Saturday, October 13, 2012

Jumping at Pickups. A dual Review

Wow. It's not often two novels (well one novella and one novel) can change somebodies opinion on an entire section of the publishing world, but that's just what “Jumping at Shadows” by Helen Howell and “WhitePickups” by Larry Kollar did for me with regards to the self-publishing world.
Self-published books had gotten such a bad reputation with me primarily because I had given them a try a while back. I looked for those that had gotten good reviews, perhaps had a decent sample page, heard about them via word of mouth, or were even self-published works from a best selling author who's series I had fallen in love with (but his self-pubbed stuff was crap). Very few of them were even halfway decent and I didn't bother finishing most they were so awful. The characters were 2D, the plot stupid, and the quality of the writing was horrendous. It was as if very few of the authors bothered to put them past an editor or at the very least beta readers.
So I was weary going into these two books by Helen and Larry. I really wanted them to be good and I wanted to be able to write an honest and positive review for them. And despite having read a lot of their flash fiction and knowing they were good writers, I did not have a lot of hope based on my previous track record. But oh was I wrong.

The first book I read was “Jumping at Shadows” by Helen Howell. It's a cute fantasy novella about a young girl named Belle and her friend Rosy who discover that an heirloom passed down in Belle's family has the power to allow them to teleport. But when they teleport to the strange world her ancestors are from, they find themselves in the middle of a power struggle of the highest order over the heirloom.
While this book is aimed at the YA or even MG market, and has the perfect voice for it, it came across as a solid and entertaining story for me, a guy who normally reads epic SF or literary fiction. And what it was that made it so was that it had a very unique and warm voice that made the story feel as though it was being told by a grandmother to her own granddaughters fifty years after the fact around a warm fire in a cabin by the lake. And there I was, sitting cross legged on the floor with my hands folded in my lap, silent, as the story progressed.
And even though many of the plot elements fit right in with YA and MG works, they also had a real sense of maturity much like many of the Disney movies nowadays are on the surface made for the kids, but with themes and complexities that give the adults watching their own personal level of enjoyment.
Yet what is even more amazing about it is how much detail and well scripted dialogue is peppered throughout the book, which is able to create a vivid picture of the story while not becoming overwhelming for a younger reader. Even now, three weeks after I finished reading the book, I can still picture many of the settings and characters which is in my opinion quite the accomplishment.
The only thing I think this book lacked however, was consistency with the point of view. There were some instances of head-hopping, but nothing too severe except for in two cases I remember where I was temporarily pulled out of the story. But that is getting nit-picky, especially considering this is something I see in many works supposedly looked over by professional editors. (Oh, and no typos that I caught either, which is a testament to the work in editing Helen has put in.)
Overall, I give “Jumping at Shadows” 4.5/5 stars. I highly recommend it, especially if you have a short two hour plane ride somewhere and want to read a good story cover to cover, or just to have something to read at night or really where ever.

The second book I read was “White Pickups” by Larry Kollar. In this post-apocalyptic drama, white pickup trucks start showing up around Atlanta one summer day, calling out telepathicly to people, inviting them to go for a drive, but they never come back. Within a couple days, only a small handful of humans have managed to resist the call of the trucks and find themselves in a world nearly devoid of human life. They struggle to survive, rebuild a community, and resist the urge to go for a ride themselves, as there is always a white pickup nearby, calling out to them.
This book is a prime example of how a good writer can take a silly, ridiculous idea, (hundreds of millions of mysterious white pickup trucks showing up one day to steal the souls of any human who enters them) into a fascinating read. This book has a superb cast of round characters with a wide variety of traits, both good and bad, that allowed me to latch onto them and empathize with all of their plight. It also showed a great understanding of traditional story structure, and how disrupting the flow of that traditional structure just a little in the hands of a true craftsman can create a plot that is both satisfying and genuinely surprising at the same time.
But aside from the mastery of characters and plot, what really made this book take off were the many small details about living in a post-apocalyptic world that gave the narrator an authentic and authoritative voice that I as a reader completely trusted. From the characters realizing they needed to put preservative in the gas to the stench a fridge left without power for weeks, these little things really worked. And the most amazing thing was that just about every thing that I ended up thinking would be a smart move for the community to do, they addressed shortly thereafter. I never had a moment where I yelled at them, telling them to do something completely obvious, which is something I almost always end up doing.
With the characters, Mr. Kollar also seems to have a keen understanding of human psychology, as there are many occasions when the survivors take a break as we all need to do at some point, no matter how dire our situation is, and relax. It really humanizes the characters this way, showing that they have their desires for things like entertainment, going so far as to allocate some of their generator power/gas to allow them to play video games once in a while or feeling so isolated when ones family has disappeared that sexual intimacy is one of the first things somebody will turn to in order to cope.
In summary, this book feels like it was the child of a bet the author made that he could turn any writing prompt into a brilliant story, and a bet he won. By the time I was finished, I was sold on the white pickup idea as it had become my world and I didn't bother questioning it. Everything else was so genuine, how could these phantom trucks not be real as well. I give this book a full 5/5 stars and feel this book should be heralded as the poster child for how self-publishing should be done.

Monday, June 25, 2012

What I've been up to

My blog has been errily quiet as of late, and for that I apologize. It's really amazing how participating in something like #fridayflash really gets you motivated to keep up with this blog thing, twitter, etc. But then again writing blog posts, doing twitter, and even posting flash stories here takes away precious writing/editing time for my novels and short stories which I have been working feverishly on.

Speaking of those stories, I have 2 short stories and a couple flash stories I have finished polishing up and will be submitting soon to some paying markets. They might be out there a while, but by the time I get to the bottom of my lists I hopefully will have a bunch more in the pipeline as my idea bank (literally a piggybank I put postits and index cards with ideas in) is full of stuff waiting to be written. So that's cool and I'm glad I've been able to really buckle down on those projects.

