I was just about to dig into my mouthwatering lentil and quinoa bowl at Happy Herb’s Vegan Restaurant when the aliens walked in.
I stopped, spoon halfway to my mouth, and stared at the newcomers.
I normally try not to stare but, well, they did have tentacles trailing out from under their arms and a third eye smack in the middle of their foreheads.
The one on the right was wearing a long black coat with no shirt, the blue tentacles curling around the edges of the open garment. He marched over to where I sat, phone in hand to take a picture of my meal, and pointed a three-jointed blue finger at me. “You! You are a vegan?”
Well, I never expected that to be the first question a space alien asked me.
“Um… yes?” Just my luck, the guy was apparently from some planet where everyone angrily demanded to know where vegans get their protein…just like here on Earth.
The second alien, who was wearing a Grateful Dead shirt and chinos, leaned over my table and glared at me with all three of his eyes. I guess it was a him. Actually, they were both wearing pants and I had no idea if they were mammals, so the lack of boobs might not mean anything…
“You started a war!” he yelled at me.
Well, that was different. Usually I got accused of killing carrots or eating all the rabbits’ food or some other nonsense. “What are you talking about?”
Johnny Cash reached out and pulled Grateful Dead back with one of his tentacles. “We know what you people did to our planet, and we’re not going to take it.”
“Your planet? Look, we humans have fucked up Earth royally, but to the best of my knowledge we haven’t managed to ruin any other planets… yet.” In retrospect, that was maybe not the best argument.
Johnny Cash gripped the edges of my table with two tentacles. They had suckers that adhered to the plastic-coated surface, pulling the table a few centimeters back toward the aliens. “Look, this isn’t…I believe the expression on your planet is, ‘This isn’t funny.’”
Ah, so they were using some sort of internal translation device. I wondered about that.
This isn’t funny lost something in the translation, though. “I’m not laughing. And I don’t know what you think we vegans did, but I promise you, we didn’t start an interplanetary war or whatever. All we do is eat plants and take pictures of our food and post them on Instagram, I swear.”
Grateful Dead slapped the table with a tentacle. “What if we don’t believe you?”
Shit, what should I do now? “Did you look at our planet when you were… about to land? You might have seen some satellites in orbit and a couple space stations, but did you see anything that looked like it was capable of taking off for another solar system? Google it from that computer chip in your head if you don’t believe me, but we humans have never been farther than our own moon.”
“But you’re not human,” snarled Grateful Dead, while Johnny Cash stared off into space, presumably taking my advice. “You’re vegans.”
I blinked. “Vegans are humans. We’re just humans who eat plants. Like this.” I gestured at my quickly-cooling bowl of quinoa and lentils. If these aliens didn’t leave me alone soon, it was going to be ice cold.
Johnny Cash looked down and locked all three of his green eyes on me. “The net says you’re telling the truth. Your physiology is a 100 percent match for our database’s info on humans.”
“Um… thanks?” It’s not often I get called normal, but I’d let it pass if it got rid of these two.
“But there are vegans here. Your net has many references to them. It says this is a vegan restaurant.” Grateful waved a tentacle around the room. None of the other diners notice.
“But they’re all human, according to our database.” Johnny looked around, confused, then turned back to me. “Why did you say you were a vegan if you’re not?”
Why would he think a bunch of vegans started a space war? Why would he be searching our internet for info about vegans in the first place? Did vegan mean something else on their planet?
Their planet! I smacked my hand to my forehead, forgetting it was holding my phone, and nearly gave myself a black eye. Of course, Vega was a constellation somewhere in space.
“You’re looking for people from Vega?” I asked.
They both blinked all their eyes at me like I was stupid. “Yes. That’s what we’re saying. This is supposed to be a restaurant for vegans.”
I couldn’t help it. I started laughing.
