#FlashFiction Prompt: Now with Added Sci Fi

A little throw back to James Pailly’s post that kicked off our #NowWithAdded series. A simple enough premise: look around you, think about your life…what would the consequences be if something ordinary became a bit more SciFi?

Word count: Approximately 1,000 words
Deadline: 8am GMT on Sunday 11th July 2021

Don’t forgot, if you miss the deadline, you can always post your story to our #TortoiseFlashFiction page


A reminder to new readers/writers, please post on your own site and add a link in the comments section below.  If you don’t have your own blog or similar outlet, do send us your story via the contact form on the About page and we’ll post for you, with an appropriate by-line – you retain the copyright.

One caveat, if you want to go down this route: this is a family show, so we reserve the right not to post anything that strays into NSFW or offends against ‘common decency’.

Now with added…Satire

I did not, and still don’t, consider myself to be a creative mind, so when it came to thinking of a story I drew an emphatic blank. Eventually I chose something unusual, something never done in novel form before to the best of my knowledge.

I landed on a Neanderthal comedy.

As with a lot of the writing community on Twitter, I’d be hard pushed to remember exactly when I made contact with John Drake, the focus of last week’s Indie Spotlight here on Fiction Can Be Fun. What I do know is that he has a great eye for the absurd, and great ear for comic dialogue. I’m always incredibly grateful (and amused) when I spot his tweets, and I am beyond chuffed that he’d agreed to give us an insight into the crossover between his life and his writing.

Without further ado, I’ll hand over to John. Give him a big hand guys, that’s right, make him feel welcome!

I didn’t enjoy English lessons in school; I hated that it involved lots of writing. I would have been far happier had I been able to summarise the novel “Of Mice And Men” with a couple of sentences explaining how it was a story of a friendship’s boundaries, and perhaps a nod to the importance of beans. I also dropped history at the first opportunity, aged fourteen, for the same reason. The idea that one day I would write a book, let alone three historical ones, was preposterous.

I never wrote a simple, cute story as a six year old, I never wrote one about playing football for my favourite team as a teenager, and I grew into adulthood without once picking up a pen in anger.

When, as a young twenty-something, I started work in a large sales office in Liverpool, England, colleagues would ask me to write their complaint letters to businesses they felt had wronged them. I enjoyed weaving their situation into a coherent and infallible grievance. But that was it. I still hadn’t written a single word of fiction, despite the gently growing calls from those around me. You should write a book they would say, as they often do. I would nod placatingly and ignore the well-meaning advice.

The tipping point, I think, was when I read the last available Terry Pratchett book a few years ago. I had devoured them in double quick time, along with the works of Douglas Adams, P G Wodehouse, Oscar Wilde and other satirical greats. I could find nothing similar out there for people like me. As the years wore on I began to think more and more that perhaps I could write something to combat this dearth. Almost three years ago, at the age of forty, I decided to give it a go with neither hope nor expectation that anything would come of it.

 I did not, and still don’t, consider myself to be a creative mind, so when it came to thinking of a story I drew an emphatic blank. Eventually I chose something unusual, something never done in novel form before to the best of my knowledge.

I landed on a Neanderthal comedy.

Before writing a single word I concluded only two things about the story; it would be full of wordplay and the Neanderthal main character would be an engineer. It is no exaggeration to say that was the sum total of my planning. I had no idea what the plot was, why he was an engineer (other than it being a humorous juxtaposition), nor how I was going to string out a story for seventy five thousand words with no points of reference other than some trees and perhaps a mountain. This was, literally, the first piece of fiction I had ever written. I opened up a blank MS Word document and stared at it for a while. Then I wrote:

‘The Sun had finally risen, slowly but inevitably, like an almost-too-heavy balloon’

    I must have read over it a dozen times. Yes, I was happy with that. It was thunderously lonely, but I liked it.

Now what?

Inexplicably, I chose to write a one hundred word scene where a goat falls of a rocky outcrop.

