Halloween Treat

Over the last couple of months I’ve tried my hand a few pieces of “micro-fiction”. Super short, usually less than 250 words. The challenge is obviously telling a cohesive story in such a minimal amount of words. Below is one I submitted to a Halloween themed contest. The story wasn’t picked, but since I’ve lapsed in blogging lately I thought I would share this one as  a special Halloween treat from me to you! Thanks for reading.

Trick or Treat

The old, crumbling, rotted house appeared to have been carved out of coal. Windows often represent eyes, and these were asleep, if not dead. Only the red light from the setting sun spattering through dying trees kept the house from disappearing into the darkness.

Charles nudged Fred forward. “Go on.”

Fred hesitated.

“Fine. We’ll go together. But Damian did it alone last year.”

“Well, Damian was dumb enough to shoot his eye out with a firecracker,” said Fred, unconvinced of Damian’s moxie.

The two traipsed up to the porch and the large, orange, plastic candy bowl. Inside lay two fake eyeballs. One brown, one blue.

“One for each of you, my dears.” The crone materialized in front of them and cackled.

 

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Rebirth or Legacy

Marvel’s X-Men (the 90’s cartoon) is the reason I love superheroes, but my dad is the reason I read comics. During junior high we started regularly visiting a local comic book shop. And at the time I was under the impression that you were either DC or Marvel. It was as cut and dry as Cubs/Cardinals. With my dad being into DC and my affinity for X-Men I sided with Marvel without hesitation.

A few years ago I was drawn back into comics because of The Walking Dead on AMC. Once I find out a movie or show is based on a book/story/comic I’m a sucker for the original content. I want to know the fun little tidbits that don’t translate from one medium to another. I want to be able to pick out the Easter eggs (the homages to the source material). After 3 seasons of TWD I dove headfirst into TWD Compendiums Vol 1 and 2. I burned through them in less than 2 weeks. I wanted more.

Needless to say I quickly found myself at the local comic book store itching for each new issue. While I waited the weeks between TWD I worked my way back into other comics starting, of course, with Marvel. Now, the way the local comic book store presents the new issues Marvel and DC sit on the top shelves. It was easy to wander from what I knew into uncharted territory with DC titles literally right next to each other, besides, who doesn’t love Batman.

Apparently I picked the right time to begin discovering DC comics. Not long after I started reading Batman and went back and read the last few years worth of Justice League, DC began their Rebirth. I jumped on the boat along with a lot of other people. I picked up the one-shot Rebirth and read it that night. It is very much centered on Wally West as The Flash, a superhero and character I knew very little about, but his struggle to return to the world he knew and my desire to know where he went and who sent him away hooked me immediately. The icing on the Rebirth cake was (SPOILER) the last page that tied Alan Moore’s Watchmen in with the rest of the DC comic book universe. (Like I said, I’m a sucker for the source material.) As it currently stands I am waiting on the edge of my seat for the upcoming event that will answer questions and expose the threads tying everything together.

As Rebirth was slowly pulling in more of my interest Marvel announced their own back to basics reboot, Legacy. Instantly I feared this was a matter of seeing DC’s success and trying to hop on board, a feeling of which I quickly discovered I was not alone. Last week, Legacy hit shelves. I tempered my expectations as I read the issue that night. While even a week after release, I am not as excited about the upcoming revelations and reveals as I was with Rebirth, I am very interested to see how Marvel plays their cards. (I’ll withhold spoilers since the comic only released a week ago.)

While DC used their event to bring back a lone key character, Legacy has reintroduced (or teased) multiple. All of which, will have to find their place in the comic book universe amongst some drastic changes from their last incarnation. And similar to Rebirth, Legacy indicated that there are forces at play, twisting and toying with the lives of certain characters, that are bigger than any or all of them could have imagined.

My hope is that Legacy will find a strong footing to drive their universe forward as Rebirth seems to have done for DC. While I may be currently straying towards the DC side of the argument, I can’t help but desire for Marvel to do something to wow me and yank me back.

Drawing Inspiration

Everyone’s creative process is different.

If asked to sit down and write a short story each person would begin in a different way. You could begin with setting, or a character, or a situation, maybe even a theme or idea you want to try and express. There isn’t one right way. But assuming that someone else going about the task a different way is wrong.

