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Thursday, September 29, 2011 17 comments

#FridayFlash: Off the Cub

Icy Sedgwick laid down the challenge: “write a story about a pirate captain, a fictional London bus route, and a kidnapped bear cub.” Am I up to the challenge? You decide (and leave a comment)! I’m sure I suck at UK dialects, but I hope that doesn’t muck up the story too much for you…

The main character is from the same universe as Chasing a Rainbow, a short serial I hope to start posting soon. This runs just a little long; I hope you’ll forgive me.

Off the Cub

Chelina crouched in the alley, cursing her brother by every Dark Power she knew. “Never again will I make a wager with you, Chelinn!” she muttered, knowing she would. The potential thrill of beating him at his own game far outweighed the humiliation and (in this case) outright terror of losing once again.

She took a deep breath and stood — the Pirate Queen of Haven would not cower like a slave girl — then let her senses reach out. This city was enormous. She could feel the weight of it in her gut. More souls here than all of Haven, perhaps all of Termag. She stretched further — gods, iron was more plentiful than water here — there. A wide river, noxious with filth. That was where she would find it.

Taking a deep breath, she left the alleyway, her purposeful stride carrying her quickly. Tall as a man, more broad-shouldered than many men, she drew attention as she moved. True, she was dressed in the best work of Haven’s best tailors: black leather vest and short skirt, cut to enhance her beauty while providing freedom of movement; red sash; black leather boots, nearly knee-high to conceal her knives. Her long black hair, tied with red lace, hung halfway down her back. She grimaced as her brother’s advice rang in her ears: This world doesn’t like a visible display of weaponry. Nor are they thrilled with the kind of carnage you enjoy so, no matter how deserved it may be. Try not to draw attention to yourself.

“Not so easy, brother.” Chelina smiled. Men were the same everywhere: they looked upon her with longing and fear as they passed by. Am I strong enough to win her? Doubtful. Most of the men had a softness about them that she associated with the merchant class. Indeed, her brother was the only man she knew who could stand against her and even hope to prevail.

She reached the river and marveled. “What kind of world is this?” she whispered. “Even their ships are made of iron!” The smallest of them would be a treasure on Haven — if only she could carry it on her back across the rainbow, of course. At least the harbormaster’s office was easy to recognize; she walked in.

“How may I help you?” the man behind the desk asked her, giving her more than a once-over.

“I’m looking for the vessel Fletcher 4,” she replied.

He turned to a nearby panel, tapped at an array of buttons, then said, “Ah, Fletcher 4. That would be slip 74, down to the right.” He looked her over again. “Right. Might I ask what your business is with Mister Harvey?”

“It’s a private matter,” said Chelina, sliding a gold coin across the desk. “I’m expected.”

Those eyes stopped crawling over her body and focused on the coin. “Quite right.” He paused. “Ah, m’lady, this ain’t coinage of the realm —”

“It’s gold. Probably a week’s pay for such as you.” She slid another coin his way, then a third. “It occurs to me: I may need coinage of the realm, as you put it, to finish what I need to do here. Could you possibly trade me some of yours?”

The man stopped breathing for a long moment, staring at the gold coins. “Yes. Yes, that’s certainly possible.” He dug into his pockets, and produced both coins and slips of paper. “Not nearly the worth of one of your coins, mind you, but it’s all I have.”

She left the office a few minutes later, striding quickly to Slip 74. No guards in sight on the Fletcher 4 — but they were there, she was sure. She walked by the small ship, noting likely hatches. Slipping behind one of the huge iron boxes strewn across the docks like so much garbage, she worked a spell that made her hard to notice before crossing the gangplank and boarding. A task made for your talents, Chelinn had said. Board a ship and relieve it of its cargo. Except that she wasn’t on the high seas.

She’d guessed right about the hatch, and slipped below. She sensed the crew, but as long as nobody ran into her she would be unnoticed. Her nose and senses led her to her goal.

She dispelled her cloak; the bear cub looked at her from the far corner of its pen and made a noise at her. Another minor magic… “Food? Hungry.”

“Food outside,” she lied. “Come to your den.” Chelina put her hand on the lock and it fell open —

“‘Ere, what’s this?” A sailor approached, some kind of angular club in hand. Chelina turned and pulled open her vest, revealing her breasts. He never saw the knife that slashed his throat.

“Men. So predictable.” She smirked and covered herself, watching his blood pour into the deck. The bear cub squealed and shrank back, reminding her why she was here.

More magic: she calmed the cub, then cast a glamour over it. Its brown fur became a chaotic mop of hair, its round figure a chubby boy’s. She coaxed it out of the cage, then pushed the dead sailor in. Another glamour made her victim look like a sleeping bear cub, at least until dawn.

“Come,” she said, taking the cub by the paw.

