Doing things my own way. As usual.

Distraction is my biggest challenge. Putting hands to keyboard away from NON-writing distractions takes a monumental amount of effort.  Once I’m started, inertia keeps me going, but starting can be harder than getting the car engine to turn over at 40º below zero.

“Try writing exercises,” say All The Experts.  “Prime that creativity pump!”

“Nope,” says contrarian me. My creative pump doesn’t need priming, it needs control. Exercises divert me.  If I start doing them, I work on them to the exclusion of all other writing. Tasks like character interviews, random story prompts, and plot-starters get my mind moving, but I have to file them under the same mental header as alphabetizing my spice rack.  Sure, the result will be pretty, but is it really a good use of my time?

I mean, I don’t use the spices in alphabetical order, I prefer grouping spices & herbs I use together, and I like having the ones I use most in front, so why bother? Same question applies to wording. Should I spend time practicing on exercises or on actual writing?

Five-minute free association writing is the only type of exercise that works for me, and even then, I have to pretend someone else will read it.

This summer I’m doing pieces twice a week on words provided by friends. I post them to my other blog space, Sometimes I Do Other Things. Here’s the post from earlier this week, just for jollies:


July 24. The word is incandescent.

I might have a thing for four-syllable words. They have a beat that appeals. I mean, one can say “lighted from within by heat” with a lot of words. Alit. Glowing. Shining. Fiery.  I could keep going without a thesaurus, but my POINT is that I like the four-syllable version of it best of bestest.

In-can-DES-cent. You could dance to it. Tossing that word into a sentence with a lot of short, brisk nouns really changes the flow and …erm…brightens it up.

The “it’s on fire” implication pleases me too. I am a fan of fire. When I was a camp cook, we did all our meals over open fires, so that meant three to four fires a day (s’mores!) six days a week for ten weeks. Rain or shine, all outdoors. We had a backup pit in the tin-roof dining shelter, but I only remember using it four times in four years. Three times were in one memorably soggy summer.

The rest of the time we made that cook fire roar hard enough to scare off puny raindrops. It wasn’t just for food either. Typically we boiled about 20 gallons of water per meal for washing and semi-sterilize all the dishes too.  (Bleach was also our friend. Better/healthy living through chemistry.)

ANYway. The best part was lighting the first fire of the day. We had a little ritual for banking a fire to be safe overnight. No dousing with water the Girls Scout way, because this was a working pit, not a campfire. We banked it like pioneers, burning it down to nothing,  burying any hot coals safe beneath a heavy layer of cool ash and clinkers at the bottom, then covering the pit with the spark grate.

Our side goal was to go as many days as possible without lighting a match. Kinda like those safety signs. “It has been (X) days since we last resorted to using modern tools.”

Imagine kneeling in the dew of the early morning to dig through smoky dust while still sleepy-eyed and pre-caffeinated, until at last you find one tiny coal withering to nothing at the touch of damp air. Your only tools are sassafras twigs, the power of your lungs, and the skill of your hands. Careful, gentle, as delicate as can be, you breathe life back into that coal until fire leaps free again, newborn and hungry for fuel.

I felt as powerful as any goddess, I swear. Incandescent indeed.


Word provided by Sue Sherman

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If I Wrote A Bestseller…

If I wanted to write a story with broad appeal,  I would build characters from a shortlist of comfortable archetypes,  introduce them with defining backstory snapshots stapled to the text like operating instructions, and launch them into a familiar plot template front-loaded with action. I would trim the extra word weight out of every scene with the dedication of an ultralight backpacker cutting off toothbrush handles.

I could make my prose a hungry verb-driven creature ready to compete with the best soundbite journalism. If someone wants to pay me upfront to do that, I will. Seriously. Want me to write a thing? Give me the monies up front, set me a deadline, I will write a thing.

Left on my own,  I would rather explore the muddy ditches and swampy wilds of wording and see what I dig up there. I like to wander, to ponder, to chip ideas out of other ideas, and to  ravel up thready patterns of letters and sounds, ideas and emotions into narratives. When I do that long enough, magic sneaks up to nip at my creation, and the bits and pieces sparkle to life.

