Friday, October 26, 2012

Write What You Want—Eric James Stone

For several years, the Codex Writers forum has held a contest called "Weekend Warrior." For five straight weekends starting in January, several writing prompts are posted on Saturday morning, and contestants must submit a flash fiction story based on a prompt write-what-you-wantby Sunday night. Last year, on the final weekend, the prompt-giver included a very open-ended prompt: "Write anything you want."

Naturally, I had to find a way to put a twist on that prompt, so I decided to write a story about writing what you want.  And because I sometimes like to experiment with style and form while writing flash fiction, I decided to intersperse things people wanted between each paragraph of the main storyline.

I'm not sure exactly how I came up with the plot, but it was probably something similar to this train of thought: OK, so people write what they want on a piece of paper, and someone does what? Grants the wish? Too straightforward. How about he takes that want away? That might work. Why does he do it? Because sometimes what we want gets in the way of our own happiness.  So he's a good guy for doing this.  But where's the conflict? What if someone comes in with a want that shouldn't be forgotten?  And at that point I had the basic plot.

Most of the stories I write tend to be about people who face awrite-what-you-want problem and overcome it by the end.  This story is not like that.  I did write an alternate ending where the main character tricks the girl's father into writing something so that the magic could be used against him, but after writing it I felt that ending trivialized the problem of sexual abuse. And I don't think that's something that should be trivialized.


--Eric James Stone

Friday, October 19, 2012

Constance’s Mask- Nick T. Chan

This story emerged directly from my writers of the future volume 28 story, The Command for Love.

My first draft of that story was an abysmal attempt at an artificialconstances-mask intelligence story, featuring lots of incomprehensible jargon about Turing Tests and Chinese Rooms. It didn’t work . I wanted to meet the deadline for the quarter as I’d just decided I was going to enter every quarter of Writers of the Future until I won or died of old age.

I had no idea how I was going to re-write it until a conversation with another writer, Jennifer Campbell-Hicks, sparked the idea that I should re-write it in a different genre. I was reading Gra Linnaea’s Writers of the Future volume 25 story A Life in Steam at the time, so the decision was made for me: Steampunk (luckily Fifty Shades of Gray wasn’t around at the time).

After writing the story, I sat back and realised two things: I enjoyed writing in the world I’d created and I knew nothing about the Victorian era where a lot of steampunk draws its inspiration. I wanted to explore the world further and I wanted my explorations to fit comfortably within the steampunk genre.

I started to read about the Victorian-era. Because I’m lazy, my research petered out after a few days, but one of the books I read was The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde by Neil McKenna. It was a fascinating and disturbing read. By any standard, Oscar Wilde was a sexual predator, but the dark side of the Victorian era was the intertwining of sexuality and class. By the time he’d accepted his sexuality he was doing to young underclass men what many (or even most) respectable Victorian gentlemen did to young underclass women; he exploited them for his own pleasure (and some of them exploited him back via blackmail). He was a complicated and courageous man who was also a selfish monster. Like many martyrs for a cause, he wasn’t necessarily an admirable man on a personal level but he was a talented monster who was willing to sacrifice everything for his beliefs.

Oscar had an unhappy marriage to Constance Lloyd. He’d marriedconstances-mask her out of genuine friendship, a mistaken platonic love, ambition, and the desire to “cure” himself of what was socially unacceptable. Constance Lloyd was a pretty young woman who was tremendously psychically scarred from a difficult upbringing. It wasn’t hard to make Constance the centrepiece of the story and make her scarring physical.

As time went on, Oscar became more determined to be open about his sexuality and to use his art as an expression for that sexuality. Society be damned; he was what he was and he refused to back down from his principles even when it was the smarter thing to do.

All that went into a story set in the same world as The Command For Love, which eventually became Constance’s Mask. By the time Constance’s Mask was in its published form, a lot of the common-world story had been stripped out for reader comprehensibility, but the core remained. It was still about blackmail and masks, the discrepancy between our public and private selves, genius and monsters, the power of stories to both enslave and liberate and bringing your true self into the light.

-- Nick T. Chan

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Sojourn for Ephah—Marina J. Lostetter

Sojourn for Ephah is really a tale of two characters, and each came about in their own way.

I have to thank my brother for Ephah. If we hadn’t been having our sojourn-for-ephahworst fight since we were kids my neurons might not have fired just right, and Ephah might never have been.

No need for all the details, but essentially we both said some bad things that had nothing to do with what the fight was about. I was so angry I began wringing my hands while chanting, “Calm down. Just calm down.” Almost like a prayer. But I wasn’t speaking to a deity, I was speaking to myself.

I began to wonder under what circumstances a being might pray to itself. And thus Ephah--along with her brief stint in a foreign universe--was born.

sojourn-for-ephahThomas, on the other hand, was a direct reaction to what I’d been reading. It seemed like every spec-fic story containing a monotheistic religious leader wound up the same way--with the individual denouncing their god, fleeing from faith, and in a few cases, killing themselves. All because some new scientific discovery clashed with their dogma. I think this is an unrealistic--and now, rather stereotypical--take on people of faith.

Human beings don’t tend to let their worlds come crashing down that way. Someone of real conviction (religious, political, moral, etc.) tends to respond to new, contradictory information in one of two ways--either they deny it, or they incorporate it.

What happens when you have a political conversation with someonesojourn-for-ephah whose views strongly oppose yours? What happens when you present facts that clash with their beliefs? They either explain how those ‘facts’ are nothing of the sort, explain how those facts actually make their point, or they accept the facts and let their beliefs evolve. It’s doubtful, I think, that they’ll do a one eighty--denouncing all of their pre-conversation convictions--or crumble into suicidal oblivion.

New scientific principles aren’t likely to be seen by a religious person as a tragedy there’s no escape from, because that’s just not how people are built.

So, I wanted to write a character that embodied the real-world tendency to incorporate new information, and came up with Thomas (I suppose I also wrote a character that embodies the rejection aspect: Bishop Krier). Thomas is intelligent and open minded, and never backs away from his faith simply because he’s learned something new.

I think Thomas and Ephah are a perfect philosophical and psychological match, and I hope you enjoy their story.

--Marina J. Lostetter