A guard stood watch at the bow, but people coming out were not his concern. Even if they were a hot-looking Amazon and her fat kid. He watched them — her, anyway — debark and walk away.

“Cargo retrieved,” she said to herself. And return it to the London Zoo, was her brother’s final instruction.

One more familiarity: whores looked the same here as well. Chelina approached the first one she saw. “Greetings, sister.”

“Sister? I ain’t yer sister! Get on wi’ ya, or —” She hushed, seeing gold in Chelina’s hand. “Look, sweetie. You need to do somethin’ about the kid first.”

“That’s not your worry. I just need to know the easiest way to get to the London Zoo from here.”

“Ah! Is that all?” The whore snatched the coin. “Take the Number 47 bus. It stops just up the way there.” She pointed the direction.

Chelina had to calm both the bear cub and herself before they could board the bus. As it lurched away, she swore her brother would pay for this.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011 3 comments

Writing Wibbles

You would think I would have had plenty of time to crank one of these out last week. But, no. I was actually getting some writing done while traveling on business to our office in Beaverton, OR (more about that later). Kind of nice to be able to come to a quiet hotel room and not worry about people wanting you to Drop Everything and take care of their stuff.

The writing action the last couple of weeks was centered around Pickups and Pestilence. I figured out how Chapter 8 was going to fly, and that filled in a serious gap in the story. If I were to start serializing it today, at the usual one a week, I’d have a year’s worth of episodes in the queue. I think I’m about ⅔ of the way done with it.

Even better, I now have a clear view of the endgame. Among writers on Twitter and the blogs, there’s a “plotter or pantser?” meme (we have too much fun with it to call it a controversy). After writing just over 150,000 words on the White Pickups two-fer, I’ve finally figured out how it ends. I’ve had some thoughts about it all along, even from the time when I expected White Pickups to be a 30,000-word novella instead of two large novels, but none of them ever felt quite right. This is definitely pantsing, i.e. writing by the seat of my pants. The thing is, it actually works for me. Of course, what’s really happening is that I’m taking dictation from the voices in my head. Naturally, the changes reverberated all the way back to Chapter 1 of White Pickups. Funny thing was, several things I put at the end of the first book are tied to the ending of the second. Maybe the voices in my head knew all along and gave it to me piecemeal.

My next large project, tentatively called Wings, is going to be largely plotted. In fact, much of the plotting is done already. I did that as a compromise — it wanted some attention, and I’m trying to stay focused on finishing a large commitment as described above, so I threw down as many details as I could into a mindmap (you may remember this wibble from July). I did it so I won’t forget important details when it actually comes time to start writing, rather than any serious conversion to plotting (I think a plot is like a battle plan: neither of them survives very long once they’re actually used).

Maybe some of you are still stuck on the “year’s worth of episodes” thing three paragraphs back, thinking Hey FARf, if you’ve got that much done why aren’t you posting them already? Well, I’ve been thinking about that ever since I got back from Oregon. Here’s what’s going to happen: I’m going to get White Pickups released, I hope some time next month. When I hit some arbitrary sales figure (50? 100? don’t know yet), I’ll start posting episodes. I’m hoping to complete the first draft of Pickups and Pestilence by the end of the year, and have it ready for release in the spring, so it should be available long before the last episode goes up on the blog. (You see where I’m going with this?) If you don’t want to wait to see how it ends, you’ll be able to get the eBook.

Yes, I’m pantsing this whole marketing and promotion thing too.

For my #FridayFlash this week, I’m going to try really hard to do something with Icy Sedgwick’s prompt: “write a story about a pirate captain, a fictional Londe bus route, and a kidnapped bear cub.” I’m going to assume “Londe bus” means “London bus,” since that’s what Google thought it meant.

Monday, September 26, 2011 No comments

Lobster Toss

Lobster's better sideLobster hasn’t been at the manor for more than a few minutes at a time since we returned from the resort. We specifically told him to not bring his girlfriend over here, especially since he hasn’t even started divorce proceedings, so he (and she) have been at Big V’s place. Another instruction I gave him before we left for Michigan was: “no drugs over here, or you’re outta here.”

Well… back when M.A.E. was still here, the first night we left for Michigan, he and a friend (that Mrs. Fetched told him to never bring to the manor) went in the detached garage and did some meth.
According to M.A.E., he was so whacked he probably doesn’t remember her cussing him out. So last night, Mrs. Fetched told me I needed to tell him to pack it up. Fine, whatever.

So tonight I sat down to check the state of the Internet and it immediately started thundering. I unplugged the power strip and figured that telling Lobster to come get his stuff would be a waste of time because he’s: a) too lazy to get off his girlfriend and do it; b) hoping Mrs. Fetched would forget about it if he put it off long enough, because she has a history of doing that. We’ve been down this road before; I grabbed a couple of garbage bags and waded into the nightmare that is the former bedroom of The Boy and Snippet (and Lobster, sleeping on a mattress at the foot of the bed).

