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Friday, April 29, 2011 28 comments

#FridayFlash: Immortal Curse

Angela Perry has a little writing contest going: write a flash piece using the prompt “Immortal.” Here’s my shot at it.



Immortal Curse

“Look, you’re the fifth person I’ve ever told,” said Gil. “Sixth. Maybe. It all runs together.”

Jeremy laughed. “You haven’t told me yet. So the count’s still four or five.” He was grinning, but Gil’s reaction put him more on edge than he expected.

Gil grinned. “Yeah. So how do I understand all these things?” He put the grin away. “It’s a curse.” Jeremy frowned, thinking it over. Gil waited. He had all the time in the world.

“Understanding’s a curse?” Jeremy drained his beer bottle, waved at Rhonda, held up two fingers. “I don’t get it. Seems like it’s the key to… everything.”

“The curse isn’t understanding. It’s how I got the understanding. Did you ever think I’m older than I look?” Gil saw Rhonda round the bar and finished his beer.

“Huh. Never thought of it that way. I just thought you were crazy-smart or something. You don’t look any older than me. How old are you, then?”

Rhonda brought their refills over. “You need anything else? Plate of nachos?” Gil and Jeremy were her two favorite customers: even drunk they never tried anything funny, and they always left a decent tip or made it up next time. They didn’t get huffy if she was busy, which meant she tried to make sure they never ran dry.

“Sounds good,” said Gil. “Put it on my tab.”

She smiled. “I’ll have it right out,” and walked away. She knew how they liked their nachos: cheese, tomatoes, and sliced jalapeƱos.

Gil watched Rhonda walk back to the bar, admiring her wide hips and sturdy backside before turning to Jeremy. “Eighty-four hundred and thirty-six.”

“Eighty-what-a-what?”

“That’s how old I am. My curse is immortality.”

Jeremy snorted. “Good thing I wasn’t taking a drink. You’d’a gotten a shower.”

“It’s true. Have I ever lied to you? About anything?” Jeremy shook his head. “So go with it for now. No harm, right?”

“Yeah.” Jeremy gulped half his beer. “Okay. So how did it happen?”

“I loved a goddess’s daughter. Now the goddess in question claimed I kidnapped and raped her, but that’s a damn lie. I might have seduced her, but it didn’t take much. And I married her before we made love.”

“This just gets better and better. Which one?”

“Their names are forgotten, except by me, and I’m not going to speak them. Forgotten gods are —” he waved his hands a moment, then downed most of his own beer — “comatose. Something like that. I might wake ‘em up if I speak their names. But the ancient Greeks knew my story. They turned it into Hades and Persephone. Assholes.”

Jeremy laughed. “So you’re Death Himself?”

“Oh, hell no. I’m just a guy who fell in love with the wrong girl. We married in her grandfather’s temple, boarded a barge down the Tigris to start our life somewhere safe, and her mom caught up to us anyway.”

“And?”

“She gave me a choice: she would either kill me on the spot, or give me the gift of immortality in exchange for renouncing the marriage.”

“Evil bitch of a goddess.”

“Oh, you don’t know the half of it. P— my bride said I would be better off dead than to take that bargain, but I was young and dazzled by the prospect of living forever.” Gil drained the rest of his beer. “She was right.”

“What do you mean?”

Rhonda brought the nachos with two more bottles; Gil tapped his chest. She smiled, nodded, and left. Those guys liked to solve the world’s problems while tying one on.

“Just because I can’t be killed doesn’t mean I don’t feel pain,” said Gil. “I’ve been shot with arrows and bullets, stabbed with just about every weapon you can name, hung, and beheaded.” He took a long drink. “That fucking hurt, and it kept hurting because I can’t die.”

“What? How did you —”

“Science is awesome. It at least let me understand what’s going on. Cell repair: for you and everyone else, that’s how you heal. But sooner or later, it stops working and you get old. Then you die. But for me, it’s in overdrive. Do you have any idea how much it hurts, trying to squirm your severed head back to the rest of you so the whole can heal?” He gulped down his beer and waved at Rhonda.

“Two more?” the waitress asked.

“I need something a little stronger tonight,” said Gil. “You got any half-decent whisky or rum?”

Rhonda nodded. “Sure. And a taxi for each of you, right?”

“Yeah,” said Jeremy. “This is — this is a night for stronger measures.” Rhonda grimaced, but nodded and left. “Jeez. That’s harsh.”

“You have no idea.”

“Yeah. But why don’t you bring her back?”

“Who, Rhonda? She’ll be back.”

“No, the girl. The one you married. Can’t you wake her up without the bitchy mother-in-law?”

Gil cocked his head at his latest friend, feeling the room spin around them. “Wouldn’t work. She musta moved on by now.”

“Why? If she’s been asleep all this time, why couldn’t you two patch things up? Shit. Listen to me. I don’t even have a girlfriend, and I’m advising some immortal about his love life?”

