Why Scientists Should Be Looking To Writers

When you think of a happy family, what image comes to mind? A mother and father, two or three kids, maybe sitting around the dinner table, laughing, one of them slipping a veggie to the family dog?

What about romantic relationships? A couple walking through a park, holding hands? Perhaps a midnight swim in a cool lake, or leaning across a table in a low lit restaurant?

When you think of war, what do you see? Tanks? Explosions? Men in camouflage running across sandy terrain with bulky packs? Those same men around a fire at night, this time in their undershirts, joking with each other and thinking about their loved ones at home?

Think of anything: spaceships, a company office, a baseball team, a band, an animal shelter, a Hollywood movie set, an African safari.

How much of the images that come to mind is based on what you’ve seen on television, or in movies, or read in a book? I would hesitate a guess and say most of it. That’s my experience anyway. I’ve never experienced war, or been on a spaceship, or gone to Africa. Every image I have of these things, every preconceived notion has been told or depicted to me by someone else.

I was thinking about this the other day and realized that writers play a pretty big part in shaping our world. Not just our world, but our idea of the world. This realization was little intimidating at first. I mean, the ideas and pictures in my head could possibly influence the ideas and pictures of someone else.

How many of you, when thinking about the distant future, immediately picture flying cars and metallic clothes? Sky high cities and robots? Even if that image is displaced by something else, was it the first thing that came to mind? Did you imagine something like the Jetsons? I do. Because that’s what I’ve been told the future will look like. Popular culture has ingrained it in us for decades.

But this idea, this notion that writers set the molds, it’s not just intimidating, it’s freeing. I’m currently revising a manuscript and setting it, literally, on another world. When I first sat down and looked at the blank page, I was scared to death. Then, slowly, I began to grasp that this new world could be anything I wanted it to be.

No longer am I constrained within the realm of plausibility. I can shape continents, create technologies, craft skylines, and build cities. A couple days ago, I was describing this weapon I thought of to my husband. Hubby, always the engineer, looked at me and said “That wouldn’t work like that. It’s not realistic.” I turned back and said “So? Just because it wouldn’t work now, with the technology we currently have, doesn’t mean it would never work.”

Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick are a great example. Look at “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Computers that were small screens and operated by touch, flat screen monitors, voice activated systems, video teleconferencing. All these inventions that were, in 1972, a mere dream, implausible, not realistic. Yet, we have them today.

You may have heard about Apple suing Samsung for patent infringement of their iPad design. Here’s what I find most interesting about the suit. Samsung argued they couldn’t infringe because the ideas all came from Kubrick’s film, and from another called “The Tomorrow People,” not from Apple. Did these films influence Steve Jobs? Well, I don’t know, but I think the argument is there that it could have. Did “Friends” influence the way any of you saw life in New York City? Did “Sleepless in Seattle” influence your thoughts on love? Did “Platoon” influence how you saw war? Or “Apollo 13” how you viewed space travel?

What I do know is this: scientists, researchers, engineers, and a slew of others have the job of thinking outside the box within the constraints of plausibility. But writers…writers get to push further. We get to expand our minds and create whatever we want, and dare the scientists to catch up. Clarke, and then Kubrick, created these technologies, and forty years later the world made his ideas a reality.

Arthur O’Shaughnessy famously wrote, “We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.” I say, that’s exactly what writers are. The ones who dare to dream. Who knows, that scene you’re describing now may be the first image someone else thinks of when they hear of that place, that couple you just wrote may shape another person’s view of a happy marriage, and those “implausible” inventions you’re creating in your mind today, might one day become a reality.

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Flash Fiction- “Hunger”

Last night’s flash fiction prompt on the AW forum was “Hunger.”  Here is my story based around this prompt.  If you like to write and haven’t seen the Flash Fiction Challenge, head on over and see what you can do with the prompt.

                                                               “Tantalizing”

It had been three weeks since the game had started. Jack paced across the kitchen floor like a zoo lion who can smell the zebras and antelope in the neighboring pen. The tantalizing aroma in the next room was almost too much. But he couldn’t give in. Not when he thought about the source of those smells.

Just that thought was enough to stop his stomach from growling for a little while. He had to win. It wasn’t just the money on the line, although a million smack-a-roos would change his life, his sanity precariously teetered like a playground seesaw. Even the smallest nibble would send him over the edge.

