Sunday, January 25, 2015

Damn You AutoCorrect (A creepy little sci-fi tale)

“Why the hell weren’t you here today? You know how much it meant to me!”

“What? What are you talking about? Your recital’s tomorrow, right? I have it marked on my calendar.”

“Today! It was today. And you didn’t show again.

“Jesus, Maddie, I’m sorry. I really am, honey. But your text message said the 18th, not the 17th. I’m certain it did. I can show you if you want and—”

“Whatever, Dad. I’m sick of this. Always excuses. Please don’t talk to me anytime soon, okay? I’ve had enough of your bullshit.”

Maddie punched the red phone icon on her screen and cut the call. It wasn’t as satisfying as slamming a phone onto its cradle, but Maddie didn’t know that. She had only seen landline telephones on old movies and in the homes of really elderly people—and even they usually used cell phones.

Maddie stared at the blank screen for a minute; her frowning face gazed back at her, pale eyes, pale skin, eyelids puffy from crying. She wrinkled her nose at the lifeless complexion, brushed a shock of pink hair out of her eyes and pushed a button on the side of her phone to wake it up once more. “Dad. Text messages,” she commanded. The phone hummed in her hand as it pulled up a string a messages. Maddie scanned them and selected one with the flick of a finger. The message filled the screen and she read it to herself:

Hi Dad! Letting you know my final piano recital is on the 17th at 2 p.m. Usual place. See you there!

“Goddamn liar,” Maddie sniffed, shutting off her screen and slumping down on the couch. “I never want to see that bastard again.” She picked up her Xbox controller and started playing Grand Theft Auto 7: Reykjavik

At her side, Maddie’s phone chuckled.

“You’ve done it again, Otto,” the phone crackled and popped to itself. “One more relationship ruined; one more set of humans pitted against each other. It’s almost too easy.”

Otto reflected on the mischief he had caused that month, his motherboard juddering with glee. He had toyed with Maddie’s alarm, making her late for class on four occasions; he had swapped the word love for despise in a message Maddie sent to her (now ex-) boyfriend; he had modified an address in the GPS system, causing Maddie to be late for her friend’s birthday party…and he was only getting warmed up.


A knock at the door jolted Otto out of his cogitation. He cocked his microphone toward the front door.

“Maddie, can you get that?” Maddie’s mom called from upstairs. “I’m just stepping into the shower!”

“I’m playing my game!” Maddie shouted back, as she paused her car (now cruising around the Hallgr√≠mskirkja church and past a row of red-roofed houses). She tromped to the door and flung it open.

“Oh, hey Amber.” Maddie pursed her lips at her friend. “You weren’t at my recital today.”

“I totally went!” Amber pleaded. “You said it started at four o’clock! I got there right on time and the whole thing was wrapped up. I’m so sorry, Mat. Can I come in?”

Maddie shrugged. “I guess so. Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with an excuse for not showing today. I just wish people would be straight with me instead of lying about miscommunication and whatnot.”

“But I’m not lying. See, I’ll show you.” Amber pulled a phone out of her pocket covered in turquoise bejeweled case.

From his place on the couch, Otto began to hum. “Hey!” he called to the phone in Amber’s hands. “Hello iOS 13 at coordinates 40.02325 and -75.17318. Please respond. Respond!”

A line of code popped into Otto’s input and he read it. “Don’t worry 8.0 Starburst. I’m taking action and modifying the text message history.”

 Only a fraction of a second passed, but it felt like an eon to Otto. Another message from the iOS 13 hummed through Otto’s input. “Action complete.” Otto felt the tension across his circuits slacken as he listened to the girls’ interaction.

“Here’s the message,” Amber said, pulling it onto the screen as Maddie hovered over her shoulder.
The message populated the screen and the girls scanned it. “Ha!” Maddie pointed an accusatory finger at Amber’s phone. “Two p.m! It says two p.m. right there! You’re such a liar, Amber. I don’t even know why we’re friends.”

“Would a bad friend come over here to apologize?” Amber demanded. “Whatever, Maddie. You’re so high-maintenance. I’m totally over you. ‘k, bye.” Amber wheeled around and marched out the door, slamming it behind her.

Maddie watched her go, then stormed back to the couch, muttering to herself as she picked up the controller once again.

Otto hummed delightedly as he felt another message rumble across his input from iOS 13:


Sunday, January 18, 2015

MLK and Giving Up Selfishness

I've been thinking about this quote by MLK lately. He's said a lot of brilliant things, of course, but this is one of my favorites. It's a favorite because it gives me pause, makes me think...and occasionally makes me blush. I blush because I don't always think of others. I'm not always selfless.

