June 2017 Status Update

          I’ve decided to change things a little this month. In the past I’ve gone through a lengthy update of where I was a month ago, what I accomplished in the previous month, the things on which I had made progress (and what progress that was), and what my next steps were for my writing. That’s really coming across pretty dry and way too detailed. So, moving forward I’ll just give a top level of where I’m at and what I’m doing.


          First off, I was absent from this blog for roughly six months. My bad. Completely. I’m working to guarantee that this does not happen again.

          Moving on from that obvious point, what’s going on with my writing:

  • Ablation is complete: The final segment of the story (part 7) will post on June 5th. For anyone who bore with me on this story during the long gap, thank you!
  • Two new horror stories underway: The first story is looking to be a true short story for once, coming in at 1-2 installments and likely 5,000 total words. That will post mid-June. The second story is looking to be 5 parts (~10,000 words) and should post late June into July.
  • Arcas nearing completion: Art is nearly done and I’m working on a few revisions, polishing the script.
  • Novelette by late 2017: I have a horror novelette, Calling Mr. Nelson Pugh, with final edits underway. My hope is to have it published by late 2017 and available as an e-book.
  • Short Story Horror Anthology: I am cementing plans for publishing an anthology of horror shorts. This would include material from this site (but having been vetted through additional edits), and previously unpublished material, with close to a 50/50 new to reprinted ratio. I am about 10,000 words shy of a 70,000 word minimum goal, which I foresee crossing by July. Edits will likely take six months to a year depending on availability of editors, and some additional connective tissue is being drafted. With that being the case, I expect a late 2018 publication.
  • Horror Novel underway: I am about 35,000 words into my first full length horror novel. It is too early to predict a completion date, but I am considering posting chapters to this site as I get further along. I would love to know if there is interest in reading it chapter by chapter as I push through the first draft. Feel free to sound off in the comments.
  • Co-written Sci-fi Comic: Finally I am also collaborating as a co-writer and creator for an additional science-fiction comic. My writing partner and I are in the early stages of this project, but I hope to have more updates soon.

          There is probably a little I missed, but that’s enough for now. If anything in there strikes your interest, chime in. I’d be happy to discuss. Bye for now.

          Happy Writing, All!

Ablation: Part 5

© Aleksandr Korchagin | Dreamstime.com – Shooting star in the sky

By Chris Hutton

          Talia sat before the terminal, her fingers hovering before the ‘enter’ key. One click and twenty-four years of messages would begin to unspool. She glanced at the black & white photo of her family before Launch Pad 73C, their fake smiles beaming out in false reassurances. Though she looked barely a day older than when that photo had been snapped, her husband and son would now bare little resemblance to their images, the smiling faces of the photo no more than ghosts of their past.

          She stopped and waved her hand before the screen. The play window slid away and Talia tapped open another app. Her image popped up, consuming the full screen, and a record button blinked transparent in the middle of the monitor. She air-tapped the button and a red light lit up the corner as she began her message.

          “Well, we’re here boys. We’ve landed and… it’s… let’s say Anima is not everything that we expected. I assume newscasts went out years ago, but we landed in the dark maybe ten kilometers from the twilight zone. Who knew Anima was tidally-locked, right? Our projections predict another six years of dark before Alpha Centauri B casts its light on our side of Anima, and that the light of a dim evening at best.”

          Talia froze up.

          “Recording stop.” The red light blinked out of existence. She gestured with her hand and a delete window popped up. Yes or No? She tapped yes.

          Her family deserved better than a rote ‘we landed and ‘they’ fucked up message.’ She had so much more to say than the flight went smooth, but the accommodations are subpar. She needed to tell them something of significance – something that mattered – anything that would make the lost years tolerable. Nothing came to mind.

          Instead she swiped over to the backlog of messages, and tapped the first one.

***


          “Hi, Talia.” Milton smiled into camera, the green of a park stretching out behind him and trees swaying in the distance. Milton reached off camera then hoisted Bernard into view. He beamed at her, no older than the day Talia had left, and dripping wet.

          “Say hi to mommy, buddy.”

          “Hi” he squeaked, then began to squirm until at last he pulled free from his dad’s grasp and ran offscreen.

          “As you can tell, he’s enjoying the fountain. We went to Riverside, after all. The weather’s good and he’s having fun. We miss you already.” Milton cast his eyes away in his usual I’m not saying everything diversion, then looked back to camera. “Thanks for the message this morning. It was a… lovely way to start the day.”

          His eyes began to water. “We love you, Talia. And we’re so proud of you. I just can’t tell you how much –”

          “– Daddy!” Bernard shouted from off camera.

          Milton rubbed at his eyes. “What buddy?” he screamed back.

          “Water! Water!”

          “Sorry, honey. Gotta go. We’ll talk soon!”

***


          The verdant greens cut to black, with bold white text at the center of the screen declaring: ‘237 Messages Remaining.’

          Why so few, Talia thought. Even at an even distribution that would be no more than ten messages a year. Of course, why should she have expected more? She left them behind to carry on without her. How painful were those messages to record? Were they all as hard for Milton as the first? What would it be for Bernard sending messages to a mother he couldn’t remember? In the end, Talia decided she had been lucky to receive as many messages as she had.

          Thinking to the years ahead, she knew any message that she sent now wouldn’t be returned for at least eight years. Logically she might as well pace out the messages from her family, giving something to which to look forward in the slow but brutal days ahead. Even so, she knew that wouldn’t happen. She’d binge the 237 remaining messages in two Earth days or less.

          The colonists had been using Earth as a metric as best as they could. With Anima tidally-locked days did not really exist. One planetary rotation took nearly one and a half Earth years, the same as one revolution around Alpha Centauri A, or one Anima year. And in that entire time, no true day would come to Enhet Basen. Alpha Centauri B would eventually create a twilight period, but for now that star’s orbit placed it in conjunction with Anima’s main star, leaving night impenetrable. The colonists would have to last six more years for a chance at twilight.

