Tag Archives: Writing

Virtual Voices

Virtual Voices

“Don’t you worry, miss Basil, this is just a plug. It’s perfectly ordinary. Just like the ones for electricity. This one is for oxygen, as it says on the label. And the one next to it, that’s for air. Nothing to worry about, miss Basil. And some patients need it, too.“

Here they go again. Would this be round eight? Or twelve? The solidly built nurse with the jolly good temper not hiding her burn out has to explain the function of the plug. Whenever she enters the room. For whichever purpose. Miss Basil, the patient in the bed next to the window, is convinced to hear a voice. She identified the oxygen plug as the source. Demands to have it sealed. Miss Chole watches from the opposite bed. She tried and failed to keep count of the exchanges. Her side the room lacks the customary TV. She gets to watch miss Basil instead.

And what a well of entertaining anomalies the lady is. Used to be on antipsychotics. When she arrived on the ward, a young lady doctor tried to talk her into resuming the medication. A non-starter. According to miss Basil, these terrible drugs cause constipation. Makes them contraindicated in her case. She had to be admitted in emergency mode because of an inert bowel. She’s certainly not going to swallow anything bound to further worsen her condition. The valiant doctor tried to point out that making do without the antipsychotic didn’t exactly improve her gastrointestinal status, meaning resumption of administration might be harmless. Nice try.

Miss Basil didn’t even deign reply. Her fierce look signalled clearly enough what would happen if anyone tried to force her ever to take that stuff again. And who would want to send a thin little lady crying? Especially one with a hump. She’s enough of a mess already.

The long dark brown hair of a girl frames a greyish-white face so stuck in perpetual resentment you assume she’s going to start sobbing any second. Small wonder, with her biography.

Over meals, miss Basil insists on divulging tons of personal details. After an unspecified career as a studied musician she has been on disability benefits for twenty years. Left the work force because of bulimia aggravated by an addiction to tranquillisers. An expensive combination. To make ends meet, she had to develop kleptomania on top. She readily describes how she used to list her food and drug expenses, juxtaposed to the savings generated by her shoplifting. Sounds proud to have been such a bad girl, right until she fell seriously ill.

Her new career as a professional patient started last year. First, she broke a vertebra. The incident left her with the hump, and a catastrophic prognosis. The orthopaedic team told her this wouldn’t be her last fracture. Her chronic malnutrition had caused osteoporosis. High time to start eating properly, if she wanted to escape the wheelchair.

Miss Basil dutifully proceeded as told, only to discover she couldn’t. Her misused stomach had slipped through a hole in her diaphragm. To get fit for the recommended surgery, she had to wean herself of the tranquilizers. This involved a couple of weeks in a mental health institution, where they put her on antipsychotics. The stomach relocation surgery went well, in principle. She has regained her ability to eat. But her bowels don’t move. Hence the readmission.

Having discovered her former way of life harmed her body, Miss Basil currently plans an autobiography. For the benefit of girls tempted by pro anorexia groups. She used to get praised for her nicely crafted letters, she’s bound to make an excellent writer. Unfortunately, she’s an offline person. Without access to any computer, never mind the internet. When miss Chole suggested to start with a blog, to check if there is an audience for one more bulimia book, she drew a blank.

In the specific context of having to spend three days with three strangers, Miss Basil is a treat.

So was the young lady with the baby. A nurse working at this same hospital, currently supposed to enjoy maternity leave. Stupid timing, to come down with appendicitis when your youngest kid is a mere eight months old. Both fellow patients and staff got enrolled to provide distraction. Making stupid noises and fetching diapers can be quite entertaining, in the absence of any alternative.

The lady with the baby was soon replaced by a half day stand. Miss Dalton arrived at 10 am to be gone again by 11 pm, after a tiny procedure. She’s seriously stressed. Not because of her surgery. That’s just one more minor inconvenience. Same as the acute hearing loss she suffered two weeks ago. Neither fun nor problem. What really gets her down is trouble with her senile dad. He used to be in a care home. Had to be hospitalised four weeks ago. Now he refuses to be returned to his residence. Insists on living with one of his three daughters instead. They offered to sponsor domestic help. Or a better care home. He turned vitriolic in response. Big mess.

