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Friday, February 28, 2014 12 comments

One Sunday Morning (#FridayFlash)

It was an offhand comment from Maria Lima that drove me to write this…

Pastor Zachariah Jones finished his morning prayers and arose, knees popping. He stretched, raising his hands to Heaven in praise, then ambled out back.

“Thank you, Lord, for seeing me to another Sunday morning,” he said, as he lifted the roof of the small chicken coop. The hens had given him two eggs this morning; he cooked them out back over an open fire with a can of Spam, then took it inside to eat.

The cuckoo clock announced eight o’clock. He shuddered, then chided himself. “Your great-grandfather stood unafraid, preaching the Word to the brothers in Alabama,” he reminded himself. “Your flock needs the Lord, more than anyone. The Joneses have never turned away from the Lord’s call, no matter how difficult, and neither will you.”

The climb to the bell tower was tiring, and Zachariah could smell his own sweat in the still, cool air of the stairwell. But this was the call to worship; his flock would heed the call and come. He stuffed cotton in his ears before pulling the rope.

Across the weed-infested fields, across the blighted cityscape, the pure tones of the church bell summoned the flock to worship. Zachariah could see them, shuffling along the dirty sidewalks, faithful to the call. His heart went out to them; this was not the mission he would have chosen, but he himself would be faithful to God’s call.

As usual, the church was packed, and Zachariah was thankful for the broken windows that let in fresh air. “Good morning, brethren,” he called from the pulpit. “Let us begin our time of worship by lifting our voices to the Lord. Hymn number 553.”

The voices were as mushy as always, but they gave it their all. This was, after all, their favorite hymn:

And are we yet alive, and see each other’s face?
Glory and thanks to Jesus give for His almighty grace!

What troubles have we seen, what mighty conflicts past,
Fightings without, and fears within, since we assembled last!

Yet out of all, the Lord hath brought us by his love;
And still He doth His help afford, and hides our life above.

They seated themselves, some with more ease than others, and Zachariah began his sermon.

As usual, he preached about overcoming temptation, endurance under persecution, and facing their tormenters with grace and humility. These lessons needed to be reinforced every week, especially in the face of threats and worse. Zachariah’s own great-grandfather had faced the same in his day; the white folks burned down one of his churches and tried to burn another, and even shot him once. These days, it was a Sunday morning bombing that Zachariah feared the most. “If only those who would persecute you,” he said, “would join us here, and see the work that we do, perhaps then they would turn away from their sin and unite with the Lord in love.” The flock nodded; many grunted agreement. Zachariah preached on. He never had to worry about losing their attention.

But at last, came time for the altar call. “The Lord gave all men and women free will,” he reminded them, “and He allows us the consequences of our choices. But His word says, ‘he who would keep his life shall lose it, and he who lays down his life for My sake shall keep it.’ And so, the altar is always open, and all God’s creatures may seek salvation.”

A long pause, then one of the zombies stood and shuffled up the aisle. As with the living, others would follow when another led, and a dozen more joined him there. One by one, they moaned their final confessions to the Lord, and passed away peacefully there at the altar.

“Go in peace, and in the love of the Lord,” Zachariah told the remaining zombies. “And you need not wait for Sunday to come to His altar. Resist the temptations of the flesh, and you will be given a crown above.”

“Amen,” several responded, then they carried away those who had gone to the altar.

Zachariah watched the solemn recession. It was important work he did here, and he wished the other living souls understood that. Zombie attacks were down, and their numbers were  dwindling without the need for shotguns or firebombs. Nobody wanted to be a zombie, even the zombies themselves, and there was still a spark of free will in those decaying, hungering bodies. Surely the Lord would bring home those souls who were, after all, only victims of circumstance.


Lyrics: “And Are We Yet Alive” by Charles Wesley, 1749.

Friday, February 21, 2014 15 comments

Overclocking (#FridayFlash)

Be easy on me, this is my first attempt at steampunk.

Image source: openclipart.org
Jacob looked up, hands still in the box. “You over-clocked it, didn’t you?”

“Yes,” said Thomas. “Does it matter?”

“Of course it matters!” Jacob threw up his hands. “You can’t just swap in a higher speed drive and expect it to go.”

“Why not?”

