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Five is a Sexy Number

I have a confession to make.  I love Task #5! (   I mean if Task #5 and I were both single, I’d be tempted to marry him/her/it.  Oh sure, I felt an inkling of attraction to Task #2 (a.k.a. brainstorming), but now I’m totally committed to #2’s dreamy older sibling (a.k.a. finding plot points).  It’s THE task for the plot/planning averse person that I am.  I loved it so much that I even started writing again.  Not much, just a little scene dealing with the wider world out there beyond Mud City.  The world my characters need to explore in act three of this mess.

Featured image shamelessly stolen from a post on Pinterest.  For a blast from the past see the video at  This breaks my rule of wanting to use only free stock photos for this blog.  In my defense, try finding free art dealing with the number five.



In this exercise, I learned about the concept of a hook and realized that I didn’t have much of one. My novel opens with a sci fi thief looking for a job. Eh. So what? Would it be more interesting if the hook was Persephone’s commercial?   Assuming the story is going to be around 50,000 words, I need to slip this so-called hook into the first 500 words.  Start with the commercial presented as if it was an action sequence. You can replay the entire 30 second advert and then have the call come in from Arch. The advert can show off Persephone’s skill set and her promise of “no violence”. It’ll make her reference to her commercial later on in the story more fun. And you can have her thinking dismal thoughts about how she just spent her next three rent checks on producing the ad.  Finally, it’ll give you a chance to show the audience what the character looks like.

Inciting event – This happens at the 12% point (so 6000 words in). Arch introduces the job and his interest in using the tech to get off planet at around the 2100 mark. Even if I am re-tooling the beginning to include a scene with the commercial this only pushes the inciting event to about 3,000 words in.  Maybe I should jazz up the scene where Persephone goes to the old space port? I’m not sure I want to squeeze in 3,000 words of action sequence just to delay the job offer.  Might be better to leave it where it is.  How standard does this whole plot business need to be?
First plot point – At the 25% point (12500). The bombing of the Albion compound (or the loss of Japeth’s home?).   Depending on how to you decide to present this.   I think you may want to keep the scene at Japeth’s house since that’s a better way to show off the fact that monsters are lose in the colony.   And actually, this point is placed reasonably well. 11,500 mark and since you’re adding to the beginning, it will be at the 12,000 mark.


The First Pinch Point – Agent Hixton’s warning of doom? This is occurring around the 16,000 word mark. A little early? The estimated placement is at 37% (18,500).

Second plot point (Midpoint) – In the current version of the story, this is when the agents chase the characters, they turn the tables and get the H-craft. I think you need to make this into the first plot point. I want the chase scene to come earlier. Make the second plot point the explosion at the Albion compound. Ooof. Painful restructuring, but it makes a lot more sense. You wanted to move the flying scene to the first act anyway. This is a story about hover craft and you should have your characters flying around in them as soon as possible.

The Second Pinch Point (planned but not written) – Japeth’s family is threatened, one of them used as ‘fuel’ (and the rest of them kidnapped to be used as hostages/fuel later on). 62% in. This would be happening at around the 30,000 mark in the current story. Turns out I’m spot on with the placement of some action points.   I just have the damn things in the wrong order…..

THIRD ACT (Entirely Hypothetical)

While Arch and Persephone are planning their expedition to the eXime base, you need to establish the fact that more people are disappearing (when eels attack).

The Third Plot Point – As Persephone approaches the end of the story, she reaches a moment of apparent defeat. She and the rescue team have encountered the hazards of the colony world (weather and attacking fauna) and have become lost! Now how the hell do they get out of it and find the eXime base?

Climax – The battle at the eXime compound. Discovery of Myra’s crazy launch plans for getting off world. The realization that there’s an orbiting station (which in Myra’s religious parlance is probably called something like Purgatory).

Resolution – The government strike force is called in to clean up the base. Realization that the creatures eXime designed and released into the environment are going to be a continuing threat to the colony. A plan is initiated to see if the “technology” can be safely harnessed to get people off world.


