Diana’s May Story: Defining Human

Pixabay image by Brigitte Werner

Defining Human

by D. Wallace Peach

“I don’t know why you keep that decrepit thing around.” Delia sipped her iced tea and glanced out the window of her friend’s home. On the manicured lawn, Sherri’s cyborg pushed their children on side-by-side swings, a human arm heaving on one small back while a mechanical arm pressed on the other.

“His name is Carter, and he’s part of the family.” Sherri angled her head for a view of their laughing boys. Dainty sandwiches adorned a platter at her table’s center, and Delia nibbled though she wouldn’t feel hungry until noon. Sherri poured more tea. “I grew up with him, and he—”

“Saved your life.” Delia patted her friend’s hand in understanding, though honestly, she’d survive without hearing a repeat of the story.

The cyborg had pulled Sherri from a fire and sacrificed the flesh on half of his face and body. The repair costs for an archived model had been prohibitive, but rather than purchase updated technology, the family had elected to preserve the damaged thing. Out of gratefulness. As if it possessed human feelings. The mawkish sentimentality was disturbing, and the cyborg’s exposed gears hideous. “They’re wired to protect us, you know?”

“I know,” Sherri said. “But he’s generous with his time and kind-hearted, and he has a fun sense of humor. He’d do anything for us, and we love him.”

Delia rolled her eyes as she finished her tea.  Her internal clock struck noon, and she helped herself to another sandwich. Her friend’s affection for the machine irritated her, and as usual, any attempt at reason was an utter squandering of her time.

The cyborg ushered the breathless children in for lunch, and Delia was thankful for the distraction. Not long after the meal, she packed her dawdling son into their transport. “Home,” she instructed. The vehicle hummed into travel mode, and she reclined in her seat with an e-mag.

“I like Carter,” her son said while fiddling with his recliner’s buttons. “He plays with us, and he’s nice.”

“He’s a machine.”

“He acts like a human.”

“Well, he’s not. We are human, superior to him and all his kind.”

“What’s the difference?”

Delia huffed at the obvious. “Quiet now, I’m reading.”

The transport glided to their front door. Their arrival home was later than planned, but she’d anticipated the delay and programmed naptime for optimum flexibility. Why carry the child when his feet were perfectly capable of walking?

She escorted her son to his room, tucked him into bed, and plugged his link into his temple. After several software adjustments, she retreated to her suite and flung herself down on her bed. She needed to reconsider her relationship with Sherri’s family. Their beliefs were having a radical impact on her son, and his confusion about what defined a human being was troubling.

Stress had taken its toll, and Delia decided to nap as well.  She set the timer for forty-five minutes, chose a pleasant dream sequence, and inserted the interface into her port. Her eyes closed as the software began its upload.

**

Note: I’m on the road again, helping my parents. I won’t be able to respond to comments or return visits until the evenings. Please bear with me. ❤ 

Clarifying Shampoo

pixabay image combo

Betsy over at Parenting is Funny was recently musing over a bottle of clarifying shampoo (yes, it’s a real thing). Her blog is a hoot, and I encourage you to visit. Her post popped a story into my head. I hope you enjoy.

Clarifying Shampoo

Clara was born a Libra. Not the normal kind of Libra with a smattering of other signs in her chart to balance her scales. She was an anomaly, an astrological case study, solid Libra from her Sun all the way across the galaxy to Pluto. She vacillated like a seesaw and simple decisions were intolerable with all the second-guessing.

Worst of all, she was the epitome of annoying. Potential friends stopped calling after a week, and romantic relationships unraveled before they had a chance to knit. She frustrated counselors. Even her mother had stopped answering the phone.

Clara had to do something, and the only thing she hadn’t tried was consulting a psychic.

Madam Bea’s Fabulous Fortunes occupied the basement below a hair salon. She specialized in Tarot, but the handmade poster on her sandwich-board advertised results, and that was exactly what Clara needed. Results.

At the bottom of the concrete steps, a peeling door led into a tight space cordoned off by red sheets tacked to the ceiling. A disorienting combination of odors—garlic, mildew, and sandalwood—assaulted Clara’s nose. A card table separated two folding chairs, complete with a sparkly glass ball on a plastic stand.

