Thread [short story reprint]

This story first appeared in Ideomancer, which is sadly no longer online. Therefore I’m reprinting this story here. It is On Brand for me, with the evil lights and creepy SF. I hope you enjoy!

CW: suicide, attempted suicide, torture, murder, imprisonment.

2,300 words
Science Fiction/Horror


image via Pexels

THREAD

by A. Merc Rustad

 

The nine-cluster appeared outside our unit’s bunker on the last day of the cycle. That meant only one thing.

They would take someone away.

I peered out the portviewer. All nine stood before the door, tall humanoid shapes composed of white light. They had heads like stars: translucent spheres with colored particles that suggested facial features. (That is how I imagined stars. I’ve never seen them for real.)

They didn’t have names. They didn’t have genders, either. We dubbed them he/she at random, although I never understood why. They weren’t like us.

Two smiled and knocked, as if politeness meant anything. I didn’t open the bunker door.

Bailey took charge, like he always did. “Everyone stay calm.” He glanced at me, and I nodded. “This is just a routine inspection.”

“How do you know?” Kory asked, wide-eyed. “We just got back. They don’t do inspections until the first cycle-day.”

Bailey slapped him on the shoulder. “Your record is spotless. They aren’t here for you.”

“Then who?” Tess demanded.

Everyone had unsuited except me. But Tess didn’t notice. (I often forgot to remove my pressure suit right away.) Tess let me stand by the viewer for hours after a shift and look at the empty road that connected the one-hundred-forty-seven bunkers on this facility.

“No one, Tess,” Bailey said. He could still tell lies. “No one is being taken to the House.”

Tess took a breath and glanced at Dom. “If you say so.”

“Mara,” Bailey said, lifting his chin and facing the door. Only Dom and I saw the tremor in his hands. “Let the overseers in.”

Dom took the scissors off the table and held them tight. They were long-bladed and heavy, used for snipping bone. He had already been to the House.

(But so had I.)

I keyed the pressure lock and opened the door.

Our unit’s bunker was a functional square room. Cots slid into the wall when not in use, and we were allowed a few personal effects. Tess had the geode collection; Kory had a holo-projection of a world he pretended was once ours, full of blues and greens and surrounded by the white of the universe. Bailey had a book—paper and leather—but there was nothing inside it.

I had a thread I’d mined and none of the nine-clusters knew about it.

All nine floated in and planted themselves around our bunker. We all smiled. The cardinal rule: never frown during inspection. Gemma had forgotten.

“Welcome,” Bailey said. He wouldn’t fail. He couldn’t. “Is everything in order?”

Two laughed. Two was always the leader. “A disturbance has been reported in your bunker.”

“What?” Kory said. “That’s impossible.”

“An anomaly.” Five glided around the perimeter. She stopped by Dom. He stared straight ahead, his knuckles bloodless. “Something is in this sector that does not belong,” Five said.

Tess tilted her head towards the floor, inhaling slow and deep. She practiced her breathing every night, because Gemma wasn’t there anymore.

Bailey shrugged easily. “We’re permitted to refine a portion of phosphates for our own use. No one has brought back anything else past quarantine.”

I hadn’t told the rest of the unit. Bailey said not to. “They’ll crack,” he’d said the day before, looking tired and sad. (I wish I’d argued, but I had no protest.) It would be easier if they didn’t know.

The thread squirmed in my gloved hand. I locked my jaw and kept my smile in place. Not yet, not yet, not yet.

We needed the nine-cluster agitated so they would touch us physically. I wouldn’t risk the thread failing to pierce their barriers. It was the only chance we had.

Kory swallowed and folded his arms. He was the youngest in our unit, and he still smiled when he didn’t have to.

“We’re making quotas,” Tess said from clenched teeth. “No one has violated the regulations. I check everyone’s suits upon entry.”

(She never checked mine. Bailey said not to. “Sometimes it’s all that holds her together,” I’d heard him whisper to Tess, when I came back from the House.)

Muscles twitched in Tess’s jaw. “What is this about?”

“Defensive?” Two asked her. “That is a common psychological signal that you are…hiding something.”

“We have nothing to hide,” Bailey said. He chuckled, his mouth stretched until it might break. “We’ve increased production by 127% this cycle.”

“So you did.” Four’s particle-expression swirled and brightened in warning. “And you were down 76% the cycle before, 58% the cycle before that, and 13% before that.”