But I've also been working on my novels. My SF novel "Project Theodosius" (working title) is coming along nicely. Every once in a while I need to make a tweak to the outline, but for the most part it's good. I'm about 20k into it and the story is at the point where it is really writing itself. Even now that I'm getting into the middle sections, I'm not feeling any type of story sag as I climb the wordcount ladder towards the climax. In fact, I think there is plenty of action/intrigue to not only keep my at the edge of my seat when I'm writing, but also hopefully eventually the reader.

The mainstream novel I'm in the editing process with, "An Echo Remains" is going well. I've made the necessary macro adjustments I think I've needed to make so the story runs smoothly with a good, solid character arc. At first that was tough because it meant doing a complete overhaul on the first couple chapters, which I really didn't want to do. I guess I'm fine with line edits, but getting myself to delete an entire chapter or scene is tough and I never really want to sit down and do it. But saner opinions prevaled and I got those done with.

With those novels, I would like to have the edits done on Echo as well as the first draft of Theodosius done by the end of the summer, and looking at my schedule I should have enough time. (Even with my marathon training really ramping up) I think I will try to get a flash story on here once in a while, and a couple weeks ago I wrote one for that purpose, but I ended up liking it so much I wanted to save that one for submissions. So that's another thing I need to watch out for, is I don't want to get into the trap of never releasing any material here because I think it's all too good to be given away for free, and I don't want to just post the second-rate stories I have on here either. So hopefully I'll bite the bullet with one of these and post one.

Anyways that's what I've been up to. What about you?

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Cake Lady

My mother's birthday was this week, and as a lover of cake I wrote this whimsical piece for her and decided to share it all with you.

Glenda woke up on her birthday with a pleasant surprise on her nightstand: her husband had left her a small slice of raspberry cake with orange meringue topping. She gobbled up the pastry in a flash, almost missing the note he left on the plate.
“My dearest love, I hope you enjoyed your breakfast, just a hint of what’s to come later today for you. Make sure you’re home by five for your big surprise.”
Glenda, spurred forward by the sugar rush, bypassed her normal morning coffee, and as soon as she was ready, departed out into the town.
Her first stop was to the nail salon. If there were any day to pamper herself, today was it. The workers startled her as soon as she walked in with a happy birthday cheer. She smiled and thanked them, especially when she saw the piece of black forest cake they had waiting for her. This was quite unusual, but her lust for cake coupled with the scent of the dark chocolate reduced the treat to mere three small crumbs too small for even a mouse in a single minute.
After her nails, she went to visit her mother. Still living by herself and feisty as ever, Glenda’s mother wouldn’t let her leave until she had a piece of homemade carrot cake.
When she went to the library to return a book, the librarians were waiting for her with lemon cake topped with chocolate frosting. The same thing at City Hall, but this time marble with white frosting.
At department store, school, post office, and even the mechanic, she was greeted with a cheer and a slice of cake. By now her stomach was filling up and she looked down at her watch, it was four thirty. She still had to go to the pharmacy, but as much as she liked cake, she dreaded what inevitably waited for her there.
Her old friend from school was behind the counter, holding something behind her back. Glenda mentally repeated to herself her husband’s promise of a big surprise and that she needed to save room. She must to buckle down and no matter how—
Red velvet.
There it was, the one cake she could never resist. Glenda picked up her pace and sprinted the remaining feet to the cake. She tried to eat it slow, savoring each bite, but the rich flavor and creamy frosting implored her keep going.
But now she had done it. With her gut about to burst, she paid for her prescription and drove back home to her husband waiting for her in their kitchen. On the counter next to him was a bouquet of flowers in her favorite vase as well as a small chocolate cake. “Two of your favorites.” He said. “Surprise.”
Glenda stepped closer to the cake. She could barely think of eating, but she had to know. Her husband nodded and said, “Chocolate buttercream.”
She turned away, bracing herself on the kitchen table. “I’m so sorry.”
“What for?”
“As much as I want to. I can’t. I’m too full from…eating cake all day.”
He put his arm around her. “How much did you—”
“Everywhere I went there was cake. I couldn’t help myself. It all looked so good. It must have been, I don’t know, fifteen to twenty pieces.”
Her husband backed away from her and started laughing. “How many errands did you run today?”
“Fifteen to twenty. What’s so funny?”
“I didn’t think you’d be that busy on your birthday. I thought you might stop at a couple places. The pharmacy for sure, that’s why they got the red velet—”
“It was you?” She asked, turning back to her husband. “You gave them all of that cake?”
“All except your mother, yes.”
“How many cakes were out there for me today?”
“Thirty five.” He said with a smug grin. “And don’t worry about this one. I baked it fresh about an hour ago: It’ll keep a for a while.”
“I think I could have at least one little slice.”

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

I was going to write about rejection letters...

I was going to write about rejection letters seeing that on Monday I received my first ever one. It felt like a rite of passage and to be honest it wasn't all that painful. In fact, it was exciting to feel like a real member of the writing community. An odd reaction from what I understood to be a painful thing for a newbie to see, but I owe it to all my stabby friends not holding back punches to both make me a better writer but to also realize that my work is not perfect and will never be. Understanding that I am not god's gift to the writing world is one of the things that made this a positive experience.

And to further work my way through the disappointment, I even sent my story (An expansion of "The Townhome" that I turned into a short story) to 4 other places.

But the neat thing was that on Tuesday, the very day after my first rejection, "The Townhome" was accepted by Larks Literary Magazine. It's not exactly The New Yorker, but I'm excited none the less. Still, I'm left wondering if I should have set my sights higher and started with the Glimmer Trains, New Yorker, etc. and worked my way down to the lesser known markets.