“Look here. Take this loupe, put it on.” Jacob took up a long pointer. “See here?” He prodded a gear train, deep inside the box. “Liberty Gearworks… well, you’re lucky if your geartrains are properly aligned to begin with. They stamp out their gears as fast and cheap as they can, instead of properly casting them. Nothing’s balanced, nothing’s deburred. That’s why we can all afford a gearworks if we want. We just can’t all have a very good one.”

“So what happened?”

“You over-clocked it. You swapped in a drive with a heavier mainspring, bigger flywheel, bigger ratio drive gear. And did nothing else. Right? Right. So you were spinning the same shoddy geartrains faster. They got hot and threw off oil, and that just made them hotter. Heat makes the gears expand, so you had even more friction…”

“Vicious cycle.”

“Yes. Sooner or later, one of the geartrains jumped a tooth and the whole thing jammed up. Like this.” Jacob poked a gear, deep within the works, with the pointer.

“But I need this thing to run faster,” Thomas protested. “I’m trying to get all the calculations done, and now I’m even farther behind. How can I over-clock it and not have this happen?”

“You don’t. You need a gearworks that’s designed to spin at higher speeds.”

“I don’t suppose you can…” Thomas trailed off.

“I won’t. British contraband gets you six months in prison, you know that. I get shady characters coming in here all the time, offering me parts from Doulton and even Royal Cogsworth, but the local Tea Party watches all the gearhead shops. A few years ago, you might have gotten away with it; but with the Centennial coming up next year, nobody’s in a mood to forget the Civil War.”

“But I know it’s done! And legally! Or so they say.”

“It’s done. But it takes either much work, or much money. Liberty gears their drives as high as their geartrains can take, at least the way they come out of the factory.” Jacob opened a drawer, and took out a geartrain. “You can rebuild the geartrains yourself, or pay to have them rebuilt.”

“It…” Thomas squinted at the gears through the loupe. “These aren’t the same gears. They’re smoother. And they have holes.”

“They’re the same gears. I drilled holes to make them lighter. I also deburred and polished every single one, then I aligned and balanced the shaft.”

“A work of art, Jacob. How long did it take?”

“A week. And how many geartrains do you have in that works?”

“My God. At least a hundred. But if they were all rebuilt like this, how much could I over-clock it?”

Jacob picked up the drive unit that he had detached first thing. “Faster than this. I know of some spinners who run their rebuilds with steam drives. Three or four times faster than a factory Liberty.”

Thomas’s eyes widened. “A steam drive, on a tabletop gearworks? If I had two years, or could afford two years of your labor… no. All right, Jacob. Set it to rights.”

“It just needs two replacement geartrains, Thomas. I can have it ready by tomorrow. Bring me the punch-tape, and the original drive, and I’ll reset it. You won’t lose anything but time.”

“Time is the most important thing, of course. Perhaps I can borrow a colleague’s gearworks to catch up.”

“Or I could put you in touch with a spinner with a rebuilt gearworks.” Jacob rummaged in another drawer. “Ah.” He passed a card to Thomas. “This gentleman rents time on his unit. Not cheaply, mind you, but not as much as two years of skilled labor.”

“It would be worth it, if I could catch up after this debacle,” said Thomas.

“I won’t ask. It must be important, though. But do send him an inquiry. Tell him I recommended him to you as well.”

“I will. And thank you, Jacob.”

“My pleasure,” said Jacob, as Thomas left. “It’s fools like you that keep me in business. Ha. But I’ll do right by your gearworks.” He took up tools and got to work.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014 1 comment

Writing Wibbles: Interview with Helen Howell

It is my great pleasure to, once again, have Helen Howell here to talk about her new novella!

Easy one first: tell us a little about Mind Noise. Where did the idea come from?

Mind Noise is about a boy who can hear peoples' thoughts and this tends to alienate him from others. Then one day an old man appears who is able to communicate with him through thought. The old man offers to help him control this gift he has, but the question is, is the old man who he seems to be? And should the boy trust him?

The idea for Mind Noise came from a thought, that led to these questions. What would it be like to hear other people's thoughts? How would one cope with hearing things that perhaps they just didn't want to know? How would you use the information you heard? and how that then affects your life.