No one looked at me. I had taken Bailey and Dom on the downward spiral. (Only I could see darkness, but they believed what I told them.)

Our unit mined minerals and ore on the debris rings of 6-X76. We averaged a 97% productivity level per work segment, and had for the last ten cycles. That was when Gemma went away, and Dom came back from the House.

“Fine. It’s my fault,” Tess said, pulling her shoulders back. “I didn’t keep the unit on track. You took Gemma.” Her hands fisted and she took a steady breath. “But I accept full responsibility for the unit’s decreases previously.”

Kory winced. I shook my head minutely. Don’t do this, Tess. It’s not your fault. They weren’t suspicious yet. (I couldn’t watch them take Tess away.)

Eight laughed, a faint hissing sound characteristic of all Eights. “Your statement is contradictory. You were the hardest worker in the unit during the previous three cycles.”

“It’s in here,” Five said. “It does not belong.”

“Disassemble,” Two told Five. “Find it.”

It was too soon. I shot Bailey a flat look. He sat on a plain metal stool and shut his eyes. “Dom,” he said, very quietly.

Dom tensed, ready to do anything Bailey asked. He always did.

Bailey’s smile weakened, and he tilted his head a fraction at Two. Dom’s muscles bunched. He might not harm Two—we didn’t know how to hurt the nine-clusters ourselves—but he would distract Two anyway.

Kory’s face beaded with sweat. “They found something,” he blurted. “I saw Mara put it—”

Dom jabbed his thumb into Kory’s eye. The eyeball popped. Kory screamed, clutching his face.

Tess snarled and raised a fist at Dom, but Bailey snapped, “Don’t.”

Two clapped his hands. “Oh, well played. You are hiding something.”

I didn’t know Kory saw me take the sock or put it back. Everyone had been eating when I did. (I didn’t eat much anymore.)

Five began expanding, translucent arms budding from her torso. She threw the holo-projector to the floor, scattered the geodes, pulled apart Bailey’s book. The cots were empty.

The thread was heavy, pressing into my skin through the glove. It had taken all my enhanced strength to lift it from the mines. I couldn’t hold it much longer.

Bailey’s breath came faster. They might question him—Dom could resist, but Bailey couldn’t. He had never been to the House.

I kicked the cabinet where we kept our pressure suits, jostling loose the plastic door and the lopsided drawer.

Three swiveled her head. She spied the single bit of fabric—a sock—peeking from the drawer. It was black. I’d rubbed the thread all over it to change it. (I was the only one who saw why it was different.)

Five hissed. “This house is touched by the dark.”

The nine-cluster’s heads began to pulsate in alarm.

“Anomaly found,” Two said.

Kory let out a strangled moan. Bailey sat rigid, his face ashen, and folded his hands on his lap. Tess inhaled shakily.  She put her arm on Dom’s shoulder, but Dom stared into the distance as if he wasn’t here anymore.

Nine looked at me, her eyes expanding until they encompassed her forehead. “Mara, you don’t seem surprised.”

I kept my arms around my knees, the thread in my hand. “Space is dark.”

They didn’t like that.

Our eye-filters were programed for light. We looked at the space between mining sites and planets and we saw the brilliant white of the universe. I shouldn’t have known what dark was.

But I had been to the House, where they pluck out your eyes and you bones and your skin and your neural pathways and remake you. And in between being remade (again and again and again), I saw beyond the light. I saw infinite blackness.

It was beautiful.

Nine strolled towards me. “This unit is no longer operational.”

We were all going to the House.

Another unit would replace ours. There was always another.

Dom lunged. He still held the scissors, the keepsake he brought back from the House. He aimed for Bailey. The scissors sunk through the back of Bailey’s spine at the base of his skull. Bloodied metal tips poked from his windpipe. Bailey’s muscles twitched and he slid to the floor.

Dom always loved Bailey the most.

Two sighed and pressed a radiant palm over Dom’s face, picked him up, and carried him out the door. Two left Bailey’s body where it lay. The machines to revive the body were all in the House.

Blood was darker than I remembered.

I held on tight to the thread.

Kory screamed and threw himself at Two. “Don’t take him!”

Eight batted him aside, and he hit the wall hard enough to break his ribs. (I didn’t flinch. I don’t think I can, anymore.)

