Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Writing Wednesday: NaNoWriMo

I only got halfway in the NaNoWriMo challenge and finished with 25,000 words. I blame it on two things.

First the weather, for the entire month of November right up until Thanksgiving it was sunny with temperatures between 50 and 75. It’s hard to sit in my office and write when it is so nice outside.

Second, I put the first chapter of my novel THE SETTING EARTH on Scribophile, a site where you can get your work critiqued by other writers and I got some really great critiques.

So even though I fell short of my goal for NaNoWriMo, I had a great month and really got the first chapter of my other novel in great shape.

Here it is after I made the changes that 5 people suggested:

The Setting Earth
Chapter 1: The Arrival

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference,” Sam thought as his left hand gripped the small pistol in his pocket aimed at his lover.

He forced himself to look at his right hand, his thumb poised over the button that would decide the fate of all humanity. Both fates would bring an end to civilization as he knew it. One fate would destroy all human poverty and suffering along with the struggles and redemptions that all humans must go through, the other would destroy all human life. He didn’t know if his action, or inaction, would bring on which fate.

He had to choose who he should trust. Should he trust the woman who despised everything his world stood for and who lied to him since he met her, or should he trust the government of Earth that had manipulated him and the rest of the population since birth?

It wasn’t a position he ever planned on being in. A month ago he was just a mid-level engineer, for Christ’s Sake.


One month earlier:

“Into the lion’s den.” Sam took a deep breath as he approached the group of off-world engineers in the cafeteria, watching their reactions as he made his way over to their table. Ganymede engineers hated everything about Earth and all Earthers. They felt they were superior to the planet their ancestors had come from. He had prepared himself for this moment during his 6-week journey from Earth to Solar System’s largest asteroid, Ceres.

If it were up to him, he would avoid the deviant engineers like the plague. Taught from childhood to avoid exposure to unorthodox views, he was sure he could resist contamination. His palms sweated. “I will not react to their jibes, we have to work together.”

Taking his mind off the problem of how to deal with people Sam concentrated on an unexpected physics problem. Under the low gravity of Ceres he only weighed 5 pounds, but he still had his full 150 pounds of mass pushing him forward towards the Engineers’ table. He barely managed to get his feet in the right position so he could slide the last five feet to gently bump into the table to stop his momentum. The five engineers stopped their conversation to stare up at the man who bumped into their table.

“Come join us,” a gray bearded engineer said enthusiastically. “We are talking about the project. I’m sure you have some unique thoughts on it.”

“Okay.” Sam had assumed it would be difficult to break into their social circle. It appeared he assumed wrong, he wondered what other assumptions he had made were wrong.

“I’m Mark by the way. I work on the targeting system.” The gray bearded engineer introduced himself. “You’re the new engineer from Earth I assume.”

“Sam.” He tried to lower his tray onto the table and dropped his arms faster than the tray fell in the low gravity. It slowly drifted downward until he caught it again. “How’d you guess?”

“It’s the walk,” Mark told him. “It takes Earthers a while to adjust to being two kilos. You can’t really learn to walk properly in the cramped quarters of a spaceship, and the engineer coveralls were a dead give away. So how long have you been on Ceres?”

“Just arrived this morning,” he said, maneuvering to slowly sit down. The low gravity wasn’t helping him with this so after a long half second he grabbed the chair and pulled himself into it. While dealing with the low gravity he made sure to put on his best poker face to avoid showing his fear that if his mission was unsuccessful he would be a man without a planet. He would never be welcome back on Earth, assuming there was an Earth to go back to.

“Come to spy on our project?” one of the younger male engineers asked grinning.

Before he could respond a female engineer, who looked to be roughly Sam’s age, mid 30s, but he knew she probably grew up in the low gravity of Jupiter’s largest moon Ganymede and he had no idea if that affected the aging process, replied. “Of course he is John, but I for one have nothing to hide.”

“You don’t hide much from anyone, do you Emma?” Mark joked.

“I don’t have anything to be embarrassed about, unlike you,” Emma shot back then turned to Sam, “Let me show you something else low gravity does, other than make it hard for Earthers to walk.”

She lifted her shirt and let her breasts flop out. She jiggled for a split second then remained perfectly still. Without Earth’s strong gravity pulling them down they continued to dance, jiggling around like they had a mind of their own.

