The Post-Death Test

I have no idea if this will become anything more than a fragment because honestly I have tried to write this story many times and it just never worked. Of course, each time I think I’ll give up on it, I have a new dream or concept for it that would enhance its readability and interest.  This writing is fragments from the various tests, so I’ll make my best efforts to put them in the relatively correct order but if they don’t make complete chronological sense, that’s only because of how they’ve come to me.

The Waiting Room

Harley looked around the waiting room.  It was a lot like a doctor’s office with semi-comfortable chairs arranged in small clusters and people coming and going at various points.  The weird thing was that when they left, they moved in a trance-like state, definitely not the way they walked when they came into the waiting room and definitely not in a human way.  It was unnerving, but every time she asked the receptionist if something was wrong with them, the receptionist waved her away.  The weirdest part was that even after being rudely dismissed and even though she felt like something was off (if not outright wrong), she didn’t see it as a red flag.  It was now three-ish hours since she got to the waiting room and there was nobody else there. She walked over to the receptionist and asked “Can I just go on back-”   and then suddenly she was no longer in the waiting room.

Meeting the Sponsors

One minute Harley was in the waiting room and the next she was lying down on a metal operating table dressed in a hospital gown.  She didn’t even remember that much; it felt like she had been here all along.

“Ah yes, there’s our contestant,” an older man wearing a lab coat said.  His assistant, a fully sentient skeleton, took notes on a yellow legal pad.  The skeleton’s pen clearly cut through the page like it was irritated at…something.  The older man looked over the notes and read to nobody in particular, “Our contestant is a waste.”  “Waste” was less written and more carved into the legal pad.  Then to the skeleton and a little bit to Harley (in the sense that it was loud enough for her to hear), the man said “This is my contestant, my waste; you just take notes.  Now get back on your hook!  Useless skeletons!” The skeleton shuffled to the corner of the room where a metal hook hung from the wall and jammed the hook through one of its eye sockets.

Harley felt her mouth go too dry to speak.  Finally she croaked out “What was that?”

The man sighed.  “Ignore my co-sponsor.  Worry about your test tomorrow.”

The man flipped the light switch and suddenly everything was dark.  Once he was gone, Harley was terrified of being left alone with a skeleton who a) loathed her and b) should not have existed.  From the corner of the room, the skeleton said “Don’t flatter yourself.  You shouldn’t have existed either.”  A bunch of clattering sounds later, it was standing over the edge of Harley’s table.

She swallowed until her mouth was wet enough to speak almost normally.  “What is a co-sponsor?  What are you doing to me?”

The skeleton sighed, a dry, whispy, inhuman sound that was much worse than a regular sigh.  “You’re dead.  This is how we decide where you go.  If all spirits are as dumb as you-”

“I’m dead?” Harley whispered.

*Things happen after this, but I don’t have them fully figured out.  In previous writings, the skeleton helped Harley figure out how she died and then she remembers.  It’s a standard girl-meets boy-girl-loses-boy-to-boy’s-best-female-friend story with one little twist: Harley’s death was not a suicide.  The details are fuzzy on what happened to her, but it wasn’t something she chose.  In these early versions, she is sad about various unfinished business and the skeleton tells her not to cry or show any emotion because that could get her marked down on the exam.  I want to keep something along those lines, but I’m not sure how to work it all together.

The Tests

*What I want to do is create the tests for judging physical and mental strength/ability.  I don’t have most of them thought out yet, but I planned for the characters to go through hands-on activities to really show what they’re capable of.

Harley passes the majority of her tests but only because the other spirits she’s paired with/against are not giving their best performances.  Some of them are killed off if they have nothing to offer, which feels like another test in itself.  The exams are run on a tight schedule, but if a spirit is killed off, everyone has to watch it.  Their reactions are recorded and they are categorized on their level of emotional response.  Showing minimal emotion allows for “immunity”, which is being given a second chance to do better on the physical strength tests.