A lot my recent thinking on this came from a text message I received a few weeks ago. A friend’s child’s class had been working on how author’s create their books/stories. The class was informed that most writers draw pictures to determine what they will write. My initial reaction to this was a strong “no.” I’m lucky to draw stick figures that are proportionally correct. The chance of drawing something as complex as the stories/characters/settings I write would be impossible.

I didn’t ask other writers, but my understanding is that most have a similar feeling toward graphically producing their thoughts. (There are always exceptions – I do know of a couple authors who sketch out their characters as a way to reinforce what they are mentally picturing.) I tend to think that most writers/authors paint pictures with words because we can’t do so with other media.

Another reason I don’t draw (aside from lack of skill) is that when I am working on a story or characters it is often more than one scene, more than one drawing or bigger than the moment in time captured in a piece of art. Graphic novels might be the answer to my narrow view, but far outside of the scope of my skills.

But the more I thought about this question the more I came around to a possible understanding of what the teacher was trying to do. First, while I don’t draw pictures of anything I write, I do spend a fair amount of time “spacing out” imagining what my characters looks like, how they react to particular situations, and the settings in which my stories take place. Second, children can have a harder time than adults when trying to express, through words, what it is they are thinking. As such, I could see this exercise as a way for the kids to visualize aspects of their story. This is of course speculation since I don’t know the teacher and am unable to ask what their thought process was.

So, I guess, in a literal sense, based on the way the question was asked of me, I would disagree that most writers draw what they will in turn write. But thinking beyond I see how having kids use their own drawings to encourage them to write what they are imagining relates to my own creative process. Again, when it comes to the creative process there is no wrong way. I write differently than Stephen King who writes differently than George R.R. Martin, etc., etc. Whatever your process, if you are creating and you are happy with your final product no one should judge the road you took to get there.

Start to Finish

Starting this week I’m trying something new. I’m going to read a series of books beginning with the first and continuing until I have reached the end of the most recently published novel. This is a task I’ve never done. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read full series before, just never one after another after another until finished.

Two things set me on this course. First, my wife has been tearing through a detective series she recently discovered. And second, I wanted to read something I knew was fun and an easier read, but can’t remember where I left off in the series. So, I figured why not start over from the beginning to refresh my memory.

Because of the flawed reasoning of my much younger self there are a couple series I have thoroughly enjoyed the beginnings of, but never completed. For some reason I thought that if I continued reading a series (longer than a trilogy) that before I got all the way through I would be tired of the characters and the world, so instead of finishing the series it would be forever abandoned.

Needless to say, as I’ve grown in my writing I’ve come to see the flawed logic in this. If I did ever read a series and get bored with characters or such it wouldn’t be a knock on my reading stamina, but more so the abilities of the writer. That should be part of the fun for a writer embarking upon a series. Not only should the characters grow and change as the books continue, but there should be things that both the reader and writer discover about the characters past and personality as the series moves forward. This is definitely something I need to ponder and scratch out as I begin toying with the ideas for what I hope to be a forthcoming (not likely anytime soon) fantasy series.

But for now, back to reading and using this read-through as enjoyment and research. Besides, if this read through goes well, it looks like I have added (or re-added) a few books to my constantly expanding TBR List. Part of me feels like I should have started this project with a series shorter than 16 books, but then again, I’m not starting the Wheel of Time.

Is Captain America Back?

Each Thursday night I get the opportunity to sit down with a few friends and geek out over some of the fun, interesting, and noteworthy news stories related to pretty much anything geeky, nerdy, or the like. As I looked at my pull list for the comic book shop this week I was reminded about the culmination of the annual Marvel comic-universe altering event. This year focused on Captain America and his foray to the dark side, Hydra. As much as this turn has been a topic of conversation for more than a year I felt it necessary to catch up and finish the last issue before we went on air tonight. Over the last 2 days I caught up and completed Secret Empire.

(There will be spoilers regarding the ending of the event past this point! Read at your own risk.)

I am going to stay away from the hot button topic of Cap’s turn and other political-type issues because I want to focus on the fact that as far as Marvel’s comic events have gone over the last couple of years I felt like this one actually had a fairly satisfactory ending. I don’t feel as if Nick Spencer (the writer of the event) got to the last 2 or 3 issues and suddenly realized he’d built this too big and had to hurry to tie it all up into a neat little package. In a lot of ways, I agree with a review I read earlier today stating that the final issue was a better ending than the series deserved. The Hydra empire fell, Hydra Cap was destroyed, the timeline restored, and Steve Rogers is back (wait, what?).

The crux of the story was that Kobik (a cosmic cube) had rewritten Steve Rogers history so that he’d always been a secret Hydra agent waiting for the right time to take over the country. When Kobik saw what she had created, after having been misled by Red Skull, she ran and hid. Only when the memory of the proper Steve Rogers/Captain America find her hidden in a strange dream-like reality is she enticed to return and fix what she had led astray. The final battle of Hydra Cap versus the idealistic recreation of Captain America is odd, yet satisfying.

Is the real Steve Rogers dead? And how can this memory reincarnation of Captain America be real? I guess that’s the fun of writing and creating a story around a cosmic cube whose sole purpose is to fiddle with the universe, history, and reality.

Probably my favorite part of this event was that Secret Empire made mention of previous events. Secret Wars, Civil War, and Civil War II. Those events played a role in the characters actions and reactions throughout Secret Empire. It even gave a hint as to the current Marvel Generations comics with past and present versions of particular superheroes.

Was Secret Empire perfect? No. But at least it wasn’t the convoluted mess that was Secret Wars or the limp unsatisfying Civil War II.

Piles of Ideas

Pretty much any writer will tell you, if you sit still long enough, about the wealth of story ideas constantly running around in their brain. At any one time I have 2-5 stories (probably a modest estimate) in one state of being or another. This could be from the seedling stage all the way to final edits and I won’t even count stories that are either submitted for consideration or parked in a documents folder on my computer waiting or another chance at glory.

For everything I constantly have in progress I have a terrible habit of scrolling through emails and Facebook and stumbling across calls for submissions that get the wheels turning. As I finished up a story for submission at the end of July I had no less than 5 possibilities for anthologies that wanted stories between August 1 and September 30. It wasn’t easy, but I set 3 of those aside at the beginning of August to focus on the other 2. One I just submitted earlier tonight and another I continue to fight with.

I still have a novel that I’m trying to work through revising my first draft, but there is something about the mental exercise of taking a nugget of an idea for a story and molding and shaping it into something new, exciting, and interesting that constantly pulls me back in. (I am making some progress on the novel, by the way, but it’s rough and needs serious work.)

I know a few author’s that won’t submit to anthologies or themed magazines unless they have something already finished that fits the bill. As I continue to write I’m getting to the point where I will have a few of those to dish out, but I love the challenge of twisting a prompt or a theme into a coherent polished story.

Maybe one day I’ll go back to the list of story nuggets I have jotted down across dozens of notebooks and they’ll all get written. Or maybe I’ll continue to stretch my creative muscles by tackling new and intriguing themes and styles. For now, I’ll go back to hammering out a sci-fi/apocalyptic/western story that centers around a train heist.

 

Same Words, Different Book

As a sociology student in college it was engrained in our heads that who you are and how you act/react is largely a product of your upbringing and circumstances. Despite being an English major and seeing firsthand how different people discovered different truths I never truly thought to apply that to casual reading. I made that realization based on a recent read.

On a recommendation from a friend I recently loaned the ebook of Becky Chambers The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. I loved it. It was awesome. I highly recommend anyone who has ever read and enjoyed anything science fiction to pick it up. While I was reading it, we chatted about a few highlights throughout the book and I mentioned a few scenes that caught my attention. But, what really struck me was after I finished she mentioned what was what she took from the book as a whole, "it's just full of great messages about gender equality and sexual identity and consent and acceptance."

Her assessment is completely true, and an excellent lesson to take from an incredibly well written book, but it wasn't the message I took from the book. In fact, I wasn't looking for a greater overall theme or meaning. After completing the book I was in awe of Chambers ability to build the world and the characters in such a detailed manner without weighing down the book and feeling like I was reading a report of fictionalized alien races and worlds.

I'm not likely to sit and contemplate other viewpoints of future fiction I read, but the recent discussion with my friend has reminded me that while we may all read the same words we each read a different book. Something to keep in mind as I dive further into my own writing.

Do the details Matter?

A few weeks ago I stopped by my local Barnes and Noble and noticed a book I had seen in hardcover and been extremely interested in reading was now available in paperback. I made an impulse buy and brought the book home. I finished Blake Crouch's Dark Matter (almost 350 pages) in 4 days. I'm a reader of average speed, but it has been a long time since I finished a book that quickly. And normally, when someone reads a book that quickly one would assume they loved it, automatic 5 star rating. Right? Wrong.