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My Story is Full of Plot Holes

I’m still working on my NaNo pre-planning tasks (  Task #2 was described as “Identifying Potential Plot Holes”.  To do this, I was instructed to first write down everything I know about my story.  When I read that bullet point, I nearly blanked out.  Everything?  Really?  If I write down everything I know about the story, isn’t that well…writing the story?  Or maybe it just meant making lists?  A list of characters, a list of locations, a list of themes?  Do I have themes?  Aaaaaaagh!    Maybe I can skip over bullet point one and move onto the rest of the points?  Yes!  Bullet point two sounds totally doable.  Highlighting and asking questions?  Bring it on!  I decided to do a Q and A on my existing scenes. Now that I’ve gone through this process, I should be able to apply this kind of technique to additional unwritten scenes.  So maybe that’s what bullet point one meant?  Writing down a list of possible scenes?  Neglecting doing this kind of listing and brainstorming might be why I run into problems with plot.


Eels Q and A

Scene 1: Rendezvous at the space port. Laying the foundations for the job.

Questions: Why does the Albion company want to steal this technology? Albion doesn’t. Arch is working alone, but claims to be acting for his company. Allright, why does Arch want this technology? To eventually use it to get off world. Why? To impress/outdo his dad. Arch’s motivation boils down to a not so great relationship with his father. So this just a giant cry for attention? No. The colony world is pretty miserable/limiting. Many people would like to get off so achieving this goal would be a big coup for anyone. Why does Persephone take this job? Because money (also excitement). I think that comes through in the first scene. She’s bored. What would happen if she refuses to take the job? Arch would go in on his own. Could need rescuing. This would trash the first five or six scenes, but might make a more interesting story. Perephone rescues Arch? Could make Persephone more appealing.

Scene 2: Visit to the H-craft track. Persephone gets an initial impression of the tech.

What happens if there’s a wreck at the track? Perhaps one of the eXime craft? Breaking and spilling the engine compartment would quickly reveal the creatures inside and that’s something I’ve been trying to keep mysterious. Although honestly, with the title of this story, there’s no way to be cagey about it . The mystery is how and why they work and what can be done with the tech.  And while I’m at it, how exactly do the eels work? They run on meat, blood, tissue containing iron-rich heme compounds. Hence the disappearing rats. Also, native life forms aren’t a good meal since they don’t contain enough iron. I set up a metal-poor world with a different biology for a reason.  So if the things get out during a crash, do they maul someone? I didn’t think of the eels as being particularly effective predators. They rely on people to dump in their next meal.  eXime engineered their engine components from a small local worm that uses levitation as part of its breeding cycle.  What happens if Arch is driving (instead of injured which is the way I wrote it originally)? Could Persephone end up in the race? It doesn’t make much sense from a practical perspective to have ‘passengers’ in a race vehicle, but it would be fun to experience this from a cockpit view instead of from the stands. What if the police do more than just toss Persephone out of the arena? They rough her up or arrest her? Arch comes to the rescue? Or bails her out? What happens if Blondie isn’t just a nobody race car driver? Or maybe it’s not Bondie who’s doing the driving. Maybe it’s the orange-haired woman from scene 3? Perhaps she’s gay so Persephone’s little fan-girl act could still work. The rendezvous at the bar could be jazzed up a bit as well. Maybe turned into a chase scene where the orange-haired woman notices Persephone in the bar and tracks her. Or maybe the orange-haired woman (for the love of God, give her a name!   oh…I gave her a name. Myra Holloway). Myra is much more interesting than Blondie (who was after all, just a throw away character that Persephone was using to get at the janitor).

Scene 3: The break in caper.

And what about Mr. Adams (the janitor). What happens if he realizes that Persephone is researching him?   Or perhaps he realizes someone broke into his apartment? He’s likely the one that called in the agents that show up at Persephone’s place in scene 5. Do we really need to invoke some random maintenance guy at all? It might be easier for Persephone to get in if she can get a higher level access pass. This gets us back to Myra again. She’s a wily and worthy opponent (who just happens to feed people to the eels if she catches them). During the caper itself, what if Persephone decides to go after the craft (instead of or in addition to the plans). Maybe she is unable to get the engineering schematics and has to escape in a stolen craft? How does she hide the craft? Can the Albion people reverse engineer the “eels”?   What happens if Arch goes in with her? or after her? Again, a much more interesting scene with potential for thrilling heroics on someone’s part.