“Put those away.” The remaining male engineer laughed when he saw the expression of shock on Sam’s face. “You’re embarrassing our new friend.”

Sam instinctively looked around for the authorities that would stop this sort of lewd public display. Back on Earth few women would be bold enough not to wear a suppressing bra that tried to hide their femininity. Here the women wandered around in the thinnest shirts, proudly putting themselves on display. The idea of a woman flashing a complete stranger was unheard of, and probably illegal, back on Earth.

“Oh, sorry about that,” Emma told him pulling her shirt back down. “I didn’t mean to make you blush.”

“I… was just surprised.” Even as he felt his cheeks burning as the blood rushed into them, he was oddly grateful. Her immoral display had turned the conversation away from whether he was a spy or not. He would hate to have his cover blown in the first five minutes of his mission.

“I guess what they say about Earth is true then?” the youngest female engineer asked.

“What’s that?” Sam asked.

“That you guys have stopped having sex.” She smiled.

“Oh we still have it,” Sam told the girl who looked barely old enough to be out of high school. “We just don’t do it on the cafeteria table.”

“So how do you improve your technique if you don’t have a panel of judges grading you?” she asked with a straight face.

Sam had heard the stories about how the off-worlders were promiscuous but that seemed extreme. He opened his mouth to say something but no words came out.

“Dude, you totally believed me, didn’t you?” she asked starting a round of laughter at the table.

“I’m sorry,” she said when she regained her composure. “I didn’t mean to pick on you. It’s just we’ve all heard the stories about Earthers and I wanted to test to see if they were true.”

“Stories?” Sam had to ask.

“You know, that woman try to look like men in public, and that sex for purposes other than reproduction is outlawed,” she said.

It was Sam’s turn to laugh. “I’m not sure how you could enforce a law like that. It’s true that we consider it a virtue to wait until marriage to have sex, but even that isn’t followed by everyone. There are many people who would like to have sex for reasons other than procreation outlawed, but most people understand you can’t enforce that type of thing. As far as our fashions, we don’t live in a climate controlled environment like you guys so our fashions tend to be more utilitarian than just for fashion sake.”

“I also wanted to do a twist on the old space corridor legend,” she told him.

“Legend?” Sam asked.

“Supposedly at Selene University, on the Moon, an Earther biologist substituted for the regular Professor,” she explained. “He was comfortable talking about how sperm contained acids, fructose and enzymes and stuff but no salt, which made the sixteen year old girl from Ganymede in the front row ask, ‘Then how come it tastes so salty?’ The Earther professor turned red and had to leave the room.”

The entire table laughed except Sam.

“How’s that funny?” He really couldn’t see why they would find someone’s normal reaction to a girl’s improper behavior funny.

“The biologist got embarrassed about…” She started and looked at Sam’s blank expression. “He couldn’t answer a question about a normal part of life…something people do everyday…”

“Maria, if you do that everyday,” Mark joked, “I’ll stop by tonight.”

“I didn’t mean I do it every day,” she told him. “Not recently anyway. I said people in general.”

“Let’s stop picking on poor Sam,” Emma told the group turning to look at him. “You have to forgive us. We don’t come into much contact with Earthers. Most of the Earthers that come off world are either like them…” She nodded towards the group of laborers that had been on the ship with Sam. They were at their own table praying before their meal. “Or them…” She nodded towards the group of accountants still in business suits going over numbers while they ate.

“All the Earthers I’ve met either want to convert me, or feel that they need to know why I used four sheets of toilet paper to wipe instead of three,” she continued. “You’re the first one who has joined us. Us… heathens, I believe we’re called.”

“Well, that’s cause he’s a spy.” John laughed at his own joke.

“And he’ll learn all about our super secret fashion techniques,” Emma shot back. Sam was grateful she veered the conversation away from his being a spy again.

“Actually, I’m about as sick of those guys as you are,” Sam said quietly so the other tables couldn’t hear. “I spent over a month on board the ship with both groups listening to how my bowel movements were part of God’s plan and having the other group record everything that happened in the bathroom so they could judge to see how it compared with the average. I mean I’m religious and cost conscious and all, but they take it too far. Even for Earth standards.

