Fault Zone Uplift: My latest published Super Holly story

My short story, What Goes Up, is published in Fault Zone, a publication of the SF Peninsula branch of the California Writers Club. Super Holly Hansson saves the day several times in one day, but finds something she cannot save. I give many thanks to Laurel Anne Hill, who worked super-hard to put together this anthology, and who edited my writing into a story worthy of Fault Zone. Writers, editors are your friends.

Here is the start of “What Goes Up.”

The six-foot-tall, apricot-shaped computer on the auditorium stage glowed brighter. Was the thing about to go KA-BOOM, like old sci-fi mechanical brains computing love to the last digit? Super Holly Hansson gritted her teeth harder, tapped the console’s keyboard, and motioned toward Chris Jobz, the Apricot Computer CEO.

“Would you please hand me your tablet,” Holly said, “and get your butt behind the blast shields with your employees?” Too bad she couldn’t pitch that big yellow- orangish monster into the ocean. Too dangerous, according to Chris. “You’re not bomb- proof. I am.” So far… She swallowed hard.

Chris glanced in the direction of his staff, yet made no move to give Holly his tablet, as if he thought his lint-free black turtleneck was a supersuit. Arrogant but brave. He acted as if she could still channel superpowers into others, like she’d done to those comic book geeks months ago. She couldn’t do that anymore. Not even for a fellow geek.

“Miss Hansson, you need both hands and my help.” Chris shoved his Apricot tablet closer to Holly’s face. “You’re not an engineer.”

“I was a technical writer,” Holly said, “and this geek girl can read code.” But could she get through this in one piece? All those kids in the hospital would be so sad if she didn’t show up today. She typed faster, restraining her super-strength. Last year she’d

pulverized her favorite wireless keyboard. The shining apricot’s timer taunted her: 01:29, 01:28, 01:27…

“I know women can code. Forty percent of Apricot engineers are female,” Chris said. His eyes shot virtual daggers toward the smiling teen boy his employees restrained. “But if you don’t finish writing this Swoop code before that timer reaches zero, this Apricot will destroy the Internet.”

“Don’t you think I know that?” Holly hissed as her fingertips tingled. “I suppose it was that kid’s bright idea to build a doomsday Apricot with a super-scalding keyboard.”

“Yes. Me. Crestley Smusher, to you.” The teen’s voice was nerdy, gleeful, and dripping with condescension. “It was a science project to put my highly intelligent, brightly smiling face upon every display on the planet. Upon the exact second of my eighteenth birthday, less than a minute from now. Except my superior code merged with inferior code from lesser engineers to form a nasty virus—”

“Shut up, Crestley,” Holly and Chris shouted. Holly tapped out the last line of code and turned. Behind thick, clear, plastic bomb shields, several angry Apricot geeks held Crestley’s arms. A six-foot-six and rather wide engineer got a stranglehold on the techie, whose smug smirk vanished. Speaking of vanishing, how much time had elapsed?

…00:03, 00:02, 00:01… The timer stopped. Just like on Stellar Trek, where the countdown always stopped at one. Whew! She’d done it.

Chris examined the Apricot’s display. “The Internet is saved.” He shook Holly’s hand. “Thank you.”

Such firm fingers he had, like a writer. “You’re welcome.”

“Auto destruct in fifteen seconds,” the monster Apricot voiced in a monotone. “Fourteen. Thirteen.”

“What the hell?” Chris sputtered. He and Holly whirled to face Crestley. Crestley smirked again. “All doomsday devices need a failsafe.”
“Nine. Eight.”
A failsafe? Time for Holly’s own brand of mind over matter. Crap. This was

gonna hurt. She reached out. A telekinetic hand—big, blue and transparent—shot from her own flesh-and-blood hand and engulfed the Apricot monster.

“Seven. Six.”

She punched her free fist upward. A telekinetic fist cannonballed out of it and bashed a hole in the ceiling.

“Five. Four.”
She flew through the roof and into the bright blue sky.
“Three.”
The Apricot campus shrank below her.
“Two.”
She held the doomsday Apricot in her telekinetic hand.
“One.”
Damn all arrogant nerds. Well, not all.
“Zero.”
KA-BOOOOOOM!

TO BE CONTINUED!

