‘Netflix for Dreams’ and Swapping Sci-Fi Stories in Cyberspace…

I like sci-fi. Sci-fi is my jam. I put it in porridge and then said porridge is inedible ’cause it’s got robot bits and cosmic debris and maybe even a techsistential crisis in there as well. Whatever. I eat that mess up because it’s good for me. Sci-fi is brain food.

Because I like science fiction I (literally) jumped at the chance to get involved in a mass sci-fi-writing party when it heard about it a couple of weeks ago. What happened was this: a person named Regular Frog decided they’d set-up ‘SF Swap‘ (hashtag: #SFSwap) and put the proposal out to Twitter. Writers rallied round, rigged themselves up to monitors and got in on the action. That action is the exchange of science fiction concepts and the subsequent writing of stories based on those concepts.

It works like this: everyone throws out a short hook for a story and someone else gets that prompt and has to fashion a thousand-word yarn out of it. It’s then uploaded onto the SF Swap website for everyone to enjoy, and there’s a lot to enjoy. It’s really interesting to see how people adapt to the challenge and how genre tropes and stylings have been played with.

There’s a beautiful mix of stories both in terms of theme and tone. We have pulpy space opera, alien encounters, nature fighting back, technology-based horrors, black comedy cyberpunk, cosmic dread, doomed missions, post-apocalyptic bewilderment and stellar romances. I’ve had a blast coming back to the site over and over to read the latest uploads and I recommend having a read through if you want some stimulating flash-fiction.

My own effort has been uploaded and it’s based on a prompt from Tanya Osborne. The prompt was ‘Netflix for Dreams’ and it’s one of the best pitches I could have hoped for. (I got an email that said nothing but ‘Netflix for Dreams’. It was one of the best emails I’ve had in a while. I got a bit excited about that email.)

Netflix for Dreams is what it says it is, and if you read it you’ll find a dizzying array of eclectic titles on offer (I had a lot of fun inventing fantasies, though some of them are partly based on my own real dreams). Feel free to head over to the SW Swap site and enjoy not only my fresh blast of fiction, but the many marvellous works of others getting immersed in this exciting experimental writing jam…

 

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James vs. Story Cubes: Furious Fingers Flying for Fresh Flash Fiction…

*Clears throat* Alright! Are you sitting comfortably, my Preciouses? Good – then I’ll begin…

Once upon a time (last week) I had the thought “Hey, I haven’t started a new blog in a while” while simultaneously having the thought “Hey, I want to get back to writing some flash fiction“. These thoughts started dancing together and then they grabbed me and dragged me down a path of fresh creative action.

Here’s fresh action: ‘James vs. Story Cubes‘. It’s like Alien vs. Predator, except better/worse. Here’s how it’s going to work: I’m going to roll my set of Voyages edition Rory’s Story Cubes (recommended for fun with friends or personal creative impetus) and come up with short stories inspired by the images in oooh, say, around 10 minutes and no longer. The results – whether they be good, bad or abominable – will be written up on the new Tumblr blog on a relatively frequent basis. (Probably a few times a week.)

I figure this will be fun creative exercise – on-the-fly story fabrication with built-in limits and without excessive thought. I’ll see what happens (probably multiple atrocities). You can see what happens by heading to the James vs. Story Cubes site and I hope you enjoy what I come up with in the clutch when I’m challenged by the Nine Perilous Pictorial Polyhedrons of Power.

Alrighty? Write on… *attacks the story cubes, and they return fire with extreme prejudice…*

Pictonaut Short Story Challenge: ‘Restless Spirit’…

Alrighty, I’m a bit restless and nervous-excited. “You should write something, man!” I said to myself, and that part of myself was thinking right because writing is a righteous and an effective way to deal with nervous-excited restlessness. It’s also a good idea when you’re trying catch up with a personal writing challenge. The personal writing challenge I’m trying to catch up with is John Steele‘s monthly Pictonaut, and that’s all about turning an inspiral image into some kind of story/fiction bit. I’m now up to December (last month) and December’s chosen image was this beautiful piece of work by artist Joshua Hutchinson

‘Soul Ascending’ by Joshua Hutchinson…

I like this piece (title: ‘Soul Ascending’) and thought I could go off and do something shamanic (or ‘Noveau Shamanic’ if I’m looking to channel Nicolas Cage). Unfortunately (?), I went and saw Wild last night and am preoccupied with my upcoming trip to Italy, so that affected the kind of tale I wished to tell. I’m thinking about journeys and the idea of journeys being opportunities (or, indeed, the means) to find yourself or find some spiritual truth. I really like and believe in that, but this little flash of fiction I’ve spawned is a bleaker, more downbeat affair. Instead, it’s more about being lost and unable to settle (physically, mentally and spiritually). I saw something a bit tragic in the image, so quickly knocked up a thing titled ‘Restless Spirit‘ that I hope doesn’t bleak you out too much. Make of it what you will by clicking on this link to read it, while I go about preparing for travel so I can find myself/find something else/find spiritual truth…

Pictonaut Screenplay Challenge: ‘Pink Slip, Marigold War’…

Another day, another Pictonaut story. Seeing as I’m still trying to catch up and apparently on a roll, I decided to roll with it and write up a fresh piece for John Steele‘s monthly fiction-spawning exercise. Same as ever, the aim is to write a story inspired by a selected image. I’m now up to November, and the November 2014 picture was this one by the ace Swedish artist and sci-fi visionary, Simon Stålenhag

‘Gaussfraktarna’ by Simon Stålenhag. Isn’t it just a brilliant piece of artwork?

I dig this image, ’cause it looks like some kind of mash-up of Drive and District 9, though I contemplated these two dudes and thought that they looked like a Kurt Russell antihero from a John Carpenter movie (or maybe Roddy Piper. I don’t know but I ended up with Carpenter on my brain). With that in mind and ideas sloshing around I realised I could only crack this as a script for screen. I typed it up, and what follows is a rough ‘n’ ready first draft of the opening scene of a sci-fi action B-movie that I’d call ‘Pink Slip, Marigold War‘. In this reality the studios (a studio wanted this?) would then change the obscure title into something bland and probably make the film into a run-of-the-mill nonentity with no sense of fun or cosmic quirk-mojo at all. I’m not happy about that and because, hey, this is my fantasy I’m making sure that ‘Pink Slip, Marigold War‘ retains its name, retains its Kurt Russell, and its Roddy Piper, and its anti-capitalist messages, and its gratuitous alien gore,and its surrealistic musical number when a Fen-Gnooii Quadrant-Archon eats a whole bushel of narcotic weed and hallucinates that she’s the birth of a sixteen-limbed solar goddess on the outer rings of Neo-Pluto.

I haven’t written that scene yet, or the scene where one of our main characters gets in an electro-mace duel with an alien drug baron, or the hilarious sequence where another protagonist tries (and fails) to commit himself to rehab in another galaxy. I will probably never write those scenes in this (far blander) reality so I guess I’ll just leave you with this scene that has been drafted. I hope you like the opening snippet from Pink Slip, Marigold War

Pictonaut Short Story Challenge: The Phantom Pains of Duane Jenkins…

I like writing and I like having fun with dead people so today I wrote a story about a ghost. This story, like most of the stories I upload here, is an effort for John Steele‘s Pictonaut challenge which I’m still trying to catch up on (’cause it’s January, and I’m only up to October as you’ll see in two sentences’ time). Same objective as always: the Steele Supreme selects an image every month and says “yeah, write something inspired by that”. The following photo (we know not its source) was picked as October’s picture, back when it was Halloween and there was suitably seasonal spookiness in the aether…

It’s a ghost! Unfortunately, no one knows who took this photo. I’d like to pretend that it was a ghost because that’s a nice fantastical thought and saves us from guilt about not correctly attributing our human sources. (Ghosts don’t have human rights, right?)

I like this picture. I saw that phantom and, after thinking it through a few minutes set about knocking out the following vignette. It’s called The Phantom Pains of Duane Jenkins and I hope you enjoy it…

Pictonaut Short Poem Challenge: ‘Those Eyes So Green’…

Okay, write on. Yesterday I uploaded a short story titled The Death of Earth Patrol for the monthly Pictonaut short story challenge (set, as ever, by the eminent John Steele). That was a piece loosely inspired by August’s image, and I thought I’d try and push my catch-up mission further by getting September’s done ASAP. ASAP is today because I’ve written it, though it’s not a short story. It’s a very short poem and it’s based on this photograph (source unknown, I’m afraid)…

Those eyes… so green…

So, a pair of beautiful green eyes on a face veiled by bright orange fabric. I decided to write a pretty little ditty about it that leaned towards some of my main interests instead of concocting a longer narrative that I don’t really care about. I’m not much of a poet, but I am a Cosmic Romantic so, in total, here’s a thing about an interstellar traveller come to Earth to grace our rock with the most amazing eyes in the galaxy. It’s partly inspired by all the space rock I listen to, Pixies’ Andro Queen and things like the Marvel Cinematic Universe and stories like A Princess of Mars. I’m all for cosmic wonder and building relationships with graceful, intelligent alien beings (platonic and romantic) so, yeah, that’s how this comes to be, I suppose. Its title is Those Eyes So Green and this introductory ramble is now longer than the poem itself so I’ll just let you read it and go back to waiting for the love of my life to arrive from another star system…

 

Pictonaut Short Story Challenge: ‘The Death of Earth Patrol’…

Writing! I love writing and I always want to write more and more and more than I actually do write. Such is life, but I’m not happy settling with “such is life“, oh no thank you very much. Inching up towards the year’s end and getting reflective I already know that one of the top targets on my hypothetical New Year’s Resolution list is write more and write harder, better, faster, stronger. (Most of my draft New Year’s Resolutions are suffixed Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.) Anyway, one thing I’ve been meaning to do writing-wise is catch up on the way overdue Pictonaut challenges. Set by Sir John Steele every month, the idea is to write a short story based on an inspiral image. Right now I’m up to August, and August’s image was this illustration by Kali Ciesemier

Image by Kali Ciesemier

The picture captured my imagination and I came up with a short story called The Death of Earth Patrol. I won’t say anything else about it apart from this: it’s not quite what you think it is. I hope you enjoy it and I hope that I can make up some more ground on the Pictonaut challenge soon. Feel free to read that effort and just know that I’m out there, working hard at being harder, better, faster, stronger. Write on…

Pictonaut Short Story Challenge: ‘Jumping Off Point’…

*Retro alarms beep and boop, strings twitch, strung-out nerves spasm* Hey! What’s the action? The action is this: tomorrow I’m going to the Thought Bubble comics festival in Leeds. I’m also writing stuff and, thinking about writing stuff, I acknowledged that I’m still behind on my Pictonaut Challenge catch-up mission. With comics on my mind, I decided to knock up a story in that format.

Thus, the late, late, very-late entry for the July Pictonaut Challenge – set, as always, by the feted, formidable and part-time ferocious John Steele – is a script for a silly two-page comic. It is inspired by this image created by Polish artist Michał Karcz

The Lair update by Karezoid

“The Lair” by Michał Karcz…

The story is called ‘Jumping Off Point‘ and you can read it by clicking right here. There is no art so you’ll just have to imagine what the finished comic would look like, though my attached rough layouts might help (I always do rough layouts before writing a comic script. I think visually like that.) More Pictonaut stories should be coming soon because I fully intend to fill in the blanks and catch up on all those I’ve missed (both writing them and reading them). Until then, feel free to look back at old ones or, better yet, read this fresh one. I hope you enjoy this and Thought Bubble if you’re going. If not, enjoy life anyway…

(By the way, I have no idea why I turned into a Stingray puppet at the start of his blogpost. I think I just wanted to say “What’s the action?” and was ruminating on underground complexes and things escalated from there. Don’t worry because I’m not a puppet. I’m a real boy. Anyone who finds me in Leeds tomorrow will see that there are no strings on me. Erm, yes. As you were and enjoy…)