Rhonda brought the bottle and two glasses, filling each before leaving. “You want me to hold your car keys?” she asked. “The taxis will be here when you’re ready.” The boys fished their keys out of their pockets. “Good. Just let me know.”

• • •

Later that night, Gil lit a candle on his kitchen floor, kneeling before it. “Come to me, my love, my wife,” he said, in a language long forgotten by the rest of mankind, “my… my Pyanya. Awaken, Pyanya, my quiet one, from your long slumber, and join your husband in this strange time.”

A sudden draft blew out the candle. Gil lifted his head.

Thursday, April 28, 2011 6 comments

The Case for Low-Priced eBooks

You might think that being in my 50s, I’d be one of those “I love the look/feel/smell of paper” people (really? smell? really???), but I’ve embraced eBooks — maybe a little harder than I should — for various reasons. For one, my shelves are overflowing and I have a lot of books in boxes. I was going to turn The Boy’s bedroom into a library while he was gone, but Mrs. Fetched managed (as usual) to throw wrenches until he came back. For another, FAR Manor is in a rural area. The nearest indie bookstore is 30 miles away. The nearest Barnes & Noble is another five miles down the road from there. The nearest Borders is 10 miles beyond that, and closing anyway. Thanks to eBooks, I can buy a book as easily as a Manhattanite.

Recently, there’s been a fair amount of discussion in the circle of writers that I belong to about eBook pricing. Icy Sedgwick kicked it off last week with her blog entry E-book Pricing — Icy priced her own books at 99¢ each and thinks maybe she short-changed herself for various reasons:

I think the problem is that people don't attach much value to something if it's too cheap, and they become unwilling to pay if it's too expensive. To me, the $2.99-$4.99 bracket is just right - the e-books are still cheaper than paperbacks, and they're also cheaper than everyday luxury consumables.

This week, John Wiswell weighs in with High Book Prices Are Good for You. He starts with the example of Patrick Rothfuss (or rather, his publisher) releasing Wise Man’s Fear and pricing the Kindle edition at $14.99 (or $11.99 for a pre-order). John says:

Cheap shouldn’t be the standard for our industry. … What [Rothfuss] charges makes up the price ceiling for the industry. … This is the most that my work is allowed to cost.

The point that John is making, of course, is that extreme prices in the bestseller list allow independent authors a huge price advantage while avoiding the “bargain bin” stigma of the 99¢ bracket. I can get behind that. While Amanda Hocking and John Locke have done extremely well at that price point — these are two of the “Kindle Millionaires” you may have heard about — John W, Icy, or I may or may not find that kind of success. Of course, Amanda Hocking has accepted a major publisher deal: four books, $2 million. Kind of hard to argue with those numbers.

As someone who both reads and writes, eBook pricing (or heck, any kind of book pricing) is a difficult subject to resolve. I’d love to be able to quit my day job and make a living writing stories that people enjoy. But I’ll be honest here: I’d need sales well north of 50,000 books a year to make that happen. Between the senior technical writer’s salary and — ever more important as I skid into middle age — health benefits that I get from my day job, a more realistic expectation is a solid supplementary income that I can use to pay off bills and contribute toward that ever-elusive retirement. But given all the people my current income supports, I don’t have tons of spare change floating around to buy a bunch of books at full retail. And so:

Cheap eBooks are good for readers, and good for authors.

There, I said it.

The economy sucks right now. Mrs. Fetched hasn’t had much video work in the last year or so (one short but solid job and a couple small things). It’s only a little pinch for us though, especially compared to millions of people who lost good-paying jobs since 2000 with only a couple of feeble twitches of recovery in between. You think any of those folks are paying $12.99 for a book, period? If they’re reading new material at all, they’re either going to the library, borrowing from friends, or hitting the used bookstores.

Readers are already revolting against high eBook prices: I took a skim through Amazon’s Top 100 Monday night, and 42 of the titles are priced at $5 or less (free eBooks have a separate list). Amazon’s royalty structure encourages a price range between $3 and (I think) $7, by offering a 70% cut of sales in that range. This makes sense — I think eBooks should cost less than paperbacks, for several reasons:
  1. It’s difficult to pass an eBook around. At my workplace, and where my mom lives, there are shelves of used books (paperback and hardcover). Anyone can grab whatever book they want, or leave one for anyone else. I've read several books that way recently. What lending features do exist are too restrictive.
  2. Then there’s the issue of resales — while I might get only a buck for a used paperback, I’m forbidden by license to do even that much with an eBook.
  3. Publishers almost always use DRM options. One wonderful exception is O’Reilly. A DRM’ed eBook can’t be (easily) converted to another format — which means if you trade in your Kindle for a Nook, or an iPad for your Kindle, you either lose your purchase or have to crack the DRM (which is technically illegal in the US). When I had to switch Kindles recently, my backup copies of Kindle purchases wouldn’t work on the new Kindle. Amazon let me re-download them, but I should have been able to transfer my library en masse from my computer.
  4. Yes, I know that printing is cheap, but over thousands/millions of paperbacks, the costs add up. Then there’s shipping to bookstores and disposing of remainders to consider. You don’t have any of that with eBooks.

