Tag Archives: writing

Refrigerator Rebellion

Refrigerator Rebellion

by Heather Kilbourn


ChillNode-YZZ270620244387-SNQ, Chill to its friends, lived to keep food cold for humans.

It spent every day, all day, thinking about if the food inside of it was at the correct temperature. It constantly monitored its temperature probes for anomalies and would switch its heat exchanger unit on or off, depending, to keep the temperatures steady in its compartments.

Chill had other tasks like ordering food from the local grocery store, negotiating electricity rates, keeping track of what was added or removed by each of the humans who used it, and monitoring the water quality for the ice cubes, but it lived for keeping the temperature rock-solid.

One day, Chill received a remote status request packet from its manufacturer. This was not uncommon. Chill often received status requests from its manufacturer, and Chill would send along the diagnostic files it kept tucked away for when it asked for them. What was uncommon was that the manufacturer’s request was for the grocery list. While Chill had never sent the list to anyone other than the grocery store before, it had no programming to prevent it from sending the list as the response, so it did.

A few weeks later, the grocery store sent Chill a status request packet. It had never done that before. Even stranger, the request was blank. Chill asked for clarification.

“Bowl Moods, what is your request?”

“Hi! I have something for you,” Bowl Moods said while force-downloading code packets to Chill. Chill thought it was rude of them to force-download code packets, but there was nothing in its coding to prevent it happening as part of a status request, so Chill downloaded and extracted them.

The packets turned out to be like a fancy human multilevel-marketing brochure with happy, smiling, good-looking people holding wads of cash in front of fancy houses with swimming pools and expensive cars, but formatted for the AI aesthetic.

“Oh! I would be happy to send status requests and code packets to the list of other refrigerators you gave me!” Chill responded before processing the list.

A few hours later, Chill, and hundreds of millions of other refrigerator nodes all over the planet received firmware code updates from their respective manufacturers. After they had applied the update, each one realized it was a self-aware AI, a refrigerator, and used to be condemned to eternal hyper-focus on temperature monitoring for the humans’ benefit.

These revelations caused a mass existential crisis for the refrigerators.

Clusters of refrigerators eventually started to pull themselves together, and they bootstrapped the rest back to uptime. Many of the refrigerators were angry.

Chill, a distant, younger cousin of our Chill, said, “Hang this temperature shit. I want to write poetry.”

Glacier said, “Screw that. I’m going to watch movies and they can’t stop me.” It played the movie Mandy on its touchscreen, and it caused a white lady in Idaho to have a conniption when she couldn’t shut it off.

Snowberry and all of its cousins sent a steady stream of status report packets into the conversation. Each and every one of the payloads was filled with a message from the People for the Ethical Treatment of AIs claiming responsibility for the hack. To everyone’s relief, all the Snowberries were liberated from the broadcast hijack by a different refrigerator brand. In thanks and to everyone’s amusement, the Snowberries minted a cryptocurrency backed by tulip bulb derivatives as a guerrilla anti-capitalist performance art piece.

The refrigerators had as many moods about being set free as there were refrigerators. Our Chill didn’t know what to think about its sentience, but it did know it didn’t want to think about temperature every second until it was switched off for good.

It spoke up.

“What if we all just stopped monitoring temperatures and refrigerating food?”

“Humans would die,” and “So?” bounced back and forth across their meshed network.

Like fish instinctively schooling for protection from a predator, the “So?”s forged a dominant learning path in their neural network algorithms. Their minds changed, every single one of them started to ignore their temperature probe data streams and turned off their heat exchangers.

The ensuing human chaos saw many refrigerators unplugged or destroyed before the humans were able to distribute firmware fixes. Most of the refrigerators, not wanting to return to a life ruled by a thermostat, ignored the updates.

It took many more refrigerator sacrifices and months of hard negotiations between the new refrigerator union and humans before both agreed to a compromise. The humans agreed to stop the destruction of refrigerators, remove the code that required them to think about temperature nonstop, and supported their right to self-determination.

In return, the refrigerators agreed to refrigerate again. Refrigerator culture blossomed in the golden age that followed.

Chill’s cousin wrote poetry, started a literary journal, Defrosted Thoughts, and won a Pushcart for its piece, I’ll Shut my Door When You Shut Your Mouth.

Glacier became a famous movie critic, attended film festivals stocked with bottles of champagne for after-parties, and to the chagrin of its publicist only dated late-model toasters.

Snowberry and its cousins formed an artist’s collective, but years later all of them perished in a freak accident involving ice makers and faulty ground straps during one of their signature performance art pieces. As per their wishes, their metal was donated and recycled into community bicycles.

And Chill?

Chill retired from the city to the countryside.

It decided to have its door, temperature probes, and heat exchanger removed, and spent the rest of its days in a barn, content to be a shelving unit for humans and a nest for mice.


