How do you know?

Later this year I hope to publish a romance novel. After considering many factors, I’ve made the decision to self-publish. My novel is unlikely to be purchased by a traditional publisher. The story, through firmly in the romance genre, is not ‘written to market,’ which is, in any event, apparently both over-saturated and dead. I’ve been told that no one will read a romance written by a man, but it would be wrong to use a female pseudonym. I’ve also heard writers praise self-publishing as it allows the author to have control over their work, and make more money. Self-publishing is more work – I have to do my own editing, marketing, layout, cover design, and so on – but it seems the more likely path to publishing, and a better one for me. (In theory, more profitable too, but I’m realistic about sales.) But who is going to pronounce my work ready to share?

A non-deluxe typewriter, suitable for a non-deluxe story.

I’ve had the good fortune to have published short pieces in various places, online and in print (check the menu options fiction and non-fiction). With those publications, someone else made the decision that my work was ready to share. With self-publishing, it’s up to me.

I post stories and essays (and blog posts) on this site without worrying if they are ready to share, but a novel is different. It’s not quietly sitting here, getting a few views a month. It will be available on book selling websites, and I’ll be asking money for it. It has to be …perfect? No. How good does it have to be, and how will I know when it’s there?

There’s always room for improvement, in any work. Even when you really enjoy a novel, if you work at it you can find something to improve. And the quality of a story is subjective. Every reader is Goldilocks, deciding whether that scene was too hot, too cold, or just right (notice the odds are in favour of it being disliked). I’ve noticed this with beta readers, where I’ve received positive and negative comments on the same thing. At some point I need to decide the story has been improved enough, and I’m never going to please every reader. In other words, I’m going to publish the story knowing it is not as good as it could possibly be, and it won’t please everyone.

I’m encouraged to take this seemingly foolish action by hearing established authors, with dozens of books to the their name, talk disparagingly of their early works. I know I am not as good as she is, but maybe I am as good as she was. On the other hand, I’ve heard authors talk of their first novels as being learning attempts that will never see the light of day. Are they too critical, or am I not critical enough?

I enjoy reading stories, particularly romances, even when flaws are obvious. Some 99 cent eBooks have a lot of flaws, but books that cost ten times more are rarely ten times better. Not every meal out needs to be fine dining, and not every live band needs to be Queen. Greasy fries and a tribute band at the local dive can be fun night out. I’m not trying to win a Giller prize – just tell a simple story, like the many I enjoy reading.

I started this novel in 2012. It’s gone through several false starts and a complete rewrite. It will soon be going for its second round of beta reads. I think it’s as good as it’s going to get, and since then I have outlined or completed first drafts for several other stories I’m keen to work on and polish. So, assuming there are no major concerns from the beta readers, I’ll publish the novel this summer, knowing it’s not as good as it could be, hoping people feel they get their money’s worth (it will likely be more than 99 cents, but not much more), and hoping at least 1/3 of my readers find it just right and forgive its flaws. And then I’ll know if it was ready to share.

PS: I can’t say ‘how do you know’ without thinking of this song, which has little to do with the topic of this blog, except the reference to the romance genre.

Sandcastle Rock Beach – Chapter 1

In a month or two I’ll be looking for beta readers for this romance novella (about 48,000 words). Meanwhile, here’s chapter 1. Have a look, and let me know if you find it a) interesting enough to finish, and b) interesting enough to see what comes next. Looking forward to your comments. Thanks!

“It’s going to be that kind of day, isn’t it?”

Marianna turned the kitchen faucet off, then on again. No water flowed. She tried twisting it from hot to cold and back, not expecting that to help. It didn’t.

“Great, no water,” she said to herself. “Lunch will have to wait.”