Hell, he thought he’d go crazy just smelling the barbecued flesh next door. He’d seen the spread. They had showed all of them on the first day. A buffet table ran the length of the long room, piled high with meat cooked in every manner possible and replenished daily. Stews, steaks, ribs, hamburgers, fajitas, cheesesteaks, chili…

Jack crouched and leaned his too thin frame against the kitchen cabinets with his hands over his ears. Like that would stave off the hunger. He rocked back and forth and tried to focus on something else. Anything else.

His stomach rumbled. He thought of roaches and maggots crawling through the meat. Of the food floating in slimy green cesspools. He thought of where the meat came from. It was enough…for now.

Then he heard footsteps and the sound of breaking glass. Someone was in the next room. He tried not to listen but the groans of pleasure were too loud. A lion had breached the fence and snacked happily on a gazelle.

Without realizing it, he’d risen to his feet and approached the door. His hand touched the knob. He forced himself to retract it, to wait. He had no idea how many others had given in to the temptation. They switched rooms every day. Some were closer to the dining room than others. Since he’d been in the kitchen, he’d heard two other people dining on the disgusting spread.

How many were left?

How much longer would he have to hold out?

How much longer could he hold out?

Jack knew humans could survive a long time, weeks, months even, without food. But how long could they make it knowing food was just next door? His stomach growled again. He grabbed the knob. If he turned, if he looked, there would be no going back.

Just as he twisted the knob, a scream erupted from the other side of the door. The most pathetic, horrific, insane scream Jack had ever heard. He released the knob like it was on fire. Loud crashes followed. Something hit the wall and clattered to the floor.

Jack stumbled back and fell on his rump. A glint of silver shone through the crack under the door. Beside it, a chunk of meat stared at him. Tested him. Tempted him.

He lay down and looked at it. The explosion of sound had ceased in the buffet room. The contestant must have been carried away, losing more than just the contest.

Jack inched closer. Smelled the meat. He could almost taste it. Surely one little lick would be okay? He wouldn’t really be eating it, right?

The buzz of the loudspeaker interrupted his thoughts.

“Congratulations to contestant number twelve, Jack Kreacher! Winner of the tenth annual Tantalus Contest!”

The door burst open and a man in a sleek suit appeared.

“Mr. Kreacher, you’ve just won a million dollars! What do you have to say?” He shoved a microphone under Jack’s nose.

Jack looked past the mic to the room beyond the man. At the smashed table and the scattered human flesh. It was over. He couldn’t believe it was over.

“Mr. Kreacher?” the man asked, a nervous twinge to his voice. “You just won. What do you have to say?”

Jack turned to the man, and sighed. “I think I’m a vegetarian.”

 

Flash Fiction

I frequent the forums at Absolute Write (which is an excellent source for any writer, aspiring or published.  There are forums for query critiques, beta readers, questions about agents/agencies, and the answer to pretty much any writing and publishing question you might have.), and have recently found the Flash Fiction Challenge.  Basically, every Sunday night, a moderator posts a prompt.  You have 90 minutes to write and edit a story based on the prompt and post it.  It’s a great exercise to get your mind working and to get you writing.  I decided to start posting my flash fiction here each week.  Bear in mind, these are things I came up with on the fly, so they won’t be perfect.

To kick things off, here is last week’s story.  The prompt was “Pleat”.  What kind of story (or poem) would you write based off the prompt?

“In”

Maria smoothed the wrinkles out of her skirt and took a deep breath. A thin sheen of sweat covered her arms and face. She slid over to the nearby water fountain and took a long drink. Don’t throw up. Whatever you do, just don’t throw up. There wasn’t time to be sick. And this was her only shot at proving herself.

She glanced at her watch. Eleven minutes til two o’clock. The second hand crept around the face. Maria closed her eyes and breathed deeply again. The bell clanged from somewhere up the hall. Doors flew open on either side of the hallway and students poured out, yelling to one another and chattering about whatever class they’d just left.

No one noticed as Maria slipped into the throng, weaving seamlessly among the actual students. She glanced at the other girls’ skirts as she passed. I didn’t do such a bad job after all. Her hand rubbed the pleats again. It didn’t seem like anyone would notice her homemade skirt anyway. They were all too absorbed in their own worlds. Talking about the classes they just left, or the boys who passed them notes.

This would be easier than she thought.