Same for miss Aderbeen. Three tubes connected to her body, as opposed to just one for the other three patients. This makes her the resident intensive care case. But that’s not her problem. She would be perfectly able to cope with a little hysterectomy. What stresses her out is her stupid SIM card. The devilish device chose this most inopportune of days to fail her. First her PIN didn’t get accepted. Then the husband she called for help failed to find the PUK. When he finally called back, after thirty agonising minutes, the PUK malfunctioned as well. And he’s on laxatives because of a gastroscopy scheduled for the next day. He can’t drive over to bring the spare phone. Calamity.

“Don’t you hear it? I admit it’s faint. It’s barely audible above the noise from the TV. But it’s there all right. It very clearly states ‘you should have gotten yourself a family, now you will die all alone and lonely’. Over and over. If perhaps we used one of your chewing gums, to fill the plug? This should shut it up.” Miss Basil glances longingly at miss Chole’s busy jaws.

One can’t just damage hospital property to boost the mood of a roommate. But upsetting someone who insists on hearing voices doesn’t feel like a recipe for a peaceful night, either. Miss Chole takes her time to come up with a carefully calibrated response.

“We can’t do that. It probably wouldn’t help anyway. I can’t hear the voice now, whereas you obviously can. Chances are it will stay that way. Chewing gum is supposed to provide lousy sound insulation.” That last sentence, uttered with the confidence of a subject matter expert, does the trick. For the moment. Miss Basil discards the chewing gum option and resumes staring at the oxygen plug. The peace won’t last. Some sustainable distraction is needed.

Miss Darbun, the late night arrival who inherited miss Dalton’s bed, shouldn’t be on this pelvic surgical ward. Her migraine clearly identifies her as a neurological case. Officially, she’s in attendance because this was the only empty slot available at short notice. Informally, anyone familiar with the concept of bariatric surgery for extreme adiposity assumes her presence is a subtle joke, courtesy of the A&E shift. She’s fat. And turns out to be clever, on top.

„Can’t you tell the idiot in your oxygen plug a third of women make do without a family? They are statistically more prone to happiness than their more fecund counterparts. I mean, I don’t hear that voice. But if anyone dared throw this kind of bullshit at me, I would sure tell him to stuff it. Or go ask my fiancé, about how to lead a happy sex life. Without adding to overpopulation.“

A short period of silence ensues.

Miss Aderbeen is neither used to foul language, nor to speaking up against it. Her husband takes care of this type of incidents.

Miss Basil recalls one of her eating disorder therapy groups. Adipose girls are supposed to use their body fat as a shield, to fend of intimacy. No one mentioned fiancés in their context.

Miss Chole ponders recruiting miss Darbun for a stand against the crucifix on the wall and the big fat black bible in each cupboard. This is a municipal hospital, not some church venue. If the fat lady is as ruthless a feminist as her remark suggests, there could be a revolt in the making.

The silence doesn’t last long enough for any of the patients to come up with an initiative.

„Siri would like to meet the oxygen plug. Sounds like a soulmate. And there is no such thing as overpopulation, as far as humans are concerned. You folks just do go vegan, and you’ll be fine. What you need to watch is the European anopheles swarms. Don’t do anything about that very real overpopulation, you’ll succumb to malaria by the millions. Talking of feeding habits: My charger needs to be plugged in. Just mentioning, in case you want to watch the evening news later on.“

Miss Basil collapses in a sob of joy. This voice is much louder than the one from the oxygen plug it just confirmed. A hospital cupboard is an unusual source, but who cares? And all three ladies very obviously heard it. Never again will she get talked into taking antipsychotics.

Miss Chole makes a mental note to discreetly remove her iPhone 10 from the cupboard the next time miss Basil disappears for one of her unsuccessful toilet breaks. The latest Siri version does get a bit uppity, at times. But you have to admit it’s far more versatile than its predecessors.

First episode hurrah

This first episode of the 1kYears series was so much fun to write I’m at advanced risk of jumping right on to the next one, instead of starting work on Parole?, the next long format. Bad Troim.