Great. Now what?

I had given no thought to the environment within which the story would happen, so I began to describe the scenery, with the main character sitting on the same rocky outcrop (though without the goat) as he scanned the landmarks. I named them in self-explanatory ways; Cave Mountain was a mountain with caves in it. Green Forest was a forest that was green, and so on. It was a natural progression, then, to have the secondary characters as simple, unimaginative Neanderthals in contrast to my engineer. This set the dynamic for the rest of the story and all I did was lay the tracks of the plot in front of me as I wrote. Before I knew it the main character had had enough of his tribe and had left them behind in favour of a hopeless adventure. I was motoring along, adding no more than a few words each day, until I finally wrote ‘The End’.

Terry Pratchett once said that the first draft is just you telling yourself the story, and this is certainly true of my writing journey, since I had no idea what the story was when I started. Come to think of it, the same can be said for when I was more than halfway through it too. I gave it out to family members, who came back with bits and pieces of valuable feedback. Once I had ironed out these issues and checked for continuity errors and typos, I was done.

Without boring you with the intricacies of every writing decision I have ever made, I applied the same logic to book two, a satire set during the Black Death, and book three, a Genghis Khan comedy. All three were chosen because I hadn’t seen anything similar before, and the last two were also subjects I had a general interest in.

You may be reading this and thinking that I have oversimplified the writing process in the same way that I condensed Of Mice And Men, but the honest truth is that I haven’t. That is it; the process that took me from not being an author, to being one.

All you have to do is tell yourself the story.

In the end, I told myself the story and it changed me in more ways than I could have imagined. I’m now a writer with a publisher and have four novels out there in the ether, all of which will outlive me. I no longer spend my days ticking boxes in a boring office job. Instead I travel through my imagination and spend my days turning ‘what if’ ideas into storylines.

I am, literally, living the dream.

Several people in history have noted that “If you do something you love you will never work a day in your life” and this is absolutely true. I love writing, and it seems I have some level of talent for it. Being able to do it and pay the bills at the same time is something for which I will be grateful for as long as it remains sustainable. It started out as a simple hobby, then morphed into a personal legacy for me to be sentimental about when I’m sitting under a tartan blanket in a rocking chair with too many grey hairs and not enough summers. Now it is a way of life. It defines my day to day living as my office job once did, but with more joy and a sense of accomplishment.

Could I imagine doing anything else? Not on your nelly.

© John Drake, 2021 (Main text)

©David Jesson, 2021 (Intro)

Now with added…Fantasy!

Keith Willis is someone, like many in the #writingcommunity, that I’ve met online, usually via Twitter.  The writing community on Twitter is amazingly supportive, but in this respect Keith is a prince amongst men – a veritable elder statesman in his kindness, especially to those finding their feet on Twitter, at the writing game, or at life.  If I were tempted to get a tattoo, I might very well go for “Be more Keith”.  But his kindness, humour, and wisdom aside, Keith is a perfect guest for our ‘Now with added…’ slot.  As you’ll know by now, if you’ve been following along for a while, we invite writers who we’ve found to be particularly associated with a specific genre.  Keith is the author of the Knights of Kilbourne series, and he’s going to tell us a bit about how knights and dragons intersect with his life in upstate New York…


 

Thank you, David and Debs, for extending the invitation for me to participate in “Now with added…” But I have to say, this examination of the intersection of life and fiction has caused me a great deal of rumination, agita, and head pounding. As a writer of fantasy fiction, I don’t really deal in the niggling details of “real” life and thus wasn’t even sure where to begin.

So how does my fantasy world intersect my life? When I was wrestling with this dragon, David prompted me by asking, “Would you visit/live in the world you’ve created?” And when I thought about it, my answer was, “In a heartbeat.”

I love the world I’ve created, and I think it would be a marvelous place to live. Kilbourne is (call me a traditionalist) a fairly idyllic placed, based on an amalgam of Scotland and Wales and set in a rather Renaissance era. Books exist in my world. So do clocks. But no gunpowder-based weapons; my heroes and villains battle with barbed words, edged swords, or fists.

