NaNo Ruminations: Thought Dissidence

This is a story I stumbled back over last night on my old blog while chatting with the wonderful Adam Byatt about growing and developing as a writer. The concept for this story has been floating around in my head ever since I started writing back in late 2007. It originated in a dream about a certain other Adam, and the name stuck for the male protagonist and gave me the idea to call it ‘Adam and Eve’. This installment is long and possibly not brilliantly written… but it’s sparked my interested in it as both a story idea and concept.

Could this be my 2010 NaNo project after two previously aborted attempts to embrace it?

This story comes with a warning. It does have adult content in it – so if you’re likely to be offended by sex, it possibly not the piece you want to read!

It is 12:09pm on the information bar on the TV screen as I walk into my local. I take my earphones out long enough to order a short black and allow the barrista to scan the back of my hand. He smiles at me, out of well rehearsed and imprinted hospitality but I know for a nanosecond that he wonders when I will stop coming in for my short black.

Coffee is a luxury. The price rises each day as the store of beans slowly but surely depletes. Coffee is not considered an essential food item and is therefore not on the Government’s Agriculture charter. There is no land allocation for coffee though I imagine that there are high officials who have the power and access to bribes to have a few acres assigned to coffee for their own personal use. But we down here on the ground will never see it again. There is no international trade so one day, someone will pay an exorbitant price for the last public cup of Joe and that moment in history will be streamed straight into everyone’s mundane existence; another bastion of civilised society gone.

I have few other things to spend my meagre Government allowance or the savings that I have accumulated since I arrived here, so coffee it is today, tomorrow and with any luck the day after that. There was once a saying, “You can’t take it with you when you go.” Where I am ultimately headed, any amount in a digital ledger will be pointless.

The café continues to thrive even with coffee beyond the reach of most. They still serve food and as a Government affiliated eatery there is rarely an empty table. I squeeze between two men at a counter overlooking the street and slip my earphones into my ears. The unit looks exactly like the latest iPod and I notice both men glance sideways in jealousy at it. Every purchase is obsolete or out of fashion with a few months. The drive to work, earn and purchase is obsessive and socially sanctioned, as is the need to exercise, refine and hone the body. After all, there is nothing else now. Despite global constraints on energy, resources and production we have become the ultimate market society – we exist only to consume.

Slipping the earphones into my ears I scroll through the options, a playlist like no other. Immediately there is a flood of static and it takes a moment to tune into a clear frequency. My coffee comes and I smile at the girl my age who works here from dawn to dust. I know, because I’m here for breakfast, coffee instead of lunch and I stop on the way home for the simple dinner that is Government fare.

She is a drone in every sense of the word. No unique thought has ever escaped for her cerebral cortex while I have been in here. Her mind sprouts Government propaganda, responds in the agreed upon format. She is a glowing example of the third wave of the Government micro chipping programme. It chills me to the core.

As I sip my coffee, I surf the frequencies hoping that I will find someone with a dissident thought. There has been a growing trend in the past month. I’ve been able to collect more names since the last new moon that I have the entire time that I have been here. Something is shifting, something is freeing the minds of the population. Cracks are emerging, thoughts are seeping in, biology is working to triumph over technology.

Towards the end of my coffee I come across a thought. A man’s longing for a woman, the brunette with the short bob who had just ordered a green tea and the standard heavy wheat bread sandwich with hummus, and is walking out the door to take a seat with a colleague out in the sun. It is the briefest of indiscretions, so brief he doesn’t pause for an extra moment to stare after her. He will not have even realised that he’s had it.

There are five more minutes left of my lunch break. I have to be back at my desk at exactly 12:46pm. No one is ever late; it’s been programmed out of us. It is in the hands of the Universe as to whether he will be chosen. He stands just as I do and I follow him out. With speed and a lightness of hand, I drop a lolly wrapper in his pocket as I stride past him, with expert agility in my high heels. I’ll find his identity and apartment number later, if the lolly wrapper makes it home. They often don’t. There is with the simple tracker woven into the plastic. And if it does, I will add him to the other names and addresses on the list I will give Adam.

Adam ….

It’s been almost two weeks since I saw Adam last. The thought of him and what we do together in the shadows of the Neo-Burlesque club makes my chest tighten. My breathe catches in the bottom of my throat and my yoni moistens. I ache for wanting his touch, however brief. But I catch myself and file those feelings away for later, alone in bed, in the dark where the cameras can’t catch me. We may have successfully stolen their prototype thought transistor but their face recognition cameras are sensitive enough to detect shifts of emotion through facial expression. The last thing I want to become is a person of interest.

I push open the imposing glass foyer door of the Djerassi Building, the sole manufacturer of the reproductive micro chip that started it all. I sit down at my desk as the TV screen in the PR department flicks over to 12:46pm.

At nine o’clock every night the lights go out across the city. It is as if some naughty cartoon characters pull out a massive plug and the city is plunged into darkness. There are no candles or torches. There is the dim flickering of the LED television screen from apartment windows, powered by the days solar energy, captured by the massive panels that clad the outside of each of the apartment buildings. But they too go out one by one, until the entire city is cloaked in an un-urban like obisidan, with the only illumination coming from the moon as it rises. It is only then that I dare to venture out.