“We are not amused,” said Grateful Dead, and they definitely did not look amused.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “But we don’t have any people from Vega here. When you find the word vegan on our internet, it means people who eat vegan food. Like this.” I point at my bowl again. “It has nothing to do with being from Vega, okay? We’ve never even had alien visitors before.”
All three of Johnny’s eyes went wide. “Wait, you mean you eat… “
He trailed off and looked at Grateful. I didn’t know if they were communicating via their chips or what, but they didn’t say anything, they just stared at each other for a minute. Then they swiveled their heads back around to face me.
“We’re sorry for the misunderstanding,” said Johnny, slowly backing away. “We won’t bother you or your planet again.”
They both turned and sprinted for the door.
Now, why would they be afraid of a plant eater like me? Most people make jokes like, “Oh, a vegan, guess you don’t know how to hunt, huh?”
Unless he misunderstood me a second time…
I turned my attention back to my food and finally took a bite of my perfectly-flavored quinoa and lentils. I guess the pieces of tofu might have looked a little like meat. But why would anyone eat people from Vega when they could eat quinoa and lentils?
And that’s the story of how I, armed only with a bowl of lentils and quinoa, saved Earth from being attacked by confused and angry aliens.
V. R. Craft is the author of Stupid Humans, the first in a #scifi series that asks the question, “What if all the intelligent humans ran away from Earth—and we’re what’s left?”
You know how some people are underwater in their mortgages? My diploma is so far underwater it’s basically toilet paper for fish. Maybe that’s why I didn’t run away screaming when I saw the spaceship, because an alien artifact had to be my ticket out of this shitty town and living with my parents. My worthless college degree sure wasn’t.
I had my hands on a 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray player marked down from $299.99 to $74.99—a major score for a reseller like me—when the screaming started, and I looked up to see a huge vortex in the ceiling over my head.
The ceiling tiles were gone, replaced by a swirling hole of black that gradually dissolved into the sky outside. Then the black of the sky was blotted out by something else.
It was a gray, saucer-shaped object, not unlike those things you see in old black-and-white movies from the fifties.
Other customers screamed and ran away. Let them, there were still two more Blu-ray players on the shelf and I could double my money on each of them. I shoved them in my cart quickly, wondering what an alien artifact would go for on eBay.
The spaceship descended, stopping awkwardly as the edges caught on the tops of the shelves. It rocked a little, then whoever was inside apparently figured out that was as far down as it was going. A trapdoor on the bottom popped open, and a stairway unfolded.
Was security was going to show up and do something, or were they all running away too?
A set of feet descended the stairs, followed by the rest of what I guess was an alien. It had one of those big, gray, lollipop heads like you see in movies about alien abductions. The feet wore smooth-looking shoes with no visible laces, and the rest of its clothing looked like a shiny silver jumpsuit, also with no zippers or visible ways of getting it on or off.
A second, similar-looking alien followed him…her? I didn’t see any boobs, but who knew if these things were even mammals? For all I knew, they laid eggs.
The only way to distinguish between them was the fact that the second one wore a blue shirt with the logo of Mallmart, largest retailer in the known universe.
I’d seen a lot of people wearing the same shirt the last few days, many of them chattering in languages I didn’t understand. It was shareholders’ week, when Mallmartians—as we locals call them—flooded the city in Mallmart shirts to celebrate owning, in some cases, as little as one share of stock in the company. I guess that’s still significant if you bought when it was a penny—you know, a million years ago, back when the economy was supposedly good or something?
One of the aliens waved something pointy at me and I stepped back. Not that it would help if they had some super awesome laser gun. I looked for a weapon, but all I saw was a shelf of single-digit-threadcount towels and a spinning fidget thing with someone’s gum stuck in to it.
Yeah, I was screwed.
The pointy-thing waver said something that sounded like high-pitched gibberish. The Mallmart shirt alien spoke in even louder gibberish. They sounded angry.
“I don’t work for Mallmart.” Best idea I had. Who isn’t angry when shopping here? There’s never anyone around to help you find the particular piece of cheap plastic crap from China you’re looking for.
