May 01 2019

Behind the Curtain of a Flash Fiction Story #WEP #IWSG

IWSG

May 1 question – What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

My answer gets really dark, as it’s about using words to break the spirit of a child (me). And I’m not going there. So here’s something about language and writing, with an IWSG tie in, that ends with a genuine question. Sorry it’s long, here’s a giveaway and a potato.

~ GIVEAWAY! Click here. ~

Let the potato rest

Behind the Curtain of a Flash Fiction Story

THE PROCESS

Sometimes, as an author, it’s fun to play with words. To create a whole scenario in one’s head. Last month, I looked at the WEP prompt of Jewel Box.


What is in your Jewel Box? Join @TheIWSG @DeniseCCovey for 2019's second challenge #WEPFF #amwriting #flashfiction

Visually, on the prompt image, there is a picture of a jewelry box. I asked myself if I’ve ever heard someone call a jewelry box a jewel box before. No, I hadn’t. Which meant one of two possibilities: Either it’s a regional dialect difference, or the term has an alternative meaning.

I thought about the second possibility. Where had I heard that term before? Jewel box. Jewel box? Jewel box!

Baseball! Of course. Jewel box was an architectural term for a kind of baseball park. Fenway being my favorite one. (I lived, “crashed with a friend,” in Boston for a while some years ago.)

There’s an ongoing bit of humor among folks who know Fenway. A massive left field wall, once plastered with ads, was painted green back in 1947. It’s called the Green Monster. Obviously, this kind of monster isn’t the usual scary type. It’s more of a monstrosity than a monster. Who wouldn’t get that play on words?

Who indeed.

Which made me think about artificial intelligence.

Depending on your sci-fi preference, there are robots that don’t quite “get” certain human expressions. This is one of the factors that holds actual scientists back when working on AI. You can take a young child to Fenway and say the wall is called the Green Monster, and they’ll either laugh or roll their eyes. I doubt many youngsters have woke up screaming, “There’s a 37-foot wall under my bed! It’s threatening to not let me cover it with advertisements!” But what if an artificial intelligence didn’t get that?

What might an AI be afraid of, if it were programmed with fear? Better yet, what if the creator made the robot to play baseball, something that the person couldn’t do.

Because she’s a girl and thus can’t play for the Red Sox? That sent me down a transgender path with a F to M character who has gender reassignment for the love of the game. But I didn’t like where that was going. “I feel like a MLB player, but my gender is holding me back.” I don’t think that’s fair to the trans community on the whole. Plus, it might start a comment avalanche about locker rooms and trans people and I just didn’t want that. I also didn’t like that it left out the robot.

So maybe the creator, who I now called Skip, is a guy in a wheelchair. Skip, who ironically cannot skip and that’s how he got the nickname which he hated at first but made it his own so the bullies couldn’t use it, loves baseball. It’s possible that an accident during little league is why Skip is paralyzed from the waist down. (I didn’t research that, so I don’t know if it’s possible.) What if Skip was “encouraged” to focus on science because sports were “too dangerous” now. (Insert helicopter parent here. Instead of a wise-old-sage character who suggests Special Olympics Baseball. Because, again, the goal was to work Fenway into the story.)

Skip builds a robot. “What’s the difference between a robot and an android?” Google…

Android is either a Robot or a Cyborg which is Humanoid in appearance. In general there is no reason a Robot or Cyborg must appear Human, but an Android, by definition, appears similar to a Humanoid.

Define android:
Google results for android

That’s a twist on a certain logo we know well, isn’t it? That an android must have a humanoid appearance.

Okay, so Skip builds an android with the intention that it will play for the Boston Red Sox. That’s his proxy. This is how Skip will achieve his dream.

But what kind of story would it be if that went well? Stories are all about conflict. Obviously, something has to go wrong.

Things that could go wrong:

  • The android feels like it is cheating.
  • The android fears the Green Monster, and smashes the wall.
  • The android doesn’t make the team because someone rules that it is cheating…

… so it gets a job working security at Fenway…
…and it goes crazy, creating a hostile situation.

(You see how brainstorming works here.)

But the android eludes capture, because it’s an android and thus is freaking smart. It changes appearance to look elderly, because it’s an android and that is just a matter of swapping some parts. In fact, maybe that’s how someone figured out it is an android to start with? The lack of functional male genitals. (Yup, my brain circled back to the F to M trans character, and that locker room debate. And how sports people are often known for placing a high value on inconsequential genital appearance, which is why teams have segregation.) But I didn’t want to write that scene because I had a flashback to locker rooms and bullies. And then I stopped working on the story.

Yup.

Didn’t see that twist coming, did you? That I hit a point where I hated everything I had come up with so far, and thus quit.

A week later, I wrote a story about an award-winning jewel box cake made by someone on one of those baking shows. Who then finds out he’s allergic to gluten. So, even though he just won a huge baking show, and has offers from Duff and Buddy, as well as celebrities calling to make their cakes, now he can’t make those traditional cakes. And ends up starting a gluten-free bakery in the Village. (Greenwich Village.)