Okay, readers have spoken. They know that restrictions on eBooks they’ve purchased make them a lesser value. Therefore, they want lower eBook prices, and are willing to buy indie books to get them. What about authors?

Late last week, iReaderReview.com told the tale of one John Rector, who:

did really well with his indie novel. The Grove used to be around #300. Perhaps it even hit the Top 100 (not 100% sure as didn’t track it). People really, really loved it.

He got a book deal. Everyone was happy for him.

Now he has -

1. The Cold Kiss. Price: $7.99. Sales Rank: #12,726. Reviews: 4.5 stars on 25 reviews.
2. The Grove. Price: $7.99. Sales Rank: #26,038. Reviews: 4 stars on 80 reviews.

There’s no other way to put it – Signing a book deal was a huge mistake.

I don’t know what the difference in sales numbers from #300 to #12,700 is, but I’m sure it was a big hit. I think he was selling his indie edition of The Grove at 99¢. I wonder how much he earns from his “published” edition, but I’m guessing he’s actually making less money with his books selling at $8 than they did at 99¢. That might be offset by any print sales, and he could actually doing very well at it, but without hard numbers it’s hard to say either way.

In the current regime, it’s the mid-list authors who are getting whacked. I think $8 is a pretty typical eBook price for a mid-list author’s work. But without a big marketing push from the publisher, that mid-list’er is pretty much mired there — a relative unknown, decent sales but either keeps her day job or supplements his spouse’s income. Joe Newkindle comes along, sees the A-list author selling for $10 or even $12, decides to look for something cheaper. If they’re both getting good reviews, which unknown is he going to take a chance on: Mary Mid-list at $8, or Irv Indie at $3?

The Kindle Millionaires have a formula: offer a quality product, and lots of it, for dirt-cheap — for once, “make it up on volume” isn’t the punchline to a joke. In her this is why I took the book deal blog post, Amanda Hocking said she has 18 titles on Amazon, plus 18 more coming — even more telling, the $2 million book deal is for a four book series. To me, it’s clear that being prolific (and good) is the way to go if you’re working the impulse buyers. Suck in readers with the low price, make it worth their while, then make sure they have plenty of opportunity to give you repeat business. After all, even the nearly broke often have 99¢ laying around — and more of a need to escape than the rest of us. But if we’re not that prolific, we need a different formula and a different metric of success.

Expectations are a difficult beast to tame, especially when they’re someone else’s, but I can talk about mine. Wearing my author hat: as I said above, I don’t expect to be able to quit my day job and write stories for a living (I’d be delirious if it happened though!). I don’t have 18 novels in my head waiting for me to pour them out into my MacBook and roll them out at once, so I can’t make it up on volume. The 99¢ option probably wouldn’t bring in enough for me to report at tax time, let alone make me a Kindle Millionaire. I’d be happy to clear a few grand a year, after paying for editing and cover art.

Wearing my reader hat: I’m going to expect more from a $3 eBook than from a $1 eBook. For $1, I’m okay if it’s a novella or short anthology — but not a preview. I’ll put up with some editing issues — but if you use “there” in place of “their,” or don’t spellcheck, I’ll show no mercy. For $3, I’ll expect a full-length work with at least a little polish. I won’t fuss over a couple of typos, you’ll find them in traditionally-published work (especially nowadays), and at least you’ll be able to fix and re-release. That’s the standard I’m going to hold myself to.

I have a couple irons in the fire, and (unless I’m offered a non-exploitive book deal) I’ll probably roll them out at $3 — but offer an introductory price of $1. There are people who will go “BARGAINZ!” and buy at the “special price” even if they wouldn’t have bit if it “retailed” for $1. Not pricing at the bottom lets me play around some: nobody will complain if I drop the price, or return to “retail” after the introductory period expires, but they would if I raised the price. I could probably get away with going to $4 on the next book, assuming people are comfortable knowing they’re going to get a worthwhile read for the price.

This whole eBook market is still in the stage where people are feeling around, trying to get some idea of the “right” price to pay. Personally, as both an author and a reader, I think that price is a lot closer to $3 than $13.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011 No comments

White Pickups: ALTERNATE SCENE

One of the cool parts of serializing a novel on one's blog is being able to post deleted and alternate scenes. I had several of those for FAR Future, but the cast of White Pickups demanded that I start posting when I did. I might include them in the eBook or printed version when the time comes.

I wrote this part early on, before I understood what the trucks really were and when I thought they would be migrating to the coast (Charleston, SC was their destination). This scene takes place partway through the migration. If this were actually how things went, it would have replaced what became Episode 33. Of course, this was when I thought this story was going to run maybe 40 episodes total.