The Glass Ball

This is the penultimate test.  Harley and three other spirits, all in various levels of exhaustion and being beat down, were taken to a gymnasium-style room.  A glass ball resembling a snow globe in the style of glass and shape and resembling a hamster wheel in its movability and attached to the ceiling by a metal pole that allows it to slowly move down to the center of the gymnasium is presented to them.  It looked harmless enough but after the previous tests Harley knew it was another death trap.  Nobody knew what exactly it did, however. Harley imagined it would fill with acid and drown them and in the end nobody would survive.  The other spirits were less morbid but agreed about it filling with some sort of liquid.  One by one they were called to the glass ball.

*I haven’t figured out what exactly it does.  Right now I’m leaning towards it being the weirdest bath ever in which it’s just soapy water to wash them down but after everything they’ve been through it terrifies them and the majority of them scream right through it.   Following this, I have no ideas for how to end this.  I’m not even sure if Harley makes it out of the glass ball.  All I know is that if someone who was good with creating vivid description wrote this story, the glass ball scene would be equal parts terrifying and beautiful.

As She Bleeds Her Power Grows *Graphic*

This novella begins in a public pool ladies’ changing room/ bathroom.  A twelve-year-old girl is in the bathroom stall taking off her one-piece bathing suit and feels something squish between her legs. As soon as she rolls down her bathing suit, an explosion of blood spills down her legs and onto the cracked floor.  It’s her first period but it feels wrong, like there’s too much blood for a normal period. A group of girls from her school opens the bathroom stall door and laughs at her, calling her “Period Girl” and telling her they’re going to tell everyone at school she’s a freak.  A slightly older male acquaintance of hers is there soon after and chases the girls away.  When they’re alone, he makes things worse by telling her she’s disgusting and nobody wants to see her bleed.  The scene changes soon after.

The next scene is of the twelve-year-old girl and her male acquaintance on a farm near wooded area. He is leaning against the shed smoking and she is sitting on a wood table petting a barn cat.  An adult that wasn’t clearly identified in the dream inspiring this novella comes up behind her and sits two cages of chicken eggs on the table next to her.  She says “Go on and take these to my shed in the forest” with no other explanation.  The girl and her male acquaintance head into the wooded area.

The next scene is of the girl and her acquaintance at the shed.  The entire time they had been walking, her acquaintance felt an increasing negative change in her energy.  While they were at the farm itself she only seemed dark because of the heavy bleeding and period cramps going on internally.  Now she seemed evil and just wrong, which was the same but not.  He couldn’t explain it better than that.  Once they’re there at the shed she drops the cages of eggs in front of the entrance to the shed so that all but two break.

“What is your problem?” he asks her.

She responds by focusing solid black eyes on him and causing his innards to expand in size and rip him apart.

I genuinely don’t remember anything else about the dream that will inspire this novella, probably because it was most vivid in the beginning for backstory information and then was action on top of action.  I was telling this to my dad earlier and I said “It’s like Carrie but not.”  The problem for me when I translate this from a dream to a novella is that I would have to invent quite a bit of it on my own.  The not-Carrie parts, for lack of a better description, make up the bulk of the story.  I am not a natural-born storyteller. This one is worth pursuing, but I’m concerned that I wouldn’t make it nearly as strong once I’m writing the new content.  Anyway, this is the beginning of this new project, so enjoy.

New Character: A Demonic Jellyfish

Today in my Sociological Theory class I was bored to death and started doodling on the top of my notebook page.  I often draw skeletons or the backs of women, but today I needed something a little more unique.  Then I looked down at my cardboard folder, which is this beautiful ocean scene with all different types of jellyfish floating around.  I love having at least one folder that’s unique, and for this round of classes it would definitely be my jellyfish folder.  I never thought it would inspire me to draw a jellyfish of my own.  Somehow I ended up drawing a jellyfish with alternating short and long curly tentacles and large almond eyes.  I liked my handiwork and thought “If it’s this good, why should it just be another forgettable doodle?” and wondered if I could put it into a novel.  I knew that if I was going to write this story, it would have to be a demonic jellyfish because that’s kind of my thing.

I have one little problem with turning this doodle into a character, and it’s that I can’t exactly write a novel with a demonic jellyfish as the main character.  I mean, I guess if I wanted a challenge I could attempt it.  There’s no official rule stating “Jessica can’t write a demonic jellyfish as the main character.”  I just feel like it would be a hard main character to pull off.  Jellyfish don’t communicate, at least not in the ways other sea creatures communicate.  Maybe they have methods of communicating with other jellyfish that I don’t know about because I haven’t seriously considered researching it.  I just don’t think of jellyfish as being able to hold their own for being an engaging main character.