However I was quite limited in where I could send that particular story because it was in my mind a "reprint" in that it was the same story I had previously published here, just expanded and refined. (part of the reason I've stopped posting my flash stories regularly) So when you take out the markets that do not accept reprints, I had lost those top tier publications.

What is probably unfortunate in my painless submission process is that I will be even more restrictive now in when I decide to post a story up here on my blog. I want to be able to go after those top tier markets and work my way down.

I had thought about only putting stories up on my blog that I did not want to submit anywhere, but in that case I would be watering down the writing I put up here. So I've decided that I will just have to publish the occasional story here and recognizable that it probably won't be able to be sent anywhere major and bite that bullet, because you all are part of the reason I've grown as much as I have.

I will try to do more of the reviews that I had gotten into writing as well as perhaps even getting back to selecting a #FridayFlash of the month as I'm still reading the great work the community is putting out each week. When when I'm feeling teacherly, I'll spout out my writing advice columns. But on the whole, there will be a significant decrease in the fiction that I put out here on my blog. Nevertheless, thank you all again.

So I guess this would have to be a celebration post encompassing a couple pretty exciting milestones in my writing career. Still, there are some good learning moments for me in this whole process and I look forward to putting it all to good use in the future.  

Friday, April 6, 2012

Watercolors from Another Life

Still pretty busy with the new condo, but still got a quick little one out. Please let me know what you think, and as always, feel free to be extra stabby with your critiques. It's the only way to help both of us grow.

The watercolor with its large, bulky frame hanging on my living room wall was my prized possession. Not that it was particularly good and not that I paid a lot for it, but it inspired almost every major decision I had ever made. It had the ability to draw me in and and seemed to extol wisdom from the very canvas.
Before I proposed to my wife, I spent hours on the couch in a nervous fit. It was the painting that got me to settle down and ask her. When I needed consolation when I lost my job, I found it in the dreary colors of that old European town. Even when I began drafting the plans for my dream home, how the painting would be lit by the sun was a major consideration.
Nobody else understood my obsession with it. My wife, parents, and children were baffled. But it was harmless and they accepted it as one of my quirks.
I used to dream that I was the artist in another life. It was the only explanation I could think of for my connection to it. At least this is how I explained it to my family and friends.
But when, for my birthday, my son decided to have my painting re-framed into something less absurd, I nearly had a heart attack. For the first time, the signature in the bottom corner became visible.
I wanted to feel revulsion, but instead I felt closer to it. I hated myself and my claims that I was the artist in another life, but the connection was still there. I ran my fingers over the bold black signature in the corner that read, ‘A Hitler.’

Friday, March 30, 2012


Posted just on the edge of Friday/Saturday, but it's still good. Closed on a house today and almost forgot about this. Please let me know what you think, and as always, feel free to be extra stabby with your critiques. It's the only way to help both of us grow.

Mark ripped the cable from Thom’s guitar. The amplifier crackled with static followed by a droning hum.
“What was that for?”
“You’re off beat again.”
Thom took a seat on the old, beat up couch, sinking deep into the cushions. “I can’t take this anymore. I don’t get what you want. I was playing to the clicks...I don’t even know where to begin.”
“It wasn't much, but I heard it. The only reason I'm bringing this up is because we should strive towards perfection.” said Mark. “Not silver level perfection, not gold level perfection, but--”
“Platinum. I get it. You’ve told us a hundred times.”
“Then why do you look so confused?”
“How come you don’t get that we’re humans? You know, real life musicians. We’re not robots. If you need perfection every single time to the 256th of a beat, perhaps you should consider a career in techno.”
“That’s not what I expect and you know it. I want us to strive towards that level of excellence, but”
Thom lifted his guitar over his head, laying it on his lap. He ran his swollen fingers gently across the strings, pressing them down just enough to touch the fretboard, but the guitar remained silent.
“You could have fooled me with that whole 'platinum' perfection thing and the way you’ve treated all of us. And if this isn’t going to change at all, let me know because there are plenty of things I’d rather spend my time on.”
“Are’re not thinking of leaving, are you?” asked Mark.
“The other guys and me, all of us, we’ve talked about it for a while. We’re at our breaking point. This was supposed to be fun. What happened to that?”
“I told you. The fun will come. But we have to make it first.”
“How’s that going to happen when the entire band dreads coming to rehearsal, studio sessions, and even shows?” Thom said. "The reason we sound so flat half the time is because we’re so afraid to make a mistake that we can’t put any life into the songs. This isn’t healthy.”
“Then maybe you should leave. If playing the songs the way they were written is too hard for you, perhaps you’re in the wrong band. I need people who can play.”
Thom pressed his lips up against his teeth and sucked in, making the sound of a balloon when air is slowly let out. He stood up, picked up his guitar, and packed it away. “I can play. You know I can play. But it won’t be with you anymore. It’s not worth it.”
“Give me back my key.” Mark held out his hand like a teacher demanding a student give up a toy they’ve been hiding.
“I’m gonna get the truck tomorrow so I can get my amp out of here. Then you can have your fucking key.” Thom picked up his guitar case and left the room, flipping Mark the bird as he turned the corner.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Goals for the Week. Part 4

After last week's abysmal progress on my goals, I think I did much better. Still have not gotten very far on doing edits on one of my short stories, but I don't have a lot of motivation to keep editing it. It's from something I wrote a while ago and I just don't think it's a turd that can be polished enough to sell somewhere, but I suppose I'll never really be happy with anything I've been finding out, so perhaps I need to suck it up and send it out. However, I'm very happy that I've gotten a my flash story for this week already done and ready to go as well as a massive 5k outline for my next novel (A Sci-fi epic)!

Anyways, here's the list.

1) Have two flash stories polished by Friday. DONE
2) Get a rough outline for the new novel completed. DONE (over 5k words into my outline)
3) Finish Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. ALMOST DONE
4) Get a third round of edits done with my short story. ONE ROUND DONE

This week I hope to finish up those things I did not finish as well as the following new things:

1) Have two more flash stories polished by Friday.
2) Outline and draft a second short story
4) Get two more rounds of edits done with my short story.

