Update on My Novel: Month 20

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NOVEMBER STATS

Days Writing: 25
New Words: 4003
New Chapters: 1

Total Word-count: 66,847
Total Chapters: 18

Coming into December I knew that it is usually a difficult month for writing, given how heavy it is on holiday festivities. I was also afraid that if I started missing multiple days back-to-back it would be all too easy to give up on it entirely until the new year.

So at the start of the month I made a commitment to not have two days back-to-back where I didn’t work on the novel. A lofty goal…and I made it!

The days that I missed were the 6th, 12th, 21st, 23rd, 25th, and 27th. As you can see, at the end I started missing every other day as the festivities ramped up, but I successfully managed to sandwich each absence with at least a little bit of work before and after.

And how about that grand total of 25 days writing?! I believe that is a new record for me, and I do think it was directly due to this idea of no back-to-back days off. 4003 words written means that each of those 25 days was a little light, but that’s still the most I’ve written in a single month since March.

If you’ve been following my progress, then you know I have tried a variety of different routines to get the most out of my writing and some of those have been more successful than others. I’m pretty excited about this new no-back-to-back-misses approach, though, and will certainly be carrying it forward!

So here’s hoping for another great month in January, I’ll let you know in February how it went. As usual I’ll send you off with a piece that I wrote during this month. Enjoy!

Then begins the crafting stage. Of all the phases, this one is the most routine and repetitive. There are many identical pieces and all must be cut to exact length and precisely shaped, so that they may be bolted together in a perfect fit. And as the full quantity of these has already been tabulated, John has a quota for exactly how many pieces to construct each day. Like a machine his arms memorize the movements and repeat them over and over, parts flying off the table in rapid succession until the full tally has been made.

Of course he cannot completely assemble the pieces of the mill at his workstation, for then they would be too heavy to carry down to the river. Thus he forms them into as large of pieces as his little wheelbarrow can bear, then he will carries them down to the river and completes their construction on-site.

This transportation phase requires some adjustments to the wheelbarrow, though. A single wheel and two leg supports has made for a most agile vehicle, but it simply won’t do when supporting massive constructs of lumber. So he gets rid of the legs, adds three more wheels, expands its bed, and raises its walls. Now it is a proper cart.

Then he treks down to the river, one load at a time. It is not easy to haul such large pieces over such a distance. The ground, while relatively flat compared to the rest of the island, is still far from a paved road. Indeed John thinks to himself during the process that he will have to prioritize making some roads during the off-season when he has a spare moment.

But for now there are no spare moments. He is still holding himself to a rigorous schedule and he must make many trips back-and-forth, every single day. By his copious experience he knows full well how much strain is behind every numbered task. He knows the exact amount of work to be accomplished and the amount of pain to be endured, and he does not let his day finish until he has met both quotas.

Update on My Novel: Month 19

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NOVEMBER STATS

Days Writing: 13
New Words: 2121
New Chapters: 0.33

Total Word-count: 62,821
Total Chapters: 17

Definitely a quieter month for me compared to October. In fact it was my fewest number of days since July. Those days felt a bit like running in place, too, as most of my time was spent back in my previous chapter, adding in another scene.

November is a big holiday month here in the United States, and that definitely was a large factor in how things went. But December is an even bigger holiday month, and so I am anxious about falling into the same trap.

The hardest thing for me is to have skipped a few days, and then have to get back into the context of where I was the next time I start. It makes it all the more tempting to just skip the next day as well.

To that end, I’m going to take special note whenever a day passes and I haven’t written anything. I will make it a rule that I must write on the next day in that case. I’m far enough ahead on my story blog that I could even afford to take a day off there, if it meant having time to work on the novel.

We’ll see how this approach works. If it’s effective, then the absolute minimum number of days for me will be fifteen, which isn’t great, but still better than what I managed this month.

For now here’s a piece that I wrote during this month, it is part of the scene that I added into Chapter Seventeen. Fair warning, it is rather intense.

“Yes. See how you’ve clenched yourself? All the muscles in your abdomen tight as a rock? That’s no good. Then when it has to drive through that’s–“

A strangled cry emanates from deep in your throat as ‘it’ pierces through with a series of rapid surges, forcibly cutting its way through the muscle on its way towards the surface. You sift your fingers back and forth through the dirt, trying to focus on that sensation, willing it to take your mind off the pain at your belly. You give two sharp inhales, then try to relax your muscles.

It is a hard thing, though. For the flesh feels the knife’s edge within, and instinctively flexes itself against it.

“Focus on my voice,” your companion offers. “Make me everything you see, hear, and know. Better to turn away from yourself at this part. Better to make it so you don’t even know what happens.”

The knife-edge pulls back, then lunges forward again. Your somewhat relaxed muscles seize right back up and you cry out again! The knife-edge increases pressure, drives itself at the fibers. You give a long, guttural groan, clenching your fingers on the hard soil, gripping the entire earth for you anchor.

“Press on!” your companion cries. “Press on! You are so near!”

Your long shout goes silent as the last of the air expels from your lungs. You choke silently for a moment, then ‘it’ bursts out of your navel like an arrow.

A strange cry, like that of a wounded animal, warbles out from between your numb lips.

“Yes! Yes! You’ve done it!”

Your whole body trembles as you let your torn muscles slacken. With face on the ground you catch a glimpse of a small gray creature falling to the soil. It drives razor-head into the dirt and scrabbles its feet madly. It disappears into that new womb, churning the soil up in a small cloud as it seeks its collective.