I think too, adolescence is a difficult time for either boys or girls to have to cope with, and an extra element like being able to hear other's thoughts, proved to be an interesting subject for me, because one could take it in so many ways. But then I decided to add the old man into the equation and to look at how he had arrived at where he was, and what motivated him. Him befriending the boy was a perfect scenario to build the story on, and adding Catherine into the equation added another interesting element. The boy now has to work out who to trust.

What's the most substantial difference(s) between the (now-defunct) serial version of Mind Noise and the published version?

The story in itself is basically the same, but the rewrite for the published Novella has more background building of the characters and the situations that occur. You get a better feel for the characters and what motivates them into doing what they do. If you like, we get to see the story behind the story.

Once upon a time, you were an exhibitionist (watercolors, not the other kind). Have you ever been tempted to write a story about someone falling into a watercolor and ending up somewhere else?

Funny you should ask that, the simple answer is No. But I have often thought about writing a story about a character in a book becoming obsessed with the writer. ^_^

You have two other books out. Tell us a little about them.

The first book I ever wrote and self published in 2012, was Jumping at Shadows. This is a fantasy fiction for 9 yrs upwards to adults who like mid grade fantasy. It is a story about a girl called Belle who discovers the secret of a family heirloom. When She and her friend Rosy use this heirloom they are propelled into a world of the shadows—the same shadows that have been haunting Belle all her life. Soon Belle realises that the future rests in her hands, and only she can keep the magic of her ancestors from falling into the clutches of a dangerous mad man.

I spent a long time writing this book and re-editing it, it was the first long fantasy fiction I ever wrote and I'm still proud of it. You can get e-books from both Smashwords and Amazon.

My second book, like Mind Noise, was published by Crooked Cat Publishing and is called I Know You Know. It's a story about a tarot reader who sees in the cards of a client that he's a serial killer and the client suspects she knows. Here's the blurb:
The darkest cards in the tarot deck reveal the darkest side of the man sitting opposite Janice—Mr. Edgar Kipp.

She feigns an inability to read for him, but will he believe her?

His parting words indicate that he knows she knows he's a serial killer. And he plans to return. The voice of her dead grandmother urges her to be careful, warning Janice she might be seeing her own future in those foreboding cards. But Janice doesn't want to listen. Gran's dead. How can she possibly help her?
I enjoyed writing this story, as I myself read the tarot cards and I know they can give you insight into certain aspects of peoples lives. I had this notion that to take it one step further, and put the tarot reader in jeopardy from her client because of what she knows, would make for a thrilling story. The story allows you to understand where Janice came from and how she develops her abilities and it also gives you a look into the dark world of Mr. Edgar Kipp.

The book is available from Amazon as a paperback or e-book.

OK, last one: what did you want me to ask that I didn't? What's the answer?

How do I feel about having my work published?

I think the honest answer to this is that I'm happy my work has reached a wider audience. I write because I love to write but if most of us writers are honest, we write to be read too. When someone not only reads what you have written but likes it too, well that's like a box of chocolates being given as a gift. The sheer pleasure of knowing that your work is liked by some is the motivation needed to carry on writing. Because writing is a lonely business and once you release your work into the public, then there are those anxious moments as to whether it will be well received or not.

Thanks for having me over.

My pleasure, Helen! Now let’s let everyone know where to get Mind Noise and your other books, eh?

Links to Mind Noise:

US: http://www.amazon.com/Mind-Noise-Helen-Howell-ebook/dp/B00HXX4RY2
UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Mind-Noise-Helen-A-Howell-ebook/dp/B00HXX4RY2

Smashwords: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/399499

Links to I Know You Know:

US: http://www.amazon.com/I-Know-You-Helen-Howell-ebook/dp/B00BH59NAU
UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/I-Know-You-Helen-Howell-ebook/dp/B00BH59NAU

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/286746

Links to Jumping at Shadows:

US: http://www.amazon.com/Jumping-At-Shadows-Helen-Howell-ebook/dp/B008TJKXQ0
UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Jumping-At-Shadows-Helen-Howell-ebook/dp/B008TJKXQ0

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/204743

Friday, February 14, 2014 10 comments

The Swamp Witch and the Deacon (#FridayFlash)

We’ve met Hattie before, in Past the Witching Hour. The two of us have some plans for more, but at our own pace.

