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Sunflowers on Steroids

Here’s a short story for your spring, now that we see the flowers growing like they’re on steroids – and they are, of course – for a flash fiction challenge about invasive species – a topic I’ve talked about before….

 

Invasive Sunflowers.

 

Always said them scientists would mess everythin’ up, playin’ round with Creation like they was God.

The environmental beatniks said it too, course, but they said all kind of whatnot, like the weather was changin’, that we didn’t listen much to them guys. Joel McCallum, though, he reads the scientific papers, and he said they reckoned the canola plants’d be the ones that did it, them being so common and close to weeds anyway. He said the genetically modified canola would mix with the field mustard plants, and lead to a superweed that nothin’ could get rid of. The idea of sunflowers takin’ over like they was on steroids, well, we none of us predicted that.

What we never saw comin’, either, was losing our land to the federal government after trying so hard to keep independent from them assholes in DC.

We bought the land fair and square, set up our town ten years beforehand. We were self-sufficient by then, hundred per cent, and all set for the apocalypse, should it decide to turn up. We never did think it’d turn out this way.

It was the federal government’s fault, though, too. Always knew that would be true. They were the ones invited that crazy sonbitch to plant those damn sunflower plants out our way. Gave him permission to use federal land we used to graze cattle off, not twenty miles from town. Well, we didn’t think no sunflowers’d stand the shallow soil there. No depth at all, after the dustbowl years took it clean away. Even the grass dried up when it didn’t rain in late spring. We didn’t think the plants would stand up in the wind, first time we went out there and they told us what it was they were growin’.

Joel tried to explain what they’d done to the sunflowers – struck in some genes from a creeper, a vine of some sort that was supposed to only change the roots from the deep taproots sunflowers supposed to grow, into wide spreading roots that’d keep the plants upright and get them enough water from what rains came. They’d spread the seeds out farther than normal to compensate. Well, Joel didn’t know what way they’d messed up – whether they’d put in the wrong piece of string or if the gene did more jobs than just make roots of one sort or the other, but mess up they did, good and well. Plants grew up stringy and creeping; stretched along the ground, covering the empty patches between plants till it was just a sea of green, with all trace of the rows they’d been planted in gone. The flowers were small, but each plant had four or five ‘stead of one. We was amazed that first year. The scientists just took notes. They harvested some, but with the way the plants were all higgledy-piggledy, they missed half the seed heads.

Course, we didn’t like to let the food go to waste. We was self-sufficient, but it’s a sin to waste such bounty as the Lord places before you. We planted some in our own plots – and planned to keep plantin’ it, till we realised it didn’t need no plantin’. The wind came through one night, the way it does, and the seeds flew everywhere on it. Next year, it was everywhere. It invaded the wheat fields, covered the town. It was kinda pretty at first. We used the oil for our trucks, couple of years. But we soon saw it was gettin’ serious when it covered the forest floors, started cloggin’ the creek, and broke half the corn plants before they got to cobbin’. It wrapped around everything – I mean everything – like vines, like morning glory, or that Japanese knotweed and them other invasive species they’re always goin’ on about. These creepers blocked out the light from every other plant, till there were was nothin’ else we could grow.

Well, we thought we could at least use the oil to cut and burn it out, but eventually, much as it galled us to do it, we had to ask the federal government for help. It was their problem, all said and done.

They came, in helicopters, since the roads were practically overgrown by then. One fella told Joel they was comin’ anyhow, whether we asked them or not. Their scientists told them to shut down the whole operation – and more. They was goin’ to move us – would’ve paid us to up and move sticks someplace else. But what we asked for help, they just took us out, told us to gather up our belonging, and make damn sure it was all clean of vegetative material, they called it.

We did as was asked – we weren’t no fools, wishing this upon everyone, or anyone else. That would be a sin not even God might forgive. Besides, we weren’t ready for this kind of apocalypse. Nor were we ready for any kind of reckonin’ without our land, our shelters, our supplies.

When they took us up in the helicopters, we saw them start the firebombin’ straight off. That shit smelt like the end of the world. No wonder them Vietnamese hated us, using that shit on them. I asked the pilot how much they was going to burn. Five thousand square miles, he told me. Hell of a lot of Napalm man. Of course, we had some Napalm ourselves, just in case. When I saw the town explode, I thought, well, there’s an end to it. We might not survive the next apocalypse, but at least we helped the world avoid this one.

That’s what I thought. That’s what we all thought, true as the Lord is lookin’ down on me.

Thing about sunflowers, though, even these crazy ass ones, was the seeds were real tasty. The kids in town used to go round all day, biting on them and spitting out the shells. Well, how can you put the blame on the shoulders of a little kid, not eight year old, instead of the scientist that made them seeds? She meant t’ eat them, of course, and all would’ve been well. But when she saw the explosion from all the stuff we’d in storage, well, she jumped so high she near enough fell out of the damn chopper herself. Only natural the bag slipped out her hand.