For a moment you feel nothing, and then all at once the entire ground seems to turn beneath you. A single massive force contracts and flows, like a massive underground river. It is the collective welcoming their newest brother.

With a sob you roll onto your back, weep the birth, and try to stop your body from its convulsions.

My Fifty: #10 – #1

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I am reviewing all fifty of my short stories, ranking them from worst to best. Today I am going over my most favorite entries!

The Top 10)

Believe it or not, having these last two sections be exactly ten entries each was not something I did on purpose. It just so happens that I think these remaining stories really are a tier above the last. A lot of the reason why I feel so is because of personal preference, these ones just speak more directly to me. In any case, these truly are the stories that I am the most proud of having written.

10. The Storm. An old fisherman goes into a storm to bring back a fellow-sailor, which sailor was responsible for a past tragedy.
Once again I went with with beaches, the sea, and gray skies! The symbolism of this piece is extremely blunt: two boats tethered together and weathering a storm as soul-breaking confessions are made. Sometimes it’s better to not be subtle, to just wear your themes on your sleeve and see how far you can push it. I enjoyed being able to really lean into the depth of emotions that I wanted to convey.

9. Free Cleaning Service. A detective is trying to track down a serial killer, and in the process invites the murderer to his own home.
I was woken up in the middle of the night by a nightmare once. So then I posted it on my blog for everyone else to share. You’re welcome. Grim as this piece is, I also can’t help but be impressed at how well it captures the terror I felt that night. I had to translate unspoken sensations into written words, which would elicit the unspoken sensations in the reader. Not an easy thing to do, but I think I found my way through it.

8. Boat of Three. A captain, a sailor, and a pirate are together in a lifeboat, the most precarious of companions in the struggle to survive.
This was yet another example of starting a story in fertile ground, and then just sitting back and letting all sorts of interesting plot developments spring out of it. Although I couldn’t let those ideas grow entirely unhindered, because I already had a strong sense of where I wanted the story to end. Thus I had to steer the herd in the right, general direction, and in the end I felt it was a success. Not only this, I felt it was one my best examples of writing about current issues through allegory.

7. The Soldier’s Last Sleep. A soldier on the frontlines must defend against one wave of the enemy after another in what might be his final stand.
This story emerged from a very simple image: a soldier laying down in his bunk after days of fighting, too exhausted to even remove his boots. But where many stories grow forwards from an idea, this one went backwards. I started to ask “well how did he get this way?” which led me to imagine a long sequence of excruciating labors. This piece was actually very satisfying to write, because I permitted myself to flesh out every scene with layer upon layer of prose, resulting in some of my most favorite lines in all my work.

6. The Anther-Child. A race of creatures that live on the anthers of a flower are menaced by a persistent predator.
I wanted to write a story that was a true fantasy, where the main characters were not human, nor human-like. I wanted it to be very surreal and strange, featuring a species I have never seen in any other story. And when all was said and done, I would say I succeeded. I simply do not know anything else that feels like the world I setup for this piece, and it’s somewhere I would very much like to spend more time.

5. Deep Forest. A strange, insect-like creature awakes after eons of sleep, discovering an unfamiliar world that has yet to be awoken.
When I said The Anther-Child was unlike any other story, I meant any other story than this one! I wrote this one first, and once again it represents a more pure fantasy, with a main character that defies any semblance of being human-like. It eats dirt and has compound eyes and regurgitates a larva that it places in an inner pod to incubate! I loved the freedom that this approach gave me, and still want to spend more time in this space.

4. The Toymaker. Two toys are brought to life, and set on a path to the Great City. But soon they are waylaid, and must strive to ever find the road again.
This piece starts as whimsical and carefree as Winnie-the-Pooh or Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but quickly meanders into a grim and harsh world. It strikes an intriguing balance of examining coarse reality, but all through the eyes of un-surrendered innocence. The ending is, I believe, the greatest success I’ve had in sentimentality, and conveys a message that I believe we all could benefit from.

3. Raise the Black Sun. A caravan must bring their wares to a mysterious citadel, weighed down by a sense that they are approaching the end of the world.
Yet another story of mine with a slow burn, this one being the longest and slowest of them all. That gradual escalation was the only option for this one, as its purpose was to capture a deep sense of burden and melancholy. Thus there is a heavy weight that permeates every scene, dragging down the tempo, but slowly rising until it bursts out everywhere in the most explosive conclusion I’ve ever written!

2. Revelate. A group of automatons go about their daily lives, falling in love and concocting schemes against one another.
This is my most intricate piece to date. Its plot occurs in a complete cycle, where the ending transitions seamlessly back into the beginning. It also features characters that evolve into one another through the course of each cycle, done in a way that I have never seen in any other tale. It is therefore one of my boldest pieces from a technical standpoint, and on top of that also presents a sincere and heartfelt drama.

1. Glimmer. A warrior descends to a planet shrouded in darkness. She has come to restore light and life to it at any cost.
This story takes the fight between darkness and light in a very literal sense. The world it presents is stark and barren, with little to distract from the drama at its core. It is another epic in miniature, where the great battle is in the heart of its main protagonist, more than the outer world that she is trying to save. And indeed, her intense earnestness is a very large part of why I like this story so much.

50 Down…)

As I said, I’m very proud of these stories, and I could have certainly made a case for any of the top several being my favorite of all time.