From my hotwired computer portal I link into the security system of my apartment building, over riding the night locks on my front door and the emergency stairwell. I exit the building through the second floor fire door, lift off the manhole cover at the back of the building and lower myself down into the sewer. The water is cold and slimey, I don’t want to think just what is in it. It’s a kilometre before I arrive at the manhole cover I want and climb the dangerously erroded ladder back to the road. The next twenty metres are the most dangerous. I need to walk down the street in full view of the cameras, hoping that Adam has disabled these few from his end. But I can never be sure.

I walk briskly until I come to the next manhole cover, but this one does not lead into the sewer. Lowering myself back into the subterranean belly of the city, I land softly on the paving. My bare feet are grateful for the cool smooth paving. The city is crisscrossed with convict made tunnels that the Eros Network has been utilising to smuggle the Liberated beyond the city limits, out into the country to a safe community.

The Eros Network originally linked people and kept safe houses for couples to meet. That was before my time though. It was a quiet revolution when the first draconian laws were passed forbidding intimate relationship of any type, when people still remembered and longed for sex, for connection, for love – before the yawning cavern inside was efficiently though inadequately filled with stuff. You can never buy what you are missing – you can’t even get sex or love on the blackmarket, even if you realised that was what you were really missing.

Now Eros liberates men and women from the biological suppression of the reproductive chip. I was one of the first to be liberated. I am the first link in the chain, identifying those who are open to being liberated – those who are having thoughts of a sexual nature. I have only met ever with Adam. The network is simple – you know who comes before and after you. In my case there is only Adam. That protects the network.

Now that we have the stolen Government technology, for the first time ever Eros is one step ahead of the Government. We are using their cutting edge technology against them, saving people who would other wise disappear.

Inside the tunnel I run my fingers over the wall until I hit pay dirt, the torch. It’s another of those commodities that are almost impossible to buy even on the black market. You have to have something of greater value to actually physically exchange for it – a mere torch. And few things command the same price. Who would have thought. A fragment of a memory surfaces of a little boy and a blue torch, an argument? Before I can get a mental hold on the memory it is gone, though I feel it, like the others, each memory is imprinting itself with growing intensity on my actual body. They warned me about this, about the memories, when I was liberated. I think I’m doing OK dealing with them as they surface.

The torch casts a thin shaft of light into the gloom. I marvel at the workmanship in the brickwork and construction of the tunnels, and at the lack of dust in them. I can’t help but run my hand over the bricks and know they are more than 200 years old. I hurry then. Adam will be waiting for me.

Beneath the cellar of the Neo Burlesque there is a trap door and someone has rigged up a simple rope ladder. There is an old plastic milk crate filled with misappropriated clothes – lavish costume pieces, simple sheaths of silk and satin. Tonight I choose a leopard print dress. It doesn’t fit perfectly – they never do. The lycra bunches or falls open in all the wrong places. It is also tailored for someone with a waist and hips. I have neither in the classic sense. There’s no time to change once I’ve pulled it over my head. The smell of sweat and stale sex tells me that I’m not the only one to wear it this week. I fold my office clothes lace up the knee high Doc Marten boots that I know fit me from past trips here.

There has never been time to ask Adam how it is possible that the Neo Burlesque continues to operate. It is the antithesis of everything that the Government stands for. It encourages the obscene, the sexy, celebrates the sensual and beauty of both the male and female form. And then there is what goes on in the shadows. Like coffee I guess, officials have their quirks and someone very high up must still have a penchant for this.

The club is one huge room, an old theatre. On the stage there is a band singing original, unsanctioned material. Two girls, one tiny and the other huge are dressed in bustiers and huge tattered tulle skirts that are short at the front exposing their fishnet stockings, and long at the back in an exaggerated bustle. A tall flamboyant feather is tucked into each of their upswept hair dos. The guitarist is in his usual knee length black trench coat and a top hat. From somewhere deep inside my head I hear a naturist’s voice commenting over the top of the brass section, speaking of the band as though they are exotic birds rather than a mish mash of left overs from Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras … where did that come from?

Before I have time to contemplate the new thought, there is a hand on my arm. It is Adam. We melt into the deep shadows at the perimeter of the theatre. There is a good reason that so much light is magnified to the middle, it creates these safe havens along the wall.

Adam’s mouth is hard on mine, his body pushing me into the cold, broken plaster wall. His hands are on my body, fevered and impatient, as mine are on him. He pulls the dress up to my waist, as I struggle with the button and zipper on his pants. My hands are shaking – again. There is no time for foreplay, for any tenderness or exploration. A chance for us to look each other in the eye, to traverse the histories we see there … for intimacy or love. There is only the physical act now and we are grateful for that.

Adam tears open a condom packet and rolls it over his cock in a single fluid action, then hoists me up onto his thighs. I wonder where he gets them – the condoms, but there’s no more time to think about it. There never seems to be any time to think about anything that matters. He presses me harder into the wall and fumbles for a moment with his erection, trying to get it inside me … and then for a delirious few minutes, we rut and pound our bodies into and against each other. Even with the anticipation and the two week wait, Adam cries out in the hollow of my neck and comes before I’m close to being there. That’s the way it is.