          Talia could not yet bring herself to tackle the problems that this existence created, so instead she plunged further into her messages. Locking her quarters she settled in, shutting out her fellow colonists until she had done what needed doing.


***


          By lunchtime the following “day,” Talia had noticed a disturbing trend. The messages began abundantly, with nearly fifty in the first year. They ranged from short clips like the first, to long monologues from Milton expounding on the minutiae of everyday life, to desperate rages as anger at their abandonment boiled over. Those last messages were usually followed by softer, somber apologies muddied by grief. The emotional turbulence tearing her family apart wracked Talia in guilt, but it was a different trend that threatened to snap Talia’s last, delicate sliver of hope. The messages were dwindling year over year. By two years in ninety-two of the two hundred and thirty-eight messages were done. After two more years worth of mail, only eighty-two messages remained. Her family sent fewer and fewer messages with each passing year.

          Talia forced herself to watch straight through, her anxiety mounting as each message finished, signaling one less contact with Milton and Bernard. With each communication she watched her son age, from the toddler that she remembered to a young child at his first day of school, to a boy of nearly nine. At that point, only eighteen messages remained; eighteen messages for over seventeen years of travel.

          Talia had stayed behind when the other colonists had left for one reason: a chance to still have a family, and yet, as best she could tell that family had given up on her long before she reached Anima.

          At the end of the second day of her binge, Talia had two messages remaining. With a sense of dread, she opened the penultimate recording from home. It had been sent not quite eight years after she left.


***


          Milton’s haggard eyes darted back and forth, unwilling to settle on any one point, set deep in sockets more hollow than Talia remembered. Those were accompanied by a new pair of crow’s feet clawing at their corners, but more disturbingly, Milton’s eyes lacked the typical shield of his glasses. As he glanced about, Talia could imagine his confusion, unable to rely on the crutch of cleaning those lenses in order to avoid direct confrontation.

          “Um…I don’t know,” he started, then stopped. He swallowed, and rubbed at the bags of his eyes. “Where do I start?”

          As he asked this last part, he glanced offscreen and paused. Talia could read his hesitance, but even more his deliberation. Talia had seen that look many times as Milton mulled over his words.

          Finally, he turned and looked directly into the camera. “I can’t do this anymore. We can’t do this, Talia.”

          His eyes shifted downward, and he bit at his lip. Almost instantly he shut his eyes, ashamed at his lapse. Talia understood. Milton didn’t want to face this truth any more than Talia did.

          His eyes back to camera, Milton plowed on.

          “We receive your messages almost twice a month – your ageless messages. Do you know how weird it is to hear from you over and over again in endless variations of the same theme, and you never aging, and always in that same uniform? Message to message only minutes have lapsed for you, while weeks and months leave us in the dust. For Bernard, he might as well be sending fan mail to a favorite television show, only it’s less than that. Your messages are like a familiar commercial, you the recurring spokesman. What connection…. No, still more… how do you think he can hold a connection with a mother that he knows so little?”

          Talia winced. She had seen this coming as the messages dwindled. The dread had been building over the past day, but she had hoped it would prove unfounded, no matter how little she had believed in that hope.

          “I understand this will be… beyond hard on you, but you can at least,” he said, then hesitated once more. “You can at least hear it all at once, rip it off like the proverbial bandage. For us, this dissolution has been dragged through years – years of carrying on the pretense that a relationship could survive this distance. I love you. Don’t get me wrong, but I can’t do this to our son.”

          Milton’s voice shook now, overcome. His eyes watered, but he would not let the tears flow. Not this time.

          “It’s not fair for either of us, for any of us, to live like this – to carry on increasingly separated through time. This isn’t an attack on you or me railing against your decision to leave once more. We’ve had those discussions, if you can call these messages that. My piece has been said time and again when it comes to that decision and there is no need to rehash that here. At this point, I’ve accepted that you had to leave. I’ve even managed to accept your departure for what it was for you, not as an abandonment of us.

          “But that being said, even acceptance does little to mend the rift created by your travel to your new home. Over sixteen years to go before you even hear from us, and in that time, we’ll receive some pleasantries, but not one shred of real conversation. Nothing shared. Hell, it will be twenty years before I can even hear from you in response to this so-called conversation. No, It’s just not tenable. That’s all there is to it. We have to stop pretending. We have to say goodbye.

          “There. I’ve done it. I’ve said my piece.”

          Milton paused one last time, again biting at his lip. Talia guessed that lacking lenses he had resorted to a new diversion. Still, where were his glasses?

          “Anyway,” he said, “that’s it. There’s only one thing left to say. We love you, Talia. Both of us in our own ways. Bernard didn’t know what to say, and I didn’t want to force it. So this it. Goodbye.”


***


          The screen cut to black, white text dominating the center of the screen.

          1 Message Remaining.

          Talia couldn’t do it. She pushed back from the monitor, unwilling to open the final message.




Back to Part 1

On to Part 6

Be Lenient

© Alexander Raths | Dreamstime.com – Vintage typewriter

By Chris Hutton


          You have a right to fail. Dwell on that for a minute. Sometimes as writers we forget that we will fail and that failure is okay. It is just one stop on a very long road.

          Now by failure I don’t mean that all writers are destined to the status of eternal starving artist, but that all writers will hit stumbling blocks. We will miss a deadline, lapse in our writing, or just write something plain awful.

          Expect this failure. Accept it, and take solace in knowing that you can find successes after the fall. If you expect perfection that’s just a sure way to never finish anything. Admittedly this is a superlative statement and thus somewhat questionable, but the essence boils down rather simply. Seeking perfection we will dwell too much on every detail and in so doing impede our momentum and our ability to move forward with a larger whole. The strain of that task shall become too great to bear.