The day had started badly, with an email from the Wilsons, cancelling their reservation. A weeks’ stay would have been a good boost to her campground’s October income. Then she’d received a loan payment overdue notice in the mail. When she phoned the finance company, they had assured her the notice was a mistake, and all the payments since April had been received on time. Hopefully the water problem was minor. She had bottled water for herself and the campers, but no water meant no showers. She glanced out the side window. Sheila and Barry, her only guests last night, were approaching her house. They did not look happy.

She went out to the porch to meet them. Working face to face with customers, especially unhappy ones, was Marianna’s least favourite part of the job. During the summer, Wendy dealt with customers. Now Wendy was down in Halifax at Dalhousie, and Marianna had to deal with customers herself. She reminded herself that the customer was always right. Especially these customers. Barry was a prolific Trip Advisor reviewer, under his own name, and Shelia had a large Instagram following. They didn’t demand discounts, but never missed a chance to gently remind Marianna of their followers. The usual conversation was compliment, complaint, reminder.

As they drew close, Marianna put on her best ‘how can I help you’ smile, stepped onto the porch, and waved. Cerebus, Marianna’s Airedoodle, rushed past her and greeted the couple with his tail wagging.

“Good morning Sheila, Barry. Did you have a good night?”

“Wonderful,” said Sheila. She petted Cerebus. “I fell asleep to the sound of the waves. No better way to sleep. Well, almost no better way.” She kissed her husband of three weeks. “The morning hasn’t been so good though. The water ran out during my morning shower. I’m hoping that will be fixed before I post pictures of myself looking like this. My followers would be shocked.”

Marianna thought Sheila looked like she just stepped out of spa, but just nodded. “I’m looking into the water now. It should be back on soon.”

“Your location is fabulous,” said Barry, “and the fall colours are amazing. It would be a shame if something like unreliable water detracted from an otherwise positive review.”

“After tonight’s dinner, I’m sure the review will be great.”

“Yes, we are looking forward to that,” said Sheila. “Hopefully the rain holds off until tomorrow, after we’ve packed up.  Can we take Cerebus for a beach walk?”

“Sure – he’d love that. Go with them, Cere.” She watched them walk away, Sheila beside Cerebus, and Barry walking behind them. He stopped and took a picture of the tree covered hill at the back of the campground. Shelia glanced back but kept walking. “So much for the honeymoon period,” she thought, and then decided she was being too cynical. It was better than those couples that would not let go of each other, as if a strong gust of wind might end the relationship. She thought of Troy, always taking her hand when they walked together, saying he never wanted to miss a chance to touch her. Which would have been charming if he had managed to see her more often, or not been so keen to touch other women. I don’t like not holding hands, and I don’t like holding hands. There’s just no pleasing me, she thought. Oh yes there is – she smiled at a memory – just not in relationships.

She climbed the hill to the well house, hoping the problem was minor, nothing else would go wrong today, and that tonight’s dinner for Barry and Sheila would be a success. She reviewed a mental checklist of the supplies and preparation required. Apart from the logistics of transporting everything to the beach and back, the dinner was relatively easy. As for weather, the morning sun was warm, and the sky clear. If the forecasted clouds came in as planned, that would keep the day’s heat into the evening. Too early, and it would rain; too late, and it would be cold. I can’t control the weather, she reminded herself. 

The well house was on the highest point of her land. Before going in, she turned to look down across the campground and out to the open ocean. After two years she still found the view breathtaking. Her mother had said she was crazy to leave Toronto for the northern shore of Cape Breton Island, but she knew this was where she belonged. In the country, on this property, by herself.  She watched as an eagle swooped down from a nearby tree, flew out over the ocean, dived into the water, and flew up again with a fish in its talons.

***

Darwin stopped the truck when the road turned into a wharf. He was lost. He could not possibly be lost in a town with five streets, but none of them were Johnson Hill Road. His phone had guided him to Bay Saint Lawrence, on the northern tip of Cape Breton Island, but now it said he had arrived, even though he was clearly not at Sandcastle Rock campground. He looked out the window at a street sign. He was on Government Wharf Road, apparently on the wharf section. The phone said he was on Main Street. A few fishing boats were parked, or docked, or whatever the proper term was, on one side, and an aging warehouse was on the other, all doors closed. No one was around. Darwin reversed until the road widened, made a U-turn, and drove back to the Co-op store. There was no sign of Johnson Hill Road, which should have been next to the parking lot. The directions on his phone were clear – turn right onto Johnson Hill Road, just past the Co-op. However, there were only driveways for the houses, spaced irregularly on the large lots.

