Lately, I’ve been writing quite a bit about the 2016 July short story challenge, a writing challenge where the objective was to write a short story every day in July 2016. I’ve written a bit more about the July short story challenge over at the Pegasus Pulp blog – and yes, it is absolutely possible to do this.
One of the most interesting effects of doing something like the July short story challenge is that it get the stewpot of your subconscious working overtime and acts like a pressure cooker for your creativity. This becomes particularly apparent later in the challenge, when all the “easy ideas” have been used up, but you still have to produce a story, so your mind starts to combine all sorts of different influences in new and fascinating ways.
I’d like to illustrate how this works, using Bullet Holes, a science fiction story in the In Love and War series, as an example:
When you’re trying to write 31 short stories in as many days, you need to use writing prompts to spark ideas. I used all sorts of prompts for the July short story challenge, but one method that usually got results for me was using images as prompts. So among other sources, I perused io9‘s list of concept art writing prompts. I looked through the images and if one sparked an idea, I’d start writing.
This is the fairly straightforward version of the idea generation process. See image, start writing. However, sometimes an image would also sink into a great stewpot of my subconscious and spark an idea further down the line. This is what happened in the case of Bullet Holes.
The story was written fairly late in the challenge. It was July, a hot night and even hotter day, and I was trying to fall asleep. But the heat made it difficult and so I drifted in and out of sleep, while my mind was hard at work combining story ideas.
Now I had been writing a short story per day for almost a month at this point, so my brain was in story generation mode anyway. What is more, two of the stories I had written plus one I set aside (which later became Graveyard Shift) had been in the same series, the In Love and War space opera/science fiction romance series, so Anjali and Mikhail were also pretty close to the surface of my mind.
The 2016 Hugo votes also happened to be due by July 31, so I did part of my Hugo reading during the challenge period and had in fact just filled out my Hugo ballot. And while I was drifting in and out of sleep, my mind was fishing for story ideas, mentally reviewing the concept art writing prompts again and also thinking about the Hugo nominees and the way I’d ranked them.
For some reason, I found myself thinking about one particular story, Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds, a nominee in the novella category. At the start of that story, the protagonist is tortured with a so-called “slow bullet”, a projectile/data chip which slowly bores its way through her body. Now the “slow bullet” idea isn’t exactly new – I’ve come three variations in the past year or so – and the novella eventually went off into a completely different direction. Nor was Slow Bullets the top-ranked story on my novella ballot – I think I ranked it at number 3. Nonetheless, the opening scene stuck with me and so I found myself thinking about it, while drifting in and out of sleep.
Meanwhile, my mind in its infinite wisdom dug up an image I had seen among io9‘s concept art writing prompts, namely this one of a very dodgy Cyberpunk clinic/treatment room. Once again, this image did not speak to me immediately. In fact I initially dismissed with “Uhm, nope, next one please” after a quick glance. I didn’t even bookmark the image and had to hunt it down again. Nonetheless, my brain remembered it and combined it with the smart bullets from the Alastair Reynolds story and came up with an idea about someone hit in the leg with a smart bullet that was slowly boring its way towards their heart. And the only hope to remove the bullet lay in a dodgy backalley cyber-clinic.
While I was drifting in and out of sleep, my mind mused over the idea and eventually it hit me that this would make a great In Love and War story. Once I had that realisation, I was instantly a lot more awake. I worked over the idea, while lying awake in bed, and came up with a basic plot. Then I got up, switched on the air-conditioning (because I needed to work, damn it), sat down at my computer and wrote the story pretty much straight through with only a handful breaks to make tea and eventually lunch (because writing always makes me hungry).
Bullet Holes is the fourth story in the In Love and War series to date (you can get all four at a reduced price in this neat bundle available exclusively at DriveThruFiction, by the way) and the second to feature Anjali and Mikhail having adventures as an established couple.
In addition to Anjali and Mikhail as well as the new characters Draco and Sladjana Dragovich (Sladjana was named for a teacher colleague of mine, by the way), we also meet (well, hear, since he only appears as a voice in Mikhail’s ear) Colonel Brian Mayhew of the Republican Special Commando Forces, Mikhail’s former commander and mentor, again, who also appears in Dreaming of the Stars and Graveyard Shift.
When I first came up with the idea for what would eventually become the In Love and War series, Mayhew was something of a one-note villain, an SF-nal version of the doggedly relentless pursuer so common in “troubled difter solves problem of the week and moves on” TV-shows such as The Fugitive, The Pretender and the 1970s version of The Incredible Hulk (and indeed, such TV-shows were an influence on the In Love and War series).
However, as I wrote more stories in the In Love and War series, something odd happened, namely Brian Mayhew flat out refused to cooperate and made it very clear that he did not want to be a one-note villain or even a villain at all. And so Mayhew became an a lot more complex character, which thoroughly messed up some of my plans, but also made the overall storyline so much better.
The version of Brian Mayhew seen or rather heard in Bullet Holes is about as close to my original conception of the character, as he is likely to get. Because in Bullet Holes, he needed to be a fairly one-note villain, though even here it becomes noticeable that Mayhew isn’t entirely happy with all the things he’s forced to do in the name of the Republic.
But enough blathering about the writing process. Let’s get to the story itself (yes, this is a new release announcement, albeit one with a little bit of extra added) and follow Mikhail and Anjali onto the streets of the rim world of Varishka, as they deal with some very lethal…
Now Anjali and Mikhail are trying to eke out a living on the independent worlds of the galactic rim, while attempting to stay under the radar of those pursuing them.
When a seemingly routine courier job turns out to be a trap, Anjali is hit by a so-called smart bullet, a Republican weapon that slowly and inevitably kills its victims. Mikhail is given a choice by his former commander Brian Mayhew: Surrender or watch the woman he loves die in excruciating pain.
It is a choice between two equally horrifying fates. But maybe, there is a third option…
Length: 6200 words
List price: 0.99 USD, EUR or GBP
Buy it at Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon Germany, Amazon France, Amazon Netherlands, Amazon Spain, Amazon Italy, Amazon Canada, Amazon Australia, Amazon Brazil, Amazon Japan, Amazon India, Amazon Mexico, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Apple iTunes, Scribd, Smashwords, Inktera, txtr, Thalia, Weltbild, Hugendubel, Buecher.de, DriveThruFiction, OmniLit/AllRomance e-books, Casa del Libro, e-Sentral, 24symbols and XinXii.