Scene 4: Interlude out in the Floats

What happens if Arch takes the injured Persephone back to the Albion compound instead of to Japeth’s place out in the floats? We have a chance to meet daddy, Quentin and the rest of the Albion family. Also, Persphone and Arch will be in the compound when the retaliatory strike comes in. A potentially much more interesting event than watching the building burn from a distance. Might be the instigating event that really gets Persephone on board.  Where and how does Japeth fit into this story? She serves as a foil for Persephone (as well as a ‘rival’ for Arch’s affections). She also could be an eXime agent? Or turn on her friends at some point in the story (likely because Persephone finally pisses her off to the point of no return). In short, I think we still need Japeth (just like we need Arch’s family) to reveal aspects of our main characters. And while I’m pondering characters, is this Persephone’s story or Arch’s? Should I switch to Arch’s viewpoint? No. Persephone is a useful viewpoint character because she is outside of the corporate rivalries that make up colony politics. Arch is more of an insider and thus not as useful. What if eXime staff (maybe Myra) show up instead of just the mindless tube-fish? And what if the tube-fish aren’t really mindless? Or maybe they’re a bigger version of the levitating creatures used to power the H-craft? Hmmm….flying predators with gyrating mouth parts. Now we’re talking. I think I need to re-write the attack scenes. What if Persephone brings the stolen H-craft here? And she and Japeth end up in a chase scene. Neither character really knows how to drive (but maybe Persephone got a primer from Arch back at the track).

Scene 5: Interlude in Persephone’s Apartment.

Why did Arch break into Persephone’s apartment instead of just getting in touch by more normal means? I guess he could be worried about electronic surveillance, but it seems odd to me. His family was just attacked, his brother died and Arch is testing his con-man skills? I do want to set up a feeling of competition between Arch and Persephone, but this probably isn’t the place for it. Yeah. Really have to rethink this scene. What if it’s not Arch in her apartment? Maybe Agent Hixton? However, I was already questioning the roll of the government in this. Hixton could appear to give Persephone a friendly little “hand over the stolen data (or stolen car) or a lot of people are going to die” talk. The government should be trying to shut down eXime operations by now because their bio-engineered critters are a public safety threat. And eXime and Albion are actively shooting at each other. Persephone doesn’t initially believe agent Hixton, but witnesses something Myra does that convinces her of the danger of the tech? Or maybe just enough people die in the trade war? I think the plot arc needs to be something like this. Protagonist warned of danger, rejects warning due to ambition. Through research and experience realizes warning was accurate. Finds way to harness technology safely. Gets off planet. Runs head long into the bigger mystery of the missing trade empire.

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My Drawing Board is Full of Eels

It’s obvious by now that I’m not much of a blogger. I fell out of rhythm and didn’t feel like posting anything, so I didn’t. It was a question of intent. I was unsure and am still unsure what I want this site to be. I like writing and I want to talk about it, but I’m not convinced I have much to add to the noise. After all, there are plenty of blogs of writing advice out there and many of them are excellent. Also, putting up raw, unedited writing snippets was starting to feel like walking around in my underwear with all my bits hanging out. First drafts are ugly little things and the pundits suggest you keep them locked in a closet until they are suitably domesticated. For the most part, I think that wise, but keeping raw text invisible doesn’t help beginning writers (a.k.a. me) follow a refinement process. So, I’m back. National Novel Writing Month is approaching and I plan to use it to finish “Eels”. I don’t expect I’ll be churning out 50,000 words this year, but I do hope to have a complete story by December. One thing I have learned in three years of NaNo is that I can’t fly by the seat of my pants. Oh, I can churn out some good bits, interesting characters, fun dialogue, general weirdness, but I’m consistently unhappy with my plots. So, this year, I’m doing something unusual. I’m pre-planning. A writer and friend of mine ( was kind enough to point me to one of those aforementioned excellent blogs (   I’ll try it. Hell, at this point, I’ll try anything.  So instead of raw text, I give you exercise #1: Write Your Premise Sentence.

Featured image assembled from free clip art (


Concept: A colony world is left stranded when the galactic trade empire collapses for unknown reasons.

Who is the protagonist? Persephone Rae, science fiction “thief” for hire.

What is her starting situation? Jobless in mud-city, mud-world.