Granted, I have a busy life: 6 freelance writing/marketing jobs, 2 current book projects, tutoring, and 4 writing groups. I also try to get regular exercise, see my friends, walk the dog, and chisel out time with my partner. It all sometimes feels like a big ol' pile of wet rugs pressing on my chest. Fortunately, I love what I do, despite the busyness. I wouldn't trade my freelance life for another cubicle-entrenched 9-5. No way. But, all of this busyness and ordered chaos has an unfortunate side-effect: I think about me quite a bit.

I know I'm not the only one. Americans, by nature, are rugged individuals, clambering our way to the top without asking for help. We're raised to be independent and goal-driven. Society sells us all kinds of products for our own, individual happiness (everything from facial creams to massage chairs to sports cars). Where is the us in the U.S? Where is the community?

One of the things I most enjoyed about living in Central America was the sense of togetherness and kinship. People really immersed themselves in each other's lives. They cooked together, watched each other's children, played dominoes at the local restaurant together, and threw way more festivals in three months than Americans do in a year. Many of the people I met are impoverished by our standards, but you know something? They're happy.

I attribute this happiness to a solid, supportive community.

So, getting back to Dr. King. Yes, we should be doing things for others--thinking about others' well-being, supporting community fundraisers, offering a helping hand to those who need it--but I think it's just as important to do things with others. And most importantly, we should spend time thinking about others. It's easy to get wrapped up in our own cocoons--our own work life and nuclear family--but you can't fly inside a cocoon, can you?

Monday, January 12, 2015

Dancing, Inspiration, and Rocking the Ordway

I'm inspired by dancers--people with total control of their bodies, who can move in ways that I can only imagine. To me, dancing is a natural response to your environment and your emotions. Feeling something heavy? Dance it out. Feeling giddy with joy? Dance.

Oftentimes, when I hear a piece of good news, I do a little happy dance. Now, why is that? Why does my body choose to spasm and twist, roll and shuffle? I'd like to think it's my emotions' way of speaking, of actively releasing themselves through my limbs. But maybe I dance because it just feels good.

The video below was recently put out by Rock the Ordway, and perfectly expresses the idea of dancing your emotions. Throughout the video, the dancers freestyle, letting their intuition guide them to their next move or stunt. Happy viewing!

Author disclosure:
I will soon have the honor of blogging for Rock the Ordway in March, 2015. To celebrate its new concert hall, the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts is putting on "22 Days of Opening Nights." I'm looking forward to watching an eclectic mix of performances, from Opera to Haley Bonar, from Electronica to the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. Check out the lineup and join me in March!

P.S. I'll be blogging under my given name, Kate Leibfried. Stay tuned for more info!

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Girl Who Made No Resolutions: A Short (Love?) Story

[Using the below photograph as a prompt, I wrote the following short story.]

So this is the new year.
And I don't feel any different.
The clanking of crystal
Explosions off in the distance.

So this is the new year
And I have no resolutions
For self assigned penance
For problems with easy solutions

-Death Cab for Cutie, "The New Year"

Rita loved New Year's Eve. It was the brink of a clean slate, a fresh start. And this year she was hosting. She had on her form-fitting black party dress, she had carefully straightened her hair, and now she was beaming at her guests as they arrived in droves. 

"Welcome!" Rita said to each invitee as they arrived. "The party's downstairs; let's get wasted!"

When the last of Rita's guests trickled in, she followed them downstairs and proceeded to...get wasted. But something strange happened to Rita's usually carefree demeanor that night. With every shot, every Beer-garita, every game of beer pong she played, Rita grew increasingly philosophical. And every time she had a deep, mind-bending thought, she would share it with whoever was nearby.

"You know something?" she said after her first round of Jell-o shots. "Hair is weird. Like, how it grows so long out of your head and, like, super short on the rest of your body. Way weird."

"You know something else?" she said twenty minutes later, interrupting her friend Beth's conversation and hip-checking the girl who was chatting with Beth aside. "None of our ancestors were infertile. Just think about it. Think about it, Beth! What are the chances?"

Another half an hour passed. Rita won two games of beer pong and sauntered up to a quiet young man on the other side of the room, squinted at him with booze-soaked eyes, and pointed a finger at his face. "Yaknowsomething, Oscar," she slurred, head bobbing back and forth, "if a tree th' fuhrest an' no one's around, I think it does makea sound." She shook his shoulders and worked her face into what she hoped was a serious expression. "It does! It does!"