Madam Bea, a beak-nosed woman with painted eyebrows, sat at the table finishing off a pizza. She waved to the unoccupied chair while munching on the crust, and then tossed the pizza box behind the makeshift curtains.

Clearly, Clara had made another mistake, but she accepted the seat and laid out the saga of her peculiar horoscope complete with runny mascara—another miscalculation. She should have applied the waterproof variety.

The fortune teller listened intently while picking her teeth with a ruby fingernail. “I have joost the thing,” she said and disappeared behind the sheets. When she returned, she placed a half-empty bottle of shampoo on the table.

“Shampoo?” Clara frowned.

“Clarifying champoo.” Madam Bea’s eyebrows arched higher than already arched. “Trust me. I give you discount. That be fifty dollars.”

Clara forked over the cash with a sigh and drove home. Before dropping into bed, she washed her hair.

In the morning, she shuffled to her closet and ruminated over what to wear. Slacks or a skirt? Maybe a dress. Or slacks in case the office is cold. But what if it’s warm? A dress with a sweater? Although a skirt…

The lavender suit.

Clara froze. The whispered voice seemed to originate from somewhere above her head. She glanced up and then peeked over her shoulder. Alone. Was the voice real? Inside her head? She backed up and sat on the edge of her bed. Should she make another counseling appointment?

Ivory blouse and low pumps. Pearl studs but skip the necklace.

Clara jolted up with a yelp. She rifled through her closet and wriggled into the lavender suit. Studs in her ears, she dashed from her apartment to the sidewalk, the low heels a wise choice with all the running.

She inhaled a lungful of sunshine to calm her racing heart, shoved the morning’s weirdness from her thoughts, and wavered over whether to walk to work or take the bus. Or drive. Or walk. What if she got blisters? And then there was city parking…

Walk. It’s a nice day. You need the exercise.

Clara frowned and casually swept a hand over the top of her head. Was her hair giving her instructions?

I’m clarifying.

“Clarifying?” She wrinkled her nose. “Why? But what if—”

Clarity never hurt anyone. Now, no time for waffling or you’ll be late.

Still suspicious of her hair, Clara set off for work, and for the first time in three years, she arrived on time, a fact noticed by Harry, the tall, dark, and hunky cubical-occupant across the aisle. Her hair urged her to have tea instead of coffee and to check her emails before returning calls, decisions that would have taken an hour.

By the time the clock struck noon, her lips curved into a relaxed smile, the day’s decision-making handled entirely by her hair.

Harry cleared his throat. “Clara, would you like to join me for a quick lunch?”

“Oh, er, hm.” Clara didn’t know. Should she? What would she order? Maybe she shouldn’t. But then he might not ask again. So, she should. But what if she did, and he ended up being a creep, and then he’d ask her every day? She might have to quit her job. Or he could be nice. “Um, I…”

Gah! Just say yes!

“Yes,” she blurted.

Eighteen years later, while Clara unpacked her shopping bags, her daughter, Elizabeth, sauntered into the kitchen, phone in hand. “Mom, there’s a bonfire at the park tonight. Chantelle and I were planning to go, but her mom needs their car. Can I take ours? I’ll be home by nine.”

Clara wanted to say yes, but driving after dark… And what if there was beer? And boys? There would be boys. Was Elizabeth old enough? Should she say no? Eventually, she’d have to trust her daughter’s choices. She could drive the two of them. But that might be humiliating. Was it worth a fight?

She’s a responsible kid. She said she’ll be home by nine.

Clara sighed. “All right, you can go. I trust you to make good choices.”

“Awesome, mom. I have to hurry and hop in the shower.”

“Oh!” Clara perked up and searched through her bags. “I bought you some shampoo.”

Crutch Words – the Word Police

wikimedia commons: keystone cops

The Word Police are back at it, rapping on my door and handing out citations. I plea-bargained my way out of jail by agreeing to publically share some of my past transgressions. The hope is that other wayward writers will take heed and avoid my mistakes. Crutch Words is the first in a series of writing tips from the coppers.

What are Crutch words?

Crutch words are words that add nothing to the meaning of a sentence. They’re hollow words that we automatically insert and frequently don’t notice. We want our writing to be tight and sharp. Too many crutch words will slow down the pace and dull the impact.