Objective? Her superficial objective is to survive and maintain her perceived “status”. Her subconscious objective is to find something more meaningful to do.

Opponent? The government and eXime.

What disaster ends her normal world? The failure of her break-in attempt (perhaps). This is a weak area. I have 30,000 words written and the character doesn’t feel committed to any cause larger than herself.

What is the conflict? On a superficial level the conflict is a race between the eXime faction and our heroes to gain control of the antigravity tech. Will it be used for good or ill?

Premise:  Persephone Rae, detective and sometimes thief for hire (situation), wants nothing more than to pay her bills (objective) and eke out a comfortable existence in the only city left on a crumbling colony world. But when a job goes badly (disaster), Persephone is drawn into a city-wide conflict (conflict) between corporate factions and the government over control of a novel antigravity technology, a technology that might either save or destroy the colony. Persephone must race against the clock and the forces of the mysterious eXime corporation to save the colony.


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My Hovercraft is Full of Eels: Part Eighteen

That temporary fling I was planning on having with a short story turned into a month long writing mess.  The thing sprawled out to over 10,000 words before I beat it back to a somewhat manageable 7,900.  But I’m done working on ‘Tick’ (a.k.a Horton-Hears-A-Who-In-Space) and am itching to get back into some juicy eel action.   But before you run off to your favorite Sushi restaurant and/or weird porn shop, let me get you caught up on my brand of eels.  Our protagonist Persephone Roe has been hired by the rakish Archimedes Albion to steal the schematics for a new type of hovercraft.  She achieves this, but can’t make sense of the plans before the government of Mud City Mud World shows up to confiscate the stolen goods and issue a stern warning!  Some serious scolding here and some dire hints that the technology might be dangerous to Mud World itself.  Meanwhile, a trade war erupts over the theft pitting the Albion company against the mysterious eXime firm.  Buildings blow up.  More scolding ensues.  eXime attempts to kill Arch by sending agents to wreck his hovercraft.  He and Persephone turn the tables and manage to steal one of the eXime craft, but it has hardly enough fuel to get back to the city!  The driver reveals that the creatures that serve as the engine for the craft require rats.  All caught up and ready for the next installment?  I now proudly present, THE GREAT RAT HUNT.  But first, some crashing and relationship stuff.  I wish my characters would stop trying to date each other.  😛

Featured Image:  This image originally posted on Flikr was obtained through WikiPedia on 5/29/2015.  It is sharable with attribution to Suzuran Japan Foods Trading Pty Ltd, Camberwell, VIC under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.  Suzuran has no affiliation with and does not endorse the contents of this blog.


The driver hesitated. “You won’t believe me,” the driver said, “but it’s rats. The boffins feed them rats.” She reached for the yoke. Persephone tensed, but Arch just looked stunned for a moment and then tossed back his head and laughed, big gulping hysterical laughs. “That’s so ridiculous, I almost believe you. “

“Why would I lie? I want to live.   That’s what I I know.”

Arch continued laughing, but released the controls and stood up. “So much for Q and A industries. Get ready for Lab Rats Incorporated.” He continued laughing.

The woman ignored him. She scrambled back into the driver’s seat and toggled the altitude lever. They dropped out of the clouds and plummeted all the way to a cruising height of 4 meters. Then she fired the thrusters and sent them rocketing back towards the city. If she’d been lying about the fuel reserves she did a pretty convincing job of faking desperation. They were swooping in over the Floats in under five and a half minutes. The racing stadium was in view.

“No,” Arch said. “Not there.”

“Racing craft aren’t legal in the city flyways. We need to go back to the pits.”

“Where your friends will club us over the head. No. Take us into the slums.”

“That’s the same thing as handing this thing over to the police. You know they have visuals and radar on us now.”

“You shot at us. You wrecked Arch’s boat. Agent Hixton will lock you up,” Persephone said. She’d never had faith in the law before, but her pain seemed to have a clarifying effect.

The driver smirked at Persephone, but her smile was short lived. In one fluid motion, Arch flicked open the door, grabbed the driver’s collar and tossed her out. Before the splash had even reached them, Arch was in the seat and steering them into the Floats.

“But… She…” Persephone spluttered.

