Insight: The Writing Ritual

Nobody performs a task the same way. Some can jump right in and knock it out without any sort of preamble. Others, like myself have a set of things we must do before we can get into the necessary frame of mind.

(Cue Law and Order Intro Theme)

Over the years, I’ve fallen into a peculiar ritual before I start writing. I have to lay out my caffeinated beverage in a particular place, cue up an appropriate playlist on my phone’s music app, light a cigarette, review the previous session’s prose, and then stare off into Space for a few minutes until the words come. It’s not very time efficient nor does it serve any logical purpose, but it exists to force me to get into a productive work mode. I’m not OCD by any means, but habits get picked up over time and those habits tend to be comforting.

It’s often a major pain in the ass, especially on those days when I don’t feel especially motivated to write but need to get things going.  I’m not saying that having a ritual is a bad thing, but when you fall into a certain set of habits, it does mess things up a little when the work conditions aren’t met. However, the beauty of change is being flexible enough to adjust when necessary in order to get the job done.

Ever Forward.

Insight: Crowdfunding

NOTE: This is a repost due to some technical issues.

As most of you know by now, I recently tried crowdfunding in order to raise funds to boost my ability to better promote my writing by improving my housing and transportation situation.

Well, it didn’t go as well as I would have hoped, so I cancelled my campaign after about two weeks. No harm, no foul.

Although nothing came of it, I did find the experience valuable in that it taught me that there is more to fundraising than simply going out over the Internet and asking for money. It takes a large social network, increased time in lobbying for donations, and more than a little patience.

I’m a writer, not a salesman. I prefer to write my stories and put the word out that they are published and ready to be read. I don’t have it in me to pound people over the head with endless entreaties to look at me and my work. It’s not much fun and I don’t think the majority of people out there enjoy seeing that sort of thing.

If crowdfunding works for you, terrific. Me? I’ll just keep doing what I’ve been doing and live in the knowledge that I’m doing what’s right for me.

Academy Days: Episode Two

“I think we should have sex.”

Pratt almost choked on the salmon bite he was chewing. After a coughing spell into his napkin and several sips from his water glass, he managed to regain his composure. Thankfully, the restaurant they were in was in full Romantic Evening Mode with dim lighting, soft music and candles adorning the tables. “Excuse me?” His collar felt a size too small and he loosened his tie.

The edges of Pendrake’s well defined mouth crept upward for the briefest of moments before she adopted a mask of self-assured confidence to the point of being almost predatory. The small black dress she wore did little to dilute the effect. “Let me lay it out for you, Jack. You and I were paired because we were considered compatible personality types. Now, given that we’re going to be in close quarters during training, it stands to reason that sexual tension is going to rear its ugly head at some point.” She casually reached over and stabbed a piece of his fish with her fork. “It would be to our best interests to get that out of the way so we can focus on more important matters.” She pulled her catch from the fork and popped it in her mouth. “I think it makes perfect logical sense.”

“I realize that growing up on a space station meant adopting some alternative moral codes.” Pratt replied, fighting to regain some mental comfort. “But us Darkfallers usually like to observe some old fashioned etiquette beforehand.”

She reached across the table and took his right hand in hers. “You do like me, don’t you? In spite of my lack of subtlety?”

He smiled and gave her hand a squeeze. “Of course, I do, but you could let me take the lead once in a while.”

“If I did that, you’d wait until Graduation Day.” She gently took her hand back. “I hate wasting time.”

Before Pratt could respond, a group of male and female cadets burst across the room and surrounded the table.  Heads turned to watch the spectacle until he raised a hand to quiet them. He wiped his mouth and set the napkin aside. “One at a time, please. What’s going on?”

A short, barrel-chested, cadet with close cropped brown hair and sly piggish eyes elbowed his way to the front of the group. “Jack, the base just issued a General Recall. Something’s happened and all Liberties have been cancelled.”

“And the entire squad felt the need to come out and get us, Jenkins?”

“All the Squad Leaders are supposed to meet in the Company Commander’s Office upon return.” Jenkins said. “Since you’re ours….you know.”

Pratt turned to Pendrake while flagging down a robotic waiter. “I guess we’ll have to table what we were talking about.” Without waiting for her, he slipped his credit chit into the robot’s payment slot. “This had better be another surprise drill.” He took one final bite from his meal before standing. A small hand gesture later and he followed Pendrake and the rest of the squad out the door and into the night.

Academy Days: Episode One

The TF-65 was universally hated by the cadets. One of the old lifter type aircraft, it was old, slow and prone to be grounded due to a complicated four way gear box system that often broke down for one reason or another. The bright blue aircraft skimmed over a field of white snow covered ground that extended below them in all directions, stopping only at the base of a tall group of snow peaked mountains in the distance.