The pile of dirty clothes behind the door was immediately recognizable as Lobster’s, so I shoveled clothes into one of the bags. After removing our towels (so that’s where they all went!), the remaining pile of clothes fit easily into one bag. I started on a second pile, but began recognizing some of those as The Boy’s things. I did, however, find a suitcase that belonged to Lobster so the clothes that looked clean went in there. Things that were obviously garbage went into the trash.

As I was finishing up, Mrs. Fetched made her slow way up the steps. After seeing what I was up to, she joined in. As with anything the wife does, scope creep ensued and (after figuring we got all of Lobster’s stuff bagged up) we started going through all the other crap laying on the floor. There were dishes, cups, a few empties (mostly beer but there was a Crown Royal bottle too), more socks, more towels, more socks, and even more socks. I took a deep breath and dived under the bed and found… more socks, among many other things including several empty photo albums for Mason and a bag of (thankfully unused) condoms. Many little bits of paper and other articles of trash. The iPad charger and an All Dogs Go To Heaven DVD. The lighter I’d been missing (for starting fires in the patio table firepit).

But the crowning horror was yet to come. Daughter Dearest complained mightily about the state of the bathroom when she was here last weekend. She even taped a note to Lobster on the mirror, ending with “if you would clean up after yourself, maybe you could keep a girlfriend.” We found the note in the bedroom; I was surprised he didn’t wad it up or shred it. But the bathroom hadn’t been cleaned up beyond removing the note. Mrs. Fetched, who has cleaned up a dead man’s blood in the bizarre reality that is life at FAR Manor, started by mining out the mildewed washcloths and towels piled in a corner. She asked me to bring a broom, the mop, and the mop bucket. Figuring she’d want me to bring up the cleaning stuff she forgot to ask for, I added it to the load.

So that’s where we are tonight. Mrs. Fetched is cleaning up the biohazardous upstairs bathroom, after I took some risks picking up crap in the bedroom. Tomorrow, I’m getting a large bottle of rum and drinking myself happy.

Friday, September 23, 2011 14 comments

#FridayFlash: A Day at the Museum

This is something I posted on Google+ a while back. I thought I’d update it a little and share it here.

A Day at the Museum

The hands-on museum was open at last! I was one of the first inside. A room titled Evolution of the Book caught my eye, and I went to check it out.

The artwork on the device’s outer display attracted my attention, and I picked up the rectangular object. It flexed in one direction, which was kind of interesting. Its cover wrapped around one side to the back, leaving it open on the other side.

I opened it. “Wow,” I thought, “this thing must be expensive.” It consisted of hundreds of thin, flexible text displays. The text crawled down both sides of each display, which was a good design feature — it saved both cost and bulk. I read a few lines, and found the display amazingly crisp. I flexed the device and ran my thumb across the edges of the displays, and it gave off a scent unfamiliar and pleasant. Nowhere did I see power or data jacks — did they have wireless charging and book loading back then? Maybe the cover had some kind of solar collector built-in.

A horrific thought struck me — what if this thing only held one book? Storage would be a nightmare, especially if you had a thousand of them. Not to mention the expense of having a device dedicated to just one book. And how did you update it, send it back to the factory?

I shuddered and laid it back on the table. This thing definitely belonged in a museum.

Thursday, September 15, 2011 10 comments

#FridayFlash: On the Georgia Road 3

If you've missed others in this irregular series:

On the Georgia Road 1
On the Georgia Road 2

“Lanier Fest runs Friday through Tuesday. If you’re short on gas — and aren’t we all? — MARTA is running shuttles from the Doraville station. The shuttles leave at 9 a.m. and noon, and return to Doraville at 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. If you’re staying overnight, each passenger is allowed a bag as long as it fits in your lap or at your feet. Call the MARTA hotline, shown at the bottom of your screen, for further details or last-minute schedule changes.

“While Lake Lanier will be busy this weekend, many other Georgia lakes are all but becalmed, deep in Unincorporated territory. In today’s segment of ‘On the Georgia Road,’ Sean McKinzie visits Lake Arrowhead in Cherokee County. Sean?”

Cut to: Sean McKinzie, exterior, freeway shoulder. Unincorporated Area sign in background. “Hi Marcia. Located just a few miles north of Canton, Lake Arrowhead was one of Georgia’s most scenic planned communities. Many homeowners commuted to Marietta or even Atlanta, or had a second home and spent weekends on the golf course. That all changed with the ESPA in 2015, when all of Cherokee County was designated an Unincorporated Area. The homes are still there, and some are still occupied. We went ‘On the Georgia Road’ to learn more.”

