Friday, September 18, 2015

The Bus Station

I'll return to interviews next week, but this Friday I thought I'd post a piece of flash fiction I wrote for a recent class:

Bus Station

The child sat on the long wooden bench in the shabby old bus station, her legs dangling four inches above the ground. Her right hand clutched the worn handle of the battered brown suitcase, and her eyes stared straight ahead. The soft round face was as expressionless as a China doll, the only movement a slight quiver of her bottom lip.

The old woman looked around for a place to sit. Her tired back and legs wouldn't endure for long if she had to stand, but her bus wasn't due for another forty-five minutes. “Someone sitting here?” she asked the child, pointing to the empty end seat beside her.

The little girl looked up into her weathered face and shook her head.

The woman settled into the seat with a sigh, glancing at the clock, willing the time to fly by. “Are you traveling alone?” The child looked so small to her. “You were probably told not to talk to strangers. Believe you me, I don't usual talk to them either, but you shouldn't be traveling alone. What are you? Seven? Eight?” Even that elicited no response. “I'm going to St. Louis. Haven't been there in close to thirty years. I imagine the place has changed. Hasn't everything?”

The little girl stared at her, the start of curiosity entering her eyes.

“I'm Mildred, and don't you dare call me Millie. What's your name?”

No response.

“When I was your age, my mama used to take me to St. Louis and Joplin, all over the state. We had relations in every city, every hamlet from here to Chicago. Now all that's left is me and a cousin in Peoria, but he's a no-account I'd avoid even if he lived next door.” She continued her monologue, as if the sound of her own voice was preferable to silence. “Bet you're wondering why I'm going to St. Louis now. There's doctors in St. Louis. Better than here, I'll tell you.”

A slight nod from the girl was the first sign that she understood English.

“You off to visit your grandma? Or maybe that's where you're coming from.”

The eyes looked down to study the tops of scuffed sneakers. A hole near the big toe of the right one threatened to expand. The muttered 'no' barely reached the old woman's ears.

“No? You're not running away, are you?” Mildred asked.

The silky, fine blond hair swung as the girl indicated she wasn't. But what else could this be?

Mildred tried to think of a question that might get her to open up. She'd been singularly unsuccessful so far. But she was afraid that if she was silent, the slight progress she'd made would fade. “This bench is so hard.” She wriggled against the scarred backrest. “I don't know who designed the first bus terminal, and then convinced others to build them all the same.” She pointed to the tiny refreshment stand. “Would you like a soda? Or perhaps chocolate milk? I wouldn't trust much else they sell.”

The child looked up, her eyes straying to the stand. “Chocolate milk, please.”

“You watch my things, and I'll get us both a drink.” Mildred left her coat on the seat and her suitcase on the floor as she stood and strode to the food vendor. She was back in moments carrying two plastic cups.

The child hadn't moved except to put her free hand on the woman's coat. “Thanks.” She finally let go of her suitcase handle and took the drink carefully in two hands.

“I brought us both straws.” Mildred opened one and inserted it in the lid of the kid's drink.

Watching the woman, the girl took a long sip of milk, then another. She'd finished half of it before she came up for air.

“You must have been thirsty.”

The child sucked in her lower lip, then went back to drinking.

“Feel better?” Mildred asked.

She nodded. “Thank you.”

Nothing added up about the kid. Who left her at the bus station? And where was she going? “I bet whoever you're going to see will give you plenty of chocolate milk.”

The quiver was back and the child's eyes filled with tears before seeking the double doors, then they returned to her drink cup.

A disembodied voice came over the loud speaker. “Four thirty to St. Louis and points east now boarding.”

“That's our bus.” Mildred stood, grabbed her coat and suitcase, and took two steps. “Aren't you coming?”

The girl shook her head. “I'm not going.”

Exasperated, Mildred asked, “Then why are you here?” She looked around at all the other passengers streaming toward the doors and the bus on the other side. None paid attention to the woman and the child. Mildred sat down again. The doctors would have to wait.

Friday, September 4, 2015

This week I'm interviewing Margaret Fieland, author of science fiction novels and novellas as well as poetry.

1. What genre(s) do you write in and why? Do you write flash fiction, short stories, novellas and/or novels? If you do multiple genres and/or lengths, which do you prefer? Have you ever written any poetry?

I started off writing poetry, actually. I wrote poetry for years without being at all serious about it. I would write the poems down in notebooks which ended up in my attiec. Then one day I wrote a poem I wanted to keep. Because I work as a computer software engineer, I had more than one computer in my life, and the latest version of this poem always seemed to be on the one I wasn't on. I ended up finding an online poetry site. One thing led to another. I discovered an online writing conference and hooked up with Linda Barnett Johnson. She ran some online writers groups, but she required everyone to participate in both the short story and poetry forums. I started writing short stories – I started out writing for children under the mistaken impression that it was easier – and got hooked.

