This week's winners (I picked two because I was sick most of the week and missed out on a bunch of writing time) are Tom and Brian. They proposed some pretty cool topics that gave me a lot to think about. I will back full force next week with some more of my own madness.
Hobos. In. SPAAAAACE!!
Hobos are a romantic topic. For most the concept sparks an image of a shabbily clothed train hopper with a banjo and a bindle stick boozing their way around the world on a freight train. For those who have traveled by less common means, it is a very different image. We wore the clothes we could afford or find, working when we could, and often for far less than minimum wage. Here on earth, hopping a ride and sleeping rough are fairly easy to do even with the current scrutiny on homelessness. When my friend Tom suggested “space hobos”, I knew I had a rough subject to cover.
First off, there is very little reason for a cargo container in space to have an oxygen rich atmosphere. This immediately removes one of the primary means of travel from our hobos and limits them to either sneaking on to human transport or finding work as part of a crew. Hobos would have to gain a lot more skills than the average person heading from the Martian ice mining colonies to the algae farms of Europa.
The next problem is space itself. There is an awful lot. On earth, when a freight car is “sided out” or parked, there are tracks the hobo can follow to civilization. If our hobos in space find a cargo transport with an atmosphere and get parked, they are stuck. Along this vein is also the time and energy required to cross the vast distances of space. Even at light speed we suspect the nearest earth-like planet to be ten years away or more. That’s one long ride for someone with minimal resources.
Our non-standard travelers would have a lot of obstacles to overcome that are easily overcome on earth, so I think it is a rich bed for storytelling. You can expect to see a few stories soon on the subject, but in the meantime, check out the musical creations of a real live hobo and dear friend, Tom Kerins (bandcamp page). Your contributions could very well go towards the first hobo in space!
My friend and fellow poet Brian (Katin Thehat) suggested the topic “vampires are really aliens.” This concept has been covered fantastically by several of my favorite sources. Vampirella, and all vampires in that universe, hail from the planet Drakulon. Doctor Who featured three distinct species of hemophagic aliens. Star Trek had salt vampires. And there is Colin Wilson’s The Space Vampires, later turned into the film Lifeforce.
I’ve always had a fascination with vampires. They are a cultural phenomenon that never quite gets staked through the heart despite the awkward attempts to gloss coat and satirize them. They are, and I think will remain, staples of horror. They represent what I consider the “perfect” baddie.
What makes the perfect baddie? Three things specifically define this for me: Unalterable motive; Overwhelming power; and Minimal emotion. Their motive is to eat, to feed, usually on blood. Take the blood away and they starve. That’s a good motive to keep eating. They are immortal, capable of withstanding nearly all forms of attack or injury. Besides that they have great physical strength and prowess, and abilities such as turning to vapor or animals make them an overwhelming force for most. And aside from the occasional bout of loneliness or boredom, they have no use for emotion.
I am not a big alien enthusiast. For me, the question of resources and time always makes me balk at the concept. Alien vampires give me some wonderful ideas that would allow me to suspend my disbelief enough to make something. If vampires are really aliens, then they likely have been sowing the seeds for human space travel since their arrival. It’s much easier to find resources if your food is piloting the ship.
Consider a generational ship: a spaceship large enough to house an increasing population for one or more generations and traverse a large distance. Humanity evolves to where it can make and pilot one to another earth-like planet thousands of light-years away. The vampires, who tag along for the ride, only need 192 genetic pairs to survive in order to rebuild their food source on the new planet. They can repeat this cycle until the heat death of the universe.
Will Antitopia have space vampires? Probably not. But I will definitely play with the idea. No harm ever came from writing more. *grin*
Brian has a musical project as well which you should definitely check out. It's called pIGE0Nh0LE and it is an excellent adventure in chaos!
CAST OF CHARACTERS:
Brian Dale (aka Katin Thehat): song-singer & word-bringer, psychopomp, psylosopher & backup metaphysics
Lane Wilder: classically trained master of sonic ambivalence, ear textures & instrumental adventures of all sorts
Between the Cracks (EP #2)
pige0nh0le (EP #1)
I have some sort of virus which has wiped me out for the past few days. As result I haven't been able to write very much. Once I am feeling better I will post this week's blog or make next week's a super special edition. Thank you all for stopping in!