Tess grabbed the scissors. She stopped smiling as she ran towards Kory.

One moved for the first time. He expanded a stasis field around Tess, rendering her immobile. She dropped the scissors. They bounced across the floor and skittered to my feet.

“Mara,” Kory gasped as Eight carried him towards the door. “Help me…”

I couldn’t. (I’m sorry, Kory.) If I moved, if I dropped the thread, we were lost. (I’m sorry, Tess.)

I smiled up at Nine. I didn’t look at Bailey.

“Space is dark,” I said again. “I’ve seen it.”

“We will fix that.” Nine’s face erased any particle expression. “The House will welcome you back.”

I snatched her wrist as if I wanted to push her away. I couldn’t. No one was that strong.

The tiny black thread wormed into Nine’s translucent arm. She didn’t notice. Her body was too full of light.

She pressed her palm over my face and the House came back in my mind, every imprinted memory.

#

In the House, you are unmade.

(—it hurts it hurts it hurts—)

The nine-clusters have no identical analogues for physical bodies, no way to feel pleasure or pain the way we do, but such things fascinate them.

They can record it in a million ways inside the House and translate it into data they can experience.

An Eight told me that when he extracted my nerves one at a time with his minute tools.

And in the House, even if you stab yourself in the brain with scissors, they can fix you and make you remember.

(Dom tried. He tried so many times, and so hard, but they remade his body every time.)

No one comes back from the House whole.

#

When I found the darkness, it was buried deep beneath rock and iron. A single thread, barely three centimeters long.

I told Dom. He stared at me, empty-eyed like he often was.

“I don’t know what dark is,” Dom said.

I grasped his gloves. “It can eat away the nine-clusters. All of them.”

This was my theory. If they had made the universe light, they must fear the opposite. They could not live in blackness.

Once a ten-cycle, all the nine-clusters gathered and merged their heads into a great sphere of light. They shared everything, knowledge and particles and experience and delights they’d witnessed in the House.

One drop of darkness would infect them all.

“I can get it,” I told Dom. “I just need your help.”

He shut his eyes. It was light out even when you didn’t look. “They’ll take us back.”

“I know,” I said. (I didn’t remember how to lie when I came back from the House.)

Bailey was deeper in the tunnel, his comm synched with ours. Dom could cover my workload while on shift, and Bailey could make sure no one else in the unit found out what I was doing.

“They’ll take Bailey.” Dom’s voice cracked. “They’ll take all of us.”

“I know,” I said. “But we’ll blot them out and no one will ever be taken again.”

We were made in darkness, before the nine-clusters came. We could live in it again. And we know how to make our own light.

Dom leaned his head against the wall, his helmet clicking against rock. All I heard was his breath over the comm.

“Dom?” I asked, when he didn’t move.

“Bailey,” he whispered. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t,” Bailey said. “I’ll help, Mara. Sometimes I think I dream of the dark.”

Dom fisted his hands.

“I can show you what the dark is like for real,” I said. “The light will end.”

It was what we all needed, even if we could never admit that.

Finally, Dom nodded.

We began to dig.

#

I look out one of the House’s many windows, at the nine-clusters watching. Specks of blackness float in their star-like heads.

The darkness is growing in the Five that leads Dom away again.

“It will be dark soon,” I promise Dom, but his blank stare never changes.

The nine-clusters glow brighter, as if to hide it, but I know what darkness looks like.

(I will never forget.)

Soon, the darkness will expand and the stars will collapse. Nine by nine, they will become vacuums and take away all the light in the universe.

It will be beautiful.

 


first published in Ideomancer, Decmber 2013
(c) 2013 by Merc Rustad

What Stories We Choose To Tell

I want to touch briefly on the topic of narrative choice.

Everything you include or omit in a story is a choice. 

books illusions
InspiroBot is your friend.

Who do you include, who do you exclude in the narrative? Who gets a happy ending? Who dies? What happens to your female characters, your POC characters, your queer and trans and non-binary characters? Why does that happen? Who is centered in this universe you unfold on the page? Who doesn’t exist?

True, not all choices are conscious. Sometimes we don’t know any better. Sometimes we have to fight through years of internalized oppressions and bullshit in order to realize we are allowed to have stories and they are allowed to be happy.

Awareness brings responsibility.

As an author, your words have power. How do you use that power? Whose stories do you show, and why? Whose do you refuse to allow? Why?

