Flash Fiction – The Magic Touch

This week’s 1,000- word flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig at Terrible Minds was to involve insomnia in any way we want. I went with a straightforward approach.

***

Damn it. What time is it?

Pompous red numbers say two thirty-six. Cold, unfeeling bastard numbers.

I’m warm. Roll onto my back, peel the covers off my legs, kick my feet out from under them. Better, but still not great. Fold my hands on my stomach, close my eyes, deep breath.

Nothing.

Wait, facial muscles are tense. Noticed in the past I fall asleep more easily if I focus on relaxing my face. Relax, try again.

Nope.

I have a headache. Back of my head. Why do I wake up with headaches so often? Need a new pillow… don’t drink enough water… grind my teeth in my sleep… something more serious? Growing tumor or hematoma pressing on my brain—

NO. Didn’t used to be so paranoid about my health. Getting old, I guess.

Okay, try thinking about relaxing things, stress-free things. What are my book’s main characters doing right now? Let mind wander. I either fall asleep again or think of some fun story element and jot it in the notebook on the nightstand. A win either way. Oh wait, I have a team meeting at work first thing in the morning. That’s gonna get in the way of the experiment I’m in the middle of. My whole day will be pushed back, I won’t get home in time to have dinner ready before S.O. gets home—

NO. STOP. Thinking about real life only makes it worse. Clear mind, think about book characters. I last left them in tenth-century Norway. Harvest celebration. Reunion with long-lost… friends… airplanes… scratch thermometers… walking on sidewalk… trip on uneven cement—

*TWITCH*

Agh, damn it, full-body spasm just as I was falling asleep. So close, mind was in gibberish mode. All right, calm down, roll over onto my side, think about book characters, try again…

What time is it?

Three-oh-three. So it’s gonna be one of those nights. Welp, I’m wide awake now, and will only toss and turn. Don’t wanna wake up S.O. Off to the living room. Sit up, swing legs around, stand from bed, mattress groans angrily. Gotta get a new mattress. S.O. still asleep? Looks like it. Grab my glasses, open bedroom door. Door groans angrily. Gotta get a new apartment. Close door as quietly as possible behind me, stop in kitchen for a glass of water for the headache, hit the lights, plant myself on the couch, open the laptop.

Now what?

Cycle through the usuals: Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, BBC RSS feed. Fuzzy pressure behind my eyes, forebear to new headache . Gonna be a mess in lab tomorrow. Better not do anything too involved.

What time is it now?

Cable box says three twenty-seven.

Seriously? This night’s never going to end.

What to do… could try to do some work… could write some new material for work-in-progress… but what quality would I produce while sleep-deprived in the middle of the night? Could read, have a ton of unread historical nonfiction piling up. No, won’t focus on words, waste of time in my state. Games it is. But which? Slaying medieval undead and renegade wizards? Space marine defying galactic imperative? No, bounding across Renaissance rooftops somehow fits my mood best…

Time?

Five fifteen. Really need to sleep or I’ll be completely useless at work today. Could just stay home… no, have that experiment running. Waste of a week’s worth of work if I don’t go in today. Definitely tired. Let’s try one more time. Close laptop, hit lights—agh, pitch black. Blindly feel my way along the wall to the bedroom. Door groans as I open it and step inside. Maybe she didn’t hear—

“Honey? What’s wrong?”

Damn. “Nothing, just… couldn’t sleep.”

She’s more asleep than awake, too tired for more words, won’t even remember the exchange when we get up for work in a couple of hours. Still, lets out what might be a soft sympathetic sigh, rolls toward me as I lower myself to the bed. Immediately drapes an arm over me as I settle down for one last attempt at sleep. Just hope I don’t keep her up if I can’t—

That sensation. Arm across my body, hand on my chest. Small puffs of breath on my shoulder. I sink, gratefully, into the mattress, tension and frustration draining out of me as she drifts effortlessly back to whatever dream I interrupted. Close my eyes, my own breaths falling into a steady rhythm, the simple weight and warmth of her arm as my chest rises and falls… That was all I needed? Should… remember… for next time…