“She looked like a better swimmer than Boyce,” Arch said. He reached out and yanked the door shut.  “And anyway,” he gestured at the skyline. “They’re already coming out to get her.”

Persephone had a brief glimpse of a police tow boat pulling away from the East Bay docks before they were surrounded by floating hovels.

“You’re driving awfully fast,” Persephone said.

Arch grunted. He avoided a strip of shacks by driving through someone’s laundry.

“They think this stuff is gonna dry out here?” He muttered.

“And we’re awfully low,” Persephone said.

Arch pulled up on the stick, but the craft barely responded. They skimmed over a wide support raft, missed the apartment, but flattened the attached out house.

“Come on baby. Just a little further,” Arch murmured.

“Where are we going?” Persephone asked.

“There!” Arch pointed. It was another floating line of shacks. There were people outside, pointing, yelling and then ducking for cover as the H-craft bushed over their deck and fell into the adjacent canal.

The eXime machine was clearly better than the Abion one in all respects, including crashing. Persephone didn’t even black out this time. Arch popped open the door and waved.


The dark-haired woman stood up on the deck and crossed her arms.

“You have rope?”

The woman shrugged. The craft settled a little deeper. Apparently it was superior to the Albion craft except in the area of sinking. It was going down faster.

“Persephone’s hurt. A little help?” Arch said hopefully

Japeth turned very slowly, picked up a hitching rope and tossed a loop in their direction.


“Seriously. You had to come here?” Japeth and about twelve of her cousins had gotten the H-craft tied up and draped a tarp over it.

“We were low enough coming in that the police shouldn’t be able to track us. And they had to stop to pick up the driver.” Arch smiled proudly and then winced. “Do they know what they’re doing?”

One of Japeth’s elderly Aunts snapped Persephone’s arm back into place, drawing a yelp from the woman. Then a teenage cousin closed in to wrap Persephone’s arm with electrical tape.

“They have a basic medical training.” Japeth watched her family offer up pain pills, water, and a flask of booze. Persephone waved off the latter and moved unsteadily towards the H-craft.

“That can wait,” Japeth called.

Persephone twitched off the tarp, popped the hood and studied the interior for thirty seconds before tottering back towards Arch.

“No surprises. Two tanks. Muddy water. Full of eels. Seemed awfully sluggish. Hope you didn’t kill them.” Then turning towards, Japeth. “You have any rats?”

Japeth raised an eyebrow. “You need to lie down, honey?”

“No. She’s right. It’s a fuel source. Call it Vitamin R for antigravity critters. If we can find a few, we’ll be out of your way.” Arch said.

Japeth walked over, closed the hood and twitched the tarp back into place. “When it gets dark, just call for a tow.”

“The engine might literally be dead by then.” Persephone said. “I mean how often do these things need to eat?   And why two tanks? And why the hell did you need to dump the driver?”

“She didn’t know anything,” Arch said.

“But Boyce might have! It’s really why I have a ‘no kill’ policy. Loss of resources,” Persephone grumbled.

“And here I thought it was just your strong ethical upbringing,” Japeth snapped. “Listen. I’ve already lost a house and been arrested. I’d like to make sure nothing happens to my family. Best way to do that is for both of you to leave.”

“Sweetheart,” Arch murmured. “I mean we were good together, right?” He reached out and squeezed her shoulder. “Don’t you want to introduce me to your family?” His smile practically lit up the houseboat.

Japeth’s expression remained neutral until one of the younger cousins started to giggle. Then Japeth’s face collapsed into a slightly pained smile.   “Fine. Fine. The one laughing like an idiot is Trisha. But if you want to go looking for rats, you should get to know Clive and Cora. Trisha couldn’t catch a rat even if one walked up and bit her on the ass.”

“Did you mean to say ‘grabbed my ass’?” Trisha sassed back.

Japeth sighed. “Ignore her. We all do. And come inside before they start running some drones over the Shanties.”

“You really shouldn’t play Japeth like that.” Persephone whispered.

She and Arch were in a boat with the twins, Cora and Clive, the family pickers. They trolled the canals with nets and gaffer poles and brought back whatever they could find. Rats weren’t their usual quarry, but the twins sometimes followed the critters to find edible salvage. Persephone remembered the chicken she’d shared with Japeth a while ago and tried not to gag.