Cut to: interviewee, interior. Title: “Andrew Kelly / Lake Arrowhead Homeowner” “It’s a really beautiful house. I couldn’t afford the commute, but I think one of my neighbors was going to try sticking it out. I’ve got a housesitter watching the place, and I keep thinking I’m gonna take a long weekend up there before summer runs out. My wife’s kind of afraid to go there, though. She thinks we’ll get shot the minute we cross the county line or something.”

Cut to: Sean, interior, moving vehicle. “While I-575 is technically incorporated, the Army leaves spur highways to local enforcement. The State Patrol took on the responsibility, and is giving us an escort to the old Riverstone retail district. From there, a Cherokee County deputy will take us to Lake Arrowhead.”

Cut to: deputy, exterior, abandoned retail strip in background. Title: “Roy Hart, Deputy” “Gettin’ cut off like this hasn’t been easy, but it ain’t all bad. It’s mostly peaceful here, kinda like the old days. People settle their differences among themselves, and they don’t get us involved. We got a task force down in Woodstock, keepin’ meth labs busted up and all; but up here it’s not too bad.”

Cut to: exterior shot, edge of college campus, shot from moving car. “This is what used to be Reinhardt University’s main campus, in the heart of Waleska. We took this footage for our business anchor, Reinhardt alumnus Isaac White, but we learned some interesting facts about the campus that we’ll cover in another segment. The south entrance to Lake Arrowhead is just a few miles past the campus.”

Cut to: exterior, guardhouse. “Lake Arrowhead was always a gated community, but now the gate security is armed. Fortunately, we were expected. Once inside, we saw bicycles and foot traffic, and only two other cars along the way.”

Cut to: exterior, lake house. “This is Andrew Kelly’s lake house. Mr. Kelly hired a local businessman, Jackie Barnes, to keep his house looked after and maintained. ‘J.B.,’ as his friends know him, watches — and lives — at both this house and the house next door.”

Cut to: exterior, housesitter, lakeshore. Kids splashing in the water, adults grilling or fishing on the shore or from rowboats. Title: “Jackie Barnes, Housesitter” “There’s been a few incidents, but nothin’ we can’t handle ourselves.” Cut to: hand patting holster, then back to J.B. “This ain’t some kind of impregnable fortress. The security folks do a good job, but they can’t catch every single fool who slips in cross-country. Gettin’ in is the easy part. The question is, when you come out, are you goin’ to jail or the cemetery?

“Yeah, the owners keep sayin’ they’re gonna come up and stay a few days or even a week, but we ain’t seen ‘em yet. If one ever does come up, we’ll just stay in the other house until they leave. I don’t think we’ll ever see both of ‘em up here at the same time though. But if it happens? Plenty of houses in here that ain’t bein’ looked after, you know. We’ll check ‘em out for free.

“A couple of the neighbors bring groceries when they go out. We eat lotsa fish too. Squirrels, groundhogs, rabbits if we trap ‘em. The mission brings canned goods, sometimes a little produce, out to the gate for people in here sometimes too. The golf course is shut down, so some of us have gardens on the fairways.”

Cut to: exterior, lake house. Solar panels and satellite dish on roof. Sean: “Mr. Kelly’s neighbor, Vikram Patel, is one of several homeowners who have succeeded in staying. Mr. Patel works for Marietta-based Trileo Communications as an engineer.”

Cut to: exterior, Indian interviewee. Title: “Vikram Patel / Homeowner” “It is very peaceful out here. I think I have heard a powerboat maybe… two, maybe three times all summer. Very quiet. I work all day, check in maybe two, three times. On Fridays, I drive to Marietta to my office. Sonali buys our groceries, and anything else we need, while I work. It is a very good arrangement. We get a large tax break for living out here, too.

“My sister conducts a home school for our children and some of the housesitters’ children. That works well, the children are in a good environment and nobody has to worry about gas.”

Cut to: exterior, Sean, close-up. “Like anywhere else in America, resourceful businesspeople are always ready to satisfy a need. Whether it’s property protection or simply transportation or food distribution — or even food procurement — commerce goes on, even in unincorporated areas.” Camera pulls back, showing Sean in a boat with a fisherman holding up a fish. “On the Georgia Road, I’m Sean McKinzie.”

Wednesday, September 14, 2011 3 comments

Vacation Writing Wibbles

It’s been an odd week for writing, both good and bad. But first, let’s greet the new follower:

  • Philip Ellis — I couldn’t find your website, but shoot me some info and I’ll update!
Being at the resort, I have to go to the clubhouse or office to get Internet access — between Mason and Mrs. Fetched each needing attention, that has been catch as catch can. Writing has been a little easier: I don’t have to go anywhere to do that, and not being able to mess around on Twitter means I have one less distraction/excuse to crank out some words.