Artistic Influences: the Brother, the Book, the Best Friend

No one lives in a vacuum. We’re all influenced by outside forces, by interactions with our environment and with each other. This is especially true for creative types. Experiencing the world and the people in it is artistic fuel. Sources of inspiration or influence can have obvious impacts on artistic styles or subjects, but sometimes the effects can be more subtly profound. If asked what has influenced my writing, I could talk about Star Wars and Star Trek as the original sparks of my love of science fiction. I could discuss the quality story-telling skills of several science fiction authors, like Timothy Zahn, Kevin J. Anderson, and Michael A. Stackpole, to name a few. I might talk your ears off describing the Hyperion Cantos by Dan Simmons, though you’re better off just reading it for yourselves (do it; the whole series is fantastic). But I think a unique and insightful approach would be to reveal more fundamental influences throughout the development of my creative process.

The Brother

To paraphrase a well-known adage, imitation is the strongest display of admiration. Looking back on the development of my writing habit, I’d have to say my older brother was a huge fundamental influence on me. Erik always has a pen and notebook (or some variation) in hand. As children growing up together, he let me collaborate with him on some of his earliest work – annual illustrated audiobooks (on cassette) about our family’s Christmas and summer vacation misadventures. In high school, he wrote a short novel about a group of teens whose prom limo is hijacked by mobsters. His play about a stalker’s wish fulfillment fantasy was produced off-Broadway in New York City. He’s self-published a three-part memoir  about his self-awakening experiences while traveling in Chile (check out Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 on Amazon!), and he’s currently polishing a Sopranos-style crime drama novel for publication. He’s been writing throughout every stage of his life, no matter what else is thrown at him. In short, my brother’s drive to create with words contributed to my own writing itch, and his creativity and tenacity serve as inspirations for my own pursuits. (Incidentally, he was also responsible for my introduction two years ago to National Novel Writing Month, which prompted me to start writing the novel that I’m querying to agents for representation right now.)

The Book

The beginning of my high school years saw the advent of my first serious, long-term writing endeavor – the X-Men fan-fiction series I mentioned in a previous post. It started out as a sci-fi adventure with a cast of characters – mostly based on my friends and me – learning to use their newfound superpowers. Then, for a school summer reading assignment, I read Say Goodnight, Gracie by Julie Reece Deaver, a story of high-school best friends who suffer a devastating tragedy, one having to carry on without the other. Reading that book, that little young-adult story of personal loss having nothing to do with science fiction, profoundly transformed my own creations. Suddenly I wasn’t writing about overpowered genetic anomalies shooting energy blasts from their hands and reading each other’s minds. I was writing about people, about interpersonal relationships, about love and inner turmoil and broken friendships and betrayal, about loss and grief and joy and healing. Sure, the superhero stuff was still there; I’ll always be a sci-fi fan. But reading Say Goodnight Gracie injected my characters and my stories with humanity. That trend has stuck through the last two decades’ worth of my writing, and I’m grateful to Ms. Deaver for having that lasting effect on my own storytelling efforts.

The Best Friend

My fiction productivity in the last few years has increased dramatically, thanks in no small part to the encouragement of my SO. Ever since she learned of my passion for writing and I gave her some samples to read, she’s been incredibly supportive of my little hobby. In fact, after two decades of dabbling and writing mostly for myself, her enthusiasm for my work has inspired my recent efforts to land a literary agent and get published. And I’m not talking about the generic you-can-do-it, follow-your-dreams, I-believe-in-you mushiness. I mean she gets her hands dirty in the muck and mire of my rough drafts, advising me on what works and what doesn’t. She was a literature minor in college, and takes a no-fools-suffered approach to just about everything in life, so believe me when I say she doesn’t pull any punches, even for me. I get criticism about unrealistic dialogue and story-stalling unnecessary fluff right alongside praise for characterizations and plot twists. I’ve rewritten entire chapters based on her advice. She’s been through three rounds of revisions with me on the manuscript I’m now querying to literary agents, and the story – not to mention my ability to take constructive criticism – has greatly improved from her involvement. I’m thankful for her willingness to get involved in my writing, and I look forward to her thoughts on my next story.

I hope you enjoyed these little insights into my creative process. Feel free to poke around my site and check out some products of these and other influences on my word-slinging!