We untangle our bodies; Adam rolls the condom off, ties a knot in it and hides it in his pocket once he’s fastened his Government issue pants back around his waist. A used condom is the worst possible thing to have on your person, yet he doesn’t just drop it on the floor. I pull the dress back down and bend over to extract the list of names and apartment numbers from the inside of my boot. Our fingers linger, entwined for a moment as I pass the list to him.

There are screams as the outside doors of the theatre are beat in.

“Raid!”

Adam grabs my hand and we dash for the stage, racing up the stairs and pushing through the startled musicians, making our way for the backstage dressing rooms. Adam takes the first of the Government’s henchmen in the throat with his fist, crushing the man’s windpipe. I grab for the Tazer as he goes down. There is enough of a gap between the two black clad men for Adam to pull a knife from his belt and fell the second with an expertly thrown knife to the heart. We waste precious seconds stripping both men of their weapons, but there is no alternative. I’m unarmed and Adam only has his knife. I fasten the second man’s belt around my waist and try to make it fit. They’re not meant for women.

We hurry through to the dressing rooms, pulling open the trap door in the toilet in the largest of the dressing rooms, jumping down into the cellar. Adam sets me first down the rope ladder into the tunnels, following me as voices erupt above. And we’re running, hearts pounding in the darkness, my hands clutching at the belt which threatens to fall and trip me up. It’s dark and only Adam’s hand in mine keeps me moving forward. It is a bad time to realise that I have a mortal fear of the dark.

We come to an intersection. We stop and we’re both breathing hard and shallow. I can feel a breeze coming from a different direction. I have no idea how we got here, or where we are. I’ve only ever come the one same way to and from the Neo Burlesque. We are only just ahead of the beams of light behind us, there is not time to falter.

“You go this way Eve. We need to separate.”

I want to say something, but he is gone before I can and I’m all alone in the world – running for my life in the dark.

Long Listed

Yesterday I discovered my story “The Man Who Would” has been long listed for the 50 Stories for Pakistan anthology. It was a huge buzz given last week marked a return to real writing after months in the wilderness. I share the honour with my business partner Paul Anderson; my writing partner and best friend Annie Evett; several Chinese Whisperings authors: Laura Eno, Emma Newman and Benjamin Solah; and facebook writing pal Trevor  Belshaw.

I first heard about 50 Stories for Pakistan via an early morning email from Greg McQueen while staying in Melbourne for WorldCon. While I’d thrown eMergent Publishing’s support behind the project in whatever capacity Greg needed, I also wanted to contribute a story. However, I’m not one known for penning stories under 500. To be honest 1000 is a press most times. But I was dertemined. This is what happens when you hang out with awesomely talented folk like Dan Powell (who first introduced me to Greg via 100 Stories for Haiti) who inspire you to write like there’s no tomorrow.

A story shadowed me, but didn’t seem to actually solidify, a bit like the Inhuman anthology for AXP. And last week wasn’t the best week, given I had an installment to write for Choose Your Online Adventure (which ended up being two), a Write Anything article to write, a birthday invite to create (which I realised was much huger than it was AFTER I’d agreed) oh and we’d divided the start of the week between Cairns and Brisbane.

To my great relief, Thursday afternoon, I stumbled across an amazing world-record breaking story while researching the year 1960 for my StepMum’s birthday invitation. Joseph Kittinger broke the record that year for the highest, longest and fastest sky dive in history. The speed record stuck until 2005! He jumped from 102,000 feet, including free falling for 16 miles. Anyone who knows me, knows I’m terrified of heights and my days of being a speed junkie are well and truly over… but  Kittinger’s story entranced me.

On the drive to pick my son up from school “The Man Who Would” was born. It’s not so much a story about crazy off-planet sky diving, but about legal bureaucracies, corporate power and the fear of litigation which threaten to crush the big dreams of ordinary people. The title riffs from a Dr Who episode and shadows the theme of legacy inherent in the story. I was graciously assisted by Jason Coggins, who pulled my story to pieces so I could put it back together in an even better way (thus my main character Jack literally became harder and faster!), Annie who beta read and Lily Mulholland who proof read late on a Saturday night when she was shattered from a big day with her family.

I’m crossing my fingers it makes the short list. If not, it proves a few things to me which are lessons well learnt. Firstly I am able to pen something meaningful in under 500 words. Secondly, I am able to diverge from ‘weird, dark shit’ once in a while and write something uplifting, thought-provoking even! And lastly, strange things happen when you hang out on Wikipedia too long.

Prosopopoeia

Jasper drew the curtain aside an inch and peered out. The pit was full just as Valentina had said, not that he questioned her word. He just wanted to see for himself. The three tiers rising around the pit were also full to brimming.

The agitators he had sent into the pit appeared to have carried on the work they had already done on the streets, in the market queues and in the tavernas in the days leading up to opening night. The right words in the right ears had the entire theatre was buzzing with the rumours of Cardinal Alessandro Medici. Jasper knew they were divided in opinion and was glad. He didn’t want to convert them all with mere street conjecture.