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A Literary Editor Reviews My Stories

I sent the prologue (I call it Chapter Zero) of my novel, and two short stories to Zymbol editor Anne James for editing. I got this as a reward for contributing to an Indiegogo campaign last year. Yeah, took me a while to send them off, I did several rewrites.

(By the way, Zymbol is doing a Kickstarter campaign ending April 27. There are no editing perks this time. But there is Clive Barker stuff! Check it out.)

SHE REALLY MADE MY DAY.

“I’m going to skip over the red pen and focus on the main areas in terms of content editing, because I can see that you’re a highly skilled writer and you don’t need any pointers in terms of proofreading!”

“The stories open in the middle of the action, which captures your reader’s attention. “Chapter Zero” is particularly effective at this, starting with an intriguing bit of dialogue: ‘Your comic book made me cry.’” (That was Katsuko “Kittygirl” Kimura.) Open with action is good advice to any author, NEVER have boring look-at-the-horizon scenes, I hate when movies do that! I did not open in the middle of a slam-bang super-heroic fight. Maybe I’ll try that sometime. Could be fun.

“Technically speaking, your writing is excellent – the sentences flow well, and I don’t have any difficulties with grammar or the usual careless errors I see in most manuscripts. You’re an attentive editor of your own writing — that’s a great skill!”

“The witty banter between characters is genuinely amusing and true-to-character. You really get a sense of who these people are from their speech.”

“Your supporting characters are truly charming. Katsuko and her mother in particular were memorable; I hope they pop up again in other stories. The description of Katsuko’s costume and her giddy excitement were easy to visualize.”

SHE GAVE USEFUL ADVICE.

She wondered what draws Holly to Cal. Answer: the novel brings them together, and they fall head-over-heels in love. Maybe I can emphasize that more in the short stories.

She was disappointed that Chapter Zero did not show where Holly’s powers came from. That was intentional; it is revealed during the scene where Dan Mann and Cal Critbert want discuss the mystery of this superpower about to be channeled into the world, and Holly says they are NOT condescendingly explaining that to her, she already knows it (more than she likes)!

She pointed out I did not explain enough about why Holly and Cal are headed to the Apricot computer center to stop the theft of the A-phone. “The reader doesn’t feel too anxious for Holly and Cal to prevail if they don’t know what evil deed the Karate Queen is trying to perpetrate.” I agree, and I can have some fun by pumping up how important the A-phone could be. Also, when John Glutt enters the scene in Chapter Zero, “Can you show us more of the room? What does it look like once he shoots the web?” She’s right, this is a chance to describe a comic book shop, to geek it up!

Okay, I will not break the fourth wall! My smart nieces also said that joke does not work. She also said I could use fewer sound effects, “a peppering of sound effects gets across the comic book atmosphere.” I will still use some, like Stan Lee and Don Martin.

My time shifts and first-to-third person shifts in the barber story threw her off. So I will change the first to third person. I try to write mostly in close third: get deep into the head of the point-of-view character without saying “I”. I’ll keep the time shifts, removing them would be too much of an overhaul, and I have more stories to write.

She wondered about Holly’s powers, “Do they reveal something about her personality?” Yes. Holly gets the all-time biggest superpower of all (along with flight and super-strength/toughness): super-strong telekinesis. Remember The Great and Powerful Turtle for the Wild Cards series? Holly will be the Superman of her world, and she gets the biggest power of all. Holly hates bullies in any form.

SHE ASKED WHERE MY STORIES WILL GO.

She said Zymbol would not be the right fit for my stories. I agree. I have planned to go the Kindle self-publish path. But I will also look for other paths, maybe in the comic book geek crowd, or young female crowd, or fantasy/sci-fi. “Have you given thought to your ideal reader? Who is Holly really written for?” I never wrote for demographics, but I think Holly can find her audience.

THANK YOU, ANNE.

She gave more advice, too much to list here. I will use it.

I am working on a new story due by the end of the month (Fault Zone again). It will be about a week before I implement her comments. I wish I could run more stories past her, but for now, I am pinching pennies. I think I will send my Kittygirl story her way when I give it one more polish, strictly for her enjoyment. Anne liked Katsuko and her mom, and they show up again.

Zymbol magazine’s fundraiser with a neat writer incentive!

zymbol-3-coverJames Hanna of The Siege asked his writer friends to pass this on. I am one of them.

Zymbol, the magazine of surrealism and symbolism, is doing a fundraising drive. James says, “Zymbol is one of the prettiest, splashiest journals I’ve ever seen. And they like symbolism, fantasy, and surrealism.”

I am sharing this link to Zymbol’s Indiegogo fundraising site. Please consider helping Zymbol out. Note to aspiring writers (like me!): at the $60 level, you can get a manuscript (up to 75 pages) reviewed by a Zymbol editor. In other words: GET YOUR WRITING REVIEWED BY A PRO FOR A GOOD PRICE!
http://igg.me/at/zymbol

P.S. James has a story in Zymbol: The Guest. Thumbelina with a twist.

My First Professional Rejection!

My story to Fault Zone was rejected. Harumph! Harumph! Harumph!

The Fault Zone editors gave a quick critique of my rejected story. That is much, much, MUCH better than empty silence! I hope they keep doing that. And I hope they do not mind that I critiqued their critique. I consider this my first professional rejection, and it is worth writing about.

The Hook.
Supply a hook at the start of the story? That’s good advice. I can supply a better taste of what is to come: a storyline about the irritations of mansplaining. That would be better than “The black and the blue raced to the rescue!”

We Want Information. Information. INFORMATION!
Let readers figure out on their own that this is a fruit-named computer company instead of saying it outright? That’s not so good advice, in my opinion. I want the time and location known immediately, so my first paragraph is “SEASIDE CITY, CALIFORNIA. THE APRICOT COMPUTER CAMPUS. THE PRESENTATION THEATER. A FRIDAY. 3:17 P.M.” Naturally, I will describe the location when my POV (point of view) character sees it. Alfred Hitchcock said his movies were not mysteries, which were about withholding information from the audience, but about giving information, as in there’s a bomb under the table. Also, this banner adds a comic book and cartoon flavor to my story. Others get it: at a workshop last Saturday, editor Charlotte Cook read the start of my story in the louder, slightly pompous tone that I adopt when I have read the banner-type opening of my stories at open mics. She GOT what I was doing.

Disjointed Prose.
They (or “I”) “found the prose disjointed and difficult to follow,” and then they did not say why? At Saturday’s workshop, a writer next to me read some of my story and liked it, but she pointed out exactly where she was confused about who was speaking and what was taking place. Them not giving an example of the problem made me wonder if they just did not like my style.

Sound Effects.
Forced sound effects should only be used in graphic presentations? No, I want a goofy comic book feel, an Adam West Batman sound. Sound effects words are words, why not use them in a prose story? Of course, a POW, THOOM, or SHUSH-SPLUT-SKAAAH (last one stolen from Don Martin) should not be overused, but sprinkled like a spice. And it had better be the right spice, cinnamon in spaghetti sauce would taste weird. Who knows, maybe I’ll change my mind later. But not today.

More Critique at a Writing Workshop
I printed and brought the story to a writing workshop last Saturday. Charlotte Cook, editor and former publisher, gave me some good advice when she read my story aloud to the workshop (she read several). I have been working on third person deep point of view. Charlotte mentioned close third person, and where I was not using it and thus pushing the reader away from the story. Telling instead of showing is generally a BIG NO-NO. She also pointed out my sentences that ran on too long. Readers should not gasp for air when they read. And she pointed out leading dependent clauses, which I should avoid. Like “Her red cape flapping, Holly flew over Cal and the charging ninjas.” Make the flapping cape its own sentence.

I am feeling better about my first professional rejection. I’ll wear it like a badge of honor. Or a T-shirt or underpants? I remember Isaac Asimov telling how he was with some writer friends, and he asked one of them how he handled rejection. The guy hemmed and hawed, and said he did not know, he had never had a rejection. Isaac said that it was only that this guy was a really nice guy that they did not kill him where he stood.

P.S. I still see myself as an indie author (Amazon, Smashwords, etc.), I do not ever see myself going to a New York publisher. I have thought about Sand Hill Press, or other small publishing house. I’ll see how the novel goes. For now, I get my short stories professionally polished and then I put them out for sale. Or for twisting in the wind.