It’s probably the Dilbert angle of the 1kYears project. A completely fictional global IT service provider, located in a non-existent megalopolis, with an improbable cast of impossibly diverse staff.

Feeling at home already? Looking forward to read about an even more messy workplace than your own, and a worse commute?

Well, there is even more. Immortality looms. Sort of. For nerds. Preferably non-religious ones. Who fancy LGBT pride. In a black majority environment. That would be overdoing it?

This is science fiction, folks, not the social science section of your favourite online news channel. So please do brace yourself and read:

The new client

It’s free, too. Doing a bit of socialism here. But please post who much you would be willing to pay, in case it wasn’t free. 99 cents would be the suggested price tag. Any takers at that rate?

 

Three submissions

Writing fiction is tremendous fun, but by the last chapters long format projects tend to turn into a bit of a tedium, as described and tentatively analysed in a previous post. No problem, though, won’t happen again for at least a year, now is hurrah time:

Think-o-mat has been defined completed.

And another dreaded task, writing the corresponding synopsis, has been diligently performed. So far, so milestones.

Now for one more first: The task of submitting aforementioned product, if product status it may reach, to agencies.

After some research and soul searching, three literary agents have been selected for pitching. Yes, three. Three as in 3. Only three.

According to LinkedIn wisdom, thirty plus submissions seem to be considered a must for any newbie author, especially one with as exquisite a selection of handicaps as poor hopeless me. Thirty?!

Come again, folks. Having approached this new task with the kind of open-mindedness essential to keep me performing in my day job, I hereby declare, authoritatively: Thirty is impossible.

Pitching is not a task you can hand over to an assistant, except perhaps in the case of a select few well known authors who won’t need to do that much if it anyway. In my by now lightly informed opinion. It’s mandatory to perform this duty personally, to make sure the first impression is confirmed in the actual work. Just imagine a native English speaker submitting my kind of output. Wasted time and frustration guaranteed, certainly no path to a win-win.

Thirty plus submissions can only mean one of two things:

  • Either you use some sort of bland all purpose template, making only minor adjustments that won’t succeed in conveying an impression of considered targeting.
  • Or you do it properly and end up spending more time browsing agency websites, trundling through submission guidelines and editing pitches than on your actual fiction writing.

The latter is of course justified if you’re convinced your work will become the next library and box office hit, or a Booker Nobel YouNameIt prize, if only an agent got you a publisher. OK. Point taken. I’m a reader and don’t want to miss that one. This situation calls for perseverance. Keep up the good pitching, by all means!

But this is not my type of situation. The same blatant lack of delusion that helps me make good bucks in my day job clearly tells me that my writing has every chance to be considered rubbish, certainly by an audience of native English speakers, most probably also in general. I’m a compulsive writer and enjoy both the writing and reading my own stuff, but a confirmed hooked audience of one doesn’t imply the existence of a wider public. If ever there happens to be a willing readership only waiting for this to hit the (e-)shelves, at least one of three experienced agents will notice and react. If there isn’t, I get myself one more copyright certificate, just in case, have the admin reset Think-o-mat to free access and move on.

Last stretch urge

Spent months loving, nurturing, developing, refining and generally never getting enough of my cast. Reach chapter 9 out of 10 and  wham, change of mindset. I just want to get it over with. AFAP.

Judging by what happened with the Pluggers, the last stretch of  Think-o-mat will again consist of a fortnight of tedium. Writing fast and under unfavorable conditions, to get it done. Rewriting a lot, because this way of proceeding ruins a style that is pretty bad in the first place. Without managing to maintain more than a semblance of the low standard achieved in the previous chapters. The last stretch is as much fun as sorting bills. Why?

There isn’t much significance to be gleaned from a sample of two, but twice is much better than no repeatability and now is the perfect time* to speculate about what causes the phenomenon:

  1. The actual fun is less in the writing than in the development of the characters. On the last stretch, they are all set in their ways, the story just rolls on to its denouement. This turns the creative process = fun into work = tedium.
  2. Reaching the end there is no longer any escape from the fact that this is all one big pile of rubbish that should never have been written. The plot, the cast, the style, it all doesn’t make one bit of sense. The daily dire doubts on steroids, minus the chance to escape into plotting the next step.
  3. Writing the finale is no worse than the earlier phases, but awareness of the approaching ordeal ruins the experience. Like trying to enjoy a good movie when you’ve got a dentist appointment scheduled right after it.  Synopsis writing and handling publishing questions would be the root canal therapy equivalents in the authoring business.
  4. Knowing that once cherished characters will soon be abandoned to their very well known fates calls for emotional stabilization, which triggers a kind of premature mourning. If it was still fun, how would you manage to stop writing at the target point?