Again, the long term goals for this month stay pretty much the same with a couple additions

1) publish on my blog a flash story each week.
2) draft at least 2 short stories intended for submission.
3) have an outline for my next novel completed. DONE.
4) do this goals thing.
5) read Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. ALMOST DONE.
6) have a short story and flash fiction story ready for submission to contests and/or lit magazines.

Wish me luck with these and be sure to hold me feet to the fire.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Abigail's Ashes

Please let me know what you think, and as always, feel free to be extra stabby with your critiques. It's the only way to help both of us grow.

“Make sure the trenches are at least one and half meters deep and the bodies are spaced forty centimeters apart.” Said Mr. Adams to one of the local officials who nodded obediently. “And no stacking them for the love of god.”
The man sat down on one of the chairs, pulling a pitcher of water from the center of the table. Mr. Adams tapped his fingers on his clipboard. “What are you doing? The longer they sit out there in the heat, the more they decompose.”
The man left the tent, muttering something in his native tongue as he passed through the entrance. Mr. Adams yelled out, “Make sure they all have their tags. They all need a tag!”
He leaned back in his chair, the legs of which burrowed further into the mud. Taking out a pencil, he returned to his checklists when an elderly woman entered the tent. She approached him with her hands folded and centered, head down. “Mr. Adams?” she said meekly. “I hoped to talk to you about—”
“You want to see the big board on the other side of the field for the deceased.”
“No. No. I want to ask you about something else.”
Mr. Adams put his pencil down and looked closer at the woman. It appeared that her clothes had not been changed since the disaster, but then again, none of them had. Their homes and what little they had was under a pile of rubble and mud. “Alright then, what do you want?”
“My granddaughter, Abigail, she died, and I need her ashes. They need to be taken to the temple. I need to perform the rites of death.”
“I’m sorry, but we need to bury them, just for now, until other matters are resolved. Do you understand?”
She shook her head back and forth. “No! You can’t bury her! Her spirit needs to be set free. She will lose the path to the next life if you do this!”
“I understand, but over two thousand people are dead. I can not honor every single request I get. These are unusual circumstances and I’m sure that your gods—”
“No!” shouted the woman. Her elderly voice rose into the high, creaky registers, strained from days spent crying and panic. “Her spirit needs to be free. She will never find the next life if you bury her. Please help me, good sir.” The woman reached into her pocket and pulled out a small tin box. She put it on the table, sliding the box gently towards Mr. Adams. “Please. Help me.”
Inside the box, a couple small coins were crammed in with faded pictures and cheap silver-plated jewelry. “I’m sorry, but the answer is no. Do you understand?”
“I can help you, and you can help me.”
“I want to.” Mr. Adams said. “I really do. But I have to follow the rules. I can't afford to have one of the volunteers search her out.”
“I could find her.”
“There is not enough wood for a cremation.”
“I have wood.” She said with the defiance of a woman fifty years her junior. “I must do this.”
“I have to do my job so that eventually, once everything is fixed and better, everybody can take their loved ones back and you can have your ceremony.”
“No! She will loose her way.” The woman’s bottom lip began to tremble. “It will be too late. Her soul will be gone.” She nudged the box towards Mr. Adams. “Please.”
He took the box and ran his fingers through the coins. The woman bobbed her head forward like a pigeon, urging him to take it. He had heard of people offering bribes to officials, but he had never heard of anything so small.
Mr. Adams shuffled some of his papers and flipped to the volunteers list. They told him to use the elderly only in an emergency during training, but he wondered what that was exactly. To this woman, he thought, this is an emergency.
“You want to help me?” Mr. Adams asked. The woman nodded. “Keep your money. I need somebody to help make sure the numbers on all the bodies are right. Can you do that?”
“Oh yes. I can do this.”
“Stay here for a moment.” He scanned his finger down pages of lists until he came to a lone name. Mr. Adams pointed at the entry, sliding the paper towards the woman. “Is this your granddaughter’s name?”
“Yes, this is her. This is Abigail.”
“Go out and look at all the tags on the bodies. Make sure they all have a number on them. When you see this number.” Mr. Adams circled the co-responding number with his pencil. “It will be your granddaughter. You may take her with you.”
The woman snatched the paper from the table. “Thank you so much. Thank you so very much.” She peeled it from her chest for a moment and looked once more towards Mr. Adams. “Bless you, sir. Bless you.”

Monday, March 19, 2012

Goals for the week. Part 3

The picture pretty much says it all. I had a couple things come up during the week that messed up my schedule, but I was pretty lazy during the weekend. I guess I came pretty close to some of my goals, and I am thinking that for my Friday flash stories, I'm going to try to have a couple polished stories ready to go in case I have a brutal work schedule sprung on me Thursday...but anyways I may have had a setback, but I'm going to keep moving forward.

1) edit and polish one my flash stories to post for #fridayflash. FAIL
2) draft the short story I outlined. 3/4 DONE
3) draft another flash story. DONE
4) start the outline for the novel idea I came up with. DONE
5) finish get at least two rounds of edits into an old short story. ONE ROUND DONE
6) get half-way done with Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. DONE

This week I hope to finish up those things I did not get to as well as the following new things:

1) Have two flash stories polished by Friday.
2) Get a rough outline for the new novel completed
3) Finish Self-Editing for Fiction Writers.
4) Get a third round of edits done with my short story.

Again, the long term goals for this month stay pretty much the same with a couple additions

1) publish on my blog a flash story each week.
2) draft at least 2 short stories intended for submission.
3) have an outline for my next novel completed.
4) do this goals thing.
5) read Self-Editing for Fiction Writers.
6) have a short story and flash fiction story ready for submission to contests and/or lit magazines.