“Knitting’s good for the soul, Mr. Sniff. And it keeps my fingers nimble.” Hattie held her project in one hand, and used the other to scratch her cat behind the ears. “Now go take that nasty old mole off and eat it, or whatever you plan to do with it. Good kitty.”

Hattie resumed rocking on her porch, the creaking of the porch boards a counterpoint to the click of her needles. Add some boom, she thought, and it would sound like what the kids play in their cars. Out here in the swamp, though, only sirens carried to her door.

Mr. Sniff hopped back on the porch, then hissed and jumped onto the rail. He crouched, watching.

Hattie followed her cat’s gaze, and saw that flash of color. “You be good, kitty. That’s my friend.” She prodded the cat with a toe, and Mr. Sniff jumped down and glared before slinking away. The parrot glided under the porch, and alit on the perch that Hattie had made for him. “What news, Rainbow?”

“Visitor,” Rainbow croaked. The parrot had come to the swamp about a year ago, probably an escapee from some birdcage in Nawlins or up north, and had struck up a friendship with Hattie. He warned her of people on her path, and she gave him shelter on cold nights. Mr. Sniff thought he would make a fine feathered feast, but Rainbow knew to be wary of the cat. The bird was smart enough to carry on a limited conversation, too.

“Thank you, Rainbow,” said Hattie. She took a bag of nuts from a pocket, and shook at few into her hand. “Snack?”

“Snack. Thank-oo.” Rainbow flitted down to the arm of Hattie’s rocker, and picked the nuts from her hand, before flying away.

“Here, kitty,” said Hattie, laying down her knitting. “Let’s look like we know all and see all.” She chuckled. Nobody walked through this part of the swamp unless they wanted something from the Swamp Witch.

So when Scott Devereaux reached the clearing, where Hattie’s house perched on one of the few firm spots in the swamp, he saw the witch standing on the porch with arms crossed. Her black cat sat on the rail next to her, glaring at him. How did she hear me? he thought, then shrugged.

“What’cha needin’?” Hattie snapped.

“What makes you think I would want what you have to offer?” he said, a little more boldly than he felt.

“Nobody comes out here ‘less they need my help,” she said. “C’mon up and sit, Mr. Devereaux. Whatever it is, it stays ‘tween us. I ain’t stupid enough to go blabbin’ ‘bout people’s bidness.” Though I sure was tempted to turn in your daddy, back when you were in diapers, when he wanted some help for that thirteen year old girl he knocked up. But being strict about keeping people’s secrets was part of being a Swamp Witch.

“You know who I am, then.”

“Course I do. Your daddy’s the preacher at that big ol’ Protestant church. You’re the deacon, and he’s settin’ you up to take over when he retires next year.” She took her rocker, and waved a hand at the other one. “Pull that chair around. Tell me what’cha need, and I’ll tell ya if I can help.”

Instead, he stood, looking down at her. “What I need is for you to get gone. You’ve been a blight on this community long enough, and respectable folk have had enough. You do the Devil’s work out here, letting people escape the consequences of their sins—”

Hattie snorted. “You think you’re the first self-righteous fool who come out here to run me off? You might be surprised at the ‘respectable folk’ around here who I let escape the consequences of their sins, little boy. Me and your daddy went to school together, he knowed me all his life, and he’s been preachin’ ‘round here longer than you been born. He never seed fit to do nothin’ but live and let live, least by me. I know he taught ya to mind your own business, too.”

“Don’t you dare talk about my daddy,” he hissed.

“Okay by me.” Hattie sounded not at all intimidated. “I know he didn’t send you out here anyway, and he ain’t part of this. Maybe we should talk about you instead. Or, you wanna pay for your own sins, nobody’s makin’ you come to me.” She gave him a significant look.

“I am not interested in hearing your lies and innuendo.”

“Well, you don’t want my help, and I ain’t goin’ nowhere. So I guess we got nothin’ more to talk about.” Hattie picked up her knitting, ignoring how the younger Devereaux glared at her and tried not to fidget as the evening light dimmed.

“This ain’t over, witch.” Devereaux finally spun around and stomped down the porch steps.

