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Monthly Archives: June 2012

Guest Post – Rabia Gale on Writing Short Stories

Rabia Gale breaks fairy tales and fuses science fiction and fantasy. She recently published Shattered: Broken Fairy Tales, a collection of three short stories. A native of Pakistan, she currently resides in Northern Virginia. Visit her online at http://www.rabiagale.com.

Why I Write Short Stories

 by Rabia Gale

As a new writer, I wrote short stories only as practice for greater things, like the long, complicated novels that were my first love. Now, though, I write short stories because I’ve grown to love them for their own sake.


The instant gratification factor of short stories is a big attraction. After spending months laboring over a first draft or a brutal revision, it’s nice to write a complete story in a few sessions. That’s not to say that some short stories don’t simmer in my backbrain for a while before I commit them to paper. Because a short story doesn’t have a lot of wiggle-room for extraneous words, I mentally try and discard many different approaches to my story idea before hitting upon the right one. Months, or even years, can pass between that first flicker of a short story premise and when I actually write it.

I am more willing to experiment with a short story. Sometimes that takes the form of writing outside my preferred genres. Or I can write in an unusual point-of-view or tense (such as second person and present tense). Short stories also give me the opportunity to share headspace with an unlikeable protagonist. All these would be difficult to sustain over the course of a novel, but are intriguing novelties in a short story.

Sometimes I have ideas that are too small for novels. These tightly-focused ideas would become diluted and dulled in the tens of thousands of words in a novel. Or perhaps there is one moment that I want to build up to, or one particular emotional response I want to evoke in my reader. Occasionally—though humor is not my forte—I have a punchline I want to showcase. In these cases, I turn to the short story form as the best vehicle for my idea.

I also pay greater attention to my prose when writing short stories. In a novel, I am forgiven a less-than-stellar sentence or two, as long as the story is exciting and the writing competent. In a short story, every sentence needs to do an exceptional job. Short stories help me hone my writing style.

Do you read or write short stories? What do you like about them?

Seeking a Fairy Goddoctor

My second Petroleum Sunset “episode” is now available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords, and will be popping up at places like Diesel Ebooks and the iBookstore over the next week. As you can see to the right, it is called “Seeking a Fairy Goddoctor” and hopefully it will make you smile.

It comes a few months after “Once Upon a Gas Tank” ends, and continues Ty and Joel’s adventures in a post-petroleum world. Ty and Joel are rummaging for plastic at the dump when Joel jabs his arm with a rusty piece of metal. So Ty must take Joel to the big city hospital for a tetanus shot.

Here’s an excerpt:

~*~

“Go get me some food, Ty.” Joel had taken to orderin’ me around. He had already had me fetch half a dozen magazines and turn the channel on the teevee a dozen times.

I bit back my smart-alek reply. Ma was countin’ on me. “What do you want?”

“Junk food. I ain’t had junk food in about a century.”

“That’s right—you liked double cheeseburgers, didn’t you?”

Joel shot me a look of pure gratitude. “That would be awful good.”

I stood. “I’ll get you two of ‘em. You gonna be alright?”

“Hah. What’s gonna happen to me here?”

He was right, so I left. I walked over to a row of fast food places, picked one that I remembered, and got six double cheeseburgers, two extra-large fries and a couple a huge cups of soda–with ice. We ain’t had ice in an age. I hauled it all back over to the hospital, and I couldn’t find Joel.

I looked all over the waitin’ room, but he wasn’t there. I went to the front desk and butted in ahead of some fat guy.

“Hey.” I said to the counter girl. “You call Joel up yet?”

She looked at me and I realized she wasn’t the same girl I’d spoken to before. “We have not called anyone up named Joel, sir.”

“Well, where is he?”

“Hey—” the fat guy said, “Wait your turn.”

“I already done waited for two hours,” I told him. He shrank back as if I scared him.

“Wait a minute.” The girl said. “This Joel—was he a little younger than you?”

“Yeah, he’s ‘bout fifteen.”

“He went outside with a man.” She pointed the way I’d just come.

I frowned. “Why would he do that?”

“I don’t know, sir. Now if you’ll excuse me, this gentleman has been waiting patiently.” And she turned back to Fatso.

I didn’t see nothing else for it. I went outside and looked around.

“Are you Ty?”

I spun. There was a man—a doctor by the white coat—who’d come up from a walkway off to the side. “Yeah?”

“Your brother’s at my clinic.”

“Your clinic?”

“Yes, I have a sort of traveling clinic. If you’ll come this way?”

I followed him. I wondered if he was one of them black market doctors. We went out to an empty back parking lot a pretty long way away from the emergency clinic, to a large white pickup truck with a camper shell on it. He opened the door to the camper, and I stepped in … to a clinic, by the looks of it. There was lights and cabinets and a little sink and medical stuff and Joel, lying on a cot. There was a new bandage on his arm.

“Hi, Ty! This is Doctor Jones. I got my tenaitus shot. We can go home now.”

~*~

Naturally, things aren’t as rosy as they seem … Here’s the blurb:

When Joel jabs his arm with a rusty piece of metal while prospecting for plastic at the town dump, their Ma is countin’ on Ty to find Joel some decent medicine. They head to the city, where Ty must contend with overloaded medical bureaucracies, rapscallion fraudulent doctors, blood-stealing bouncers, and a shadowy medical underground in order to find Joel the object of his quest:

A tetanus shot.

Boy, does he ever need a fairy goddoctor.

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Sale! Accidental Enchantments – Volume 2

I am pleased and excited to announce that the second installment of my series of fairy tale retellings has sold! Edits start in just a few weeks.