Of course, I’d have preferred to focus on Pickups and Pestilence, but I’ve had some trouble putting scenes into words with that one. Instead, I’ve found myself working on a pair of novellas. The first, Chasing a Rainbow, is a fantasy based on a completely worn-out trope; I’m hoping the main characters will make it worth the read. The second, which doesn’t even have a working title, is a sci-fi/detective mashup. I don’t want to get too detailed about either one, since I hope to post one or both as Tuesday Serials when I get them closer to completion.

A shelf here in the clubhouse has a ton of toys to keep Mason occupied, and a random collection of books up top. I picked up Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King day before yesterday and plowed through it in a day. Most of King’s work is a quick read, at least for me, so I knew I wouldn’t end up leaving it unfinished. I left a review on Goodreads if you’re curious.

And that’s been my Week in Writing.

Sunday, September 11, 2011 2 comments

Mason Gets a Boat Ride

Up at the resort. Mrs. Fetched, after giving me Friday night to myself, gave me Mason all day yesterday and today. We’ve had a good time; we signed out a paddleboat yesterday afternoon and he got his first(?) boat ride:

We went to the pool after supper. There was another family there, with two ten-ish kids who thought Mason was truly the World’s Cutest Grandkid. The boy even held him for a moment, before Mason suddenly got anxious about it.

We’ve taken a couple long walks (well, I did the walking and pushed him in the stroller). Right now, we’re at the clubhouse where he’s working his way through a shelf full of toys and I’m scarfing the wifi.

Friday, September 09, 2011 30 comments

#FridayFlash: At Rest

This is a dark one for me. That’s what I get for looking for inspiration in a graveyard again. Like I said, this cemetery has been around a long time, and more than a few (very) young children are buried here. The grave below has a hole in the middle of it; I wondered what happened and the story once again wrote itself.

At Rest

Child's grave
Talia Hart glanced about her, but the others seemed inclined to allow her this moment alone. A wisp of autumn wind stirred about her, whispering comfort. The scent of turned earth mingled with the cut flowers she held, calling spring planting to mind.

“I won’t say I’m sorry you’re gone, Fredrick Hart,” she whispered. “I loved you the best a wife could. But whatever it was that happened, it was comin’ to you.”

A twinge of guilt washed over her, and unwanted tears came. Was she to blame? She cursed him that night, after all…

Fredrick paused in his drunken humping. “Won’t it shut the hell up?”

“She’s probably hungry. Babies get that way. Finish what you’re doin’ and I’ll go feed her.”

Her husband returned to business for a few seconds, then rolled off her. “Shit. Just take care of it.”

Talia stood, pulled her gown down, and made her stiff-legged way to their daughter’s cradle. “Hush now, Mary,” she said, shrugging one full breast out of her gown and offering it to the baby. Mary fussed for a few seconds, then latched on. Talia winced, but made no protest — Mary was just a baby after all. Life was pain, the preacher said, and that was true. Mary’s hunger, Fredrick’s meanness, the endless work in between, from pain to pain. Maybe she should take to hard drinkin’ the way her husband did. Was doing now, from the sound of it.

After a while, Mary slept and Talia returned to bed. Fredrick yanked her gown up and rolled on. “Saddle up, boys, this ride ain’t finished yet,” he chuckled, thrusting —

Mary started wailing again.

“That’s it!” he yelled, jumping to his feet. “I’m takin’ care of this, once and for all!” He stomped toward the cradle.

“Fredrick, no!” Talia screamed, grabbing his arm. That was all she remembered for a while.

Talia awoke on the floor, face on fire. Her husband sat at the rough table, whiskey jug at hand. Something’s wrong… “Mary!” She scrambled to her feet.

“Died in her sleep,” said Fredrick, staring at the ceiling. “Prob’ly choked on somethin’. I went and gave her a good Christian burial out back. You say anything different, and you’ll be there next to her. Understand?” He took a long pull from his jug, then laid his head on the table.

“The Devil take you for what you done, Fredrick Hart,” she hissed. “And may he do you ten times worse than what you did to an innocent baby, for all eternity.” Then she passed out herself.

Fredrick Hart had a still at the back of his property, shielded from sight by a rhododendron hedge growing along the creek. He got a fair income from whiskey, and might have got more had he not been so fond of his own makings. This new moon night was just right for the work: plenty dark enough to keep trespassers at home, no wind so the fire wouldn’t get out of hand. The wife was keeping the house… not like she’d done much else these last few months. Never spoke unless spoken to, and only one or two words if that. Which suited him just fine —

Snap went a twig, and Fredrick slipped into the bushes. He left dry twigs all around the still, to give him fair warning. He drew his boot knife, slow and silent, and listened.

A squall went up. Fox got a rabbit, but it kept on like a hungry baby.