A large clock on the wall caught Maria’s eye as she passed. Eight till. She’d need to pick up the pace. She hitched up her backpack and quickened her step. The crowd thickened as she approached a bank of lockers. Maybe I should have done this during the class period after all. She pushed through, keeping her head down but her eyes on the prize. No. I’m less likely to be noticed in a group.

The hallway intersected with another, making a “T” shape. There, centered on the wall was the statue. A twelve by ten gold leaf eagle. Its wings were tucked in and its eyes stared directly at Maria. She pushed towards it and swung her backpack around to her chest. Within seconds she had it unzipped and ready.

It was now or never. She’d only have one chance and if she flubbed, well…she would have more to worry about than whether she got into the Anchor Society.

Maria approached the statue and in one fluid motion swept it off the base and into the backpack. It just fit. The hall was too loud to hear her skirt rip, but she felt it snag on the corner of the pedestal as she walked away. She zipped up the bag and slung it back over her shoulder, then glanced at her skirt.

One of the pleats was torn. A single red thread waved in the wind she created as she hurried to the exit. Oh well. Not like I’ll ever wear it again.

The cry erupted as she reached the double doors at the end of the hall.

“Hey! Where’s Spirit?” a boy shouted.

Maria didn’t wait for a response. She pushed open the doors and strode out into the warm afternoon, pleased with herself. By the time the bell rang for last period, Maria had put good distance between her and the school. They’d have to let her in now. No one had ever stolen such a grand prize for their admission challenge as this. And from their rival, Weston Prep!

The golden eagle in her backpack was her ticket to popularity. She’d have to make sure and wipe her fingerprints off of it before handing it over to the Anchor Society though. If she played her cards right, it wouldn’t only guarantee her a place in Carson High’s elite, it would be the first rung on her climb to domination. The second would be unseating Amanda Malone from the top of the food chain.

And Amanda’s fingerprints on a stolen statue would do the trick nicely.

Maria stepped into the bushes in a nearby park and stripped off her homemade Weston Prep uniform. By the time she stepped out back on the sidewalk, she was just another scantily clad teenager walking home from school.

No one noticed the plaid pleated skirt and red sweater she left behind.

And Away We Go…

I am currently querying my most recent book, “Playing with Fire.”  I submitted my first round of queries on Saturday, September 17.  This in an of itself was a chore.  Figuring out which agencies to submit to, then which agents, then their submission guidelines…whew!  Here is a run down of my process:

1.  Search AgentQuery for AAR member agents who represent Young Adult fiction.

2.  Plug the results (80 agents!  Sounds like a lot, but the starting number was around 248.) into a spreadsheet.  Arrange alphabetically.

3.  Search Preditors and Editors for the agent/agency.

4.  Group agents in spreadsheet according to P&E results

5.  Search submission guidelines, email addresses, etc for each agent.  Plug these into my spreadsheet.

6.  Email first twelve agents my query, adding the date queried in my spreadsheet.

I could add a step 7. “Realize I sent only a query to three agents who requested the first few pages and fret about whether they would accept my submission”, but I’m not planning on making this a typical blunder.  Of course prior to step one came the repeated tweaking of my query until I got it in somewhat decent shape.

Now I wait.  I’m extremely grateful to the agents who have already responded, and grateful to every agent out there plugging away reading the queries of the countless writers begging for their work to be accepted.  For each response I receive, I dutifully enter it into my spreadsheet with the date, and email them a polite message back.  After a few weeks I’ll move down the list and query the next batch. 

In the meantime, I shall focus on the dreaded synopsis and on my new work in progress.  After I finished “Playing with Fire” (2 full drafts with beta readers on each and a final polish), I felt empty.  There was a void inside me.  An empty feeling that must be close to a parent sending their child off to college.  My baby is all grown up and out on its own now. 

So what am I to do?  Start a new one of course.  I’m pretty excited about it, but nervous as well.  It’s an idea my dad came up with while he was battling cancer.  One I’ve been putting off because I’m afraid I won’t do it justice.  I wrote the first chapter yesterday, though, and posted it on the Absolute Writer’s forum for thoughts.  I must say, I’m pretty happy with the feedback I received.  Happy enough to keep pushing forward.  Hopefully, it will keep my mind occupied while I wait for agents to respond.

Currently reading: “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” by Ken Kesey.