He pulled into the Co-op parking lot, climbed out of the rental SUV, and walked across the hard-packed gravel. From the outside, the Co-op looked like an old-fashioned general store. The inside confirmed that impression. In addition to shelves of food and snacks, there were local carvings and hooked rugs hanging on a wall, and rakes and snow shovels by the door. Darwin looked over the section of camping supplies but didn’t see anything else he needed. He had stopped at a Canadian Tire and a Sobey’s on the way from the airport and purchased everything he needed to look like a camper for three days.

The store had a food counter beside the cash, with an empty pizza warming cabinet, and a sign promising Fresh Sandwiches Made to Order. That, and the smell of roasted chicken, reminded him he hadn’t eaten lunch, he’d been up since five, and it was almost one in the afternoon. He rang the bell on the counter, expecting a grizzled, tobacco-chewing old-timer to appear.

“Be right out.” A teenager, with blue hair and Pink Floyd t-shirt, slipped through the curtain behind the cash. “Sorry to keep you waiting, sir. What can I get for you?”

“What sandwiches do you have?”

“Sorry, just chicken today. It’s still warm, if that’s okay. We could do an egg sandwich too. Or tuna.”

“Warm chicken would be great, thanks. To go, please.”

The teen turned and yelled back through the curtain, “Chicken sandwich, ma.” She turned back to Darwin. “It’ll be right out. Can you pay cash? Machine’s not working.”

He paid and asked for directions to the Sandcastle Rock campground.

“Just turn right onto Johnson Hill Road and keep going. You can’t miss it – the road ends there, but it’s about twenty kilometers.”

“Where’s Johnson Hill Road?”

“Just after the parking lot. Right there.” The teen pointed to the parking lot.

“That’s not a driveway? It’s not paved.”

“Nope. That’s the road. It looks like it goes to McNeil’s garage, but the road goes left just before that.  Marianna wants to put up signs up for her campground, but there’s new rules about road signs, and she can’t. Here’s your sandwich.”

A woman Darwin assumed was the teen’s mother came through the curtain, holding a paper bag. She handed it to Darwin, smiled, and said “Here you go, dear.” It was the third time he’d been called dear today, and he had this odd feeling of coming home. He’d left the province ten years ago, hadn’t been back, and never missed it. Even when he lived in Nova Scotia, he’d never been north of Truro, and then only once when he hitchhiked to Toronto. Cape Breton, at the north end of the province, was as unknown as whatever was north of the last subway stop on the Yonge Street line.  

“Thanks.” The bag was surprisingly heavy. He opened it, and saw the sandwich, made with a bun, a large dill pickle wrapped in plastic, and an apple. “I just paid for a sandwich.”

“It’s all included,” said the older lady. “Enjoy your visit, and tell Marianna Susan says hi. You’ll like Marianna – she can be prickly at first, but she’s a lovely young woman.”A few minutes later, Darwin was driving along Johnson Hill Road. He realized he never got around to asking why there was no street sign. It didn’t matter. It didn’t matter that Marianna was a lovely young woman, either. He was here to do a job, which would make a lot of money for his company and secure his future. Marianna wouldn’t be happy, but she knew the risks when she signed the loan agreement.  

NaNoWriMo Good News and Bad News

First, the bad news. Another National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) has come and gone, and I did not win. Again. I’ve participated almost every year since 2012, and have never completed the recommended goal of 50,000 words. This year I completed 15,000 words, which is on the high side of my usual results.