 

 

Pictonaut Short Story Challenge: ‘Definitely Not a Royal Gala: a King Charles III Tragedy’…

Eeeeh, b’gum, owd’s ye like ’em apples, eh? What apples? These apples? Let’s roll, ’cause this is how I roll (or used to roll)…

Once upon a time not so long ago I was a regular responder to Sir John Steele‘s monthly Pictonaut challenge. Th’gist were this: John picked a picture and challenged the world to write a story of around a thousand words inspired by the image before the month was through. I like this idea. I like the challenge of writing something with set parameters and then I like messing with the inspiral source and doing something completely different with it. Anyway, I did it every single month for a time until earlier this summer when I went travelling. I fell off the wagon, but now I’m trying to hitch myself back onto the wagon and play catch-up. At least that’s the plan and I aim to slowly but surely get back to the present and pump out some fast-and-very-loose short blasts of fiction (very loosely) based on the images that Sir Steele selected for June, July, August, September, October and November. I haven’t seen the images or read the other stories, so I’m throwing myself into absolute mystery.

Without much further ado, here’s the first of the catch-up quickies which I knocked up today at high speed while listening to groovy Witchfinder music. Here’s the image interested writers were asked to adapt into prose for June’s Pictonaut Challenge

An old lady with apples. We don’t know who the lady is, who took the photo or what is going to become of the apples…

Old lady with apples it is. I got an offbeat idea and, ignoring the anachronisms in the background behind her, blasted it out and uploaded it for you to read right here. I apologise to His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales and apologise if you don’t enjoy it. If you do though, thanks! More Pictonaut stories (or quasi-stories) will be coming soon. For now, I’ll leave you with Definitely Not a Royal Gala: a King Charles III Tragedy

‘We Made It’ Issue #2: Fantastical Unicorn-Themed Zine Action…

What is best in life? Some people would answer “fat unicorns“. Those people have a good point. Rembrand Le Compte is one of those people and he decided that fat unicorns should be the theme for the second issue of the We Made It zine that he edits. That zine is now here…

It’s a very nice anthology package packed full of sweet illustrations/stories/poems/photos from a diverse array of ace artists, all inspired by the fat unicorn theme. I’m happy and humbled to be in there alongside them, for this issue features some of my work as well – a comic titled ‘Una the Aurous ——-‘. Cheri Borgstrom illustrated the short story and she brought the whole thing to life and turned my idea into something beautiful. I’m really pleased with the end result and it’s a thrill to see something I wrote made real as a printed comic that I can hold in my hands.

We Made It. Yes we did, and you can see what we made by ordering issues – print or digital – from the We Made It site. You might also be interested in the first issue – themed around Whales – which features my short prose story/alternate history ramble ‘Whale Caesar’. You also might be interested in submitting to future issues, so keep an eye out for news of issue 3.

What is best in life? Well, if it isn’t fat unicorns, it’s probably making things. Yeah, I think that might be it…

Pictonaut Short Story Challenge: ‘What’s Behind the Door in the Forest?’…

It’s time to tell a tale, and that tale is this month’s effort for the Pictonaut challenge. The nature of the challenge is this: every month the very excellent Sir John Steele picks an evocative image and throws down the gauntlet to writers. “See this picture? Write a thousand-word short story based on it. Alright?” Alright, it most definitely is and I duly give it a crack and see what I can come up with. What have we got to work with a February 2014’s image? This photograph taken by, it’s believed, Eric Peterson…

What’s Behind the Door in the Forest?