KWW1
Friar Keith, declaiming from his books

Kilbourne is a world not so very unlike our own. It’s a world of gallant chivalry and base cupidity. Of loyalty and honor, and duplicity and deception. Of politics and intrigue, of romance and wonder. In my fantasy world, while there are no megalomaniacal overlords out to subjugate the masses, there are certainly despots seeking power through conquest. Set against those, there’s no long awaited Chosen One, but simply people trying (and often failing) to do the right thing.

 

It’s a world of—and here’s the “added” bit—magic and dragons. And this is why I want to live there. Our own mundane world is seriously lacking in both categories and, it might be argued, would benefit from a bit of both (Game of Thrones not-withstanding). I long for a world where magic does indeed work, and where majestic dragons soar the skies.

I think that’s why so many readers gravitate to fantastical fiction. It’s that subtle “What if?” that allows us to view the world as it might be, if things were just a bit different, had that little “added…”

And yet, in a small way, my life does actually intersect my fantasy world, by way of the Renaissance Faires I attend each year. There, for the space of a weekend, I can be immersed in jousters and jesters, royals and rogues, wizards and witches, brigands, bards, and barmaids. I can soak up the magic that fuels my stories. I can also engage with the folks for whom I write them. Because they, like me, are seeking a piece of the magic. And so I get an earful of what they like (and don’t like) about fantasy. And because I have to be in character, I can magically become someone I’m not—the gregarious, garrulous scribe known as Friar Keith. I can tell awful jokes and get away with it (“I used to be a Friar, but I got so plump the Abbot made me a roaster…” bah dum tsss). I can shamelessly flirt with a wanton gypsy gal (if only because she happens to be my wife).

KWW2
Renaissance Faires – a family business!

One thing I’ve come to realize over the (relatively short) course of my writing career is that all fiction is, in fact, fantasy of a sort. We writers make it all up as we go along (except for the memoir folks, and I’ve often wondered if even some of their work may be more conveniently contrived than factual). But while all fiction is fantasy (small “f”), not all fiction is Fantasy (capital “F”). Those of us who write Fantasy add that little bit extra—the magic that make our worlds go round.

 

Keith W. Willis is the author of the Knights of Kilbourne series (Champagne Book Group). He can be found at https://www.keithwillisauthor.com/, on Twitter at https://twitter.com/kilbourneknight, and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/TRAITOR-KNIGHT-191368320972613/.  Keith lives in upstate NY, in that magical land lying between the Hudson Valley and the Adirondack Mountains. His most recent book, Enchanted Knight, was released in April 2020. Keith is hard at work on the next Kilbourne adventure, tentatively titled The Knight Job, along with a children’s picture book project about Wyvrndell the Dragon.

You can find Keith’s books at all ebook retailers, including https://tinyurl.com/yd99hx5r. For those interested in signed paperbacks, visit his websiteKWW3  KWW4

© Keith W. Willis, 2020 (Main text)

© Fiction Can Be Fun, 2020 (Introduction)

Now with added…Flair!: The Pirate Costume

There are several ways in which Debs and I meet new writer-friends, one being through the shared experiences of the April A2Z Challenge.  Our reading interests overlap a great deal, as you might expect, and we share a great deal of admiration for this month’s guest, Melanie Atherton Allen.  Melanie has an amazing imagination, and the way in which she is able to produce coherent bodies of work from multiple perspectives is a joy to behold.  There is a temptation to compare some of her work to…well, I won’t say, because that would be to do Melanie a disservice.  She is herself, and you should check out her ‘blaugh’ for yourself.  But now, over to Melanie!

The DoctorThank you, David and Debs, for inviting me to do this! It has been a surprisingly difficult piece to write (because I am usually a 100% fiction kind of gal, and I’m actually not sure I even know how to write about me), but that made it all the more interesting to me as a project.