“I know what’cha need, boy,” she called, and Devereaux spun around. “Yep. You think I don’t know what people need before they come a-callin’? I figgered you wouldn’t wanna talk about it, so I left it along the path.” She nodded at Devereaux’s wide-eyed stare. “So count off fifty paces after you pass that first tree, you’ll come to a little break on your left. Go through it, and count twenty more paces. It’s there.”

Devereaux nodded once, then turned and walked away without another word. “He didn’t offer to pay, I notice,” she muttered. “Theft is a sin, and sin has consequences, eh kitty?”

Mr. Sniff looked down the path, and arched his back at two faint splashes.

“Oh, dear,” said Hattie. “Dern fool got off the path, and the Swamp Critter got ‘im.” She returned to her knitting. “Time to find a new girl to take over, kitty. I’m gettin’ too old for this.”

Wednesday, February 12, 2014 4 comments

Indie Life / Writing Wibbles

Welcome, Indie Lifers, to the free-range insane asylum! Don’t forget to hit the linky at the end, and see what other indies have to say about their travails, triumphs, and tips this month. This is the final Indie Life post, as the Indelibles have decided to wind down this monthly meme/theme. (bummer!)

Time to Market

I’d planned to write this last month, but life got in the way.

A few years ago, while I was readying White Pickups for a wider audience, I was trying to decide how to proceed. Should I follow the traditional route, landing an agent who would land me a publisher? Or skip that and take my chances with this newfangled indie publishing thing?

So, taking Kristine Kathryn Rusch's advice to “treat your writing like a business,” I sat down and did a cost-benefit analysis. Best case, I could make millions either way (ha!). Worst case, I’d make a few bucks going indie and nothing at all traditional (if I couldn’t get an agent, etc.). Either way was essentially a wash, except in one aspect. My dayjob is in the high-tech industry, and time to market is a major consideration for any new product. Can we get it out the door before our competitors roll out something similar?

In time to market, going indie was the clear winner. Even if I landed an agent immediately, and that agent got me a publishing contract a week later, it would be another two years before my book hit the shelves. I needed an editor and someone who could design a decent cover; I could format the thing myself. Maybe a year, tops. Then lightning struck: my editor turned out to be sitting next to me in the church choir, and a Photoshop expert offered a special for a cover. Bing-bang-boom, and there was my book, ready to go!

Last year, I released the first three Accidental Sorcerers stories, a pace that traditional publishers would find hard to match. But now they’re trying (New York Times link). Due to the roughly 5 month pace, I think I’ll only finish (i.e. publish) two this year. But I have several other things I’m working on. I published EIGHT books this year, all told—but only because I had a backlog. Now my backlog is clear, and I’ll be hard-pressed to come close to that kind of output this year. I publish when the book’s ready, and they were ready.

But it was in December that the indie advantage of time to market really showed itself. I was looking over some Christmas-themed flash and short stories I’d written over the last few years, and thought “huh, I ought to throw these into a mini-anthology.” Thus was born Christmas Guardians (and Other Stories of the Season).

By this time, I was in the Green Envy Press co-op, and I contacted the cover designer. I had a photo that I thought was suitable (which would save money on a “lark” project). Instead, Angela came up with a cool microphotograph from Wikimedia Commons. I already had a “floral leaf” graphic to mark the end of each story, and I had experience formatting an anthology. We arranged the stories, did a quick edit-through, and I hit Publish.

Concept to product availability: two weeks. Let’s see a traditional publisher top that. My co-op partner is trying to top it, with a Valentine-themed micro-anthology to be written and released in time for VD itself. Fun times!

Now it’s your turn: How do you use your time to market advantage?

Thanks for reading, and check out some of the other Indie Life writers this week!

Monday, February 10, 2014 2 comments


While Daughter Dearest was still in college, the wife got a mini-van and gave her the blue Civic to drive back and forth to Waleska. It was newer, and in much better shape. The old green Civic was a backup, until we loaned it to BrandX to use… for driving to college and back (but, in his case, Gainesville). He drove it—and, just as one might expect from the offspring of Mr. Sunshine, assumed that basic maintenance was something for someone else to deal with. The car overheated a lot, and we’d ask him if he checked the water. “No.” Well, duh.

