What a Relief

Sketched out a couple of characters this morning. Haven’t done something like that in a minute, and it felt really good—honestly, I wasn’t expecting it to happen.

Writing fiction has been really tough for the last few months. There was my burnout in October, which led to me taking an unintentional break from writing (that didn’t last for very long, even though I really tried to make this one actually stick).

November was quiet. Didn’t do much actual writing, but I did a lot of journaling and tried to sort out my thoughts on a lot of things.

December was mostly the same as every other December—in a state of reflection over the past year, thinking about what happened, how I processed it, how I’m going to move forward, and what I can do to make that happen. I suffered a lot of stress, anxiety, and depression in 2017, and it only felt more intense and close as the calendar rolled over into 2018. Doki Doki Literature Club didn’t help either, but it’s actually helped more than hurt overall—but that’s for another day.

Things got really heavy in January and February. I was struggling to write, struggling to function in a way that wasn’t just surviving, and struggling to stay positive in a world that didn’t feel like it was going to get better.

I started therapy to help me work through my addictions and compulsive behavior, and unintentionally began a process that would lead me to where I’m at right now.

Which, obviously, I’ll talk about more another day. Maybe not tomorrow, but sometime.

I feel good when I get it out.

CITY LOOKING FOR ANSWERS AFTER UNUSUAL ASTRAL EVENT

APRIL 2, 2022
BY ANALIA RAINES

The entire city of Terminaburg witnessed visions yesterday afternoon during the appearance of what is being called an extradimensional anomaly.
A “hole in the sky” appeared over the Tondo Tower at approximately 2:15pm. It was suspended in the air, and did not look as if it was part of the sky or cloud cover around Heart. According to reports, the interior of the hole was black, dotted with white—witnesses on the scene remarked that it “looked like space”.
Jane Singal, an executive at Neely, Neely, and Davis, a public relations firm on the upper floors of the tower, remarked, “It was there. I could see right into it. How could I not? It was right outside my office window!”
Sandy Kanden, an astronomer from Terminaburg University, wasn’t as quick to agree with that assessment. “I was there,” she said, “and there’s no way those stars could have been there. I’ve never seen anything like that at this time of year, no matter the time of day.”
If the hole itself is the subject of speculation and discussion, its effect on citizens while it happened and after it occurred is not. At least 100 people reported fainting and blacking out, and others reported a voice speaking loudly in their own heads, enough to cause severe headaches. Others weren’t so lucky, suffering strokes, heart attacks, and aneurysms in the wake of this event.
A Department of Defense spokesperson issued a statement, saying, “We are allotting our full resources to this incident. Rest assured that we will find out how this happened, and we will do our best to ensure that this does not happen again.”
“They’re lying. We’re going to be working on this case, and we’re going to crack it,” Captain Nicodemus Cashew, a detective with the TPD Special Investigations Unit, said in a phone call after the statement. “Some crazy stuff happened, and they’re not going to touch it once they figure out that it wasn’t from Earth.” When asked if he knew any additional details about the case, he said, “Yeah.”
At press time, no new details have been uncovered or shared.

Starfall

“Catastrophic system failure.” The interior lights of the escape pod went dark, and then a dull red glow.
The computerized voice was smaller now, farther away. “Life support only.”
Here was the final leg of the journey, the last part of a desperate shot in the dark across time and space. From a time doomed to die, doomed to die in every single permutation. Every sequence of events, no matter how subtly or plainly manipulated, was a failure. Every sequence ended with the death of the universe.
Here was the only gamble left, the longest shot possible—an escape pod sent directly from the murder of a universe.
The passenger lapsed into unconsciousness upon reentry. A world of unfamiliar sensations, each more alarming than the last, had turned the world pitch black and soundless.
Minutes later, he was startled awake. Lights cycled, computers clicked on, and monitors flickered back to life. Green and blue bathed the passenger. Soft, major-key startup jingles played across several pieces of hardware.
Now came the moment of truth, the most desperate and longshot part of this desperate and longshot gamble: the coordinates had to be correct. Without that, this plan was a failure already, and this final plane of infinity would die a fiery and terrifying death.
The lid to the pod shot away, landing with a heavy thud twenty feet away. A head peeked over the lip of the pod, eyes wide with curiosity.
“Oh, dear,” the woman on the left said. “Gary.” She inhaled sharply, and turned away. “Gary, is this some kinda fucking prank?” There was an edge to her voice, a burning anger. “What the fuck are you doing, Gary?”
“Whoa, whoa, Mary! I didn’t fucking know about this!”
“Then what the fuck is that?”
“Hold on, hold on,” said Gary, the sound indicating his proximity. “I’m as freaked out as you.”
Gary peeked over. He looked so much older. His eyes went wide, but with terror, dilating and sinking inwards, shrinking away.
“Davey? Davey boy?”
The man inside the pod nodded, a smile blooming across his face. “It’s me, Gary. I’m back to save the world.”
Gary shook his head. “Everybody wants you fuckin’ dead, Davey. For the last twenty years.”