I still write lots of poetry, but now I'm also writing fiction, mostly science fiction and fantasy. I have three science fiction novels published with a third coming out later this year. A children's chapter book is due out later this year as well.
I didn't start out intending to write sci fi. I am a way-back sci fi fan, though, but up until 2010 I had never written any. In fact, I had a bit of a phobia about taking on the world building. I decided to participate in the 2010 NaNoWriMo, a crazy event in which slightly insane writers attempt to commit 50,000 words of a novel to paper, erm, keyboard, in a month. This was about the middle of September, and I spent most of the next six weeks in world building rather than in plotting out my novel. I had about a page of plot notes. I wrote the first draft .in a month. Then I had to edit it

  1. What writers do you admire? What are you currently reading?
    For sci fi writers, my biggest influence is probably Robert A. Heinlein. I've ready pretty much everything he's written. I'm also a big Isaac Asimov fan. Octavia Butler, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Samuel Delany, Cordwainer Smith are also favorites of mine.
  1. How do you pick character names?
    Mostly rather randomly, but for the Novels of Aleyne I started using a Persian/Farsi/Arabic name generator and then modifying the names. I wanted names that were a bit exotic but not unpronouncable, and these ended up fitting the bill. I also “borrowed” and modified the names of some of my foreign-born co-workers.
4. How long have you been writing?
I've written poetry since High School, and I've been writing with an eye to publication since around 2005.

5-7: no answers
  1. What are you working on now?
Edits for the fourth Aleyne novel and finishing up the first draft of another.

  1. Have you self-published anything? What was your experience like?
    I wrote a book of persona poems, “Sand in the Desert,” to go with the first Aleyne novel, “Relocated,” and I self-published them. One of the reasons for that was that I'd dragged my feet about submitting them to a publisher and another was some difficulties with the publisher of a poetry anthology. I did all the formatting myself. I was going to do the cover as well, but the layout, color choices, etc, turned out to be more time consuming than I'd bargained for, and I ended up having a friend do it. I did, however, have a pretty good idea of what I wanted the cover to look like. I also self-published the print edition of “Relocated,” and I hired someone to do the cover.
10.Do you have an agent and/or publisher? How did you find them?
No agent, but I do have two publishers I'm working with now , one ebook publisher for the science fiction novels and another small-press publisher for the chapter book (print) that's due out later this year. As to how I 'met' them, it was through an online writers conference.

11.Have you sold your work at book fairs or conventions? What kind of experience did you have?

No, I haven't, but if I were ever lucky and rich enough, I would.

12.What's the one piece of advice that has helped you, and where did you get it? What advice would you give a beginning writer?

13.If you had it to do over again, would you have started writing sooner?
I wish I could say I would, but in truth, I probably wouldn't. The biggest thing hotlding me back from writing seriously was the notion (mine) that I c ould and that I wanted to. I started writing poetry, and without the nudge that Linda Barnet Johnson gave me, I doubt I ever would have.

14.What are some review remarks that stick in your head?

Nothing much sticks in my head. That's one of the reasons I write :-).

15.Which do you find hardest: coming up with a story idea, writing, revising, or marketing?

Marketing. First of all, I don't know what to do, and second of all, when I do get some notions, I get all tangled up in how to go about it. I'd much rather be writing.

16.Are you a plotter or a pantser or a hybrid of the two?

I'm a hybrid. I almost always have the main characters, the setting, the dramatic concept, the start, finish, first plot point, and most major plot points after that. I may or may not have a rough idea of the scenes from the beginning to the first plot point. But I can' t plot in detail for the simple reason that I may not solid grasp of what the whole book is about until I'm done writing it. Some things are only revealed to me as I write them. For example, in “Broken Bonds,” I knew how I wanted the ( spoiler here) treason trial of the main character to come out, but I had no idea how it was going to come about until I wrote it.
17.What are the hardest kinds of scenes for you to write? Romantic? Sex? The death of a character? Fight scenes? Others?

Fight scenes. I have to go look up what's supposed to happen, say by reading a real account of a fight similar to the one I'm trying to write about.

18.What's your solution to writers' block?
Write something else or go do housework or go walk my dogs. I find something fairly mindless – like raking leaves, washing dishes, or ironing, will result in my concentrating on the task, freeing up some part of my brain to figure out the story.

19.How much time do you spend on research for your writing?

That depends on what it is and how much I don't know about it. When I wrote my chapter book I ended up doing a lot of research on fires, the effects of smoke inhalation, fire-related injuries, how fast a fire spreads, etc, etc, and then I ended up starting the story AFTER the fire itself.
20.Your character decides to go a different way than you planned. What do you do?

Go with it.

21.Have you ever used weather or setting as a character?

I have a partially-finished fantasy set in a future ice age that has setting as a character.

How far would you go to keep your love? 
When Major Brad Reynolds is assigned to head the Terran Federation base on planet Aleyne, the last thing he expects to find is love, and certainly not with one of the alien Aleyni. How can he keep his lover, in the face of political maneuvering and of Ardaval's feelings for his former partners -- and theirs for him?

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Born and raised in New York City, Margaret Fieland has lived in the Boston area since 1978.  She is an avid science fiction fan, and selected Robert A. Heinlein's “Farmer in the Sky” for her tenth birthday, now long past. In spite of earning her living as a computer software engineer, she turned to one of her sons to put up the first version of her website, a clear indication of the computer generation gap. Thanks to her father's relentless hounding, she can still recite the rules for pronoun agreement in both English and French. She can also write backwards and wiggle her ears. Her poems have appeared in journals such as Melusine, Front Range Review, and All Rights Reserved.  She is one of the Poetic Muselings. Their poetry anthology, Lifelines, was published by Inkspotter Publishing in November, 2011.  She is the author of  Relocated, Geek Games, and Broken Bonds,  published by MuseItUp Publishing, and of Sand in the Desert, a collection of science fiction persona poems.  A chapter book and another science fiction novel are due out later this year.