“To Catch a Crow” by S.C. Jensen

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Welcome to Flash Fiction Friday!

This is a new feature I’m experimenting with to encourage readers to get into flash and short fiction. I’ll be using Flash Fiction Friday to share some of my own short stories, and also to highlight the writing of other authors, new and established, who are looking to expand their audience. If you are a reader, please leave feedback! If you are an author, please contact me if you have a piece of flash (under 1000 words) or short (under 2500 words) fiction you’d like to see on “Sarah Does Sci-Fi.”

“To Catch a Crow” by S.C. Jensen
Genre: Magical Realism

Ruth peers at the crows with her eyes half-closed. They land on the grass at the edge of the yard, sharp black eyes watching. Three of them. It’s probably a coincidence. Still, Ruth’s flesh prickles. She wishes she’d brought a coverup. Not that she could put it on now; she’s pretending to be asleep.

You can’t trick a crow. But she continues to lay in wait. She has to. Desperate times call for desperate measures. It’s a fool’s errand.

Fishing line bites into her flesh; the connection between Ruth and her wedding ring is nearly invisible. The strand glistens in the sunlight, like spider silk. The thin golden band glitters enticingly on the garden path. Crows love shiny things.

I don’t know why I need to catch the damned thing myself. But Madame Esme had been adamant on that point.

“Three feathers,” she had said, crow’s feet twitching. “Plucked, not found. Not bought.”

For strong magic the feathers must be fresh. And for the strongest magic the caster has to pluck them. Madame knows what she knows; Ruth isn’t going to argue. This is an exorcism, after all. She doesn’t want to muck it up.

But I don’t have to like it. She glares at the crows through the twitchy black legs of her false eyelashes.

The big one keeps his body sideways, puffs up his chest. Typical. Ruth shifts her weight on the patio lounger. The crow hops back and forth like a boxer, glittering eyes focussed on her. She peels an ass cheek off the vinyl mesh and curses the cheapskate husband who refused to spring for the fabric covers. The big crow moves in closer.

That was the first one. The cheapskate. They had been married for ten years when Ruth started adding arsenic to his coffee.

Husband number two was a bore and insufferably needy. He didn’t last three years.

It was husband number three who gave her trouble. Mr. Big Britches. He was immense and loud and had an uncanny tolerance for ingesting household cleaning products. And now that he’s finally kicked off, the fat bastard is haunting her. Slamming doors and leaving mud everywhere, just like the oaf did when he was alive. The morning Ruth walked into the open cutlery drawer she knew exactly what was happening. Mr. Big Britches is lingering.

In my own house! Ruth grinds her teeth silently. The nerve. That’s when the crows started hanging about, too. Ruth can’t help but feel it is connected. She looks forward to plucking a few tail feathers, actually. Madame Esme’s task might be cathartic in more ways than one.

The big crow struts casually up the garden path, pretending not to look at the ring. His cronies hop in unison at his flanks. Ruth tightens her grip on the fishing line. Her pale goosefleshy limbs tense. She doesn’t move. Like one of the great white garden spiders that hang between the lilies, she waits. The lounger creaks.

Then the big crow lunges.

“Gotcha!” Ruth flies to her feet and yanks the fishing line. The crow leaps forward as she pulls and the line goes slack. The ring glitters in his beak. Ruth scrambles with her trap, hand over hand. This isn’t going to work.

“Caw!” says one of the cronies. “Caw! Caw!”

“Oh, stuff it!” The big crow still has the ring. But unless he swallows the cursed thing she’s not going to be able to reel him in. Stupid!

“Crrrrrrraaawk!”

Ruth drops the line and picks up the nearest object at hand. She hurls a bottle of suntan lotion at the big bird. He watches it sail past and land in the lilies, his beady little eyes twinkling.

“Sod off then, you mongrels!”

The big crow flies a victory lap around the garden, ring glinting in the sun. The fishing line trails behind him. He swoops toward her. Ruth makes a last ditch grab for her thread. But the cronies are ready.

“Crrrrraaaaaaaawk!” The two smaller crows swoop and dive, claws out, black beaks flashing. “Caaaaawwrr!”

“Oh!” Ruth stumbles backward. The lounger is waiting. With an enormous shriek the maligned patio chair wraps its metal limbs around her. The cronies cackle.

The big crow drops to the grass. He holds his wings out from his body and sidles toward her like a gunslinger. He dares her to draw. He stops just out of her reach, the ring held tightly in his beak. Ruth pats the grass desperately, but there is nothing left to throw.

“Fine,” Ruth says. I should have poisoned the feeders. “You just stay off my side of the bed, Mr. Big Britches.”

 

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Moving Forward, Together

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So, I know you’re a just about as tired of my bi-annual “sorry I haven’t posted in a while” posts as I am. But I am sorry, and I am trying to figure out how I can make this better for you and for me.

I’m thinking that I’d like to split my posts between three topics I enjoy:

  1. Writing Craft – posts about how to improve your writing, posts about people who write well (and why) etc.
  2. Broadening Horizons – focusing on marginalized writers or characters through book recommendations, reviews, and literary analysis, especially regarding Sci-Fi and speculative fiction
  3. Flash Fiction spotlights – sharing my own and other’s flash fiction pieces (under 1500 words) to get people reading and share new writers with all of you

These regular topics will be peppered with posts on my personal publishing journey, hopefully with some insight that will help those of you who are hoping to embark on a similar path.

So. I will be working on a series of posts of my own that fit within this framework. But I will also be seeking guest posts from book reviewers, authors, enthusiasts, and critics from all stages in their career. If you have something you’d like to share with “Sarah Does Sci-Fi” please do (you can comment here, message me on FB, or email me at scj3ns3n@gmail.com)

I’d like this page to operate as a cooperative of writers moreso than just a space for my own thoughts. Please don’t hesitate to suggest post ideas, too, even if you don’t feel qualified to write them! What do you want to see in this space?

 

Flash Fiction: “Ocean Things”

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Flash Fiction Challenge
Prompt: Tide pools
Limit 500 words

“Ocean Things” by S.C. Jensen

Annemette followed the tide. The rocks and barnacles cut into her flesh like paring knives, peeling her from the bottom up. Her ankles were thick with water, as if they sucked in the sea, held it. Her body was a sponge. Full of holes. Full of water. Full of life. Annemette followed the tide.

For nearly a year, she had been stumbling barefoot across the craggy western shoreline of the island. A monthly pilgrimage. She sought a place that none but the truly desperate could find. She sought the Drowning Hole.

Home. I’m going home.

She chased the tide, relishing the cool damp of the rocky outcropping and the fire of salt in her wounds. The pain was good. It reminded her of where she had been and where she was going. It will be over soon.

The water moved so quickly now. Moonlit waves licked at her, taunting her, drawing her nearer. With each step she longed to feel the kiss of the sea against her heavy limbs, longed for the weightlessness of water.

But her toes, bruised and broken, crushed seafoam instead. Pink, frothy footprints followed her. She moved so slowly now. The lean, graceful body she had loved so much was gone. Disintegrated, in a matter of months. She was a bloated corpse, walking. Still, Annemette followed the tide.

“Oh.” A crack, like lightning, broke through her. The salty burning in her feet was obliterated by something much older. A primordial thing. She fell. It’s coming.

“Ooooooh—” She let the thing crawl through her body and out her throat in a great, ululating wail. Her fingernails cracked and bled and grasped at stone. She watched the rivulets of red running into the tiny tide pools; she watched the blood dissipate into clear, crisp ocean water. Almost there.

Dragging herself forward now, on hands and knees, Annemette followed the tide.

A yawning blackness stretched out before her. Seafoam and swash surrounded it, were consumed by it. The Drowning Hole. Mysterious eddies and currents, sucking and swirling, down, down, down. A place that mortals came to die.

Death is what draws them to this place, the ocean things. Things like Annemette. One year ago she had pulled herself, black and dripping, from this very hole. Her body had felt impossibly heavy. She clung to the rocky shoal, the tide pulling away from her. Abandoning her in this foreign place, in this foreign flesh.

Annemette dragged herself to the edge of the tide pool and peered into the depths.

“Sisters,” she said. “I’ve come home.” The primeval aching tore through her body again. This time she bore its weight in silence. Dark eyes stared up at her from the pool, pale green faces floating upwards. Long-fingered hands broke the surface first, grasping at her. Pulling, like the tide.

“You’ve come, sister.” Hair like kelp and shark-like flesh, they rose. “And you have brought us life.”

“I have brought you life.” Her swollen body heaved, and the creatures pulled her into the water. Down, down, down. Annemette followed the tide.

 

 

Update: Children of Bathora

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Ahhh, editing. That wonderful time in your novel’s life when you must juggle wild elation and crippling self-doubt while trying to stay sane…

I’m excited to report that the editing of The Children of Bathora is going well. After discussions with my development editor, I’ve decided to completely restructure the thing.

Yes, that is as awful as it sounds.

Considering I thought I was closer to the line edit stage, the initial epiphany felt more like a slap in the face than your standard choir-of-angels moment. But, after tearing it apart and putting it together again, I know this is the right decision and Book Two in The Timekeepers Trilogy is going to be much better for it. The pacing is better, the character development is stronger, and the stakes are higher. I’m happier.

I think this is one of those aspects of the writing process that writers don’t talk about as much as we should. I’ve often waited anxiously for the next title in a favourite series to be released, counting down the months and sometimes years until it is expected, and getting increasingly irritated as that date flies by and I’m still left waiting. Now I’m stuck on the other side of that battle. I want to make this sequel worthy of the readers who loved The Timekeepers’ War and I feel immense pressure to finish it before interest wanes.

So to those of you who are still waiting, thank you. It means a lot to me, and I’m not going to let you down. I’m going to be better about updating the page, too, so everyone knows where I’m at in the process.

Feel free to comment with suggestions for what you’d like to see on the page, as well. Flash Fiction? Book Reviews? Craft Articles? What are you interested in?

Take care out there. Happy reading and writing!

It has begun…

Writing of Book 2 in the Timekeepers' War trilogy has begun in earnest. The Children of Bathora will be finished before the end of the year!
Writing of Book 2 in the Timekeepers’ War trilogy has begun in earnest. The Children of Bathora will be finished before the end of the year!

Sometimes the hardest part of writing is actually just sitting down and doing it. Unless you are lucky enough to already be making a living off your trade, writing often takes a back seat to other obligations. Life tends to intrude on what precious time is left for writing. At least, that’s how it goes with me.

I have managed, in the year since The Timekeepers’ War was released (August 2014), to do some extensive planning for Book Two in the trilogy. I’ve told this story a hundred times, in a hundred different ways, without ever actually committing a word to paper. But I’m mentally much more prepared to write The Children of Bathora than I ever was it’s predecessor. The Timekeepers’ War evolved organically. I let the characters and the situations write themselves.

It was an interesting, if wasteful, process. I ended up cutting over 50K words from my first draft to the version that actually went to print. The trouble with free-writing and entire novel is that you end up spending a lot of time and energy on writing scenes for yourself, rather than your reader. A lot of thought and detail went into building the City and its History that never made it into the finished book. I needed it to write the rest but, as I learned in the editing process, the reader didn’t need it to understand the story. All those details that were so necessary to my writing process simply bogged the reader down, and robbed them of their own vision.

This time I’m trying a different tack. Last week I completed a point form summary of the entire plot. Yes, and even wrote it down! I’ve honestly never written with an outline in mind. This is new to me. Even in my university days, I wrote long research papers without a concrete idea of where I was going with my thesis until I got there. Then I used the editing process to make the whole thing coherent. It usually worked.

The trouble is, I don’t have ten years to write my next novel. Not if I actually want to be a writer of any prolificacy (is that a real word?) So I need to do things differently this time around.

I wrote the first 100 pages of The Children of Bathora before I even found a publisher for The Timekeepers’ War. I needed something else to do besides hounding agents and publishers, and I knew the story wasn’t finished yet. I was still on a roll. But after those initial ideas ran their course, I realized I didn’t really know where I was going with Book Two yet. I didn’t want to have to cut 50K words from another novel. As cathartic as the process was, it would be better to have not wasted all that time and energy in the first place.

Since then, I’ve been mulling it over. I’ve been telling myself this story, and playing with alternative plot lines, and trying to get a feel for the next stage in Ghost and Lynch’s adventure. I even toyed with the idea of shifting the locus of the story from Ghost to someone new. Last week, something clicked. I found the piece that was missing to tie everything together, the thread I needed to pull to tighten everything up. That’s when I wrote the summary.

Today was my first full day of writing. 8:00am-4:30. A quick break for lunch and eight solid hours of work. It feels amazing!

Not only that, but I realize that much of my initial draft is usable. I’ve chopped, re-ordered, and re-written the first 25 pages. If I can keep up this pace with recycling the original draft, I should have the first third of the book done by the end of the week. The last two thirds will be a little slower going, since I will be doing new writing rather than reworking old. But knowing where the plot is going makes me confident that the process will be much smoother this time around.

My goal is to have a completed first draft by the end of November, with The Children of Bathora submitted to Bedlam Press at the beginning of the new year. My mother-in-law is kindly staying with us for a month (or more?) so that I can write full time, while she spends some quality time with the grandchildren and makes sure I don’t starve to death. It is an amazing gift! And it means I can’t procrastinate, which is just what I need.

So here’s to writing full-time. It’s been a couple of years, but the groove is still there. I am looking forward to this!

S.C. Jensen @ Goodreads’ “Ask the Author”

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Hello everyone!

I apologize for my absence the last few weeks. I had an unexpected hospital stay (don’t worry, everything is fine!) Now that I’m home again, and everything is settled, I am hoping to get back to business. I will be answering reader questions on Goodreads’ “Ask the Author” feature until the end of January. Please sign up or log in and fire away! Thanks!