Valentina swore the audience were assembled like spectators at an accident.

A cool hand touched his arm and he let the curtain drop.

“There is still time to call this all off.” Valentina’s face was serious beneath the thick stage make up.

Jasper shook his head.

“I have listened to all you have had to say, my love. But this is something even you cannot sway me from. Not now.”

“You make a powerful enemy Jasper.” She pulled the shawl around her shoulder, as chills ran through her

“No, it is the Cardinal who has made a powerful enemy in me. Look out there Valentina. You cannot argue the power of the theatre. I have waited-”

“You cannot guarantee-”

“I have been careful in writing the script. Without the rumours spread the past few days, people may not have connected the dots. And even then.”

“Trial by public opinion Jasper – is that fair?”

“You cannot be defending him, after what he did to me as a boy – after what he did to all those boys and is probably still doing to them.”

“I am not condoning his behaviour. I am just worried for you Jasper. There is word The Angel of Death is in town.”

“There stories of the Butcher of Capena are just that. Stories. If only I were to think of such extravagant phatasies as a man who kills in the name of the Lord. A wingless angel who walks shoulder to shoulder with ordinary man. Bah!”

“They will shut you down after tonight. We’ll be excommunicated or worse.”

“There will be such an uproar after tonight he will be unable to touch us and keep his integrity. In fact, by the end of the week he will be removed as Cardinal. No parent is going to allow their boys into the care of the Church if they cannot guarantee their safety under his guardianship. He buggered me, my love. He stole my soul, just as certainly as he was the Devil himself. My soul was not his to take. I will spend the Eternity in hellfires because of him.”

“No God could condemn you. You were only a boy.”

Jasper moved away from the wings with Valentina trailing behind him.

“You should be with the others, preparing for the curtain to go up.”

Valentina hesitated, then drew herself onto her toes to kiss his rough cheek.

“May tonight be the redemption which your soul yearns for… then we can start over without the spectre of Medici one step behind you.”

Valentina moved away to where the players were milling, nervous and excited. She was calm – the sort of quiet she’d come to associate over time, as the prologue to something awful.

None of the players knew the real subtext of Jasper’s play or the potent veins of revenge which sustained and fed the play. They feed on the rumours just like the audience, Devouring and then debating the merits of them.

Only herself and Jasper’s circle of writing friends were privy to the horrible truth.

Turning back, Valentina saw one of the stage hands with his lips to Jasper’s ear and a smile spread across her betrothed’s face.

“They say the Cardinal is out there. Can you believe it? Come to see what all the fuss is about I’m guessing,” said a man dressed as Vice.

“Come for you more like,” joked a woman.

“I’m the Devil’s man.”

“As is the Cardinal,” snapped Valentina, nerves raw from worry. She forced her way out of the group of players and making her way to the left wing to await curtain call.

* * *

Dressed in civillian clothes, with a fake beard, Alessandro sat with members of the silversmith’s guild as a travelling artisan. Dante had secured the private booth seat for him, in the top tier of the theatre. As always Alessandro didn’t ask how he had done so. Ignorance was bliss and left him with little to repent at the end of the day.

Alessandro had a vague recollection of the playwright as an altar boy. He had been evil – ones of the boys who bit in a vain attempt to protect themselves from him. All the soft talking and bribery did little to charm his sort. He exerted only enough force to subdue them. The bruises easily dismissed as the boyish adventures. Afterwards he always dispelled teh boy from service so as not to taint the disposition of the other boys. The ones who shut up and took it stayed, and were advanced.

His spies told him the play featured him as the central character. As the First Act dragged on, Alexxandro saw they were correc – he had been elevated to the status of Everyman, though no one seemed fooled. The main character was a thinly veiled archetype, a clever device which enabled the playwright to point his feeble finger at the Arch Bishop. To flaunt weaknesses of greed and lust. To have his vices on public show was too much for Alessandra.

“Still in the Arch Bishops fold?” queried the man sitting next to him, when the laughter died down. “I have to say I thought His Excellency above such moral depravity – but now, I’m glad I wasn’t a boy in his church.”

“You are quick to judge,” snapped Alessandro.

“My apologies. I did not realise you were such a pious man, stranger.”

“God will sit in judgement of those who are wooed by lies and deception.”

Alessandro’s teeth screeched against each other, grinding them so hard his jaw hurt. His knuckles were white beneath the fancy lace cuffs of the shirt. The audience booed at yet another seduction of a young boy. The shape and construction of the theatre seemed to not only amplify and carry the words of the players on stage but the reactions of the audience, so he was surrounded in an eddy of malcontent.

A tap at his shoulder brought him back to the real reason for his presence tonight.

“It is time, Your Excellency,” whispered a familiar voice.

Alessandro stood and peered one final time over the balcony to the aberration below. In that moment it was as though he were bearing down judgement on all, rather than the reverse. He pulled his arms into the ornately embroidered jacket and slipped out into the empty space between the outer wall and the balcony.

The two men found the stairs and moved swiftly to the ground level. The tall hooded man secured the door behind them.

“Everything is in readiness.”

“Then go. I am sickened to the stomach.”