There are so many amazing people out there doing hard work to make information accessible. There are so many brave, fearless, passionate, compassionate, fierce, honorable, dedicated people out there willing to share their stories, their lives, their experiences, for others who want to listen, for others who need to hear you are not alone.

You must be willing to learn, to understand, to empathize and accept others’ narratives at face value. This is true. It is not always easy, no.

But as an author, your words show a world that reflects your self. Your stories are full of narrative choices that tell us who you are.

Stories are deeply personal things, and they show us our own hearts. When someone reads your work, they see a little of you. Or maybe a lot. But they will see.

What do you choose to show them?

wo storytelling
InspiroBot has all the quotes

Not all of it is (for me) conscious at the start. But I make an effort to become conscious of things I missed or didn’t think about. About people and problems and hurt and joy. And this is an evolving process, yes.

When I was a younger!Merc, I wrote stuff that makes me deeply uncomfortable for how sexist and heteroflail and insensitive it was. A lot of this was pure ignorance. I’m a consumer of culture and media, and so much of this shit is internalized, normalized, romanticized in our popular culture and media that you can’t get away from it.

Until I was able to start looking at it critically, interrogating my internalized problems—so many of which are still deeply engrained and slippery and false, and which I have to constantly fight against—I had no idea what I was doing, or the harm I could, and likely did, do. To myself as well as others. And for that, I apologize.

I am trying to do better. Striving to learn, to listen, to understand.

Because I know every story is a series of deliberate narrative choices. What I choose to share, the stories I choose to tell, are not without consequence, or weight, or remembrance.

Stories affect other human beings.

That is power: to touch another’s life, in however small a way. We must be aware of the responsibility that holds.

MERC vs. BOOK: Revising a Novel, Part 9–Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells This Story?

Additional Parts In This Series

Part 0 | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7.1 & 7.2 | Part 8 | Part 9 (you are here)

____

(With thanks to the Hamilton musical for being so quotable!)

Gather ’round, my peeps, for today we are talking about narrative choice and authorial intent!  [I’m specifically going to focus on written/sole-created narratives. Just for ease of this post.]

Everything You Choose Is Deliberate

In fiction, the author is all-powerful. Each choice the author makes–in particular, conscious decisions–reflects on the author. Power carries responsibility. So. When you have complete and total power over the story you choose to tell, what are the responsibilities that come with that?

Equally important: what are an author’s responsibilities when it comes to choosing not to make specific decisions, include specific elements, and otherwise wield their power in a exclusionary way?

When I talk about exclusion, an authorial choice not to include specific elements in a story, this can be literally anything. It can be choosing not to include rape culture or scenes of sexual or domestic violence. It can be choosing not to have any swearing in the story. It can be choosing not to include potatoes.

Exclusionary choices are not inherently bad. They are, like inclusionary choices [what you DO put in a story], simply a spectrum of authorial deliberation. However, as an author, what you do not include is just as important as what you do include. An author must own the responsibility of their choices.

(We’re not going into external meddling–such as editors, executives, elder gods, etc. This focuses specifically on what the author created, and assumes that there is no external pressure to add/subtract/change specific elements.)

Sometimes these choices can arise from unexamined or unknown bias. Sometimes they arise from ignorance–whether to include or exclude specific elements or people from a narrative–and sometimes not.

Does the story include dragons? Fantastical elements? FTL drives? Superpowers? Does the story feature any queer, trans, disabled, POC, elderly people, minorities, women, or other demographics found everywhere in the world?

If you have dragons but no People of Color, what does that say about your choices? “Historical accuracy” is a false claim when it’s not actually historically accurate. Does a spacefaring worldship harbor only cishet white people? What does that say about your perspective?

Look at it this way. You choose a POV (point of view) character(s) for your story, just like you choose whether it’s written in first-, second-, or third-person (or maybe all of them!), and just like you choose which tense to use for the narrative. Those are deliberate decisions made in order to shape the story.

The content of that story is no less deliberate.

You have the power to choose what you write about, who you write about, and for whom you write. Your responsibility is in how you use that power.

_______

Making Choices: Who Lives and Who Dies

The novel has very strong thematic questions about power, responsibility, and what we owe each other and ourselves with our actions.

It’s also got a lot of action and drama. The plot focuses on authoritative powers who want to destroy things, and the protagonists are caught in this fight and must decide how it ends.

