Level Up!

Last night we (finally) passed the 100,000 word mark in Grandson of Science Novel. It feels great, even though we aren’t quite finished. As we mentioned many times, Jen had it in her head that we’d reach this milestone by the end of 2017, which puts us a month and a half behind her (totally arbitrary) deadline. She went into a bit of a tailspin when it became clear we wouldn’t hit the target, and Kent had to step in and take over as head cheerleader and whip-cracker. It’s a good thing he did. It kept us moving forward, and we’ve made a lot of progress.

But we’re still not done. Son of Science Novel came in a bit short for our tastes, but this one is on track to be about 120,000 words, which is a very comfortable place to be. We still have about 20 scenes to write. They’re stubbed and ready to go. We should get to the end pretty soon.

“Pretty soon” is a hard concept for Jen to deal with. She craves a yardstick by which to measure our progress. We do our writing in a program called Scrivener, which has a cool tool that lets you set your word count target and deadline. It then calculates how many words you need to produce per work session to meet your goal. While Jen needed a target, we knew she would be some combination of depressed, frustrated, and furious if we missed another one on this project. Our solution was to set the bar comically low. We chose a deadline way, way too far in the future, which puts the bar we have to clear each night so low that we basically can’t help but trip over it. There have been a few days where we bruised our ankles, but in general we’ve been pole-vaulting way over it.

Having a writing partner means having someone to share the load so that you don’t always have to be the one in the driver’s seat.

“Show Me What You Can Do”

  • by Kent“Up inside there?”
  • expensive adulterous affairs
  • simply too much debris
  • including 6 pairs of shoes
  • on such gleaming skin

Tune in next time part 258                           Click Here for Earlier Installments

“Show me what you can do,” Betsy Murgatroid cooed. “Go on, I know you have something more for me. You know what to do. Can you do it? Can you give me your special gift?” She batted her lashes. “Up inside there?”

I had mixed feelings about my circumstances. I was skeptical about these claims of an exotic compound in my semen. I suspected it was part of a disinformation campaign, or maybe just Betsy’s excuse to charge expensive adulterous affairs to her Academy spending account. But it seemed wisest for now to behave as though they were true. Which was not how I was behaving.

With a final longing look at the feminine form astride mine, I summoned all my self-restraint and lifted her off of me. I scrambled to my feet as Betsy Murgatroid raised her walkie. “Fernando, please report to the other side of the subbasement, over.”

I pulled up my pants and dashed into the tunnel entrance. Fernando Heavens was right behind me, so on my way through I toppled stacks of boxes and shelving units to obstruct his progress. He crashed against the logjam, but it held, leaving him standing over Betsy’s supine form. He said into his walkie, “I cannot give chase, for there is simply too much debris, including 6 pairs of shoes made from ferret leather, polished to a mirror shine, and festooned with rabbit’s-foot tassels. And it grieves me to see such superstitious and superfluous accoutrements on such gleaming skin of the polecat.” He sobbed. “Over.”

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Whipping Out Her Walkie-Talkie

  • by jenIs that his name?
  • conducted a cascade
  • came from the heart and not from the lips
  • where the Tenth Doctor is Chandler or something, I don’t know.
  • she said she felt sorry for him

Tune in next time part 257                           Click Here for Earlier Installments

Whipping out her walkie-talkie, Betsy growled, “Stay out of this, Fernando Heavens.”

I was distracted from my libidinous release. “Fernando Heavens? Seriously? Is that his name?

“Shush.” She laid her finger over my lips. Taking up her walkie again she said, as if explaining to a child, “By now he should have ‘conducted a cascade‘ as the kids call it. His exotic compound would already be ours.”

Suddenly I was tired of all this intrigue. I longed for a coupling that came from the heart and not from the lips of shadowy spy masters.

Betsy saw the dissatisfaction on my face. She said, “Oh no you don’t. We have to finish this or we’ll both be in trouble.” She pumped her hips. “What would help? Role playing, maybe? We could act something out where I’m a horny alien who’s just met her first Time Lord — that’s you — and where the Tenth Doctor is Chandler or something, I don’t know. How complicated do you wanna make it?”

Without waiting for my response, she launched into an elaborate monologue, acting the part of alien vixen. She said she found the Doctor stranded in his malfunctioning TARDIS. She said she loved his sarcastic comebacks and floppy hair. She said she felt sorry for him because everyone else from his planet was dead, including the five friends he always got coffee with.

Her story was oddly specific and fleshed out, and the opposite of erotic, but her movements and her body kept my attention.

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Gazing Ahead

We’re very pleased with the process we’ve developed over our years of writing together, especially our secret weapon: stubs. They offer multiple advantages for anybody working on a large-scale project, and provide a crucial foundation of common understanding for anybody working as a team. Taken together, they form a kind of first draft of the first draft.

We don’t create all the stubs up front. Typically Jen will write a dozen or so at a time, and then when we’ve used most of them up she’ll do the next wave. Our main reason for this is for continuity. The progression from outline to stub to prose brings an increased level of detail and reveals decisions that get made on the fly. If we did stubs too far in advance, by the time we got to the later ones there’d be inaccuracies.