 

 

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how to write a novel in a year

 

This guy Chuck Wendig gives great advice. As someone who is trying to transmogrify into a full-time writer,, with the publication of my debut novel Leaving the Pack, I know that it’s hard to fit any actual writing into the few hours I have between when my wife leaves for work and I have to go collect our child from the crèche. Cooking food and cleaning up after lunch saps time, and as for cleaning the house properly, I consider myself defeated. Television watching used to be something we did together. Now one watches to wind down after a day job while the other writes despite being tired, too.

Nevertheless, when it comes to getting a novel written I don’t know if this particular piece of advice is hugely necessary, despite the fact that it does, indeed energise potential writers to actually become a writer, by writing. It might get someone to see that the novel is not an unscaleable mountain, but at the same time, if someone really wants to write, they’ll get their few hundred words done at some stage during the day. They’ll decide not to go for that walk on a Saturday morning, to tap away while their spouse has an afternoon nap on Sunday, type up the notes they wrote on the bus that morning while the family is watching nonsense television.

Writing is a hobby for most of us, before it becomes a job. At least it was for me. There was no pressure to write. It was a pleasure. There were off days, of course, and many moments of wondering whether there was any point in wasting time writing (yes, I said that) my substandard stuff when I could be reading good stuff instead. Writing is a bastard hobby for taking time away from other cool hobbies. How much easier is it to watch good TV and keep up with the facebook commentary.

But I kept being drawn back to it, kept plugging away and writing thousand words here, five hundred words there, expanding notes scribbled while on a park bench. I looked forward to airplane rides and long layovers just so I could be alone with my writing pad and my computer. Three hours in an airport lounge was bliss.

For me the real pain in the arse was sending out submissions. That was an activity I had to force myself to do, had to have a completely free morning to get done. The rejections came in after two weeks or three months, some a standard PFO and some pleasantly encouraging. They still come in, but there are more of them, now that I have decided to try become a full time writer, I spend more time sending out stuff.

But I never stopped writing stuff. In the twenty or so years I’ve been an adult, I’ve finished five novels, a long play and a sitcom. OK, so two of the novels are short – 30k kids book which is for just the wrong age for everybody though they love it, and a 60k YA book that nearly got accepted until the editor changed companies and the replacement wasn’t as interested. I will self publish these eventually if I don’t see anyone wanting them, because I just discovered that the sending out submissions forever is no longer necessary. Definitely drawering these is not an option I need to consider.

I was unaware that self-publishing had become so easy until after I eventually found my first contract. It’s ironic in one sense, but I had never considered self-publishing at all before, because I didn’t want to just put out something that was shite. I wrote for a hobby. If my story was bad, then so be it. I might berate myself for wasting time I could have used to read, but I didn’t need to worry about having a ton of books in my spare room that even friends were embarrassed to have on their bookshelves. I needed someone in the business to tell me my work was worth publishing. Now that someone has (way to go Tirgearr Publishing!) I can more confidently put out other stuff that is not quite to their, or other publishers’ specifications. I suppose that’s the problem with writing for a hobby, for oneself instead of writing “what people want to read”: you’re left with a few novels that aren’t seen as very sellable. But how many great novels were in that category, until they weren’t? Now that it’s possibly no longer just a hobby, though, I’m totally writing what people want to read!

 

 

 

Terribleminds Penmonkey Evaluations

So Chuck Wendig at Terribleminds is asking for our answers to the following questions about writing strengths and advice. These are my answers, posted on his blog.

 

a) What’s your greatest strength / skill in terms of writing/storytelling?

I think my greatest strength is writing dialogue that seems natural (to me), and is usually funny, too.

 

b) What’s your greatest weakness in writing/storytelling? What gives you the most trouble?

I usually write too much and crowd the scene, but I am too reluctant to cut, so at best it gets a trim and is probably still too cluttered.

 

c) How many books or other projects have you actually finished? What did you do with them?

I have finished 5 books, one long play and 6 ½-hour episodes of a sitcom that someone once suggest I try writing.  The first book I ever wrote is now going to be published by Tirgearr publishing. The second I have submitted at the moment. The next two are a young adult and children’s stories that I have sent to traditional publishers and am running out of places to submit to, the third adult’s book I left for a few years but have gotten around to sending it out recently…. The sitcom just got rejected by RTE (Irish TV) and the play is in the hands of the National Theatre of Ireland at the Abbey, so we’ll see if they like it or not in a couple of months…

 

d) Best writing advice you’ve ever been given? (i.e. really helped you)

 

An editor at a place I sent Leaving the Pack to a few years ago suggested I start the story at the beginning of the character’s relationship, not in the middle and use flashback to tell how they got together. I took the advice and it seems to have been useful!

 

e) Worst writing advice you’ve ever been given? (i.e. didn’t help at all, may have hurt)

 

I haven’t been given much advice either way, but I was told as a teenager to stop wasting my time writing. No need to name names there..

 

f) One piece of advice you’d give other writers?

 

Sure, if your first novel is getting bounced back at you, go ahead and start your second, but keep giving that first one the odd throw now and then. It’ll help you keep editing it, keep refining it, and someday it might hit the right place.