Basement of the Universe, the first 500 words

Nathan Bransford, an agent for Curtis Brown Ltd., is insanely running a contest for writers. Submit your first 500 words and he’ll… Well, his blog entry doesn’t exactly spell out whether he’ll critique each one or what, but the finalists win some pretty nifty – for writers – prizes, including a query critique, partial critique, and so on.

When I last checked, he had 649 comments, mostly entries. I feel sorry for the guy. 🙂

Because I’m insane, I entered.

And, because my first 500 words are now showing up on the Internet, I figured I might as well put those same first 500 words here, too. So you can read them. And hopefully not weep, but rather enjoy them. I hope…

Feel free to comment. Tell me what you like, tell me what you don’t, tell me what does or does not work for you.

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Basement of the Universe (science fiction) by L. M. Ashton

She was gone. He stared at the empty kitchen where Tracy had stood not a minute before.  Alarms on and unbreached, doors and windows still locked, and no sign of how she might have left.

Peter’s heart sank as he wondered with panic what had happened to her.

Just five minutes ago, they were drinking their morning coffee in the bright kitchen, Tracy still in her nightgown.

 ***

He yelled back at her. “What do you want to do in the evening? Game for some black market stuff?” His coat pocket yielded nothing but an old candy wrapper. He muttered under his breath, cursed those elusive keys, then checked the pockets in the pants he wore yesterday. “Not here, either. Hey, Trace, what do you want to do?” he repeated, a little bit louder. He glanced over the crowded dresser top with Trace’s arsenal of beauty products. No keys.

“Tracy?” He reached into the pockets of the pants he wore, and found his keys in the right pocket. “Ah, here all the time.” He walked back into the kitchen.

“Tracy? Where are you?” Nothing. “Tracy, this is no time for painting.” He walked into her studio, a tiny room crammed with her painting paraphernalia and easel. The huge windows had been an incentive, at least for Tracy, for them to get the apartment. Not for the view – it looked over the soot-stained city walls on the bare, pock-marked terrain outside – but Tracy had been adamant that the lighting was absolutely perfect for her work.

“Tracy?” He felt uneasy. The apartment was so small that there was no way she couldn’t hear him or he’d miss her. He went quickly through the bedroom, the kitchen, living room, and bathroom again. No Tracy.

He checked the doors. Still bolted on the inside. The windows were closed as well, not that she’d jump from a second-story apartment on to the crowded streets, but where else could she have gone? He felt his mind race around like a cat gone crazy trying to unravel a ball of string. No, no, she couldn’t have disappeared like the others. He couldn’t believe it.

He raced back into the kitchen, half-hoping that perhaps she was playing a joke on him and would spring out from some hidey-hole that he’d missed. But no, even her coffee mug was gone.

He checked the bedroom again, thinking she could be lying unconscious behind the bed. At this point, he would have taken even that rather than Tracy just disappearing. His heart hammered away like a race-horse galloping towards the winning post and his brain felt as if it was trying to claw its way through thick sticky mush. The world crawled to a black standstill while his thoughts went round and round, shying away from the one possibility that remained.

His mind finally capitulated. There was no explanation but the one he didn’t want to think about. His heart sank.

She was gone. Disappeared. Just like the others.

More On Writing and Writers

And here’s what I pasted on the top of what I meant to bold:

Khara enlists the help of her best friend, Aliye, and Aliye’s boyfriend, Helki in attempting to contact the space ship anyway.

The pilot, Nichol, receives the signal and confers with Logor.

I was working on the plot outline for another novel, not Black Light, which I have been working on more or less the last couple of months. As in Black Light is the novel I’ve been working on for the last few months, not the other novel. No, this one is tentatively titled “Placidia” – at least until I come up with a better working title. I was working on the plot outline.

I sometimes write very confused, rabidly confused sentences. I wonder if that’s a sign of how confused my brian is?

Placidia is the first novel I wrote. It’s not done. It needs a fair bit of work. I knew that at the time, but at the time, I didn’t know what to do with it.