Wish me luck with these and be sure to hold me feet to the fire.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Goals for the week. Part 2

Alright, It's been a week since I posted my first set of weekly/monthly goals and it's time to see how I did. Overall I'm pretty pleased with myself in that I got everything done. It wasn't nearly as hard as I thought it would be, and it looks like this type of system might be exactly what I need to make sure that I'm always working in the most efficient manner possible. So to review last week, here's what I said I would do and what I actually did.

1) edit and polish one my flash stories to get me back into the #fridayflash world.: DONE
2) outline a short story. : DONE
3) draft at least 2 more flash stories. : DONE
4) come up with an idea for my next novel. : DONE

Other stuff I accomplished was starting the editing process on a short story I wrote last summer as well as starting the book Self-Editing for Fiction Writers.

This week here is what I hope to do:

1) edit and polish one my flash stories to post for #fridayflash
2) draft the short story I outlined
3) draft another flash story.
4) start the outline for the novel idea I came up with
5) finish get at least two rounds of edits into an old short story
6) get half-way done with Self-Editing for Fiction Writers

Again, the long term goals for this month stay pretty much the same with a couple additions

1) publish on my blog a flash story each week.
2) draft at least 2 short stories intended for submission.
3) have an outline for my next novel completed.
4) do this goals thing.
5) read Self-Editing for Fiction Writers.
6) have a short story and flash fiction story ready for submission to contests and/or lit magazines.

Wish me luck with these and be sure to hold me feet to the fire.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Iron Door of Salvation #FridayFlash

I finally got around to posting another #Fridayflash. Please let me know what you think, and as always, feel free to be extra stabby with your critiques. It's the only way to help both of us grow.

Owen ran his fingers across the iron bars overlooking the deserted cafeteria. “You said he wasn't supposed to be here.”
“Plans get fucked up. But I’ve got it covered.” Tim pressed the sharpened toothbrush handle up against the guard's neck, pinning him against the industrial sized oven. “And besides, this bitch has been harassing me for the last five years. I can’t wait—”
“Don’t fucking kill him.” Owen said as sweat from his back soaked into his orange jumpsuit. “What about knocking him out or something?”
Tim pressed the shiv in deeper, pushing the guard’s cheeks up to the stainless steel panels. “I told you, breakin’ out could get messy. Now, the way I see it, if we let him live, we’re gonna get caught.”
“But if we knock--”
“Then we might as well walk our asses straight to the warden’s office.”
Owen paced around the room with his hands pressed up on his head. “There's got to be a better way. I'm not a killer.”
“Wouldn't be my first....”
The guard struggled to get a couple words out. “I didn't hear anything. I swear. I've got a-- Wife. Kid on the way.” A tear ran down his cheek. “I won't tell anybody.”
“Keep it the fuck down!” yelled Owen in the loudest whisper he could manage. “This whole thing is royally fucked, isn't it?”
Tim nodded. “Killing him's our only choice.” He gestured towards the clock mounted above the door. “Jimmy’s been waiting in laundry for ten minutes already. He won’t stay much longer.”
“You can't kill--”
“We've go no fucking choice.” Tim said, grabbing the guard’s collar and slid him slightly up the stove.. “It's decided.”
“Please, no!” cried the guard.
“I said shut up!” shouted Owen, no longer whispering.
For a moment, stillness crept into the kitchen. It hung there with the smell of industrial strength cleaners and bleach until Tim plunged the shiv into the guard's neck. He fell down, grasping at the wound. Tim dropped the bloody weapon to the ground. “There, it's done.”
“What the fuck did you do?” asked Owen, who stood over the guard.
“I fixed our problem.”
Through the guard's fingers, blood oozed out onto the floor, forming a puddle that slowly spread out over the concrete. His mouth hung open in a silent scream, but nothing came out. His eyes pleaded for Owen to do something.
“Do you think...How long until?”
“It'll be soon. Now, let's get the fuck out of here.”
Tim swung open the heavy, iron door. “Got everything? Once this door shuts--”.
“Yea, I fucking know.” Owen picked up his pillowcase with their tools from the ground.
“Get your ass moving then!”
Owen slung the pillowcase over his shoulder, following his partner through the door. When Tim had gotten a couple steps ahead of him, Owen raced back into the kitchen before the door slammed shut. When it did, Tim looked back through the bars. “You fucking asshole! What are you doing?”
Owen ignored Tim's shouts. Instead, he emptied the pillowcase and used it to press up against the guard's wound. “Everything's going to be alright. I'll get you help.” he said.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Goals for the week.

I recently came across something K.T Hanna has been doing at her site with #writemotivation. She basically is having people publicly post their goals in hopes that with them out there, we as writers feel more obligated to meet them than if they are just sitting out on our desks.

So in that spirit, I'm going to post some of my goals here, hopefully every week and my progress on them.

So for this week here is what I hope to do:

1) edit and polish one my flash stories to get me back into the #fridayflash world.
2) outline a short story.
3) draft at least 2 more flash stories.
4) come up with an idea for my next novel.

More long term goals for this month would be the following:

1) publish on my blog a flash story each week.
2) Draft at least 2 short stories intended for submission.
3) Have an outline for my next novel completed.
4) do this goals thing.

Wish me luck with these and be sure to hold me feet to the fire.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Plot and Character more Important than Prose?

I'm the type of writer, who I'm sure is like most, that frets over using the right word, right sentence structure, right exact perfect mechanics of prose to get across what I want to communicate in my stories. But does that really matter? Does prose actually have that much of a bearing on how it comes off to the reader as we think it does?