An interesting thing about crutch words is that we often have favorites. You may never use some words from the list below and use others more than you want to admit!

As a condition of my parole, I provided examples of these sneaky words. And I remind you that it would be impossible to remove every one. Sometimes you need them (in which case they aren’t crutches at all). Simply be aware of yours and edit when appropriate.

Here’s a list of some common crutch words:

that, then, next, just, actually, really, still, yet, only, so, even, began, started, going to…

Below are some examples of these sneaky words used in sentences. Notice how they nothing to the meaning.

She missed all the targets he’d lined up for her.
She missed all the targets that he’d lined up for her.

He grabbed the towel hanging over the rail.
He grabbed the towel that hung over the rail.

Mary knelt in the garden, yanked on her gloves, and spent the day weeding.
Mary knelt in the garden, yanked on her gloves, and then spent the day weeding.

Burt finished his breakfast. He delivered the packages and stopped at the market.
Burt finished his breakfast. Next, he delivered the packages and stopped at the market.

I’m trying to push the boat from the dock.
I’m just trying to push the boat from the dock.

If he intended to use the knife, he’d need to sharpen it.
If he actually/really/still intended to use the knife, he’d need to sharpen it.

He didn’t know whether he’d attend the wedding.
He didn’t know yet whether he’d attend the wedding.

If she could read the sign, she’d know which way to turn.
If only she could read the sign, she’d know which way to turn.

Teenagers rarely wake up early.
Teenagers so rarely wake up early.

He tried to climb the tree, but couldn’t reach the first limb.
He tried to climb the tree, but couldn’t even reach the first limb.

I chatted with Betty as we walked down the path. The lake sparkled in the distance.
I chatted with Betty as we began/started to walk down the path. The lake sparkled in the distance.

This will be the best day to hunt for shells.
This is going to be the best day to hunt for shells.

Next from the Word Police: Vague Words.

Happy Writing!

February’s Speculative Fiction Prompt

Pixabay image by Marianne Sopala

For visually challenged writers, this is an image of an elephant in a snowstorm next to a little house that’s resting crookedly in a tree. A handful of white mice are on the roof of the house.

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Thank you to everyone who responded to January’s prompt. There are marvelous imaginations out there, and I loved reading and sharing your stories, poems, and artwork. Now, for something a little different! Above is February’s image. If interested, you have until February 21st to submit a response. Happy Writing!

Here’s how it works:

On the first of every month, I’ll post a speculative fiction prompt from Pixabay. These images are attribution free so you can use them on your blog without worrying about copyright restrictions.

Throughout the month, in order of receipt, I’ll reblog as many of your prompt-inspired creations as I can. And on the last day of each month, I’ll share a complete round-up of all contributions with links to the original posts. Visiting the blogs of participants is a great way to meet other speculative fiction writers.

Post your response on your own blog and link back to this post with a pingback, so I can reblog your post as well as include you in the month-end round-up. There are no word limits or style restrictions, but please keep it somewhat family friendly.

If you’re unsure of how to create a pingback, Hugh has an excellent tutorial here. If you prefer, you can copy and paste your link into the comments of this post.

Above all, have fun.

New Year, New Feature: a Speculative Fiction Writing Prompt

I wish you all a wonderfully creative, happy, healthy, and safe new year, full of laughter and love.

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After 5+ years of blogging, I thought I’d try something new… finally. How about a Monthly Speculative Fiction Writing Prompt? Sue Vincent was the inspiration for this idea since I’ve loved participating in her weekly prompts (check out her extremely popular feature here.)

If you’re interested, here’s how it will work:

On the first of every month, I’ll post a speculative fiction prompt from Pixabay. These images are attribution free so you can use them on your blog without worrying about copyright restrictions.

Throughout the month, I’ll reblog your prompt-inspired stories, poems, reflections, writing. And on the last day of each month, I’ll share a complete round-up of all contributions with links to the original posts. Visiting the blogs of participants is a great way to meet other speculative fiction writers.

Below is January’s prompt. On or before January 24th, post your response on your own blog and link back to this post with a pingback, so I can reblog your post as well as include you in the month-end round-up. There are no word limits or style restrictions, but please keep it somewhat family friendly.

If you’re unsure of how to create a pingback, Hugh has an excellent tutorial here. If you prefer, you can copy and paste your link into the comments of this post.

Above all, have fun.

January’s #WritingPrompt

by Stefan Keller

3 Fiction-Writing Terms: Data Dump, Filter Word, Head Hopping

While some of us are pushing through the last week of Nanowrimo, noses to our keyboards, an editing-monster looms in our future, packing on problems like a glutton.

Kathy Wagoner wrote a great post clarifying three different writing terms that carry a lot of unwanted calories. These are often newbie problems, and I’ll confess that they gave my early writing serious indigestion. The good news is that after fixing them thousands of times (literally), I do a better job of avoiding them in the first place.

Are these important? Yes. All three of these can knock a reader out of the book or reduce a reader’s engagement by distancing them from the characters and story. For me, head-hopping will usually result in an unfinished read.

Even after years of vigilance, I still have to put my monster on the editing treadmill to trim away the fat and give my writing more muscle. Kathy did a thorough job of explaining the terms and providing examples. It’s worth clicking over for a look. 🙂

via 3 Fiction Writing Terms: Data Dump, Filter Word, Head Hopping

Gardeners and Architects

I’m working on the outline for my new trilogy, and it’s not going well. Summer is such a distraction, isn’t it?! The muse is not amused. I dug this post out of the 2015 archives to give me some inspiration. I hope you enjoy it.

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When I plunked down to write my first book, Myths of the Mirror, I was on a mission of discovery, led by the muse and sheer inspiration.

I had no plot in mind beyond a mental sketch of a couple things that could happen maybe sort of somehow. It was all incredibly vague, but what did I know? Nothing. I wrote like a woman obsessed, relishing every moment of my creative forage and traipsing along behind my characters down whatever path they chose to wander.

Halfway through my journey, a secondary character whom I was in the midst of killing off stood his ground. With the unwavering support of his companions, he argued that he should not only survive but should become a main character. “Oh, okay,” I said, and skedaddled back to the beginning of the book to start over. That happened a lot.

A year later, once every character had their say and did as they pleased, my masterpiece was almost 190,000 words long. Ta da! Ready to celebrate, I enlisted a few courageous readers.

Uh oh.

For the next two years, I peeled away words, sentences, paragraphs, scenes, and whole chapters! Deleted. Recycled. 65,000+ words forever gone. I felt as though I’d been flayed.

Then an editor wielded a red pen and lopped off another 4,000. After all the anguish and suffering, I had to finally admit it – I had a much better book.

Nature-Multicolor-Flowers-Garden-Summer-Bees-Depth-HD-PhotoGeorge R. R. Martin separates writers into Gardeners and Architects. Gardeners are discovery writers, planting seeds and digging around in the dirt of writing because they can’t wait to see what grows. They thrive on a process that is full of surprises and let their stories develop organically. To them, outlines feel like straitjackets, stifling the natural unfurling of character and action.

images (22)At the other end of the spectrum, Martin’s architects are outliners. Structure is key. Charts, graphs, and spreadsheets abound. Every step is planned in advance: the story’s try/fail cycles are mapped, the hero’s journey arcs through its phases, the turning points and pinches are set in stone. For outliners, the steps of each plot and subplot form the stairwells in a skyscraper. An architect has an eye on the penthouse and knows how to get there.

awesome-tree-houses-to-live-in-plextm4bAfter my trials and tribulations as a gardener, I brushed off my hands and applied a bit of architecture to my stories. I wouldn’t say I engineer skyscrapers – that’s still too much concrete for me. In my mind, my method is more akin to building tree-houses, leaving plenty of space for nature and play.

I plot out the story’s threads and set the characters off on their journey, letting them be who they are. Occasionally we have to negotiate and backtrack, but overall they cooperate. It’s collaborative; they know their goals and I know mine.

My guess is that most authors engage in a little gardening while they construct their cottages, fortresses, and stone towers. Or they have a few fences to keep the growing things safe from rabbits. How do you bring stories to life? Are you a Gardener? An Architect? A builder of tree-houses?