Worldbuilding Sketchpad (Terminaburg)

Alvin looked down at the sheet of paper in his hands. The previously immaculate, unfolded, pure white slip was now smudged, stained, folded, and limp from handling. Hands shaking, he unfolded it, looking at the address and appointed time for this meeting, along with a reminder to come alone and the name “Switcher”.
Now he was here, and he felt like he was going to die. His heart was pounding out of his chest, and his clothes felt heavy and stifling—a feat, considering that it was the dead middle of the mildest spring on record, and wearing a loose t-shirt, thin linen shorts, and the lightest pair of flip-flops he owned. Alvin’s forehead was beaded with sweat, his normally loose and poofy hair hanging lank in wet strands pushed behind his ears. He had showered moments before leaving, cleaning himself more thoroughly than he had in years, heaped on mountains of deodorant, shaved off every bit of facial hair, and sprayed on that very expensive cologne he had never before used—a bad idea, considering its notes of tobacco leaf, bourbon, and leather clashed with the surprisingly fresh scents of this current spring—but still managed to have stained armpits. He could not hide them, which only added to his anxiety.
His roots were showing, the bold red he used to color his hair faded—to orange, to pink, to strawberry blonde, to rose gold, it all depended on how the light hit it—which just added to his unkempt appearance.
“Did I really need two cups of coffee?” he asked to no one. The three cigarettes he smoked on the way didn’t help matters either.
His phone chimed—the time had arrived. The wooden door, now more nails and boards than wood, opened inward. Before him was darkness. A green light flicked on in the distance.
“Enter.” The voice was staticky and stiff.
No going back now, Alvin thought. He took a shaky step inside, and the door closed behind him.
And to think this all started with a letter to the Terminaburg Daily from 1949.

Worldbuilding Sketchpad #2

(as part of a broader character creation project, I’ve been writing dream sequences for several main characters in my stories, and then contrasting them with their waking lives. This particular segment is for Krewt from High Empty, high fantasy in a world that parallels early early 20th century & Interwar Europe–think Tuchman’s Proud Tower and The Guns of August, and into the rise of fascism.)

