David Griffith’s suggested resources for fiction writing

Thanks for a great meeting, it was good to see all of you again! Since I was asked about what resources I’m using for my story plotting, here are the links:
1) Advanced Fiction Writing maintained by Randy Ingermanson
This is the first resource that I found when I started searching for online resources to help me with novel writing. Randy developed a 10-step approach to outlining that he calls “The Snowflake Method” https://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/articles/snowflake-method/ because it’s inspired by a fractal curve called “Koch’s snowflake” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Koch_snowflake), which is built up by staring with an equilateral triangle and repeatedly adding progressively smaller equilateral triangles to it to produce a beautiful snowflake-like curve. Ingermanson’s approach alternates between developing the plot and developing characters, starting at a very high level of abstraction and gradually drilling down into more depth and detail in each successive iteration. I like this approach, but I was confused by his “three disasters” approach to developing the basic outline. I began looking for more resources to help me, and found….
2) Syd Field’s Seven-Point Story Structure as presented by author Dan Wells in a talk at Brigham Young University’s “Life, the Universe, and Everything Writing Symposium” on the 13th of February, 2010. Dan has also served as a co-host for the “Writing Excuses” podcast (https://writingexcuses.com/) since 2008. Dan’s hour-long talk is available on YouTube in five parts; the URL for the playlist is https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLC430F6A783A88697 
This approach develops a story skeleton using 7 major plot milestones:

1. Hook (the characters’ initial state, opposite of the Resolution)

2. Plot Turn 1, or Inciting Incident, or Call to Action (conflict and what the characters must do is revealed)

3. Pinch Point 1 (apply pressure to characters, force them to step up and take some kind of action)

4. Midpoint (the point where the characters decide to take action to solve the main problem or defeat the antagonist, and move from reaction to action)

5. Pinch Point 2, or Dark Night of the Soul, or Jaws of Defeat (characters suffer loss, are on their own, things look very, very bad)

6. Plot Turn 2 (the characters get the “last piece of the puzzle” and figure out that they can solve the problem at hand and escape the Jaws of Defeat)

7. Resolution (the climax of the story that results in the characters’ reaching their final state, which is the opposite of their state in the Hook)

Dan’s suggested development sequence for this outline is: 7→1→4→2→6→3→5. The details are in the YouTube videos, which I found to be informative and a lot of fun. Looking for more detailed explanations on how to develop the outline, I found…..
3) Helping Writers Become Authors maintained by K.M. Weiland at https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/ 
This site is a smorgasbord of information on how to plan a novel, create character arcs, write great scenes, etc. She also includes a 47-page (!) story structure database of books and movies at https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/story-structures/ so that you can see the major plot points in a variety of works from many genres (a drop-down menu on the left side lets you pick your genre of interest). I started working my way through her posts a couple of months ago and I’m nowhere near done, but her tips have helped me make my story a lot more coherent and exciting, and I learn new things with each post. She’s also written several books on writing, including workbooks, which I am planning on ordering soon. K.M. Weiland’s basic story structure differs from the 7-point structure described by Dan Wells. I actually think that hers is more complete and makes more sense, although as I said Dan’s talk is a fun intro to the concept.
There are many more resources out there, but these are the ones I’ve used so far. As I keep finding things, I can post links and short descriptions in responses to this post.

Thanks again for the warm welcome!
David

Alice by Natalie Vanrossum

She was created by the French Government for a space program and the program was scrapped and  long story short  Alice turned into a housekeeper.

  She is round, animated, has wheels, short but extending arms

 The round animated robot is  purple and pink and made of recycled metals and plastic.

Her power button is at the back of her head. Alice is a prototype. If successful

the developers will make more and then sell them world wide. Her laugh is lyrical.

She is able to lengthen herself,  and French is her main language and speaks English

 With a heavy accent and goes by the name of Alice, She wears

a pink apron and always responds  “Oui Madame you

called may I be of service?” She is almost  human.

 Alice does not take kindly to being ordered around, and please

Remember to apologize when Alice  is offended

 She always requires a please and thank you.