Jewel box cake? Jewelry box cake? Which is the wording?

And I put that story away.

Because I really wanted to use the phrase Jewel Box exactly as it is. Someone made that prompt. (I was thinking about the prompt contest, and forgot that was only for February, not all of 2019.) I wanted to interpret it right.

That’s when I went back to the story. I thought about how an android could exist forever. And how it could figure out how to cover-up what it has done. Redact files. Easy enough to hack anything when you are a robot. Except, what if there were print books? It would have to find those copies and destroy them.

What happens after Skip dies? What if the android was afraid of the Green Monster? And then Skip got sick and died, so now it’s also afraid of germs? It doesn’t realize that it can’t get sick. (Spoiler Alert for the movie Unbreakable: Just like David Dunn in Unbreakable didn’t realize he couldn’t get sick until Mr. Glass pointed it out. End spoiler.)

Slack conversation screenshot

All that was swimming in my head, but not on the page. Then I saw an ad for Mayfair. It’s a local event. Pretty sure it used to be a carnival in the hospital parking lot, though that might have been something else. It’s possible my brain has blurred several events together. Anyway, that got me thinking about carnival games. Especially ones where someone has to throw a ball to knock down milk bottles. For some reason, even high school jocks who throw balls around every chance they get, tend to miss. And then freak out and stomp around, and get into a fight with the Carny. But the Carny, despite being dressed like a peace-loving hippie, kicks the jock’s … (Memories.)

You know who could tell if a game was rigged? An android with super robotic eyes. One who has been living as a shut-in. One who probably made a boatload of money by way of technology. But is still plagued by what it did one day at Fenway. The un-caught scourge, who has basically been living in a prison of fear. And somehow (maybe barcodes are more advanced, I don’t know), it senses a copy of the book it thought it destroyed. It has to have it! And that means playing ball at this booth.

It wasn’t about baseball

Despite all of that thinking, the comments about the story were largely focused on the audience not knowing enough about baseball to appreciate the story. I don’t know much about sports, so I didn’t think I used any references that were especially difficult or jock-only. But I’m not in the habit of arguing with readers!

You know… WEP partnered with the IWSG.

AND HERE I WAS, FEELING LIKE AN INSECURE WRITER

So I put a second version of the story in the comments. Same story, same word count, but this time with a baker of a jewel box cake. (This is why we never delete ideas.)

I do wonder if only males can be called Old Timers? I’m quite sure I’ve heard older females use the wording about themselves. “I’m an old timer, you wouldn’t remember how it was in my day.” Or if “A League of Their Own” was wrong about women being able to use a baseball? Is The USA Baseball Women’s National Team defunct?

What made the android a male? I’d love to know!

Genders image meme

Especially because there’s a lot about gender I seem to not know. I actually wrote another story for WEP where the main character was actually a guy. Osiris, a gay man who falls for a skydiving instructor after a break-up. Despite the name Osiris, commenters thought the character was a woman. (In Egyptian mythology, Osiris is the god of life, death, the flooding of the Nile, and the afterlife. He was the brother and husband of Isis.) I figured that was a manly name. I’m horrible at figuring out gender or ethnicity based on names.

Frankly, this is the Internet, the only place where people sometimes think I’m a female. And I have no idea why. What makes me come off as a female? What made Osiris seem female? And what caused a genderless android to be a male?

I ask this as a writer. There must be something, other than genitals, that gives gender to someone. I want to know what it is. This is my “quest for the holy grail.” It matters to me because, in one of the Existence books, there’s a character with an ambiguous gender that some of the main characters try to figure out after the person gets engaged to another main character. So I’m curious as to what I might include to make the gender more difficult to determine. Unisex name (though, apparently, names have nothing to do with it), genderless-looks, font-like handwriting, a vocal pitch that could go either way… but there’s more. Because I used none of those things here. And yes, for flash fiction posts, I could include a note telling the readers flat out which pronouns to use. But I don’t know if that will help me grow as a writer???

genders image

I want to learn. How do readers decide on a gender when there is no pronoun to go by? Please “encourage” me by suggesting answers to that. Thanks for the research help!

THE ENCOURAGEMENT AWARD FOR THE 2019 WEP APRIL CHALLENGE JEWEL BOX goes to @JLenniDorner #WEP #WEPFF

To read the story (original in post, baking one in comments), go here:
Occurrences #AtoZChallenge #Writing #BookReviews as an #Author and #WEPFF Jewel Box

Thanks for reading this!

11 comments

Skip to comment form

  1. It was really fascinating to read how your mind went into overdrive with regards to the Jewel Box prompt and which story finally emerged as the WEP piece.
    Since I’m a “sort-of AI-challenged individual”, it was a slow read when I reached the section dealing with android/humanoid definitions… LOL but it was also really interesting to discover that you eventually hated the result of that train of thought. It was so different… and so creative.