Well, let me rephrase. I finished the first draft, and I called it finished because I wrote everything I could think of at the time, but I knew that there were problems with it. I knew it needed serious editing. I knew I’d need to add a bunch more stuff, but at the time? No, I didn’t know what, and I’d had enough of it, and whatever. So I called it done.

Well, I did, after all, write all the major plot points at the time and write it all the way to the end.

The end, as it’s written now, will be scrapped. It’s gonna die a bloody little death. It’s gonna be destroyed. Erased. Deleted. As if it never existed. Battle cry, ho! Existentialists, unite and take over!!!!

Ahem.

Ah, but now we have Fahim and his handy dandy little program he’s writing for me, aka Amanuensis. And that’s making it a lot easier for me to sort out bits and pieces of a novel, sort out plot outline, figure out the order things should happen in, you know. That sort of thing. I’m using Amanuensis for Black Light as well and it’s helped alot – despite the crashes. It’s buggy and Fahim’s taken a break from it so he could let his unconscious figure out what to do to fix it, and he’s got part of it figured out as a result. But not enough that I can work with a bugless program. So I suffer. At the moment.

Meanwhile, and Back at the Ranch, and other meaningless cliches later, I figured that, since I’m nearing completion of Black Light, I figured I needed to work on plotting another novel, and I just decided that it’s time to work on this one again.

I knew way back when that it had plot holes the size of a semi truck and lacked certain other, uh, elements. But you know what? That’s what a first draft of a first novel is for. To learn on. To do everything crappy so you can figure out how to do it better.

Anyway, I plugged Placidia into Amanuensis and I started working on plotting, and this novel is my next one. I’m gonna fix the sucker and fill in all the holes so it reads real nice and everything.

I still don’t know exactly what to fill the holes with. But I guess that’s what brainstorming is all about. Well, and organizing, and sorting, and . . . You got it, baby.

Ack. I’ll figure it out.

The other thing is this. When I get bored of writing one novel, I can switch to writing the other. Fahim? Fahim? Put that down. Fahim. Put that down now. No, no, stop! STOP!!!! DON’T

Placidia the novel – First Draft is DONE!!!!!

I have a novel I’ve been working on and off for the last three or three and a half years, and this morning, I finished my first draft. (Laurie does the snoopy dance.) It was hard work. It was frustrating. I gave up on it three times for six months to a year or so at a time. I was blocked and felt like my story was going no where. Well, I finally became unblocked again last week and finished the damn thing.

For me, this first novel (there will be others following it) was a learning process – the time for me to learn what works for me in writing a novel and what doesn’t. I learned that I was blocked because where I thought the novel was going next didn’t make sense for the characters and culture in my novel. Once I figured out a plot line that was logical for these people, it started to flow again. So that’s a lesson for me. When I’m blocked, I need to rethink the plot. Other times that I’ve been blocked, it’s been because I needed to do more research, or get my characters settled in my head, or . . . Well, you get the idea.

I could also tell you that my novel at present only has about 1/3 to 1/2 the content it will have when it’s done because it’s missing sub plots and a lot of detail & description. That’s okay, too. That can go in on second draft. First draft for me is about getting the damn story down. Fill in the blanks later. My sister insisted on reading my first draft, what I had, last week, and didn’t much like it – missing too many holes, didn’t make sense, she said. Well, of course not. It’s only first draft. It doesn’t matter right now. It has inconsistencies until I figure out exactly where it’s going in the end. Which I’ve just done. So, you see, it doesn’t matter that it sorta sucks now. Of course it does. Who cares? I can fix it later.

And maybe the story really isn’t salvageable. Well, I can always take out a couple of chapters or whatever and fill them in with something better later. Or rethink the direction I want it to go in, or rethink the characters. The important thing right now is to keep writing and learn about my writing process and what works for me and what doesn’t. Don’t worry about the polished piece until much later.

Laurie (who has also never finished anything ever before in her life and is so stinkin’ proud of herself)