I have some bits and pieces of ideas for writing a demonic jellyfish into my novel, but I already see problems with them.  The idea I’ve been kicking around most recently is one where there’s this real-world forest location that’s pretty normal except after a certain time of night when the demons come out and play.  I like the idea so far, but I have no idea how to throw in a demonic jellyfish.  I was originally thinking that it could sometimes live in the river, except that wouldn’t work because I know jellyfish need a certain type of water to stay alive and I believe they also need a certain depth of water that rivers wouldn’t allow.  I could maybe work around that by telling potential readers that they have to suspend their disbelief because I see a scene using this jellyfish and the main character, who is probably named Calypso.  The short summary of the scene is that Calypso swims in the river late at night when all the demons are out and she gets entangled in the jellyfish’s tentacles but it’s okay because…she’s a demonic jellyfish too?  I don’t like novels where a human character is actually part human and part shapeshifter creature but I feel like maybe that would be an interesting scene to write.  Imaging two demonic jellyfish dancing with each other and getting entangled in each other’s tentacles is much more of a turn-on to me than, say, if it were two humans.  I don’t know if I could stand to write about a human/shapeshifter, but it’s the idea that keeps coming to me.

What do you all think?

Names You Can’t See For Certain Characters

In an effort to title this blog concisely I chose the title you see above, but the title of my choice would’ve been the longer “Character Names You Can’t See Unless They’re For Certain Characters”.  I’ve been considering names for future characters, not because I plan to write their story or write them into someone else’s story but because I just love names and playing around with the kind of character a name would belong to.  There are some names that I consider versatile, could be used for anyone of any sex/gender, race/ethnicity, personality, social class, and so forth at any time.  My go-to name for this is Harley.  I know, I know, you probably have some ideas of what a character with this name would be like.  I’ve never had those thoughts.  I just adore the name.  There are other names where I can’t see them belonging to anyone but a certain type of character.  The name Briella, for example, is one I’ve experimented with on other characters but I always came back to her being the mean girl.  I don’t know why because in the beginning it was a name I randomly chose to use and it just stuck.  There are also names that I feel straight up uncomfortable with using for certain characters or in certain contexts.

First I’ll tell you about my all-time favorite name.  No, it’s not Callixta, believe it or not.  I am in love with the name Fiona.  I had a really cute lop rabbit (droppy ears, tiny) named Fiona.  I associate it with characters who are strong (ex: Princess Fiona from the Shrek movies) or quirky (ex: Fiona from the movie and TV show About a Boy).  It’s one of those names that I see as being clearly feminine but not frilly.  I would absolutely use this name for another future pet (tortie cat, preferably).  I wanted to strangle one of my hit-or-miss authors for using the name Fiona for a character that self-destructed (and not because she may have been demonically possessed).  I can’t picture the name Fiona used for a character who gives up and has to die (even if technically she doesn’t have to).  I know that I will never use the name in that context myself.  I also couldn’t handle it when a different author named her paranormal romance “heroine” Fiona.  I just don’t picture Fiona being submissive to a man (especially a man she just met).

My own name isn’t that popular in fiction or real life anymore (thank god!) and I’m going to help make that happen even more.  I can’t read any novel about Jessica.  I just can’t.  I don’t know for sure why I can’t, but right now I’m wondering if it’s because then I’d insert myself in the role and be completely drawn out when that Jessica isn’t anything like me.

One really weird name coming up in movies, particularly horror movies, is Samantha.  There’s Samantha from Contracted and Samantha from Antisocial.  There’s probably other Samanthas running around that I’m not thinking about right now.  I honestly had no thoughts about the name either way until they came up in movies.  I don’t know that I’d ever use the name Samantha (unless it had a few tweaks to it, such as a Z instead of an S).  The two above-mentioned Samanthas were victims of zombie woes (in different ways and I won’t spoil it unless you’ve already read my reviews of the two movies and you already know what I mean).  They deserved it, the first because of her actions leading to becoming a victim and the second because it was the only way she could’ve been a compelling character.  I don’t like the idea of Samantha being a name restricted to victimhood.  I will always think it is now, thank you very much horror screenwriters!

