Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Short Happy Life of Clint Essentials

I've decided to move my writing efforts back over to my main website,, for a variety of reasons, the two most prominent being:
  1. I've found Blogger to be a fairly lame publishing platform in contrast to Wordpress.
  2. I want to pool my scattered writing efforts into one place so that they're easier to keep track of, and easier to maintain.
So, for the handful of you that have been following along on this site, thanks for reading! If you want to see what I'm up to currently, you can head on over to to read the latest stuff.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Sledgehammer = Adventure

Sledgehammer was this past weekend, and wow, what an exhausting but fantastic marathon of collaborative writing.

In true Williams fashion, our team ran the clock right up to within seconds of the deadline (we dived through the door and turned in our story roughly 15 seconds before midnight), but for once, it wasn't all my fault. I swear! Stop giving me that look.

Our final submission was an interesting collection of compromises. Not a masterpiece of creative fiction by any stretch, but at least a generally coherent draft of a story. I'll link to it below for those who want to read it.

Anyhow, the product of our writing was not the most valuable thing I got out of my participation in this event. It was actually the process itself that I enjoyed most. I had a blast. There were some rough points along the way, of course -- fatigue, disagreeements, and obnoxiously loud coffee houses. But on the balance, it was a great learning and growing experience, and a fun time getting to write and meet all kinds of new people. And those rough points made for some of the funnier and more memorable parts of the weekend.

My friend Vinnie Kinsella has posted a much more thorough account of our weekend adventures over at his blog. If you're curious to know more about the event format or about how our weekend unfolded, he provides a great play-by-play breakdown. And our story itself, "News Face", is posted on the Sledgehammer website.

In sum: good times, great people, crazy deadlines. I've decided that Sledgehammer is not about perfectly architected and polished manuscripts. It's about writing with adrenaline. It's like Hood to Coast for author types. I’ve already marked it down on my writing event map for next year, and I'm looking forward to the memorable stories that will emerge from that team. (Oh, and whatever story we write and turn in, too.)

Friday, July 31, 2009

S4C: At the Finish Line

Well, that's a wrap folks! Thanks for reading!

I've really had a blast this month writing Novak's Last Theory, and I hope you enjoyed following along. A (roughly) six thousand word short story is not very long in the grand scheme, but it was a big challenge for me with my current schedule, and I feel a sense of exhiliration to have actually completed it.

I think the S4C structure is well balanced. The 500 word limit on each installment combined with the range of writing between 9 and 12 total installments provides just the right combination of rigidity and flexibility. I shot for telling the story in 9 parts, and ended up needing all 12. So that turned out to be a good approach.

The 500 word limit... was both a dear friend, and a hated enemy. It worked great as motivation to get started ("I can do that!"), and then made finishing very difficult ("Now what do I cut?"). Overall though, a great format to force creative solutions. I found that I had to use very economic storytelling gestures to come across within that little space.

Anyhow, I could ramble on further, but it's enough to repeat that I had a great time, and I'm thankful to all of you that took the time to read the story. Knowing I had an audience was very motivating.

Next up, Sledgehammer!

Novak's Last Theory, Part 12: A Sea Without Shores

I stare at the newcomer in confusion. He's a broad-shouldered man with swarthy skin, dressed like the boy. "Who –?"

He steps forward and reaches out his hand. "Come, Nwovock," he says, in a deep voice.

Recognition comes to me. "Look at you. You're all grown up."

He smiles widely, face framed with dark matted locks. I slip my hand into his, but I'm too weak to stand. He kneels down and easily scoops me up in his arms. I feel like a child as he carries me.

I look back at an odd scene. A badly burned man is laying on the floor. Matiba, kneeling next to him, removes a compress from the man's forehead, and gently closes the fixed and staring eyes. Mori is there too. She folds the man's hands over his chest and lowers her head. Her cheeks are wet. Always crying, that girl.

I turn to see where we're going. Something like a sea of light is ahead, overwhelmingly bright. I have to squint. My eyes hurt, but I feel a sense of anticipation that I can't explain. So this is really dying. So strange, these firings of the brain.

The man is already wading in the liquid light up to his waist. He nods to me, leans over, and lowers me in. As the light closes over me I have to shut my eyes. It's then that I realize I've forgotten the count. How novel to not know what day it is. Brighter and brighter. Everything seems to dissolve in the light.


The sun is so bright, hanging low over the hill behind our house. I shade my eyes to see Jess standing under the tree at the top, silhouetted in a long dress. Our daughters are at her elbows. They spot me down in the garden.