Now I know that none of these works aren’t perfect. I’m aware of pacing issues, inconsistencies, and awkward phrasing in even my favorite stories. And I don’t even mean in the sense of “no story is perfect,” I mean I could do better than this if I gave myself more time. This is why I don’t try to pan any of this off as professional work, and I wouldn’t publish any piece as a commercial product without first putting it through extensive rewrites.

But that is simply the nature and intent of this blog. I have an idea, I explore it for a while, and then I move on. The purpose of these exercises is not to make commercial products, it is to sift through the seeds and find which ones would be worthy of a more thorough production later on.

Some of these I’ve discarded and don’t expect I will ever return to, some of them show a bit of promise if I can just figure out a better approach, and some of them are the beginning of something special.

And I do intend to fully develop some of these ideas down the road. In fact, I’ve already started to do so with one.

…Many More to Go)

But for as many seedlings as I’ve started, I’m nowhere near ready to stop planting more. The pool of ideas is simply too large to stop processing them. And if I do say so myself, I’ve still got some of my best ideas yet to come. In fact I’ve already queued up a few of them for the next story series I publish.

In closing, thank you for being here with me through this long self-examination. These tales have so very much of me laced through them. I wrote them first and foremost for my own benefit, and am forever awed that there are others of you who seem to enjoy them as well.

I do believe that stories are one of the best ways we have to connect to each other. As we each find a part of ourselves in the same themes of the same story we find our common ground.

My Fifty: #20 – #11

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I am reviewing all fifty of my short stories, ranking them from worst to best. Today I will bring us to the threshold of my most treasured work.

Something Special)

The following are the stories that I consider to almost be my favorite work. It’s hard for me to quantify what I feel they are missing…quite possibly nothing. I think it’s just down to a matter of personal preference at this point.

20. A Minute at a Time. A young father is trying to care for his chronically ill son, who is in perpetual discomfort.
I have written several sentimental stories that did not land as well as I had hoped, but this actually succeeded. And a lot of that has to do with the end. At its conclusion the father does not fix his son’s problems. He does not make the bad situation go away. But he does embrace his son’s struggle, and even admits to his own feelings of powerlessness. And so at the end there is a form of healing, but it is that of emotional closure. That sort of honest, bittersweet conclusion brought this story in where other efforts fell short.

19. Phisherman. A hacker who enjoys filtering through the lives of others decides to break into a stranger’s home.
If there is a common trend in my stories, it is that I tend to avoid ordinary, everyday life. With this story I broke that pattern. It is modern, it has no supernatural elements, and it is an examination of a person that could be totally real. And taking this radically different approach did not compromise the piece at all! I think the quality I enjoy most of this story is that its protagonist is unquestionably doing bad things, and needs to be held accountable for his behavior, yet I can’t help but feel a deep pity for him also.

18. The Last Duty. A hermit with a secret shame is visited by a wanderer, whose arrival might not be as random as assumed.
I wanted to write a story that begin with false pretenses. In this piece two characters have their own stories to share, the intersection of which is not made known until a surprise revelation at the end. In addition to the exercise, I also wanted to explore a theme of regretful parenthood and I wanted to explore it to the extreme. The two characters are not merely asking themselves “where did I go wrong,” they are wrestling with the responsibility of having sired the world’s greatest evils!

17. The Noble. A group of medieval slaves find an unlikely savior in the newest member of their chain gang.
I admit that this story ends too quickly. At the time I wrote it, I was still concerned with fitting my stories into a specific number of posts, and sometimes that meant cramming too much into the last chapter. I am including it here, though, because in spite of that I am still very proud of its characterizations, themes, and imagery. Most of all, though, I am proud of the unexpected turn of events at the very center, which in the moment seem a soul-crushing defeat, but actually sows the seed of a later redemption.

16. With the Beast. A family lands on an inherited island, excited to build a new future for themselves.
There isn’t much of an arc here, this piece is mostly about just setting a tone. And in that it definitely succeeded. There is a goodness and an excitement that emanates from the explorers, but it is set apart by a contrasting tone of regret from the reader. Which brings up another distinct element that I’m proud of. The reader is given a voice in this story, and the whole thing is written in a second-person present tense. I suspected that would be weird and off-putting…but it actually works quite well!

15. Does What He Must. A young man in the old west recalls the larger-than-life feats of his father.
I’ve sometimes come into trouble by starting a story without a clear idea of where I wanted to end it. But this piece was an example of how sometimes an expedition into the unknown can turn up gold. All I knew when I started was that I wanted to do a series of scenes that showed the development of a western legend. The fact that it did that, and also came together in an emotional and fitting finale was a wonderful, happy accident!

14. Washed Ashore. Two men wash onto a beach, the lone survivors of a shipwreck, burning with an eternal hatred for each other.
Another mood piece and another shoreline. Something I’ve learned about myself and my writing is that I am captivated by the image of a stormy beach. Here I used it as the flat, gray backdrop behind a dramatic escalation. Things begin with a tone that is longing and wistful, but by the end burns with the promise of destruction and never-ending strife.

13. Once Among the Clouds. A patrol of clouds come across a source of infinite growth, and are seduced by the power it represents.
Well this was certainly a different piece, and it was so for two different reasons. The first, of course, was the choice of clouds as the cast of characters. Coming up with mechanics that reflect those most whimsical of forms was a fun challenge. The other unique element was trying to write an epic drama in miniature. Which I realize sounds like an oxymoron, but was necessary to capture the extremely majestic, yet extremely transient nature of clouds.

