Categories
Career changing Publishing

Scene Setting

Scene Setting

Scene setting is important to know.

What is Scene Setting?

Basic scene setting is a fundamental skill which every writer needs to perfect. Let’s look at some ways to do it.

All the old familiar places

When your story takes place during the present day, you’re in luck! You can get away without going over basic information. Present-day Moscow has cars. Today in Paris, people used the metric system. Current day Kentucky has telephones. So your really basic information is already there. Don’t waste time or pixels or reader good will by explaining any of that, unless it’s somehow important. E. g. if your Russian character was raised in the sticks, maybe they never saw a car before. If your Parisian is a transplant from the United States, she might occasionally forget that most countries use different systems for weights and measures. And if your Kentuckian was deaf and now suddenly can hear (and also led a sheltered life) telephones might be odd things which now have a purpose they didn’t have before.

Familiar place, unfamiliar time

Then there’s the scenario where your location is close or familiar. But the time is now. So, what is it, the past or the future?

Forward into the past

If it’s the past, then you need to do some research. Wikipedia is not a good final source, but it’s not a bad first one. What I mean is, you can start there, particularly if you are unsure about names or parameters. But then you need to branch out. Hence if you are trying to determine whether there were gas lamps lighting the streets of Berlin in 1740, you might want to start with looking up gas lamps and moving on from there. If they were invented later, then your question is answered. But if they were invented earlier (I honestly don’t know), then you should be looking at other sources. You can check footnotes, or just do some creative Googling. I have found The Library of Congress has some great old images, but you may need to spend some time looking, as not everything is logically labelled.

Back to the future

For the future, of course you can invent what you like (and I will get into that with a later blog post). But it pays to do some research anyway. Get an idea of what’s coming. If, say, solar-powered belt buckles are being patented, then why not put them in your near-future story? However, if you are writing a deeper, later future, you might want to make them passé.

Familiar times, unfamiliar places

Is the place found on planet earth? Then do some digging. And don’t just look at touristy sites! I live in Boston. It’s not all Faneuil Hall Marketplace, not by a long shot . By the way, a public service announcement from me: Harvard University is in Cambridge, not Boston. And it is far from the only university in this city.

For alien places, consider what it means if the gravity is stronger, or weaker. What happens if the atmosphere is thinner? One way to make things easier on you is to research similar locations. The Andes or the Himalayas could stand in for a planet with thinner air, for example.

Totally alien

Consider not just the look, but what happens when you engage your other senses. Is the place hot? Smelly? Smoggy? Is the landscape muddy? Frozen? Sandy? Do your characters have to climb? Cross rivers?

Takeaways

Put the reader in the action by engaging multiple senses. Latch onto the familiar if you can. Analogize to give the reader a faster understanding of the place. Do the homework, even on the small almost throwaway scenes, so your readers won’t have to.

Categories
Career changing Publishing

Genre Treatments

Genre Treatments

What are genre treatments?

Genre Treatments

When it comes to genre treatments, do you treat horror, science fiction, and romance all the same way? Or do you just stick to one genre and call it a day?

What are Literary Genres?

It might help to understand just what literary genres are. Let’s start with the short one.

Nonfiction

Narrative nonfiction tells a story. Biographies and autobiographies are often more or less subsets. While it’s possible to relate a biography in a non-narrative form, that’s pretty rare. Essays are a form of short nonfiction. And speech is pretty self-explanatory.

Fiction

There’s a lot more here. Poetry is usually rhythmic (although it doesn’t have to be) and has evocative imagery. Drama is serious stuff, and it can be a part of theatrical performances.

Humor or Comedy?

Humor is of course the funny stuff. Don’t confuse it with comedy (although we use the terms interchangeably in common parlance). Comedy is just when the protagonist lives at the end of the piece. Contrast that with tragedy, which is where the protagonist dies by the end. But comedy, traditionally, does not mean something is funny.

By this definition, A Clockwork Orange is a comedy.

Fantasy or Myth?

Science fiction and fantasy are pretty close. While fantasy is generally more otherworldly, science fiction usually dovetails with possible science, no matter how far-fetched. Fairy tales, in contrast, are generally drawn from folklore. The more general term, folklore, goes beyond stories to songs and proverbs from long ago. Legends, on the other hand, often have a basis in fact. This can be the subject (a national hero, like El Cid) or the plot. A fable is often short, but it always contains a moral lesson. A short story is generally too brief for a subplot.

Realistic fiction is also fairly self-explanatory. It’s fiction which could be real. Historical fiction adds a historical dimension although it’s often also meant to be realistic.

Horror evokes fright and visceral reactions. Tall tales are overly exaggerated and are virtually the opposite of realistic fiction. Mythology is a traditional narrative with a religious or faith-based component. Mystery involves the solving of a crime or uncovering secrets. Finally, fiction in verse is much longer poetry which contains subplots and major themes.

What are generally not considered to be full-blown genres? Young adult, adventure, romance, etc. Hence the idea, for the most part, has more to do with length and execution than subject matter.

How Do You Treat These Genres?

First of all, consider pacing. Horror often slows down, and then speeds up. Mystery might take a while to build to a satisfactory conclusion. Furthermore, mysteries contain red herrings. Myths might contain repetition. Some of that comes from oral tradition. Humor is all about timing. Drama can often be slow and building. Traditional poetry has a sing-song rhythm.

What is your particular spin? Do you use short, choppy sentence to speed up the action? Do you also choose shorter words?

Consider your genre as you write.

Categories
Book Reviews

Self-Review – The Real Hope of the Universe

Review – The Real Hope of the Universe

Hope was a huge theme in this book.

The Real Hope of the Universe picks where The Real Heart of the Universe left off. As the book to wrap up the trilogy, it had to resolve a number of subplots. So many subplots. Hence the first draft clocked in at over 185,000 words. Oh. My. God.

I didn’t need an editor. I needed a weed whacker.
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Background

To wrap up the series, the aliens needed to leave our world. But how?

In addition, there were numerous subplots to resolve. For me, it can be hard to get all of that fixed and sewn up, tied neatly with a bow. This made for any number of issues with length. For after I wrote the first draft, my mission was to cut it by 50,000 words. The second draft (what I call a second draft is often what people call a fifth or a sixth draft) was about 48,500 words less. Much, much better, but still a bear.

Plot for The Real Hope of the Universe

When we first see Ceilidh, Devon, Shannon, and Jake, they are riding in a carriage in Scotland. It’s the 1880s, and there are strange things happening throughout the planet. Some of these odd occurrences happen due to alien intervention. But some of them happen because of what human beings do.

Unlike the other two books, I had to devote this one to far more science fiction. And so it is! Yet at the same time, I had to resolve the subplots. Hence I wrote meanderings to here and there. But as I ruthlessly slashed away at the first draft, I tied a lot more of the subplots’ resolutions to science fiction.

Characters

The characters are the main character, Ceilidh O’Malley. Also, her boyfriend (later husband) Jake Radford and her employer, Dr. Devon Grace. In addition, there is the colony known as Shannon Duffy and the members of a secret society. These include men from both North America and Europe.

Memorable Quotes from The Real Hope of the Universe

They stopped on the steps for a second. “If you wish to leave now, say so.”

“If you’ll have any family you can talk to at all in the future, it shall likely be Luke.”

“So it would seem we should stay and wait it all out. So at least there’s a fighting chance of pulling out the whole truth, and he gets my side of things.”

“Not your side, Jake. Our side.”

“Ours, then. You are my truest companion.” He smiled a little, but it wasn’t in his eyes, which darted to the left for a second. His hand on hers was damp with sweat.

“Coming, you coward?” John sneered. “Or will you stand on the stairs forever, like a mental defective?”

“John,” Ceilidh said, “Kindly don’t speak to us this way. You may have arguments with my husband. He and I are willing to hear them. But a schoolyard bully’s insults are beneath you.”

John was nonplussed, and seemed to be deciding if she’d insulted or praised him. “Just get in the library already.” The library was a dark room, paneled in oak, with more decorations than books in the shelves.

Rating

The story has a K+ rating. As this one has more Gothic elements to it, there are some occasional squicky moments. For anyone who enjoys reading Gothic tales, some of the scenes should be familiar.

Upshot

Because it was the end of the series, I struggled to let go. This is a normal pattern for me. It is quite literally nothing new. Hence the ending is dragged out far more than it ever needed to be.

When the first draft was done, it was the longest piece I had ever written. It took me about four and a half months to finish the first draft. And this was writing every day!

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Book Reviews

Self-Review – The Real Heart of the Universe

Review – The Real Heart of the Universe

The Real Heart of the Universe continues the main story. This sequel to The Real Hub of the Universe brings back Ceilidh O’Malley, Devon Grace, Shannon Duffy, and Jacob Radford, along with the Boston Brahmins in the 1880s. In this, the second novel in the trilogy, Ceilidh deals head on with the problems she left behind in Ireland.

The biggest of these is Johnny Barnes.
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Background

The second book of a trilogy can sometimes feel like filler. The last time I wrote a trilogy, for The Obolonk Murders, the middle book ended up as a means of advancing the Peri-Dave romance. Hence I opted for a similar idea. Here, the Ceilidh-Jake romance would advance.

The Plot of the Real Heart of the Universe

But there are always complications. For Ceilidh, who is still married to Johnny at the start of the book, her dalliance with Jake is a sin. Will she lose her mortal soul? For someone brought up with faith, the idea of what is more or less adultery is quite the problem.

So, what is she to do?

Characters

The main character in the piece is (again) Ceilidh O’Malley Barnes. Her main mission in this novel is to find a way to be with her love, Jacob Radford. The scenes shift from the Lowell House in Boston to Providence, Rhode Island, and then to an Atlantic ocean voyage, and then to Ireland.

Memorable Quotes from the Real Heart of the Universe

He had chosen an impeccable charcoal gray suit, for his attire from the morning apparently would no longer do. He had all of his ties strewn around on his bed when she returned after getting the luncheon dishes back to the kitchen and cleaning them. “Have you a soirée?” she asked.

“Not so much a soirée,” he paused for a moment, rolling the R with his Scottish brogue, “as an invitation to tea. Sorry for the change in plans; I had meant to tell you, but your initiation into SPHERE got in the way. Hand me that one, if you please.”

“This one?” she asked, holding up his navy blue tie.

“No, no, the tartan.”

“Oh? So you’re going to regale your companion with tales of the Grace family?”

“The Argylls, actually. We go further back than William the Conqueror and all that rot.” He positioned himself in front of the room’s full-length looking glass and tied the tie, which was bright blue and green, with hints of purple and black. “There.”

She approached and straightened his tie a little and then smoothed his light gray hair back a little with two of her fingers. “Handsome and very approachable, sir.”

He smiled slightly. “Hopefully such will be the effect. The approachable part, that is. Handsome? In all honesty, Ceilidh, you should be fitted for spectacles at this rate.”

Rating

The book has a K+ rating. For the most part, it is pleasant. But there is some violence. Language is mild.

Upshot for the Real Heart of the Universe

So I think this one works rather well as a bridge story between introducing the storyline and then ending it.

One of the biggest issues with this series is the need for more science fiction in it. As it is, often the series can feel like a historical novel with some science fiction thrown into it. Yet one thing I need to do is describe Ceilidh’s life and world, as they just aren’t as well-known as readers may think. The Victorian era may be interesting to people, but it doesn’t mean they know too much about it. So some of my writing has been to deal head on with any misconceptions!

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Book Reviews

Self-Review – The Real Hub of the Universe

Review – The Real Hub of the Universe

The Real Hub of the Universe tells the story of Ceilidh O’Malley Barnes, who leaves her abusive husband and runs off to America. So it’s 1876, and she works as a scullery maid, disguising her heritage with a put-on English accent and a fake name, Kay Lee Charles.
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Background

One of my favorite time periods is the Victorian era. But there are still so few films which deal with it. More likely, you get something about England or the like. Yet there are not so many about America.

I also love science fiction. And so one day I got the idea – aha! – I would combine the two.

So far as I am aware, this is a more or less unique idea (yes, I know about Star Trek: The Next Generation characters going to see Mark Twain).

Plot of the Real Hub of the Universe

When Ceilidh leaves Ireland, she knows absolutely no one. She ends up as a charity case on a freighter, where there is a mysterious first mate who wears only black and never smiles. When the ship lands in Boston, it’s July 4 – the Centennial. But nothing is open and there is no place for her to go.

But through pluck and luck, and by shedding her Irish name and putting on a fake British accent, she lands a job with the wealthy Edwards family. She endures a lot of the standard indignities of the women of her time, including being paid less and being what we would now call sexually harassed.

She also notices the master of the house conducts meetings with some sort of society. Then he taps her to serve the society’s meetings, which are attended by the luminaries of the day – Ralph Waldo Emerson, Amos Bronson Alcott, Henry Brooks Adams, Judge John Lowell, and George Walker Weld.

After being mistreated by the mistress of the house one too many times, Ceilidh lands a job with Lowell. And then a mysterious visitor arrives, who says nearly nothing and hides his face. More worryingly, he immediately figures out she is not English. What’s she to do?

Characters

So the main character in the piece is Ceilidh O’Malley Barnes. Her twin impulses are to escape her abusive husband and to find work, and a lot of the story centers around that. The scenes shift from Ireland to England to the open Atlantic Ocean and then Boston, first at the Winthrop Edwards house, and then at the Judge John Lowell house.

Memorable Quotes from The Real Hub of the Universe

There was a cackling sound not too far away. Someone was, maybe, having a glorious time, but it sounded unnatural, and a little forced. “What’s that?”

“That might be one of those things you shouldn’t be seein’.” Ned finished tying Phoebe’s reins to a post and picked up both parcels. “Over there, I think.” He inclined his head in the direction of where the smell of fish was stronger.

The two of them walked over and there was nearly no light beyond what the moon and stars could afford. A few small gas lamps were too far apart to be useful unless a person got really close to one of them. The tide lapped against the wooden docks and Ceilidh feared that either or both of them might fall in. She about jumped out of her skin when someone pulled the hem of her dress. “Who’s there?”

“What?” asked Ned. He had apparently not seen or felt anything.

Ceilidh bent down. It was a little girl, maybe three years old. Four? “Are you lost?” Ceilidh asked, although she had no idea how she could help a child in such an unfamiliar place.

“Have you a ha’-penny?” the little girl asked, her brogue thicker than Ceilidh’s or Ned’s.

“Where’s your Mam?” Ceilidh asked.

“Don’t, Cousin.”

“Why not?” Ceilidh straightened up for a moment.

“Because they will rob you.”

“I,” Ceilidh sighed. “Maybe if I’m not a stranger.” She bent down again. “I’m Ceilidh. What’s your name?”

“Siobhan.”

“Well, that’s a rather pretty name. Where’s your Mam, Siobhan?” The little girl just turned and pointed in the direction from where the cackling had come. In the dim light, something insect-like scurried in Siobhan’s hair. Instinctively, Ceilidh sprang back. “Oh, my!” 

Rating

The book has a K+ rating. While the language is extremely proper to a fault, there are some swear words. There are also a few disturbing scenes.

Upshot

So I truly loved writing this series. It was great fun! Ceilidh’s character journey was a revelation to me. I always wanted her to make it somehow, but I was unsure of what that was going to be when I started. Stay tuned to find out just what that was.

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Publishing Writing

Character Creation

Background – Character Creation

Character creation is rather personal. It depends on how organized you are, and how much you like to plan. So character creation will vary. This is what I tend to do. However, my methods are not necessarily the best or the most consistent ones.

Character Creation Adventures-in-Career-Changing
What’s your character creation process like?

Your mileage, when it comes to character creation, will undoubtedly vary. And that is perfectly okay.

This is actually a picture of me from 2015, by the way.

Origins for Character Creation

For me, characters arise in a few ways. One is just that I can ‘hear’ their ‘voices’. Or I might see a face clearly. Lots of situations or activities can create a focus. So I might walk around my neighborhood and consider what I see. This is whether it’s something from nature or just someone’s illegally parked car. Music in particular can be helpful for this, although it is not absolutely necessary.  For a fanfiction bad girl character I named Pamela Hudson, her personality came barreling in when I heard the Amy Winehouse song, You Know I’m No Good.

And sometimes, characters just appear, fully formed. I tend to consider names in the context of how they sound and what they mean. Hence a character like Marnie Shapiro Chase came out of nowhere because I liked how her name sounded. Then I worked on putting her together. The same was true of Colonel Craig Firenze. He started off sounding good and I built from that.

Character Creation: Ethnicity

Still other characters might arise out of names and ethnicity. Or even national origin. Jazminder Parikh and Akanksha Kondapalli are both Indian women, but Jazzie is a doctor, whereas Akanksha is an attorney. I also tend to like someone to be from the southern US. Hence Jeannie Louise Scutter and Patricia LaRue arose. Characters from the UK might be Dave Shepherd, super-spy, or Dr. Devon Grace. Plus there are also scullery maids Frances Miller and Ceilidh O’Malley. So it runs the gamut of rich and poor.

In addition, I try to write some characters of races different from my own. These run the gamut from Dr. Elise Jeffries and Dr. Mei-Lin Quan to Solar System President Fankald Williams and her sister, Tamara Woods.

What’s in a Name?

While draping a character around the meaning of their name is kind of silly, it can sometimes help to inspire. I liked the name Ceilidh O’Malley, and it was a bonus that her name means a type of jig. Hence someone who grew up in grinding poverty had a rather frivolous name. So I gave her the middle name of Aisling, which is Irish Gaelic for dream.

Dave Shepherd didn’t originate as a protector in the Obolonk universe, but as I wrote him, he became one.

Other characters just almost tell me their names. This was certainly the case with Craig Firenze and Kitty Kowalski in Mettle. In Mettle, the two bratty tweens were always going to be Kitty and Mink. Tathrelle was another name that sprang up, for Untrustworthy. Frances always existed in The Real Hub of the Universe, but her surname started off as Marshall, not Miller. Her name was changed as a character named Marsh was mentioned too often with her.

Other characters are named for people I know, in whole or in part. The Enigman Cave is particularly chock full of such characters. It’s everyone from the Chief Veterinarian to a space defender to the Chief Engineer. The Real Hub of the Universe has some, including the Chief of Police. Plus the Ashford baby is named for a man I know.

Character Creation: Show Some Emotion

Characters also exist to make the main character feel something. And this isn’t always something good. Ben Chase exists to piss Marnie off in The Enigman Cave. Johnny Barnes exists in The Real Hub of the Universe to terrify Ceilidh and force her into action. Jeannie exists in Mettle to anger Craig and eventually make him not feel too bad about getting on a plane. And one of the reasons Dave Shepherd exists in the Obolonk universe is to help Peri get over Charlie.

Plus there are always love interest characters, even if they don’t last. That’s Lex Feldman in Enigmans and Dalton Farouq in Time Addicts, the 2019 NaNoWriMo novel.

Shapiro, Shapiro, Shapiro

As a kind of personal ‘tell’ and Easter egg in my works, every longer piece (except for Untrustworthy, as none of those characters are human), somebody is named Shapiro. This is even true in fan fiction, where characters Ethan and Rebecca Shapiro (father and daughter) figure prominently in the overall storyline.

The Obolonks series has Greg Shapiro. He’s a wisecracking cop living in Connecticut. The Enigman Cave has Marnie Shapiro Chase, the captain of the spaceship. Marnie’s kind of frumpy and nerdy but also very smart. Then in Real Hub of the Universe, the name is subtle. Blima Shapiro Taub is a character never actually seen ‘on screen’. Blima is known more for her jealousy than anything else. In Mettle, Shapiro is Eleanor Braverman’s maiden name. Eleanor suffers from Alzheimer’s.

So you can see that the Easter egg characters are all rather different.

In the November 2019 NaNoWriMo novel, the name shows up as a the married name of a sibling of the protagonist.

Character Creation: Purposeful Characters

Sometimes characters are necessary to fulfill some purpose or another. Technically, that’s supposed to be the case with all characters (oops!). Either advance the plot or be background exposition. Hence Noah Braverman’s fellow reporter, Francine O’Donnell, serves to give him a bit of a reason to express his thoughts out loud in Mettle. Ben Chase serves as Marnie’s foil, but he also makes a big discovery which helps drive the Enigman plot. And I needed Livia Thorson in Obolonks to explain some of the robotics, just as I needed Ned O’Malley in Real Hub to explain how Ceilidh was going to get to the states.

Sometimes purposeful characters come in the form of radio or TV show hosts, or nameless people reading news stories aloud or commenting on them. How many times have you stood in line at a coffee shop and heard people discuss the events of the day? Even if it’s the sports section or politics or whatever, it can still help to orient readers as to time and place.

In Untrustworthy, Ixalla started off as a kind of explainer character, but then the role grew when I turned her into a revolutionary.

Takeaways

Why do you need a character? Do you like them? Do they drive the plot? Will you kill them off if you have to? Make characters to fulfill these purposes or to add depth and background. Give your story dimension with people who feel real.

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Writing

Self-Review – Your Call is Very Important to Us

Your Call is Very Important to Us – a Look at a Short Story

Your Call is Very Important to Us comes from a general concept of ‘the world turned upside-down’. This short story was written for the third volume of The Longest Night Watch. All of the proceeds will go to the Alzheimer’s Association. So that is, if we ever publish it.
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I never name the narrator in ‘Your Call’. The reader just gets her husband’s name, Milo.

Background

The world has gone to hell in a handbasket, and we’ve dropped the bomb. And so has our unnamed other side. There’s devastation. No one and nothing will survive.

Enter our characters.

As the narrator says, her husband was a doomsday prepper. And while everyone thought he was nuts, they were okay even as the world came to an end.

So who’s sorry now?

But our narrator’s got one big problem. She’s bored out of her mind.

Plot for Your Call…

With nothing to do but read, eat, and fool around, the narrator and her husband are at the ends of their tethers. They are older people – there aren’t going to be any children. So they are not going to repopulate the earth.

The one break to the monotony comes in the form of something you and I both hate – automated telemarketer calls.
Of course, a ringing telephone in the middle of nuclear devastation is a cause for concern, wonder, hope, and fear. I will admit that a part of the idea came from Ray Bradbury’s classic Martian Chronicles story, The Silent Towns

Characters in Your Call…

The only characters, apart from people the narrator talks to on the phone who may or may not still be alive, are the narrator and her husband, Milo. Milo never speaks and neither does the narrator. All the reader gets are her rambling, wacky thoughts, presumably in writing.

Memorable Quotes

When the bombs dropped, we were already ensconced in our shelter. Milo built it. Milo’s my husband. He was one of those doomsday preppers. People used to say he was crazy. But they’re not saying it now. Why not? Because they’re probably all dead. If the radiation and heat won’t get you, the germ warfare will, Milo says.

We live just outside of Henderson, Nevada. It’s near Las Vegas, or at least it was. I’m not so sure what’s up there anymore. It’s probably not much.

Rating

This story has a K+ rating. While the one sex scene takes place off screen (as it were), the backdrop is nuclear war, and of course that’s upsetting.

Upshot

One very big issue is that the volume has been delayed for what I believe is coming upon years. Yes, really. So I just checked – the story has been in limbo for over two years. So will it ever be published? Right now, I’ve got to say, I have my doubts. Big, big doubts. And that’s unfortunate, because I really love this story. And I love the charity and the group. But I suppose we’ve got … issues.

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Book Reviews

Self-Review – Complications

Review – Complications

So Complications is one of those stories where it takes me a moment to remember – oh, yeah, it’s that one. And that never bodes well for readers.
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Background

So this was originally a het fan fiction story. But with a few changes, it could go in another direction. And both of the characters were wholly original. But in the published version, it’s two different characters anyway. Essentially, the only thing I used was the scenario and some of the dialogue.

So it shows. This was, unfortunately, not exactly a big effort on my part. If I was to do it again, I would have worked harder on this. At the time, I was pressed for time.

The Plot of Complications

The truth is, this story has very nearly no plot. Basically, it is a vignette with little plot, only sketches of characters, and no crisis or conflicts at all. Hell, it is barely even a scene.

Characters

The characters are the narrator, Suzanne, and her lesbian lover, Tellina. Tellina is not a human.

Memorable Quotes from Complications

“And you’ve never done this with a human before?”

“I’ve never done this with anyone before, Suzanne.” They kissed.

“And,” Suzanne asked, “When does it all, er, end?”

“I’m uncertain. I don’t know how much precedence there is for such things. What do you generally do after, uh, afterwards?”

“Get a snack, watch the viewer, go to sleep, hell, I’ve left on occasion.”

“Most of those are out of the question right now. Could you sleep, perhaps?”

Rating

The story has a K+ rating. While the action occurs “off screen”, there are certainly some allusions to it.

Upshot

So while it was great for Queer Sci Fi to publish it, Complications really did not deserve to be published anywhere. Because it is just not that good a story. I have written far, far better, both before and since. So be it. They can’t all be gems.

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