“As you wish, Your Excellency. May God have mercy on their sinful souls.”

Alessandro moved away from the theatre and found a viewing position from a nearby grove of trees. He counted off the minutes, knowing Dante waited for the exact moment when inside the theatre the stage was set alight to mimic hell and the roasting of the soul. Seeing the small spire of smoke rise, Alessandro counted off no less than a minute before a ring of fire encircled the theatre, licking at the dry wood, moving impatiently inwards to devour flesh and bone.

At a special Mass the next morning Alessandro boomed hellfire and brimstone from the pulpit ensuring the congregation knew of the blasphemy of the theatre and God’s wrath of such an abomination. Women and men wept.  Some shuddered fearful of the retribution in order for them because of the rumours they had helped perpetuate. Others wailed for the dead. In the back row Dante folded his left hand over his scorched right hand and smiled.

This story is a prequel to the Captain Juan serial, linking with Coruna: the man who was Uncle and is inspired by [Fiction] Friday prompt #152: “A segregated audience at a school play leads to a town revelation.”

Image: Bengt Ekerot as Death, from the film Det Sjunde inseglet (The Seventh Seal) (1957) via Wiki.

Virtual Launch Interview

For those who missed the virtual launch of “Thieves and Scoundrels” and my interivew – here it is. Apologies for the dodgey formatting in places – it is an artefact of cut and paste.

And finally, our very last author of the day, joining us from Brisbane Australia, Jodi Cleghorn.

Jodi’s Bio:
In a world-building master class in 2008 Jodi was overheard saying, ‘Oh, but I don’t write science-fiction’. Up until that point she’d never given any real thought to genre.
While her characters are still unwilling to allow their muse to be shoe-horned into any one genre there is a growing appreciation of the freedom to explore ‘what ifs’ in speculative- and science-fiction, along with urban fantasy.
Love, betrayal, identity, dynamics of power and time travel are recurring themes in Jodi’s writing.
As well as writing, Jodi has a passion for editing and publishing, and is the co-owner of eMergent Publishing with Paul Anderson, creating short story anthologies which push the boundaries under the Chinese Whisperings brand.

Good morning, Jodi!

Good morning Tina. It’s 8:45am Sunday morning here in Australia and the mist is hanging about the trees in my suburb. Thanks for having me along.
Well thanks for getting up early for us.

Still hard to believe I’m talking to someone from the future (it’s only 4:45 pm on Saturday here)

Why don’t we start off by you telling us a little bit more about you? Where are you from, what do you do, and how did you find out about the Flash Fiction Challenge?

I currently in Brisbane – in what often feels like the end of the world (or the beginning) when working across massive time zone gaps. I’m a full time writer, as well as co-managing a small Indie publishing house, eMergent Publishing, which produces conceptual anthologies under the imprint Chinese Whisperings…
I first learnt of AXP and the FFCs last September through a writer who contributed to Chinese Whispering’s debut anthology, ‘The Red Book’.
Awesome. Without giving away the plot of the story, can tell us about what you’ve written for Thieves and Scoundrels?
Many of my stories come from that wonderful question “what if?”…
“The Chameleon” is a sci-fi story, unashameably influenced by my own domestic situation in December last year (though the actual story bears no resemblance to it). The spark for the story came from a conversation about 24 hour retail trading…
“The Chameleon” was also shaped by the growing numbers of reports of identity theft, as well as the themes of loss, love, the dynamics of power and time travel – though in this regards it is not time travel in the most literal sense…
I guess it addresses important questions regarding identity, scientific innovation, psychology and humanity .“The Chameleon” asks… are we more than just the sum of our parts? Is there something more than the reductionist version of science?
Wow. Pretty deep stuff. Is this what readers can expect from your other work? More thought provocking science fiction?
Yes… well I hope…
In past I haven’t written sci-fi though I seem to be pulled more that way because of the freedom for exploration the genre offers and the ability to really probe social issues…
Plus I love being able to toy with science, technology and innovation – push it beyond know boundaries and then apply it back to the human experience…
Right now I’m working on several sci-fi projects: a novella set in a society where natural birth has been outlawed as a crime against the State, punishable by death. The main characters are young midwife, a fallen angel and a Government agent hell-bent on getting ‘his woman’; also a cross-genre detective serial named “Hartog”…
There are several other short stories in varying arrays of “finished-ness” and I’d by lying if I said I wasn’t fishing for a story to submit for the next FFC. There are two scenarios gestating – but as of yet, no definite story emerging from either idea.
Well I guess that answers what you are working on right now. 🙂

Are there any authors or books which you particularly admire, or which have influenced you as a writer?

It does…
The more I read of Margaret Attwood, the more I like her writing and admire her as a woman and an author. Her ability to produce such diverse work, of an amazingly high standard is something any writer would aspire to. I am in awe of her descriptive narrative (something I struggle with in my own writing) and ease of story telling…
As for influences – it seems I take a little from every book I read and apply it in small and large ways to whatever I am working on at the time – it is often completely subconscious…
I’m lucky enough to belong to a wonderfully talented and supportive community of writers – both on and offline. A small group of these writers are my beta readers and it is their insightful comments and critiques which help to shape the final drafts I produce. “The Chameleon” is an example of how a good story can be made a great story with the critical input of others.
That’s great.

What is the hardest part about writing for you, in general or just flash fiction?

Telling a rich, evocative story in just 1000 words isn’t easy at the best of times. Throw into that mix, the need to do some type of world building and you have what I consider, the hardest part of writing flash fiction in the sci-fi genre…
For “The Chameleon” – my world building had to be based on small, potent symbols. I focused on technology to build Clarissa’s world. There’s no space to explain them, so I used simple, easily recognisable items or concepts… then pushed out from 2010 usages into a place in the not too distant future…
“The Chameleon” utilises three novums – an identity chip in the back of the hand, DNA rewriting and DNA litmus paper.
You mentioned that you also manage a small press. Would you rather be known as a writer or as a publisher?
Jodi Cleghorn:

This seems to be a question which keeps popping up recently – a bit like would you prefer critical acclaim or popular success…

I’d like to be greedy and be known for both I think. I wish I could be one or the other, but it seems I am pulled in both directions.
I can understand that.

Maybe you can tell us when and why you began writing? What gave you “the bug” so to speak?

I began writing aged 10 with a sappy piece about Willy the Australian mascot for the LA Olympics…
Jodi Cleghorn:

It was the light bulb moment that I could string together my own sentences, create worlds, action. A bit of a “God” moment so to speak…

As I got older the pull was to escape. My life wasn’t particularly awful – but there was something about being able to escape into a world were you had ultimate power (what teenager wouldn’t want to do that?)…
Now I realise that it is my characters who control me to tell their story, and not the other way around!
Alright, one more question before I open it up to the audience. How can readers get in touch with you?
Jodi Cleghorn:

There are three ways…

Facebook fan page http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/pages/Jodi-Cleghorn-Author/294766224588?ref=ts
Jodi Cleghorn:

Twitter @JodiCleghorn

Wonderful. Thank you Jodi.

Looks like we have our first question…

[Comment From Robin Robin : ]

You seem to have some profound insights into people. Do you have a degree or anything in psychology?

Nicely picked Robin… I have never finished my degree in Psychology – but have definitely spent a fair chunk of time at uni studying for one. My son came along to spoil my last attempt to get my piece of paper. I’m also an avid people watcher and like to think a lot about what makes people tick…
I’m also blessed by the appearance of many interesting and complex characters who choose me to share their stories.
We’ve got time for one more if anyone has another question for Jodi.
[Comment From Trixy Trixy : ]

What kind of story are you writing for the next FFC?

I have two ideas kicking around in my head at the moment Trixy – both will end up being sci-fi I guess. One has an element of time travel and the other about the complex nature of love and regret. They are only seed ideas and the actual story has yet to come. I was lucky enough to have some pretty potent dreams while I was away over Easter.
And one more…
[Comment From Red Red : ]

How do you balance your publishing, writing and home life? Any useful tips for achieving the discipline needed to make it all happen?

It is like juggling – as friend once said to me – you keep your eye on the ball in the air…
I have to admit I get the balance really askew. I am lucky enough to have a wonderful husband and son who are ever patient and allow me to do what I do…
The only advice I will give – is make sure you give writing a priority status. Until I made writing a priority (and it was only on a Friday night!) it languished for a decade untouched. I am sad that I lost those years.
Well it has been wonderful chatting with you this morning Jodi. Thank you so much for getting up early for us.

And thank you to Robin, Trixy, Red and Jim (whose question was very similar to Red’s).

Thank you Tina… and thanks to those last minute questions!
You’ve just watched the interview of Jodi Cleghorn, who wrote the story ” The Chameleon” in the Theieves and Scoundrels anthology.

“Thieves and Scoundrels” is a publication of Canadian Press, Absolute Xpress. Stories were selected as part of AXP’s third Flash Fiction Challenge.

The anthology available from Amazon (US$14.95) or as an eBook from Smashwords ($3.00)


Time Is On My Side

…oh yes it is!

I refuse to think of myself as time poor. This is despite hammering down the door of a major deadline for the first of eMergent Publishing’s non-fiction clients, keeping the fires of Chinese Whisperings stoked, preparing for my first virtual book launch and trying to keep afloat in life. If I bring a poverty mentality  to my working and creative life I can’t expect keep my head above the water.

Yes – I’d like more sleep, yes – I’d like more time to read, yes – I want to spend time with my family and yes – I am yearning to write (especially since my kind characters chose this very week to reveal the previously hidden hooks of a story to me in the shower on Thursday) but this too will pass.

The non-fiction project is a planning text called ‘Gnarly Planning’ by the wonderful Dr Jane Stanley. The book is amazing and definitely not your run-of-the-mill university text. Instead it is  full of inspiring personal stories from Jane’s adventures overseas, humbling accounts of people making do with very little and lots of good old common sense, that doesn’t just apply to the area planning, so I’m discovering as I read and layout. While it continues to be a very consuming experience for me – the plethora of astounding photographs and the text in general keeps me going. It is the only experience of working/reading a non-fiction book where I have been inundated with waves of goosebumps.