So eventually, the green Civic couldn’t hold its water, and we parked it. And there it sat… until one of The Boy’s friends expressed an interest in it. We agreed on $400 for the sales price, and he brought us the money (cash) in several installments.

So he topped up the radiator fluid, took it for a brief (1/2 mile) drive, and returned with water gushing out of the cap. “Just needs a head gasket,” he said, and on Thursday he returned around 3pm with the gasket and a large collection of tools. I was working at home that day.

“Don’t we need to tow it down to the chicken house?” I asked. (The Boy has his Acura down there, undergoing its own engine transplant.)

“Nah,” he said. “It’ll only take a couple hours.”

“To pull the head?”

“Yeah. It’s no big deal.”

I checked in on him a couple times through the day, just to see how he was doing and to take a picture. “The head’s really clean, for having 300 thousand miles on it,” he said. “I expected an eighth inch of sludge all over everything.” He scraped off a very fine layer of oil-colored coating with a fingernail.

Well, of course, that “couple of hours” turned out to be closer to five hours; which meant he had to finish the job in the dark, with his friend shining the headlights of his own car at the Civic. I would have loaned him a trouble light, but The Boy already had it down at the chicken house. With all the tools he brought with him, I still loaned him a pair of pliers and a 1/4" 10mm socket. But as we were coming home from the usual supper at the inlaws, he was wrapping it up.

“Can I get a couple gallons of water?” he asked. No problem. When I did the major garage clean-out, I gathered up some gallon jugs and hung them on a pole. I also found about five gallons of radiator fluid, and offered him some to go with the water. One of the half-full containers was exactly right, he said, and was grateful to have it. (Plenty more where that came from, no problem.) So he filled up the radiator, and took it on that half-mile test run. Sure enough, the head gasket replacement fixed the problem, and he drove it home. He offered to help rebuild the red Civic, after The Boy gets his Acura going, and I’ll be happy to have it running (even if I just sell it).

So everybody’s happy. We have $400 in our pocket and one less piece of rolling stock cluttering up the manor grounds. He has a working vehicle. Now if I can just get him to stop teasing me about this rotary engine he’d be glad to drop in my Miata. (NO. :-)

Friday, February 07, 2014 13 comments

Blink's First Adventure (4/4) (#FridayFlash)

Previous: Meet Blink | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Last week, while Captain Heroic created a diversion, Blink popped into the Blackuras’ house to free Frank—but as he untied Frank, a punk confronted them with a lug wrench! Will Blink prevail? Read on for the thrilling conclusion!

Frank moaned and backed up two steps, and the punk grinned.

Blink thought of several possibilities all at once: yell for help, take off and leave Frank behind, or stand and fight. He reached for his pocket, where he had the panic button that Captain Heroic gave him, but stopped. This is your show. If he was going to be a hero, he had to act like one, not wimp out at the first sign of trouble. And he did have a football player on his side… “Frank,” he whispered. “Log roll.”

“What?” Frank asked, but Blink had already popped out of the room, behind the punk.

“Now, Frank!” Blink yelled, throwing himself forward.

The punk turned, throwing himself off-balance, just as Blink plowed into him with a grunt. He staggered forward into the room, flailing. Frank suddenly realized what Blink meant, and threw himself at the punk’s feet. The punk went down, lug wrench skidding across the floor, and Frank rolled and came up in front of Blink in a three-point stance. Blink flickered away again, reappearing three feet in the air above the punk as he tried to scramble to his feet. He dropped onto the punk’s lower back, slamming him back down. The couple in the next room paid no attention.

“Let’s go!” Frank rasped, stepping toward the door, as the punk curled up and wheezed for air.

Blink popped in front of him. “Not that way. There might be more downstairs. We can take the easy way down, but I need to hold you. Okay?”

“Do what you gotta,” said Frank. “If I have to stand on my head and sing I Kissed a Girl to get outta here, I’ll do it.”

Blink snickered. “Okay. Good work in there, by the way.” He wrapped his arms around Frank’s middle, lifted him with a grunt, and then they were outside before Frank could say “Thanks.”

A yellow four-door pickup truck stopped at the curb, and Blink led Frank to it.

“Who’s truck is this?” Frank asked.

