Excerpt from ‘Red Planet’ WIP

Red Planet Draft Cover
Red Planet Draft Cover

Disclaimer: this is a novel excerpt from the National Novel Writing Month challenge that happens every November. The goal is to get to 50,000 words in 30 days so that you have a working manuscript. That being said, the goal is to wait for editing until later so please keep in mind that this is a very rough first draft. Enjoy, and thanks so much for giving this a read. – Corissa


Chapter I

When They Came To Kill And Kidnap

Jak tried to remember how to hold his breath the way that Meg had taught him. Life, his life, depended on it as it never had before that moment. He hid, crouched in a fetal position with his knees tucked to his chin. He fit perfectly inside the locker, with just enough room to be uncomfortable after about ten minutes. He had been there for an hour. The tiny metal cage Meg had insisted he climb inside felt cramped, and Jak’s legs were beginning to fall asleep. Everything inside the locker was dark except for the thin lines of yellow light that slipped through three tiny slices in the locker door, covered by gently sloping metal edges on the outside of the door. Jak felt sick, nausea came toward him like a wave. He pushed it away before it broke over him, and held his breath tightly. Fear began to lump in his throat, and he wanted to swallow, but he didn’t. Jak could not let himself breathe just yet. The SiSo were still here.

Jak chased away thoughts of sickness and vomit as he pinched his nose shut tightly with two fingers, and covered his mouth with his palm. He tried to think of something nice, something that didn’t terrify him. A shadow passed by, covering the locker’s three little slivers of hopeful light. The inside of the locker went dark. The lump in Jak’s throat grew, yet he did not breathe. He squeezed his eyes shut, hoping the Silver Soldiers would not hear. Jak, on the other hand, could hear everything with a heightened sense of awareness; the volume of minuscule occurrences had grown in the tense silence. There were two of the soldiers just outside the locker. He had heard the click-click, click-click of their mechanical heel-toe approach, the dreaded claw walk of a pair of the large robotic soldiers. The last time Jak heard that tedious click-click approach was the last time he had seen his parents. Jak felt nauseous bile rise to the top of his stomach, but held it back again with the sheer power of survival and fear twisted together inside of the child hidden in the locker. There was a gentle whirring sound, like a camera moving, some mechanical part was moving only a few feet from Jak. In the far, far distance echoes of violent chaos thundered against the walls of the transport vessel. Somewhere on another part of the ship, the colonists were fighting back. There was no one here but Jak and the soldiers.

The near silence deafened the hallway when the SiSo stopped walking to sniff out their prey. Jak knew this total silence was a common hunting trick of the SiSo. Meg had taught him many of the tactics the Silver Soldiers used to employ mechanical search and destroy missions for their masters. One of these tactics was to let the prey show itself before the SiSo pounced. They rooted out their targets with patience, and precision. The SiSo were not human, and did not care about humans. Their strength was not to be challenged by a twelve year old child, nor by an adult, as Jak well knew after what had happened earlier that day.

Meg. The rock in Jak’s throat became a few spare tears that tried to escape his eyes despite their tight closure. The child shoved away the memories and traumatic mental images of her recent demise as they approached him in the dark locker. Jak held his eyes shut so tightly that his lashes burned and the tears stung. Another sound cut through the quiet. Jak knew the high-pitched mechanical whine. The SiSo’s cameras were sweeping the area for thermal signals. A little longer, Jak told himself, but he heard Meg’s voice in his head and felt sick again. Don’t even swallow, he thought. Pretend you’re under water. They’re sweeping beyond your locker, the child told himself, you’re lucky, you’re lucky, you’re lucky. Jak didn’t feel lucky, but thinking about it helped with the overwhelming feelings of fear a tiny bit.

It felt like years of darkness before the whirring stopped. Jak had no idea how long he held his breath. At some point Jak guessed to himself that he had blacked out, for he saw nothing, smelled nothing, breathed nothing even when he felt like hurling right then and there. Even his feet, which had been asleep a moment ago, did not even feel attached to his body any longer. After an eternity of silent suffocation, a sweep of air and a scent of sterile polish pushed through the locker door openings and hit Jak. He felt the gentle movement, and heard the click-click, click-click recede down the hallway. The light sweep of air encouraged Jak to sigh, letting out a huge breath and sucking air back in as quietly as he could.

Let’s play a game, Jaky. Meg used to say. Let’s see who can hold their breath longer. Meg always won, she’d been practicing since she was young. We all have to hide sometimes, Jak. And I won’t always be there to protect you.