“She has a soft heart,” Persephone continued.

“Like I’m sure that eXime driver had a soft heart.”

“Who? That woman you tossed out?”

“Oh-my-god! Oh-my-god! I’m your biggest fan,” Arch mimicked a high and breathy squeal.

“I don’t sound like that,” Persephone said. “And anyhow, Blondie was different. I had a job to do. For you. And need I mention that its one you haven’t paid for yet?” Persephone didn’t consider stock options in a non-existent company to be payment.

“Has it occurred to you that I like Japeth? And was genuinely honored to meet her family?” Arch said.

Persephone didn’t have to think too long about her answer. “No. You’re not the type.”

“What type is that?”

“The type to settle for a working-class woman from the Floats.”

Arch whistled softly. “Did I hire you to do quality control on my love life?”

“You? This is about you? What about Japeth?”

“Yeah. You’re right. She could use a better friend.” Arch turned away.

Persephone opened her mouth, but her reply was cut off by the swish of a net landing at her feet. “That’s yours,” Clara said. “You,” she jerked her chin at Arch, “Man a pole.”

Arch slid towards the prow, settled next to Clive, and picked up a boat pole with a loop at the end

“Why does he get the pole?” Persephone couldn’t say why, but that suddenly seemed like the better job.

“Cause he has two working hands,” Clara said. “You wanna chase rats with a broken arm, you get a net. Wait until they’re close.”

“Right. Don’t fire until you see the white of their eyes,” Persephone muttered and scooped up the net with her left hand. “You ever done this?”

“We’re improvising,” Clive grinned back at her.

“Shh.” Clara said. “We’re getting close to one of the dead drops.”

Garbage from all city zones got dumped wherever was convenient.   Some of it dispersed some of it swirled up and collected in the so called dead drops. Areas where circular slow moving currents would pile it up into loose islands. In the Floats, the stability of the dead drops made them popular shopping areas. This dead drop consisted of junk-filled lagoon surrounded by a floating circle of pubs. Clara’s “Shh” seemed ridiculous. Persephone could no longer hear the dip of Clive’s paddle over the music and drunken babble. At least visibility was good. The afternoon’s rain had turned into evening mist.   Perfect weather for a barrel fire outside one of the bars. Perfect evening to yell and throw beer at passing boats.

“Lovely,” Persephone muttered and ducked a can.

“Free samples. Increases business,” Clive said. He waved and paddled them into one of twenty liquid alleyway. The noise and light dropped abruptly. Persephone cold hear the silt lapping against the walls. Then a strange noise, almost a slurp as they popped out of the alley into the central lagoon. The boat twitched slightly, felt like something had knocked against the hull.

“Was that normal?”

Clara shrugged. “All sorts of things down there. Mostly plastic.”

“Now what?”

“Now, we wait. You see something move, throw your net at it. Rats are the only things that’ll be paddling around on the surface.”

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I Got Nothing

Or at least, nothing related to eels. This doesn’t mean that I haven’t been busy. I’ve been working my way through my library’s e-book collection, discovering Joe Abercrombie, John Scalzi, and in general, enjoying the hell out of having a Kindle. The thing is truly magical. You hit a button and >poof< a book appears in your house. Personally, I’d like to replace the button with some kind of cool conjuring phrase: something traditional like “Alakazam!”, esoteric like “Spoon!” or pure pop culture like “I choose you, Pikachu!”. All right, that last one’s not so cool, but you get the idea and even if you don’t, all this talk about reading and magic words is just meant to distract from the fact that I haven’t been working on the novel. Instead, I’m having a little side affair with an absolutely awesome short story. His name is “Tick”, but he has nothing to do with big blue justice. He’s all about bugs. You buy them from the alien jewelry store at the space mall. You wear them, they look pretty, but every so often they find a host they can influence and it turns out they ain’t too happy about being enslaved. I’d like to show off some snippets of “Tick”, but it feels wrong to expose him in the blog. The job of this site is to guilt me into finishing projects, particularly longer ones. It’s working. I feel horrible. Honestly I do. I promise to get over this affair and get back to Persephone, Arch and all their anti-gravity nonsense. Until I do, just keep saying “Abrakadabra!” over and over again. Hopefully I'll finish a draft of the novel before you get burned for being a witch.