12. To the Great Infinite. A man uses his homemade technology to try and map his way into another dimension.
Only my second piece on this blog, and still one of my favorites. I love the sheer creativity of it, particularly the idea of a concrete basement being transformed into a dimension-hopping shuttle. A definite challenge in this was to both invent creative problems for my character to encounter, and then come up with reasonable solutions to them. Perhaps my favorite element, though, was having it cap all that sci-fi extravagance off with a simple moment of leaping into the unknown by pure faith.

11. Slow and Easy, Then Sudden. A sleepy, rural town has a new visitor in town, come to carry out an evil deed.
Another thing that I’ve learned from writing these stories is how much I love the slow burn. This piece begins particularly lighthearted, with a cheerful diner and a warm slice of apple pie, then builds to a climax of cold-blooded murder. In between I was particularly focused on the idea of a man having to work up the hate within him, necessary to being able to carry out such an act of violence.

Come back on Thursday where I will conclude this review with my top ten stories!

My Fifty: #36 – #21

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I am reviewing all fifty of my short stories, ranking them from worst to best. Today I am taking a look at the middle of the pack.

It’s Nice. No More, No Less)

There are always things I can find to improve in my stories, even in my best ones. But this next section is the first batch where I feel there are not any flaws on a fundamental level. I think that they are perfectly fine as they are…and that is all. They’re not life-changing, but they are fine.

36. The Wolf in the Room. Doctors and scientists in a secret facility try to solve the mystery of a man slowly transforming into a wolf.
I enjoyed this unique take on the werewolf. Obviously it has been inspired by other works, such as The Fly, and even Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. The application of this body-swapping logic to werewolves is, to my knowledge, original, and I think it does a good job of raising the questions that I wanted it to.

35. In Stars and Stones. The world’s leading astronomers and archaeologists are both discovering the same end-of-the-world event through two very different lenses.
This one was written from a very removed perspective. The voice is similar to a narrator in a documentary, or a news reporter. There are no named characters, no moments of dialogue, but rather a series of escalating events described until a picture of inescapable Armageddon is made clear. It was a fun exercise, and one that presented some refreshing new experiences.

34. The Favored Son. An abbey in a fantasy world is suddenly overrun by a mysterious invasion.
My most recent piece, and one that I frankly struggled with quite a great deal. Right in the middle I followed a tangent that I hadn’t considered before, and found myself making up the story as I went. In the end I felt it came together much better than expected, and I found a few nuggets along the way that I’m glad to have discovered.

33. Three Variations on a Theme. Three different allegories, each centered on the same idea of condemnation and loss.
This was a more free-form, experimental piece. The visuals in it still haunt me, and I believe the separate sections each fit together thematically. My main purpose here was to see how many ways I could express the same idea, which made for an excellent writing exercise, but may result in a redundant reading experience.

32. Revenger of Blood. A Jewish man’s father was a victim of manslaughter, and he struggles with the right course of action to take against the killer.
I like the ideas of this story, I like its slow burn, and I like the resolution that it comes to. But I do take issue with the dialogue of its characters. I was trying to capture that old, biblical style of speaking. And while it is near enough you know what I am going far, it is also far enough from the mark that it feels a bit awkward. If I took the time, this piece could be polished into something really special.

Worth a Look)

There are many elements that I personally value in the previous stories, but if a friend asked me where to start reading my blog, I would not point them to any of the above. I would tell them to start looking from here.

31. Network Down. A man is hunted by a band of murderers in a highly digitized future.
This was a great example of having a single, simple idea (what if anything manufactured in our society could be interfaced with and digitally purchased), and then running with it for as long as possible. And even with so many ideas packed into such a small package, the piece still finds time to build a compelling arc for its main character.

30. Imposed Will. A man is incarcerated in a Victorian-era prison, where a mysterious figure invites him into a world of magic.
I had a lot of fun going down this rabbit hole, revealing one surprise after another. As one of my earlier pieces, I’m sure it could do with some polishing, but the core of it is still quite good. I remember that as soon as I finished the story I came up with several ideas for how I might continue the tale into a more complete novel. Perhaps one day I will get to.

29. Phillip the Mouse. A series of children’s stories, each following the adventures of a small, anthropomorphic mouse.
These stories are very dear to me, given that they are drawn directly from the bedtime stories I tell to my son. They are at times very fun, at others very sentimental, and in both halves very sincere. This is one that I might very well expand into a more complete collection of short stories at some point.

28. The Death of Simon Bowie. An old man’s memories come alive, and mix with one another during his final moments of life.
I set myself quite the task with this one, trying to recreate a mind that is fading, firing random neurons in quick succession, losing its grip of reality, and no longer able to tell the difference between fact and imagination. As the author, I can understand it just fine, but I would imagine for most readers it is very easy to get lost in. And in this case, I’m not so sure that that’s a bad thing!

27. The Changed Dog. Two parents try to change out the old family dog, hoping that their son won’t notice the switch.
Perhaps one of the most grim stories I have written. There were a lot of powerful emotions behind this piece, including those of loss and deception. I have no question that a good deal of what inspired this piece was my son was dealing with the loss of two family pets in quick succession, and me fighting down a temptation to distract him from the hard facts of life that he needed to make his peace with.