Why not? Jak wanted to ask, and the nausea receded and the rock in his throat grew to full blockage size again. The child did not let the tears come, but held them back as he had held back death or worse just now. Jak realized he was shaking, then, his whole person shuddering in utter terror. He hoped the SiSo would never come back. He hoped, somehow, that Meg had lived.

* * * *

Amanda wore brown garden gloves over her hands, and a dress that fell to her ankles and gently hugged her arms in dark turquoise lace. The color of the dress was singular, a rich turquoise hue that drew light to itself and harkened back to Earth’s deep oceans. Her waist was encircled by a brown rope belt that was tied, quite securely, through a circular iron ring. The iron, when polished, glistened and reflected off of any light source. Her black hair was long, held away from her face with a plain green headband.

The woman was potting a small scrub of basil at the gardening table in the solarium when she felt the ship lurch in a very wrong way. She heard the great crunch of metal upon metal, scratching and clawing and coming together suddenly, in a way that spaceships are not meant to do. Licorice the white cat nearly slipped off the garden table, taken aback by the sudden movement of the entire ship. The pot slid off that same table and broke open on the dirt floor of the solarium, its ceramic shards scattering and skidding every which way. Licorice clawed for purchase on the wood. Amanda caught her balance first by stumbling back and forth, basil scrub in hand, and then looked up as if it would give her a clue as to what had happened. Instead it reassured her that the garden was safe, for when she looked up she saw the familiar green branches of the oak tree in the center of the solarium.

‘What was that?’ She said aloud, again as if someone would answer her. Licorice yowled, the sound of a creature inconvenienced and in need of attention. ‘Hush.’ Amanda said, and her voice dropped to a low volume barely audible to most creatures. The white cat looked up, his crystal blue eyes seeking his owner’s gaze. He stood on two feet and gently raised his front paws to stretch upward and find a clawhold in Amanda’s skirts. Licorice leaned into his stretch, eyes expectantly staring at the woman above.

There was another sound of metal thunder, the kind of sound that made Amanda’s heart constrict and her stomach tighten. She felt tiny claws gripping her dress and looked down. ‘Shush, Licky.’ With her right hand, she gently removed Licorice’s claws from her oceanic skirts, and leaned down toward the fluffy white cat. Her long hair, blacker than shadow, fell down her back to the floor in a rippling waterfall of darkness. With her left hand, Amanda still held the basil scrub in its dirt clump, cradling it so as to keep it alive until she could find a place to put it. The cat sat by her knees, and licked his paws, cleaning each toe carefully with the delicate patience of a very busy cat. Amanda stayed there, crouched in the garden, until she heard the sound again; metal tore at metal as the transport ship fought back against whatever had rammed into it minutes before. Then, the sound of the ship’s alarms.

HULL BREACH flashed on the few digital screens that peppered the walls of the large garden room. Soon enough, the ship’s automated voice followed the sound of the high pitched alarms.

‘Proceed to evacuation routes to exit the ship. Follow the blue arrows to safety,’ said the voice, several times in a row. Then the screens all glowed with blue arrows. All of the ones that Amanda could see pointed towards the door, directing her to leave the room. A tiny voice inside her told her that nothing could be more dangerous than listening to the automated system right now. A final siren wail followed the repetitive message, and then the comm system went quiet. The blue arrows continued their flashing directions after the sound had died out and it was nearly silent.

That sound, the wail of the emergency sirens playing through every announcement speaker on the ship, solidified Amanda’s resolve to hide herself and her cat wherever she could find that seemed reasonable. Something felt very wrong about this. The woman could not identify why she felt the way that she did, but something held her back from leaving the garden. There was no one else in the solarium at the moment, and so she felt relatively safe. Whatever was happening, she could wait it out. She could save herself and Licorice from whatever had just happened to the ship. Something told her she should not try to leave the garden.

Amanda stood, and went to the nearest open plot near a thyme bush, and dug a small hole with her hand. She did this quietly, swiftly, listening at every stage for someone in the hallway outside the solarium. The woman placed the fragile plant inside the hole and packed in the dark earth around it. Her hair fell over her shoulder and got in the way; she brushed it aside. She carefully finished planting the basil plant.

‘Grow, little one. Even if something happens to me, I bid you grow.’ Amanda whispered towards the basil scrub, breathing on it gently but purposefully. Licorice rubbed himself against her leg as she crouched. Amanda removed her gloves, took one more look at the basil, and petted Licorice. Then she stood, grabbed her fluffy white cat, and placed the gloves in an empty ceramic pot that still stood near the wooden planting table. She turned off the lights in the solarium not meant for the plants, and withdrew into the darkest corner of the garden, Licorice purring and happy in her arms.

Beyond the bushes they huddled behind together, beyond the doors of the solarium and their wing of the transport ship, the woman and the cat heard distant sounds of screaming, and violence.

Ridiculous, curious, most likely delirious.

I love a great story, whether it comes in the form of words or visual stimuli. I believe everyone has a story to tell, and I love to share mine.

Please feel free to read along, comment, share your own stories, or send me a message via the contact page. Thanks for your time reading my words.

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7 Major Takeaways from National Novel Writing Month

NaNo-2015-Winner-Banner
National Novel Writing Month Winner’s Banner
By Corissa Haury

Writing a novel is not easy. Whether you put pen to paper, type on a typewriter, or use a tablet with a keyboard like me, you still have to do something hard. You have to write.

You have to write a lot, too. 50,000 words in one month is no joke. The daily minimum to reach 50k is 1667 words, or about 3 double spaced pages. Multiply that by the 30 days writers are given to finish the task, and that’s a minimum of 90 pages for the month-long project. An average published novel is between 100,000 and 175,000 words, so starting with 50,000 is a solid half a manuscript. You learn a lot about yourself, writing, and how to be a better writer. Here are the 7 major takeaways I learned this year while finishing my 79,000 word manuscript.

1. Say No to Yourself

One of the hardest things in the whole world is to not look back. There is even an “I told you so” myth about that very thing. This is great advice the folks over at NaNoWriMo.org already recommend at the start of the program, but it is hard to follow. The temptation to read what you wrote from the beginning, to see if it is the epic tale you had hoped for, will start on day one and follow you to day 30. Say no to yourself. Don’t look back. Keep writing.

2. Gestate Your Ideas Beforehand

Are you the writer that plans ahead? I tend to fly by the seat of my pants. When it comes to character development, plot, and chapters, I am often hopeless. That changed this year during the last two weeks of October. I grabbed a notebook and wrote down character ideas and names, created locations, did beginning research, and drew maps for reference.

Not only was it fun, it was a novel lifeline halfway through the month when I could not quite remember what part of the story I was supposed to write next. Lo and behold, I have notes I can reference. To help yourself, write a rough chapter outline before your next book. Prepare your ideas in a notebook, and you’ll have something to look at when you continue to plod onward. Er, plot onward…

3. Be Willing to Scrap Your Plot Completely

There will be times when your plot becomes convoluted, your characters get strange, and the whole story surpises you and flips itself on its head. You can learn something about yourself and about your characters by allowing this to happen. Let the story morph. Rewrite your plot. Outline chapters a dozen times if you have to. (I did.) Whatever feels right, do it. Don’t inhibit yourself with the idea that you must keep the first plot or that a messy story is bad. Messes are what make things interesting in your favorite books.

40kwords
40,000 words towards the middle of the month.

4. Finish Your Story

This may seem obvious, but I will put it here anyway because I needed to learn it. Getting to 50,000 words is an accomplishment, but if the story is not finished than neither are you. 50,000 words is a minimum goal. Do not allow yourself to get to the minimum and stop. I know I fall into that trap, with homework and writing. Do not stop writing if the story is not at its end. You will not feel like you have won, because you left a lot hanging. You can do it. You can finish your novel.

5. Every Month is Your NaNoWriMo

Something my husband said to me this month is important. “Every month is NaNoWriMo.” He said. “I don’t want you to stop writing.”

Writing is hard. It is tedious. It is frustrating. It is a discipline, a chore, a task that you must continue if you want to be a writer. Stephen King has a great essay (#23) in his book On Writing. He talks about how when he was a young writer in the 60s, most folks believed that writing was a nebulous, divine vision that came to the writer. There was no expectation of discipline or definition. King and his wife, Tabby, who were dating at the time, did not feel the same. They both laboriously crafted their stories with care, and for Stephen, a sense of fun.

Keep writing. Do not stop because National Novel Writing Month is over. If you have a retail job that is 40+ hours per week like me, and you still finished a novel this month, don’t let the end of November stop you from the continuation of your craft. You are worth it. You can keep writing.

6. Kill Your Inner Editor

National Novel Writing Month is not about making a book. It is about getting a story onto paper that you can mold into a book later. Whatever it takes, silence your inner editor. That bitch doesn’t need our encouragement or our credence while we are writing the first draft. We will need her in later months when we come back to critique our manuscript with an eagle eye, but for now, she can go away.

What does it take for you to kill your inner editor while you write your first draft? Sometimes a stiff drink does it for me. Sometimes being out in the world and writing at a cafe helps. Sometimes you just need to find the right soundtrack for the feeling you are trying to produce with your words. There are multiple methods to make sure that critical voice in your head doesn’t get heard until December. Find your method.

7. Acknowledge Your Accomplishments

77k Words

If you are not a published author, you read often, and you have a decent sense of literary quality, then it is probably hard for you to feel accomplished when you write something. You know what a great book is, but you may not know what it took to craft it. The first draft should never be the final draft. What’s that quote by William Faulkner from The Sound & The Fury?

“Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.”

If you learned anything about your own writing while finishing a novel, you have more than accomplished what you set out to do at the outset. NaNoWriMo is about one thing: writing. Don’t expect your novel to be Sirens of Titan yet. This is just the beginning. After editing, rewriting, and several more drafts you’ll have something you can submit to a publisher or work to self-publish. You did better than yourself this month. Take a moment to appreciate your own accomplishments.

This is just the beginning. You have a manuscript to mold. You have a novel to make stronger, and more purposeful. Congratulations!

Ridiculous, curious, most likely delirious.

I love a great story, whether it comes in the form of words or visual stimuli. I believe everyone has a story to tell, and I love to share mine.

Please feel free to read along, comment, share your own stories, or send me a message via the contact page. Thanks for your time reading my words.

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Which Thoughts Are Your Own?

Which Thoughts Are Your Own?

by C. E. Poley

We often find ourselves struggling to define how we feel both inside our selves and outside. We struggle to find methods that express our thoughts and emotions, such as writing, painting, making music, mathematics, astronomy, and countless other things humans do. It is not easy to express the self with clarity. We are told every day by  American media that we have many outlets to express ourselves. Most of the time we are told that our ‘Self’ is related to some product, food consumption, or beauty standard. Most of the time, we are told, “Buy this product to express the real you!” That is not the way to know ourselves, for that is never who we were. That was not the truth in the hour of our birth, drenched in blood and desperate for clean air, when we were just us before anyone else told us what to be.

One of my best friends asks me on a frequent basis, “Which thoughts are your own?” This is a query that haunts me, as it should. Which thoughts are spurred by external sources? Which thoughts belong to my parents, their legacy and nurture, stuck in my brain as my own? Which thoughts come from my genetics? Which thoughts are my own? It is not  external sources. Our own thoughts are not the constant stream of processing that occurs in our brains, processing interactions with other human beings, words that were exchanged, television that was watched, music that was listened to, books that were read, text exchanges and social media discussions. None of that is ours. It is the world’s. It is our society’s. We must deal with it. If we never face it, it will be a distracting tsunami in the back of our minds. We will never rest.

We must find out where we stand, where the me in all of the world is. Not how we relate to the world, but rather separate from it, who are we? Who are you, separate from the world around you? When you stand still, alone with yourself, who are you? (Alone here has strict criteria; you are not alone if you hold a pet or play music or watch TV or read a book. You are with the other humans who made those things. They are there.)

Agnes Martin, an American writer born in 1932, said another thing on aloneness and self-awareness that struck me when I read it:

“We have been very strenuously conditioned against solitude. To be alone is considered to be a grievous and dangerous condition.

So I beg you to recall in detail any times when you were alone and discover your exact response at those times.

I suggest to artists that you take every opportunity of being alone, that you give up hope of having pets and unnecessary companions.

You will find the fear that we have been taught is not just one fear but many fears. When you discover what they are they will be overcome. Most people have never been alone enough to feel these fears. But even without the experience of them they dread them.

I suggest that people who like to be alone, who walk alone will perhaps be serious workers in the art field.”

One of the most powerful things about NaNoWriMo is that it truly just encourages people to ask themselves that question. “Which thoughts are your own?” Asks NaNoWriMo. “Tell us. Write a novel. You can do it. Do not stop writing.” A powerful message that every year, expands to a larger audience.

Friends, do not stop writing. It is one of the purest forms of self-expression and is a healthy outlet for your thoughts. (Listen to another great piece on writing by David Foster Wallace) Ask yourself which thoughts belong to you. Please share your internal journey and your thoughts with the world, if you are bold enough. If more of us ask this important question, we all come closer to real discovery and healthy awareness of our true selves.

Ridiculous, curious, most likely delirious.

I love a great story, whether it comes in the form of words or visual stimuli. I believe everyone has a story to tell, and I love to share mine.

Please feel free to read along, comment, share your own stories, or send me a message via the contact page. Thanks for your time reading my words.

Continue Reading