Picture of old manual typewriter
Some guys buy the now-classic car they wanted in high school but couldn’t afford. I got the typewriter (though I still glance fondly at early 1970s Dusters and Novas -especially the hatchbacks).

To make matters worse, that word count is an estimate. The proper approach to NaNoWriMo is to draft a novel. However, on several occasions, I’ve used it to rewrite or revise a novel. This time, I was revising Romance One, a novel I originally drafted for NaNoWriMo in 2012. Since this is not a competitive event, the rules are loose, and I’m a self-declared NaNo rebel (yes, they have a badge for that).

Word counts can be tricky when revising. One day I added a new section of 400 words – that’s easy enough to count. The next day I reviewed the manuscript of 48,000 words to make sure all references to a minor character reflected new information about them. That took 2 hours, and required changing 20 words, with a net word count of 0. Somehow it does not seem right to count 0 words, but 48,000 does not seem right either. I ended up figuring an hour of revising is like writing 1000 words.

Even by that fudging, I didn’t come close to winning. When I’m in my groove, I spend an hour of writing each weekday, but I didn’t manage it over November. I have any number of reasons / excuses, including volunteer commitments (largely related to writing) and freelance work (money is useful). The new NaNoWriMo web site lacks the ability to specify the date when you update your word count, which I found discouraging. If you don’t log in every day, you can’t properly track progress.

I’m not worried about lacking the discipline to finish a book. I’ll get there. I know things can take longer than expected. For example, in 1995, I applied to enter a two-year Master’s Degree program. It took thirteen years to get accepted, and seven years to complete the degree.

A reassurance that I will get it done, and the biggest reason for not spending much time on Romance One or other fiction writing this month, is my good news: Halfway through the month, I completed a set of major revisions to the third draft of Romance One. This is a significant milestone – the third draft addressed concerns that had been raised by a trusted editor, and the major revisions addressed issues raised by people who read small portions of the manuscript while the third draft was being prepared.

With the third draft in good shape, I needed a short break, from any writing, before returning to the manuscript for minor revisions. Then it goes out to beta readers. That won’t happen until the new year, as I have an academic article to revise this month, as well as a couple of editing projects to work on.

If all goes according to plan, by next year’s NaNoWriMo Romance One will be published (likely under a better title), and I’ll be working on another project. If things don’t go according to plan, I may be rewriting Romance One for NaNoWriMo, again. Either way, I probably won’t be meeting my word count goals. But I’ll be writing some words, and, regardless of the word count achieved, signing up for NaNoWriMo is a step in the write direction.

Smells like Writing Spirit

I recently visited Ottawa, and I had a chance to try the new transit line. A former Carleton student, I’d used the north-south diesel trains serving the university for years, but the east-west electric light-rail line, running underground through downtown, had just opened. I wanted to check it out. In the 1980s, I lived in downtown Toronto, and frequently used the subway then, but otherwise my subway rides have been rare.

Ottawa’s Rideau station looks typical of the urban subway stations I’ve been in, and that I have seen in movies. It’s a collection of entrances scattered around local storefronts and malls, leading to tunnels and long escalators down to the platforms. Unlike suburban stations, with their eclectic mix of public art and low-bid functionalism, the entrances to urban stations are practical and blend into the connecting structures.

Ottawa’s Rideau station, but could be anywhere. Photo (c) Tim Covell

Once on transit property, the design goal is resistance to vandalism and ease of cleaning. Grey tiles abound. More distinctive than the familiar look is the smell – a not unpleasant mix of oil, burned electrical connections, and musty moisture. One whiff, and I was transported back to Toronto, decades ago. I recalled commuting to early jobs, mentally drafting my contributions to an APA (imagine blog posts printed and mailed to subscribers), trips to bookstores, and less wholesome outings. The rush of memories verged on disorienting.

Like hearing, we have little control of what we smell, but we cannot record smells. My recollections of the sights and sounds of subways are reinforced routinely through movies, and other recordings, but smell is absent.