Enough speculation. A bigger sample is needed first. Perfect time* to ask the subject matter experts on LinkedIn if they struggle with some sort of last stretch phenomenon.

*Perfect time is an euphemism for active shirking. You can only write one piece at any given time. Blogging and posting on LinkedIn postpones the drudge. Oh, and it’s a new month, too. Words to go and the Aspiring Writers Short Story Challenge call for action.

 

Alt Left SciFi pitch

Some amazing advice kindly provided by Ariel Ayangwo:

Eight Ways to Spark More Social Shares on Your Content Fast

It’s targeted at bloggers, but Ariel’s 4U-rule can easily be applied  to fiction writing. The corresponding Alt Left SciFi pitch reads:

  1. Useful: Feeling challenged? Your life no paradise? Regardless of whether you love or hate the changes affecting the world as we know it, Alt Left SciFi will provide distraction while raising your privilege awareness. And up goes the happiness score.
  2. Unique:  Authentic non-native business English, scientific affairs and multination company experience applied to storytelling. Alt Left SciFi plot cores will pass as promising business plans at the height of a corresponding tech boom.
  3. Ultra specific: If you are a member of the non-Anglo corporate or scientific frequent flyer tribe, you will feel at home in Alt Left SciFi. Same for supporting professions. But beware: We are not alone and you won’t feel worshipped.
  4. Urgency: Enjoy it while it lasts! The “Alt” gracing “Alt Left SciFi”  owes its presence to the high probability of upcoming changes. While the plot cores are no more factual than fake news, any look into any history book will tell you that a certain level of inequality calls for a rebalancing, if and when it becomes evident to a sufficient number of sufficiently apt people. Conventional Left promises utopias, Alt Left SciFi predicts transitions. Read Plugger stuff or register as beta-reader for Think-o-mat now to get ready for a dynamic future.

We are not alone

Really love a post by Elisabeth Giovani on LinkedIn, about the scares and doubts about not writing in our mother languages. Feels good not to be alone, shared scares are lighter scares!

Funny, though, how we automatically refer to native speakers as arbiters who might grant or refuse us permission to write in English. As if they were familiar with the language we are using.

The globalized non-native English speakers and writers, talking mostly non-fiction here,  have developed their own codes and good verbalization practices, as anyone working in an international environment can testify. The rules are fairly straightforward:

  • Keep it simple: The sentence structure or syntax, the vocabulary, the references, the metaphors, all of what you say or write.
  • Forget about stylistic aspirations. Achieving comprehension is hard enough without additional handicaps.
  • Try to avoid cultural references that don’t travel easily. Keep in mind that your Fridays are some else’s Sundays.
  • Think before joking. Humor has the nasty tendency to rely on prejudices that might well be mutually exclusive.

In the world of anglophone non-fiction, you get training to understand what you’re up against and learn these rules. Forget abut elegance. Keep it simple or the plane won’t fly. Those who are not willing to adjust don’t last long.

Making a living in this universe doesn’t prepare you well for encounters with the anglophone fiction writers guild. Turns out the bad English we have been using for decades didn’t make it into this particular sphere. OK, point taken. Think-o-mat is too well advanced to reformat the American and British characters. Starting with the following project, the full cast and the narrator will be non-native speakers. Pity there are no non-native agents and publishers.

The 2k challenge

Fascinating, the number of formats out there.  Longshot Island does me the favor to define precise criteria:

Usually stories with more characters work better than stories with fewer characters.

Check. Lots of spiky characters, that’s the easy bit.

 We prefer shorter stories, 500 words to 2,500 in length.