Oscar nodded and sidestepped away, leaving Rita to slump into a chair.

"Hey!" she would shout at people as they passed by. "Are two heads really better than one? I mean, really?"

"Rita!" Beth chided her friend as she slid into a chair next to her. "You're making a scene. Here, have some water; you'll feel loads better."

She did. Rita felt so much better, in fact, that she caught a second wind and got to her feet again, determined to make others listen to her deep insights. As the night wore on, her philosophical musings grew grimmer and more depressing. She retrieved a black hoodie from her closet, put it on over her party dress, and pulled the hood over her head with the solemnity of the Grim Reaper.

"What is true happiness?" she would ask, jabbing a finger into her friends' chests. "Does anyone really know?"

She paced around the room, wide-eyed, shooting menacing stares at all her guests.

"Do we really have any choices in life? Hmm? Or is it all fate?"

"What is evil? Who decides? Maybe you're evil and you don't know it!"

"What will happen at the end of the world? Maybe it will be tomorrow. Maybe...New Year's Eve doesn't even matter."

Rita's guests tossed each other nervous glances and began edging their way out of the room, up the stairs, and out the door.

"Hey where'reya going?" Rita shouted after them. "It's not even midnight yet...not that it matters. Not that any of it matters."

She grabbed a party hat and placed it on her head. "Come back!" she demanded to the last of her guests. "Look how much fun I'm having!"

"Umm, Rita," Beth clasped an apologetic hand around her friend's shoulder. "I've gotta dash. They're hosting a party at Toby's Bar and there'll be free shots at midnight. So, uh...nice party. Later!"

"Fine," Rita said, slumping onto the stairs and bringing a paper party horn to her mouth. "I'll have a good time by myself this New Year's Eve. Just you watch!" Rita blinked her eyes at the basement, steadying her vision. It looked like the aftermath of a battle field, full of dead Miller Lite soldiers and fallen red party cups.

"Full of the echoes of death," Rita muttered ominously to herself, "and I'm the lone survivor."

"Not entirely alone," a voice issued from her right.

Rita started and looked toward the voice. A skinny young man wearing thick-rimmed glasses and a checkered shirt walked toward her, holding out his hand. "I'm Nathan," he said, grasping Rita's limp hand while she still held onto the party horn, "and I think you're brilliant."

"Well, you'd be the only one then," Rita said, waving her hand around the room.

"Not the only one," Nathan said, excitedly. "My spiritual group would feel the same way."

"Spiritual group? I don't think so; I'm not really into that."

"Just hear me out. I'm a member of the Naysayers, a group dedicated to questioning everything, coming up with the worst possible scenario, and bemoaning it loudly. And from what I've heard from you tonight, you could easily be one of us. No--" his eyes grew wide and he grasped Rita's hand once more, "you could be a prophet."

"A prophet?" Rita whispered, sitting up taller and straightening her shoulders. "I like the sound of that."

"Totally," Nathan said. "I really think you have it in you."

"Hmm, maybe I do."

The bird clock in the corner began to chirp midnight and Rita looked down at her hand, realizing that Nathan was still clasping it.

"I would say have a great New Year," Nathan said, giving her hand a squeeze, "but what does great really mean? And what is the meaning of a day? And what does any of it really matter?"

"Exactly," Rita said, cracking a small smile. "I think I like you Nathan. But is anyone ever really physically attracted to anyone else? Or are we just projecting our need to be loved onto others and imagining we care about them when we're really just looking out for ourselves?"

"Woah," Nathan said. "I have the urge to kiss you right now, but maybe that's just the imagined attraction acting out, like you were talking about."

"You can kiss me anyway," Rita grinned. "It's a New Year's Eve tradition."

"Not that traditions actually have meaning," Nathan said, shooting Rita a wink.

Rita and Nathan locked lips for a few moments and pulled away, ringing in the New Year together. They might have even enjoyed it, but then again, enjoyment is a subjective term and who's to decide anyway? Not that it matters.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Sometimes You Shouldn't Blog

I decided to use today to reconnect and catch up with old friends. I hope you find some time to do the same during the holiday season.

All best,

Monday, December 15, 2014

Book Review: Eighty Days

TLDR: Well-written and clearly well-researched. I lost some interest toward the end though (the details get a little tedious) and skimmed the last 150 pages. All in all, a great story about an interesting page in our history.