“Captain Heroic’s. I got shotgun.”

“…so me and Blink had to fight our way through the whole gang to get outside,” Frank was telling the crowd gathered around him. “He said I did great! Then Captain Heroic picked us up—in the Heromobile!—and took me home. It was totally awesome. I’m probably gonna end up bein’ Blink’s sidekick or something.”

“And he’ll be called Blank,” Stevie whispered to Lashaun and Chris, who snickered.

“You gotta give him points for creativity,” Lashaun said, once they were safely out of earshot. “He could make geometry sound exciting.”

“We were surrounded by obtuse angles,” Stevie intoned, “me and my acute angle against the horde! But when we lined up back to back, we became… booooom! Right Angle!”

“And the temperature rose to… ninety degrees!” Chris chortled.

Stevie thought, nodding or laughing in the right places, letting the banter wash over him on the way to geometry class. He could be just Stevie until summer, now. Captain Heroic said the heroes would make sure Dad kept up his end of things, so Stevie wouldn’t have to choose between villainy and homelessness. They would also help Mom find a better job. In return, when school finished, he would go to “summer camp.” Of course, that really meant being Professor Zero’s lab rat, and taking lots of training from the other superheroes. And getting interviewed by Montana Rack…

That might be hard, but the hardest part would be keeping Mom from finding out.


Blink’s adventures now continue, with Blink: Superhero Summer Camp! And be sure to check out the other heroes and villains of Skyscraper City—here on TFM!

Wednesday, February 05, 2014 4 comments

Writing Wibbles

With the weekend came February, and with February came time to re-open that first draft of Into the Icebound that had been waiting patiently for my gentle editing touch (and all the things I thought about and had written down in the last month). I found a few problems, mainly with timelines, and a few minor things. I then printed the sucker out, and read it through over lunch and into the evening on Tuesday. And, of course, I found a few more things.

So… ready for the beta readers? Not quite. Someone on G+ linked to a post by Hugh Howey, in which he talks about the three things required for engaging prose. Two of them (vocabulary and a plot that people will care about) seemed self-evident to me, but “an ear for the rhythm of words” stuck out as something new. Or maybe not so much new as “aha!” You see, my partner in co-op +Angela Kulig has it. It comes natural to her, and it sets her work apart. She claims to be a lousy writer, and denies my opinion that she’s a very good storyteller, but her books read like poetry. There’s that rhythm of words, that I instinctively try to not mess up when I edit her books.

Howey has a lot to say about rhythm, but I wanted to quote this part:
Rhythm requires mixing up long sentences and short. It requires repetition, so that key concepts are stressed a second time, that they may lodge in the brain. It often means breaking rules and dropping commas where they don’t belong, signaling to the reader to take a breath, to pause, to relax, to prepare for more to come.
I often abuse punctuation when I’m writing dialog. When my characters are talking, I’ll sprinkle commas, ellipses, and em dashes as I see fit—I use them to set the pace of the dialog, to try to plant the rhythm of the character’s speech in the reader’s head. Editors go nuts when we do that kind of thing, though.

So what-all does this have to do with my self-edit? Easy: I’m going to go through the printed MSS one more time, looking for that rhythm of words. Then… it’s beta time!

Saturday, February 01, 2014 2 comments

The End (of both Winter #2 and Jury Duty)

Yesterday dawned bright and sunny, and warmed up rapidly. The snow began retreating right away. But I could not tarry to enjoy the dawning of Spring #2, as I had a jury to sit on.

So, once again, off to the courthouse. I bypassed the assembly room, and went straight on back. I’d left my Juror badge at home, because the wife hit me with three last-minute things as I was trying to edge away, but they got me another one.

“Why are there seven of us?” one of the jurors asked. “I thought the judge said they were going to pick six people.”

“I assume one of us is an alternate,” I said. “But I figured they would have told us who.” Nobody wanted to speculate further, then the bailiff came and led us in. It used to be that the judge came in last, there would be an “all rise,” and then everyone could sit after the judge did. Now, it’s the jurors who come in last, and everyone stands for us. Things change, ever so subtly, over time. (The lawyers address the judge as “judge” instead of “Your Honor,” as well, something I’ve never managed to feel comfortable with.)