“Ponderous piece of crap.” Cadet Fourth Class John Winslow Pratt grumbled to himself as he fought to keep the aircraft level as he, his fellow student co-pilot seated next to him waged her own battle with the secondary systems, and a flight instructor sat behind them taking notes. “We should be using newer equipment.”

“We don’t always have the luxury of the latest and greatest equipment when we are out in Space, Mr. Pratt.” Flight Instructor Marsh, a dour officer with an order of magnitude of experience on his blue jump-suited chest, admonished him. “You have to learn how to get the most out of what you are given.” He made a few notes on a clipboard as a gust of wind turbulence shook the quadcopter. “Which you are certainly not attaining at this point.” He turned to the co-pilot, an intense young woman with dark hair and darker eyes. “Ms. Pendrake, would you like to take the controls?”

Pendrake raised a hand. “Not just yet, Sir. I’m still working out how to bypass a short circuit I detected in the Number Four Rotor Array that’s throwing engine coordination out of sync. Clearing that up should make for a smoother ride.”

“I could have told you that.” Pratt muttered. “Teacher’s Pet.”

“We don’t get points for could have.” Pendrake shot back angrily. “Shut up and drive while I keep us in the air.”

“Teamwork, please.” Marsh said, his tone belying the potential for a laugh at their expense. “Always remember that your communications may be monitored in flight. Keep it as professional as possible.”

Pratt held the stick tight with his left hand while reaching upwards with his right to turn off the system’s auto-leveling system. “Xia, wait two seconds and then give me a manual reset of all flight surfaces.”

“Jack, we could stall at this altitude and we don’t have enough speed to recover from that.” Pendrake warned. “I don’t like the idea of becoming a pancake this close to Finals.”

“Who wants to live forever?” Pratt gave her a reassuring wink. “Trust me.”

Pratt watched Marsh from the corner of his eye. Marsh had put his clipboard down and was following his movement with great interest. A red light appeared on his console. “That short circuit has now become a system warning. We’re about to lose both Starboard engines. Xia, do it. Now.”

“This goes against everything the manual says to do.” Pendrake’s slender hands danced across her control panel. Outside the forward windows, the drum shaped engine nacelles stopped their movements and for the briefest of moments, the aircraft traveled downward at an angle that made every stomach in the cockpit a few ounces lighter. “System restart in four point two seconds.”

The altimeter displays counted down the distance to crash while the airspeed indicators spooled upward. An automatic altitude warning indicator began to blare.

Pratt looked over at Pendrake. “How about having dinner with me later?”

“You’re asking me now?”

“Why not? It may be my last chance.”

“You pull us out of this.” She said. “And I’ll pick up the check.”

“Very well.” Pratt reached down and turned a small yellow T-Handle clockwise until they heard a click and the nacelles swiveled to vertical, slowing their descent to a halt.

“You bastard.” Pendrake said, her expression mixed. “You knew how to fix this problem all the time.”

“I took a chance.” He replied. “The manual said there was a manual bypass in case a system reset took too long.” He grinned as the automatic systems came back online. “I’ll tell you what, you can pay your own way, if you want.”

“No, no, a bet is a bet.” She said, stifling a smile of her own. “I’ll meet you after class. Do you think you can get us on the ground without killing us?”

“Okay, Cadets, that’s enough for today.” Marsh said, raising his console into operating position and taking control. “Mr. Pratt, I don’t approve of how you work, but you and Ms. Pendrake make an adequate team. You both get an A for this session. Ms. Pendrake, please notify Anchorage Spaceport that we’re on our way back.”

Short Fiction Feature: One Small Step

Phil’s Electronics Shop was more than a place where one could buy a new radio, television, or record player. It also served as a meeting place where people on the street could gather and catch a news broadcast while on the move. Today, a small crowd had formed to watch a series of grainy flickering images on the dozen color and black white television sets that were stacked behind the large store front window.

Jake Patterson stood at the rear of the crowd and watched as a figure in a bulky white space suit climbed out of the bug shaped Lunar Module. His height allowed him a good view of the news video and his attention was riveted by the voice that came from speakers mounted to the floor of the window display.

“That’s one small step for Man. One giant leap for Mankind.” Neil Armstrong’s name was scrolled across the bottom of each screen.

Amazing, he thought as he watched Armstrong drop from the ladder and be the first man to step onto the Moon. I wonder if we’ll go any farther. Go any farther. His hand clenched on the receipt he held in his hand. He was a man now and the Law told him he had to sign up for the Draft. Vietnam needed our help, his dad used to say and if we didn’t lend a hand, the Communists would take over and we would be next. Dad was serving in Saigon with Westmoreland’s staff and if he could do it, Jake felt he could do it too. He loosened the collar of his white shirt and took in a deep breath. He didn’t feel any other but his brown haired crew cut and clean-shaven expression told a different story.