          Take one of my favorite examples. In Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft he discusses writing his first novel, Carrie. At the time he started the novel he had been aiming to write a short story for submission into a men’s magazine. Very early on he decided to abandon the story altogether. It didn’t move him, he didn’t like the lead, he wasn’t writing what he knew, and he knew the story would be too long to be accepted for submission. In one sense you could say he had failed in his goal. He’d gone over the word count and found himself disliking the story that he was telling. That being the case, he literally threw the pages away. If his wife had not discovered the manuscript in the trash and encouraged him to finish it, if he had accepted it as a failure and left it behind, his first novel as we know it never would have come to be.1

          Looking at my own writing, when I push through the first draft of a story I can dwell on crafting the perfect sentence or I can push forward with the larger story. If I focus sentence by sentence I may have a few well-crafted lines at the end of the day, but my story will have barely progressed. This approach kills my momentum and I am likely to never reach the end of the story, the slow-pacing of focusing on the minutia dragging beyond the limit of my inspiration. If, however, I allow for imperfection, then I can push through that initial draft of the story, mapping out the overall movements, and fine-tuning sentences and editing in subsequent drafts. The short stories featured on my web site for instance are first draft stories. I push straight through not allowing myself the benefit of a second draft. I do this to meet the time constraints of weekly postings, but also to force myself to complete the stories rather than to hold on to them and fine-tune them over the course of years (which I would do without the promise of an imminent audience).

          Even if you do strive for perfection in a rewrite, you can once again find yourself stuck never finishing the rewrite process. There will always be more that you can do to perfect a story, but at some point you just have to call it finished.

          Again looking at King’s On Writing, he describes his own rewrite process and his limit on drafts, holding himself to a strict two drafts and a polish. Conversely, as King also mentions, Kurt Vonnegut rewrote every page of his novels until he had them perfected, sometimes only covering 1-2 pages a day.2 To each their own. No rule is universally applicable.

          In my own work, I first started my teleplay for Dream Walker in the fall of 2006. I continued tweaking that script through 2012. To this day, however, I could still return to that script, but factoring for diminishing returns at some point you have to move on.

          Natalie Goldberg described the art of writing as practice in her book, Writing Down the Bones. Here she detailed the story of how her writing students could set too high of expectations for themselves, deciding to “write the great American novel,” and not writing “a line since.”3 As she describes, setting that expectation of perfection, of greatness, writing becomes a “great disappointment,” and furthermore “that expectation would also keep you from writing”.4 If we refuse to bend, to accept our own failures, then every act of creation becomes too burdensome and impossibly Herculean.

          So next time you find yourself daunted by the prospect of perfection and your inevitable failure, remind yourself in the words of Natalie Goldberg “I am free to write the worst junk in the world”.5 It is extremely freeing, and you just might actually get something finished.

          Happy Writing, All!


1Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (New York: Scribner, 2000), p76-77.
2Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (New York: Scribner, 2000), p209.
3Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within (Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1986), p11.
4Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within (Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1986), p11.
5Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within (Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1986), p11.

Ablation: Part 4

© Aleksandr Korchagin | Dreamstime.com – Shooting star in the sky

By Chris Hutton

          “It’s more than disconcertment, Talia.” Milton’s bespectacled image froze in momentary lag, pixelating, buffering, then jumping into motion again. “Can you hear me?”

          “Yes. It’s a little better.”

          “How many economies did we pour into this ship, and it has crappier reception than our cabin?”

          “Well, it wasn’t really built for video conferencing, dear, as I’ve already said.”

          Milton nodded, and looked away, returning to his usual distraction – cleaning his glasses. “I know. Not much use for that feature after today.”

          “No, not much,” Talia nodded. She paused watching her husband clean his glasses for the last time. There was something familiar and comforting in it, yet deeply disheartening. Soon they would lose each other to time, and yet he couldn’t even look at her. “Keep that up and you’re going to scratch your lenses, Milton.”

          Milton stopped and turned a hesitant gaze to the camera. He bit at his lip, then cast his eyes about distractedly. They had talked nearly every day that Talia had been on Unity, and he knew every detail of the voyage ahead already. The final crew had boarded a week prior, necessary introductions had been made between the heads of each colonist group, and all systems had been prepped, checked, and rechecked. The final return capsules had departed and the ship’s engines had started, a slow, steady acceleration building that would one day carry his wife to a distant star: her new home.

          Talia drummed her fingers against the console, at the same loss as her husband. Everything to be said had been said; the same sentiments shared on a daily basis and even even recorded nearly 450 times in a litany of pre-recorded messages. There reached a point when all the tears had already flowed and all that remained was to move forward, no matter the pain that waited on that path.

          “All our years and it comes to this,” Talia started, breaking from her thoughts and vanquishing the silence. “This loss of words,” she continued. “I don’t even know what to say.”

          “I know.” Milton leaned back letting out a deep sigh. “I don’t think I can take another goodbye right now.” He signaled air quotes as he said goodbye. “Not one more of those conversations.”

          “Then let’s not. It’s just another day. Okay?”

          “Okay.”

          “So Bernard’s doing well?”

          “So, so. He misses you of course.” They both paused, hitting a road bump before the illusion even had a chance to take hold.

          “Yeah. I miss him, too.” Talia swallowed back the lump in her throat. The last capsule had returned she reminded herself. There could be no turning back. “Otherwise?”

          “We played hide-and-seek this morning. He keeps hiding behind the coat rack. Every time.”

          “As always.”

          “Yeah. I don’t think he quite grasps the finer points of the game, yet.”

          “Of course he does. You just don’t understand his rules.”

          “Well, there is that.” Milton plowed forward, picking up steam. “Then we read some books. I started him on Where the Sidewalk Ends. I think he likes the rhythm of it, but he’s –”

          “–Don’t say missing the finer points,” Talia interrupted.

          Milton stopped, breaking stride, then pulled off a weak recovery.

          “… not fully into that humor yet?”

          “Good enough.”

          “So I finished off with Where the Wild Things Are. He seemed content with that. Then some chase, some lunch, and bubbles in the yard. Now he’s napping.”

          “Oh.” Talia couldn’t hide her disappointment.

