlining. Okay, I'm kidding about the number, but when compared with my outlining process, writing is a piece of cake. The hard work is done. I'm not kidding. It took me 6 weeks to outline Empeddigo. I wrote it in 15 days and didn't even put down any words for 6 of those 15 days. So in reality, I wrote my second draft (my first prose draft) in 9 days.

My novella Criminal from Birth took about 5 weeks to outline and about 3 weeks to write my first prose draft. The Trials of Hallac is a different story, a little bit. It's an epic poem, but I still used the same process. I spent about 5 weeks outlining and about 4 weeks writing.

Granted, the writing I'm talking about is usually pretty intense writing sessions. A lot of my work gets put out in NaNoWriMo-like spurts, but those are productive times. I'm getting more consistent in writing outside spurt sessions now, but the point is that this intense outlining process makes the prose writing a more enjoyable experience for me. I still get to enjoy pantsing when I do shorter fiction, but outlining has made it much more likely that I scrap less. it helps me figure out foreshadowing a little more easily, helps me keep things consistent. Something about bullet points makes it easier for me to make changes than trying to do that in editing prose.

I have great respect for those that pants it all the time. I couldn't do it. I tried. So call me an outliner for life.