And hey, I’m on my own. So. Dirty excavations, rocky prose carving, and tapestry-story weaving it shall be. That’s all I have to say about that.

Real slang for an imaginary world

My fantasy world characters toss around a lot of jargon and slang specific to their reality.I love constructing their everyday lingo. I do thousands of hours of language and historical research and write thousands of words in background notes before I settle on the words and phrases my characters use to describe made-up events, issues, and concepts.

And then I don’t explain any of it. Why do I let readers flounder  if I’ve gone to the trouble of constructing origin stories for my slang?  In a word: cruelty. (just kidding!)

I do it because these words are as normal for the characters as TV or cool would be to us. No one I know wastes time explaining how cool means good, or that TV is short for TeleVision. Conversations full of concepts like  rollover and acronyms like DPS can be overwhelming, but they also make the actions and interactions feel real.

I do provide as much context as a scene allows, and I’m not above using the New Guy trope to shoehorn a little background into the narrative. I draw the line at sacrificing flow and rhythm to hammer raw data onto the page.

This is a blog, not a story, so have at it. Here be some slang terms and their straight-up definitions. Like any glossary it’s self referential. Entries use words that are in other entries. Enjoy. And if you have words you think someone in Rough Passages would use, lay ’em on me in the comments.

  • Arsenal: a combat-trained squad of bangers
  • Banger: anyone with a dramatic destructive power. R’s and P’s in the higher power tiers, telekinetics with
  • Burnouts: those who develop powers at puberty rather than middle-age. Few live past 20. Those who do are usually bangers and often end up in law enforcement “special needs” units.
  • Carnie: a rollover with major physical manifestations. See also: geek, pistol.
  • Cherry bomb: female burnout
  • Crow: female middle-aged rollover with threatening powers
  • Dip: from DPS, the abbreviation for Department of Public Safety, the federal bureaucracy responsble for R-factor testing, education, and all other rollover-related issues.
  • Dollie: female rollover with innocuous or attractive powers
  • Early-Onset: the official term for pubescent rollover
  • Flare: a power surge that accompanies a rollover exercising their abilities. Invisible to the eyes of nulls, but an auroral glow can be seen by some rollover types and appears on some visual recording media.
  • Joe/Little Joe:  male rollover with superhuman powers but otherwise normal appearance.
  • Midlife Monsters: obsolete nickname for USMC Mercury Battalion
  • Monster Buff:  fan of all things rollover-related. Many buffs keep extensive lists of rollover variant types they’ve ID’d “in the wild.” They scour public record information for likely rare variants and share data with other buffs. Clubs meet to swap sighting information, plan sighting trips, discuss the faults of the designation system and argue over validity of each others’ IDs.
  • Monster Marines
  • Null: someone with no powers/someone whose R-factor blood test is negative for rollover potential.
  • Pigeon: middle-aged or older female DPS employee.
  • Pistol: someone whose rollover power is more like a disability, likely to suicide
  • Poz: from positive. Someone who tests positive for the blood factor that proves them vulnerable to rollover.
  • Punk: rollover with human appearance and minor powers
  • Pyro: pyrokinetics and anyone else with rollover powers that cause booms
  • Rollover: a metamorphosis that hits some middle-aged people and leaves them with superpowers and/or dramatic physical changes.
  • Roll cool/Roll hot:  Hot rollovers develop their full active abilities in minutes or hours. For the first few years after the phenomenon began occurring, hot rollovers were the only kind anyone knew existed. In recent years cool, slow rollovers are becoming more numerous.
  • Rouster: military personnel charged with assisting the DPS in policing the powered population.
  • Series: official ability designation. First letter indicates primary disruption type, scaled 1-0 with 1 indicating the highest power manifestation, sub-categorized by additional letters within each series.
  • Slag: an insult term for particularly animalistic carnies.
  • Teke: Telekinetic
  • Torpedo: militarized water elemental or anyone with.
  • Whistle bait: 
  • Willie-Pete: a pyro who loses control and self-immolates.