"Daddy's home! Daddy's home!" They come running down the hill. Jess strolls after them, waving her hat over her head.

I'm gripped with anxiety. It's the dream again. Have I only reset the loop after all? Is this the same choice that I make every time?

I kneel down and throw my arms out wide, expecting to hear the alarms at any moment. I can't bear the thought. They're almost here. Hurry girls! Hurry!

And suddenly they're in my arms. I'm hugging them and trembling. Kissing the tops of their heads. Their hair smells like grass. Their laughing voices are talking over each other. Leah asks me why I'm crying. I look up to see Jess, just reaching us.

"Arik," she says, beaming. "Welcome home."

I stand up and pull her into my arms.

I'm home. Home.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Novak's Last Theory, Part 11: Out of the Loop

I wake in my stasis bed, with the dome still closed. Not what I expected. I open it using the internal controls and sit up, yanking the IV out of my arm. The ship is still in foldspace – things are shifting and blurring with a pulsing rhythm. I haven't endured this since the academy... I can feel the dizziness and nausea already setting in as I pull on my jumpsuit.

I stumble to a terminal and bring up the fold drive status. Several indicators are already climbing past normal limits. I initiate a premature drop out of foldspace. That will take a couple minutes to process, and I can't wait. I'm staggering off down the hall, swimming through the liquid facets as fast as I can go. Halfway to the engine room I drop to my knees, retching.

Things start to coalesce, then snap back into focus. We've dropped out of fold. I get back up and run. When I get to the engine room, it looks like I've rarely seen it: functioning. I check a control panel and see that the indicators are still rising though – the drive isn't shutting down properly. It's cascading toward critical. I key in the emergency termination. No response.

So this is it. I rush to the fold control chamber and enter the lock. No time to put on a suit. The outer door closes behind me. My hand hovers over the inner control. Faces flash through my mind... I open the door and step in.

The room is awash with a blue glow. I have just seconds to pull the fuel rods. I open the panels; enter the override codes; reach in and twist the handles into release position. With the fold drive still cycling, this is going to be bad. I shut my eyes and do it by feel. As I pull the first rod, I'm engulfed in a hot cloud of gaseous uranium-hexafluoride and hard ultraviolet. My skin is burning. By the time I've got the third rod out, the fail-safe cutoff has triggered and the engine is powering down.

I stumble for the lock... and barely make it out of the chamber before I collapse. I've done it.

The crew should be up by now, and headed this way. Mori appears first, running to my side.

"Hold on, Captain – Matiba's getting a medkit." She bites her lip.

I look up at her face. "Hey... didn't we just do this?"

Matiba arrives; kneels next to us.

Mori looks up. "How bad is it?"

I cough. "Just over 127..."

Matiba meets Mori's eyes. Shakes his head.

She looks back to me, swallowing. "Sir..."

Matiba does something to my arm. Lays a compress on my forehead. A pleasant numbness is spreading through my body. He must have given me something. It's getting harder to focus.

"Listen," I say to Mori. She leans closer. "Sometimes true learning –"

I never finish. I've noticed someone else standing off to the side. Someone I didn't expect.

[Jump to part 12: A Sea Without Shores.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Novak's Last Theory, Part 10: Don't Let Your Left Hand Know

The day arrives. I make up my mind just a few minutes before the loophole is due to appear.

I race to the engine room.

Coming down the hall, I can see it forming: a distortion of spacetime that wavers like heat around the fold engine housing. The center grows and darkens, absorbing the light. I pause just inside the doorway to stare at it.

Abruptly, the old man steps out from behind a conduit tower, halfway between me and the hole. His face is livid, eyes bulging. "You fool! Did you think I wouldn't find out? Did you think I wouldn't know, as soon as you decided?" He lifts a gun in his skeletal hand.

"Where did you get that?"

His lips curl back from his yellow teeth. "Your clearances are my clearances."

I set my jaw. "Everything that you've told me has been to manipulate me."

"To keep you from destroying yourself!"

"Until I go through the hole, we'll stay stuck in this cycle forever."

"Yes," he says, with fevered eyes, "think of it! Together we can possess eternal life!"

I recoil. "This is no life." Then, edging to the left, "You won't shoot me... you can't."

He scowls. "I've done it many times before."

Suddenly another voice cuts in.

"I've heard enough." It's Mori. She enters a few paces to my right, a gun leveled from her hip. "Put it down old man."