26. Sculpting Light. A series of surreal images and loosely associated ideas are presented in a stream.
This is probably the most experimental piece that I’ve ever done. It has no characters and no dialogue, but it does have an arc: that of associated ideas building towards a central idea. And I found it a very refreshing thing to write. It’s just plain different, and allowed me to work on writing muscles that I didn’t even know I had. It’s something that I would definitely like to explore again.

25. Tico the Jester. A small girl plays with her toys, who are powerless to help as she approaches a traumatic experience.
So this was a bit of an interesting approach. I wrote a story where the main character and her arc are not explored in the actual text. The toys in this story just don’t understand anything outside of their small, childish world, and I keep the action limited to their naïve perspective. I think it made for a very intriguing take, with plenty of subtext and room for interpretation.

24. The Last Grasshopper. A grasshopper is the last of his generation, observing the onset of winter, and the end of an era.
Where I live there are a great many grasshoppers, and they only survive a single season, leaving their eggs buried in the ground to hatch the next spring. I don’t remember when, but one day I realized that there must be a grasshopper each year that was the last grasshopper of its generation. That idea gripped me very tightly, and I knew I had to write a story to convey all the emotions that came with it. I feel like they all came out here rather well.

23. Cursed. A father lays wounded and dying. In his final moments he tries to convince his morally weak son to not seek vengeance for what has happened.
This is a very charged piece, with several competing emotions surging forward in equal measure. The son is filled with hate for those that have killed his father, and the father with fear for losing his son’s soul. There is no outwitting an opponent in this duel, no making an argument to convince another, and no test of physical strength. It is only a duel between intense love and intense hate, where only one can prevail in the end.

22. The Cruelty of King Bal’Tath. A king discusses with his counselors the best way to execute vengeance on a district that has betrayed him.
All the time in stories we follow the protagonist as discover, in horror, the evil plot of the main villain. The best of these plots are ingenious in their cruelty, a perfectly dark work of art. With this story I wanted to examine the formation of one of these plans from the villain’s perspective. I wanted to show how he would wrestle to come up with a plan that was not only evil, but unforgettably so.

21. Power Suit Racing. A young man in a futuristic society joins a dangerous racing league to escape the pangs of love.
I just had a lot of fun with this one. The world it takes place in was different from any setting I had experimented with before, and it was nice to explore one aspect of it and then another. I thought that this exploration naturally and seamlessly integrated with a compelling arc, too, which intersection is where the most satisfying story experiences are found.

That’s all I have room for today, come on Monday as we’ll make our way towards my most favorite stories!

My Fifty: #50 – #37

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On Thursday I posted the last section of The Favored Son, which also marked the end of my most recent series.

This isn’t all, though, it also held the distinction of being the fiftieth short story that I’ve completed on this blog. Not too bad for two-and-a-half years. At this rate it will only take me a half century to post a thousand!

Though actually, that might not be quite true. The fact is my stories have been getting longer and longer at a dramatic rate. In the first year-and-a-half of this blog I did forty short stories, and in all of this last year I only did ten!

Which I don’t feel bad about, it’s just an interesting observation. Probably these longer ten-part stories are harder for readers to persevere through than the short one-offs, but the top objective of this blog has always been to just write what I want to write. If anyone else happens to like it, too, then that’s an extra gift and I am very grateful for it, but it really isn’t my driving motivation.

But back to the milestone.

I’m very proud about having made it through fifty stories. And I am proud of the overall quality in them. There have been a couple duds here and there, but as a whole I feel that I’ve been able to express what I wanted to express, and that I’ve been able to write about things that truly matter to me.

So I felt it was time to commemorate this achievement, and the way I’ve chosen to do so is by ranking each of my fifty stories. From worst to best I will list out a short description of each tale, what my personal feelings about it are, and any special challenges that it presented. And these reviews are going to be very influenced by my perspective as the author. My experience while writing the story will be as important as the final quality of it when determining where it ranks.

Fifty stories is going to take a little while to cover, so I will break it out over this week and the next. My regular essays and short stories will be put on a short hiatus until after that.

And now, without further ado, let’s get to it!

It Sounded Better in My Head)

It turns out there are very few of my stories that I consider a complete flop, tales that I would feel very little reason to revisit, even if I had the time. If anything, I would just extract the few parts I do like about these stories and repurpose those into other, more promising stories.

50. Harold and Caroline. A boss and one of his workers are constantly at odds with one another.
For some reason I really struggled while writing this one, redoing multiple scenes multiple times. I think it has a more sentimental ending than it has earned, and I’ve frankly never felt so detached from a happy ending after all of the frustration it took to get there.

49. The Basketball in the Water. A man is meeting with his therapist, discussing his frustrations with his father.
It’s a nice representation of counseling, utilizing actual methods of the profession. But the entire thing was built around a twist ending that feels oddly out of place. My reason for wanting to include that twist was to be true to a dream which inspired the story. Sometimes I need to be able to let go of the initial concept of a story, though, so that it might evolve into something better.

48. Hello, World. A group of programmers inadvertently let loose a virus which strives for world domination.
I’ve included the occasional moment of humor in my stories, but this is the first and only time where I tried to write a comedy. And, given where it is ranking on this list, it might be quite a while before I try it again! I think my main issue here was trying to mix a sense of levity alongside some thick technical-speak. It made the whole piece feel off-balance and lacking a clear voice.

Good Idea, But…)

The next section of my stories are ones that didn’t shine as brightly as I’d hoped when written out, but which I still like the ideas at the core of. There is still potential for them, but they need a different interpretation or a fuller context to really come into their own.