Pictured: The Bluniverse with a splash of red.
The discussion of diversity in creative works is an important and evolving one. I have seen many strides taken in my 40-some odd years towards inclusivity. I have made many of those strides in my life and am always striving to be better.
I’m a white guy, so I exist in a position of privilege. Statistically, I have better odds of surviving an interaction with police than others might. My chances of landing a job are higher, and I would likely get paid more than another doing the same job. It is unlikely that someone would drag me behind an automobile for my choice in partners, or beat me to death because I represent a gender different from expectations. I understand this.
No human deserves violence for their existence alone. As yet, we have no evidence that humans choose existence. Rather, life thrusts it upon them at a very early age (ha!) and they have no option but to accept it. They don‘t deserve injury for this anymore than I deserve a crown for my pallor and genital configuration.
Diversity is not harmful to creative works. The more voices there are, the more variety there is, the less boring the world becomes. If everything in the universe was blue, for example, it would be a bland existence. But add a splash of red? Suddenly things get interesting. In our hypothetical bluniverse that spot of red stands out and screams, “I am here!”
A spot of red does not diminish the blueness. It draws away some attention, but blue is no less blue. In fact, it inspires a few blue bits to venture out and try being purple. Another blue spot tries being yellow. Soon we have a whole spectrum. It is a lot of hard work, but what a wondrous place our universe becomes!
The argument seems to be that if content was being created that was “good” then things would be different. However, great content is being made, and often with little to no support. When support is available (Jordan Peele’s latest efforts come to mind) incredible things happen. We get excellent stories, brilliant images, and amazing music. The whole of creation works harder to shine.
And that is where the problem rests. It isn’t a fear of color or creed, of gender or orientation, but of work. Lackluster only shines when nothing else is brighter. In a diverse field, only the great shines through. That is a good thing, because it means that we must work harder, practice our craft, and make things that people love if we want them seen.
So let us, instead of harping at diversity, get better at what we are doing. Write every day. Paint every day. Study, photograph, film, sculpt every single day. Be better. Help the bluniverse grow into a vast spectrum worthy of your shine.
Weekly Topic Contest Winner: Marc Alexander
My friend Marc posted this as a topic idea: “I can pass messages thru dreams to those who know to contact me, but I get my memory wiped regularly so I don’t remember what messages I transmit.”
Now this sounds like a fun story, so I won’t write it for him. I will touch on the rabbit hole it drew me down: Laser-guided amnesia.
The mind wipe or memory wipe is well covered on tvtropes.com so you can read about it in more depth there. To familiarize you with the concept, Jason Bourne and The Manchurian Candidate are both examples. A person has their memory removed yet keep their abilities. This may seem like movie magic, but it is how amnesia works to some extent. You lose your sense of person, but keep your muscle memory. It is a common plot device that can make for good storytelling.
Most often we see the subject of the wipe perform some immoral act that no “good” person would or could. Jason Bourne is a cold-blooded killing machine. The Chinese military conditioned Raymond Shaw to assassinate various political rivals of his handlers. They usually escape their circumstances and everything works out: the “good guys” win.
In Marc‘s scenario above, the means of wiping would have to be near instantaneous. They could use an implanted chip, a la Total Recall. If the memory erasure wasn‘t instant, they would remember the messages and the premise would fail.
We must also consider the most important question: Why? Why are they transmitting messages? This is an important plot point. When writing this story, the author would need to have that question answered to set it up correctly. The message transmission is important enough to need a memory wipe afterwards. This is doubtless an expensive thing, be it lasers or a memory chip. This could all make for a superb story. All that remains is for someone to write it.
So, to this week‘s winner, I say, “Sit down and write this story I would love to read!”
[ Marc is a writer of compelling and thoughtful comic reviews and recently posted his 150th review over at Bam! Smack! Pow! Check it out here: bamsmackpow.com/2019/02/18/criminal-no-2-review-comics-and-crime/ ]
Those who know me well are aware of my anxiety issues. I fret over social situations more than is reasonable, and always begin them looking for an exit. This can, I believe, be an impediment to writing for many who practice the craft. For me it can throw me out of my zone for several days at a time, particularly if large groups are involved.
This past weekend I went to an event put on by CHOA (Children's Healthcare of Atlanta) for children with congenital heart defects at the Georgia Aquarium. My youngest has a heart defect so we get to go as a family which we couldn't do otherwise (not at $8.95 for a sandwich). The down side is the massive crowd. Beyond the 400+ kids and family members there are the weekend visitors. My heart is racing even now simply thinking of it.
My nerves started their rattling around 10 P. M. on Friday and didn't quit until Monday morning. This got me thinking about how I deal with my anxiety and sit down at the keys. I've found that there are a few things that allow me to set down the unwanted stone of anxiety and punch at the keys.
I have a mass of hobbies (knitting/crochet, electronics, drawing, painting, etc.) which I enjoy. Crochet, my unlikely hero, provides me with an excellent distraction when my heart is racing and my armpits sting from the stress of the crowd. It may be the numerous focal points, but I think that the counting of stitches and the rhythm of the hook does more to separate my mind from the multitude.
Put simply, counting things and focusing on a beat can distract, so I pick up a craft that has both.
If you don't have a hobby, pick anything that sounds good and head over to YouTube. There are a million crafts and hobbies on display there and many excellent enthusiastic hobbyists ready to teach you. (Just a tip: you can crochet with your fingers and an old sweater has lots of free yarn :D )
2. Temperature Change
This could just as easily be "environment change" (GET OUT!! AAAAAH!), but it is often enough for me to change the temperature. I can touch something cold or hot and think about that spot instead of the chaos around me. I usually have something cold to drink for just such emergencies. In a pinch (like at the aquarium) tiles and glass are often cooler than their surroundings.
I write primarily at our kitchen table, behind which is a bay window. I like to touch the glass when I'm overthinking every single thing. It grounds me and gives me something simple to focus on. When I'm at my desk I can't do that without knocking over a thousand stacks of paper and piles of yarn, which leads me to the next trick.
3. Embrace Your Inner Lunatic
I pace. A lot. I pace and talk to myself. I act out my dialogue, argue with my "inner editor", have the conversations I shouldn't with people I'm arguing with, and generally let loose the bonds of sanity. It is an impossible task to tell a proper story if you have all that clutter in your head, so find a good spot and let it out.
This may sound like a Bad Idea (™) but it is quite cathartic. After a few minutes I find it much easier to sit down at the keyboard and shovel words onto the page. And if this doesn't work, there's always the nuclear (and best) option...
4. Hug Something
Hugs are underrated. It is a Scientific Fact (™ ) that one hug can permanently banish every demon currently haunting your living room. Not really, but it can't hurt to try. I am fortunate in having a wonderful human I can hug almost anytime I want. I also have a dog who probably doesn't mind and several claw marks from the cat. Failing those options, I have a rather depressing stuffed hedgehog that farts when you squeeze it. It reminds me of my dog Shakes, who hopped a westbound a few years back. I miss her, and feeling that pain makes me feel human again when I just can't do it on my own.
All of these tricks serve one purpose: they make you feel human. Anxiety and stress steal your humanity. They convince you to objectify yourself, to look at yourself as less, broken, bad. You're not.
You are human, and if it takes yammering to yourself on the front stoop while hugging an ice cube wearing a sweater you crocheted? Do it. You're worth it, I'm worth it.
(Weekly Contest Winner) Nobody!!
A hearty round of applause for Nobody, because that's how many saw the contest post this week. I am a dummy and posted it in the wrong place. Yay!! I'll try again next week, sorry all! Have an awesome week and do something you love.
[ DISCLAIMER: I am not a mental health professional. Above are listed tactics which I utilize to overcome my own experience with anxiety. Personal experience is not medical advice. If you experience severe anxiety issues, please consider professional help if available. ]
The first story in the Highgate series is in the edit/rewrite phase. I've been sitting on it for a while and it is unfamiliar enough for me to look at with fresh eyes. It needs some love since I tend to just pile words upon the page in the first draft with little concern for the basics (grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc.), but over all it looks good. I will be posting the first three chapters *unedited* on patreon this week.
The Highgate series follows Clarissa Tate, a paranormal investigator seeking to understand the events of her youth. The House at Highgate finds her returning to her childhood home to face the original haunting of her life.
Weekly Contest Idea
I want to involve YOU in my writing! My thought is to have a weekly contest. Readers submit blog topics (like the one below) and I pick the topic which seems the most fun to write about. Winner gets to name a character, subject, or location for one of the daily microfictions I post on Facebook and Twitter.
The guidelines: One submission per week. Topics should be related to science fiction, horror, or fantasy. Submissions should be near the "safe for work" zone. The submission thread will be posted on Fridays on the Antitopia facebook page and my personal page. The pick of the week will be arbitrary and subjective.
Han Solo vs. Malcom Reynolds (This Week's Winner)
This week's winning topic was "Han Solo vs. Malcom Reynolds". These are both good guy scoundrel types, so I doubt they would fight unless given no choice (or if it made a tidy profit). Han Solo has a reliable co-pilot and could call upon his buddy the space wizard (Luke Skywalker) in a pinch. Malcom Reynolds has a full crew with an in-house space wizard-ninja (River Tam). If I judge based on availability of allies, Malcom has the match hands down.
If it is a one-on-one fight, Malcom has it, but not without difficulty. He is a veteran and a fine shot, but Han is more sneaky and could get the first shot in. Captain Reynolds is more tactical so I think it would depend on the venue.
In all honesty, I think they would find a way to turn the tables on whomever pit them against one another. I can see Han and Chewie sitting down in the Serenity's mess hall and having a drink with Wash and Malcom as they laugh at the Hero of Canton's love affair with Vera.
That's all for this week, so don't get cocky, kids, or I swear by my pretty floral bonnet I will end you.
It was suggested that I put Artificial - Part One in a single volume because the individual chapters on vocal.media were...bothersome. Well, I did. It is currently only on Amazon (here), but I am formatting it for other outlets soon (it is under review on publish drive. More info when I have it). If you are on my Patreon, this week's patrons only post includes an .epub format version which should work on most devices.
The free version will remain available until vocal.media goes belly up. This is just all eleven chapters in one volume rather than having to click back and forth to get to the chapters. The image above is the nifty cover I put together.
The first newsletter goes out tomorrow, and you can sign up here. It's free and includes updates and news about the Antitopia Universe, as well as a digest of the microfiction posted on the antitopia.official facebook page.
With the nasty winter storm crossing the U.S. this week, I hope all are safe and staying warm. Be well, friends, and I'll see you all next week!
Recently I began writing microfiction on the official Antitopia facebook page (www,facebook.com/antitopia.official). So why microfiction? I like the medium because it helps me find just the right words to convey a story in the simplest manner. The stories come in around 300 or less words. That's a small space to work!
In addition to being an excellent practice, it is also a fantastic way to kick start my writing day. The creative juices get flowing and the bigger works feel less overwhelming. Honestly I don't know why I hadn't considered doing this before.
Feel free to check out what's there (not much yet but it's growing) and share it around.
I want to give credit where it is due. My friend Jinx Strange (strangefireandfumery.com), an excellent writer in his own right, recommended I check out Tansy Undercrypt (www.facebook.com/tansy.undercrypt). Her microfiction is simply amazing. If you like brilliant stories in a small space, give her a follow on Facebook!
The Patreon campaign is live now and I have posted a free short story there. The story, Gnaw, was the beginning of all things Antitopia. I encourage you to head over and read it, and to consider becoming a patron.
Below is a short story I wrote last week utilizing the method I mentioned in last week's post. I was staring at the blank page, unsure what to write. I took a big gulp of my coffee and choked on it. The scent of coffee is associated with many memories, but the olfactory sense combined with the flush of liquid heat in your sinuses is a union of displeasure I have locked to one specific series of events in my life. Nothing So Bad as the Cure began with that one word; Coffee.
For your reading pleasure...
Nothing So Bad as the Cure
by M. Holcombe (2019)
Coffee never saved me. I had hope the dark brown liquid would fix what ailed me. Like all things hoped for, it drowned me instead. An accidental inhalation of exhaustion’s eliminator transformed my supposed savior into a weapon. A million stars danced before my eyes: my vision filled with electric purple-white.
I felt nothing for an eon. Vague echoes of off-time words and wails filled my consciousness. My body tingled like the static on an old television. Whatever the chemical soup was they were pumping through me these months, it made me weak. The disease tried to kill me, the doctors too, but my end was to come from trying to talk and drink at the same time.
Oxygen makes you cold when forced. The white fades and the world returns surrounded by auras of chaos and spectrum. The faces around you take on alien proportions. Around your eyes the universe stretches and bends. I want a blanket and a nap.
Who was I talking to?
The tumor’s tendrils had wrapped around my spine. It not only tried to choke me, it tried to incapacitate me. I had become a never-ending cycle of tubes, injections, and vomit. The tubes pumped the soup through my system. The soup attacked all the rapidly reproducing cells. This meant no new neural pathways could form. My brain short-circuited often.
Today was mean nurse day. She wasn’t mean so much as blunt, but she hinted often that her patients were burdensome. She laughed at me as she shoveled me back into the bed. I felt the rough knit and familiar pink blanket press down on my thinned body as she tucked me in. She mumbled something, and I faded into the warm black of sleep.
Chemo-dreams are always off. I dreamed a world filled with slanted static. It reminded me of wheat fields on a windy day and smelled of old pennies. A woman I used to know spoke only in hisses as she drove a car through the chaos. I dubbed the place “The Chaff” upon waking.
The phlebotomist woke me to drain more blood. She walked the line between symbiote and parasite: I knew she served a purpose, but no one ever told me what it was. She survived by sucking my blood and delivering it to some lab. This time she hit something weird and blood spewed from my arm. She didn’t even notice until I said something. One has to admire the clinical indifference of mosquitoes.
Several hours and a million episodes of some “cops and lawyers” show later, the nice nurse comes in. I’m still covered in blood but she shows nothing. I gave her the whole story about the resident leech. She told me they were cutting me loose in the morning and grabbed a washcloth to clean my arms and face. She called in housekeeping to swap out the bloody sheets and gave me a clean gown.
The lady from housekeeping shrieked when she came in and ran back to the nurses’ station. I was pulling out my eyelashes. The nurse ran in and asked me what was wrong. I showed her the lashes, and she giggled. We shouldn’t do that in front of the normal folks. I wanted them to stop falling out into my eyes. Housekeeping sent up a different person to complete the task. He was funny, at least.
Hospitals don’t let you sleep. The night before you leave is the worst. They have to check and double check they didn’t miss something. Every hour someone comes in to check something new. When the sun comes up, I stare out the window and watch the complex grow bright from the shadow plane. My friends arrive and fill me in on what I’ve missed at home. The nurse shuttles me to the front in a wheelchair and gives me all the same instructions she always gives. In two weeks I’ll go get the shot I always get. I’ll come in if I get a fever. I’ll rest. Promise.
The first thing we do is get hash browns and coffee at a crappy southern diner that does everything right. The faces are familiar and foreign. I am aware they are my friends, but their humanity escapes me. I’m a stranger in my skin and in their company. The cup rises to my face and take a sip of the stiff, brown liquid. Words try to come, but coffee has other ideas.
The scent of old pennies and burned dirt wafts from the cup. A million tiny stars dance across their faces. The world fills with bright purple-white. Coffee never saved me.
As a young writer I found it difficult to start (and finish) a story. I often found that "motivation" or "inspiration" were to blame, as they were avoiding me. Such cruel and elusive creatures, those two.
They are liars. They lie and convince you to possess them so you will avoid doing what you must do. But writing, like taking a leak, is an unavoidable function. An unmistakable signal provided by your body informs you to pop in the restroom and relieve yourself. You do not wait for a subject or an opening line, you head to the toilet. You get the job done.