He shifts his eyes to her, face twisting with rage.

"You can see him?" I ask, shocked.

"Go, Captain," she says, "get to the hole."

The old man makes a growling whine, like a trapped animal. There is a flash of light and a loud report. Mori drops to the floor, halfway behind a bank of control panels. I dive in next to her as more shots fly overhead. My hands feel wet. I look down to see a pool of blood forming. Mori lies next to me, choking – a gaping hole in her chest.

"Chiasa!" I lift her up halfway, supporting her head.

She presses her gun into my hand, wincing, and she's gone.

Blasts are pounding into the control panels, raining bits of crylate and metal down on us. My ears are ringing. I hear a shout.


Looking to the adjacent corner of the room I see the boy, weaving toward me behind cover, fear on his face. The shots stop for a moment – the old man has seen him too. I have to act quickly.

I leap up and fire. My second shot is on target. The old man spins and crumples; his gun caroms away.

The boy jogs toward the loophole, gesturing to me anxiously. I drop the gun and follow.

The old man shouts after me. "You fool!" He draws a ragged breath. "You've killed your own conscience! If you go through that hole you'll die forever!"

I pause, swallow, and look back. "I know." Then taking the boy's hand, I step through.

[Jump to part 11: Out of the Loop.]

Monday, July 27, 2009

Novak's Last Theory, Part 9: A Pattern of Threads

I wake to a revelation. The vision has triggered more memories: threads in the weaving I was still searching for. My mind pulls back, and I see the pattern in full.

The loophole will appear around the fold engine housing – that's where everything started. It can take me back to the beginning of its own context, but no further. That means the fold drive will still be cascading toward disruption when I arrive. I'll be earlier... early enough that I might be able to prevent its detonation, but only by entering the fold control chamber. Certainly a lethal prospect at that point.

That's what I've been unable to accept. It's got nothing to do with the old man and his dissembling claims to my future. It's a concession that I can only save the others – not my self.

I think about the crew. The colonists. My family... Jess, Aria, and Leah. I'm haunted by the possibility that given enough time – a sufficient number of trips through the loop – I might discover another way. This can't be the only way. Going through the loophole feels like quitting. Giving up. Settling for failure.

Now I understand why I've come to this point so many times. It's an awful choice.


I walk through the day with a strange melancholy. Things I had stopped noticing out of endless reiteration and over-familiarity seem to come into crisp focus. Sounds. Smells. Textures. My weariness. The faces of the crew. Their eyes. The way they go on, doggedly doing their jobs. I take solace in the routine, pushing the need to make a decision out of my thoughts.

I visit Gomes and Carter on the bridge to run through our nav status.

I visit Matiba in the infirmary to discuss radiation poisoning symptoms.

I visit Mori in engineering, just to talk.



"Thank you."

"For what?"

"For... your calm."

"Yes sir."

I spend some time in the captain's study, tidying up my things. It's pointless of course, but soothingly trivial. I decide to head to the bridge for closing ceremony. When I open the door to leave, he's standing right there.

He squints, suspiciously. "Where have you been?"

"Uh... walking the ship. Thinking."


"About... what could have started all of this. Trying to parse through what the ship was doing at the time of the original disturbance."

"And what was the ship doing?" He eyes me carefully.

I shrug. "Executing a standard fold."

"Standard?" He looks disgusted. "There is nothing standard about such things. Spacetime is not our laundry. We can't expect to keep folding it all the time without consequence."

I shake my head. "You’re asserting inevitability, but not a root cause."

He lifts a shaggy eyebrow. "Folding through the electromagnetic rift of our own nuclear detonation?"

"That's nonsensical. Self-referential."

"Is it." He looks at me intently, clearly thinking of something else. "Be careful Mr. Novak. Be very careful what you choose. You're flirting with disaster."

[Jump to part 10: Don't Let Your Left Hand Know.]

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Novak's Last Theory, Part 8: Markers of Memory

I've spent several days talking with the old man now. He wants to meet at the dome daily, but I'm not going today – I've heard enough from him. I want to see the boy again.

The boy seems to be better at finding me than I am at finding him, so I sit by the storage lockers and wait. Is he my past? Is the old man my future? I'm more inclined to believe that they're manifestations of my sub-conscious. But I can't decide how to interpret them. Latent traits? Conflicting desires? Dissociative personas? I think the old man is right about another thing though: everything is fragmented in the loop. Even me.