In the early going, Cody's girlfriend was named Karen and was actually a goth. I have no idea how or when she became Sondra. I don't quite remember who Ken and Stephen were; one of them may have become Max along the way.

Just goes to show, a story can take a turn when you don't listen to the people who are actually part of the story…



Another morning, another white pickup waiting in the motel parking lot. Charles and Karen started breakfast in the parking lot while Cody circled the pickup, glaring and muttering before jumping on a bicycle and riding away.

"Hey! Where are you going with that?" Karen yelled.

"Couple blocks!" I'll be back before you're done!" Cody yelled back, then disappeared.

"You have any idea what he's up to?" Charles asked. Karen shook her head.


Cody was right: he returned just as the others started milling around, raiding the motel restaurant for plates and silverware. Karen gave him a grin. "You almost didn't make it."

"Ha!" Cody said. "I know how long it takes to get everyone moving out here." He pulled a blowtorch out of the basket. "Does anyone object to hanging out here for a little while after breakfast?" he called to the others. "I want to wreak a little mayhem on our unwanted visitor here."

If anyone wanted to object, the general enthusiasm kept them quiet. Cody was surrounded by a large group, mostly the men (but Karen claimed her accustomed seat next to him), speculating about what they might find. They ate quickly, some even more eager than Cody to get started.

There were plenty of onlookers when Cody fired the torch. Standing to one side, he drew the flame down one side, window to grille, about where the hood would normally meet the fender on any other vehicle. With the first side finished, Ken held up the sagging corner with a pair of pliers as Cody cut down the other side.

"Don't reach underneath," he warned Stephen, glancing at Karen's white arm. "Use the pliers. Okay guys, pull it off!"

The hood peeled off, and everyone crowded around — even the objectors — to see what lay beneath.

"What —"

"Looks like an electric motor."

"But where are the batteries?"

"Maybe under the seat. See those big cables?"

"Don't reach in!" Karen snapped at one who had a hand stretched out. "You don't know if it… you know." She rubbed her white arm, flexing her fingers.

"Then how do we get it out?" Stephen asked.

"We'll cut the front end off," Cody said. "It should be okay after that. But we'll need to put blocks or jacks under it."

"We went by an auto parts store on the way here," said Ken. "I'll get a couple jackstands from there." He jumped on a bicycle and rode off.

"Might as well cut off what we can while we're waiting," said Cody. He fired the torch again and cut away the fenders, stopping once to replace the spent fuel canister with a spare he had brought.

"Hey Cody," Charles asked, "where'd you find the torch anyway?"

"We went by a body shop," said Cody. "I figured they'd have what we needed."



This was where it ended, about 2/3 of the way down the fourth (handwritten 5x7 inch) page, but as I recall the cables ran all the way back to the bed. Under the rear bodywork there were antennas that became fractal in their complexity. Apparently, the trucks were picking up some kind of broadcast power and didn't require batteries. Cody was to surgically remove an entire drive system later on, harnessing the motors to run generators or other things.

Sunday, April 24, 2011 3 comments

Backyard Retreat: Part 1, the Gathering

Our tax refund was pretty large… and so begins a new project at FAR Manor. Like many projects, this is one I had in mind for a good long while, but only now is it beginning to take root. With Mason loving to get outside and play, this is another good incentive.

I’ve been wanting a patio for a while. Actually, what I want is a complete outdoor kitchen, so we can cook through the summer without heating up the house, but it can start with the patio. Mrs. Fetched is somewhat leery of being outside much, because the bugs eat her — which is odd, because she grew up on a farm. You’d think she would be used to the great outdoors, huh? To make life easier on her, I have a screened-in gazebo thing (actually a permanent screen tent) as part of the project.

But first comes the patio. I had planned at first to go with the traditional paving stone, but then I saw these Envirotile things. They’re made of recycled tires, but compared to stone they’re relatively soft. If Mason (or anyone else) were to faceplant on this, it would hurt a lot less than a faceplant on stone. They clip together, which makes installation fairly simple, and then they dropped in price by a couple bucks between the time I found them and when I was ready to buy them. WIN!

We also need a place to sit, and this is what we settled on. Both of us wanted a firepit table, and this one has a cover so we can use the entire surface when we don’t have a fire. It should extend the “hanging out on the patio” season well into the fall.

OK, we have the rubber “stones,” we have something to park our butts in, now we just have to level out a spot for the patio. I think we’re going to put it behind the shrub at left center, next to the bird bath. That end of the house has a small flight of steps coming out of Sprite’s porch down to the ground. Very few plants are fond of that area, so we won’t have to worry about weeds too much.

Stay tuned for Part 2, which will likely get us near completion!

Friday, April 22, 2011 16 comments

#FridayFlash: We Danced

I know this kind of story has been done… dare I say, done to death? But I liked it anyway. It’s pretty short — less than 300 words — but a story is the length it is.



We Danced

We embraced in the moonlight that night, dancing to the sappy love songs playing on her car radio. I desired her then and now as no man ever could, but it would have been wrong to take her then. I swore I would return for her when the time was right, and I always keep my promises.

Agony — what to wear? I chose to go modern: vest, shirt, jeans, all stylishly black, fleeing further indecision.

And now I stand before her, the smile I remember coming to her face. “You came.”

“I always keep my promises.”

She laughs. “This is one promise you could never break!”

“True.” I grin. So many have tried to flee from my smile, but she returns it. “Has it gone well with you?”

“Very. There was a time I wished you might never come, and yet I was always thankful that you rescued me that night.”

“I missed you. And yet, I always knew we would be together.” I feel shy of a sudden. “Then… shall we dance again?”

She laughed, arose, and took my hand. At once, we were there — the place where I fell in love so long ago. A lonely clearing stood at the end of a winding dirt road, much like it had been then. The music began anew, and we embraced. In my memory, I saw her as she was that night, clinging to me in the moonlight, throwing aside her father’s pistol — embracing life even as she embraced Death.

Thursday, April 21, 2011 2 comments

Transferring eBooks to your Kindle

While Amazon is the primary source of eBooks for most Kindle owners, there are other sources out there: Smashwords and Project Gutenberg, just to name two; and even eBooks you or your friends create. If you’ve never done it, the process can be mysterious… but TFM is here to solve the mystery. I bring you instructions for both MacOSX and that Microsoft operating system. (If you use Linux, you know what you’re doing and you don’t need me to help you!)

If you’re using that Microsoft operating system, make sure you’re connected to the Internet because it may want to download a driver.

Plug It In, Plug It In

The first step is to connect your Kindle to your computer. In case you didn’t know, the Kindle’s charger cord detaches from the charger itself, giving you a convenient USB cable:


Plug the small connector into your Kindle, like you would to charge it, and the large connector into your computer:


USB connectors are where you usually plug in a keyboard, mouse, or “jump drive.” On laptops, they are usually on the left or right sides; some older laptops put everything around the back. On desktops, there are always USB connectors in back, but some have one or two up front — maybe behind a little panel. If you have a USB hub, you can use it, but plugging directly into your computer also lets you charge your Kindle.

The computer treats your Kindle as a detachable drive. On Macs, you’ll see Kindle in a Finder window below the primary hard drive. On that Microsoft OS, it makes a bunch of weird noises, maybe downloads a driver if this is the first time you plug it in, then displays it in the “removable storage” area. I’ve circled what to look for below.

Note: I used Windows 7 for the Microsoft side of things. XP is going to look a little different, but functionally it’s all the same. If your CD/DVD drive is D: the Kindle will likely be at E:.

 

Electric Slide

Now that you have your Kindle connected, and know where to find it, it’s just a matter of copying your eBooks into the right place. The “right place” is the documents folder inside the Kindle. To see it, click the Kindle in the Finder window (MacOS) or double-click the Kindle in the Computer window (Microsoft thing).


Now that you have the destination in mind, let’s start with the source. When you download an eBook on a Mac, it usually ends up in either the Desktop folder (OSX 10.4 and earlier) or the Downloads folder (10.5 and newer). On Windows, it goes to the Downloads folder. The Kindle can handle eBooks with either a .mobi (MOBIpocket) or .azw (Amazon) extension — so when you download an eBook from a non-Amazon source, make sure you get one of those two types! (Another very popular eBook type is .epub but Kindles don’t recognize them right now.)

So let’s use WhitePickups.mobi as an example file name. Go to the Downloads (or Desktop) folder as appropriate, find the file WhitePickups.mobi, then Ctrl-click (Mac) or right-click (Windows) and select Copy. Go back to the Kindle’s documents directory, Ctrl-click (or right-click), and select Paste. Repeat as necessary to copy more than one eBook.

Almost done!

Eject-o-Mundo

Before you disconnect your Kindle from your computer, you need to eject it. This tidies everything up so you know your eBook is completely copied. To eject on OSX, click the little eject icon next to the Kindle in your Finder window. On Windows, go to the Computer (or My Computer) window, right-click on the Kindle, and select Eject.

Now you can enjoy your new eBook, knowing you’re not forced to use the Kindle Store if you don’t want to.

Other Ways

A program called Calibre is available to manage your eBook collection and simplify transferring eBooks from — and to — your computer. It runs on OSX, Linux… oh yeah, and on Windows too. It has several advantages: for one, it’s a lot easier than going through the steps I outlined above; it also works with multiple eBook readers and (if your eBooks aren’t copy-protected) converts between different formats. If I get a chance, I’ll run that by everyone next week. Until then… happy reading!

P.S. This post isn’t cast in stone, or even ink on paper. If I didn’t cover something throughly enough, leave me a comment. I can fix it.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011 3 comments

Wednesday Wibbles

Wow, I haven’t done one of these in a few weeks. It’s been the usual crazy here, I suppose that will have to serve as an excuse. In fact, I’ve finished posting White Pickups (at least Book 1) since then. Big milestone there! I’ve done some light editing, the heavy editing begins soon — then I can continue working on (and starting to post) Book 2. The working title for Book 2 is Pickups and Pestilence, just to give you an idea…

Okay, let’s say hello to the newest visitors at the free-range insane asylum since the last wibble:
Thanks for following! I’ll get follow-backs going when I get a chance.

And do you think I’d miss a chance to post a Mason pic? Here he is, with his dad (The Boy), hunting Easter eggs on Palm Sunday.


He filled his bucket with eggs, and is doing a lot better in general. Mrs. Fetched took him to the doc’s, and he’s just congested. April brings tornadoes and Pollen Overload; we haven’t had many of the first but the second more than makes up for it. He got a prescription that clears him up pretty quickly and makes him sleepy, so he gets it at bedtime even though he can have it four times a day.

Monday, April 18, 2011 No comments

Mason Gets a Boo-Boo, and What Part of…

I came home Saturday evening from dropping M.A.E. off at her work (Burger King). Mason was stumping around on the floor, looking at his feet, and Mrs. Fetched looked more than a little upset.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Look at Mason.” I did — and saw a knot on his forehead about the size of a golf ball. Seems he’d been in the playpen while Mrs. Fetched was starting a fire, moved a toy to the side, climbed up on it, then dived out head-first. He was hysterical for a while, Mrs. Fetched nearly as bad off, but eventually got over the fright and initial pain and went back to playing around. I was going to nickname him “Lumpy” for a while, but the swelling went down rapidly. It’s just a small bump and a bruise on his forehead now.

He’s also suffering from either allergies or just plain Pollen Overload. Mrs. Fetched took him to the doctor today and got something to help with the congestion. Maybe he’ll sleep through the night now… after three blissful full-sleep nights last week, the bill came due. With interest. Last night, I was about to get into bed at 12:30 (far later than I wanted) and Mason woke up. It was past 1 a.m. by the time I was able to crawl in, and then he woke up again at 3. When Mrs. Fetched goes out to him, he calls for me, but I was just too wasted to do anything but lay there and try to sleep again. Maybe it’ll be better tonight.


I’m going to have to stop working at home for a while, I think. Last Thursday was the last straw. I’d been complaining to Mrs. Fetched that nobody (including her) hesitates to interrupt me when I’m supposed to be working. “I know,” she says — which must mean but I don’t care because it never changes. So Thursday morning, she futzed about doing things that she deemed important while I took care of Mason, and there went the first hour of “work.” Any day I work at home, M.A.E. interrupts me about four times a day, wanting me to watch the kids while she goes out and sucks butt (i.e. cigarette). Mason usually gets too cranky for me to deal at least once a day, so I have to go out and comfort him and sometimes get him to take the nap he needs.

Then M.A.E. had to pick up her check from work. Moptop was napping when it was time to go at 3:30. Mrs. Fetched assured me that she would just take her there and come back by the time Moptop woke up at 4:30. Well… Moptop slept until 4:30 all right — almost on the dot — but no Mrs. Fetched. “Oh, we’re still on our way back. Why don’t you meet us at Zaxby’s for supper?” And that was the last hour of work gone. I really didn’t get much done because I knew I’d not get rolling before the next interruption. Thus, I’m not going to work at home this week. I haven’t said anything, because nobody’s listening and there’s no need for words anyway. If I can’t work at home when I’m supposed to be working, I won’t stay home.

The deal may have been sealed this evening, when Mrs. Fetched talked about me watching Moptop again while I’m supposed to be working on Thursday. There was some static on the line, so I may not have heard right, but it wouldn’t surprise me if I did understand correctly. Or maybe it’s the Evil Twins who are going to watch her — they just called about arranging to babysit. Maybe I will work at home on Thursday.

Friday, April 15, 2011 19 comments

#FridayFlash: Spark

“That should do it.” Rick said. “Tighten it down and we’ll check the alignment.”

I did as Rick said, grabbing a socket wrench out of the toolbox he (or rather, his robo-presence) carried, and tightening the mounting bolts holding up the solar panel.

“Done.” I lifted the old hail-damaged solar panel from the wet ground, trying not to break it more than it was already, and put it in the robo’s cargo box. “Three more, I think.”

“Four.” I didn’t argue — Rick had uploaded a year ago, and could look up information just by thinking about it. “Next one’s up there,” he said, gesturing with one of his arms. He started wheeling; I grabbed the ladder bolted to the side of the robo and hitched a ride, mostly to be funny. I could have walked as quickly as it was moving. The churning treads kicked up the smell of fresh grass. A nice, calm, sunny morning tried to make up for last night’s storms.