A familiar room. One he’d almost forgotten.
That was a lie. It was the one he’d never forget.
Dead of night, no candles or lamps. High up in the highest tower of Inshanah Keep. Bare stones, no windows. Outside, a storm raged. Rain came down in sheets, flying sideways through the narrow openings on the eastern side of the room. Screams could be heard over the noise from the sky, cries for mercy, cries to keep fighting.
Cries of a name that blurred when spoken.
That part was the dream.
He was standing tall, taller than he thought he could. Funny, that. At his feet, a black carpet, long and narrow, with thick gold thread on either side, gold and red gauntleted fists in a repeating pattern. At the end of it was a figure, sitting on a throne. They were leaning back, legs spread, wearing a dress as black as the carpet, soaked through by the rain. Their face was obscured by shadow, but it had sharp features. Hard, cruel, but beautiful in their own way, a certain—
Krewt shook those thoughts out of his head. He knew why he was here—at least, he assumed he did. Time had a way of obscuring things, obscuring motivations and stripping away exact recollections.
Lie two.
He felt that familiar buzz and prickle. It made his hair stand on end.
Krewt shifted his stance. He’d need his footing. Knowing it was going to happen never made it easier.
Lightning flashed, and, quicker than a heartbeat, thunder cracked. A terrible sound, one that nearly knocked Krewt down. It pounded his chest, made his ears ring, almost made him drop his weapon. Still, he stood his ground, and tightened his grip again.
A laugh came from the throne. “Kshhsshshskkshshshskshsk—” the figure said, simply a stream of white noise. It laughed again, and then there was another flash of lightning.
Now he was looking straight at it, and the crack of white revealed—
Something akin to an barely begun sketch. The features on its right side, the beginnings of an eye, a nose, and a mouth, and nothing else. Simply a blank, flat expanse where a face should have been.
“My loyalty is to the Crown and naught else,” he said. Ah, so he was simply experiencing it.
“Kshsshhhhshshskskkhsksshks…kshsshskskshhhshhshsshshkkk.” Then, something like a sob.
“I would never betray my country, Brenna.”
“Shskshshshsssshhshkshskks?”
“Everything can be spent, Brenna, exchanged for something. You should know that, reading your books and filling the people’s heads with ideas,” Krewt said. He could detect a sneering disgust in his words. “This ends here, whether you live or die.” A tear, obscured by the rain and darkness.
The figure—Brenna—stood. She stood straighter and taller than he had ever seen, more than the head of her usual bearing. Her shoulders were broad, arms sinewy and muscled, her sleeves long since gone. “Hshkshk, hskshks.” Her left arm glowed blue, and then there was a flash. Her veins were now crackling with electricity, and a blade of lightning was in her hand. “Shshsssk,” she said.
Krewt lifted his weapon—a plain steel bar with a leather wrapped grip—and further shifted his feet to a fighting stance, taking care to note the slickness of the stones. “A coin to spend, Brenna.”
She lifted her unfinished face, chin held high. “Do not hold back then, love.”
They charged one another as a bolt of lightning split the sky.
***
Krewt was shocked into waking, forced back into his body.
Time made fools of every man. It was a statement so true it bore no repeating—for even if a man lived his entire life wisely, never a wrong decision, with piety and grace, with love and honesty, never faltering or wavering, free of indulgence or sinful acts, never trespassing against others, never taking personal pleasure in frivolities or base desires, a man still ended up dead.
And only a fool would live such a life.

Worldbuilding sketchpad #1

(This will be an occasional feature of some small bit of work that doesn’t fall neatly into the wider narratives of my large projects, but I find amusing and important enough to share. They will mostly be very small peeks into the worlds I’m creating. This one is related to Children of the Godsteel/Terminaburg.)

“The Pamphleteer?” Joe chuckled at the name.
All activity at the table, situated deep in the darkest corner of Betsy’s Book Bar, stopped. Francine, Daniel, Erica, and Henry all went silent, turning their heads in unison to glare.
“What?” He said, chuckling again, with less spirit.
“Have you never heard of him?” Francine asked, leaning in.
Joe shook his head. “I mean, that’s kind of a dumb name, right? The Pamphleteer? C’mon.”
Henry leaned in, sidled up next to Joe. He gestured for the others to pull in. “Pamphleteer ain’t no joke,” he mumbled, jabbing his finger in Joe’s chest for emphasis. “Any history leaves him out is garbage.”
“We need to tell him now.” Erica’s tone suggested it was a command, rather than a request.
“Hell yes we do!” Daniel turned and waved to the bar. “We got a newbie!”
Brett, the bartender, let out a whoop of approval. “You’ve got the tab tonight, you lucky boy!”
“What?”
Henry pulled Joe in closer. “Relax, we’re drinking cheap.” He held his hand up, fingers outstretched. “Bottle of the cheap shit! Five glasses!”

Fiction Fragment #3 (possible fantasy)

(A content warning up top for a small discussion of mental illness and suicide.)

