“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?

 

Woo hoo!: The Timekeepers’ War Update

Finally!

Just a quick update to let you know that the documents I needed to sign for the release of The Timekeepers’ War have finally arrived. Apparently it takes five weeks to get USPS priority mail across the border into Canada… Who knew?

Anyway, now that we’ve got that out of the way I can mail everything to the printer and we can get this show back on the road. Hopefully five weeks isn’t a typical delivery time… But the good news is now that this is out of the way, your limited edition hardcover copies will be signed and numbered! Contact me if you’re interested in purchasing one, as the limited editions will not be available online (as far as I know).

I will keep you posted once the printers actually have everything in hand and we have a new official release scheduled. Thanks for reading!

The Edits Continue

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Editing. I think I’m actually starting to enjoy the process. Although, by the time The Timekeepers’ War is actually released, I’m going to be so sick of it that I will never actually read the final version cover to cover. Well, maybe in a few years. You guys will have to do it for me. And please don’t tell me if you find any errors at this point, because I may do something drastic!

No, I’m not at that point yet.

But I’m continually amazed at how much a manuscript can change and still come out essentially the same story. It is incredible. I barely recognize my first draft anymore. Who is this flighty, overly descriptive show off? It’s embarrassing! At least no one else will have to read that version every again. Unless I post some before and after paragraphs…

The last time I wrote about editing (read the post here) I explained how I had received a sample of the kind of revisions I will be going through with my editor. Having already gone through the process once before (read about that experience here) I expected that this would be a fairly superficial once-over to make sure there were no hidden typos or formatting errors.

Ha! That was just my conceited writer’s brain talking. I don’t know about you, but when my writer’s brain is not telling me how terrible I am and that I will never make it, it’s telling me I’m amazing and can basically sit on my behind and wait for the accolades to come pouring in. It’s a little bi-polar.

Here’s the thing. No matter how many times you edit something, there is more to fix. Always. Part of that is because everyone’s style is different; some people prefer brevity and some detail, some focus on pace and others on world-building. The important thing about working with an editor is to make sure you both have a similar vision for what the end product will look like. Because you can edit a manuscript back and forth indefinitely if you are not working towards a common goal.

Luckily, my editor and I are on the same page. And that she has a much better idea of how to achieve this end goal than I (apparently) do. Amy, my editor, will be going through my manuscript in detail–just like she did with the first three chapters. But first, she had a little project for me…

She did a search for some commonly over-used words. These culprits are (in my case) “then,” “just,” “look,” and “but.” She asked me to go through my manuscript using the Find feature in Microsoft Word, and to look at every instance in which I had used one of these words (which means going through my MS four separate times, focusing on one word at a time) and to delete them when they were unnecessary, and to rework sentences to avoid them when possible.

Not that you should never use them, but I was grossly overusing them. I used the word “then” over 1500 times in a 130,000 word novel. The word “but” was used over 900 times (this number is somewhat inflated, because the count includes words that contain the letters but, like “button” or “butter,” neither of which are words every used in my novel… so I’m not sure why those are my examples, but you get the point). “Look” in it’s various forms (including “looked” and “looking,” etc.) was used over 500 times. And “just” was used about 250 times. And I never noticed, and none of my beta-readers ever noticed. But once she pointed it out it was impossible to ignore.

The thing about these words is that they are largely unnecessary, particularly “then” and “just.” I was able to get my count of “then” down to only 66 legitimate usages. From 1500. That is ridiculous.

The other trims weren’t quite as drastic, but I cut my usage of “look” and “just” by better than half. “Look” now comes in at 216 and “just” at 126. So the fast majority of “then” and “just” I was simply able to delete and the the sentence didn’t miss them. It’s basically the difference between “Then I opened the door” and “I opened the door” or “Just wait a minute!” and “Wait a minute!” These are simplified sentences, obviously, but the idea is the same. I cut every instance of “then” where the sequence of events was not critical, and in most of the places it cropped up in conversations. “Just” usually came up in conversations as well, because we use it often when we speak. But when we are reading a conversation, it usually isn’t necessary to the context.

“Look” I did not often eliminate, but I replaced with synonyms. Look is a very bland, undescriptive word. “I looked at him” does not have the same weight as “I glared at him.” And there are a lot of different ways to “look”: you can glance, peek, peer, glower, regard, survey, scan, etc. I tried to use more appropriate synonyms, which then allowed me to delete qualifying sentences that followed the “look.” There are also the other kinds of looks: expression, mien, air, etc. which I replaced. Not all of them, because sometimes “look” is the most appropriate word. But I really went through and considered if I was saying what I wanted to say in the best way that I could.

I am infinitely more happy with the way it reads right now, and Amy has barely touched it. She’s just guided me. Now she’s got her hands on it, though, and I’m prepared for some serious fat-trimming. Interestingly, I found myself strangely unable to eliminate my usage of the word “but.” So I have left these changes in Amy’s capable hands in hopes that she will guide me further.

Every time I finish a step like this I come out feeling like a better writer. I feel like I’m learning something, and that my novel is evolving into the best writing that I am capable of. It makes me very excited to take what I’ve learned (hopefully I retain some of it) and apply it to the next novel that I write. Much of it will be directly applicable to the sequel to The Timekeepers’ War, Children of Bathora.

So there you have it. Does anyone have similar experiences with their writing? Any weird words that keep popping up without you realizing it? How do you edit? Please share!

SF Themes and Ideas: Frozen Viruses

light-virus-1I might be coming late to the party on this one… but did you know that viruses can survive being frozen, become thawed, and live to infect another day?

This has been in the news for the last couple of weeks: giant virus comes back to life, etc. etc. But, “according to the researchers, the revival of the virus could mean there may be other threats to human or animal life hidden in the permafrost.”

So this is fucking scary. Also, totally intriguing. Any SF writers/readers that have come across this theme before? Does it make you think of possible themes in future work? I know it’s been done before. But has it been done well? And should it be done again? Let me know in the comments 🙂

eReaders… I’m finally joining everyone in the 21st C.

Okay. I finally did it. I’ve ordered a Kindle Paperwhite. Don’t tell me I’ve made the wrong choice; it’s too late now.

I have stubbornly avoided getting on the eBook bandwagon. I covet my moments with real books in my hands. The last thing I need in  my life is more “screen time.” I need the soft shush of pages turning, the sweet smell of ink and book-glue and paper (side note: anyone else in love with the smell of used book stores? the older books get, the better they smell). I need the feel of them in my hands to truly enjoy reading.

At least, that’s what I’ve been telling myself. Because that’s how it’s been for me for the last 30 years. Actually, I’m not sure that my owning an eReader is going to change any of that. I will always love paper books. However, I am willing to make some concessions to my ideals for the sake of three things…

1) I would like to be able to view my own books in their electronic form for the sake of proofing, editing, and plain old curiosity. Although I trust my publisher to make my upcoming novel as professional as it can be, I am venturing into the world of self-publishing for some of my novellas, short-stories, etc. and I need to be able to view them as they will be viewed by others.

2) There are so many lovely self-published and small press authors out there whom I would love to support. Many of them only publish eBooks, which is one reason I feel I need an eReader. But even those who offer paperbacks as well, I would like to be able to purchase in eBook format. Not that I wouldn’t love to have a huge library of hardcopy indie books. But eBooks make the difference between me being able to support three or four authors for the same price as one, if I limit myself to paperbacks. I want to share the love a bit 🙂

3) My wallet will (hopefully) thank me. Not only will I be able to spread my dollars around a bit more to show my Indie love, but I will hopefully be able to save some money on traditionally published books as well. There are some books that I am curious about, but just can’t bring myself to spend the money on. If the eBook is significantly cheaper, I may discover authors that I would have otherwise avoided out of uncertainty. I never hold back from buying a book that I know I love, but I’d like to take a few more risks and not feel like I’m breaking the bank.

So there you have it. My rationale… What do you think? Do you have and love your eReader? Are you a stubborn old goat, like me, who clings to paper books like the precious relics they are? Do you have an eBook that you think I might enjoy? Drop me a line, and post links in the comments. I will review sci-fi and fantasy on Cat’s Liminal Space, and others on Goodreads and Amazon.