It would be so easy to make this book tragic. It would be so easy to kill everyone off for ‘dramatic effect’ in the ending; to have the characters die in order to succeed. Maybe that would be “edgy.” There is set-up that could allow for the resolution to go either way (victory and life, or victory and death). All I can say is: FUCK THAT NOISE.

There will be no queer tragedy in this book. Damaveil and his husband live and are happy; Rajosja and her wife live and are happy; Bane lives and is… getting there; it just takes a little longer before he is happy again. The non-binary characters live and are happy.

Do people die? Sure. Lots of them. Past and present. This is a dark book; a lot of terrible things happen. That does not mean it must end badly for all the queer and trans characters who exist within.

Death is not the default ending. 

screenshot-2017-01-17-11-26-35
unapologetic happy ending

 

_______

Making Choices: Who Tells the Story

 

So, when I wrote the first draft of this book (*cough*timeago*cough*) I did not actually know I was ace/aro. (Ace = asexual, which means I do not feel sexual attraction to other people. Aro = aromantic, which means I am not interested in romantic relationships with other people.) I had inklings about being a somewhat outlier circle on a Venn diagram mapping out human axises of sexuality, but it would be nearly two years after this draft was written before I encountered vocabulary for defining myself.

RoAnna Sylver has a tweet thread about ace/aro representation in media that is spot-on and utterly fantastic, and I urge you to read the whole thing.

screenshot-2017-01-17-10-41-29

Bane is asexual. When I picked up this draft in order to revise, that jumped out at me like a neon sign. (He’s also neuroatypical, which is also something I did not have words for, or consciously realize about myself, when I was writing.)

When I realized this, it made me so happy. And I knew him being ace was an element I would not change. Not for any reason.

I, as a reader and consumer of media, want to see more representation (positive!) on various axises; ace, aro, neuroatypical, queer, trans, non-binary… to name but a few. So I feel it my duty, as a writer, to do what I can to include characters that reflect the vast, amazing, kickass aspects of humanity. I will not always succeed, and not every story will contain every multitude of people. But that doesn’t mean I won’t try. ^_^

A protagonist is one of the many lenses through which we experience story. A protagonist, often, has a large amount of page/screen time. Who you give this time, energy, and presence to in your work says something. You, as the author, choose what it is you’re saying.

Bane has flaws, and also a lot of goodness. He’s empathetic, compassionate, and strives to help people. He has strong friendships without needing romance or sexual relationships. He can save the world when others would ask him only to destroy it.

And he can have a happy ending.

_______

 So, creators, keep in mind your power and your responsibility. When you mess up, you will be called on it, and how you respond is equally a choice. You can do better if you want. You can try harder. Work better.

(I actually have an unfinished post that examines authorial power/responsibility in more detail, and will aim to finish that up and post–it might be more useful to people as a stand-alone article.)

I’d love to hear from you folks, too: what decisions do you make in your creative work? What do you choose to include or exclude?

______

Coming up next… Merc has no idea, because they need to get back to the ‘fill in all the gaps from the revision outline’ drafting phase! xD So stay tuned…

Writing Recap for 2016

After I sent out the second-to-last-original-submission of the year, I took to Twitter with some flail, because I realized: I have nearly worked through my inventory of finished short fiction. Or, basically: HOLY TACOS, I NEED TO WRITE MORE THINGS!

screenshot-2016-12-23-00-03-36

Let me try to break this down.

I’m pretty obsessive about my fiction organization patterns. I have folders-within-folders until it gets into Inception-like levels deep. Most often it looks like this:

screenshot-2016-12-22-23-31-56FICTION -> current WIPs (short stories) | current revision projects | submissions

The WIPs folder is usually the messiest: drafts, snippets, notes, unfinished chaos. The submissions folder is pretty basic: pending, unsubbed, accepted. However, the folder I look at most often is the current revision projects because that houses stories that I’m actively working on and wish to submit to markets.

At the beginning of the year, the current revision projects folder had around eleven stories in it. Not a lot, but not a few, either. The average number of stories-to-revise/edit in that folder settled around 5-6. Some stories had been sitting in there for *mumble* long time, and some were brand new. The specific contents of the folder fluctuate a good deal, because I move things in and move things out. (A finished draft gets backed up and then a duplicate saved into the revisions folder, where it’s queued up for editing. A finalized revision gets copied into the submissions folder, and the original backed up and archived.)