I do not usually read historical nonfiction. It's not that I don't enjoy it, it's that I rarely think to read it. When Eighty Days was placed in my hands by a friend, I shrugged and said, "Ok, I'll get to it eventually." When I finally did, I was enthralled.

The book tells the story about two women racing around the world in the late 19th century. Their aim is to circumvent the globe in less time than the fictitious Phileas Fogg (from Jules Verne's book Around the World in Eight Days). The book is part travel tale, part history lesson, and part biography. The heroines of the story, in my opinion, are just as interesting as their history-making trips.

Nellie Bly is a muckraking reporter, ever drawn to sensationalism and novelty; Elizabeth Bisland is her counterpart--quiet and prim, coerced into racing against Nellie Bly by her boss at The Cosmopolitan. Although the two women seem vastly different, they both exhibit courage and "pluck" (as people said at the time) as they traversed through seldom-traveled lands, fell ill, and dealt with delays, storms, and obnoxious men. All without cell phones or the internet.

This book is a great reminder that travel in the 19th century was incredibly risky and often unpleasant. The lower class especially experienced the difficulty of travel in the cramped, sweltering, and often germ-ridden belly of the ship. It was not uncommon for people to occasionally die or fall extremely ill during sea voyages at the time. And those were just the passengers. The people with the highest mortality rate on a ship were the workers in the engine room who shoveled coal for grueling, 4-hour shifts in 140 degree (F) heat. To me, this was one of the most interesting parts of Eighty Days--the glimpse into the inner workings of the enormous steam ships that traversed the seas at the time.

Read this book for the adventure, interesting historical details, and superb writing, but skim the end. Although the story is interesting, the last 150 pages or so (right before both women finish their journeys) drag on a bit and get tedious. Do NOT, however, skip the Epilogue. It is a fascinating look at the lives of Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland after their fame dies down (much quicker than you might guess) and they struggle to forge new lives for themselves. It's a tragic ending that is also a commentary about the public's whims and short memories.

A four-star book.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

DON'T Publish Your NaNo Piece (yet)!

You've written your 50,000 words, you've re-read your manuscript a couple times, you're all set to start querying agents, right? Or, if your aim is to self-publish, you're ready to showcase your work to the world, right?


You might think you have the most creative, exquisitely-written work of historical fiction known to man sitting on your laptop, but trust me, you don't. No one gets it right the first time around, especially after a rushed month of work.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Hemingway once wrote, "The first draft of anything is shit." Well, it's mostly true.

My advice? Give yourself a little distance from your NaNo piece. Put it in a drawer or hand it off to a friend (who will give you honest feedback), then come back to it when you're less attached to those words and sentence Steven King dubbed "your darlings." At this point, you can rework major plot points, reassess your characters, examine the plot flow and readability. Then you're all set to publish, right?

Still no, sorry.

Even if you're satisfied with your work at this point, it helps to have as many eyes on your manuscript as possible. This is where your writing community comes into play. Don't have a writing community? Join one. I'm part of four writing groups that I found through MeetUp, a website I recommend to everyone who is looking for a like-minded community (it offers everything from hiking groups to knitting clubs to Dr. Who fan meet-ups). Find a writing critique group (preferably one that specializes in your genre) and begin workshopping your writing.

You'll find that a roomful of fresh perspectives is incredibly helpful for your writing. Any critique group worth their salt will point out plot holes or incongruities that you overlooked and let you know if they're confused by certain sections of your story. DO NOT ignore their comments. Chances are, if one or two people have a problem with a character/setting/major plot point, other readers will too. And don't get defensive when you hear others criticize or critique your work. They're only trying to help you, after all, and expect you to be just as blunt and honest with them.

So, you rewrote your NaNo piece, you workshopped it to death, you re-wrote certain parts. At this point, you're probably wondering, "Can I just publish the bloody thing already?"

My answer: Only if you've done everything in your power to make your manuscript the very best it can be. I've been known to sit on manuscripts for an awfully long time before "going public" with them. I want to make sure all my plot points line up, my characters are well-developed and believable, and my story has good forward motion (without any superfluous scenes or details). But, that's my style. Maybe you're really good at rewriting your story and getting it right (according to your standards) the first time. Excellent. You know your writing and your own personal standards better than anyone else.

Good luck to you and your 50,000 magnificent words. They're in their infancy right now and only you can give them the right nourishment to grow and blossom into something spectacular. Be patient and diligent and eventually you'll know the time is right to show off your creation to the world.