And we get used to smells. Those always present disappear, and we notice them again after an absence. I love the salt air of living near the ocean, but I am most aware of it when I return home from travelling.

Smells are a momentary impact, when new, or recollected, yet on recollection they can bring a host of attached memories, for better or worse. Decades ago, I briefly knew someone who wore a distinctive perfume. Since then, thanks in part to the growing support for scent-free places, I rarely encounter it, but when I do, all the pleasures, disappointments, and mistakes of that relationship come flooding back.

I’m thinking about the sense of smell not just to wallow in nostalgia for my adventures in my younger days … wallow, wallow … but to remind myself, when writing, not to overlook my characters’ sense of smell, and to take full advantage of it.

Setting is typically described visually when a scene begins, so we know where the characters are. Sound and smell might play roles then too, but we don’t want to dwell too much on descriptions. However, a smell, and its associations, can be brought in almost anytime, and they can be subjective – something only one character notices. It can be connected to the action of a scene, bring in backstory, or both.

Romance novels typically mention personal scents when a couple are close, to indicate awareness of the other person’s physicality, suggest intimacy, and later, suggest familiarity. But characters may encounter other smells. An unusual hand or dish soap might bring up memories, good or bad, of a previous relationship, house, store, childhood, etc.

Smells don’t need to be objectively unusual. A common smell such as sawdust or bleach might be unusual for a character, yet still have associations from a past exposure. And even without associations, if a smell is unusual for a character, it should be noted. Mentioning a character’s awareness of the salt air when they arrive at an ocean beach tells us they’ve been away, or perhaps never been there, while not mentioning it suggests they live in the area.

Smells, and their associations, can be powerful. Having been recently reminded of that, I must remember to use them effectively when writing.

Flash Fiction – Organized Crime

Public domain clipboard icon.

This story was written for a contest. I was given the genre, crime caper; the location, a comic book shop ; and an object that had to be mentioned, a clipboard. The story had to be 1000 words maximum, and submitted within 48 hours. Posted here as submitted. This submission placed first in the group of stories with these requirements.

Synopsis [part of the submission]: The mastermind of a perfect crime reflects on what went right, and struggles with why things went wrong.

The key to the perfect crime is organization, and I was organized. I’d had eight months to prepare. It started with the two weeks I invested in dating Julia, the building department clerk. We kept dating after that, but then it was pleasure, not work. Eight months was more time than I’d prepared for any previous job, but this wasn’t just gold. I was going for a hat trick: gold, rare Scotch, data, and rare comics. I know, a hat trick is three, but since I worked part time at the comic book shop, stealing from there didn’t count. Just to get that job took a month learning about comics, and then three months playing the free-spending fanboy. Meanwhile, I assembled my team — my regulars, and a bunch of new folks.

Julia helped, not just by finding new team members, but also by preparing checklists to keep me organized. She gave me a translucent pink plastic clipboard. “Don’t use your phone or your computer,” she said. “It’s easily monitored and leaves a record. Use a checklist and keep it on the clipboard so it is handy. Shred the paper after, and there’s no record.”

So, there I was, Saturday night, or, more accurately, Sunday morning, clipboard in hand, starting with step one on the checklist: “Use my employee key to enter Crazy Cal’s Comics” (check). Julia had recommended that as step one, since that was the official beginning of the crime. I was lucky to have met her — fantastic in bed and almost as obsessive as me. We got along great.

The next step was admitting Garry (check). He attached his phone to the alarm and gave me a thumbs up seconds later. My entry and recent video had been removed from the alarm log. Nothing would be recorded while we worked.

“How are things on the buses?”

“Everyone’s fine, and no one is paying attention to the buses.” I checked the appropriate lines. I’d hired two tour buses and had them parked in the lot behind the building, such that no one could see people walking between them and the back door. This was the fourth weekend I’d hired the buses and parked them there, so the patrolling cops didn’t give them a second glance.