“What the hell,” he muttered, slipping around the rhododendron and along the soft moist creek bank. The wailing kept on, leading him. “Died in her sleep,” he whispered, not realizing. Truth be told, he didn’t remember what happened to Talia’s brat. He must have buried it, though. He’d later paid good coin for a crude headstone:

B. JAN 26, 18—
D. APR 4, 18—

The wailing. Fredrick wrung the hilt of his knife and followed the noise up the bank. Too dark to see, but he knew where he was.

Now the noise was behind him. He trotted along the edge of the river bank —

Talia found him the next afternoon, just above the still. He’d slipped and fell onto one of his own traps; the sharpened stick went in between his legs and came out behind his shoulder. From the look on his face, he’d lived a little while. She nodded and took the wagon into town for help.

Wiping her eyes with her free hand, Talia walked to the wagon. Without a word to anyone, she rode away, still clutching the bunch of late-summer flowers.

At home, she went to Mary’s little grave. Something — maybe a gopher — had dug a hole in the middle of it. Talia slipped the flowers into the hole. She glanced at the headstone, but her tears hid a line that had not been there before:


Wednesday, September 07, 2011 2 comments

Writing Wibbles

Greetings to all y’all…

It’s been a strange week for writing. The three-day weekend at Mom’s didn’t let me do much more than nibble at the edges of things, although I did finish up a third segment of On the Georgia Road that may become my #FridayFlash this week if another idea doesn't strike me tomorrow. But I’ve mostly been trying to get some momentum on Pickups and Pestilence — filling in holes here and there, trying to get rolling on the last half of the story. Some time in the last week, an important detail finally became clear: I’ve known for a long time what’s behind the pickups, but not why they’re white pickups instead of a Maserati or Ford Expedition. Only 140,000 words in before I figured it out.

Mom says, “needs more nasties!” There’s a group that fits the description in Pickups and Pestilence, but I also have a feeling our heroes will run into Perry Adams

Meanwhile, I’m not neglecting White Pickups. I’ve begun tackling the dreaded “blurb,” the summary on the back cover of printed books. The White Pickups page has the first attempt; Mari Juniper (my April Fool’s Blog Swap partner) gave me some suggested fixes that I’m working on now. I never realized how difficult it could be to condense a 95,000-word story into a single paragraph of promotional come-on. But I’ve summarized 500-page technical manuals with a haiku. I can do this.

A week ago, I said I was going to change the blog template because of several deficiencies: the “contact me” link went nowhere, and not having the Share buttons, were the two big ones. But I also wanted the “comment” link at the bottom of each post, where it’s more likely to get clicked by someone who just finished reading. I figured I should check the Deluxe Templates site for an update before doing anything drastic — there wasn’t an update, but there were instructions for adding the Share buttons! That didn’t include the +1 button, but a little poking around on the Blogger site led me to a fix for that too. Fixing the “contact me” link was trivial by comparison; I pointed it at my profile for now. For whatever reason, I figured out how to copy the “comment” link to the bottom this time, when I couldn’t when I first started using Abrasive.

So now I have almost everything I wanted. The last part, making the sidebar wider (from 180px to 240px), involves widening the background graphics as well. I have Photoshop Elements, so I don’t expect that to be a huge problem. Speaking of the sidebar, I put a small copy of the White Pickups cover in there.

Then when I was reading Tony Noland’s #FridayFlash last week, I noticed he had a “LinkWithin” widget at the bottom of his posts that links to related posts on his blog. The widget also had a link to its home site, so I followed that and found easy instructions for adding one to TFM… so I did. It’s kind of fun, seeing what posts come up and sometimes following them. It was a little random at first; it said it could take a few hours to index the blog. Given that TFM is approaching 1,300 posts, it might have taken a few days.

So I have all these new features bolted onto the blog, and once I get the sidebar widened that’s going to be all the changes for a while. Feel free to click them to see what else is lurking here — or share it around with your friends, of course. Smack that +1 button if you like a post. Don’t forget to leave a comment…

Tuesday, September 06, 2011 5 comments

Happy Birthday, Mason!

Although he’s been “terrible” for a while now, today Mason is officially two!

Blowing out the candles

After blowing out the candles, he seriously considered eating his cake Viking-style…

Who needs a fork when you’ve got a tongue?

Compared to last year’s big blowout, this was a pretty low-key event. The Boy and Snippet wanted to come down, but were out of money. Since the van’s alternator decided to begin eating its bearings on the way home from Mom’s yesterday (it got us home), and my car’s thermostat got stuck this morning, we have no money to send them. August came a month late this year.

As Mason blows out his second candle, he’s advancing a lot these days. He’s getting scary-good at climbing — not quite The Boy’s level, but getting close. (Speaking of which, he refers to himself as The Boy, which could get confusing around here.) He’s also beginning to move beyond two-word sentences: last week, he told me “The boy drive Granddad’s car.” This evening, after cake, he told Mrs. Fetched: “The boy is hungry,” and pointed to himself. He also told me, “Granddad in, too,” referring to the underside of his bed.