The tentative title is Face in the Magic Mirror, and it is a reimagining of the Snow White story. I don’t know yet if the title will change. It tells the story of that mysterious being within the magic mirror, how he came to be there, and why he finds the queen so lovely. It is also about the queen’s stepdaughter, and the problems extreme beauty might cause.

But mostly, it is about a young woman with achondroplasia who has never seen another person like herself, and who hears of a refuge for dwarfs. She travels to the refuge in a blatant search for a husband, but none of the men there are quite what she hoped for.

She thinks.

The Sevenfold SpellThis story was actually the inspiration for the whole Accidental Enchantments theme. I imagined this man in the mirror, on the run from the queen, bringing unintentional doom to people every time he is forced to respond to her questions. I couldn’t make the story work so I wrote The Sevenfold Spell, instead. And last year, when I started writing Magic Mirror again, it just flowed from start to finish. It’s funny how these things work out.

If you haven’t read The Sevenfold Spell yet, you can always — ahem — check it out now. 😉

My Favorite Robots – A List of 10

Having recently seen a list of top science fiction robots, I noticed some omissions and decided to do a list for myself. So here are what I think are the best of science fiction robots, androids and AIs.This list includes robots villainous and heroic. I’m afraid there are not a lot of classic movies here–these movies are from the late 70s and beyond.

10 – C-3PO from Star Wars and sequels/prequels

Threepio almost didn’t make this list, but he (it?) did make a good foil for Artoo, so I added him to round it out. He was a very reluctant hero, apparently happy to follow orders as long as he could stay shiny. His loyalty to one master only lasted until another one took over, but he did retain affection for former masters who were kind to him, and would reluctantly go against more recent orders. He was designed for “human-cyborg relations”, but I don’t know which actual cyborgs were involved.

9 – Agent Smith from The Matrix

The only reason Agent Smith isn’t better ranking on this list is because of the Matrix sequels. But for a moment, forget the sequels. I certainly try to. Remember how chilling Smith was on the original Matrix. You think he is just a brutal FBI agent until he starts to do some truly terrifying and outright weird things to Neo’s stomach. For a long time, he looked totally unbeatable, until Neo supposedly killed him.

And he should have stayed dead. I guess he was restored from backup a thousand times over, but that totally defeated the purpose of the original impossible death. Which is why I ignore the subsequent movies.

8 – T-1000 from Terminator 2: Judgement Day

T-1000 was totally freaky and machine-like. Not a shred of mercy. Absolute obedience to his orders. He did display a bit of a human side with his apparent joy in following his orders. But you could easily imagine that such ruthless sadism was, as we say in software development, by design.

7 – Data From Star Trek: The Next Generation series and movies

Actually, I didn’t see all the TNG movies, or even most of the episodes. I’m not that much of a Trekkie. But Data was a clear favorite. (It wasn’t difficult, since I disliked many of the other characters, especially Ryker, who elevated “cheese” to orbital levels.) He was the anti-Spock, the reluctant and loyal android who really wanted to be human.

6 – Number 5 from Short Circuit

I never saw the Wall-E movie because the little robot looked like such a ripoff of Number 5. In fact, when I first saw the Wall-E robot, I wondered if they were doing a remake of Short Circuit. Number 5 was much like ET, a charming little creature stuck in a movie with a totally implausible plot, who you rooted for all the way.

5 – R2D2 from Star Wars and sequels/prequels

The group thief and sneak, Artoo was ignored by the enemy, to their own peril. His language of chirps was charming, if useless. At least Threepio could understand him. Artoo rolled around enemy compounds, as overlooked as might be an automated mop, disabling security systems, sneaking in weapons, and opening those tricky electronic locks. Of course he is a favorite.

4 – HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey

To the moviegoer, HAL was nothing more than a red light with a soothing voice. And a red light has never been so terrifying. HAL was a computer who had control over the spaceship on the mission to Jupiter to investigate the monolith. I read the book before I saw the movie, and HAL certainly kept the pages turning.

3 – The Terminator from the Terminator movies

The Terminator was the first movie where Arnold Schwarzenegger really got to show off his screen presence. The Terminator did not speak unless it had to, and when it did, there was devastating consequences. It was relentless and pretty near unstoppable. It was totally without emotion. Unlike T-1000, it did not seem to enjoy it’s task or feel any emotion whatsoever. It did what it had to do to get the job done. And it was terrifying.

2 – The Replicants from Blade Runner

Rachel inspired this post when she was missing from the post that inspired this one. (I’d link back to it, but I’ve been trying to write this post for a month and a half, and if I tried to find it, you’d never get to read this.)

Anyway, Rachel (Sean Young) was the perfect replicant. She was so perfect that she didn’t even know she was a replicant. She has to face the fact that her entire past consisted of reconstructed memories from someone else. As for the others, Daryl Hannah really got to shine in the brutal role of Pris, which worked surprisingly well for her.

This position is a three way tie between Rachel, Pris and Roy (Rutger Hauer–of course), who were all terrific androids in their own way.

1 – Bishop from Aliens

Why Bishop? Mostly because of the way his story is revealed. Think back, if you can, to the first time you saw Aliens. Even though Alien had come out like eight years earlier, it was still fresh in your mind. Well did you remember the treacherous android, Ash. His androidness was not revealed until he was killed. He was slavishly obedient to his corporate masters, and nothing stood in his way.

Now, return to that first time you saw Aliens. Bishop’s androidness is revealed early, so that you would always be uncertain of him. His protestation that he cannot harm humans is unconvincing. He has a creepy look about him. He just cannot be trusted.

Then you learn that nothing can stop him, either–not even being ripped in half. He will fulfill his mission. And he does. And not until well into the movie are you certain of who he is.

~*~

A list like this one will always be incomplete. Which ones did I leave off, that should have been here? Which should I not have included?