But the other reason for doing the stubs in waves is so that the material is fresh for us as we tackle the scenes. Our current work-in-progress has fallen just a tad behind schedule, which has undermined this notion of freshness. Jen did the stubs all the way out to the end a while ago, part of a push to get the manuscript finished up more quickly.

So, it was time to remind ourselves how this thing’s supposed to end. Over the weekend we devoted a chunk of time to reviewing all the stubs, reacquainting ourselves with the shape of things in the finale. We also wanted to decide whether or not to be a bit more vicious in our treatment of one character. It felt like we probably ought to, but before committing to that idea we had to check ahead for what actions might become infeasible for this person, so we could have reassigned or reengineered tasks if necessary.

Luckily for us (unluckily for that character) the adjustments were minor.

It felt great to read the ending of the story, even in stub form. We both got a nice jolt of, “I want to read that book — guess we’ll have to write it!”

My Finely Honed Instincts Were Like a Lynx

  • by Kentrendered him master of far mightier muscles than his own
  • and a chin like the toe of a boot
  • spasmodic efforts to smile
  • “Rouse yourself, my dear girl.”
  • Chinese striptease funeral

Tune in next time part 256                           Click Here for Earlier Installments

My finely honed instincts were like a lynx, but also in some ways like a rhinoceros, making me one of those people whose survival drive rendered him master of far mightier muscles than his own, even if they were still my own, and I snapped the handcuff chain. Betsy gasped in orgasmic shock. It was all I could do to continue withholding my ‘exotic compound,’ but doing so was essential to my getaway plans.

Fernando had a nose like the shell of a snail and a chin like the toe of a boot, and when he scowled, as he did now, the shell’s wrinkles followed its spiral shape. But, it wasn’t actually a scowl that he wore. His proboscis writhed in time to his spasmodic efforts to smile.

Betsy, meanwhile, was smiling effortlessly, her eyes lidded in contentment.

Fernando raised his walkie and said, “Rouse yourself, my dear girl.” He winked at me. “Over.”

She opened her eyes, a languid smile still on her lips. I nearly let my ‘exotic compound’ loose when she looked at me like that. It was past time for me to withdraw, from Betsy and this subbasement. The temptation to remain was strong, though. I hesitated.

She lifted her head and whispered in my ear, “Chinese striptease funeral.”

Suddenly, I couldn’t put a halt to our coupling. My movements accelerated involuntarily.

“Yes,” Fernando said, “do let’s try and get back on schedule.”

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Fernando’s Eyes

  • by jenthrust awkwardly into a gardening glove
  • the same position I was in
  • low relief with pubic hair
  • staring up at the ceiling with dreamy, lack-luster eyes
  • In that instant the lynx struck

Tune in next time part 255                           Click Here for Earlier Installments

Fernando’s eyes avoided my nudity by fixing themselves on his right hand which he flexed once or twice and then thrust awkwardly into a gardening glove that was too small for him. Betsy Murgatroid took that as her cue to put herself in the same position I was in, namely pantsless. Despite my discomfort at her earlier bug impression I found myself aroused, seeking that low relief, with pubic hairs, mine and hers, mingling. She smiled and made her chittering noise again while staring up at the ceiling with dreamy, lack-luster eyes. This time I found it quite erotic.

While we got down to the business of pleasure I could hear Fernando in the background, fastidiously straightening items on a workbench.

Our unusual situation reminded me of several training exercises I’d participated in at the Academy, and I could feel my finely honed instincts taking over, like a lynx stalking its prey. I didn’t know yet what my ultimate action would be, but I hoped I’d have a chance to finish what I was doing before I took it. I also hoped that Betsy wouldn’t suddenly whip out her Darts of Insanity. This was not a situation that would be improved by the feel and taste of fried chicken.

Betsy’s walkie-talkie crackled and a voice on it said, “Heavens to Murgatroid, come in Murgatroid.”

“You don’t have to use the radio, Fernando,” Betsy said. “We’re in the same room.”

The lynx was stalking closer, preparing to pounce. I turned my head and saw Fernando in the corner with his garden-gloved hand cupped secretively around his own walkie-talkie. He stuck out his tongue at me, then spoke into the radio again. “Hurry up. We’re on a mission, over.”

“I’d be done a lot quicker without you interrupting me,” she said. “And anyway, this is part of the mission. I’m supposed to get a sample of a ‘certain exotic compound.'”

In that instant the lynx struck. Unfortunately it was hampered by my handcuffs.

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Where’d That Come From?

Jen cleaned off her desk on Thursday, and in addition to shaming Kent into promising to tackle his this weekend, it’s made the Writing Cave look really fucking weird, man. We aren’t hoarders or anything, but we are both nesters. Our desks are clutter magnets. When Kent left for work the Cave was its usual comfortably chaotic self. When he got home, he flipped the light switch and a gave a little (very masculine) scream that Jen found very satisfying.

In the course of cleaning, Jen came across several steno pads of notes for upcoming projects. Skimming through them brought a little thrill. She also found some nuggets of gold scrawled on loose papers and transcribed them into the proper steno pads. In the spirit of organization, mind you. Not because she wanted to sit down for a while and the ideas were really good and reading them sparked all kinds of creative juices. That was just a happy side effect.