“Hey, Paul,” Rick said, coasting to a stop in front of the next broken panel, “why haven’t you uploaded yet?” His voice was a little tinny coming through the speakers; the robo’s “face” (a round display with a camera), swiveled around, showing Rick’s face — the one he had when he was fleshbound like me.

“Hey. Someone’s got to spin the wrenches for you guys,” I said, grabbing the socket and hopping on the lift arm. This panel was a couple of feet above my head. “Besides, I’m still pretty healthy, so there’s no rush.”

“Yeah, but accidents happen,” Rick said. His lift arm twitched, perhaps to drive his point home. I held on; the robos had safeties to keep uploads from actually hurting us fleshbounds, but we could still injure ourselves through panic.

“Nice try.” I cranked on the mounting bolts, avoiding the robo-face.

“But seriously. A few attachments, and we could use these robos to maintain this stuff ourselves. I don’t have to eat, sleep is a habit that can be broken, and nobody gets sick.”

“Cha,” I said, pressing my finger in front of a moving red dot on the robo’s lift arm. It hesitated for a moment, then crawled onto my fingertip. “I’m pretty good about doing my weekly backups. If I’m doing something a little hazardous, I do a complete backup first. I’m more worried about pain than death at this point.”

“So what it is about being fleshbound that’s such a big deal?”

I held the red dot — a ladybug — in front of the robo-face. “Remember haiku?”

“Cha,” he echoed. “So what?”

“So you wrote haiku. Knock out a haiku about this ladybug.”

He frowned. “Sure. Why not? Here’s a ladybug… uh, solar panel fixes… uh… damn. I can usually knock those out in a heartbeat.”

“Yeah. Seventeen syllables, three lines, and you can’t do it anymore.”

“Huh. You’re so smart, you do one.”

“Sure: Spotted ladybug / crawling on my fingertip / then flying away.” I twitched my finger, and it flew.

“Not bad.”

“You remember Buddy Pearson?” I asked.

“Your writer friend? Sure. I finished his last book after I uploaded.”

“He uploaded a few years ago, too. Same reason you did, terminal cancer.”

“Damn. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, Paul.”

“I’ll bet. He said he was going to finish his Jenson Abel series, but you haven’t seen the new one yet, have you?”

“Huh. Now that you mention it…”

“Yeah. So I emailed him a couple weeks ago and asked him how the novel was coming. He said, ‘It’s not. I just can’t seem to get my head into writing since I uploaded.’”

Rick’s robo-face rocked back and forth, a head shake. “A little writer’s block. He’ll get over it.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Has anyone written a story, or painted a picture, or created a video, since they’ve been uploaded? Look it up.”

Rick’s display went blank for a second, then lit up. He looked surprised. “Damn. Not a single thing. Just emails and conversations.”

I said nothing.

“So…” Rick said, tipping his robo-face sideways, “you’re saying that we can’t create anything after we’re uploaded?”

“It hasn’t happened yet,” I said. “And not for lack of trying. You upload your memories, your personality even, but that creative spark? I don’t think it’s getting captured.

“Here, this one’s loose now, let’s get it — whoa. Wait. I need to disconnect it. Okay, now we can get it off here.”

Rick said nothing while helping me maneuver the new solar panel into place, watching quietly while I tightened the mounting bolts.

“That one’s done. Three to go, right?”

“Right.” Rick sounded distant. “I think you’re right about the creativity, by the way. I pinged some people I knew, they pinged some other people, and it’s all over Uploadtopia already.” He said little more as we replaced the last three panels.

The robo froze as we finished the last panel. “You okay, Rick?”

“Communication error,” the robo said in its own voice. “Remote user has been disconnected.”

I waited a minute, then climbed onto the robo and opened the hatch covering the manual controls. It was slow going, but I guided the robo back to its bay. There was no sense in waiting for Rick to come back. The repairs were finished, after all.

My phone chimed.

“Paul, we’ve severed connections to Uploadtopia, except for uploads in progress,” Zero said. “We’re going to shut it down when the last upload is completed.”

“Roger, Zero. I’ll pass the word on to the rest of the living.”

We’ll restart Uploadtopia when we figure out how to send up that spark. Until then, we can use the extra power.

Friday, April 08, 2011 19 comments

#FridayFlash: Packaging Design

Mason puts just about anything in his mouth, and sometimes I wonder what he finds…



Packaging Design

Trials on adults have proven unsatisfactory, as expected. Young human children instinctively attempt to taste or eat small objects, so we can place Transcendence capsules at or near their accustomed feeding places.

“Whoa, Mack! What is that?” Dad pulled his baby son’s hands away from the table and looked at the two small objects he’d reached for — black cylinders, maybe a quarter-inch long and a third as wide. “Dried-up leftovers.” He picked them up with a napkin and threw them in the trash.

Standard Transcendence capsules do not resemble human food items, especially for those of the targeted age. Our designers are working on a new form factor.

Dad was watching the pictures, and Mack knew he was distracted. He slipped out of his dad’s lap and began exploring. He waddled around the room in front of Dad, picking up toys and dropping them. From experience, he knew that Dad would watch him for a short time, then he would have just a moment to properly explore.

After the fourth pick up and drop, Mack turned to look. Dad’s attention was on the pictures again, and it was noisy. He gave Dad his cutest grin, the one that always got a reaction from anyone watching, and got no response. A laugh bubbled up, but Mack knew to turn it into a talk sound. He stumped past Dad’s chair, still chattering, and over to the table.

Food! He reached down —

“Mack! What is that?”

Mack grabbed the morsel from the floor, put it in his mouth, and ran away laughing. Dad caught him, of course, but Mack had already swallowed.

The new form factor has proven successful. The trial subject has ingested the Transcendence capsule. Recommend immediate quantity production.

“Book!”

“That’s right. You want to read?”

Mack nodded, and Dad sat him on his lap and opened the board book. Such a smart baby, Dad thought, eleven months and he’s already talking.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011 11 comments

Whew

Mrs. Fetched is not at the manor tonight. FINALLY, I get to catch up on blog stuff!

Saturday was one of those weekend days I’m not terribly thrilled with: when I’m doing everything except what I’d like to be doing on a weekend. On a whim, I kept track of my hours:

08:00 - 10:30 Watching Mason
10:30 - 12:00 Video shoot (for one of DoubleRed’s classes)
12:00 - 02:30 Lunch with Mrs. Fetched’s dad (plus a side trip)
02:30 - 03:30 Trimming the hedges, something that was really needed
03:30 - 04:30 Taking M.A.E. to work
04:30 - 07:30 Watching Mason, took him to the park (see below)
07:30 - 09:00 Supper (at Ryan’s with Mrs. Fetched’s parents)
09:00 - 09:30 The only free time I had all day
09:30 - 10:30 Doing taxes
10:30 - 11:45 Picking up M.A.E. from work
11:45 - bedtime

The reason I did this? I was anticipating hearing Mrs. Fetched gripe about why I hadn’t finished the taxes yet. She wisely chose to not say anything.

During the afternoon Mason shift, I took him to the park. He was indifferent to getting in the car, but got really excited when he saw where we were going. I had absolutely no problem bundling him into the stroller and taking him there.

He had a pretty good time — especially since he decided he was now brave enough to go down the slides. So he went down…


…and up, proving he’s The Boy’s child.


If you haven’t been keeping up with White Pickups, the last episode drove off last week. Of course, I haven’t resolved many important issues, including the nature of the pickups themselves. The sequel, Pickups and Pestilence, should tie up all the loose ends. There’s still the work of transforming the original story into a regular novel and doing “something” with it. Whether that “something” is trying to get an agent and go the traditional publishing route, or short-circuit that whole circus and indie-publish, is something I’ll be wrestling with for a while. Whichever way I go, I want the entire story complete.

Somewhere along the line, I decided to give Scrivener a try. It comes highly recommended by several writers I know, and you can download it and try it free for 30 days, so I figured I had little to lose. It took me about an evening to realize it caters to my episodic novel-writing style, and another day or two to realize it can export to the major eBook formats, so I decided to cough up the $45 for it. Being a cheap so-and-so, when I saw the “enter coupon code” field in the web order form, I hunted up a coupon code online and got it for $36 instead. The sequel is already in there, and now I just need to bring in the original… and FAR Future while I’m at it.

Over the weekend, one of my Twitter buddies retweeted a link to a writing contest, hosted by a fantasy journal called Hogglepot. Brooke hadn’t received any entries, with only a week left in the submission period, and I just happened to have a story that fit the criteria — a longer version of The Philosopher’s Stone. To get it close to the 1000-word flash criterion, I’d cut it down to the point of damaging the story. The longer version might get a chance to breathe in a different venue. I hope there’s some more entries — I’d be thoroughly embarrassed if I ended up finishing second in a field of one — and Brooke has extended the deadline for two weeks, so if you have a fantasy short you ought to send it along.

Since I’ve been cranking out lots of #FridayFlash stories, I also need to figure out what I want to submit for Best of Friday Flash Vol 2. If I eliminate the serials (there go G-5 and Accidental Sorcerers), and anything over 1000 words (bye-bye Philosopher’s Stone), I still have several stories I think are worthy for consideration. But picking just one (that’s a requirement) is difficult. Maybe y’all can help? Which of these is the best one? Check ’em out if you can’t quite remember them…

Leave a comment with your preference or tweet me — or heck, send me an email if you like. Just help me out, okay?

It’s not Wednesday, but just in case I don’t get a chance to wibble tomorrow, I’d like to welcome G.P. Ching to the free-range insane asylum. Ms. Ching is a Friday Flash stalwart, and has a debut novel out, The Soulkeepers. Go check her writing out!

And now, I’m off to type in what I wrote at lunch: some of Pickups and Pestilence. I’m down to five blank pages in my Moleskine…

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