However. On this, the 23rd day of December 2016, there is one story left in my current revision projects folder. And it will be edited and sent out into the big, bright world by the month’s end.

screenshot-2016-12-22-23-59-26

Guys. Everything in the queue has been submitted or sold. That’s…that’s kind of mind-boggling. o_O Exciting, too!

Here’s some specific stats:

In 2016 I’ve sold 10 original stories and 1 debut short story collection.

In 2016 I had 8 original stories published.

Number of stories written, revised, submitted, and sold in 2016 (that is, projects less than a year old): 4

//giphy.com/embed/3o6wred0KQ8Vx5fmYE

via GIPHY

I wrote a lot. Essays (“I Don’t Want Your Queer Tragedy: A Parable” and “The Necessity of Hope“). Patreon-specific stories. Novel words. Outlines. Other exciting things.

Major life things happened. (Almost exclusively good things, such as name change and moving and new job and graduating college and new car and attending cons.) I have endured, and in some ways, prospered.

I will continue to write, to resist, to share stories of fierceness and hope and triumph. We need them. I won’t stop (or throw away my shot!) so… Bring on 2017.

BASFF2015

I’m delighted to be able to share this news today!

BASFF-2015I have a story in the Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy of 2015 anthology, edited by Joe Hill and John Joseph Adams. It’s available for pre-order now, and will be released in October. (No, I can’t tell you which story is mine yet–soon, though!)

So honored to be a part of this. The TOC is amazing. Check it out:

  • Nathan Ballingrud
  • T.C. Boyle
  • Adam-Troy Castro
  • Neil Gaiman
  • Theodora Goss
  • Alaya Dawn Johnson
  • Kelly Link
  • Carmen Maria Machado
  • Seanan McGuire
  • Sam J. Miller
  • Susan Palwick
  • Cat Rambo
  • Jess Row
  • Karen Russell
  • A. Merc Rustad
  • Sofia Samatar
  • Sofia Samatar
  • Kelly Sandoval
  • Jo Walton
  • Daniel H. Wilson

The book will publish on October 6, 2015, and can be pre-ordered now:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Kobo

Powell’s

Indiebound

Google Play

*(un)restrained dancing*

“Of Blessed Servitude”

Fictionvale Episode 1 has launched! I have a short story in it, too: “Of Blessed Servitude.”

fictionvale-ep-1

It’s a dystopian SF western-ish story about the past and loss and fighting for what you believe in. Gay protagonists! Demons who live in the sun! Cyborgs! Killer whippoorwills who will eat your soul! (<–that’s the bonus cameo.)

So. You know. If any of that strikes your fancy, give it a looksee. 🙂

You can pick up a copy here. (More links such as Smashwords and B&N.com and iBooks will be coming soon.)

All the Little Animals

As a very young!Merc, I had series nightmares. Not specifically the same nightmare over and over (serial), although sometimes I had repetitious dreams, but a series of nightmares that all had a basic structure and the same boogeyman-type antagonist.

(Well, I had a handful of series nightmares. There was The Tractor, there were a couple of generic serial killers, and there was the Tornado.)

One of these series involved creepy little animals that naturally lived under the bed and had an entire underground civilization. Often there was a horrific mutated Clifford the Big Red Dog involved. The worst part was that 90% of the time, the dream started in that vague sense of knowing it’s a dream, thinking you’ve woken up, and then the nightmare actually unfolds.

For years, the Little Animal dreams messed up my head. They weren’t frequent, but they were always lingering in the back of my brain. I kept trying to defeat them and in not quite managing it.

(While I’d watched The Twilight Zone and a lot of cheesy horror movies as a young!Merc, I’d never seen Night Gallery. But in 2009, we got the series on DVD and I watched the whole thing. The segment that included the mini-episode, “A Feast of Blood,” freaked the hell out of me because that brooch? It was like the designer grabbed images out of my head and put them on TV.)

At some point in my dreams (still as a young!Merc), I hit the equivalent of a boss fight, told the Little Animals to beat it and leave me alone, because I wasn’t scared of them anymore. (There was a strange amount of stabbing them with a mailbox.)

The nightmares stopped.

