Monthly Archives: March 2012

Lessons Learned after 29 in 29

After a few days off from writing a short story every day for a month, I’ve had a bit of time to reflect on the process. I wanted to do this project because I’ve done NaNoWriMo for the past two years, and then accomplished no writing for the rest of the year. I also wanted to do this because the pressure-cooker timing of NaNoWriMo forced me to  be creative in ways that I don’t think I am with more time, because I tend to over-analyze myself into silence. And sure enough, with the time limits I gave myself, I was able to produce science fiction for the first time ever, and even dip my toe into fantasy.

I should explain. When I was little, really little, from four years old to fourth grade, I told everyone who would listen that I wanted to be a writer. I wrote endlessly. My parents got me an electric typewriter and I would sit in my room and type up my stories and dream of being a writer.

Then, in 4th grade, I got an assignment to write about Valentine’s Day. I wrote an epic story, about a woman named Valentine, who was blind, and got into a horrible car accident and had a miscarriage. I think we had just been studying Helen Keller, and my mom watched a lot of All My Children. Anyway, my 4th grade teacher was horrified and asked to meet with my mom and me. And in that meeting she told me something that basically crushed me in every possible way. She said, “This isn’t appropriate. You should write what you know.”

I didn’t write for years.

I felt like anytime I got creative, or wanted to make something up, that it was too much. I got to meet Barbara Cooney at a book-signing a year after that, and I told her very seriously, that I was suffering from writer’s block, and asked how did she dealt with it.

After more time passed, I gave up all together.

Two years ago, I decided to do NaNoWriMo. It sounded so intriguing. I’m good with deadlines; I thrive on them. And I was unemployed, so I needed a project. And then one of my literary heroes, Robin McKinley, sent me a tweet that probably meant more to me than I can explain. She was writing about bad advice that writers get, and mentioned the “write what you know” axiom. I replied to her with my story, and she immediately replied back saying that was horrible advice and she was sad that I had given up. She then said to “Write what you know into what you don’t.” So I decided to try.

I honestly don’t know what will come of this. Maybe nothing. The fact that I’ve accomplished two NaNoWriMos and this project feels great, but I feel like I have a lot of non-writing years to catch up on.

So that’s a roundabout way of saying the real lesson I learned from this project is that I want to write more. I need to write more.

And I’m pretty happy with that lesson right now.

 

Day 29

The motorcycle raced along the narrow dirt road. The rider, clad all in white, looked like a ghost against the solid wall of birch trees that lined either side. The rider was as pale as her garb, her milky eyes appearing sightless even though they tracked the smallest detail along the road.

Curled up in the crate attached to the back of the bike was a miserable little boy. He was swaddled in a thick woolen blanket and only the top of his head poked out; his ears were pink and chilled by the ride. His hands and feet had been bound and all he wanted to do was scratch the itch that had been on his left nostril for the last ten miles or so.

Just three days before, Erasmus had been an average five year old in the Ladd-Franklin Valley; although in Ladd-Franklin, what was considered average was very far from the definition held in the rest of the Republic. Erasmus and his family had been placed in Ladd-Franklin after Erasmus had been identified as a potential Logician. The test that all the three year olds in the Republic took was meant to identify children for the specialized training program before uncorrectable habits and lazy thought patterns formed. Erasmus’ parents had been shocked by his identification; while he was clearly an intelligent little boy, they had not seen the making of a true Logician in him. Erasmus’ mother Gwyn thought her child was too empathetic to be able to be a Logician. His father Belenus had assumed that his own status as a transporter would preclude his children from success.

Erasmus’ sister Claudette was less impressed by Ladd-Franklin. The siblings of the children at the Logician center were all schooled together in a warehouse at the center of the Valley.

“I don’t know why you were chosen,” she said, a few weeks after the family had relocated. “You’re too irrational. They’ll fail you out.”

Privately, Erasmus had feared that he would be found lacking. When he had taken the logic test, the other students had faced it calmly and methodically. He, on the other hand, had barely been able to stay seated, shaking his hands and nodding his head to the side in a strange repetitive tic. He had been so nervous that he had skipped around the test, answering things completely out of order, and when the oral component came, he had blurted the first word he could think of to answer the panel’s question, which happened to be “Verdant.” The panel had seemed inexplicably impressed and had let him go immediately without further questioning. He could not even remember what he had been asked.

The identification test was administered once a year and a test might yield one candidate; or none at all. So Erasmus’ candidacy was even more of a shock because he was one of two selected to go to Ladd-Franklin that year. The other was a Marigold, a shy plump little girl with dark black skin and a soft-spoken voice who had seemed quite overwhelmed by the whole process. Marigold and Erasmus made an unlikely pair. During their first day in the Ladd-Franklin training center, Marigold had locked herself in the bathroom and refused to come out until her father arrived. Erasmus had faired a bit better, although he resented being stared at by the fourteen other candidates, who ranged in age from five to seventeen. They were a motley bunch, although they clearly belonged at the center. The candidates and instructors alike all spoke in a strange, crisp dialect that was free of inflection. They seemed to have no personal attachment to what they said, instead delivering information both positive and negative with the same impassive tone.