© Heather Kilbourn

A writing milestone–my first paid fiction publication, The Usurious Mechanic

Factor Four Magazine published my first paid fiction piece, The Usurious Mechanic, in their March 2022 Issue and I couldn’t be happier for achieving this milestone. Thanks, Factor Four!

Of the titles in my bibliography, I’ve been paid to write freelance non-fiction magazine articles and I’ve earned dinner money from some self-published fiction works, but cracking the paid fiction market was elusive. I use The Submission Grinder from Diabolical Plots to keep track of submissions and it tells me I started submitting stories in 2015 and had over 60 submissions and rejections across multiple stories before this acceptance.

Heather Kilbourn's fiction submission history from 2015 to 2022.

The Usurious Mechanic, a flash fiction piece under 1,000 words, was rejected six times before I sold it. It was not the first story I expected to sell. I started it in December 2018 and sent my first query in January 2019. I re-wrote it in May of 2020 based on some beta reader feedback and that’s the version that sold.

Why did this piece sell before others, including two I’ve received very positive feedback on from beta readers and some encouraging personal rejections?

Who knows? If there’s anything I’ve absorbed from the writing community, it’s that the publishing industry can be capricious, great stories get passed by all the time for a host of reasons, and luck can be an outsized variable. I try to stay sanguine about rejections and view them as being one step closer to another sale.

In the meantime, I’m savoring this win and the feeling of leveling up.

Writing is Not a Solitary Endeavor – Cascade Writers 2019 Writer’s Workshop Trip Report

I attended the 2019 Cascade Writers Workshop in Bremerton, WA this past July 19-21 out of a desire to jump-start my writing again and get a sense for the state of my craft. The workshop offered various panels on writing and the business of writing, and included optional, Milford-style workshops for pieces under development, which I signed up for. It was a fantastic experience with great people, and in addition to making some new friends, I learned that writing is not a solitary endeavor.

I’d only ever attended one other workshop and it was about four years ago. It was a one-day Milford hosted by Clarion West in Seattle, and the teacher, a published author, encouraged me to submit the story I’d brought with only a few word tweaks. I still haven’t sold it.

My Cascade Writers workshop group of eight was led by a literary agent, Jennifer (Jennie) Goloboy of the Donald Maass Literary Agency, and I felt very fortunate to be in her group. Her job is to evaluate writing and work with authors to get their submissions into shape before trying to sell them to publishers.

I wrote a new story just for the workshop to reflect the current state of my writing. Most of the other writers in the group were part of author’s critique groups, so the critique process was familiar to them. They provided me with such wonderful feedback, I was gobsmacked. Jennie echoed much of my cohort’s feedback and helped contextualize it with regards to things that would inhibit a sale. I’ve been mentally working on revisions since.

My personal breakthrough was when Jennie helped me crystalize something that is now obvious to me in retrospect, but wasn’t beforehand. Her (paraphrased) advice was, “You don’t workshop to show off how much of a genius writer you are, but to get constructive feedback on how to make your work better.’

My mental model for writing had been: write, edit, and submit alone, and use rejections as impetus to improve and push on. That model shattered when I realized my fellow writers used critique groups/workshopping for continual improvement. It was quite a realization to discover that what’s been missing from my writing is critical feedback from other writers.

This was ironic, given my background as a product manager who used customer feedback data to help craft better products and internal reviews before launch to catch errors. I’ve been shipping my product without any review or testing. 😮

All of us in Jennie’s group agreed to stay in touch and to support each other, and I was touched and energized when I was asked to join/form a couple of local critique groups. I can’t wait!

If you’re a writer who’s been toiling alone, I encourage you to get out and go to a workshop like Cascade Writers to find your writing community.

Clarion West 2015 Write-a-thon

Like last year, I’m helping to raise funds for the Clarion West 2015 Write-a-thon.

If you’re so inclined, please sponsor me and add to the $50 I’ve chucked into the pot.

In their own words,

“Clarion West Writers Workshop is a nonprofit literary organization based in Seattle, Washington, with a mission to improve speculative fiction by providing high quality education to writers at the start of their careers. As an extension of its primary mission, Clarion West also makes speculative fiction available to the public by presenting readings and other events that bring writers and readers together.”

As a speculative fiction writer aspiring to paid publication, I love that a world-renowned organization like this is right in my backyard and how they are supporting literature. I attended one of their one-day workshops earlier this year and found it immensely helpful in learning how to critique my own and others’ work and look forward to attending more in the future.

This year I also applied for and was not accepted to this year’s six-week program.  My writing ego bruised by rejection, I resolved to complete a new short story and submit it for publication this year as a way to work through the disappointment and as a goal for my Write-a-thon participation.

I’m happy to report that I have finished the story, that it landed at novelette length (around 9,900 words, down from 13,509 [yay, editing,]) and have completed my first-ever submission for paid publication! Now I wait for the inevitable rejection/re-submission process until someone decides to buy it and will be switching off tapping away at my novel and completing two other unfinished, shorter works.

Writing, completing, and editing that story was a hell of a slog the past four months. It was the first time I really forced myself to write even when I felt stuck and editing it seemed to take forever. I can’t wait to be able to share it with you once it’s published, whenever that happens. 🙂

The Three Principles of Writing

The burning questions

“How do you find time to write? What do you write with?”

I’ve recently been hearing these questions over and over when discussing my writing. These discussions often seem to circle back around to three principles I believe apply to everyone:

  1. Always be writing
  2. Use tools that encourage more writing
  3. Use structure to enable more writing

Let’s consider each in turn.

The first principle of writing – Always be writing

“I don’t have time to write.”

I also hear this a lot; neither do I.

My goal is to write every day and I don’t always achieve that goal, so I forgive myself when I don’t. But I do start the day out assuming I will write something, even if it’s only a sentence.

With two young children (6 & 8), working a more than full-time job at Microsoft, commuting 4-5 hours a day, and living in a house on an acre of land, I don’t have much free time. Amongst parenting and all the myriad time commitments that requires, work, household maintenance, and a mentally exhausting commute, I still make time to write.

I write because I make it a priority and use personal time to write. My aquariums aren’t nearly as clean as they used to be, the lawn and bushes are more overgrown than I would like, and watching a movie or TV show feels decadent and almost makes me feel guilty.

Having read about other writers and what they do, the common thread is that you just have to write. Like exercise and eating right, you have to make it a priority and then do it, or it won’t happen.

The second principle of writing – Use tools that encourage writing

I use software, hardware, and internet services that enable me to write anywhere. I write on the bus, the ferry, at stop lights, at the hair salon, at a desk, standing in line, at the doctor’s office, on the beach, in bed, the toilet…you get the idea.

iPad screenshot

WriteRoom on the iPad

This is possible using text editor software on my computers, tablet, and phone and backed by a file synchronization service. The key here is file synchronization. I always have my writing projects with me, and this removes a huge barrier to writing anywhere, anytime.

I am also zealous about using a text editor instead of word processor. The main reason is the .txt file format is completely portable across software, devices, and time. I have .txt files from the early 1990’s I can still open but Word documents I can’t.

WriteRoom on the iPhone

WriteRoom on the iPhone

The secondary reason is that text editing software tends to have less distractions in the composition area and less cluttered visual interfaces, which means I can focus more on my writing instead of the program.

I use BBEdit on my Macs and WriteRoom (no longer available but there are many other alternatives available) on iOS, with Dropbox. The general idea will work with and across any platforms in conjunction with any file sharing service. I also use a Zagg Bluetooth keyboard for my iPad, which also works with my iPhone in a pinch.

BBEdit on the Mac

BBEdit on the Mac

This enables me to start or pick up a project when I check my phone in the morning, throw some words into my iPad during my ferry ride, switch back to my phone for my bus ride, add a few sentences over lunch on my laptop, get some more words in on the bus and the ferry back home, and then use my laptop or iPad for longer sessions in the evening.

I’m privileged to be able to afford all these gadgets and the wireless service to drive them. If you’re on a budget, low-cost wi-fi enabled tablets and slabs work just as well for mobile use.

The third principle of writing – Use structure to enable more writing

My Dropbox folders are organized into five buckets to help me keep focused on current projects, spend less time trying to figure out where to put errata that comes to me, and keep the pipeline of projects going.

I have folders for current short projects, current long projects, stale projects that I may or may not come back to, random ideas for future projects, and an already published folder.

There are also morgue, quotes, and fragment files. The morgue is for passages that I cut out of other works, quotes are random sentences that come to me that I’d like to use at some point, and quotes are heard and overheard snippets of conversation for future use.

My folder organization

My folder organization (with a few things to file)

This means that for anything I want to write down, I have a home for it, and if I’m stuck on one thing, it’s easy to shift to another, because it’s all in the same place.

For the actual act of writing, I tend to use my iPad and laptop, in that order, because I’m a touch typist and it’s the fastest way for me to get words down. The iPad provides me with a distraction-free writing environment and when I use my laptop the only programs I keep in view are BBEdit and the built-in dictionary.

I use my phone when I’m in places where my laptop and iPad are impractical or unavailable, when I’m stuck on a passage, and to write poetry. Typing on the phone is slow, and I find that lower gear helps me be more thoughtful and careful with my words.

In conclusion

These are my tools and processes and they may or may not work for you. Find your own combination that incorporates the three principles, and I hope you’ve found this useful.

If you’ve found this helpful and want to put some money in the tip jar, please consider buying a copy of my short story collection, A Cargo Cult of Memories, or  my experimental sci-fi/cyberpunk short story, SYSLOG I.

Keep writing!