Speaking of time –  tomorrow is my first time as part of a virtual book launch (Saturday for those folks in the Nth Hemisphere)  Absolute Xpress’ “Thieves and Scoundrels” anthology, which my short story “The Chameleon” is published in, is officially launched tomorrow.

There are two parts to the launch  – a rolling stock of  ‘virtual’ interviews with some of the anthology’s authors (12 authors, in 9 time zones, across seven hours) as well as an Amazon chart rush.

While I’m part of the virtual interview section – to promote myself, my story, my writing and of course the anthology, I’m also participating to see how it all works and what sort of fit it might be for The Yin and Yang books in October.

My “spot” is on at the following times:

  • New York: Saturday 6:45pm
  • Chicago: Saturday 5:45pm
  • Calgary: Saturday 4:45pm
  • LA: Saturday 3:45pm
  • GMT: Saturday 10:45pm
  • London:  Saturday 11:45pm
  • German: Sunday 12:45am
  • Afghanistan: Sunday 3:15am
  • Brisbane: Sunday 8:45am

I’ll be talking/typing about about my story, what I’m currently working on, my influences and what I find challenging about flash fiction. You can be a part of the author chats by following this link.

The other aspect of the launch is an Amazon chart rush.

To participate I’m asking my friends, family writing colleauges and blog readers, between 10am – 5pm Mountain Time (Pacific: 9am – 4pm, Central: 11am – 6pm, Eastern: Noon – 7pm, GMT: 4pm – 11pm, EST Queensland: 2am – 9am on April 11) to go to the Thieves and Scoundrel’s page and considerdoing one or all of the following:

  • buying ‘Thieves and Scoundrels’
  • view the ‘Thieves and Scoundrels’ page
  • add the book to their wish list
  • suggest to a friend

All these things will increase the book’s ranking on Amazon.com.

Now, speaking of time… I have some interview questions to get sorted and some sleep to be had.

Image: Temporal Paradox by PatsPiks via Picture Post

[Fiction] Friday: Conjunction

[Fiction] Friday Challenge #148

March 26th, 2010: “Shhh… did you hear that?”
XXXX

“Shhh, did you hear that?”

“It was my stomach.”

“What did you eat for dinner?”

“I didn’t eat anything?”

“How come?”

“Because I didn’t feel well.”

“We don’t have to do this tonight.”

“Yes we do. Tonight!”

“But, if you’re sick.”

“Shhh. I was nervous. Toby, why don’t you quit talking and give me a hand out the window… How long have you been waiting?”

“I don’t know. My watch doesn’t have a light. Hey, keep off the gravel. Come round this way. I hid my bike round here.”

“Do you sneak out often?”

“Not really. My parents let me go wherever I want, just as long as I’m home by eleven.”

“Sure – you’re a boy. I’m never allowed to go anywhere or do anything I really want to do. I’ve never done anything like this before. You must be a bad influence.”

“Perhaps – but you suggested it. Here sit up on the bar and I’ll double you down to the beach. Which way?”

“Down here, left and then right and we’ll be in the public car park. You don’t think there’ll be crocs or anything down there?”

“If we stay away from the estuary we should be right? What are you laughing at?”

“Just an old memory that’s all… A really… old… memory. Yeah – sorry. Don’t you ever get that – you get sucked back into a memory.”

“Most stuff I’d prefer to forget.”

“How come?”

“Because dwelling on the past gets you no where.”

“Do you think of Davina much?”

“No.”

“Does it bother you if I ask about her?”

“No. I told you, she dumped me and I’m over her.”

“Is that why you agreed to come look at the moon with me.”

“No, I came to see Mars.”

“You only knew about Mars because I told you about it.”

“Why did you ask me to come down to the beach with you if you’ve never snuck out and you think I still have a thing for Davina?”

“…I wanted to see it with you. See the moon represents the things which are hidden – consciously or unconsciously and Mars is all about action and momentum. It seemed like the perfect time to sneak out. Seeing Mars sitting right up there next to the moon is pretty amazing.”

“You’re pretty amazing.”

“No. Not really. Hey – stop. You’re going to go into the resort. The beach carpark’s there.”

“Sorry. It’s dark. You were meant to be giving directions. How far down the beach do you want to go?”

“We don’t have to go far. Will you hold my hand?”

“Let me just hide my bike. So that’s Mars.”

“Yep, kissing the moon. Masculine and the feminine side by side. It will be more than a year before it is there again.”

“How do you know all this stuff about the planets.”

“Astrology – I’ve been into it since high school.”

‘You’re at high school.”

“Yeah, um right.”

“Where did you learn astrology. The newspaper?”

“That’s crap what they print in the newspaper.”

“So?”

“I can’t tell you.”

“Is it like, confidential and you could tell me but then you’d have to shoot me?”

“More like if I told you, you’d never want to have anything to do with me ever again.”

“I don’t think anything you could tell me would make me want to do that.”

“…In my world you and I don’t ever talk.”

“Your world?”

“Yes my world. Here – this is your world. I’m not from here – well I was from here once, but I’m not from here now.”

“Are you moving away or something?”

“No – look, I came here by mistake. Well, I’m not sure if it’s a mistake or not.”