And after Erasmus had spent more time at the center, he came to realize that nothing personal was encouraged. The oldest three candidates; Jonah, Osprey, and Catriona had all emancipated themselves from their families by the age of twelve. Their families had been sent back to live outside of the Valley, and the three candidates lived their lives unencumbered by emotion. Erasmus thought of his kind mother and gentle father and wondered if he could ever separate himself from them so completely.

It occurred to him that in his current state, bound and strapped to the back of a strange motorcycle driving in an unknown direction, he might have to come to terms with the separation sooner rather than later. He had not wept yet, although he had wanted to.

The stranger had plucked him from his bed the night before. He had woken in the middle of the night to find a luminescent white hand covering his mouth and two cloudy eyes staring into his own. He had tried to scream but had quickly been muffled by the strange woman, who had already managed to bind his arms and legs in his sleep. He looked across the room, but he could not tell if Claudette was sleeping or if the stranger had done something to her. The stranger, catching his glance, leaned in and whispered, “Your sister sleeps. But if you don’t come with me I shall make the sleep permanent.”

Erasmus raced through the possible scenarios for escape before arriving at the conclusion that with his feet already tied and his sister in danger, he had no choice but to go without a fight. He tried to focus on his teachings; to rely on the fact that once he had weighed his options and found nothing could be done, that he was free to think of other things until the scenario changed and presented him with new options. He tried to quell his fear knowing that now, in a way, he had elected to go with the strange woman. She bundled him up in his blanket and despite her small stature carried him effortlessly out to the balcony. Here, he thought she might be presented with a challenge, but she hooked a carabiner to the railing and fell backwards, clutching him in her arms. She nearly slammed him into the wall, but managed to repel in time.

Erasmus noted with surprise that there were so few security measures in place for protection in Ladd-Franklin. The woman popped him in the crate, leapt on to her bike, and was gone within minutes, and no alarm was raised. He had thought that there facility was one of the most important in the Republic; surely they would have some kind of failsafe in place. They neared the edge of town, and the woman drove towards the high wall that surrounded the valley. Immediately he knew that this had been planned for some time. There was a clear blind spot in the cameras in the area that she was approaching. And once they reached the wall, she shot her carabiner up into the massive oak tree on the other side, locked her legs around the base of the bike, and suddenly they were soaring up into the air and over the wall. If his hands hadn’t been bound, Erasmus would have gripped onto something at the stomach-lurching weightless feeling; as it was, he gripped his hands together and wished fervently that someone might send help.

But help had not come. He had been two days on the back of the bike, and his legs and arms had fallen asleep within the first few hours. The woman showed no signs of fatigue, not stopping once for rest or to relieve herself. Erasmus wondered if she might be human after all. He had heard rumors before he was located to Ladd-Franklin of things that lived beyond the Republic, but he had always written them off as fairy tales.

He must have drifted off for a little while, because when he awoke, the scenery had changed. Up ahead of them was a white domed building that appeared to glow from within. They were on something that could barely be called a road at that point, it was more like a trail, and the woman kept revving her bike to get up and around hills.

Up ahead, for the first time since he had been taken, Erasmus saw another person. As they drew nearer, he realized that it was in fact two people. A man, the mirror image of Erasmus’ kidnapper, was holding an apple to his lips and seemingly drinking from it; it went from a shiny red to a desiccated pale shell before his eyes. And with him, wide-eyed, gagged and handcuffed, was Marigold. Erasmus felt momentarily relieved that he had not been gagged, and then ashamed that he had not put up more of a fight.

Marigold saw him as their bike pulled up next to hers and she panicked, throwing herself over the side of the bike and falling flat on her face. Erasmus heard a crunch and winced. The man pulled Marigold up and her nose streamed with blood, it was clearly broken. She choked back a sob and turned away from them, trying to put her hands to her face.

“I said no harm,” the pale woman said, pulling the gag out of Marigold’s mouth and plugging up her nose. She tilted Marigold’s head back and pinched her nose to staunch the bleeding.

“She jumped off herself,” the man said defensively. “What was I to do?”

“If they’re unable to reason, they’re of no use to us,” the woman retorted.

Erasmus wondered where they were. By his estimation, they had been travelling north and west at eighty miles an hour for nearly three days. They had to be beyond the borders of the Republic. He looked at Marigold and signed for her to be silent. He assessed their options. If one of them could get free, they could release the other, and they could try to escape. He was not sure what might be in the domed building, but he was certain that if they didn’t try something now, they wouldn’t get another chance for awhile. He had no survival instincts. His days were spent solving artificial puzzles concocted by his instructors and their peers. He was glad, for the moment, that he had other skills to fall back on. Marigold must have been thinking the same thing, because he suddenly saw a glint appear in her eye, the way it did when she grasped a perfect truth for the first time.

“We’re meant to be here,” Marigold said, surprising all of them. “We are logical, and they need logicians, therefore they need us.”

Erasmus stared at her for a moment. Her logic was flawless.