So… on to the trial. New Year’s Day last year, a cop pulled over a woman doing 78 in a 55 zone. This is the edge of the retail district, and there have been several nasty wrecks at the stoplight just up the road. They smelled like booze, and she had a few bobbles during the field sobriety test. He took her in, and she blew a .17 on the in-house breathalyzer.

Now, I had mentioned some interesting stuff in Thursday’s post. With the trial over, I get to tell about it. During voir dire, the defense attorney asked “has anyone had classes in computer programming or engineering?” Several hands went up, mine being one. Most people had basic things like Excel training or a general introduction, one had a Java class.

Then, he got to me. “I had three years of electrical engineering classes at Michigan Tech before I switched majors.” Programming languages? “Yes, FORTRAN, Pascal, I taught myself C and C++, did some recreational assembler programming,” etc. It was pretty easy to put two and two together… he had mentioned the brand of breathalyzer they use at the local cop shop in an earlier question, so I figured he was going to work that angle. Calibration procedures? “I’ve never done them, but I have a general idea of how it’s done.” I figured that there was just no effing way that he’d want me on that jury.

So (remember, this was Thursday) when the clerk called off the numbers of those of us selected, I was shocked to hear my number come up last.

Back to Friday. We heard the opening arguments, and then we (for once) got to go to lunch on time and without a huge rush to get back. I walked to the local Pool Room, where the onion rings are second only to The Varsity’s, and got a chicken sandwich to go with them.

I have to hand it to the defense attorney: he did the absolute best he could with an open-and-shut case. He pulled a nice head-fake, making the main thrust the less than courteous behavior of the cop (e.g. he put on a raincoat, and made the poor tipsy woman do all her field sobriety tests in the rain). He did try a clever dodge—the cops calibrate their radar devices daily, while a trained dude comes in quarterly to calibrate the breathalyzer—but mobile gadgets need more frequent calibration. It didn’t help the DA, when he sort of overstated his case to begin with, but in the end the defense couldn’t overcome that pesky breathalyzer reading.

When it came time for the jury to do its thing, the judge called my name. “You are the alternate juror,” he said. Surprise! That meant I got to sit by myself in another room while the other six did the hard work. The bailiff was kind enough to let me keep the note pad they had issued me, so I did a little writing while waiting to see if I’d get called in (not an idle thing: one juror actually did have a heart attack earlier in the week, and the alternate got the call). I had time to fill up a sheet of paper on both sides, then the bailiff said the others were ready.

So in we marched, me at the end of the line this time, and the other jurors had reached the same (reluctant) conclusion that I had. Guilty. Again, to my surprise, the DA suggested a very lenient sentence, since it was her first-ever brush with The Law. She got off with a sentence slightly lighter than what The Boy got for having a small quantity of dried leaves, and he wasn’t operating a motor vehicle under its pernicious influence at the time.

So that was the end of jury duty. We shuffled down to the clerk’s office to get a “proof of service” letter. I probably won’t need it, but it’s always good to dot your Ts and cross your eyes.

I learned a few interesting tidbits in this whole thing. For example, on Planet Georgia at least, they can’t administer a breathalyzer test within 20 minutes after you burp. So if you keep belching every 15 minutes, you can defer having to blow until you sober up. :-P The Boy claims that putting mustard on your tongue will defeat the breathalyzer as well, but how many of us keep a bottle of mustard in our glove box for the Blue Light Special? You can also ask for an “independent test,” which is something the cops are required to tell you, but don’t exactly make a point of. (On the stand, the cop admitted to some less than 1% of DUI arrestees asking for one.) I’m certainly not advocating driving while bombed—remember, I was ready to vote guilty if need be—but I’m always one for people outwitting machines and knowing their rights. Do what I do: drink at home and write weird stuff. Don’t let the cops steamroll you, but remember that most of them are trying to do the right thing.

So. Spring #2. It was nice enough that I took Mason outside today. I would have built a fire in the firepit table, but he’s not exactly the kind of kid who likes to stay in one place. We had a pretty good time until the sun got into the trees and the breeze came up. Suddenly, it felt like the first of February all over again.

Tomorrow is Groundhog Day. I sure hope the real spring comes early. Especially after January. On the other hand, it was a good month for book sales…


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