    How do readers decide on a gender when there is no pronoun to go by? Wouldn’t the manner in which the story character perceives or responds to their surroundings influence the decision? Though both men and women DO share similar ways of perceiving the surroundings…
    Maybe it would be in the finer details of that perception/response?
    It also has a lot to do with the characteristics of the reader as much as it is about the words written, and how readers project themselves into what they read. That makes it more of a challenge…
    Find on Twitter:

    • Michelle Wallace on May 1, 2019 at 4:55 AM

    It was really fascinating to read how your mind went into overdrive with regards to the Jewel Box prompt and which story finally emerged as the WEP piece.
    Since I’m a “sort-of AI-challenged individual”, it was a slow read when I reached the section dealing with android/humanoid definitions… LOL but it was also really interesting to discover that you eventually hated the result of that train of thought. It was so different… and so creative.

    How do readers decide on a gender when there is no pronoun to go by? Wouldn’t the manner in which the story character perceives or responds to their surroundings influence the decision? Though both men and women DO share similar ways of perceiving the surroundings…
    Maybe it would be in the finer details of that perception/response?
    It also has a lot to do with the characteristics of the reader as much as it is about the words written, and how readers project themselves into what they read. That makes it more of a challenge…
    Find on Twitter:

  2. This is such a fascinating post! I loved peeking behind the scenes to see how your creative process works!

    You’ve got me thinking about gender and language. Someone else in IWSG touched on this subject as well. My mind is whirring. 🙂
    Ellen has this post to share Cozy Mystery Writing Update | IWSGMy Profile
    Find on Twitter:

  3. That was fun! Love seeing how other writer’s brains work. It’s intriguing to see where the bounce, deflect, bounce, … of ideas goes.

    My 1st draft of a short story was written without names or genders. With 7 view points. It was fun trying to make the personalities disparate enough for readers to identify. One was the killer and I didn’t want preconceived notions of gender getting in the way until the very end. It didn’t work well for that story and I ended up having to go with genders/names .. and another view point… BUT I’m going to try it again. It’s fascinating to play around with the concepts!
    Find on Twitter:

  4. I agree with Michelle about readers projecting themselves into what they read.

    I read Osiris’s story and it was clearly shown that he was left for another man (he says so) and his name is a dead give-away. Sure, we are taught that guys don’t show their emotions like this and that is probably why people assumed that Osiris was a woman — but that’s cultural bias.

    As for the story last month — I greatly enjoyed it. I wasn’t wondering about the character’s gender identity. I figured they saw the book in the box… And I was more preoccupied with the germs surrounding them and if they can use their awesome skill at throwing balls to worry about other things. It was great! And I love how you explain the backstory in this post. An android? Amazing!

    Okay, so I did figure that the android was male: something to do with the grumpy old guy way of viewing the world. I think there’s something in the language that gave that impression?
    As for Osiris: he is sweet, shows his emotions and it is only close to the end that he mentions that he was left for another man. Maybe if it is subtly shown earlier on that he is a dude?

    I hope this helps 🙂
    Ronel Janse van Vuuren has this post to share Help Me, Please! #IWSGMy Profile
    Find on Twitter:

    • Christine Rains on May 1, 2019 at 10:27 AM

    I loved seeing everything your mind goes through for a story. My mind never stops either. I’ll keep myself awake at night wondering about a silly thing. (It drives my hubby bonkers!) It’s tough working with gender and language these days. There has been a few times I’ve left an anonymous comment, and people have assumed I’m male. It’s because I’m blunt which is a trait a lot of folks apply to males.
    Find on Twitter:

    • Patsy on May 1, 2019 at 11:00 AM

    For me, the whole point of being a writer is the fun of playing with words!
    Find on Twitter:

    • Susan rouchard on May 3, 2019 at 12:26 PM

    Very inspiring post. All the intricacies of the writing brain 🧠! My husband commented on my R for Robot post, April 20th and gave me a link to Grandaddy on YouTube, song Jed the Humanoid. Do you know it ? Very moving I thought. He made a whole album on artificial intelligence.
    Thank you for visiting my blog.
    See you next month for IWSG posts and congratulations on your WEP award. Thank you again for all your Host Posts on the A to Z blog, they really helped to fuel me on .
    Have a pleasant weekend.

  5. I enjoyed reading about your process. Happy IWSG.
    Find on Twitter:

  6. Interesting to read about your thought process as I suspect a lot of writers have similar processes. I had two ideas for jewel box, both got written, and I used one for the WEP/IWSG Challenge. Whether it was the right one, I don’t know, and it is ongoing.

    As for making gender clear without pronouns, that is a tough question. All I know is that when using ‘I’ for the MC, the gender was fluid and readers struggled to realise my MC was female. A presumption based on her having a girlfriend her grandparent disapproved of.
    Roland R Clarke has this post to share Azure Spark – Act OneMy Profile
    Find on Twitter:

    • oveiya krishnasamy on May 24, 2019 at 2:31 AM

    I usually gather information from the blog which you posted. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about the concept which we know much better.

Comments have been disabled.

%d bloggers like this: