“Do Not Go Gentle”

Apex Magazine’s “Holiday Horrors” flash fiction contest had 350 entries, but only one winner (and two runners-up). This story was not one of the latter–though it did make the final 20! Go read Charles Payseur’s, Clint Collins’s, and Inês Montenegro’s stories over at Apex. And if you’re still hungry for 250-word holiday horrors, read my story about an old year that refuses to yield to the new, below. I swear I wrote this before the election.


Do Not Go Gentle

by Rajiv Moté

Twisted and skeletal as a withered tree, the naked old man shuffled down the maternity ward hallway, sniffing the air like a starving wolf. Each exhalation was a wheeze. The satiny sash that only occasionally covered his unmentionables read “2020.”

Graveyard-shift workers and pacing fathers-to-be averted their eyes. They didn’t like to think of him. They could think of little else. They were resigned to waiting him out.

By the clock on the wall, they wouldn’t have much longer to wait—if the old man honored tradition. His bloodless lips twisted in a sneer.

Continue reading

“Echo Archipelago”

Whenever the people of the archipelago became so irreconcilable that cooperation seemed impossible, a new island rose from the waves, as one had since their ancestors left the mainland.

The chain of schisms reached ever forward. Some feared that by forever fleeing conflict, they’d never learn to work together.

New islands rose for them too.

Plot Structure Lessons From WXR/SiWC 2020

I’m a long-time listener to the Writing Excuses podcast, and the pandemic this year forced their annual retreat (WXR) from a cruise ship to online, in conjunction with the Surrey International Writers’ Conference (SiWC). That made it both accessible and more affordable, so I attended. I was glad I did. I learned a lot about story structure in lectures from Elizabeth Boyle, Mary Robinette Kowal, Liz Palmer, and Dan Wells, and some new ways at looking at the emotional character of scenes from Tetsuro Shigematsu. This blog post is an attempt to distill some of the lessons into a framework for outlining.

As the instructors repeat (and perhaps belabor), these lessons are not the answer to how to structure a story. They’re at best an answer, and more realistically, a diagnostic tool. If a manuscript feels like it isn’t working, analyzing it per these structures can reveal where something is missing or weak.

In this post, I’ll show you how I’m using the structural tools in my process. I will typically free-write a First Lousy Draft that captures as much of the raw story idea as I have. I then start an outline template that unifies the Three Act Structure, the DREAM framework, and the 7 Point Structure. I slot my First Lousy Draft scenes into the outline, and look where I need to flesh out the plot. I’ll then use the completed outline to write a Second Less Lousy Draft that feels more like a complete story. Then comes the development and revision, which is beyond the scope of this post.

Continue reading

The Thing With Feathers

T. rex is the thing with feathers
That stands 20 feet tall
And eats 500 pounds of meat per bite
And never stops at all
https://imgur.com/gallery/rmad4

https://imgur.com/gallery/rmad4
https://imgur.com/gallery/rmad4
https://imgur.com/gallery/rmad4

(Sadly, Tyrannosaurus rex and the larger theropods probably lost most of their plumage over the course of their evolution. Skin prints show no indication of feathers.)

T. rex were much bigger than their predecessors, having developed long legs that let them dash after prey. But large and active animals don’t cool down as quickly as smaller creatures. So as they got bigger, researchers think that the dinosaurs may have lost their plumage. “[F]eathers were too much of a hindrance to cooling off after a sprint,” Bittel writes. 

Smithsonian Magazine

The Wines of GPT-3

When I read the news that scientists had found chemicals on Venus that could be the product of microbial life, I joyfully tweeted a tasting note of a Venusian wine.

The wines of Venus have high acidity, but the atmospheric terroir crushes all tannic structure. They theoretically pair well with rich foods, but are instantly lethal in the smallest quantities.

@RajivMote on Twitter

This was noticed by science fiction writer and technologist James Yu, who has been playing with Open AI’s GPT-3 project, a machine learning system trained on a vast spread of text from the Web, and does a spooky-good job of generating text similar to prompts it is fed. GPT-3 fleshed out more wines from the solar system. The following are all machine-generated wine notes

Continue reading

“In Roaring She Shall Rise”

I’m thrilled to announce that my 500-word flash science fiction story, “In Roaring She Shall Rise,” won second place in the 2020 Escape Pod Flash Fiction contest! It’s a particular thrill to be published by a podcast. Hearing one’s words performed–in this case by Cast of Wonders editor Katherine Inskip–is a rare treat.

Please enjoy “In Roaring She Shall Rise” on Escape Pod.

Short fiction review-maestro Charles Payseur has some lovely things to say about this story and its Escape Pod peers in his Quick Sip Reviews.

Continue reading

What We Talk About When We Talk About Skywalkers

The Skywalker Saga—what we old-timers knew as Star Wars—is over. I refrained from adding my hot take on The Rise of Skywalker to the pile of hot takes because a saga that spanned 42 years of my life needs time to settle, and honestly, nobody cares about hot takes.

But I have been doing some deep thinking about endings, as I did for The Matrix, the Battlestar Galactica remake, Lost, Game of Thrones, The Wheel of Time, and all the other long-form stories that I couldn’t binge. In all those stories there was time to speculate, to wonder, to consider what would be a good ending, and what would not.

Continue reading

The Insufficient Language of Boredom

In these times of sheltering in place from COVID-19, the insufficiency of the word “bored” is especially pressing. It carries a connotation of indolence. Laziness. Consider: Children complain, “I’m bored.” Parents respond with a list of chores. The children’s problem is not solved, simply transformed into a less indolent flavor of boredom.

But also consider: A middle manager’s day is booked with back-to-back Zoom meetings, where she re-hashes the same talking points among multiple stakeholders. So boring. She hopes the next day will be different, and it is: she spends it approving expenses, vacation requests, and system entitlements; she fills out status reports and tailors the language to each audience to which she’s beholden. Bored bored bored.

Indeed, these are times that call for greater precision. The experience of boredom is multifaceted. Though any number of dimensions could be argued, I propose three:

  1. Unstimulated / Stimulated is mental engagement: intellectual, emotional, aesthetic.
  2. Unoccupied / Busy is the engagement of one’s time and effort.
  3. Discomfort / Pleasure is the basic component of emotional experience. Pain or pleasure. Aversive or attractive. Boredom is discomfort, of course, but let’s include pleasure for contrast.

The combinations of these dimensions yield emotional states that deserve their own vacabulary. These are some proposals. They certainly invite improvement.

Bored_Alternatives

I’m feeling bored if I’m experiencing unstimulated, unoccupied discomfort, like when I’m sitting on the sofa, with no motivation to attack anything on the to-do list, and feeling miserable about it.

I’m feeling relaxed if I’m experiencing unstimulated, unoccupied pleasure, like when I wake up with the alarm but realize it’s a weekend with no commitments but to listen to the wind howl outside while snug in my bed.

I’m feeling burdened if I’m experiencing unstimulated, busy discomfort, like when my day is full of pointless bullshit, the completion of which is a precondition for getting paid.

I’m feeling meditative if I’m experiencing unstimulated, busy pleasure, like when I’m driving, or stuffing dumplings, or doing something easily productive, and getting into the flow of it.

I’m feeling restless if I’m experiencing stimulated, unoccupied discomfort, like when my brain is bursting with ideas, I don’t have the means to act on them, and I’m frustrated by it.

I’m feeling imaginative if I’m experiencing stimulated, unoccupied pleasure, like when I’m caught up in daydreaming.

I’m feeling stressed if I’m experiencing stimulated, busy discomfort, like when I have engaging work, but way too much of it.

I’m feeling engaged if I’m experiencing stimulated, busy pleasure, like when I’m in the zone, doing something I want to do.

Any better adjectives? Any additional dimensions? Chime in. It’s not like you have anything better to do…

 

Last Christmas by Doctor Manhattan

“Last Christmas” by Doctor Manhattan, who does not perceive time linearly, but all at once.

 

“Where are you, Jon? When are you?”

 

It is December 15, 1984. I hear George Michael on the radio.

 

It is December 26, 2018. You are giving my heart away.

 

It is December 26, 1983. I am trying to console George Michael, whose heart I have given away. I tell him I understand. This is as yet a lie.

 

It is December 25, 2018. I am giving you my heart.

 

It is December 24, 2019. I am listening to a song George Michael wrote, understanding.

 

It is December 25, 2019. I am giving my heart to someone special.

 

It is June 14, 1983. I tell George Michael to stop calling me and write a song.