The Boy and Snippet think they’ll be able to just come get Mason once they get settled up in Wisconsin, but I don’t think it’ll be quite that easy. Mason barely knows his parents now, and there would have to be a transition time for them to take over without seriously disrupting his life. I really want them to be where they can actually be his parents, but I don’t want it to be at Mason’s expense. I just haven’t seen that he’s been their priority even when they were here.

Thursday, September 01, 2011 18 comments

#FridayFlash: Grand Coup

I got the idea for this story Wednesday evening, on a stroll with Mason. We walk along a dirt road bordering a nearby cemetery, since there’s not much traffic to contend with. Some of the buried were born in the 1830s; some of those have Confederate flags next to their headstones, indicating a Civil War veteran. The story came to me almost immediately. Any perceived resemblance to The Screwtape Letters is an honor on my part.

Thanks to Tony Noland, Chuck Allen, and Craig WF Smith for looking it over. I was concerned it might be too dialog-heavy.

Grand Coup

“Welcome to the real world, kid.” Filth held out his grimy paw, engulfed the newcomer’s in it.

Despair grinned. “Yeah. No more classes. Church bells, but that training was like Limbo — I never thought I’d get outta there!”

“Hey, watch your mouth. You Venals all come outta training thinkin’ you’re Hell on Wheels. Got all the latest techniques, up to date with the modern program and all that shit. Well, I got news for ya, hot shot: your real training begins right here, right now.”


“Oh, come on. You know the saying: those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.”

“And those who can’t teach, administrate!”

Filth glanced around them. “I wouldn’t say that too loud, kid. Some of these walls has ears, ya know. Besides, that’s some human’s idea of a joke. Your instructors, they did their worst with ya. But half of ‘em never been out in the field, and the other half got kicked upstairs ‘cuz they didn’t get the job done. You know? Okay, riddle me this: what’s the best way to get a soul on the road to Hell?”

“Huh, that’s easy. Sex.”

“Bah.” Filth spit, making the stone sizzle. “See, the problem with you Venals is, they pump you up. Yeah, they gotta make you prideful, you’ll never get the job done if you start doubtin’ yerself, but then they fill you up with our own propaganda.” He lowered his grinding voice. “Ya didn’t hear this from me, but the Enemy created those greasy little humans with a sex drive. It’s the way they’re wired, not a whole lot of sin in that. Why do you think the Propaganda Department gets ‘em focused so much on it? Yeah. Humans got a one-track mind. Get the churchies all worried about Lust, and they completely ignore Greed. And we get a big ol’ helpin’ of Wrath and Envy on the side, when other people get what those ‘God-fearing’ churchies are afraid of gettin’ themselves. The problem is, you hear the message we send to the humans, then you get to believin’ it yourself.”

Despair scratched between his horns, leaving shallow grooves in the top of his skull. “So what’s the plan?”

“It ain’t the sex that’s brings in the sin, it’s the disloyalty. Women churchies are great for that. Get ‘er all afraid to enjoy herself, she cuts off the man, the man starts lookin’ outside. He don’t even hafta follow through to bring the sin, ya know!”

“Yeah. I knew that.”

“Sure. Even your instructors can get that much right.” Filth made a dismissive gesture. “Gettin’ a human to do somethin’ they shouldn’t, that’s easy. Oh yeah, get ‘em to do it enough, and it adds up, sure. But there’s lotsa ways to fork a soul. You can get ‘em to wanna do it, without ‘em actually havin’ the fun, and that’s what we call a little coup out here in the field.”

“Uh-huh. We learned that in Advanced Temp, last semester of training. Just not that word for it.”

“Yeah. They told you about keepin’ humans from doin’ stuff they should, right? Usually easier than gettin’ ‘em to do, and usually a better result.”

“Sure. Why you tellin’ me all this?”

“Just wanted to make sure you knew the basics, kid. Some of you Venals sleep through the whole thing and think all ya gotta do is keep a human outta church. Were you payin’ attention in yer Historic Triumphs class? You remember Hideous?”

“Oh, yeah. He’s the one that started the American Civil War, right?”

“Close enough. But you probably focused on all the sufferin’ and hatin’ and all the gravy, and didn’t get down to the meat, right?”

“What are you talkin’ about?”

“That wasn’t the point of that war — or any war. The hate, the pain, the killin’, that’s all gravy. Tasty, but it ain’t fillin’. The real point was turnin’ their virtues —” spit, sizzle — “against ‘em. Makin’ that what brings the sin. Hideous got all them souls on the losin’ side to turn their loyalty to their homes into treason against their nation. That’s the biggest score of all, kid. We call it the grand coup.”