I opened the back door, and flashed the cat toy laser, signaling all clear (check). People streamed silently out of both buses. My people were well trained. Everyone moved to their positions. Alpha team removed the posters (check), and they started cutting the side wall to the jewelry store (check). Beta team worked the other side wall (check), leading to the hosting company, and the gamma team set up the rig (check), for getting to the artisanal Scotch bar upstairs. Delta team stayed in the book shop.

Of the four businesses, the comic book shop had the weakest security, and offered easy access to the others. Gold was my game, but when Julia pointed out the possibilities here, and encouraged me to go for it, I decided to enter the big leagues. It was the most complex and costly job I’d organized, but it was going to set me up for life.

My teams moved between the racks, more heroic than the illustrated crusaders behind them, more stealthy than the villain action figures on the shelves overhead. I was the director of a well-choreographed ballet. I was tempted to run the security cameras for a few minutes, to show off my work, but of course that was not on the checklist.

 If I was the director — or was it the choreographer? — Julia was the producer. In the movies, they never show anyone paying the bills to rent rehearsal space for the crime, organizing health insurance payroll deductions for the phony businesses to ensure team members are cared for, or creating phony tour companies to charter buses. She looked after all the paperwork. I wish she had come tonight, to witness my success at organizing the troops. But, as she said, “Your strength is the hands-on work. Mine’s support.” It was amazing how well she took to criminal activities, but I suspect pleasing me was a big motivator. It’s nice to have made a difference in someone’s life.

All teams had access. Three check marks and I started the next page.

As some team members removed items, others left phony replacements. The gold bars were replaced with gold plated steel. Replica bottles of rare scotches, filled with Johnnie Walker Red, went into the Scotch bar. Delta team members placed photocopies of rare comics, sealed in Mylar bags, into the display case. The data was only copied. It might be months before anyone knew there had been a crime. Julia assured me the materials would be out of state within six hours, and out of the country in twelve. She and my gold guy had worked together on how to get the loot sold. The advances they’d arranged covered expenses, and a lot more was promised.

My teams were repairing the damage to the walls and ceiling, and we were still on schedule (check). The paint would dry within an hour.

“Garry, confirm continuity.” He compared the store to photos he’d taken on arrival. He moved a poster two inches to the right. No one would know we’d been here.

“All good, boss.”

Check.

“You got the data USB from the beta team lead?” Julia had been particularly worried about the data USB, since it was small and easily lost.

He patted his pocket. “Yes.”

Check.

“Reactivate alarm.” Garry reactivated the alarm, with a thirty second delay, and left. I heard the buses pull away. Check, check and last item check. I put the clipboard down, looked around the shop, and congratulated myself. Well done. I left, locked the door behind me, and slipped into the darkness. If only I hadn’t left the clipboard behind. I wonder why Julia didn’t add that to the checklist. If she ever comes to visit, I’ll ask her.

Flash Fiction – Social Night

Image of the ISS from NASA, nasa.gov

This story was written for a contest. I was given the genre, comedy; the location, a space station; and an object that had to be mentioned, a surgical mask. The story had to be 1000 words maximum, and submitted within 48 hours. Posted here as submitted. This submission placed first in the group of stories with these requirements.

Synopsis [part of the submission]: Susan, a member of the female crew at a space station in a slightly twisted future, has high hopes for the evening when a mission crew of men arrive.

Honor among thieves? Not when a mission arrives. Then it’s every woman for herself and devil take the hindmost.

Rachel announced the mission at breakfast. “Out bound. Ten men. One social night, one rest night.” There were groans at the number, and just one social night, but it was still good news. For eight months, we only had each other’s company for the weekly social night. More action than I got before my arrest, but it would be nice to score a man.

Rachel posted their bios on the wall, along with details we didn’t care about, like which system they were exploring. Thanks to relativity, if they even came back, it would be long after we died. Health details were the usual – fit, sterile, and healthy, like us, and mid-twenties. Our ages varied, depending when we were sent and how long we’d been here, but thanks to good care and no sun, none of us looked our age.