As I write about names, I’m considering that it’s really hard for creators of any media to name characters because of all the stereotypes or previous uses of the name they want to use.  Sometimes you have to say “Screw it!” and use the name regardless.  The risk they take then is that people may not accept the character if they do hold preconceived ideas (positive or negative) of the name.


Characters I Want to Write

Want to know a secret?  I miss writing fiction.  I say I’ll never do it again and I say I couldn’t tell a story to save my life.  Well, the second part is true.  My writing style is very blunt, very “This is this and this is this and this is this…”.  I couldn’t write an amusing, horrifying, mind-blowing, compelling story to, well, you know.  Deep down, I feel like I need to get over my fiction writing insecurities and just write something.  Something fictional, I should clarify.  I’ve been blogging for months now and I adore it.  I love giving you all bite-sized pieces of information.  It’s enjoyable and I feel like in my own weird way, I’m contributing to the world.  It’s not fiction though.  I have all these ideas for my next novel and I want to see how far they can take me.  I love telling you what’s going on in the world, but why not use that stuff, turn it into fiction, and tell you the same thing in a different way?  I want to, I really do.  I even know who would tell the story.

  • Callixta is a skeleton.  She lives in a post-purge mostly desert world where everyone who survived the purge is evil, eviler, or evilest.  Her story is broken into two series, one that’s a young adult series when she’s a young adult and one for older readers when she’s a woman and a ruler.  The young adult series is called How to Survive a Purge.  I’ve been writing Callixta’s story for ten years plus but I’ve never been able to get it right.  Maybe the next time I will.
  • Kessa is human except for one thing:  Sometimes she’s made of fire.  She lives in the middle of a forest with her mother, which is somewhat significant because of how she first realized she was sometimes made of fire.  The one scene I’ve written over and over is of the first burning, where she’s swimming in a creek and the world around her turns to flames while she levitates and does the same.  I’m not sure exactly what her story is, but I know that fire is a key element of it.
  • Harley was a human until she died, at which point she became a skeleton.  She is in a waiting room for Placement, which is a test that determines what kind of afterlife she’ll have.  She passes the test after drowning her final opponent in a pool and is thereforth nicknamed The Queen of Pain.  Nothing’s been written beyond her passing the Placement exam.  Of all the characters I want to write about, she’s the one that I could scrap if necessary.
  • The alternative version of Harley’s story is that in the beginning, she writes a letter to a sometimes friend, sometimes boyfriend, and always user telling him why she had to kill him.  The rest of the story is her Placement, her nickname, and how she killed her friend/boyfriend/user.  This one has more depth to it so potentially I would opt to save Harley’s story by giving her more of this oomph.

I like writing about female characters who are surrounded by challenges and violence, both being heavily supernatural.  I write about characters who are so much more interesting than I am but that I relate to (don’t ask how I relate to Fire Girl Kessa!) and would want to read about.  I absolutely want to tell you their stories.  One day, I might even stop wanting and start doing.

Writing Off the Top of My Head Doesn’t End Well

Yesterday I posted a novel snippet about post-apocalypse survival as told from the perspective of a zombie tortoiseshell (tortie) cat named Gardenia.  The free-flowing fiction writing I did was a good kick in the butt for acomplishing free-flowing fiction writing (since I haven’t written fiction for a good year) but when I re-read it on my blog, I could’ve cried.  Gardenia was fine up until she ate the corpse and degenerated into a skeleton.  At that point even I was wondering what I had been thnking.  The idea, now that I’ve had time to think about it more, is that this particular corpse was carrying a flesh-eating virus.  I know absolutely nothing about flesh-eating viruses except that they’re nasty.  If I were to pursue a novel like this, I would research flesh-eating viruses so that I at least get the basics right.  I honestly don’t think the degeneration would occur overnight like I wrote, but then maybe it would.  Research is key!  On that note, if Gardenia was infected by a flesh-eating virus, she wouldn’t really be a zombie cat.  I’d have to figure out what she’d actually be.  You all as my readers will have to suspend disbelief to accept that a skeleton cat can be the narrator and player in the story long after she degenerates, but I’ll do my part to describe her the best I can.  Furthermore, in general, the writing style was extremely basic and not entertaining at all.  My first drafts of anything are very blunt.  I add details and character quirks later on.  What you saw in the snippet is not an example of the best I can write.  It’s out there for the world to read and I’m okay with it (I guess) as a rough draft, but it’s certainly not an example of the best I can do.