When given an order she stops whatever she is doing

If angered curses in French; uses words only sailors would use.

And if idle too long she must be rebooted so please

Remember your manners. She doesn’t require  a remote

Her best skill is cooking. Don’t come into the kitchen

Unless she politely requests your  presence. Please

Don’t be offended if she politely asks you

to leave while she is preparing a meal.  Her favorite

dish is ratatouille but will prepare what you politely

request.  She will do the laundry, dishes, mop

the floor. She hangs the clothes to dry

because that’s what they do in France.

Elegy to my mother by Connie McX

When they flow they take sorrow with them. But not all the sorrow goes with the first flow. There may be a lot of sorrow left.

 In which case there could be more tears. They are for the mother from the girl. 

Even though the mother didn’t know how to nurture, the girl still misses her. 

The girl is surprised. 

She didn’t know the sorrow would get to her in the way it has.

 She now knows she has no mother to talk to.

 She cannot talk to the mother.

 She cannot see the mother. 

Sometimes she feels all alone, and then remembers that she felt that way growing up too. 

It is hard to lose, and thankfully the elixir of tears can take some of the sorrow each time they flow.

Probably little by little thinks the girl.

The girl wants the tears to flow, to relieve some of the sadness.

 But the girl fears tears. 

Her prayer is:

Just not to drown in them please

_______________________________________________________

The girl sat by the mother’s bedside, holding her hand. The girl wished that she could talk to the mother and tell her everything she was thinking. But even when the mother was lucid and could comprehend sentences she could never have comprehended what the girl wanted to tell her.

The mother simply didn’t have the emotional capacity to relate to anybody else’s needs or reality. The girl wishes she could tell the mother that, but the mother always made an excuse to keep herself in the right. The girl felt very frustrated, sad, and even angry. She kept thinking why this mother? Why did I get this mother? And yet here she was right by the bedside of the dying mother. Some atavistic instinct told her to be there no matter how she felt

The girl remembered that once, when the mother was manipulating her, and talking about problems that all the offspring had, she had said oh I wonder why I ever had children. The girl responded inauthentically by saying you did the best you could. Today the girl knows she would want to say yeah why did you.

The girl never had the courage to stand up to the mother. The mother was very controlling and narcissistic. But once the girl thought of murdering the mother because the mother did something so hurtful the girl did not know how else to respond. The girl knew she couldn’t do that, but the thought was there.

The girl had flown in from another state to see her newborn niece. And the mother was very cruel to her at that time. The mother just needed people around to give her attention, to worship and adulate her. The mother never cared what anyone else felt. Because narcissistic people perceive that everyone else is an extension of themselves, and there are no different thoughts or feelings than theirs. and narcissistic people never believe they can do anything wrong. If anything’s wrong it’s always somebody else’s fault. All that was very helpful for the girl to know but it still didn’t eradicate the pain the mother had caused.

The girl hopes the mother will die soon. It is very exhausting to do a deathbed vigil. and yet once that happens there will be no possibility of her ever having a mother. Even though intellectually the girl knows that the mother had no capacity for nurturing, in her heart she still yearns.

The girl wonders if the yearning will ever be satisfied. Or if she will decide to go the same way the mother goes. Off the earth and out of her body. Away from the pain.

Angrief by ConnieX

> How could he have done that?
>  How could he have died.
>  Just when I was about to call and make amends.
> I can no longer thank him for all the good times we had.
>  I can no longer hear him laugh.
>  I can no longer hear him make fun of me and laugh back at that.
> I can no longer share memories hopes and dreams.
> How could he have done that?
> How could he have gone and died like that?

El barquito

EL BARQUITO

Silver Pen Ken, January 2021

I can hear her singing: “Había un barco, chiquitito que no podía, que no polía navegar… .” (there was a little boat that just couldn’t sail).

My wife, Beatrice, met Leito nearly 70 years ago when they were classmates in Bogota, Colombia. Later, Leito left Colombia with her husband and young sons and settled near Boston, Massachusetts. When Beatrice and I moved from South Korea to Massachusetts in 1969, Leito and her sons rode on local trains and appeared at our door. An aunt in Bogota had told her we were there. She was immensely likable, and her laughter was infectious. She and her husband, Hector helped in many ways as we settled into a new home (as it turned out, not for long). Somewhere along the way, she introduced us to the little boat song.

A few years later, when Bea and I moved from Ethiopia back to Massachusetts, Leito was there again to welcome us. She might have witnessed the birth of our first daughter, but it was Christmas Eve and there was a snowstorm.

Leito’s husband, Hector, was an orthodontist in Bogota and could never accept that his credentials were not valid in the U.S. Refusing to study all over again, he worked in a dental laboratory. Soon, he became ill, and Beatrice and I were there when a lady in white introduced herself by saying, “I’m the oncologist.” Cancer had already invaded his digestive system. The treatments available and a drastic change of diet could save him, and Leito was left to raise three bilingual, bicultural boys.

When I followed a job to Laredo, Texas, our families only corresponded occasionally. Two years later, my family moved to New York, where we followed more closely Leito’s triumphs and misfortunes as her three sons became men. At least once, we drove to Massachusetts to see them, and once Leito traveled by train to see us. She showered us with presents, and we enjoyed a presentation of My Fair Lady.

On the Armenian genocide by Turkey and others

By Lynda Baldwin

In drips and drabs ten grand friends crossed the threshold of Don Jorge’s Restaurant to join in our Writers Group meeting on February 4, comprised of: Ken, Lynda, John, Melina, Catherine (who was new), Pat, Richard, Suzyn, Daniel, and Connor.

Our newest member is one of our youngest (we’ll keep exact age out of it), and her name is Catherine; nickname Cat will serve.  She joins us with a lifetime love of writing, and horticulture, in which she has a degree. She lives with her husband in Gaithersburg, MD; and after working at Butler’s Orchard, has retired from that occupation to give writing her full attention.  

Our first reader was Richard – his first time sharing.  His subject was part of a true story or memoir-in-progress titled, “Two Women.”  He related what he knew of his father, his grandmother, uncle, and aunts emigrating to the United States of America from Turkey.  The family’s emigration was sometime between 1907 and 1914, coinciding with the early years of the Armenian Genocide carried out by the Ottoman Empire/Republic of Turkey.  Discussion revolved around good places to begin and end the section.  Some of us were unaware of the Armenian Genocide, and once aware, found the piece more striking.  We wanted more description and detail regarding the “harrowing” parts of the family’s journey.  The form/format for publishing was also briefly discussed.  We look forward to learning what happened next for Richard’s progenitors.

Suzyn then read from her general fiction story, “Juniper,” about a young woman who was a recent college graduate, trying to be the best adult she could be.  To her that means having an apartment and job, and hoping for a marriage proposal.  This is told from the first-person point of view of the main character, Juniper, or June. The section read involved the big reveal of a billboard created by the small ad agency for which June works.  The group discussed that although the characters had convincing dialogue and names, they lacked descriptions.  Several agreed that more description almost never hurts.  There was also discussion of the story seeming lighthearted at its beginning, but turning toward a serious subject matter at its end. We hope to hear more of June’s trials and tribulations soon.

Following Suzyn, Connor read a revamped beginning of his short, medieval/fantasy realm story titled “Berserker: Odin’s Fury.”  Main character Wulfric spent some time on a boat,  in flashback first sparring and bantering with his older sister; and then with the story’s villain, Rothar.  The villain wants to know the secrets of Mjolnir, while the group was trying to discover – what IS the riddle of Mjolnir?  We also discussed the use of Dungeons and Dragons terminology in a mixed group of readers, with some who played and several who did not – and all were wondering what on Earth a dire bear was.  We may find out, next time.

Next was Daniel, who read the final pages of Chapter 3 of his sci-fi novel, “Better The Millstone,” in which Scamper, is led from Lady Skellex’s lair.  The skinny, mistreated young girl is ridden with parasites, and objects to vaccinations, hardly knowing what they are.  She objects also to seeing a doctor at all.  The girl knows a doc in Lower D, and as they make their way, Bailey and the captain exchange banter before the chapter closes.  We debated whether there might be some slang among the denizens of D-Ring – something for a doctor instead of that title, and perhaps the doctor, or the clinic, is not 100% above board.  We also discussed how the author could be sure the ruse from the previous part of the chapter was ongoing (in the audience’s view) until out of earshot of Skellex’s henchman/henchmen.  We excitedly await the next part!

Toward the end of our meeting, Pat suggested that we have a few writing prompts available, and that the authors work on a two week deadline to write from one of them.  Thus, every other meeting would be dedicated to reading these prompt submissions.  The author would choose a prompt and write whatever they wanted – fiction, non-fiction, poetry, biography, etc.  The maximum length would be 2 pages,  double spaced, in 12 pt font.  Pat volunteered to harvest our first round of prompts for the Feb. 18 meeting, with the goal for willing authors to complete submissions for the first meeting in March.  After that, we would discuss periodically repeating this exercise.

No one happened to mention it, but this author noted the ambient temperature outside to be 63 degrees Fahrenheit.  Meaning that, inside, none of our legs were cold!  Some among us were excited to have only four readers, since it was also the night of the President’s State of the Union address, and various members wanted to view it.  Right before we said our goodbyes, Lynda and Daniel announced that they plan to wed late this year – which brought hearty congratulations and applause!  A few members hung back to talk about Superman and fantasy authors, and then we were all out the door.

It happened on 1/21/2020

We had a gangbusters attendance at our Writers Group meeting on January 21, which boasted eleven wise, wonderful people:  Suzyn, Karuna, Tina, Lynda, Daniel, Richard, Ken, Mario, Connor, Pat, and Angela.

Mario started with a continuation of his detective story set in Montgomery County, Maryland.  This excerpt provided additional background on Liberty, one of the kidnapped girls, and we had a good discussion about how to tailor the amount of detail provided for each character in proportion to their importance in the story.

Pat then read us an autobiographical essay depicting a #MeToo experience that she had in 1966, when she was starting her career as a journalist and interviewing for jobs.  Her essay highlighted the fuzzy nature of some of these experiences as well as their unfortunate ubiquitousness and brazenness –for example, was the older, male editor interviewing young female writers under the pretense of a job that was not actually available?

Following Pat, Daniel read the next portion of his scifi novel in which Scamper, a skinny, mistreated young girl, is introduced to readers when Lady Skelex foists her on Captain Tyrone as part of the payment for taking a mysterious cargo.  We debated whether the captain could have found a way out of the situation, but the logic was airtight.  He was stuck in a bad situation and would have to make the best of it.  Some of us were interested in more detail about how Lady Skelex’s mechanical hand was attached, but no one found anything to quibble about regarding the dialogue, which was vivid and fit each character beautifully.  Scamper was an endearing character who immediately won our hearts.

At this point, some attendees in our group commented on a slight chill in the air.  Richard put on his coat.  Ken noted that he was wearing two jackets.  At that moment, we didn’t think much of it, attributing it to the January weather.  Nevertheless, a few hints came up after Lynda had read her ghost story…

Tina then read a short piece about a kindergartener from Puerto Rico who feels out of place among her classmates in Germany.  An excellent discussion ensued about how to keep the language from being too dry or academic and about removing extraneous details unless they are relevant later in the story.

Connor read us the beginning of his new story about a warrior, the warrior’s sister, and their fearsome battle skills.  The piece elicited good discussion, including how long a flashback scene should be and the importance of making sure the characters’ ages are in proportion to the ages of their children.

Lynda then read us an excerpt of her ghost story, in which Annie and her sister had a lighthearted conversation about the ghost –Ross, Ross Smith (a la James, James Bond).  The piece also revealed that Annie had found a child’s leg bone near the ghost’s gravestone and had alerted the police about it.  Listeners praised the easy banter between Annie and her sister as well as Bogey-the-cat’s interwoven antics as he tries to swipe some shrimp from Annie’s lunch plate while she is on the phone.

Toward the end of our meeting, we prevailed on our waitress Maya to take pictures.  Then we said our goodbyes and traipsed out the door into the January cold.  None of us noticed the echoes of words, thin and almost transparent, that ricocheted near the ceiling, having risen as we were reading.  The streams of words from each story clicked into each other like interlocking gears, and suddenly the sound of Scamper’s giggles came from a corner of the restaurant.  “Come on, Liberty,” she cried to Mario’s creation, “let’s get some shrimp from the kitchen for Bogey!”  An almost-transparent Scamper grabbed Liberty’s equally ghostly hand, and the giggles traversed the room.  A chair shuddered, as if a twelve-year old girl had bumped it as her friend was pulling her hand.  Oddly, the servers who were wiping the tables and closing the restaurant didn’t seem to hear or see anything amiss, except for Maya, who suddenly felt a chill and went to fetch her hoodie…

Detailed version of our meeting on 11/5/19

Our Nov. 5 Writers’ Group meeting boasted ten attendees, including six readers.  Our wise advisors consisted of John, Chuck, Angela, and Ken, and our readers were Lynda, Melina, Connor, Mario, Daniel, and Tina.  Lynda started us off with an intriguing portion of one of her novels.  Very apropos for Halloween, the story included a ghost that makes an unexpected appearance in a photograph.  Lynda’s writing was excellent, and we all want to hear how the story unfolds.  Mario had the clever idea that the suspense could even be drawn out by having more time pass between the ghost’s initial appearance in the photo and its appearance in Annie’s living room. 

               Tina then read another excerpt of one of her family stories.  This one described aunts, uncles, and cousins arriving for a birthday party in 1955.  John and others provided astute comments regarding keeping the point of view consistent, and we had an interesting conversation about whether readers nowadays would understand what is meant by a “raspy, cigarette-tinged” voice.

               Melina was next, reading for the first time.  She read a touching short story about a girl, Amy, who is blind.  The story described how Amy experiences the world, Amy’s immense grief at losing her beloved dog Cinnamon, and finally how she heals by making a new friend at school.  The story was very well constructed, with a clear rising action, a climax when Amy is at her lowest, saddest point, and then the resolution when Jess becomes her friend.  After this beautiful exemplar, we certainly hope to hear more of Melina’s writings.  Melina’s dad, John, ceded his reading time to his daughter so that she could read her entire story.  He also showed off his splendid dad-skills by reading the first paragraph of Melina’s story to calm any butterflies.

               Connor read us the next installment in his story about the Sasquatches.  In this portion, Marduk the Sasquatch and his best friend Wind-Strider initially argue about an inopportune bird dropping, and Wind-Strider later provides an update about Marduk’s sister.  One of the key strengths of this work was the authenticity of the dialogue and the clear voice in which it was written;  readers get a vivid picture of the two young male Sasquatches interacting –insults, playfulness, and all.  We discussed how one might make the Sasquatches’ world understandable, and portray their unique culture, without relying too heavily on our own American gestures or customs.

               Mario read a piece about the conversations he overheard volunteering at a soup kitchen the previous day.  He related three separate snippets of conversation, each laying bare the speakers’ assumptions and prejudices.  One conversation grumbled about Latinos, another had to do with Muslim and Jewish people, and a third was about extraterrestrials.  One of the interesting themes of Mario’s piece was that the people at the soup kitchen were well-dressed and did not fit the stereotypical image of a homeless person. 

By then, the restaurant had DJ music at full volume, but Daniel valiantly rounded out our evening by loudly reading the next portion of his sci-fi novel about Captain Shane Tyrone and his gynoid pilot Bailey.  This reading explained how androids were created via nanotech, and it also touched on the captain’s reasons for not wanting to do a “deep merge” with the gynoid’s mind.  Shane hinted at privacy fears that the Matrix might scan his thoughts via his mind merge with Bailey.  Although Daniel’s story is futuristic, the privacy concerns have present-day relevance, and Shane seems to face similar choices as ours –having to decide between privacy vs. convenience, friendship, and absolute honesty.  It was difficult to hear the discussion that took place after Daniel’s reading, but there was some talk about androids vs. gynoids at one end of the table.  As usual, Daniel’s writing required no nitpicking.