The other night as I was driving along the highways for work late at night, I popped in the audio book of "Epic of Gilgamesh" which is considered by a lot of people to be the oldest story in history. (Written around the 18th century BC. on the clay tablets pictured above.) Suffice to say, the word choice and sentence structure is not very advanced. There are many parts that repeat itself verbatim many many times to the point where I was chanting along with the narrator by the middle of the book in some parts. Overall, the work is very basic and has about the same sophistication I would expect out of a 10 year old.

But still, this story drew me in and kept me awake so I didn't crash my car. (yay!) And I began to wonder why that was, since it was so basic. And the reason is that the plot and characters are well developed. In reality, this is all that The Epic of Gilgamesh has going for it, and it has survived for almost 4000 years!

This brought me to another train of thought then. A lot of the classics that we know and love are indeed translations from the original work. And the format they were originally written in is usually not how we experience them in present day. For instance, just about everybody knows and likes the Iliad and Odyssey, however I don't know many people who have read it in the epic poem format. It's usually the modern spin offs that they have seen. But the power of the characters and plot has allowed this story to survive and still impact people after many years.

Shakespeare wrote plays, but still, people pick up those plays and read them as if they were a book, still getting enjoyment out of them. There is virtually no description, and all we have is dialogue that many of us struggle to comprehend without putting on our thinking caps. And still, he's widely read by people far and wide, even after they graduate. What keeps drawing people to these works, again, is the power of the characters and plot.

Even more modern works that end up getting translated loose a lot of the feel of the author, no matter how good the translation. But still, there are great pieces of literature that survive this process to still touch our hearts. Because the only thing that really can be translated across language and time barriers is in my opinion, character and plot.

I'm not saying that you should be writing your work at that 10 year old level, but perhaps a lot of the agony we spend trying to come up with the perfect word could be better spent on making sure we have an overall story that connects with the reader.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Life on the Road

I've been on the road up in Canada this past week, and previously I had been running around Minnesota for work. Somehow, I've managed to keep writing on some of my major projects at the neglect of this blog and my #fridayflash stories and #fridayflash of the month award. I'm going to do a bi-month award again this Jan/Feb and hopefully my schedule will start to settle down and let me get back to business as usual.

Thank you for your patience.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

When Subtext Goes Wrong

While on a flight, I began reading The Righteous by Michael Wallace. It had an interesting concept dealing with a murder investigation by a secretive polygamist sect that happened to one of their own. He wrote the book well, delivered solid characterization, a tight plot, and fluid prose. SPOILER ALERT However, towards the end in one of the climatic scenes when many of the characters are in mortal danger, it is revealed to the reader that one of the main characters was wearing a wire for the FBI, and the agents, right on cue, burst in with their guns drawn to essentially save the day.

END SPOILER ALERT. This reveal of such a critical piece of information in the place it was revealed made the climax instantly loose it's momentum because I felt like I had fallen victim to a deus ex machina. Now, this particular scene was not quite a DEM as the rescuing characters had been properly brought into the story, but because of the late reveal of that critical piece of information, it really felt like it.

Now, what I think Michael Wallace could have done differently to fix this would to have brought that critical piece of information in when one of the characters was in their viewpoint. It would have taken away the knowledge gap between the reader and the character, but it would inserted a new knowledge gap (that the reader would be aware of) between the main character and the antagonist. This would sacrifice the poorly done twist for heightened suspense.

So I think the main takeaway from this short post would be that you need to be careful when using knowledge gaps to give your story a deeper subtext, because one wrong slip (especially right at the climax) can have disastrous effects. Look at what you are keeping from the reader and actively see if there might be a better way to reveal that information.

Do you have any examples of when subtext goes wrong?

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Townhome #Fridayflash

Here is another piece that I put together for #Fridayflash. Please let me know what you think, and as always, feel free to be extra stabby with your critiques. It's the only way to help both of us grow.

Each step ground that foulness deep into the fibers of my carpet. Each step could have been prevented if not for my anxious desire to drink a glass of water. Each step taunted me when I reached my kitchen and I realized what I had done.
But I must stop blaming myself, for it was not my fault that yet another violation of the townhome association’s bylaws —  Section 6 article 14 regarding each owner’s responsibility to clean up after their pets — lie in wait for my shoe to come along. My neighbor, Amber, had been cited four times throughout the year on this very violation with numerous other complaints brought forth by myself, and I was sure she was once again the culprit.
Taking my jogging shoe off, I proceeded back towards my front door where I could toss it onto my porch, careful not to step in the evenly spaced brown smudges and keep the damaged contained. From my porch I spied it, the source of my miseries on the sidewalk in front of Amber’s door.
Back inside I heard, even from across the extra thick, sound proofed walls I paid so dearly for, a faint barking, probably from that devil of a dog — Smokey as Amber called him. That dog itself was a violation. I would have bet my entire comic book collection that it was above the forty pound limit established by the bylaws. I had brought that up to the board as well at the last meeting, and once more they took no action.
After that final dismissal by those seven tyrants who held sole jurisdiction over the matter, I realized that the next time I would be on my own. I had never considered myself to be the type of man to resort to vigilantism, but then again I had never considered that in this world, the justice system could fail one of its citizens so egregiously. Stored away in the back of my closet, next to my winter hats, I retrieved a small box of dog treats I kept for Dixie, a schnauzer my neighbor Doug watched for his parents from time to time. She was safely under the size limits and whose temporary guardian, I am quite confident, adhered to Section 6 article 14 of the association bylaws.
I put a handful of the treats in a bag and went down to my garage where I kept the rat poison. Using it against those particular rodents that invaded my own home caused me to feel guilt since they kept themselves hidden and did not disturb me; however, the dog next door on loan from Beelzebub himself harbored no such merits.
I crushed the poison into a fine power and put it with the treats next to the door. For the next two hours I scrubbed and cleaned my carpeting with the aid of no fewer than six different cleaners and both of my wet-vacs. The sun was dipped below the horizon and the neighborhood was blanked in the soft yellow glow of the porch lights when I finished. Checking my watch, I saw that it was 7:57pm.
If anything, Smokey was reliable, and at 8:33 plus or minus thirteen minutes at one standard deviation he would want to go out. I put on a dark coat I seldom wore and proceeded outside towards Amber’s door where I noticed there were no lights on inside, meaning she was probably working out in her basement gym as was her custom.
After quickly checking that nobody from the neighborhood was out that may recognize me, I placed a small handful of treats on the corner of Amber’s porch, sprinkling it with enough poison to kill a small horse. As soon as Smokey came through the door and smelled the treats, it would only take one lick for the white powder to enter his body and send him back to hell where he belonged. And Amber, that irresponsible young woman, might be inspired her to re-think her behavior over the last year.
With it being garbage day, I strolled down the block and discretely disposed of any evidence that would point to myself, including the jacket in another resident’s bin. I then made my way to Doug’s unit and knocked on the door.
He let me in and his parent’s schnauzer ran up to me and barked a couple times in excitement; a bark so similar to Smokey’s that the rage it conjured urged me to kick the thing. But I calmed down and we sat down on his couch where we resumed our series of great action movies; tonight The Dark Knight was on the docket. Even though the movie made me feel great pride at exacting my own vengeance, I began to feel the slightest bit of guilt by the time 9pm came around.
Towards the end of the film at approximately 10pm, a knock came at the door. I stood up, reminding myself to act casually with the police, who would inevitably come canvasing the neighborhood for the culprit. I would tell them nothing of the feces or what I had done, and they would in turn never find out it was me.
However it was not the police at the door. It was Amber, and she was crying. My excitement tempered as I saw the human toll of taking the law into my own hands. Doug ushered her in, unaware of what I had perpetrated, sitting her down on the couch next to me.
She took a couple deep breaths between sobs and said, “Smokey and I just got home from our trip up north. I let him out of the car and he went for this pile of treats on my porch. Then the next thing I know, he’s dead.” Amber collapsed into the couch and resumed crying.
On the screen, Batman departed the factory a wanted criminal, but at least he got the right guy.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Best #Fridayflash of the Month for December