“It’s good to talk about anything else.” Sam was a little surprised at the feeling of relief he got from stating something that would be considered unorthodox and have him viewed with suspicion back on Earth.

“How did you do?” Maria asked him after a moment of silence at the table.

“How’d I do what?” Sam was baffled.

“How did your bathroom scores rank against everyone else?” Maria grinned.

“It took a little practice but towards the end I think I beat out the competition.” Sam grinned, “I’m expecting a trophy when I get back home.”

“I think you’ll fit in just fine,” Emma told him after laughing at his joke. “You’re going to be working on the Diverter with us, right?”

“That’s why I’m here,” Sam said, grateful for the change in subject.

“Good, I’ll have your assignments laid out for you after lunch,” she told him.

“You’re the project manager?” Sam’s jaw dropped.

“You’re surprised?” she asked.

“It’s just…” Sam paused to think of a tactful way to phrase his feelings.

“I’m sorry, like I said I haven’t met a lot of Earthers.” She stared into his eyes making it even harder for Sam to think. “I’m not up to date with your prejudices.”

“It’s not that.” Sam defended himself. “I’m not used to the boss flashing her… goofing around with the subordinates.”

“Why not?” Emma asked.

“Doesn’t it make it hard to be the boss later?” Sam asked.

“That’s right, I heard Earthers have a higher…a stacked…a pyramid type organizational structure,” Maria said. “They, I mean you, group people into classes to assign work projects.”

“I think you mean hierarchy,” Sam told her. “How else would you get things done?”

“I think you’ll be in for a surprise.” Emma gave him a captivating smile. “Our work structure is a little more relaxed out here. Speaking of that is everyone finished?”

After they all confirmed she said, “Well, let’s get back at it.”

Sam hopped up out of his seat and floated towards the 10-foot high ceiling and would have hit his head if he hadn’t put his arm out. When his feet were back on the ground, he looked at the engineers at the table expecting them to laugh at his mistake. Everyone except for the middle-aged engineer who had asked Emma to cover up earlier ignored his unexpected leap towards the ceiling and continued cleaning up their areas.

“What you have to do; is follow the three-point rule. Always keep three points of contact, that means using both your hands and feet. Hold the table like this…” He grabbed the table and stood up. “That will keep you from bouncing around the room.”

“Thanks,” Sam told him.

“No Problem.” The engineer offered his hand, “Phil by the way. If you’re wondering on how to adjust to life here, just ask me.”

“Thanks again.” Sam welcomed the support but he remembered the instructions he had been given before leaving Earth: Gain their trust but don’t lose sight of your mission.

On his way out of the cafeteria, Sam watched how the group of engineers “walked” with strange swaying shuffles. Sam tried to imitate it with some success until he got to the door. He aimed for the door but noticed he was veering too far to the right. To correct his trajectory he put his right foot forward but it seemed to slide effortlessly across the very rough floor and he bumped in to the doorframe.

He put his left foot back to try to regain his balance but it couldn’t find any traction and he felt himself slowly falling over. The process took over a second so he had more than enough time to prepare to hit the ground. Instinctively, he turned in midair and put out both arms to stop his fall and was surprised that one arm would have been enough.

He was stuck in a push-up position unsure if he should just push himself back up with his arms, or get onto his knees and get his feet under him like he would on Earth.

The question resolved itself when Phil held out his hand. With Phil’s help he was able easily right himself.

“Until you get used to our gravity, don’t be afraid to put your hand out to stop your momentum,” Phil told him. “Trust me, it’s damn hard to hurt yourself in this gravity.”

“Thanks,” was all Sam was able to mutter.

On the way to the work area, Sam took Phil’s advice and used his hands on the corridor walls often. He felt like a fool not being able to walk properly, but his new friends just ignored his bouncing around. Sam couldn’t help but fear that his obvious inability to conform with the rest of the group would catch the attention of the authorities like it would on Earth, but here everyone treated his not fitting in as normal.

All of Sam’s concerns about fitting in, his mission, everything except his love of an engineering challenge was ripped from his mind as soon as he entered the underground structure as big as a football stadium that was filled with the enormous machine he would be working on.

By Darrell B. Nelson author of Invasive Thoughts

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