A shiny blue Studebaker pulled up to the curb and he smiled as the driver got out and joined him. Taran Martin was one of the few blacks on the football team and though he ran faster and threw farther than any of the other players, Jake ended up being tapped for the Quarterback position. It wasn’t fair or even very efficient but it was Coach Marley’s decision and what the Coach wanted, the Coach got.

Martin looked out of breath as he shut the car door and joined Patterson. “Did I miss it? Is he on the Moon?”

Patterson pointed. “He just stepped off the ladder and the other guy, Aldrin I think, is getting out now.”

“Would have been nice to see a brother up there.” Martin ignored a few stares from the crowd. He was tall like Jake only he had adopted the brightly colored shirt and bell bottomed jeans that most of their friends had taken on. The new fad was called The Hippy Look but this one was definitely hanging on longer than hulu hoops and granny spectacles. He was already as tall as Jake but the dark afro lended a few more inches to his lanky frame. “Only white dudes get to go into Space these days.”

“I’m sure it was more complicated that that.” Patterson said as he watched Aldrin follow Armstrong thousands of miles away in Space. “Even if it were true, you know that it would have to change one day.”

“For a white boy, you’re awfully optimistic.” Martin looked down at Jake’s hand. “Draft Board?”

Patterson nodded. “Yeah, Mom made me go sign up early this morning. She’s afraid that the cops might show up and arrest me if I didn’t get it done.”

“Any word from your Dad?”

Patterson nodded. “The censors did that blackout thing to parts of it but it sounded like he was doing okay. I’ll be glad when he comes home but I’ll probably see him before then.” He looked down at his brown dress shoes before taking another breath. “I’m going to talk with the Army recruiter later today about volunteering.”

Taran lowered his voice. “Are you crazy, Man? People are dying over there.”

“It’s a war.”

Taran pulled him over to the Studebaker. “Look, White Bread, you’re my friend and all but you can’t be serious about going to Vietnam. You know that’s all about the Establishment trying to make money off the blood of people like you and me. I thought you had more sense than that. You should be going with me to the next protest. People are running to Canada left and right to get away from that and your crazy ass wants to volunteer.”

“Hey, my Dad’s over there.”

“You know what I mean, Jake. I respect your Dad but he’s not us. We have a choice and I’m not letting them use me to die for them. They’re not going to draft you anyway. They only send poor black men over there.”

“Stop right here.” Patterson said. “The Draft is based on a number, not an income or a box on a form. If you had paid attention in Civics Class, you’d have known that. You aren’t even poor, Man, so where do you get off using that line of crap with me? We’ve been neighbors for years and we certainly aren’t poor.” He sniffed the air. “What’s that smell?”

“Nothing.” Martin said. “Someone was burning incense at my house earlier before I borrowed my Mom’s car.”

Patterson didn’t buy the explanation but allowed it to go by. There was no secret that reefer was making its way around town and that sweet, slightly sickly, odor was hard to forget once it first made its way into someone nostrils. He turned back to the windows as a commercial came on. The crowd began to break up as the great moment came to a less than great end.

“Does Stacey know?”

“She’s my steady.” Patterson said. “Of course she knows. She didn’t like hearing it though. She’s got this idea that we’re going to get married after Graduation and move to Philly or New York.”

“I think it’s a bad idea.” Martin said. “You’re a smart guy. You could go pro football or college or even carry on with that writing stuff you like doing. Why throw your life away for some old dudes who couldn’t care less about you? You’re being flimflammed, Sir.”

“You go from Doctor King to Malcom X at the drop of a hat, don’t you?” Patterson said. “Do you have any concept of duty or serving the greater good?”

“Dying for some stranger who wants to keep me down isn’t serving the greater good. As long as my people are being kept down by the Man, all bets are off.”

“Aren’t we all the same people?”

Taran stopped talking but his brown eyes narrowed. “You just don’t get it.” He opened the car door. “Look, me and some people I know are leaving tonight. You’re welcome to join us.”

“Where are you going?”

“Where else? Canada. We can leave the madness and make a new life up there.”

“What about Graduating?”

“They got schools up there. You can do what you want but I’m not supporting The Myth.”

“What myth?” Patterson shook his head. “Never mind. Aren’t you worried what people are going to think of you? Of your family?”

Martin shook his head. “It takes more effort to raise an opinion than to lower it. My family understands what I want to do. They support me. You’re my friend; what about you?”

Patterson looked at him and held back the sadness from his voice. “I’m sorry but I can’t. I have to do what I must. All I can say is good luck and no matter what, we’ll always be friends.”

“Okay then.” Martin got back in the Studebaker. “Catch you later, Man.”

Patterson watched him drive off and began walking toward home, feeling much older than the calendar would say.