The wait for motivation / inspiration is the urinary tract infection of the writing bladder. They provide false signals that you need to go and do. These signals continue until you do something about what is wrong with your body. Coincidentally, the best thing for curing writer's block is to write.
Many exercises are available online to help you practice the craft of writing. My favorite is to write one word. A simple task, no? Yet I found it insurmountable. "What if I pick the wrong word?" I said.
I wrote for myself. For whom, then, would it be the wrong word? And here we hit on the key to "writer's block."
I am no stranger to anxiety. Even now, writing this, I am sweating. The adrenaline thuds through me at the prospect someone will read this and somehow "assess" me as a person. Anxiety held me from writing for many years. I thought one opinion mattered more than my own.
What brought me back to the page was something Stephen King wrote in "On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft."
"By the time I was fourteen ... the nail on my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and kept on writing.
This ground at me. I found other reasons not to write (too old, too male, too busy, etc.) but none, not one, stood the acid test. Aminatta Forna (The Memory of Love, The Hired Man) published her first book, Ancestor Stones, in her early forties. Steig Larsson (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Frank Herbert (Dune, et al.), and Roald Dahl (Matilda, et al.) were male. Beth Miller (The Good Neighbour, When We Were Sisters) is a mother of four. I could find a better excuse.
I found in my old friend Time such an excuse. Mr. King states he writes 2000 words per day. What a pile of words! I didn't have time for that.
However, my writing bladder was filling up. The urge to do was stronger. I had to spill something onto the page. Instead, I procrastinated further and started doing some math.
I took a typing test. As it happens, I can type around 25 words per minute. That means if I sit uninterrupted for 80 minutes, I can type 2000 words. Damn. It also means I can type 250 words in ten minutes. That's an entire manuscript page.
If I type one manuscript page per day, every day, I have a novel in less than a year. I broke my excuse. I have ten minutes a day. As a stay-at-home dad, I have at least that. But what if I write four pages a day? 365,000 words after a year!
I knew I needed a goal, but I also knew I needed a limit. I don't want to burn out anymore than I want to be mute. I set myself a window: 500 - 2000 words per day. This allows me to do the things I need and want and provides me an achievable goal.
But how do I start? A single word. And I doubt it is the correct word every single time. I am a harsh critic, my worst troll, and my cruelest commentator. If I am to reach my goal, I must trust the single word I begin with is, if not the best word, the right one. When I meet my goal, I must trust I have established something.
You can write, and you have a story. Set a goal even if it is just fifteen minutes a day broken into five-minute segments. The story will come. The first run doesn't need perfection. It doesn't even need to be good. But you cannot edit what isn't on the page.
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As we commend another long year to ash, we welcome the promise of the oncoming days. The new year is a time of promise and caution for many, so we look forward with wary eyes and glance backward to ensure the demise of the previous days.
For my family and I, the previous twelve months were filled with chaos, madness, and joy. We spent the first six bursting through the barrier of a rat and mold infested rental property owned by an absentee landlord. It was slow and difficult, but we made it. I write this from the comfort of a long fought for home, one we can say is truly our own.
For me, the last six months have been amazing. I’ve been writing again, 150,000 words in that time, which fills me and drains me at the same time. I published the first part of Artificial on vocal.media which received far more attention than I thought it would. (If you haven’t read it yet, head over to Worlds page.) The new year brings more words, more ideas, and more projects.
The Patreon campaign will go live either the 15th of January or February, depending on some personal matters. I like the platform because it provides a more engaging environment for interaction with readers without being inundated by trolls and naysayers. I have enough of those in my head, no need for more on social media.
Next week I will post here about writing goals. I don’t want to turn this into a blog about writing tips, but I wish to write about things for which I have passion. Some weeks, I may gab about artificial intelligence, ghosts, or DNA manipulation. Others I’ll say my piece about writing, yarn, or who knows what.
May the new year find you well and may we all find our path, whatever it may be, with enough struggle to keep us sharp and enough ease to make it rewarding.