The one with the pointy thing wrinkled its face in what might have been a frown. It turned to the one in the shirt and they conversed in unintelligible mumbling. Then it turned back to me, looked down, and adjusted a dial on the side of the pointy thing.
I ducked behind my cart, not remotely sure two Blu-ray players would protect me from a laser space weapon.
But nothing happened, and after a few seconds I peeked around the players, through the rusted bars of the cart. There didn’t appear to be a red dot coming from the pointy thing.
The alien in the shirt spoke again, this time in English. “Hello, human, sorry to startle you. Could you tell us where the…”
It trailed off, leaned over, and said something in the other alien’s ear. The other one whispered something back.
“Where the bathroom is?” An electronic sounding voice boomed from the pointy thing.
Of course! The pointy thing was a translator, not a laser weapon. I stood, keeping my hands on the cart—maybe they weren’t going to kill me, but they weren’t taking my haul either. “You’re looking for the crapper?”
Shirt alien blinked its big, black eyes, dug a finger in its ear. “Yes. Use toilet. Do I need to find someone who works here for directions?”
“No, you won’t. Find anyone who works here, I mean. You’d have to buy an electronics item and not deactivate the tag right at the self-check for them to appear.” What would an alien’s Mallmart shareholders’ shirt go for on eBay?
I pointed toward the front of the store. “The bathroom’s up there in the middle. The womens’ is on the left and the…” I still didn’t know how they identified, or if they even had genders on their planet. “Oh hell, just use whichever one you want. One thing though, you probably aren’t familiar with Earth ettiquette so….one time I went in there and someone had taken a crap not in the toilet but next to the toilet, and I don’t want you to think that’s standard on Earth. I mean, uh, shit goes in the toilet, not next to it.”
I never pictured myself explaining humanity to an advanced alien species exactly like that, but it was the truth.
The shirt alien blinked. The rest of its face stayed frozen, like it had too much Botox done. “Thank you.”
It walked off toward the bathrooms.
Pointy-thing alien looked around the aisle, then back at me, as we stood in an intergalactic awkward silence.
“So, are you a shareholder too?” it asked after a minute.
I laughed, and it jumped back. Maybe my laugh sounded like nails on a chalkboard in alien language. Okay, I’ve been told that by some humans too.
“No, I’m just a shopper. I buy stuff to sell on that website, The Big River. You ever consider buying stock in that company?”
The alien blinked. “We’re not here to buy stock. We’re here to shop for our own version of The Big River.”
Of course! The aliens were resellers too—they better not want my Blu-ray players. I edged closer to my cart. “Uh, you’re here to shop the clearance rack? Because I saw this shelf first.”
The alien made a staccato sound—its own version of a laugh? “No, we’re trying to get something from every department. It’ll all be scarce soon.”
They were time-traveling aliens? I’d spent enough time watching reruns of scifi shows to know wherever these aliens were from had to be light-years away. So if they had faster-than-light travel, they must have had some method for bending or manipulating space-time…which implied time travel.
Was the alien trying to tell me my planet was headed for disaster?
“What do you mean?” I asked as the second alien reappeared, shaking its hands to dry them. Guess it couldn’t figure out the paper towel dispenser. What did they use on their planet?
The alien without the shirt looked at me. “Nothing.”
Evasive. He could run for office as the first Extraterrestrial-American congressperson.
“You said all this would be scarce soon.” I waved around the store. “Is the company going out of business? Some of this crap is sold elsewhere, so…”
I trailed off as a worse thought occurred to me than the economy-wrecking event of Mallmart going Chapter 11. The t-shirt alien swiveled its head from me to the other alien and back. The unclothed extraterrestrial looked down and shuffled its feet.
“The planet,” I said. “Or human civilization, at least. I already figured it out, you can tell me.”
T-shirt alien feigned interest in a display of singing beer can paperweights.
“Outcomes can change,” the other alien finally said. “We were supposed to help you fix things, but now that we’re here, our calculations show our intervention is unlikely to be successful.”
“That’s why you’re buying all this soon-to-be-scarce crap.” Bizarrely, I was jealous. I’d spent years scouring yard sales for anything I recognized as a rare, priceless piece from those antique wheel-and-deal shows, and all I’d ever found was mass-produced crap. Now these aliens were going to buy the same stuff and make bank because it was going to be rare and—and oh yeah, we were all going to be dead.
What can I say, I’m great at prioritizing.
“Since we’re here anyway, our broker assured us this was a relatively safe investment,” T-Shirt alien said.
“Any chance I could go with you? As an expert on human artifacts? I could help you authenticate pieces other people bring in, shit like that. Like on those reality shows, where they call an expert?”
“That’s against several laws.” The unclothed alien swiped an open-box bobblehead of Jesus waving an American flag in one hand and holding a beer can in the other. Tucking the find under its arm, it stumbled up the steps. Its companion followed.
“Thank you,” it said. “I really did have to use the bathroom.”
“Wait!” I ran toward them as the stairs started retracting. “At least tell me what’s going to happen. Give me some clue how I can try to fix things, to change the timeline?”
“Look around, it should be obvious.” Shirt alien reached the top and the door started to fold up. It moved its hand in what might have been an awkward wave, then stopped, a wrinkle spreading across its brow. It pulled the shirt over its head, and tossed it out.
“I told you we’d be less conspicous with the hats,” it told the other alien as the door closed.
I grabbed my prize as the spaceship rose through the hole in the ceiling, and I waved, not really sure why. Then I looked back around the Mallmart, pushing my cart to the end of the aisle. The other shoppers seemed oblivious to what had just transpired on aisle fourteen. I wondered if the shirt-wearer would wind up on that “People of Mallmart” site after its jaunt to the bathroom.
Over on aisle sixteen, that guy who walks all over town talking to himself petted a stuffed teddy bear, rambling about the problems in the Middle East. A few feet away, a tired-looking guy in ripped jeans juggled a screaming baby in one arm and an economy-sized box of condoms in the other. Guess he learned his lesson. At the tip of the next aisle, a guy in an oversized t-shirt that screamed, “Don’t trust the press, trust the president!” alternated between scratching his ass and his beer belly. A few rows down, a woman studied a hair dye box while her kid pulled more boxes off the shelf, finally ripping one open. She turned her back as a bottle of dye poured onto the floor.
The mumbler ambled to the nearest endcap and looked up and down, apparently unsure if he needed the 2-pack of personal lubricant or the 24-pack of bottled water to rehydrate after he used all the lubricant. He rubbed the bear’s head and stared at the 2-pack.
“They’re saying it’s going to be a real disaster,” he said to the bottles.
A dripping noise alerted me I was leaning against a rack of shampoo bottles. I pulled away, worried I’d gotten some on my alien t-shirt score, which was draped over my arm. It better not be stained!
But it wasn’t just one bottle, and they weren’t just dripping. Amber liquid poured from the shelf. Two bottles looked as if a horiontal hole roughly the size of my arm had been eaten out of them. I looked at the shirt. The liquid was beaded on the blue cloth, and I brushed it off. A no-stain fabric, cool. But what just happened to the bottles?
Despite my better judgement, I casually leaned against a shelf of deodorant, pressing the shirt against a tube. After a few seconds I stepped back. A hole had been eaten in the plastic. The metal shelf was untouched, and my arm seemed no worse for the wear, so…
The t-shirt was made of cloth that ate plastic.
My mind raced with ideas. Could the aliens be wrong? Could our planet be saved if we didn’t have so much plastic floating around? It would reduce pollution, and the carbon footprint of transporting plastic waste to landfills.
Never mind that, think how much money I could make if I found a company to replicate this technology. Maybe the aliens had given me the solution to two problems at once. I would have to work very hard, figuring out how it worked and finding someone to produce more of it, but I could do it. I needed the money, and the planet kind of needed to be saved.
I looked up at the ceiling, where the alien’s ship had disappeared. “Thank you, Mallmartians.”
I’m sure that didn’t seem at all out of place.
V. R. Craft is the author of Stupid Humans, the first in a #scifi series that asks the question, “What if all the intelligent humans ran away from Earth—and we’re what’s left?”
The opening story of Time And Time Again is set in a cave above a river bank. I chose that because my cousin and I found a large cave on a bluff above a river several years ago. I had written some time-travel stories before and this cave seemed like a good place to begin the adventures or experiences that the protagonist, Stephen White, encounters.
J. B. Hogan grew up in Fayetteville, Arkansas but moved to Southern California in 1961 where he finished high school and attended junior college before entering the U. S. Air Force in 1964. After the military, he went back to college, receiving a Ph.D. in English from Arizona State University in 1979. He has published over 250 stories and poems and seven books: Tin Hollow, Fallen, The Rubicon, Living Behind Time and Losing Cotton with Oghma Creative Media and The Apostate and Angels in the Ozarks with Pen-L Publishing. He is a former president of the Washington County Historical Society and chairman of the Fayetteville Historic District Commission. He plays upright bass in East of Zion, a family band that plays acoustic Americana and roots music. His next book, Time And Time Again (time-travel stories featuring the same protagonist), is scheduled to be released May 15, 2018.
Questions About Hogan’s Latest Book, the Science Fiction Time Travel Collection Time and Time Again:
How did you come up with the idea for your book? The opening story of Time And Time Again is set in a cave above a river bank. I chose that because my cousin and I found a large cave on a bluff above a river several years ago. I had written some time travel stories before and this cave seemed like a good place to begin the adventures or experiences that the protagonist, Stephen White, encounters.
What sort of research did you do to write this book?
I had to do a lot of research for this book: a raid by Quantrill-like raiders during the Civil War, the false execution that Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevski experienced in 1849, the actual process of a Roman crucifixion – almost every story required some amount of research.
How did you come up with the title of your book?
The title was chosen after several other options were discarded. One early title option was Time Witness. I usually come up with a title very quickly but this one required me to write out maybe 12-15 versions and then I went back and forth until settling on Time And Time Again – this seemed to work best because it indicates the recurring nature of Stephen’s strange travels.
What are you working on now? Any chance of a sequel?
I am most involved in a local history nonfiction book right now. I do not have any plans to do a sequel to Time And Time Again.
Do you put yourself in your books/characters at all?
Sometimes people who know me think that I’m a character in my books but that’s not really the case. My attitudes and such are certainly reflected in my stories, events, locations, characters and dialogue but I’m not a character. The book that might be closest to this is Losing Cotton because I use more autobiographical material in it than in any other work by far. People think Frank Mason, the protagonist as a young man in Losing Cotton, is me but my novel Living Behind Time, with Frank as an older man, contains 11 major sections and not one of those ever occurred to me in my own life. People like to identify you in your own works but it’s not really true.
If your novel were being made into a movie, whom would you pick to play the lead roles?
For Time And Time Again – the Stephen White character would probably work for an actor like Jonah Hill or Jack Black.
If someone is brand new to your work, what book do you think they should start with?
I think I might aim them at Living Behind Time. It’s a road trip novel crossing the U. S. from west coast to east. The protagonist relearns who he is and simultaneously relearns what the pre-911 country is/was about as well.
Is there anything interesting about this particular book we haven’t covered yet? If so, what?
I think it might help readers to know that Stephen White of Time And Time Again is not a traditional or stock heroic character – much of the time Stephen is baffled by his experience and often terrified by it. Hopefully he is likable enough for us to go through these intensely strange events with him.
Questions About Writing:
What started you on the path to writing for a living?
I’ve been writing since I was a child. It was a natural path to me. My mother was a poet and musician and she trained me in a sense to be a writer.
Are you traditionally published or self-published? What do you like about that path? What do you dislike about it?
I am published by a small, royalty-paying press. After decades of grinding out book after book, I am most gratified to have my work in print.
What were some of the challenges you faced on the road to publication?
Like almost all writers – hundreds of rejections over many years. Loss of writing energy from time to time – problems we all have to overcome.
What are the upsides and downsides to being an author?
The upside is selling a few copies of your work and finding people who appreciate it and you. The downside is not selling enough copies and not reaching a larger audience.
What does a typical workday look like for you?
I usually do research in the mornings and then the afternoon and evening are set aside for writing or writing-related activities.
What is your favorite part of the writing/publishing process? Least favorite?
Research and writing are my favorite parts. My least favorite would be the editing and reviewing process once the book goes to the publisher.
What does your writing space look like?
I have a long thin table with my laptop and writing materials on it. It’s a little cluttered and someday I would like to have a large, wing-type desk so I could lay out my work all around me.
Why do you write? What keeps you motivated during creative slumps?
Like others, I seem compelled to write. During those slumps – and I have had several, even tried to quit writing cold turkey once – I just wait and every time, so far, the drive has returned of its own accord.
Do you outline books ahead of time or are you more of a by-the-seat-of-your-pants writer?
I am an outliner – excessively so. I have actually killed maybe 3-4 books by over-outlining them.
What do you do in your free time when you aren’t writing?
My main interest outside research and writing is music. I play upright bass in a family band, East of Zion.
What has been one of your most rewarding experiences as an author?
It feels really good when you get an unsolicited compliment about you as a writer or your work.
Out of all the books you’ve written, do you have a favorite?
I would probably say Living Behind Time, but I feel strongly about all of my books or I would not have tried to get them published. I feel that my first book, The Apostate, Fallen a collection of my short stories, as well as The Rubicon, poetry (with some very short fiction tossed in) have all been a bit overlooked. Tin Hollow and Mexican Skies, my last two books, and Losing Cotton are up there, too.
Is there anything about the writing life that you think is misunderstood by the public?
I think many people believe we are all rich and famous – which is pretty comical in reality.
What was your job before you started writing full time?
I was briefly a college literature professor, then worked many years as a technical writer.
Are there any nuggets of wisdom you can impart to aspiring writers?
Don’t give up. Keep working. Keep improving. Believe in your work. Look at your work realistically and always try to get better. And I repeat – never give up.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
Because my doctorate is in literature, my tastes run to the classics and to traditional authors. I love the 19th century Russians (Dostoevski, Tolstoy, Chekhov). I love Stephen Crane, Hemingway, Flannery O’Connor – also James Joyce, Gabriel Garcia-Marquez – on and on and on.
Who are some authors in your genre that inspire you?
Because I’m a genre-buster, there’s all kinds. But in sci-fi, I’m a big fan of Heinlein, Asimov, Frank Herbert, and especially Arthur C. Clarke.
What are some great books you’ve read recently?
I frequently reread Hemingway and O’Connor short stories. I read certain passages from Huckleberry Finn a couple of times a year. Lately I’ve been reading or rereading a lot of poetry – Coleridge, Poe, E. E. Cummings, Dylan Thomas, Sylvia Plath, Randall Jarrell and so on.
What types of books do you enjoy in your downtime?
I like to read Martin Cruz Smith’s Arkady Renko novels.
What are your top three favorite books of all time?
The Brothers Karamazov, The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and 100 Years of Solitude.
Can you recommend any new or upcoming authors to us?
I would recommend the work of my friend John Biggs. I would also recommend the books of the late Robert Stone. There are many, many to choose from.
With Earth destined for a new ice-age, seven scientists and twenty-two brilliant teenagers are gathered in a compound deep within a mountain. There they struggle to come together as a group and complete the projects needed for their survival in the inhospitable environment of Titan, one of Saturn’s moons. However, certain factions on Earth have no intention of letting Project Einstein succeed. Keeping the group alive and productive is the hardest task Colonel Lancaster and his soldiers have ever had, but they are determined to succeed no matter how well the saboteurs have planned. The continuation of the human race depends upon it.
“So, you’re telling me I was chosen over every other biochemist in the world because my favorite color is orange.” Tamara tugged at a strand of her short blonde hair. Her mentor was the brightest man she knew, but this didn’t make any sense at all!
Maxwell’s eyes sparkled. “I love the way your brain tunnels in and isolates the key differentiator.”
“The fact I like the color orange should not be a key differentiator.”
Her mentor shrugged and paced the small, open space of the conference room. “Well, when all other things were equal, it became so. This project requires a top biochemist under the age of thirty, in excellent health, unmarried, with no constraints that would prevent traveling. There were quite a few scientists who met those requirements. Therefore, further differentiators were selected. The ability to work with teenagers dropped out all but two, and your clear preference for the color orange put you securely on top of the last remaining candidate.”
“But it’s a meaningless differentiator unless we’re going someplace that only has the color orange.” She fell silent as she considered that possibility. “Exactly how far will we be traveling?”
“Quite a distance.” His eyes twitched several times.
They only did that when he was conflicted, which told her she was asking the right question to discover whatever it was that he was under orders not to reveal. “Will we be traveling on Earth or away from it?”
The twitches intensified.
“Tam, I cannot tell you anything until you’ve agreed to go.”
“Jesus! We’re going to Titan, aren’t we?”
He removed his reading glasses and pressed his hand over his left eye to still the twitches. “I can neither confirm nor deny that.”
Titan: Saturn’s orange moon. Forty percent the size of Earth and rich in life-supporting chemicals. Bedrock composed of ice, rivers and seas of liquid methane, and enough hydrocarbons to heat the Earth for a thousand years.
“What is the purpose of the trip?”
“I cannot tell you anything until you agree to go.”
“Well, I cannot give you my answer until I know if we’re going to harvest the hydrocarbons for Earth or if we’re going to try to colonize it.”
Max now had both eyes covered with his hands. “Tam, I cannot tell you. You will just have to use that brilliant mind of yours to figure it out all on your own.”
His response told her that something he’d said had provided the answer. She focused on the ability to work with teenagers. You wouldn’t take teenagers on a ship to harvest, but you would to start a colony. By the time they arrived, they’d be young adults possessing a full span of child-bearing years.
Liza O’Connor lives in Denville, NJ with her dog Jess. They hike in fabulous woods every day, rain or shine, sleet or snow. Having an adventurous nature, she learned to fly small Cessnas in NJ, hang-glide in New Zealand, kayak in Pennsylvania, ski in New York, scuba dive with great white sharks in Australia, dig up dinosaur bones in Montana, sky dive in Indiana, and raft a class four river in Tasmania. She’s an avid gardener, amateur photographer, and dabbler in watercolors and graphic arts. Yet through her entire life, her first love has and always will be writing novels.
I’ll admit I have never formed a daily writing habit. I’ve made several attempts at Nanowrimo. The first time, I thought I was going to write my first published #scifi book, Stupid Humans, in the month of November. I started in November of 2012, and I finished in November…of 2014. Whatever, they didn’t say what year it had to be.
Writing: It’s Complicated
Admittedly, my 176,000+ word first draft was way longer than the 50,000 words required to complete Nanowrimo. Still, I didn’t work on it daily, even during November of 2012. I did work on it several days in a row, then I burned out and wrote maybe every couple days for the rest of the month.
After November ended, I got even lazier and less motivated. I wrote a couple chapters every couple months, then forgot about it for a couple more months. In November of 2012, the store I worked in closed, and I decided to take the opportunity to finish my book while I had the time, so I finally did. I should have used Nanowrimo as an opportunity to develop a daily writing habit, but unfortunately, I didn’t.
After that, I spent a couple years writing two more manuscripts, at one point writing a political satire in three months after losing yet another job (this time to a ten-dollar-an-hour-no-benefits intern). After writing and publishing that one under another pen name, I went back to writing #scifi, slowly working my way through another novel, about a guy who invents a pill to make people more trusting. Then I spent a lot of time writing blog posts, doing interviews, and generally avoiding doing very much writing.
I did manage to write about a chapter a week of a parallel universe book last year, and got to about 35,000 words—maybe a halfway point. Then I got the idea that I wanted to make Stupid Humans a series. So I ended up shelving the parallel universe story, which I will come back to at some point, and starting on the second Stupid Humans book for Nanowrimo of last year.
Developing a Daily Writing Habit
I’ll confess, I cheated. I started writing in October and still didn’t finish in November. I did finish in December, by continuing to write daily. Okay, most days. Nobody’s perfect.
So I finished the second book and started on the third. I considered making writing 1,000 words a day my New Year’s resolution for 2018 (although I usually refuse to make resolutions because I kind of like myself just the way I am). Anyway, I made an exception and decided on an unofficial resolution to try to write 1,000 words a day most days. If I did that, I could write 365,000 words a year! That’s like four books if I don’t go over 100K on any of them and one is only 65K.
Developing a Writing Habit That Works For Me
Okay, that may have been overreaching a bit. A week in, I’d written on maybe two days. I blamed it on editing the second book, and the trust pill book. Or on having to do writing for freelance clients, like press releases and ad copy. (At one point, I saved a client from who knows how many lawsuits by ensuring his brochures didn’t actually say yoga classes could cure diabetes.) But, I did not manage to write 1,000 words a day of my own stuff.
I gave myself a week off to try to finish editing the second book, finally finished, and decided to start over. I did better with that, and have managed to write most days since then. I missed some Saturdays. I didn’t manage a thousand words every day—some were only 500. I decided writing SOMETHING every day was better than writing nothing. I took another week off last week to finish editing the trust pill book, something I expected to be done by now. Unfortunately, when I went back to the beginning and started rereading it, I realized I hated the first fifth of the book and it needed serious surgery, including a couple complete chapterectomies. I’m not sure why I didn’t fix this stuff before—maybe being away from the manuscript for months gave me perspective and allowed me to grow as a writer. Or maybe I got Hemingway’s famous advice about “Write drunk, edit sober,” backwards. At any rate, I took some time to fix that manuscript up, then got back to writing.
It was easier than I thought. I wrote 1,000 words today, and yesterday, and I plan to tomorrow as well. The biggest thing that has helped me keep this up is starting as soon as I get off the treadmill in the morning. I toss around story ideas in my head while I run, and I figure I’m never going to have better blood flow to my brain than during and right after a workout, so that’s what I do. After I get out of the shower, I make a vegan protein shake with Sunwarrior protein powder and peanut butter, take some active B vitamins that are supposed to have a nootropic effect (although that’s probably bullshit, I like to think it makes my brain work better), and sit down to write.
But the most important thing I do for my daily writing habit is I force myself to write something before I do anything else—check my email, go on Facebook, etc. That way I write a thousand words before I get into an argument about whether Star Wars or Star Trek is better (Star Trek all the way!). Sure, I still waste time arguing with people on social media (probably more than I should), but at least I got some writing done first, right?
I also remind myself that it’s okay if I don’t have any good ideas for what to write next. One of the best things you can do as a writer is give yourself permission to write something that’s not perfect. If I don’t have a good idea, I write my best bad idea and hope I think of something better. Usually, I do, and I can go back and delete the crap I wrote before it. I guess I could amend Hemingway’s famous advice by saying write drunk, or at least without inhibition, and edit sober, or at least with a very critical eye.
How did you develop a daily writing habit?
V. R. Craft is the author of Stupid Humans, the first in a #scifi series that asks the question, “What if all the intelligent humans ran away from Earth—and we’re what’s left?”