My name is David. There, you know a little bit more about me. From there we can just get started, right?
Right?
That’s not enough, I guess. You need context, don’t you? A listing off of relevant information that helps you properly frame me as a participant in the story. And, I guess, the circumstances that led me to this particular situation, what key decisions were made ahead of my arbitrarily decided starting point of this particular narrative. And then, past that, you want to know how influences, both internal and external, influenced me to that point and how they fit into the wider narrative that I’m about to relay to you.
Okay, that was a little redundant. You want context so you can get to know me a little, know my world, know my predicament, and what forces pushed me to that specific point—and more importantly, how that context pushed me to make the decision I did (or did not, but a narrative without some sense of agency just feels wrong. Eventually we all have to stop fighting it and just roll with it, which I will (spoiler alert!(man, I just love using flashy nested sentence bullshit with an excess of multisyllabic words and punctuation—sue me, I’m reading Butler and Erikson, who have a tendency to draw out sentences in such a way(but probably with much less parentheses so they’re not ideas within ideas within ideas. Okay I’m done.)))
Can you tell that I’m a hobbyist writer? A shock, I know.
Okay, back to casual, conversational, mock-relaxed writing that comes as close to talking as I can reasonably get with prose without peppering it with filler words, phrases, and sounds. Sorry, another needlessly long sentence. I need to work on that.
[Deep breaths—too many. The writer feels his heartbeat slow, flexes the cramps out of his hands, and takes one more deep, anxiety-purging breath.]
I’m David Aaronson. I’m 31. I live in Austin, Texas. I am bisexual. I have been with my wife for eleven years, and married for nearly ten. Yes, I did marry young for this day and age, which is another story entirely—one whose relevance to the narrative at hand can boil down to “I ended up on her couch after a particularly bad argument with my parents, and got married soon after, and that’s how it’s been since”.
Fuck, another incredibly long sentence! Great job, me!
David, 31, Austinite, hobbyist writer, bisexual, gender questioning, deeply leftist, biracial, white-passing, brown eyes, around 5’6” in height, a weight that boomerangs between 200 and 230 depending on how closely I stick to my good habits, hair that was originally brown but is now colored in various shades of red every few months because I have thick hair that grows too fast for its own good, former smoker, occasional drinker, and somewhat of a hermit.
At the decided-upon beginning point of this narrative, I have been unemployed for nearly a year, after working as a pizza delivery driver for nearly three years. Depression is my constant companion, whispering its terrible whispers in my ear. It casts my world in a gray fog, even when the sun is out. It buzzes all the time now, sometimes in the back of my head, where I can tune it out and go about my day almost like a normal person—and sometimes it’s an insistent roar, a screeching chorus all wailing in unison. It tells me that oblivion wouldn’t be so bad, that ending it all would mean that no one would really have to deal with me anymore, including myself—especially myself. And wouldn’t that be so nice?
I sit at my computer, staring with eyes strained from sleeplessness and the harsh blue-tinted monitor light, at an endless procession of job postings with experience requirements that seem suspiciously high for entry level positions. Discouraged and on the verge of tears from having my hopelessness affirmed yet again, I open my media player app and browse the dozens of curated porn folders, wondering which one will actually allow me to feel something other than sadness, shame, and guilt.

Fiction Fragment #2 (Fantasy)

(Enjoy this tidbit from High Empty 2.0. The daily fiction project may return.)

A familiar room. One he’d almost forgotten.
That was a lie. It was the one he’d never forget.
Dead of night, no candles or lamps. High up in the highest tower of Inshanah Keep. Bare stones, no windows. Outside, a storm raged. Rain came down in sheets, flying sideways through the narrow openings on the eastern side of the room. Screams could be heard over the noise from the sky, cries for mercy, cries to keep fighting.
Cries of a name that blurred when spoken.
That part was the dream.
He was standing tall, taller than he thought he could. Funny, that. At his feet, a black carpet, long and narrow, with thick gold thread on either side, gold and red gauntleted fists in a repeating pattern. At the end of it was a figure, sitting on a throne. They were leaning back, legs spread, wearing a dress as black as the carpet, soaked through by the rain. Their face was obscured by shadow, but it had sharp features. Hard, cruel, but beautiful in their own way, a certain—
Krewt shook those thoughts out of his head. He knew why he was here—at least, he assumed he did. Time had a way of obscuring things, obscuring motivations and stripping away exact recollections.
Lie two.
He felt that familiar buzz and prickle. It made his hair stand on end.
Krewt shifted his stance. He’d need his footing. Knowing it was going to happen never made it easier.
Lightning flashed, and, quicker than a heartbeat, thunder cracked. A terrible sound, one that nearly knocked Krewt down. It pounded his chest, made his ears ring, almost made him drop his weapon. Still, he stood his ground, and tightened his grip again.
A laugh came from the throne. “Kshhsshshskkshshshskshsk—” the figure said, simply a stream of white noise. It laughed again, and then there was another flash of lightning.
Now he was looking straight at it, and the crack of white revealed—
Something akin to an barely begun sketch. The features on its right side, the beginnings of an eye, a nose, and a mouth, and nothing else. Simply a blank, flat expanse where a face should have been.
“My loyalty is to the Crown and naught else,” he said. Ah, so he was simply experiencing it.
“Kshsshhhhshshskskkhsksshks…kshsshskskshhhshhshsshshkkk.” Then, something like a sob.
“I would never betray my country, Brenna.”
“Shskshshshsssshhshkshskks?”
“Everything can be spent, Brenna, exchanged for something. You should know that, reading your books and filling the people’s heads with ideas,” Krewt said. He could detect a sneering disgust in his words. “This ends here, whether you live or die.” A tear, obscured by the rain and darkness.
The figure—Brenna—stood. She stood straighter and taller than he had ever seen, more than the head of her usual bearing. Her shoulders were broad, arms sinewy and muscled, her sleeves long since gone. “Hshkshk, hskshks.” Her left arm glowed blue, and then there was a flash. Her veins were now crackling with electricity, and a blade of lightning was in her hand. “Shshsssk,” she said.
Krewt lifted his weapon—a plain steel bar with a leather wrapped grip—and further shifted his feet to a fighting stance, taking care to note the slickness of the stones. “A coin to spend, Brenna.”
She lifted her unfinished face, chin held high. “Do not hold back then, love.”
They charged one another as a bolt of lightning split the sky.

A Small Confession

Not really sure what to write about today. I don’t usually write content in advance for this blog (used to, when I was publishing four times a day). My overall mental and physical health has been on an upward trajectory. I’m getting more writing done in the same two working hours I’ve set aside each day. Actual writing, while a bit scattered at the moment, is increasing in volume–and probably quality, but I’m not really paying attention to that right now.

I’ve been experimenting with writing erotica (ooh aaah) under a pen name. Honestly, if you can get away with writing it, dream up a penname and go for it. It’s taught me a lot:

  • How to tell stories quickly and in a more compelling manner.
  • Being clear but vivid in description.
  • Tighter plotting and outlining.
  • It’s an outlet for wild stuff that can be written without shame.
  • And it sells. I don’t really write or publish much, but I’ve made a steady $15-$20 each month with a very small library.

If you’ve ever been curious about it, I’d say go for it. Your work doesn’t have to be long. In fact, if you can churn out a minimum of 3k a week with minimal editing and revision, you’ve got a publishable story. There’s a period of building momentum, but it has definite rewards.

I recommend Jade K. Scott’s The Six Figure Erotica Author if you’re interested in learning more. The book is short, has easy, actionable advice, and will get you writing and publishing quickly.

Worldbuilding Binge

This is a problem that lots of writers have, particularly in the SFF genres: how much is too much when it comes to building a world?

I’ve been lost in the weeds myself recently, chasing down threads that have no real bearing on overarching narratives. When I find them, I decide to compose a rich backstory, something with heft and weight, that has no bearing to the larger narrative.

Good to know the history of a religious schism that only ever had one adherent–do they matter?

And that, I think, is a good rule to follow when writing your story. World building is important–less so than internal consistency, but that’s another topic–but it’s just detail. If there’s nothing compelling happening around those details, you’re just writing a mechanism to deliver a lore wiki.

Story First. Character First. Plot First. Let the details enhance the story, rather than crowd it out. Only use as much as the story demands, and the bigger moments of world building will have that much more impact.