It’s a picture of a door in a forest. The key question that needles me: ‘What’s behind the door in the forest?‘ I couldn’t decide, so I decided to write a short fiction-bit about that question and spin a yarn with a slight fairytale-ish/olde folk storytelling edge to it. It’s no doubt influenced by my enthusiasm for fantasy, myths and legends and fond memories of my own grandfather. I don’t rate it much at all, as far as things go, but it is what it is and it’s always good writing exercise to have a go at the Pictonaut challenge. I was shooting for a freewheeling, simplistic oral legend feel and I think it works if you read it aloud in an elderly Eastern European accent. In fact, read everything aloud in that accent. Life is more fun when your internal monologue speaks with an exotic and/or ludicrous voice.

The positive thing I take from this month’s Pictonaut trip is that it’s got me looking forward to future adventures in the open outdoors when the bleak winter is behind us and the weather is not unbearable. As I look forward to that future, feel free to have a glance at ‘What’s Behind the Door in the Forest?‘ and keep on opening doors in real life. If you don’t you won’t discover anything and you’ll be stuck in one room for eternity (both metaphorically and literally. You need to get out. Damn. I can’t wait for the weather to get better…)

Short Story: ‘Slow Night’…

Nice night for knocking out a short-story on-the-fly, off-the-cuff and in-the-moment, don’t you think?

I was feeling flash fiction. I was reading a Ray Bradbury interview. Altogether I was inspired to turn aside from other trivial pursuits for 10 minutes to blast out a very short story as an enjoyable writing exercise. No overthinking or processing out or heavy editing or procrastinating or anything else: just typing out a spontaneous tale, simple as.

Here is that very short spontaneous story: a blast of flash fiction called ‘Slow Night’ for your consideration as bedtime reading…

Slow Night

Slow night, he said.

Yes, he agreed.

And it was a slow night. He listened to the electric hum, barely alive but just about there holding up the emptiness. An ocean of ennui that just went on and on through which he would swim without moving a muscle.

To be in waves and feel the currents but yet the waves do not roll or move for the moons aren’t in orbit and the sea is so still. Those were his sensations on the slow night.

Up above the stars seemed to be sleeping. Blanketed by blackness, oh-so-forlorn up beyond the breathless air.

Would they twinkle or glimmer? They did not on the slow night.

Life in slow motion on this slow night.

He was on the watch, but what to watch? Lethargic, he just felt lost and futile on the slow night, uninspired and with nothing to do but maintain a watch where there was nothing to watch. He was listless, but yet no anxiety accompanied his languor. A strange peace flowed through tired joints, nerves, his biological machinery. The resigned malaise of being a man in slow motion on a slow night on the watch over the fields.

No crackles. No charges, surges or sparks. The fields rested lightless, the infinite coils comatose. The plant seemed abandoned but he knew that what it was not as it seemed on the slow night. Life was sleeping beneath the distant dome, dimmed to post-twilight setting. Energy-saving. Everything energy-saving and in hibernation state on the slow night.

All life around was sleeping. He was sure it was sleeping. He was sure all was asleep except himself.

Nothing except himself alive and awake and aware and holding on in spite of the slowness of the slow, slow night.

No transit tubes travelling. No discharges or flares crackling out of the generator fields. Just the soft electric hum, a prolonged pause. Just the languid slumbering stars. Just the distant dome of low lustre.

Just him. Slow night, he said.

Yes, he agreed in reply. A reply to himself, the slow night finally slowing him to a stop. His watch ended with a soft fading drift scored to the paused electric hum. Eyes closing, function halting and everything ceasing to be awash in the emptiness and entropy of the slow night.

Pictonaut Short Story Challenge: ‘Drawing Up the Final Dagger’…

Hark! In the midst of all the festive faffing around, there’s a monthly short story challenge to handle. As per usual, I’ve handled it and answered the Venerable and Very Excellent Mister John Steele‘s call for fresh fiction. On the first day of December, British Steele set the following painting – Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks  by Ilya Repin – as the inspirational image for this month’s Pictonaut challenge

“Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks to Sultan Mehmed IV of the Ottoman Empire” by Ilya Repin, 1880-1891.