We’re almost to the point where we can see the light at the end of the tunnel with the first draft of Grandson of Science Novel. It doesn’t feel ridiculous to start looking ahead a bit, and it doesn’t feel like torture either. Those new characters and ideas can come off the bench and do a few warm-up laps. It’ll be their turn very soon.

The piles on Kent’s desk are a bit taller than Jen’s were, a bit more precarious. We’re not in danger of him being squished or getting lost, but if he doesn’t take steps soon he won’t have room for his coffee mug beside his keyboard. And you do not want to know what that would be like. None of us do. Shudder.

It will be exciting to see what gems his excavations uncover.

There’s a metaphor in here somewhere about keeping your mind organized so that you don’t lose your ideas, but it seems a little obvious, no?

Having a writing partner means having someone around who occasionally makes you organize your shit, but it’s totally worth it.

“Maybe We Should Let Him Put His Pants On”

  • by Kent“Ch-ch-ch, ch-ch-ch.”
  • inside planets with inhospitable surfaces
  • the perfect setting for romance
  • despair or cunning calculation
  • her husband’s dangerous career

Tune in next time part 254                           Click Here for Earlier Installments

“Maybe we should let him put his pants on,” Fernando said.

“Hmm,” Betsy Murgatroid responded while staring at me and tapping her chin with a pale finger, making me queasy. A venomous grin stretched her cheeks. She leaned toward me and curled back her lips to say, “Ch-ch-ch, ch-ch-ch.”

The insectoid noise unsettled me. It tickled the underbellies of memories I hadn’t known I had, swollen swirls of dread like blobs of fluid inside planets with inhospitable surfaces and worse interiors. By the gleam in her eyes, I gathered she intended it as flirting, as if this dusty subbasement were the perfect setting for romance, and not a venue that demanded despair or cunning calculation of a means of escape.

Fernando had wandered to the steps, peering up toward the root cellar.

“Stay out of there,” Betsy lilted, never taking her eyes off of me. “I don’t want to have to tell your wife she was right about her husband’s dangerous career.” Fernando shuffled away from the stairs, making an obvious effort to find something other than my pantslessness to occupy his attention.

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How Droll!

  • by jen“What are you doing here, honey?”
  • mattress on the floor and bottles strewn everywhere
  • hardly high espionage drama
  • “darts of insanity”
  • feels and smells exactly like fried chicken

Tune in next time part 253                           Click Here for Earlier Installments

“How droll!” the man cried.

I remembered all too well the incident with the cliff that the woman had mentioned. The twins she referenced were Jason and myself. It had all been part of our senior class project. Our Academy had been pitted against our rival school in a sort of spy olympics. Despite the fatalities at the cliff, we had won. This woman must be one of our vanquished foes. I needed to get out of here before they discovered me, even if I was handcuffed, and naked from the waist down.

There would be time to rid myself of the cuffs later. I scuttled toward the tunnel to the submarine dock, grabbing my pants as I went.

The woman froze. I tried to lunge out of sight, but she turned around and spotted me. A bemused smile appeared on her face.

“What are you doing here, honey?” Her tone was one you would use with a lost kitten.

Her companion turned, too. “Who’s that? What’s he doing down here? Is there a mattress on the floor and bottles strewn everywhere?”

“Of course not,” the woman said. “This is hardly high espionage drama, Fernando. This is just a poor homeless man taking refuge from the cold.” She winked at me.

“In handcuffs? Really, Betsy, you’re too soft-hearted.”

Betsy? Oh shit, now I recognized her. This was Betsy Murgatroid, infamous for her use of the poisoned projectiles she invented and called “darts of insanity”. From the intelligence reports I’d read, when you’re under the influence of her drug, everything feels and smells exactly like fried chicken.

I gulped. What could make such a dangerous woman smile at me like that?

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Our regular readers know by now that we’re obsessive plotters. Our process includes multiple stages of outlining in an assortment of often colorful formats. Saves a lot of wear and tear on the seats of our pants.

And yet. Sometimes plot-related issues try to slip past us. Most commonly, for us, it’s some form of magical knowledge on the part of a character: the author knows that Chadwick Q Badguy, esq, didn’t commit the kidnapping, thus Detective Main C Haracter never thinks to ask for his alibi.

A form of this cropped up in our WIP (Grandson of Science Novel). Or, at least Jen thought so for a few minutes. Without getting spoilery about it, there’s an event that depends on there being no one home. No one was, of course, but how would the perpetrators know? The worry was that they seemed to take it for granted, as if the author had tipped them off.

Thinking it through in light of all the details we’re withholding from you, Jen determined that the nefarious deeds made sense as we had them after all. But she brought the matter up with Kent all the same. Because that’s what you do when you have a writing partner: you share your concerns. And your partner sets you straight if necessary, making the work stronger. In this case, Kent confirmed his partner’s reasoning. But it still makes the work stronger, because it deepens both of our understanding of the story.

There’s no substitute for talking story issues through with a partner.