My Hovercraft is Full of Eels: Part Seventeen

Remember that rat from part seven?  The one that appeared in one sentence?  It’s about to get really important.  And no, I still haven’t sat down and made an outline yet.  Why do you ask?


The eXime cabin was round and had two proper seats facing a curved control board. That was all that Persephone had the time to register. She was too busy clutching her arm and swearing.

“Why didn’t you say you were injured?” Arch asked

“Because you were unconscious until a minute ago,” she snapped. Her arm was going to need to be set, preferably soon.

“Take us back to the city.” Arch motioned with the gun. The driver did nothing.

“Do you need me to speak louder?” Arch’s finger compressed the trigger and a slug pinged off the console.

Persephone jumped up. “Give me the damn gun!”

“I got it covered,” Arch replied.

“Yeah. Because shooting the controls and filling the cabin with shrapnel is a brilliant idea.”

The driver’s face was white as her helmet but there was a bright line of blood on one cheek. It was superficial but probably hurt like a bitch.

Persephone held out her left hand. Arch ignored it and focused on the driver. “Take us back.”

Persephone grabbed Arch’s wrist. He was surprised and that was all the advantage she needed to twist the gun out of his hand. She tossed it out of the still open door.

Arch looked like a toddler about to throw a tantrum.

“Did you watch my ads at all? Seriously?” She said calmly. Then she turned back to the driver. “Now that we’re all a lot safer, do you think you can be reasonable and take us back now?”

“What about Boyce?” the woman asked.

“You might have noticed that I don’t much like guns. So why would I go out of my way to pick up someone who carries?”

“He was just doing his job.”

“I’m guessing the job was to bring the data back. It probably wasn’t specified how. In my mind that makes the gun Boyce’s idea. Poor improvisation if you ask me. Who’s your boss? I’d like to file a complaint.”

The driver rolled her eyes, and pointed at the eXime logo on her helmet. “You think maybe we were hired by the people you robbed? You can send the complaint to Padilla.”

“You report directly to the CEO? Unlikely. The upper echelons like to keep a distance between themselves and gun-toting creeps like Boyce. Hell, they even like to keep their distance from honest thieves like myself. I know one who tends to send his son to handle anything quasi-legal.” Persephone glanced sideways at Arch.

“My father didn’t ask me to hire you,” Arch growled. With his dark complexion, his face resembled a cooling lava flow. “It was my idea.”

Persephone smiled. “See. We don’t need guns to be honest with each other. Now, it’s your turn.” She turned back to the driver, but Arch wasn’t finished.

“Albion’s efforts were too small minded to get us out of this mud pit. Water filtration, incremental advances in battery technology, ethanol generators. Technology that’s five hundred years out of date. Quentin and I were working on something new. My father nixed it. That didn’t leave me many options. But I have some new plans now. And a prototype. ” Arch waved triumphantly at the cabin.   “Tell me how it works!” He shouted.

“I, I don’t know.” The driver stammered then mouthed “Is he always like this?” in Persephone’s direction.

“He does have mood swings.”

As if on cue, the lava flow congealed into a cold mask. “She’s been driving us in circles. I’m going to take over. I need to get this thing back to the complex.” He took a step towards the driver, grabbed her shoulder and tipped her out of her seat.

The woman was more surprised than hurt. “I was just trying to scan for Boyce. You can’t leave him out here! And you don’t know the controls.”

“I sure hope Boyce can swim, but I sure know I can drive,” Arch replied and raised a lever on the console. The craft jumped straight up into the sky. When the Albion craft changed directions, it tied your stomach into knots. When this one did something impossible, you barely felt it (unless you were outside hanging on by an arm).  Persephone pulled the door shut.

The driver scrambled to her feet. “You’re going to kill us! Bring it down.”

Arch flicked another switch on the console and the thrusters fired. They were still ascending, but accelerating up at a diagonal now. “Strange. It was perfectly safe when you did it.”

“Lift takes a lot of fuel. We’ve been out here for a while. Bring it down. I can get us back to the city.”

“First tell me what gives it lift. What fuels it?”