Even though this December I pretty much went MIA at the end of the month, I was able to read "To Begin With" by Larry Kollar, also known as FARFetched in the twitter world. This particular piece was fantastic and my choice was this month's #Fridayflash of the Month!

I liked how this piece felt so smooth as I read it. The transitions from paragraph to paragraph, I could swear, were coated in Teflon. I also never really knew when the story really hit some of the milestones that make a story a story, but when I went back and tried to look for them, sure enough they were there.

Now, I have no idea how, mechanically, Larry pulled this off other than he found a really engaging voice with an interesting enough concept to pull you from the first sentence to the last and have you wondering if that was actually a 100 word story because it read so quick. Incredible how Larry was able to do that, and I think you should all go check it out before you come back here to see what he has to say about that particular piece. Now, on to my interview with Larry Kollar:

From what I understand, your day job has you function as a technical writer. How has that helped/hurt your creative writing pursuits?

Mostly, it's helped. For the last 25 years, I've had to focus on proper writing techniques, file conversion and layout issues, and other issues that help in writing fiction — but without having to worry about creative burnout when I come home. On the other hand, there are times when I've felt like I was writing fiction at work! I've also learned to include all relevant information in my technical writing, which translates to an antipathy toward loose ends in my fiction.

Now I should point out that it's only been in the last few years that I've taken up fiction writing as something more than an occasional short story. I wrote a few stories and a short novel in college, but never tried to publish anything and let it go once I was on my own. The #FridayFlash project has been one of the things that has rekindled my interest in fiction writing.

As for drawbacks, the closest thing would be this: I instinctively structure my stories, but the structure I use doesn't often conform to the classic three-act style. I'm not sure that's really a problem, though.

You also seem to have a quite large ‘cast of characters’ on your blog. Have you been able to get most of them to read your work/blog as well?

My daughter (Daughter Dearest) and my mom have been the only ones to read my blog without prompting. I've handed a few stories to my wife for her to look at, but she doesn't read the genres I write in so I don't do it often. There have been times when she said, "don't put [something that happened] on your blog" though. :-)

I know one of the big projects you have coming out (and really big as the last word count I saw was about 180,000 words) is “White Pickups.” Can you tell me and the readers a little more about this?

I'm glad to! White Pickups was, in its first incarnation, a flash story of 825 words. At the time I wrote it (Feb 2008), I was writing and posting a serial called FAR Future a peak-oil story depicted as a series of blog posts from 2012 to 2045. I got the idea for the original flash story on the way to work one morning, when I was surrounded by white pickup trucks on the freeway for a few minutes. The flash version includes only two characters, Tina Ball and her daughter Kelly.

Anyway, in May 2009, I finished writing FAR Future and posted the last episode in September 2009. In August, I started wondering what I'd do for an encore, and looked over the White Pickups flash. I asked myself “so what happens next?” and the story began pouring into my head from the Great Beyond. That's not to say I had the whole story in my head right then — far from it — but the story and characters demanded that I start serializing it ASAP. That was about two weeks after the last episode of FAR Future went live.

So…White Pickups is a paranormal, post-apocalyptic story. Here's the blurb:

At summer’s end, mysterious white pickup trucks take to the roads and compel nearly everyone to “drive off.” Some of those who remain gather in a suburban Atlanta subdivision, and struggle to cope with a world whose infrastructure is rapidly crumbling. One of the few who are mentally and emotionally prepared for the end of the world is Cody Sifko, a youth who quickly becomes the inspiration for the others. When a strange homeless woman names him “Father of Nations,” is she seeing his future or her own delusions? As winter and a hate group try to destroy Laurel Hills, can Cody overcome personal tragedy and seize his destiny?