          “I tried to keep him up, I did, but he just couldn’t keep his eyes open. Do you want me to wake him?”

          “No. Yes, of course, but no. It feels like it would be too hurtful. We’ve had a pleasant goodbye. I’d rather remember our last call than wake him for a cranky and groggy farewell. What about tomorrow?”

          “I think I’ll take him to the park.”

          “Oh. Which one?”

          “I’m not sure,” Milton started, then stopped.

          A black-haired young man, no older than his mid thirties, intruded on the video conference nodding to Talia. He wore a finely pressed uniform, and everything about him, down to his short-cropped hair, was in its place. This was a man of order and orders.

          “Ma’am.”

          Talia nodded back, then returned to the screen. “I’m sorry, Milton. You remember Gustavo from the Brazilian delegation? Our cryo-engineer?”

          “Yes.” Milton raised an awkward wave in acknowledgement.

          “It appears all the preparations are set and I’m up. I have to go.” Talia hesitated, looking for the right words.

          “No more goodbyes, sweetheart.” Milton cast his eyes anywhere but at the camera.

          “Of course.” Talia swallowed and wet her lips. They cracked, and as she wiped at them her hand came back with a small streak of blood. She had nothing left in her, yet how did you end your final goodbye with the love of your life?

          “Try Riverside, tomorrow. They have a fountain for the kids if the weather’s nice. Bernard loves it.”

          “That’s good. I will.”

          “Have fun.”

          “Okay. Fly safe.” Milton’s voice wavered and Talia could see the tears forming. Yet before the flood began the screen went black.

          Communication Ended.

          Talia froze staring at those words, consumed by their finality. She had spoken directly with her husband for the last time, and yet the end came with such banal chatter, everything of consequence unuttered.

          “Dr. Ernst?”

          “Yes, Gustavo, I’m coming.”

          She flicked a switch, shutting down power to the terminal, and rose for her final voyage.


***


          “Dr. Ernst?”

          Talia stopped mid-stride, half in and half out of her quarters, and glanced at the owner of the gravel-laden voice. Small wrinkles webbed out from his eyes, and others creased from his nostrils to his lips. HIs jowls hung lower than before, and the jet black of his hair had turned a salt and pepper mix of gray and white, yet it remained short as ever, with everything in its place. At first she seemed to be staring at a stranger, then burned a flicker of recognition.

          “Gustavo? You stayed?”

          “Appears so. A quarter of a century manning the ship while you slept, ensuring you all woke, I just couldn’t accept it being for nothing – turning tail and running home. No, when I chose Amina I committed to it.”

          “And the rest of the wake shift?”

          “A mix. Many felt cheated and are looking to retire without struggle, but what is life but struggle? Personally I want to see the world my years bought.”

          “You’re one-of-kind.”

          “It’s a kind sentiment, if a little unearned. You stayed as well, and plenty others. A good three dozen or more from what I hear.”

          “Well, three dozen of a thousand. What’s that?”

          Gustavo glanced up to one corner, biting at his lip, then answered. “One of twenty-eight. Roughly.”

          “Doesn’t quite have the same ring, does it?”

          “No, ma’am. Not quite.”

          “Well, I’m glad to have you, nonetheless. And, there’s no need for ma’am anymore. You’re my senior now.”

          “Yes, ma’am.” Gustavo smiled. “It’s good to see you as well.” With that he nodded and began once more down the corridor. His leisurely pace and the fondness of his gaze spoke to a volume of experience so far beyond the young man Talia had known only a relative week prior. She barely recognized him. To what degree would that same passage of time have changed her own family? Would they be as equally unrecognizable?

          Talia had only one way to find out. When the morning had begun twenty-four years of messages had been downloading to her terminal. They had been downloading from the main drives since the moment she’d been assigned a station on Anima Day One. As she entered her quarters she could see the green light flashing. The download had completed.




Back to Part 1

On to Part 5

7 Lessons Learned

© Freerlaw | Dreamstime.com – Check list

 

By Chris Hutton

 

My multi-month absence now draws to a close. As mentioned last week, I am officially back.

You may have noticed that I have been transitioning into my usual activity for a while now. In mid-April my social channels returned with 1-2 posts a day across Facebook and Twitter regarding recent news in science-fiction and horror. The first week of May, my social channels resumed their usual speed, with a mix of science, sci-fi, and horror news, along with media recommendations on Tuesdays, comic releases on Wednesdays, sci-fi and horror movie releases on Fridays, a mix of additional topics, and the return of my Instagram account. The second week of May (last week), I announced that my blog was returning, and now as we enter the third week of May I present this, my first new blog on writing for 2017. Next week, I resume posting short fiction.

This staggered approach has been intentional. While I was away and my absence from this forum plagued me (which it did daily), I pondered the causes of my long absence and how to best resume without making it a Herculean task. This contemplation led me to the subsequent conclusions – the few lessons of my absence, which I would like to share. Each lesson is listed in brief here, but there is likely much more to be said. Rather than make this an incomprehensibly long post, I will give the Cliffs Notes today and share the longer version of each in the weeks ahead.

 

1) Be lenient.

You have a right to fail. And you will. Expecting perfection is a sure way to never finish anything.

 

2) Fall down. Get back up.

We all fall, but standing back up is key. Don’t just move on, but also learn from your mistakes to move forward all the stronger for each misstep.

 

3) Want to write? Read!

Novels. Comics. Scripts. Know your medium. and not just the rules, but what you like, and what you don’t like. Consume as much as possible.

 

4) Be consistent.

Set a plan and follow it. Marketing plans are a must. Consistency from week to week helps establish your brand. In doing this, however, be sure to provide your readers with expectations that you can meet. Otherwise stumbling is likely.

 

5) Have a plan, but not ironclad.

As mentioned plans are a must, from marketing to story outlines. At the same time, malleability is key. An ironclad plan is one more route to failure. It will break you, whereas a little flexibility allows you to bend and move forward without snapping.

 

6) Create a backlog.