The details that mattered were looks and rank. Captain Ninguno was the hottest – highest ranked, ebony skin, blue eyes. Rachel would go for him. As the lowest ranked crew, I’d be lucky to get any of them. But in for a penny, in for a pound. Cleaning wasn’t all bad. I listened to books while working. I learned proverbs and other things.

The shuttle docked right at 1500, and we lined up for the welcome. They looked surprised to see us, as usual. Everyone knew station crews were similar short, thin women, with short hair and identical uniforms, but ship crews reacted as if we were twenty identical twins. The men were oblivious to our different hair and skin colors, though not the different numbers and colors of our rank stripes.

Rachel stepped forward and shook Ninguno’s hand. “Welcome aboard ICQ 17.” He looked as handsome in person as he did in his image, but he was wearing a surgical mask. Odd, but the blue brought out his eyes.

“Thank you, Station Leader Rachel.” Introductions were made as per protocol. It was always pleasing how big the men were, and how obviously happy they were to see us. It was a long trip from Earth, although apparently men did not tire of each other the way women did. Ninguno ended his introductions with an explanation about his mask – not protocol, but neither was wearing one. “I have acquired a rare infection of the upper respiratory tract. Control is investigating, but meanwhile I must wear this, to prevent spread. My apologies.” Rachel tried not to frown, and I was disappointed myself. Even if my plans worked, that would limit our pleasure on social night.

Social night started with dinner, in three hours. Meanwhile, the men unloaded their equipment and our supplies. As we prepared for the evening, the others called me to one emergency after another. The soap dispenser in the shower stopped working. After I fixed that, the hot water ran out. The crew toilets clogged. The clean uniforms were covered with lint. Fortunately, I’d bathed and set aside a clean uniform earlier, and even bleached my hair.

Ninguno proposed the first toast, as per protocol. “Yonder all before us lie deserts of vast eternity. To the crew of ICQ 17, who make the departure so pleasant.” He didn’t look at me, sitting at the furthest table with the other one-stripers, but by his toast I knew he’d seen my note in his linens.

“Anyone going to try?” said Anna, to the table.

“I’ve made cookies for Derrick,” said Lori. “Just need to slip them to him.”

“Good luck,” said Stella. “Beatrice has her eye on him.”

“The cookies haven’t failed me yet.”

Regardless of how or if we paired, the two hours of dancing were when everyone got some contact. I hoped Lori succeeded with Derrick – he was a decent kisser. There was no kissing when I had my turn with Ninguno, as he still wore the mask, but we danced close.

“You were right,” he whispered in my ear. “The smartest, most beautiful, and most confident woman in the room, as I always expected. May I have you tonight?”

Rachel, nearby, tolerating Hogaza kissing her neck, glared at me.

“Yes.” Success! Though I was not sure why he’d always expected anything of me.

“Thank you, Angelica.”

“Who?” I said, but the bell sounded to switch partners, and he didn’t hear me.

At 2200, the unpaired women returned to the bunk room, Beatrice among them. Derrick held Lori’s hand, a foolish grin on his reddened face. He’d started on the cookies. Ninguno came to me.

“Where should we go?”

There were no private rooms, but we always found spaces. Mine was the cleaning closet, already prepared with a bed made of spare linens on crates of cleaning supplies. I led him to it, and the space impressed him. “Always a resourceful woman, Angelica. I’m looking forward to the honor of being with you and making love in half-gee.”

He removed the mask and leaned down to kiss me.

“Wait.” He stopped. “Your infection?”

“A lie to save myself for you, Angelica.”

A lie to Control made him brave or stupid. I was starting to suspect the latter.

“I’m Susan. Why are you calling me Angelica?”

“Are you not Angelica, leader of the resistance? You used the poem.”

“To seduce you. I don’t know about any resistance, and don’t care.”

“You’re just a one-striper crew, a cleaner?”

“Yes.”

“This is awkward.”

I slapped him. He put the mask back on and left. I slammed the door behind him.

A few minutes later, there was a knock at the door. I opened it, expecting Ninguno’s apology, or Rachel announcing demerits. Hogaza stood there, half-dressed and looking like a bashful Norse god.

“Yes?”

“If you spend what’s left of the night with me, you will forget everything between you and Ninguno.”

“I will?”

“I shall endeavor to accomplish that.”

“Come in. I guess half a loaf is better than none.”

[To fully appreciate the comedy, such as it is, note that ninguno is Spanish for none, and hogaza is Spanish for loaf.]

Stealing Time to Write

Note 1: This is based on my final essay for a writing course. Modified to take advantage of no word count restriction on my posts.

Note 2: The author does not advocate stealing time from work, and has never ever used quiet time in a call centre to work on anything other than considering how best to respond to customer calls. The author believes a liberal arts education is essential to developing the soft skills required to provide good responses to customer calls. As always, readers are asked not to confuse the author with the narrator.

Picture of old manual typewriter
No power? No internet? No penmanship? No problem.

We’ve all read articles, online or in writing magazines, about finding the time to write. Finding the time, as if hours are scattered around the house, and all you need to do is look under the couch cushions to find four hours a week. Or get up an hour earlier, because that hour you spend sleeping is apparently totally wasted.

Do you have an hour or two everyday where you stare at walls, wondering what to do? Probably not. All the hours in the day are already occupied with some activity or another. To start writing, you must stop doing something else.

You’re not going to find time. You’re going to have to steal it. You must become sneaky and underhanded. Treat writing like the lover you meet mid-day while telling your boss you are at a client meeting. Not prepared to lie, cheat, and steal to write? You’re reading this because finding time hasn’t worked. Time to try something new.

Most of us work, because we need money to survive. Working less to write is rarely an option, because writing doesn’t make money. Sure, a few people make money writing. A few people win the lottery, too, but that’s not something you can rely on. I know writers who have a backlist of several books, and happily earn a thousand a month on their sales. Those of us who were proud to sell a magazine article, five years ago, for three hundred dollars, or anyone who knows how little an author gets when a copy of their book sells, are impressed that someone could make a thousand a month writing. But that’s before taxes, has no benefits, no security, and is less than minimum wage. We need to work.

You can’t give up work, but you can steal from it. Not in the sense of taking pens and paper (helpful as that is), but does your job have any downtime? I once worked in a call centre. Some days there were non-stop calls. Other days, there might be fifteen or twenty minutes between calls. I drafted several articles on my phone, between calls. What do you do during lunch, or breaks? Does your work offer time for personal development courses or open training? If so, take a writing course. Use your personal projects to complete exercises in the course. This is what the business types call win-win. You get writing done, and you get to check off the self-training box on your personal development plan.

You might also consider work that comes with available writing time. Spider Robinson starting writing science-fiction while working as a night watchman for sewer systems. Airport limo drivers and tour bus drivers spend hours waiting for passengers.

No time available at work? Do you volunteer? You don’t need to give up volunteer time to find writing time. Choose volunteer work that includes downtime, such as ticket taker, or standby driver. You might have hours between shows or waiting for passengers. Bonuses include looking civic-minded, being unavailable for social events, and a free t-shirt.

Household chores take a lot of time. Are you vacuuming or laundering once a week? Emptying the litter box daily? Spend less time cleaning, and more time writing. The resulting mess will discourage people dropping by – gaining more time. Think about everything you do during the week, including intimate activities (alone or with others), and decide if writing is more important than that. If it is, stop or reduce that non-writing activity. 

Stealing time to write is like robbing a bank. It takes planning and cunning – and, ideally, no one gets hurt. Stealing time to write is not easy, but the rewards are great. Money isn’t sitting around waiting to be found, and neither is time. Get greedy, steal some time to write.