We ended our meeting on a happy note, brainstorming about quieter places to meet going forward.  The chilly autumn air greeted us outside, and a half-moon gleamed against the black sky to see each of us home.

The tapestry

By Bettina Buhring

On the afternoon of October 1, sitting at the kitchen table, Melina gleefully zipped shut her heavy school binder with an air of triumph –she had finished her homework early!  She wasted no time in getting outside.  The screen door banged shut behind her and she looked around her large front lawn for any mischief that could entertain her.  She spotted couple of gray squirrels chasing each other around the big oak tree.  Her blue eyes sparkled as she got an idea…

John, her dad, saw her from his home office on the second floor.  He had been trying to come up with possible solutions for the County’s homelessness problem.  Surely, beating up the homeless was not the best way to deal with this.  Or was it??  Sigh.  His gaze fell on the clock in the bottom right-hand corner of his monitor.  He decided he’d had enough of banging his head against intractable problems that had existed since the dawn of humanity.  He was looking forward to the evening and wanted to get going.  He opened his Word document about suddenly-sentient teddy bears living in a gritty urban environment and printed 10 copies.  Then he propelled his big voice out the window to his daughter, who was slowly, quietly sneaking up on the unsuspecting gray squirrel that had given up the chase.

“Melina!!  Time to go!”

Melina’s squirrel scampered away, leaving her feeling that if it hadn’t been for her dad’s annoying meddling, she would have caught it.  “But, Dad!  I almost got him!”  Still, she remembered that there were other fun activities planned for this evening, even if they didn’t consist of squirrel-chasing.

Meanwhile, Pat politely thanked Dr. Driscoll for the checkup and the doctor disappeared, white coat floating behind her.  “These doctors are all the same,” Pat thought to herself, ”always telling us what to do –don’t eat this, do eat that, stay out of the sun, yada yada.”  Dr. Driscoll had spent the usual 7.5 minutes with her.  “And not a second longer!”  Still, it was a beautiful, sunny day outside, and Pat was happy to leave the medical office as she pushed open the heavy glass door to walk to her car.  Like Melina and John, Pat was also looking forward to the evening.  Good thing that, through her phone, she could access her love letter to someone in her past, because she wouldn’t have time to go back home to print copies.  She wondered how it would be received that an old boyfriend had proposed to her while he was being interviewed for a job!  She chuckled to herself in anticipation of everyone’s reaction at hearing about such a unique event.

                Mario was crammed under his kitchen sink, his legs surrounded by bottles of Windex, cleaning wipes, and a box of tall trash bags.  “Darn this stupid thing!” he thought to himself.  He tried to adjust his back so it wouldn’t hurt any more than it already did.  He gave the nut one more tightening for good measure.  “Ahora sí!”  He was glad that it was done, because he had an event that evening that he didn’t want to miss, or even be late for.   He was looking forward to getting feedback on the next installment of his science fiction novel, especially regarding how he described the characters’ dinner.  He hoped that the food descriptions would add a realistic and vivid touch.

                Ken carefully folded the last shirt on his bed and neatly placed it on top of the rest of his clothes in the little blue suitcase.  “That should do it!”  He looked through everything in his suitcase one more time, to make sure he wasn’t forgetting anything.  Everything seemed good.  He was looking forward to the trip to his alma mater and seeing his old friends Gene and Hal.  Before that, though, he had another event this very evening that was sure to spark intriguing conversation.  He picked up his folder with the printouts of his poem about Maryland birds.  He had worked hard on meter and rhyme, had even woven in a reference to Edgar Allan Poe, and he hoped that folks would understand the baseball and other references that he had included.  He gave his wife a kiss on her cheek and walked to his car with a smile.

                Vickie typed as quickly as she could, trying to finish a couple more emails before heading out.  College kids these days required a lot of hand-holding apparently!  She wondered whether the development of young adults these days was actually being artificially stretched out, ironically enough, even as they studied child development.  “There!” she thought.  “That should clarify what I was asking for in that assignment,” as she pressed “send”.  She hadn’t had time to write new material for tonight’s writers’ meeting, but she knew that providing feedback to others was crucial, and she had a keen eye for details like perspective shifts.

                Connor, too, was typing quickly at his computer.  He wasn’t writing emails like Vickie, but was working instead on the much more engrossing topic of a Sasquatch’s life in a forest.  He put the finishing touches on the weapons that his protagonist, Marduk, used to defend his territory against humans who constantly wanted to get a glimpse of his kind.  When he was satisfied that the weapons and traps had been described in sufficiently vivid detail so that the reader could picture it, he printed it out, expecting his dad, Daniel, to come pick him up any minute.

Indeed, Daniel had just finished invoicing a customer for repairs on the Harley.  That was a beautiful gleaming machine, to be sure.  Daniel valued being able to make a living off of something he truly enjoyed, but even so, he was glad his workday was done.  He had already printed the continuation of his scifi novel the previous day, so the paper copies were ready to go.  For this excerpt, he was looking for feedback on the ship’s description and how the android Bailey assigned positive and negative valence to humans and to occurrences.  With any luck, it would portray a coherent whole. He locked the doors to the shop and got on his motorcycle to pick up Connor.

                Lynda, sitting at her computer in her office, suddenly realized how late it had gotten.  She had been grappling with a complex foreclosure case that was giving her no end of headaches, and the afternoon had just evaporated.  She printed out the spreadsheet and walked over to her coworker Jim’s office.  She plopped it on his desk, “Here, this is for you to work on.  I’ve also emailed you the master file.  These numbers need to be double checked with the bank by Thursday.”  Not waiting around for any ifs, ands, or buts, she continued cheerfully, “I’m heading out –see you tomorrow!”  She swept out of his office, and out of the building, glad to be able to spend the evening socializing and figuring out how well the details of a story fit together.

                Tina hastily looked up the order of grant reviews that she would have to listen to tomorrow.  Whew –the grant applications assigned to her were not being evaluated early in the day.  That meant she could stop for an iced coffee on her way to work.  Small pleasures are key to a happy life, right?  Today had been filled with answering emails.  Since NIH’s grant submission deadline was coming up, researchers were crawling out of the woodwork to get feedback on whether their science was relevant for her funding institute.  Seeing new ideas about how the brain might work was the best part of her job.  It had allowed her to realize that even science, and perhaps especially science, benefits from creativity.  Still, she had been looking forward all day to the writers’ group meeting this evening.  She had already printed her excerpt in which she contrasted a grandfather’s and his grandson’s math ability, when each was 12 years old.  Tina hoped that it would be relatively clear that the contrast in brain activity rhythms resulted in very different math abilities.  Hearing others read their pieces was also always engaging, and of course socializing would be fun.  The variety of everyone’s occupations, ages, cultural background, and general interests always made for stimulating conversation, even apart from the official business of reading and critiquing.

                When all these interesting persons met at their local Mexican restaurant on October 1, they conversed, laughed, ate, and read out loud.  They exchanged a plethora of helpful feedback, including debating how to expand on a love letter to create a memoir around it;  whether every line in a poem needs to have the same rhythmic structure;  and how to balance descriptions of a mythical character’s violence with his empathic and protective side.  They also discussed how teddy bears could possibly eat without having digestive organs;  when to use perspective shifts in a story;  how to best use punctuation to convey slowness in speech;  and how to break up long descriptive passages when a particular futuristic world needs to be portrayed.  Through the course of the evening, without even being aware of it, they wove a beautiful tapestry with threads that were sparkling blue, rainbow-hued, tie-dyed, raven-black, forest-green, red-wine-hued, oddly glowing, and even a shimmering, almost-transparent aluminum.  Created from living interactions, this tapestry was unique, never having existed before this evening, and now residing only in each of their memories.

Mario is not dead

Mario is not dead by John Hardison                                                                 September 17, 2019

Mario opened his eyes. His stomach felt awful – but also better – at the same time. Like when you throw up and feel better immediately for having done it. He looked around and realized he hadn’t thrown up. His eyes got wide; what was this place he was in? A small cube-like room with a little white bed. It was very clean, mostly glass, very sterile-feeling, a white floor and glass walls and no door that he could see. There were other rooms, though, all connected, and there were people in them, people a lot like him, looking around like they, too, were wondering where they were.

“Hello” said the man in the next room. Wait, that wasn’t just a man, it was Larry from the writer’s club! The writer’s club, yes, that was where he was just before he woke up. That was where his stomach had been hurting. Was it from something Larry read at the meeting? No, people reading their stories aloud to the group had made him feel nauseous before, but nothing like this. It must have been something he ate. Maybe something they all ate? Yes, he remembered more clearly now, everyone was sick, everyone was groaning and doubling over in their chairs and some people were vomiting and then he remembered hitting the floor and things went black and then suddenly waking up here. But where was here?

“Larry, where are we? What is going on?” asked Mario. He didn’t ask the next question because fear had suddenly gripped him: are we dead? For most of Mario’s adult life he had rejected the idea of an afterlife, of god, of heaven or hell. He could NOT be dead, because he was standing up in a little room and that was totally contrary to what he believed in. Or didn’t believe in…it depended on how you looked at it.

“We’ve been reset” said Larry, like it was obvious. “Looks like everyone has. Must have been the food to have gotten us all.” He looked around at all the adjoining rooms, then back at Mario’s concerned expression. “Is this your first time?” Larry asked.

“My first time? This has happened before, or happens more than once? What are you talking about, Larry? What is going on?!” Mario was getting to be exasperated and his voice was rising.

Cálmate, amigo, nadie te va a lastimar aquí” Mario turned toward the sound of the new voice coming from an adjacent cube. It was Ken. “Why are you speaking Spanish, Ken?” But Ken didn’t answer, he lay down on the little bed in his cube and muttered unintelligible bits of Spanish to himself.

“I’ve found you don’t remember what goes on in these cubes much when you get sent back,” Said Larry, “But traumatic or exciting experiences in the Earth simulation can carry over to here, and seem to become ingrained in your programming. I guess it is a little like reincarnation, except, well, in a computer.”

A computer? They were in a computer? Mario looked thoughtfully at Ken. “Well,” he said, “Ken has had lots of exciting times in Latin America and around the world. I guess some of that would carry over. And you say experiences somehow get put into our, well, programming, you say? Ingrained in our programming for the next time?”

“Yes, I believe so.” Speculated Larry. “I mean it has to. I know this has happened to me a lot, and you may have noticed, but I love writing about heaven and hell and waiting in limbo to get to either of those destinations. Well, look around you” and Larry raised his arms and pivoted back and forth as he stood in his cubicle. “If this isn’t limbo, I’m not sure what is!”

“I see.” Said Mario. “And you say we get placed on Earth, but it is some sort of computer simulation?”

“It appears to be. I don’t have much to go on, but when I die, I come to this place. In theory, this is just another simulation to keep us occupied until we get placed back in the Earth simulation. A program in a program in a program, really” Larry smiled at Mario.

Mario glanced over at Ken who was still muttering in Spanish. Then he turned to face another cubicle. He recognized John from the writer’s club sitting on his little bed. Jesucristo, was that guy going to haunt him here as well as on Earth? Mario guessed it was all true, they were all here. He could see others in cubicles all around him. They had eaten something bad at the restaurant and died, but instead of an afterlife, or nothing, they were here. Reset. Programs waiting to go back. Mario felt dejected, then he smiled, and then he started to laugh. All of a sudden Mario started to dance around his small cube laughing and smiling.

“Have you gone bonkers?”, asked John. “What has you so happy?”

Continuing to dance, Mario said, “Don’t you see? I’m still right. The universe may not be what I expected, but there is no heaven, there is no hell, and there is certainly NO GOD!”

John watched Mario dance for a moment, then he said, “But what if this is all happening inside god’s computer?”

Mario stopped dancing.