I serialized what was essentially the first draft on my blog, usually staying (at a post per week) at least two months ahead. When I first started, I thought it would run 30 to 40 episodes (at roughly a thousand words per episode, oops) plus a few “Conversations” postings that provide the personal canon for the primary characters. Tina and Kelly are still important characters in the novel, and (along with Tina's ex, Charles) are the only known family unit to have survived the Truckalypse intact, but Cody rapidly became the main character. Then the story began growing, and I'm not sure it's stopped growing just yet. The only thing I had when I started posting was the first 10,000 words or so, a commitment to see it through, and a few lessons I'd learned about serializing a long story while writing and posting FAR Future.

Somewhere along the line, I realized that the entire story wasn't going to fit into a single novel. I figured out where the first novel would end, and tagged everything beyond that point "book 2" while continuing to fill in the gaps in the first book. Then there came a point where I reached my limit of how many loose ends I'd allow at the end of the first book, and started pushing parts of the story into the second book.

The first book,White Pickups, is nearly complete and runs about 95,000 words. I have an editor lined up, and I hope to have it out this spring. My original launch date was September 14, the day the story itself begins, but that obviously didn't happen. I've learned a lot as I've prepared the MSS, and one of the lessons is patience, grasshoppah. Maybe that's an advantage of middle-age; the 25 year old me would have thrown it to the wolves and devil take the hindmost (when I mix metaphors, I use a blender). The second book, Pickups and Pestilence, is about 2/3 complete at this point. I've been thinking hard about whether I'll serialize it as well… and I may, just to give myself an incentive to finish it. If the stars all align, I could have it completed and released by the end of this year.

What style of writer would you consider yourself?

I definitely fall into the "pantser" camp, and that should be obvious from the above, although I prefer to call it "organic." I try to give the characters a lot of leeway — after all, they're the ones who live the story. When things are going really well, it's almost like I'm taking dictation from the voices in my head. They're telling me the story, and I'm just writing it down. It's a cool feeling when it happens. On the other hand, I've done a lot of advance plotting and planning with regard to a YA trilogy that I intend to tackle once I finish Pickups and Pestilence. That's partly because I had a bunch of ideas about it, and didn't want to lose anything important. It's waiting (patiently, so far).

With regards to “To Begin With”, is there anything in particular that inspired this piece?

The opening line was a blatant homage to Dickens, obviously. As for the inspiration, one of my online friends was talking about Christmas-themed ghost stories. I had two ideas, both of which used the same opening line ("The Harley was dead, to begin with").

Wow, that beginning was a brilliant salute to that work. I can't believe I missed it! But let's move away from my literary blindness and go back to you. Are you yourself a motorcycle guy? If so, what kind of bikes do you have?

Yes I am! My primary ride this days is a Suzuki DR-Z400SM, a "supermoto" (fancy term for a dirt bike adapted for primarily on-road use). I also have a Yamaha Virago 1100, which I soon hope to pass to Daughter Dearest. There are pictures of the bikes on my blog: Suzuki and Virago. [You might also remember the Purple Indian story from June that I wrote.]

Have you ever hit an animal on a motorcycle? Is that a more common occurrence then I’m aware of?

I nailed a squirrel one morning on the way to work. He ran out in front of me at the wrong time, then bounced off the bottom of my boot just to gross me out (no, the bike didn't surge at it). Then there was the time that two dogs ran out in front of me and froze; somehow I managed to steer between them. That falls into the category of what I call "the Ex-Lax moment." I don't know how common it is, but I've heard about people who put deer whistles on their bikes to (they hope) forestall impacts with larger critters.

Do you of anybody who believes their restored classic bike is possessed by a spirit?

No, not seriously anyway. There are always gremlins lurking about in the innards of older bikes though — especially in the electrical systems.

Were there any particularly difficult challengers in writing this piece?

None beyond the usual: how I was going to end it. But as happens often with my organic writing style, the ending came to me as I wrote. The repetitive parts ("The Harley was dead" "The Harley is alive!" "The Harley is undead") just flowed naturally into the story.

Are there any other ‘easter eggs’ or inside jokes in that piece that most people would not have caught? Something that wouldn't be as obvious as the opening line?

No. The opening line to "A Christmas Carol" is well-known enough that it wouldn't qualify. Had I more time, I might have tried to put something more subtle in there as well.

What do you find most challenging about writing flash fiction?

Personally, it's a fun challenge to include elements that are required in longer stories but not considered necessary for flash: plot, character development, conflict and resolution. Other than that, doing one every week can be a challenge given the other stuff going on in my life. :-) There are brief times when I have two or three "extra" flash pieces and all I have to do is pick which one goes up, but most of the time the story that goes up on Friday was written on Tuesday. If not Thursday evening.

What do you find most enjoyable about writing flash fiction?

As with longer short stories, the ability to have them ready to share in a few hours. Novels are a long-haul endeavor for me, and they can often be more work than fun.FAR Future was a two-year project, and the White Pickups duology looks like it will take even longer. Even a novella like Xenocide or Chasing a Rainbow (something I completed just this week) can take a long time to complete. Thanks to #FridayFlash, I have an incentive to start and finish a story quickly and share it with the rest of the world.

What would your ultimate goal as a writer be?

I think a lot of writers, myself included, would like to be able to do it for a living. For me, that's still a fantasy (so far). I'll settle for knowing that my stories have brightened someone's life, somewhere, somehow.

Do you have any words of wisdom for our readers?

About writing? Sooner or later, there comes a time when one needs to stop reading the advice sites and just start writing. Better yet, write first and look at the advice sites later. You need to find your own voice, your own style, before you start worrying about what other people think.

I want to extend my thanks out again to Larry, and one more round of applause.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

We're returning to our normally scheduled programming

Sorry about the holiday lull, but I should be back to my normal routine in the next couple days. Look for some awesome stuff this year!

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