47. The Sweet Bay Tree. A young tree is brought into a multi-purpose room on university campus. Slowly it comes to the realization that it will never leave this place.
I think there was an intriguing idea at the heart of this story, but the main thing I learned from the experience was the importance of finding the right medium to tell a story through. This is something that could work in a soulful song, but as a short-story it just kind of comes and goes without making the intended impact.

46. The Heart of Something Wild. An African Tribe tries to negotiate the shift of power after the old chief dies.
I feel like this story had too many core ideas: the tribe members deciding where their loyalties lied, an examination of a shamed heir, and the relationship being formed with a strange creature. Each of these could have been interesting in their own right, but the blend of them all made for a bit of a distracted concoction.

45. Shade. An altruistic leader sacrifices himself to save a friend that has fallen to the other side.
I have posted many stories that feel like a single chapter from a larger piece. But where most of them feel like they have a complete arc within that larger tale, Shade felt decidedly incomplete. There just wasn’t enough time to care about the characters involved or the events that transpired. What was described could have been an interesting piece, if it had been backed by a novel full of development.

44. I Hated You, Jimmy. A man looks back at his frustrations with a High School bully, and how he finally developed empathy for the boy.
I tried something new with this story: I made the protagonist’s voice change a great deal throughout. Though the entire piece is is couched in the setting of an adult reflecting on his childhood memories, he very much gets caught up in the emotion of the moment, and at different times sounds like a teenager, a young adult, and a mature man. This might work over a longer piece, but in the short story format it resulted in too chaotic and frequent of changes.

43. It’s Tough to Be a God. A man is exiled on a small moon, where he discovers the power to create whatever he wants.
There are a lot of ideas I really like in this. I think a simple man being made into a god and trying to balance out his own ignorant mistakes is fascinating. But the tone of it kept slipping from me. I felt like I kept pushing at the fringes of creature horror, which was not my intention at all. It’s definitely something I’d like to do another take on.

42. Celestials. A solar system is destroyed through a complex chain of events.
I feel that this story fell to the same weakness as The Sweet Bay Tree. It is an interesting idea, and one I think that is worth, it’s just very hard to communicate by a written medium. This tale is full of dense paragraphs that are brimming with chemical and physical terms. I originally envisioned this idea as a short film, and I do believe that that would provide the best experience.

41. Gifts from Daniel Bronn…and Jerry. A sentimental story about an old cynic who is transformed through his work for a rich altruist.
This was my attempt at a feel-good Christmas story like A Christmas Carol or It’s a Wonderful Life. I still very much like the idea of a man learning compassion by repeatedly being the vehicle for someone else’s kindness, but I can’t help but feel that the ending just didn’t come together in the way I had hoped. It’s not terrible, but I would like to have had the time to experiment with a few alternative versions before hitting submit.

40. Washed Down the River. A detective mystery set in the 70s, where a suburban suicide might actually be foul play.
I had wanted to write a mystery for a long while, and finally decided it was time to try my hand at it. I enjoyed the more measured approach I used, but unfortunately all that slow burn builds up to an end that is disappointingly anticlimactic. It could definitely be reworked, though, and there are many ways it could have a far more exciting conclusion than its current “so I guess no one was really the murderer?”

39. Cael: Darkness and Light. Two isolated scenes of a dark void spilling over the world, and two characters attempting to flee it.
If I were just evaluating the very first scene, I would have placed this much higher. It’s scene of a man dissolved within a void I still find quite gripping. And the second scene has its own interesting ideas as well, but as with Shade it would have had more impact if contained in a greater context. In other pieces I have better learned how to take a vertical slice from a larger tale that still feels complete on its own.

38. The Wedding Scenes. Four vignettes from a single wedding reception.
My very first story on this blog! And while writing those first pieces was pretty grueling at the time, I am actually quite pleased that it turned out as well as it did. In the end it is a bit lopsided, with certain vignettes turning out much better than the others. I could easily drop the weaker sections and just let the others stand on their own.

37. Instructions Not Included. Two boys discover some strange machines that operate on their own set of rules, separate from the laws of nature.
It was nice to write a story about pure discovery, and in that regard I consider it a success. The ending was designed to open the world up to a wealth of future possibilities, but I feel that in this case it was it felt like a hurriedly tacked-on cliffhanger, rather than a natural escalation of all that had come before.

That’s all I have room for today, come on Thursday as we’ll delve into the next sections of my countdown!

Update on My Novel: Month 18

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OCTOBER STATS

Days Writing: 20
New Words: 3924
New Chapters: 1.25

Total Word-count: 60,547
Total Chapters: 17

Well this month was my most productive in a long while! It was the most words written since March, and the most days-in-a-month working on the novel since October last year! It would have been nice to break the 4,000-word barrier…but I’ll just have to keep that as a motivation for this next month.

A little less positively, I noticed during this month that I kept falling into a pattern of halfhearted writing. I would open my word processor, type out a minimum number of words as quickly as possible, and the quality just wasn’t up to the standard I have been striving for. I’ve told myself previously that it’s okay to only write out a few words during a busy day, but they still ought to be quality words!

On the other hand…maybe my tepidness is a blessing in disguise. It could be a warning to me that the section I am working on is not very interesting, and will be a slog for the reader to get through as well. A slow middle is one of the most common failings in literature, and I might very well be falling victim to it myself!