Don’t want to stumble? Stop rushing to post when you’re not ready. If you have plenty to say, then you might as well write as much of it down now and generate a glut of content before moving forward. See my staggered approach in the opening of this entry. That staggering was intentional. It allowed me to generate a backlog while easing back to full speed. And by the way, backlog everything.

  • Social Media Posts
  • Blogs Entries
  • Short stories

Any content that can be pre-planned, do it. This post is a prime example. I drafted it on April 22nd.

 

7) Strike while the iron is hot.

You have an idea? Write it down. You’ve started that story. Finish it, now. The longer you wait to act, the less likely that idea or story will every be realized. I generated the plan for phasing back my writing presence on April 12th while getting ready in the morning. I immediately jotted down these seven notes before progressing with the day and had temped in April’s social media by the 14th, and begun in-depth social media for May and June by the 16th. Had I not done that, I doubt this post would be here or that my blog would be live again.

 

I can’t say how much anyone else will learn from this, but these lessons really are vital to me and my ability to successfully maintain a blog or any form of public, open writing. If you’re looking for tips to help with your writing endeavor, whatever it may be, I hope that you find these useful.

Either way, Happy Writing, All!

I’m Back…

By Chris Hutton

          My absence from this blog has been overly prolonged and for that I apologize. While admittedly, I created this blog for my own edification and as of yet only maintain a small readership, I had dedicated myself to this endeavor and I take that commitment seriously. Whether I have one reader or hundreds, each of you deserve consistency in the service (fiction) that I offer.

          That being said, originally I had intended to take merely a couple of weeks off while traveling with my family for the winter holidays. Unfortunately, a couple of weeks became a few months. When I returned in January my entire household had caught cold and in particular my illness persisted well into late March. Between illness and work, my writing had to take a backseat.

          That time has passed. I am happy to announce that my writing has resumed and that this blog shall be returning to a consistent update schedule for the foreseeable future. In order to ensure that this consistency is provided, I extended my absence while creating a two-month backlog of content to protect against any future unforeseen circumstances that might disrupt my writing.

          I hope that you enjoy the coming blogs, short fiction, and comic samples as much as I enjoyed creating them.

          Happy Writing, All!

Absence…

          UPDATE: Returning in May

          My blog will not be following its normal schedule for the next couple of weeks. I will be taking a short break over the holiday season, and while I will be finishing Ablation before December ends, I will not be posting my normal Friday blogs. The normal schedule will resume on January 6th, 2017. In the meantime, have a Happy New Year and a good holiday season!

          Also, enjoy this random picture of my cat, George, because I couldn’t think of anything else to place at the top of this post.

          Happy Writing, All!

Ablation: Part 3

© Aleksandr Korchagin | Dreamstime.com – Shooting star in the sky

By Chris Hutton

          Talia’s back arched and she could feel the air crushed from her lungs but she could say nothing. Her feet dangled lifelessly and she resigned, helpless to resist her assault as those arms pressed in squeezing her tight. They were stronger than they had any right to be, imbued with the strength of a decade of love, passion, and commitment.

          At last, Milton set her down, Talia’s only shock in that he hadn’t twirled her helpless through the air like a soldier embracing his love on the return from a tour of duty. Her husband dabbed at his eyes, attempted to speak, then choked back the words.

          “I understand, Milton. I do.” Talia dabbed her thumb against his tears. They locked eyes, both choked, but Talia fighting back the emotion as best as possible. She couldn’t cry in front of Milton. If she did, she didn’t know that she’d be able to go through with the mission.

          “My turn!” Bernard tugged at Milton’s pants.

          “What’s that?”

          “My turn! Hume!”

          “Hume? Okay, Bernard.” Milton bent down, embraced their two-year-old son, and lifted him up, hugging him tight. Talia turned away.

          Hume was Bernard’s word for hug me. Watching Milton with Bernard she could feel the emotional wall she had spent the better part of the past year building begin to crack. She had to focus on something else – anything else.

          A few feet away she saw the same scene playing out with another family. Beyond that an elderly woman embraced Sam Keeling, Mímir Group’s physician, surgeon, and linguist. From the look of it, obviously they were mother and son exchanging their final goodbyes. By the time Dr. Keeling and the other colonists arrived, his mother would likely be dead or senile. By the time a message could reach her, chances of the former would be far greater.

          “Mommy, hume!”

          Talia turned back to her family as Milton held out Bernard. She lifted her son from her husband and hugged the boy close.

          “Tank you,” he said, giggling the whole time.

          “You’re welcome, sweetie.”

          Milton broke into a wracking, full-chested sob.

          “Oh no.” Bernard twisted in his mother’s arms. “Why’s daddy sad?”

          “We have to say bye-bye, sweetie. Saying bye-bye can be sad.”

          “Don’t say bye-bye.”

          Milton and Talia exchanged a pained glance. Talia had known from the beginning how difficult this day would be, yet she had been unable to turn down the opportunity. It was historic, but more it was critically important. Humankind had talked for centuries of the need for a backup in case of an extinction level event. Since then they had colonized Mars and the rest of the solar system, yet those colonies still held a deep dependence on Earth and on luck. Man could survive unaided in those colonies, but a mechanical malfunction could easily destroy their fragile self-sufficiency. Anima, as the Global Coalition had named the target planet, offered real hope: a world on which humankind could survive even in the failure of technology – a breathable, habitable, Earth analog. To colonize it, to create that backup, required sacrifice.

          “We have to,” Milton said, hugging Talia again and squeezing Bernard between them. He laughed.

          “Again! Again!”

          Milton pressed close once more sending Bernard into another spasm of laughter. He squirmed and kicked as he squealed, then stretched out towards his father, pressing off from Talia with his feet. She knelt down, doing her best not to drop him, and minimizing the fall if she failed.

          “No, no, Bernard. This is mommy time.”

          “No. Daddy.”

          “Bernard,” Milton started now kneeling himself, “we spoke about today, remember?”

          “Mommy go work.”

          “That’s right. Mommy has to go to work.” Milton pried off his glasses and rubbed at them with his shirt. The lenses were already pristine and the act held no hope of fooling Talia.

          Bernard arched and kicked and finally Talia set him down. He ran straight to his father.

          “Bernard –”

          Talia interrupted. “It’s okay. He doesn’t understand.”

          Bernard lept around his daddy’s neck, strangling him with the desperation of his embrace. Milton pried his hands loose just enough that he could breathe and talk with some modicum of ease.

          “I can’t say I understand, either.”

          “Milton –”

          “I know, we’re not going to focus on that today. That’s not the last conversation I want to have.”

          “It won’t be the last. I’ll have a month docked on Unity while the various crews arrive and ample call time. Even after we depart you’ll both hear from me. I’ll be recording messages to be delivered in flight. Every birthday, holiday, anniversary, even some at random. You’ll be hearing from me.”

          “I know,” Milton said, still cleaning his glasses. “It’s just…” His voice wavered.

          “You’ll be hearing from me?”

          “Right. One way. Any messages we send…”

          “Won’t be answered for over twenty-eight years from now.”

          “Exactly.”

          Talia felt the crack. She wanted to stay. She had signed the contracts. She had accepted the salary and the training, and she had committed, yet she didn’t want to leave. For the first time in her life, she felt torn – ripped between her family and her life’s ambition.

          Still kneeling on the floor, she hugged her husband. There were no words to ease this situation.

          “I love you, Milton.”

          “I love you, too.”

          “And I love you, Bernard.”

          “Luv you.”

          “Okay.” Talia stood, brushing off her knees and cracking her back. “I think it’s time.”

          Milton nodded, rising with her.

          “Mommy?”

          “Yes, Bernard?”

          “Go home now?”

          Oh hell, she thought. He still doesn’t understand. And of course he didn’t. Bernard wouldn’t even remember her. As an adult his only recollection of his mother would be pre-recorded messages delivered while she slept through a twenty-four year flight.

          “Not yet,” she said, her voice cracking, and on the edge of tears herself.

          “Go playground?”

          “Sure, Bernard. Daddy can take you to the playground.”

          She looked to her husband, both saying their final farewells through their longing in their eyes. So much could be said without a single word.

          Haruka tapped her on the shoulder. “It’s time to go.”


***


          She left the rally point, Haruka at her side.

          “What now?” he asked. “Set up outposts in the twilight and start seeding?”

          “Well,” Talia said, “our oxygen reserves will last longer now, and with some conditioning we could acclimate to the atmosphere. We’ll need respirators for any outdoor work initially. Darshan and I had discussed ecopoiesis.”

          “Darshan?”

          “Dr. Vaidyar of Ogma group.”

          “Oh. Yes. I’d heard the two of you were close.”

          Close? she thought. That description seemed too easily attributed. They had been acquaintances, but only two people had ever penetrated her defenses, and they were light years away.

          “Yes, we were. Anyway, it would take generations for it to work.” She eyed Haruka. “I don’t think we have that.”

          In the distance, behind Haruka, she caught sight of two figures approaching from Group Nabu, although she could not make out who specifically was approaching.

          “Fall seven times, stand up eight.”

          “I appreciate the positive-thinking, Haruka, really I do,” Talia said as she exited the Terminus and re-entered Zhōngxīn, “but for now, I need to focus on the present. Let’s put seeding aside. The whole atmosphere is critically short on oxygen and our stores, even with the recyclers, are not infinite. We’ll have to focus on electrolysis in the short term. Do you know much about the printers?”

          “No,” he said. “Not my specialty, but I have a feeling we can find someone.” Haruka gestured forward encouraging Talia to look about the Hub.

          All around her pockets of colonists milled about the abandoned stalls, gathering in small groups. Talia estimated thirty colonists in the hub, and likely there were a scattering of other milling about in other portions of Enhet Basen.

          “Okay, so we have some colonists remaining. We still have to consider genetic diversity. Without rigid controls, we’re a dead colony in a few generations – long before seeding will have a significant impact on the atmosphere.”

          “Perhaps, but we need to plan for a future, Dr. Ernst.”

          “I understand, Haruka. I do. But right now I have more pressing matters. We can discuss later. I promise.”

          With that, Talia parted ways with her group leader and headed for Yedinstvo. She had downloaded her messages from Milton and Bernard before descending in the Unity landers, but she still had twenty years worth of messages left to which to listen and reply.

          Behind her the goat bleated its strange human-like cry, and Talia felt herself building an odd affinity towards the animal. She shared his pain. Did he leave a kid behind? A caretaker? What was it for a goat to be boarded on a colony vessel, placed into cryo-sleep, and awoke on a strange, foreign planet? Talia wondered how it compared with her own disconcertment. Of course, she’d never know; no more than she would ever truly know her own son.




Back to Part 1

On to Part 4

Ablation: Part 2

© Aleksandr Korchagin | Dreamstime.com – Shooting star in the sky

By Chris Hutton

          “Sounds like a fool’s errand to me.” Milton threw a log on the fire. The flames licked around the curves of the latest addition, embracing and consuming it, as the smoke filled the fireplace and climbed up and out through the flue, the whole setup yet one more of the many anachronisms that followed in Milton’s wake.

          Talia turned away from her personal screen setting her eyes on Milton. “The mission of our time. You understand that right?” She didn’t wait for him to answer. “The planet is in the habitable zone, an actual Goldilocks planet. Terrestrial. Potential oceans. This could be it – an Earth analog and its only one system away.”

          “So only 5 light years? Sign me up.”

          “4.37.”

          “I was in the ballpark. That counts for something, right?”

          “It would, if you weren’t so condescending about it. This is huge. How can you not see that?”

          “And the Global Coalition is only what, two years out from completing an interstellar colony ship? Good thing we found a prime target within her only remotely realistic range. Otherwise we might have wasted nearly a trillion dollars of the economy on that boondoggle.”

          Talia gritted her teeth, unwilling to have her excitement dampened by the cynicism of her husband. “Barnard’s Star is within range.”

          “Okay. Rephrase. Good thing, we found a prime target around the closest possible star.”

          “Technically, Proxima Centauri would be closer.”

          Milton stopped stoking the fire and set his face in his hands caught in an irrepressible silent laugh. “You just have to be right.”

          “I don’t have to be,” Talia said, smiling once more. “I just am.”

          “Of course you are.” Milton rose, crossed the gap between the fire and his wife, then leaned down and planted a kiss on her forehead. “You’re always right.”

          She shoved him away. “Don’t patronize me.”

          “Not my intention at all.” He took a seat beside her, stretching his hands towards the fire for warmth. “I didn’t mean to spoil the news. If the consensus is a habitable planet within our reach, that’s huge. That’s the New World huge.”

          Talia narrowed her eyes. “Why are you giving in so easily?”

          “I’m not. It’s a big day. Lots of good news. Distant planets. A great checkup. Everybody’s healthy. I just want to keep us on a positive note.”

          Talia eased up, cozying beside Milton. She set her head against his shoulder. “Fair enough.”

          “So, what do you say? Do we want to know the gender?”

          “Of course, I do. Come on, Milton. You know I hate surprises. You?”

          Milton pondered for a moment, Talia watching as he did. Always so lost in the past, he often overlooked modern convenience. As such Talia took his response as somewhat of a surprise.

          “Yes,” he decided. “I think I would like to know.”

          “Good,” she said, settling back against his shoulder. “It’s a boy.”

          Milton jerked back in surprise sending Talia tumbling from his shoulder. At the last minute, he reached out to catch her and they both spilled across the floor in front of the roaring fire.

          “Surprise,” she said.


***


          She laughed remembering Milton’s shock. How had he really thought she wouldn’t have found out the baby’s gender at the earliest possible moment? Why would she miss out on that?

          Talia scanned the empty room, the bed littered with the half unpacked contents of her suitcase. The black and white photograph of her family lay prominently on a heap of clothes. What am I thinking, she thought. I can’t miss this.

          And she couldn’t. Not really. That rocket was a once in a lifetime opportunity. If she missed it, she would have to live with that regret the rest of her life. She had to go. She had to go now.

          She dashed from the room empty-handed. There was no time to waste. She had wasted too much time already.

          Talia pivoted around the first corner, exiting Mímir Corridor, sliding across the metal floor paneling, and slamming into the far wall of Yedinstvo Kholl. A burst of pain bloomed in her shoulder, a firework flashing to life lighting up her nerves.

          “Son of a –”

          She righted herself, and sped off down the hall, stretching out her arm and testing the shoulder joint, but giving herself no break for a full examination. The clock had already started ticking.

          On cue the computer chimed out its warning. “Fifteen minutes until launch. All personnel should now be boarded. Repeat. Fifteen minutes until launch. All personnel should now be boarded.”

          Talia picked up pace, her footfalls echoing through the empty corridors. Up ahead she could see the opening from Yedinstvo onto Zhōngxīn, The Hub. Beyond that she’d find the entrance to the Terminus. Rally Point Mímir was four doors down that hall, and the launchpad one airlock beyond that.

          She bolted through the door into the vast expanse of The Hub, the former cargo bay of Unity, detached from the main ship in orbit. Now it stretched out, an empty square meant to be the thriving center of the colony, yet instead empty save for barren stalls and discarded cargo. Talia’s side ached, not used to the exertion, but she pressed on crossing the wide gulf of The Hub as swiftly as she could.

          As she had crossed half the expanse a scream rang out, piercing the echo chamber and reverberating from wall to wall in the cavernous common area. Talia tripped and rolled to a stop, slamming into a cast-off pallet. She grabbed at the new pain swelling in her back, as she hobbled to her feet and searched for the source of the scream.

          A goat bleated from a neighboring stall filled with grass and hay. Who the hell thought it was a good idea to bring livestock? The goat let out a third bleat, it’s eerily human-like wail causing Talia to shiver. There was no time to actually consider the answer. The goat was just one more incongruity in this grand theater of the absurd.

          Regaining her feet, Talia pushed on all the way to the doors onto the Terminus. They opened automatically upon her approach, revealing yet one more empty hall. One door down. Her side howled in agony and her breath came in heavy rasps. Two doors. Three doors. She couldn’t feel her legs and every step came as an act of absolute will.

          Four doors. She’d made it!


***


          “What do you mean you made it?” Milton shut his book and slid his feet from the ottoman by the fire. He was a smoker’s jacket short from a complete stereotype.

          “I’ve been selected for the Unity mission. I made it.”

          “Okay…” Milton ran his hands back through his hair. “So did you consider telling me that you had applied?”

          “No,” Talia said. “That would’ve been rather pointless. Unless I was selected it bore no impact upon us.”

          “But you were selected and that’s a huge impact, Talia.”

          Talia paced hurriedly, every step reverberating with the excitement and dread that battled within her. “Yes, but you know what this means to me. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, Milton. Hell, it’s more than that. Most lifetimes don’t even see an opportunity like this one on the horizon.”

          “I get it, I do,” Milton said, rising to his feet. “But Bernard just now has acclimated to his nanny. You’ve barely been back at work and I’m on track for tenure. We’d what have to up and move to Florida for training?”

          “No. Final launch to Unity is in Florida. I was selected for training at the Kagoshima facility. Part of the international effort and all.”

          “Japan? We’d have to move to Japan? I don’t know anything about Japanese history.”

          “You don’t have to, Milton. The Global Coalition has agreed to cover all of our living expenses for duration of training. This is the biggest endeavor in human history, Milton. All of human history.”

          “Well, way to cut to the core.” Milton traced his hand across his shelves of books, collecting dust on his fingers as he did. “Fine. I get it. I’m in. We’ll go to Kagoshira –”

          “Kagoshima,” Talia interrupted.

          “There, too,” Milton continued. “We can do both. It will give Bernard culture. Plus I’ve always wondered what it would be to be a stay-at-home dad. Might as well give it a whirl.”

          Talia leaned in and kissed Milton. This time as they embraced, Talia felt all of the passion and all of the magic that she had imagined but found lacking in their first kiss, as if falling in love with Milton for the first time all over again. At last she broke away.

          “You’ll love, Japan. We all will.”

          “Of course. I’d follow you anywhere. I guess I just never saw anywhere including a distant star.”

          Talia stopped, her excitement crashing to a halt. This had been the moment that she had dreaded. Milton had never paid attention to the stars or to the minutia of the news around humankind’s ambitions there. He always missed the important details.

          “Milton,” she said, “you don’t understand. I made it. I was selected for Unity. Not us.”


***


          Talia leaned against the window ledge looking out from Rally Point Mímir. She had made it. From this vantage, she could watch the rocket on its ascent and witness the final departure of her fellow colonists back to Earth. Of course at the moment she could see very little – only the constant dark of the tidally locked planet. How the scientists in charge had missed that feature she could only guess, but in the end Milton had been right, much as it frustrated her. The planet selection had been hastened to justify the expenditures already spent on the ship. The data had not been properly vetted.

          As Unity had approached the Alpha Centauri system it had surely sent new data back to Earth, and somewhere in that twenty-four year voyage, specifically somewhere within the first sixteen years of that voyage, the ship had sent back data on the planet’s orbital and rotational synchronicity, because the administrators in the Global Coalition had been able to reprogram the Unity landers to descend into the twilight zone on the eastern terminator, a data package that could have taken up to 4.37 years to reach the ship. Talia guessed that the error was caught near the end of that limited range, because that program too had been rushed, and the code hadn’t sent the landers into the twilight zone at all. Instead, Unity’s landers had descended ten kilometers into the dark.

          Beyond the glass of the rally point’s window numerous lights flickered as the ascent vehicle’s engines flared to life. Talia could hear the roar and see the smoke billowing as the flames poured out from the thrusters. In that sudden burst of light she could make out a distant range of mountains, a lake, and even a small river – features that had yet to be explored by the colonists; explorations that they had abandoned.

          As the rocket arced across the sky and vanished among the stars, Talia relaxed against the ledge and took in her surroundings. Another colonist leaned against a far window, watching as she had been. For a moment she held out hope that it would be Darshan, but she had no such luck. She squinted for a clearer view and realized it was Haruka waiting at that far window, unwilling to leave a member of his team behind.

          She felt some regret at that, if her absence from boarding had in fact played a part in his decision to stay, but she also felt a sense of hope. If she was still here, and Haruka was still here, perhaps other colonists were watching at other rally points as well. Maybe, just maybe, Enhet Basen still had the start of a colony after all.

          Even so, they weren’t family. Not yet. She only had one family and she had left them behind. Would they ever know that her decision to stay had been made on their behalf? Had she boarded that ship, any hope of hearing from Milton or her son again would have died upon launch. That was not a mistake that she planned to make twice.




Back to Part 1

On to Part 3

December 2016 Status Update

By Chris Hutton

          And on to status update number 3. This time I’m going to attempt a little more brevity.


THEN:

          Last month I built up my content.

    I had:

  • Drafted two new blogs posts
  • Finished my science-fiction short story, Inflow
  • Started and finished my horror story, Last Call.
  • Started my horror story, In Memoriam
  • Began releasing samples of my upcoming comic, Arcas
    I had also expanded my efforts in social media:

  • Joining Hootsuite and Manageflitter for aspects of social media management


NOW:

          Since last month, I’ve completed a few new items:

          So overall, I finished one story that I intended to finish, expanded my toolset for social media management, wrote two new blog posts, and expanded my presence on Scriggler. However, I failed to resume work on my spec script, did not finalize my partnership contract, and did not finish a second story (though In Memoriam was longer than usual) or a third blog post. As for the other items on which I intended to work…


PROGRESS:

          …well let’s jump into that.

Metrics for my author’s platform:

Facebook

  • My official page had a moderate gain of 26 followers for an audience of 156
  • My Arcas page held steady with a gain of one like for a total audience of 18 persons

Twitter

  • Gained 956 followers for a total audience of 1989 followers

Instagram

  • Gained 18 followers for an audience of 147

Scriggler Profile

  • Gained 12 followers for a total of 17
  • My stories have received 5165 views on Scriggler, with three posts surpassing 1,000 views

My blog

  • Has been visited by 393 unique users
  • Has had 1,130 pageviews

          I hit my goals with my twitter and Scriggler, but fell short on all other platforms. I’m still counting this as a win.


My Writing:

  • Finished part one of an original science fiction short story, Ablation
  • Am moving forward with my partnership contract
  • Began pages on a 3rd graphic novel script
  • Am pushing forward with Arcas promotion, releasing samples via my blog:

          That being said, I generally met my goals for writing specific to my website, but have yet to resume work on some of my offline projects.


NEXT STEPS:

          So let’s keep on rolling…

          I’m going to continue my twitter focus and aim to grow the audience of my author’s platform, while pushing out new original content for my blog, and somehow finding time to continue work on my non-blog posted writing (so the same as last month’s goals).

          In total, I aim to:

  • Increase my twitter audience by at least 50%, but will push to double it
  • Increase my Facebook and Instagram audiences by 25% each
  • Increase my Scriggler audience by 50%
  • Find ways to increase audience engagement on my blog
  • Finish writing Ablation
  • Draft at least two new short stories from scratch
  • Write at least 2 new blog posts on writing
  • Resume work on my next graphic novel script
  • Continue my work on my 3rd graphic novel
  • Resume work on my first horror novel
  • Continue compiling my horror short stories into a potential collection

          Despite not meeting all of my goals last month, I continue to feel ambitious


          Happy Writing, All!

As opposed to the many other Chris Hutton's… including that other writer…