Despair got a faraway look. “Grand coup. Yeah.”

“And Hideous didn’t do it to just one soul, he did it on a grand scale. That’s how he ended up running the furnaces — it usually takes serious connections to get that kinda cushy job. And he made the leap from Senior Venal to Grand Malevolence all at once…. Whoa. Look, kid. It’s an advanced technique. Hideous not only paid attention in class, he had a great field mentor and he got bless’ lucky. It takes years to lay the groundwork for that kind of payoff. Old Plaguepit did most of the work, and left it to Hideous when he retired. Rotheart’s doin’ somethin’ similar with the churchies now, dunno if it’ll pay off. It’s always risky playin’ around with churchies. If some of ‘em get wise to the game…” Filth shook his head. “I seen a century of work unravel in weeks, thousands of souls lost — that always gets the attention of those down-pit.” He shuddered. “You and me, kid, we’ll play it safe. Nibble around the edges. Little challenges, stuff that don’t make trouble if it don’t pan out. You don’t need a grand coup to snag a soul. Slow and steady wins the race.”

“Slow and steady. Sure.” Despair still had that faraway look, and that suited Filth just fine. Like flies to shit. He’d been stuck at Senior Vice rank forever, but there was more than one way to get ahead. Let Despair take the risks, and take the fall if he screwed up — it was on the record that Filth cautioned the kid against big schemes — and it would be easy enough to snag the credit and that promotion to Lower Malevolence if the kid did manage to pull off a grand coup.

Writing Wibbles

The more sharp-eyed readers (and I love you all, sharp-eyed or not) noticed that I changed the usual title of Wednesday Wibbles to Writing Wibbles. I’m doing this for two reasons:
  • They don't always end up getting posted on Wednesdays.
  • Much of the content of these posts is about writing in general, and how my writing in particular is going, anyway. May as well make it official, and talk about the free-range insane asylum during the rest of the week.
  • As I get closer to releasing White Pickups, and slowly drop my light coat of anonymity, TFM will of necessity focus more on writing until I move that to its own blog or website.

Earlier this week, Tony Noland wrote a blog post about The risks and rewards of posting NSFW content, after an unusually erotic (for him) #FridayFlash story created some blowback. He hesitated about posting it at first, and asked for opinions on Friday morning. I obliged, and thought it erotic but well-written and not as “bad” as some other erotica I’ve seen on Blogger. I said go for it, just add the NSFW (Not Safe For Work) tag, and he did. Sure, it was an easy call on my part — I didn’t get the blowback — but I think any blowback was unwarranted. I haven’t posted flat-out erotica myself, but there are sex scenes in White Pickups that still move me more than a story about hot wax, even after repeated readings. I didn’t exactly gloss over the nature of Cody’s Christmas present to Sondra in Episode 57, for example.

Tony has this, in part, to say about posting stories that concern matters of the heart (actually, a couple feet below the heart):
I have a nasty tendency to overthink things. This, I believe, has the potential to be a problem for the quality of my writing. I've decided that a writer who is perfectly unobjectionable is far too close to one who is perfectly acceptable, perfectly unexceptionable, perfectly bland.

Perfectly forgettable.

As a writer, can you see yourself striving to be acceptable? That's setting the bar a little low, don't you think?
Indeed it is. I’ve had a couple deep thinks about the sex scenes in White Pickups, and decided they do add to the story. Writing White Pickups has pushed my personal writing envelope for me in several ways — there’s plenty of R-rated language to go with the juicy parts, and I hadn't written much of either previously — but while it would work as a YA novel without those elements, that was never my intent. Even with a youthful main character, it was meant to be an adult novel. Tina at first, then Cody and Sondra later on, made sure of that. But that’s not so important. The important thing is, as I said in my comment on Tony’s post, is there’s no good reason that it’s okay to show people getting beaten, shot, stabbed, or tortured on prime-time TV, but a little nookie gives people the Shivering Collywobbles.

The closest thing I’ve ever written to erotica is a short called Hunter and Trapp. I haven’t posted it on #FridayFlash partly because I can’t get it below 1400 words without marring the story, but mostly because it’s centered around a rape scene. The tables are turned in the end, but I know several of my female friends online have emotional issues centering on either rape or a near-miss. It would disturb them if they stumbled across the story, so I respect that and may find some other venue for the story sooner or later. But even if it only sits on my hard drive or sees an occasional private reading (Maria Kelly thought it was well-written and not at all over the top), it wasn’t wasted effort. The “Trapp” character turns out to be an important part of a half-baked urban fantasy novel that may get some attention before 2015, God willing.

I’m going to change the blog skin soon. Tony pointed out that the “Contact Me” link is broken, and it doesn’t support the “share” tools available on standard Blogger templates. I need a cleaner look anyway. Fair warning, and all that!


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