But if I am able to recognize this trend as it happens, I will still have time to correct it. I’m currently doing a once-over on my latest chapter, and in addition to picking out grammatical and logical errors, I will repeatedly ask myself “is this even interesting.”

For now, though, here’s a piece that I wrote during this month. One that I feel still has that spark I’ve been striving for. Enjoy!

But William has no more time for ruminations, for Eleanor is now ushering the family to their seats around the fire, and once they are settled she presents the first real feast that they have enjoyed since setting foot on the island!

The main attraction, of course, is the roasted bird.

“Oh, this is divine!” William exclaims. “What kind of fowl is this?”

“Well I’m not sure exactly,” Eleanor answers, “but it looked like some sort of pheasant.”

“Are we going to start putting traps out for them regularly, now?” he smiles hopefully.

“Yes, I think so. Try and catch a few and start breeding them I imagine. Though this came out quite dry and bland, didn’t it?”

Everyone murmurs in disagreement. But of course, this is the first fresh meat they’ve had since they arrived, and even dry, bland fowl seems succulent and rich!

In addition to the pheasant, there are two side dishes made from the recently harvested produce of their garden. The first is yellow yams that have been boiled soft, with green beans and peas mixed throughout. The second is another set of yams that has been sliced and fried, and is served with a dip made of mashed mung beans.

And even this isn’t all. A large bowl is also passed around, full of nuts and sunflower seeds, and also a jar of tamarind jam to enjoy by itself.

“How nice to have a dinner with dessert again,” John approves. “Would you like some, Clara?”

“No,” she wrinkles her nose. “I don’t like tamarinds. And that’s not what we’re having for dessert.”

“There’s more?” John looks in amazement to Eleanor, who reaches behind the stump she is sitting on and produces cashew fruit, cut into halves and topped with some of the leftover cane sugar from their test crop.

They all eat more heartily than they knew they could. There isn’t a single morsel left in any bowl or plate, and there isn’t a single finger that isn’t licked clean. They are quite full when all the food is gone, yet each feels they would happily eat just as much again.

Update on My Novel: Month 17

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SEPTEMBER STATS

Days Writing: 18
New Words: 3145
New Chapters: 1

Total Word-count: 56,412
Total Chapters: 15.75

Well 3,000 words-per-month definitely seems to be my pattern of late! Actually, if I’m being honest, I was tracking well below that level until the end of the month, and when I realized it I redoubled my efforts just to be sure I made that mark. I guess 3,000 words unconsciously became a minimum standard for myself.

Also, I wouldn’t have had a chance of hitting that many words if not for a writer’s group that I am a part of. Each meeting we take an hour-and-a-half of uninterrupted writing to get out as many words for our novels as possible. I only attended one of these meetings for the month of September, but from that one session I got 1,200 words. Just by attending more of these (they occur on a weekly basis) I could get a lot more done each month.

For the past while I’ve been realizing that the greatest slow-down to my writing process is that I review each chapter after I finish writing it. I don’t get chapter polished to a perfect state, and there’s still going to be a lot of refactoring and revising to do later, but my work does become markedly improved from this editing-as-I-go approach. I think it is an important process, but it sure does put the brakes on my momentum.

I’m not sure what to do about that yet. I could push myself to edit each chapter for a set number of days only. I could try to be more sparse in smoothing out each rough spot. I could see if it is better to write out three whole chapters, and then edit them as a batch.

Perhaps I’ll implement some of those ideas this month, I’m still not sure. But I will be paying close attention to how things go once I get finished with Chapter 16. Come back on November 1st to hear how it went.

Before I head out, though, here’s a little snippet from my work this month. Enjoy!

An early chill crawls out of the earth that night and the family awakens to several patches of dew that have crystallized into frost.

“Is this a concern?” William asks Eleanor.

“No, not yet. We had a few cooler days last season as well, and none of them were a problem for our test crop.”

The wind picks up, and all of the family pull their blankets more tightly around their shoulders and lean closer to the fire.

“Well that’s a proper sea breeze, isn’t it?!” William exclaims.

“Yes, and a sea sky,” John observes the flat, gray canopy overhead.

“Well I think it’s quite refreshing myself,” Eleanor smiles. The wind picks up once more and she shrinks back into her blanket. “I’ve gotten so used to this hot and humid air that I don’t even notice it anymore. Nice to have a day that you can actually feel once in a while!”

“Well I prefer not feeling the day,” Clara shivers.

“Were you finished with your porridge?”

“Yes.”

“Well then why don’t you and I start on our way. The walk will help thaw you out.”

“But then I won’t be in my blanket anymore.”

“I’d consider letting you keep it around you, but then you’d have to carry it back at the end of day.”

“I’ll carry it!”

“And it will be hot and stuffy this afternoon, and you won’t enjoy having to carry it then.”

“No, I’ll be alright. Thank you, mother.”

“I believe you mean ‘please, mother,'” William cocks an eyebrow.

Clara sighs. “Please, mother?”

“Well, alright.”

“Thank you, mother.”

Update on My Novel: Month 16

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AUGUST STATS

Days Writing: 17
New Words: 3001
New Chapters: 0.75

Total Word-count: 53,133
Total Chapters: 14.75

August continued with the greater success that we saw in July. I’m not at the 6,000-words-per-month level that I was at the end of 2019, but I’m more than double the low point of 1,376 words in June.