Interesting—and also really, really hard. Really, I don’t know how you memoir people do it! This essay is about the seventh or eighth time I’ve tried to approach the subject, which is supposed to be about me and my genre. How does my life intersect with my fiction? That should be sort of obvious, or so I thought.

The-Other-Woman1

And then I sat down and started probing. Sort of poking at my writing, this way and that, looking for the places where I came in. And I found plenty of me in my writing—my voice, my ideas, my interests, the whole life of my mind. But all I could say about that was “I seem to write what I like to read,” which, though a good working principle, isn’t exactly personal.

The-Kitchen-MaidAt this point, I panicked, and messaged David. He came back at me with a series of helpful questions, but there was one that really unlocked things for me. “That sounds great,” he said, “but perhaps you’d like to comment on your inclination to dress up as your characters?”

And then I remembered the pirate costume.

I suppose, before we get to the pirate costume, I should explain about my website, www.athertonsmagicvapour.com. I don’t call it a blog (though I sometimes call it a blaugh), because it is my understanding that blogs get updated regularly. With Atherton’s Magic Vapour, this does not happen.

Yeoman-twoWhat Atherton’s Magic Vapour does contain is several of my more eccentric creative projects. Many of these projects include pictures of me, dressed up as various characters. A good example of this is a thing called Alas!, which is a complete Edwardian-era mystery novella (50,000 words!) that I wrote during the 2015 April A To Z Blogging Challenge.

In Alas!, I tell the story of the murder of the wicked Lord Cadblister from the perspective of 26 different people (The Aunt, The Bastard, The Constable, The Doctor… etc.), and include a picture of myself, dressed up as each character, with each day’s chapter.

So, obviously, I do feel inclined to dress up as my characters. But why? I still don’t exactly know, but something happened when I started to think about the question. I seemed to see before me the image of a small girl. I see her still. She is impressively dirty. Her blonde hair is wild and tangled. Her ears are enormous and stick out surprisingly from her head. And she is dressed as a pirate. That would be me, age… well, I have no idea, actually. Let’s say I was eight.

The-InspectorIt wasn’t a great pirate costume—just your basic red-and-white-striped shirt and black pants (both artistically tattered). It was made of that horribly thin Halloween-costume material, ideal for catching cold in on a dark October night. But that didn’t matter. In that costume, I was a pirate. I remember wearing it quite a lot, and I am sure I tried to wear it even more often. I probably tried to wear it to school but was thwarted.

Recently, I was going through an old file of childhood things when I came across a report from my childhood therapist. Yes, I was in therapy as a kid, because I had some fairly serious learning disabilities. Anyway, in this report, my therapist recorded my first meeting with her. I apparently looked at her, peered into her office, and announced, “I can’t bring my sword in there.” It was not a question. It was a statement.

The-WitchThe first appealing thing about this note was, of course, the fact that I apparently had a sword with me at my therapy appointment. I remember, alas, nothing of this incident, but I’m quite sure that the sword in question was the plastic cutlass which came with the pirate costume. So—yay small Melanie, for going to therapy armed and ready for trouble.

But the other thing that I find pleasing about this little snapshot from my sordid past is this: that I had an eye to the etiquette of the situation. I took one look at that office and said to myself, nope. No swords in there. I am sure that I was inhabiting the role of the noble pirate as I saw him. Interpreting the therapist as a lady well-disposed to pirates, I decided it would be wrong to come armed into her home. Or anyway, that is how I re-construct the thing now. It is, in any case, a narrative consistent with the sort of kid I was. I took everything with deadly seriousness. Everything.

Anyway, I feel that this story shines a light on why I love dressing up even now. It transforms. It turns a very confused little girl into a confident, yet polite, pirate.

Me as Simon Wake la

© Melanie Atherton Allen, 2020 (Article and Photos)

© Fiction Can Be Fun, 2020 (Introduction)