The boy finds me sooner than I expected. He leans around the corner and whispers my name, looking very serious. "Nwovock." He motions for me to follow him.

We snake through the corridors, heading in the general direction of the bridge. As we go, the boy seems increasingly troubled. His pace slows, and he drops back next to me, then takes my hand. Presently, we stop. We're standing next to an unremarkable service door. He looks up at me from beneath his matted locks, an expression of sorrow knit across his brow, and points at the door.

As though in a dream, I open it and step through...

...into the warm twilight of a summer evening. The rasping song of cicadas, or something like them, fills the air. I'm standing in the middle of an empty street flanked by houses. Golden light spills from their windows. Where am I? This must be a small village; it's so quiet. I start wandering up the street, looking in windows as I pass. I see people going about their routines. A couple eating dinner. Parents laughing with their small children.

The street curves gently up a low hill, and nearing its top I see a park. I stroll in across the lawn, appreciating the complete serenity of the place. There's some kind of sculpture up ahead. Or a statue, rather, facing the other way. I walk around to the front and stop, stunned.

It's a memorial. To me.

There's a plaque at the base. I manage to scan a few lines: Arik Stokowski Novak... Captain of the UFSS Amaranth... his life to save his passengers and crew... establishing the first settlement on Metari... remain in the hearts of all...

I feel dizzy. This isn't real. It can't be. Suddenly I'm running. I weave through trees and shrubs, plunge through a tall hedge –

– and I'm skidding to a stop in a corridor of the Amaranth. The boy is nowhere to be seen.

What was that? A vision of the future? That's impossible. If the boy is a part of me, he can only show me things I would be capable of knowing myself. So it was a hallucination. Or a possiblity I'm considering sub-consciously.

Or the boy isn't part of me at all.

[Jump to part 9: A Pattern of Threads.]

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Novak's Last Theory, Part 7: Every Loop has its Hole

It can't be true.

I'm walking up to the observation dome to meet with the old man. I don't trust him, but he's been right about two things so far: phantom memories are returning to me, like inexplicably familiar strangers; that, and I refuse to accept that he is the real me.

The dome is a large crylate bubble on the top of the ship, fifteen meters across. When I come in through the lock, the old man is sitting on the far side of the room, his back to the planet. Metari looks so peaceful. A globe of browns and greens, splashed with turquoise seas under a swirl of high clouds. So much like Oloreth.

"You're late," he says. Sitting there in his dark suit, his head and beard seem disembodied; like a comet streaking up into the stars.

"We have time. I'd like to discuss your identity further."

"You mean our identity?"

"I thought I wasn't the real Novak."

"Strictly speaking, you're not. My reality prevails in the sense that I am your destination. But you are an Arik Novak."

"So you claim to be the embodiment of my future?"

"I'm not claiming anything. I'm telling you."

"How do you explain your presence here, in the past?"

His jaw clenches. "Future... present... past... everything is fragmented in the loop. Until you make the right choice, I'm just as trapped as you are."

"And what about the boy?"

His face is transformed by a scowl. "Don't speak to me of the boy! When I think of the chances you've wasted because of him, it makes me furious!”

I pause as he fumes, then ask. "Chances?"

"Yes, chances! Don't pretend you haven't remembered."

I concede. "I have remembered some things. Enough to accept that there is a larger cycle. A superset of the daily one."


"And that we have eleven days until the loophole next appears."

He scoffs. “Still keeping your pathetic count?” He hunches over his cane, rises stiffly, and turns to look at the planet. “Call it what you want… loophole, nexus, aleph ligature… I don’t care. It's a recurring part of the phenomenon that keeps us trapped here. The important thing is that you listen to me for once and ignore it."

"How so?"

He turns back to face me. "Don’t go in! Every time we get to this point, you decide to follow that wretched child into the hole, and the entire cycle starts over.” He steps toward me. “Stop following him. He is your past! I am your future! If you ever want to escape, you must embrace your future and stop being controlled by your past!”

I listen as he continues arguing his case against the loophole. He has some persusasive points. But I can't bring myself to accept that he is my future. I wish my memories from the previous loop weren't so spotty - I need more information.

I have eleven days to learn as much as I can.

[Jump to part 8: Markers of Memory.]

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

S4C: Delay of Game

Well, part 7 is not going to make it up today. Real life has intervened in the form of the flu, taking down our whole family. I'll shoot for late tomorrow and hope for the best. Stay tuned!