Interestingly, I did 17 days of writing in August, a significant increase to July’s 10, but wrote nearly the exact same number of words. I don’t mind that my average performance each day was less, though I wouldn’t want that trend to continue down further.

The good news is that my family and I are officially done with the move! We’re still acclimating to our new surroundings and we’re still busy with unpacking boxes, but the main effort is over. Hopefully that means more time for writing, but honestly even if I maintain this baseline I will be content.

I had an interesting experience with writing this month when I wasn’t sure how to start a particular scene. After trying to find the “right answer” for a while and failing to do so, I just plowed ahead with the first idea that came to mind. I finished feeling that what I’d done was garbage, and that tomorrow I should just erase it and try again.

When I looked at it the next day, though, it was actually pretty decent. Really it was only the very last paragraph that I still had an issue with, which was probably what had put the bad taste in my mouth to begin with. So I kept everything else from before, only rewrote the last paragraph, and happily continued. It was a good lesson in not being afraid to let go of problem areas, but also to step away and look with fresh eyes for value that I might have missed in the heat of the moment.

Before I head out, here’s a little snippet from my work this month. Enjoy!

Across the island, John arrives back at the field, bringing with him the last bundle of sugarcane for William.

“Thank you,” William exclaims, hobbling over to take the sack from him. “Sorry again to make you come all the way down here. I think there’s still some porridge in the pot if you wanted to sit down a moment.”

“No, I had better get back to the workstation.”

“Of course. Well sorry again.”

John waves his hand dismissively, but he cannot help but consider that if it had been he who was bringing in the sugarcane yesterday, he surely would have found a way to bring in the full measure, even with a sprained ankle. Although, more likely, he probably wouldn’t have sprained his ankle to begin with.

“I admire your passion, son,” he says as soon as he is out of earshot, “it gives you vision and motivation. But sometimes you let it get you worked up, let it get you jittery, and then you make mistakes. Yes, I want to give you the fulfillment that I never had, but not at the expense of the grounded surety that I have had. I want it to be possible for you to dream and achieve, but also for you to be focused and deliberate. Otherwise you won’t have it better than me, just different. And I want you to have it better.”

Update on My Novel: Month 15

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JULY STATS

Days Writing: 10
New Words: 3060
New Chapters: 0.7

Total Word-count: 50,146
Total Chapters: 14

With July I decided to do things a bit differently. I got rid of tracking partial days and full days, I got rid of minimum amount to work each day, and I just made it a simple commitment to do something on my novel every day.

And, for the first half of the month, things went quite well. I wasn’t getting every single day, but I was getting more than half, and I was on track to have my best month since January. Then, in the second half, I once again stopped working altogether.

I feel more okay with my lack of productivity for this month than I did for May or June. Things have been very strained these past few weeks, with us getting our house up on the market, preparing to move, and an intense deadline being thrust on my team at work.

It’s difficult to decide the balance of “just get something done, anything, no matter how chaotic the rest of the day has been” and “have some understanding, it’s okay to get less done during hectic days.”

But rather than dwell on what didn’t get done, I want to relish the first part of the month where I was really working on the story. It felt so good. I feel like my changes in how to approach the work removed all of the stress, and left the pure enjoyment of it instead. I’ve craved that these past couple weeks, and want to get right back to it.

So I’m going to keep that same format for August, and hopefully I’ll be able to find a little more time in the nooks and crannies of each day.

Before I head out, here’s a little snippet from my work this month. Enjoy!

“Oh look, there’s some new flowers over there!” Clara suddenly points excitedly to a small cluster of black morning glories perched on the slope that rises on the other side of their stream. They grace a particularly steep portion of that incline, crowning a sheer, rocky outcropping that presses out of the green growth that otherwise makes up the hillside.

“Oh…” Clara says slowly as she regards the precarious position. “We don’t have to get those ones…if you don’t want to.”

Eleanor’s eyes narrow.

“I hadn’t expected you to be scared off so easily, Clara.”

“What? No, I’m not scared, I just–“

“It’s alright. You just wait here where it’s nice and safe and hold my bag.” Eleanor hands Clara the sack and then begins to ascend the hill. She goes up the gentle-sloping side until she is about level with the flowers, then moves sideways to the rocky face. The flowers’ ledge is a little more than two feet higher than her feet now, so she grips the rock face with her left hand, stretches her left foot up to plant it on the rocky shelf, then firmly swings the rest of herself up and onto the ledge. A few moments later and she has plucked a few of the flowers’ finest representatives.

Getting off the ledge is a somewhat trickier matter, though, as now she must step down onto the slanted surface of the hill. Clara sees her mother’s hesitation and quickly scrambles up the hill to be beside her.

“Here,” Clara says, “take my hand.”

“And send us both rolling down the hill?”

“I’ll be firm.”

Clara plants her feet squarely, and keeps her hand out until Eleanor concedes. The maneuver is made simply enough, and the two quickly ascend to the top of the incline.

“Weren’t you frightened, mother?”

“Terrified!”

“But—but then why did you go up there in the first place?”

“Because you thought I was frightened.”

“But you just said that you were! And I knew you were the whole time, even though you pretended not to be!”

Clara’s tone is frustrated and chiding, and Eleanor cannot help but laugh.

“I’m sorry, Clara, you’re absolutely right. It was silly of me, but…well, I don’t know…I suppose it’s just a hard thing for a parent to let their child know when they need help.”

“Well…as long as you know that it’s silly!”