Fast forward to present!Merc. I’d always wanted to use some of my weird dream imagery in a story. It’s like the ultimate smackdown on the old nightmares. (I will dismantle your bones and create a new creature. MAD SCIENCE, FTW.)

I took the core imagery and wrote a story titled, shockingly enough, “All the Little Animals“. It’s about a girl determined to save her little brother from nightmarish animals out to get them. It was a very personal story and also a favorite of my horror pieces. And it paid off.

All the Little Animals” was accepted for the Spring 2013 issue of The Red Penny Papers, and I could not be happier! I love RPP, and I love this story, and I hope you will give it a look next year. Although probably not before bed.

(As semi-autobiographic as it is, no real Mercs were harmed in the drafting of this story.)

Sweet dreams.

On Voice

I’m tempted to subtitle this: Everything I learned about voice, I learned from Scott McNeil. It’s not entirely the case, but it’s close.

So anyway.

As a young!Merc I was aware of voice acting. I listened to a lot of audiobooks, and my favorites were the full-cast dramatizations*. I knew people could do different character-voices. (We listened to a lot of Recorded Books from the library. Those narrators are amazing.) But it never really clicked that the auditory vocal skills I admired so much had a written counterpart (or that, you know, the dramatizations were read from text). Until I watched Beast Wars: Transformers.

Me: I want to do that thing that I’m seeing—creating distinct voices and characters, but with words!
Brain: PROCESSING.

It grew from there.

—–

Author Voice

When I hear people talk about voice in fiction, I tend to interpret it as “your author voice, yo.” That you-know-it-when-you-see-it thing. Your One Voice to Rule Them All (and usually you have to crawl around in a goblin cave to find it, and possibly play riddle games with creatures that want to eat you).

Authorial voice has a lot of influence in one’s work. How you express your ideas, your philosophy, how you string words together, the number of explosions you add, the tics and quirks you develop, the unique style and personality you extract from the blob-like blandness of the masses, your pet themes and tropes and squids, the imprint your brain makes on the page, etc. It’s a good thing to have. I approve of strong authorial voices.

(For example, Ursula Vernon has one of the funniest and awesome authorial voices, easily seen on her blog.)

There can also be a wide variety of masks stories wear. You can have multiple voices, little subroutines in the main program, that fit individual stories. They can have your authorial voice’s shadow, but be complete and distinct on their own.

It’s like flexing your (auditory) voice to become legion.

Character and Story Voice

Character voice is a filter through which the narrative is strained like loose leaf tea. The taste of the final brew depends on what kind of tea you use, how long you let it seep, what you add to it, and so on.

(The author makes the tea, but the author isn’t actually the tea. Er. I think we’ll drop the tea analogy before it gets too awkward.)

First, second, or third person, I like POV characters to have their own voice. Everything influences this: How they look at the word, what experiences color their behavior and choices, vocabulary, habitual traits, the telling details they notice, how they respond to being ambushed by starving velociraptors.

Story voice is similar—I’m not sure how to articulate the difference, exactly. In my head, story voice is the lighting and music score and camera angles and structure and tense and motifs that show up; it compliments and intertwines with the character voice, and sometimes it’s the sliding scale of closeness in point of view.

Finding the character voice, the story voice, is a huge step for me when tackling a story. I need to pin down the tone as much as the plot, the structure as well as the thematic elements, whether I will destroy the sun yet again, etc. I go into it thinking about voice. What do I want this one to sound like?

—–

Drive-by examples:

CHIME by Franny Billingsley has an absolutely gorgeous, fascinating voice that shines on the page. It is uniquely Briony’s. (And that’s what I like—a voice that couldn’t be anyone else’s.)

Gemma Files’ dark, crazygood novel, A Book of Tongues, is another example of strong voice (and addictive prose).

(I now feel the need to keep yet another list of stories with excellent voice. That will take some compiling–an excuse for ALL the spreadsheets!)

How about you? What are your thoughts on voice?

—–

*Oh, when I found Martin the Warrior by Brian Jacques on audio, I was convinced for a week that I was dreaming. FULL CAST AND THE AUTHOR NARRATING? HOW COULD THIS BE? I had only imagined such awesomeness, such fangirl-fulfilling joy. But it was real, and I was the happiest Merc EVER. I did not let those cassette tapes out of my sight for a month.

——

This is posted for the a week of writing-related thoughts hosted by Chrystalla Thoma. Check out the rest!