Apologies for the monstrous spiel.  I wanted to limit my discussion of the novel snippet to one paragraph and, well, that ended up being a crazy long paragraph.  It’s okay though, because now I’m going to get into the meat of why writing off the top of my head doesn’t end well.

  • Because I haven’t had time to do the research, free-flowing writing is exactly that.  I write whatever comes into my head even if it makes little or no sense and I leave it there.  On my blogs, it’s there for the entire world to see.  Then of course I have to go back to the blog and write an explanation post for some of the nonsensical parts or the parts that would need a lot more revision and research at some point.
  • I struggle with dialogue to begin with.  Capturing how real peope talk is not my strong suit.  When I do a free-flowing writing exercise, the dialogue is bound to be stilted.  That can be changed later, of course, but it shows how poor I handle dialogue.
  • I’m not a natural-born storyteller.  There is an art to creating a world and characters that engages readers.  The books that I re-read are written by storytellers.  Anyone can be a writer, but there’s something special when you readuate to eing a storyteller.  I am…well, to put it kindly, barely a writer (where fiction is concerned).  I can tell you what’s going on with my characters, but it’s not written in an interesting way.  I can get better at being interesting in later drafts, but free-flowing writing is definitely not interesting.
The Apocalypse As Told By a Zombie Tortie

If you aren’t familiar with me as a writer, there’s a lot I want to tell you but I think for now you need to know that I love cats and I’m curious about the apocalypse.  I’ve been considering what the apocalypse might look like and how it would affect cats and eventually I cobbled together some ideas that form a semi-coherent story.  I don’t know what it’ll become.  Right now this isn’t anything I’m going to actively pursue, at least not in the foreseeable future.  However, the idea has been rattling around in my mind for a while now, and I wanted to offer the snippet in case anyone is curious (and also because if I do decide to pursue it, so that I have something to jog my memory).  This is a scene where the narrator, a tortoiseshell cat (tortie) named Gardenia, talks about eating a corpse and what happens afterwards.

My First Corpse

“Kitty, get back!”

That’s my owner Suzanna.  She can cry and wail all she wants but If she thinks I’m going to answer to “Kitty”, well, she’s going to be waiting forever.  I am not “Kitty!” and I am not giving up this corpse.

I’ve never had a corpse before.  Well, that’s probably because there hadn’t always been corpses before, at least not legally.  Ever since the apocalypse there’s been corpses everywhere you walk.  Suzanna kept me locked inside for a full week after the apocalypse  because she’s stupid!  No, not really.  I guess it’s because nobody really understood it was the apocalypse and what exactly the apocalypse meant and if it was safe to eat corpses.  Suzanna tells me I shouldn’t eat the corpses because they’re “wrong” but I’m going to do what I want.  I’m a cat, you know?  I would eat corpses all day if I could!

Suzanna may have a point though.  This corpse tastes wrong, like…Its innards are either toasted to a crisp or they’re liquid goo spilling out of the substantial gash I made in the stomach.  It’s not because this corpse has been sizzling in the hot sun for a full week either.  Oh god, am I going to turn into a zombie cat?  I don’t want to be a zombie cat!

Suzanna came running up to me and shoved me roughly away from the corpse.  “Bad kitty!  Bad kitty!” she scolded me, waving her finger accusingly in my face.  Then she said, “Don’t eat corpses! They’re bad for you” as if I didn’t already know.