Wordcount feels kind of low, even for shorts. The newbie writer goes search and finds confirmation. Cliff’s Notes provide a range of 1,000 to 20,000 words for short stories. A short short. Why not?

Except there is also this detail of a creative requirement:

We are looking for stories that surpass traditional genres. Slipstream. Steampunk. Subterranean. To name a few possibilities. We are looking for lost places. We want stories that make people laugh as well as cry. We want something different.

This calls for a quick check on Wikipedia.

Slipstream is a kind of fantastic or non-realistic fiction that crosses conventional genre boundaries between science fiction, fantasy, and literary fiction.

Steampunk is a subgenre of science fiction or science fantasy that incorporates technology and aesthetic designs inspired by 19th-century industrialsteam-powered machinery.

Subterranean fiction is a subgenre of adventure fiction which focuses on underground settings, sometimes at the center of the Earth or otherwise deep below the surface.

Interesting business model. Let’s try this and call it the 2k challenge.

Narrative beats

Amazing, the amount of terminology one needs to master to discuss book quality issues. Newest addition, courtesy of Ally Machate, owner of The Writer’s Ally via LinkedIn: ‘Beat’, as in narrative beats.

Repetitive beats as one major cause of boredom, makes loads of sense. Even novice me experiences occasional rewriting urges associated with a feeling of ‘We’ve been there, haven’t we?’. The plot needs to progress, or the character to reveal one more trait, stalling is no good. But where to stop the pruning and condensing?

Can’t there be some fun in discovering how a previously revealed attitude becomes manifest in a novel situation? The personality-savvy reader enjoying to be able to guess how a certain character will struggle through a particular adversity?

I do wonder and won’t ask yet. One more future question. In the meantime, lets pay attention to the beats. This weekend will see one more back to beginnings rewriting round for Think-o-mat anyway.

 

Target audience?

One more LinkedIn learning, and I once again lost track of the advice, meaning I can’t thank the author personally. Bad Troim.

Anyway, I do recall the advice: “Know your target audience. ”

Well, this is either very easy or borderline impossible.

At first glance it’s a no-brainer: I’m the target audience. I’m first and foremost entertaining myself. Know this sounds like the admission of a bad neurosis. Bad luck. I’m having fun writing stupid stories in bad English. I need to practice my third language for day job purposes, and this is even more fun than reading The Guardian and The Economist, listening to npr and watching CNN or BBC World.

The author of the advice assumes that any writer longs for as large an audience as possible. For purse and/or pride reasons. Let’s pretend for a second to be affected by this particular delusion.

If what is supposed to be my target audience shares traits with me, the following preferences prevail:

  • Escapism through entertainment: Laugh and puzzle good. Deep thoughts bad, unless they come in light doses and funny wraps.
  • Linguistic simplicity: Fine to occasionally need Google translate  and reread some sentences. ‘Occasionally’. ‘Some’.
  • Race, gender and class stereotypes as well as gross violence, especially torture, are no entertainment, they are plain yuck. 

Simple preferences.  But how to find people sharing them? This list doesn’t easily translate into conventional sociological categories. I’ll settle for knowing my audience’s preferences without having the slightest clue how to reach it.

 

Obsessed with visuals

In principle, Think-o-mat doesn’t progress too badly, on the plot and character side of issues. Chapter 6 will be available by the end of the week. But style remains a huge concern…

The third language issue is solved by having been declared a feature.

Rewriting after a gap of at least one day is both a must and fine. At least half of the first version of any scene is found guilty of verbosity and goes trash while the rest is subjected to mood stress tests and has to survive a couple of permutations. So far, so fine. Long live the memory of Saint Steve, inventor of the tablet without all this wouldn’t be possible.

What really sucks is my obsession with optical balance. No writer should worry about a single small word ending up all alone in a new line. This is irrelevant. In todays eWorld, line breaks vary according to gadgets. I know it. I tell myself to ignore optical balance. And end up spending time on dreaming up constructions that don’t sound too bad while looking more balanced. Bad Troim! Probably correlated to my Duck-on-Wall tick. Or trick.

Wonder if other writers, especially real, professional ones, experience similar kinds of bias. Don’t dare raise the question in one of the LinkedIn groups. Yet.