“Didn’t you steal the plans for this thing?” Despite the supremely smooth ride the driver was looking a bit green. Her gaze was fixed on a point midway up the console. There was a dial there with two pointers. Both were just two ticks shy of a red line marked ‘zero’. Make that one tick shy.

“Fuel gauge, Arch. There.” Persphone dropped into the passenger seat and tapped the dial.

Arch shrugged. “She’s probably lying about the range.” He turned the wheel. The craft arced smoothly and continued to rise. “Seems pretty user friendly.”

In fact there were a lot fewer controls and gauges than the Albion craft. For instance there was nothing that looked remotely like the thing that Arch had called a leveler. There was however, an all too familiar looking red light flicking on the console. If it was a proximity warning, it must have been the clouds that had set it off. They’d just plunged into the lower edge of the layer that had been dumping rain on them all morning. The domed top of the cockpit was semitransparent and provided a 360 view, but there wasn’t much to see.   Just a dark grey haze that left beads of moisture on the view screen. Persephone had gone to school, knew the basics of water cycles, but still found it surprising that there was no actual rain inside of a rain cloud. But then she’d never been inside one before. “Umm. Driver woman. Whatever your name is. What’s that light?”

“Fuel warning. Six minutes left.” The woman didn’t bother providing a name.

“You trust her?” Arch asked. “I don’t.”

“Does it matter?” Persephone replied. “If she’s right, and we don’t believe her, we crash and sink for the second time today. If she’s lying and we do believe her, we rush this incredibly valuable prototype back to the city which is where we should be heading anyway. Seriously, my shoulder hurts and I’d like a chance to look under the hood before I pass out. That is assuming we can get back to the city in six minutes.” Persephone looked to the driver for confirmation. The woman’s face was still a greenish white and the bloody scratch from the bullet had dried to a brown crust. She hesitated then nodded.

“It’s fast enough. If he’ll let me drive.”

Arch gripped the yoke even harder. That didn’t bode well for their chances of getting back.

“Trust me,” Persephone said, “You’ve been waiting this long. You can wait a bit longer to see what’s up there.” Before watching the Old Sol video footage she wouldn’t have understood, but watching those ships lower an entire city out of the sky had given her a hint of what Arch must be feeling.  “And anyway, I doubt this thing is ready for low pressure.”

Arch eased his white knuckled grip on the yoke, but didn’t release it entirely. He took a deep breath and glanced sideways at the driver. “Tell me what fuels it. Then you can drive.”

The driver hesitated. “Rats, mostly. The boffins feed them rats.” She reached for the yoke. Persephone tensed, but Arch just looked stunned for a moment and then tossed back his head and laughed, big gulping hysterical laughs. “That’s so ridiculous, I almost believe you.“

“Why would I lie? I want to live.  That’s what I I know.”

Arch continued laughing, but released the controls and stood up. “So much for Q and A industries. Get ready for Lab Rats Incorporated.”

The woman ignored him. She scrambled back into the driver’s seat and toggled the altitude lever. The dropped out of the clouds and plummeted all the way to a cruising height of 4 meters. Then she fired the thrusters and sent them rocketing back towards the city. If she’d been lying about the fuel reserves she did a pretty convincing job of faking desperation. They were swooping in over the floats in under five and a half minutes.

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Free Range

I’m going to interrupt my usual stream of unedited text with something completely different: A FINISHED PIECE!  My short story, “Free Range” is appearing in the April 12th release of Perihelion.  The original version was finished about a year ago.  It was rejected from a few high profile sci fi venues with the usual form letters.  In desperation, I turned to books about technique.  For me, the one that resonated the most was King’s excellent book “On Writing”.  After reading that book, I cut back on my alcohol consumption and stopped taking hikes on high speed roads.  That had very little effect on my publishing success.  What did work was King’s advice on trimming.  The master said, “cut ten percent” so I cut ten percent and tried again.  Success!  Or almost success.  A rewrite request!  Turns out I needed to trim another 2100 words.  I relinquished the words and the svelte little thing is now frolicking in its new found home:

From this experience, I conclude two things 1)  I have verbal diarrhea 2)  When the master says to cut ten percent, it means cut thirty.

This is going to be tricky to manage because I LIKE WORDS!  But I’m not very good with them yet so I will just leave you all with another link.