As the afternoon turned into evening I felt myself degenerating.  Immediately after eating the melted innards I felt wonky in a here-but-not way, a little like what Suzanna calls “out of body experience”.  I wasn’t entirely sure how to describe it, but I think “zombie cat” is a good term.  I didn’t feel like my usual tortie self.  I either wanted nothing more than to hide in the back of Suzanna’s closet (because apparently zombies do that or something) or to get outside for some more corpses.  No matter how many corpses I munched on, I still felt like I was starved.  I was so concerned with the internal health effects (and getting more corpse meat) that I didn’t notice the physical changes.  I was little more than a skeleton now.  I only had tuffs of cream-colored fur on formerly cute blonde-and-black- tortie paws.  Everything else was, well, skeletal.

I would tell you that I learned my lesson and will never eat another “wrong” corpse ever again, but it’s too late for that.  All I can do is guard Suzanna in case this becomes a zombie apocalypse, at least until my mind goes.  Gardenia signing off.

Advice For Naming a Character

When I cared about searching writing blogs for others’ writing advice, one point that kept coming up was “Know your characters’ names.”  I was never sure if there was a consensus on what specifically that meant.  Some writers were big into the etymology of names.  They chose names that had history behind them and spent months researching that history.  They’d do searches on the names’ popularity from year to year and in some cases would change a character’s name if the name was too obscure or out-of-place (even if the novel setting was purely fictional).  Even the writers that didn’t care about the ins and outs of a name at least wanted to see that from name website to name website, the meaning of the name was the same or similar.

I gave up on reading writing blogs in part because of their advice on naming characters.   I use the term “advice” loosely because honestly these writing blogs were more “Thou shalt not commit this writing crime and if thou does thou shalt be shunned by all writers forever more!”  Never mind that not only should every writer develop a style of writing and character creation for themselves, from genre to genre the advice might change.  So let’s talk about the “Thou shalt…” of naming characters.   If you are writing a realistic fiction novel then you might want to be more concerned about name conventions and history, but these writing blogs were by and for speculative fiction authors.  There will always be naming conventions for writers to follow, but anyone who knows speculative fiction novels, especially fantasy and science fiction subgenres knows that it’s the individual writer who creates their world, their characters, and any conventions attached to all that.

Let me give you a rough example of what I mean.  If I am writing a fantasy novel and choose to name a character Sunshine Weathervane, then I will do exactly that.  My naming conventions might be as follows:  Every character has weather-related names.  Every character must have a first name related to the weather, temperature, or a climate.  Every character must have a last name related to a tool measuring the weather, temperature, or climate.  Sunshine Weathervane fits all three of these requirements.  Sunshine Weathervane may not be a good fantasy name to other writers in the genre and subgenre for being too quirky or too gimmicky or too modern, but her name is just fine according to the rules I sat for naming conventions.

The only good advice I read in a few of these writing blogs was to consider the race and/or ethnicity of the character and understand how the alphabet works for that race or ethnicity.  For example, a first name I’m actually using is Callixta/Callix.  The name Callix is a take-off on Calyx, which is a name with meaning.  Apparently a calyx is part of a flower, so we’re talking about a semi-nature terminology word.  That’s pretty cool.  Callixta, the “formal” version of the name, has meaning as well.  Callixta means “Most beautiful”.  Without going into loads of detail, Callixta/Callix is the complete opposite of the name meaning, which was unintentional but quite amusing.  Here’s the thing I don’t like: Callixta/Callix would not have a universal pronunciation and that could cause problems.  This character is fictional but she is based on Mediterranean (Italian) and Mexican descent.  I don’t know 100% how the name would be pronounced in either Italian or Spanish but I know it wouldn’t have the double l sound like in English.  I believe that in both languages it would be more like “Kay-ix” (“eye” with a k at the beginning) than “Cal-lix” and “Kay-ix-ta” than “Ca-lix-ta”.  When spelling this name, I might need to adjust the spelling of it so that it’s pronounced the way I pictured it.

Other than learning the importance of knowing your character in order to spell their name correctly in the language(s) of their race or ethnicity, I honestly found the “Thou shalt…” writing blogs more discouraging than helpful.  Beginners to serious writing and understanding the genre they choose to write in could benefit from reading “expert” writing blogs at first, but I would never recommend that anyone takes the advice to heart.  Writing is a very personal journey.  Clichéd as it’s going to sound, nobody can tell you how to do it because their way isn’t going to be your way.  Ignore the writing blog naming conventions and come up with your own.

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