“You’re not making any sense.”

“In my world, next year, in 1990 I get off the bus round there near my house and you never see me again. I move back to Victoria and that’s it.”

“Hold on – you’re talking like the future is the past.”

“It is for me. You are my past, well you were until two weeks ago. We met up on Facebook.”

“Facebook – what the hell’s that… Kara look. You’re not making any sense.”

“Listen to me Toby, because this changes everything. Two weeks ago, in my world you we spoke for the first time, because I had such a crush on you at high school I could never bring myself to even sit next to you on the bus much less talk. When you broke up with Davina, you then started going out with her older sister. When you popped up in the Facebook chat box it was 20 years. You remembered the last time you saw me. You told me you’d always been keen on me. I felt like it was the biggest travesty because I carried was in love with your for years. We had lunch.”

“So you’re saying – you’re from the future? My future or your future? Hold on – you don’t look any different than you did three weeks ago? You can’t be a different you.”

“Toby I don’t understand it either. I don’t know if I time travelled, or I slipped between parallel worlds. I don’t know how I got here or where the other me is. All I know is, I woke up on the concrete at school and they told me I walked into a pole looking at you and I’d been unconcious. And suddenly I’m 15 again.”

“How old are you?”

“35 in December.”

“Whoa. This is crazy.”

“I understand if you don’t believe me. I just wanted to tell you – well, in case this gets serious.”

“In your world you and I never get together.”

“No. You go out with Davina’s big sister for years.”

“I’m not sure I can even understand half of what you’re saying. And I don’t even like Davina’s sister. Kara – all I know is, right here, right now, I want to be with you. And if you’re telling the truth – I definitely don’t want to wait twenty years.”

A Short Story a Day for a Year: Catch Up

Three weeks in (two as a warm up and one official) to reading a short story a day I have a little catch up to do.

To date I’ve read two anthologies and have begun my third.

I started of with 10 Short Stories you Must Read this Year, which was a not for sale promotional anthology as part of the Books Alive campaign last year (an initiative of Art Council Australia).

It features the work of ten well known Australian writers, most of whom, sadly I had not read prior to picking up the anthology.

While all the stories were interesting in their own ways, the stand out was the final story of the anthology by Jack Marx, Letter from a Drunk to a Long Gone Wife. He explores a terrain which I have been long interested in, where do you  stop when you cross your moral boundaries. Just when you think Marx’s unnamed MC can’t possibly sink any lower, you are punched in the stomach – over and over again as he reveals all in a letter to his wife. Dark and brilliant writing.

Other greatly enjoyed stories were Melina Marchetta’s Twelve Minutes for the emotional landscape it explores juxtaposing the happiest of times with the most lost of times, Anita Heiss’s Manhattan Dreaming especially for it’s local references and use of colloquial Aboriginal language and Toni Jordan’s You Can Change Your Life because it sends up self development as the shallow and sensationalist activity I’ve always thought it was.

Kathy’s Lette’s Hate at First Sight reinforced to me, all the things I hate about chick-lit and why I won’t be picking up one of her books or any others of the ilk,  in the near future.

Moving on from 10 Short Stories you Must Read this Year I grabbed One Book, Many Brisbanes: an anthology of Brisbane Stories, which is the big competition all Brisbane writers aspire to win and be published in.

I have the special 150th Queensland edition from last year – where five writers were chosen as part of the competition and five well known Brisbane writers were invited to contribute. Given this mix I had high expectations of what would be between the covers.

All in all, it was a great disappointment as far as stories and Brisbane go. Many stories I felt could have occurred anywhere – just substitute suburb A for suburb B in any other Australian city. Most of the characters I really didn’t care too much about and I felt entirely lukewarm about Karen Foxlee’s winning entry Little Bird.

The stand-out stories were Adair Jones’ thought provoking 100 Points about a silent protest (the scene where he sews his lips together is chilling) and Janet McFadden’s Tunnel. McFadden’s story is all the more powerful for the fact it is a true tale with an unexpected twist at the end. She also masters and potrays the Irish accent with authenticity in the dialogue.

Along with many other Brisbane writers, I can’t understand how many of the stories ended up in the anthology. The other two thirds of my writing group both submitted stories last year which were brilliant, had fantastic twists and truly embodied the essence of Brisbane, but neither made the final cut.

I am thrilled to see, after doing a little bit of research that Beverly Fitzgerald, who I met in Kate Eltham’s short story writing class last year, secured a place in the 2010 One Book Many Brisbanes with her excellent story Sixteen Years of Beetroot. Congratulations Beverly.

At the moment I am enjoying Em Newman’s eAnthology From Dark Places. Well and truly worth the five and a bit dollars it cost to download from SmashWords. More on Em’s stories when I finish the anthology.

What has the past three weeks has shown me?

The short fiction written by ‘unknown’ and unpublished writers’ both on and off the web is of a far higher standard in many cases, than that of published and well known writers being picked up and published in the mainstream. I think we’re spoilt for choice and given most of the short fiction available on the web is free, very lucky.

Dan Powell was mad enough to join me on this reading adventure. You can find his week one wrap up here.