Repin’s painting is a striking one and the whole background history behind the artwork is fascinating. It’s a fantastic story of the drafting of the most profane and vulgar riposte to a belligerent enemy’s unreasonable demands ever. It contains a “your mum” joke and, quite frankly there’s no response to that and any words I write about the Cossacks will be pale and pitiful in comparison. I can’t do justice to those audacious historical heroes…

Fortunately when I went about the process of studying the picture and trying to work out what story I wanted to tell I got hit by outside influences. The outside influence is something I’m personally obsessed with and spend a lot of my time thinking about and following. It has nothing at all to do with 17th century Ukrainian history but in the positioning of the figures in the frame I felt a visual symmetry to something else. I also really wanted to grapple with one of my biggest enthusiasms and represent it in a fresh creative experimentation so yeah, why not? An idea for a short story with a twist and total off-tangent possibility stepped up and I just shot it and produced the following tale – Drawing Up the Final Dagger.

I will not say anything else about it ’cause it would probably kill the mystique and the effect. I hope you enjoy my December Pictonaut dribble…

Pictonaut Short Story Challenge: ‘The Iron Count’…

The end of the month is upon us and, thus, it’s time to file in a Pictonaut story effort. What happens is this: every month the Sagacious Sage John Steele picks a picture and challenges people to write a short story about it. I take up that challenge every time, though sometimes I end up doing something a bit unusual but it doesn’t matter ’cause it’s all creative experimentation and, hey, I have fun. I like creative experimentation and fun.

November’s Pictonaut image was this piece of concept art from the Dishonored videogame…

Concept art from Dishonoured which is, I’m told, an excellent videogame…

I have not played the game because I tend to only play retro games or games that feel like retro games ’cause I’m trapped in a weird game rut. I also don’t play videogames as much as I’d like to because I’m distracted by films and the constant feeling that “I should be writing stuff and not playing videogames!” Ultimately on a cosmic scale this is a non-problem so I will be at peace with it. Getting back on track to talk about more pressing matters, I wanted to write something inspired by this picture and so I did. Here it is – a short vignette titled The Iron Count: or The Solemn Subjects of Zarltivania and Their Uncle Rati Who Was Loved and Feared or, Rather, Loved Because He Was Feared. I got ideas about making it a pointed epic with an explicit message or maybe adding a meta-heavy epilogue but it all felt pointless and pretentious. So it stands and feel free to read into it what you will. The Iron Count then, for you consideration if you’re in the mood for some short slightly-absurd fiction…

Pictonaut Short Story Challenge: ‘Crone Calls’…

When the hurlyburly’s done (actually never done. The hurly burly is never done) I get down to the gettin’ down and have a crack at writing a short story set to a specific image someone else selected. Every month the pre-eminent-and-most-excellent John Steele sets the Pictonaut challenge and picks an image to inspire some wordmongering. I like this impetus, take up the objective every time and urge other people to have a go if they getchance. It’s good for you (scientific tests and additional testomonies pending).

Behold: this month’s Pictonaut – the 25th consecutive monthly Pictonaut whoop whoop! –  comes in the crinkled shape of this babooshka…

Crone…

I like her. How do you adapt her into a piece of short fiction? Looking at her I got a feeling of witchcraft. I like witchcraft. I studied medieval witchcraft a bit at university. Witches and witchy practice excite me. Admittedly, the photograph is of an old woman at the Yemeni anti-government protests of 2011 and we’re being pretty cruel calling her a “crone”. Crones don’t necessarily have anything to do with magic so I hope that this doesn’t offend the subject of this photograph. I thus, devote this tale, to the people of Yemen and offer my arms (my upper-body limbs, not my AK-47s) in friendship.  I also offer my friendship to the witch community. And with that, let’s get back to the Crone story at hand…

I’m always up for historical supernatural shenanigans but an idea came to made that didn’t follow that line. Sticking with this stubborn idea, I tried to develop it a number of ways but ended up logging it as a monologue. What follows is that monologue and it’s titled ‘Crone Calls’. I hope you enjoy it or find something stimulating in it. While you read that I’m going to get back to working up some different magicks and handling all this hurlyburly…

WITCHCRAFT!