Very early on in the book Crouch makes it clear that his story is set in Chicago (multiple parallel universe version of). I immediately thought, "Awesome! I know the city. This will be fun as to see if I catch the landmarks he points out." But then the unthinkable happened. He botched a real life location. He chose Pulaski Drive. While I never lived in the city, I had family that did and from the time I was little through high school we drove Pulaski many many times. And it's Pulaski ROAD. All it would have taken is a moment to Google the name and Crouch could have gotten it correct. I brushed it aside when I realized the author wasn't from Chicago. Still shouldn't have been wrong, but I'll let it pass. Then the story continues and he drops his version of Pulaski into an industrial neighborhood along the lake. WHAT?! It's not even close to Lake Michigan. Strike 2.

By the time all was said and done Crouch had struck out twice. I finished the book because the plot, despite the clunky mechanics of his quantum superposition description (which were the driving force behind the story). The idea was great, the execution was flawed.

I'm not saying that all the details a writer uses must be exact. In fact, I'd almost prefer that they take some liberties when using realistic settings. Give me an intersection, a neighborhood, even a building and speculate around that, but don't use a location incorrectly. If you want a road by the lake, use Google and find one. Or make one up. Don't use a real road in the wrong place. Crouch mentions a couple of fictional hospitals in Chicago. Cool, great. That's fine. But, if the details matter to the story, fact check. Please.

I have a story that I wrote taking place in Chicago. One pivotal scene takes place a specific corner overlooking a specific bridge on the Chicago River. Why? Because I know the spot and it gives a great feel and an anchor to the story. The businesses located up and down the street in my story are fictional, but those aren't the important part.

In the end, I think if a writer is going to use real life locations or roads are a great way to draw in readers, especially those who actually know the area described, but that means that the details have to be right. When you botch the details, it makes the reader question other aspects of your story, especially one about cutting edge/fictional technology.

Busted!

This is a short story I wrote for a contest in a Facebook writing group. The task was to take a Bob Seger song and use the lyrics to tell or inspire a story. I’m going to admit that I’ve never listened to much Bob Seger and I don’t own any. My options were limited while searching Spotify, but luckily the first one I found struck a chord and the words began to flow. Below is my take on Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band’s Shakedown. (Lyics and a Youtube of the song is at the bottom.)

 

I’m called Law. Not because it’s my name, but because of what I do. The irony is that I don’t actually carry a badge, but that’s never stopped me before, nor will it stop me now. They run. Every single damn time. And I catch them. Every single damn time. One of these days, the game of cat and mouse is going to get old. But, until then, I enjoy the chase.

The Shakedown

The neon buzzed outside my window, turning the entire room a shade of alien green. The vacancy signed flicked off, submerging everything in darkness. Then, before my eyes could adjust, the obnoxious green glow returned. I’d only been in the room a few minutes and already glad I didn’t need to sleep here. This was recon, and my target was in the bar across the street.

The vacancy sign hung down off the building splitting my view down the middle. It was like paying for the obstructed view seats at a game, but, in this case, it worked to my benefit. I could position myself to see around the sign; in turn, I remained mostly hidden from street view. The chances of being spotted while tucked behind a giant blinking thumb was slim. I could survive the light and the sound long enough for my target to show.

I’d tracked many through this spot. I knew the ins, the outs, and the details. They always showed. It was just a matter of time. They always thought they’d bested me by this point. They would have burned their last bridge, used their last lifeline, cashed in their final chips. I chuckled to myself—I liked to stay a step ahead of their two steps ahead.

I barely had time to get comfortable in the worn and ragged chair when my target crashed through the bar entrance, tripped, and tumbled face down into the street. Before the poor sap could stand and dust himself off, I was next to him in the street, hand under his arm, helping him to his feet. He thought he was safe, so he relaxed and got hammered. Same shit, different day. I shook my head as he staggered and I hauled him, by his collar, into the shadows of the alley.

The Breakdown

I pulled his sorry ass all the way to the end, where I tossed him up against a dumpster. The clang of his skull against metal reverberated against the walls. His eyes fluttered as he tried to clear the cobwebs.

“Wh…who are you?”

They always asked the same questions. I liked to have a few different answers to keep myself from getting bored. His worst nightmare or the end of the road were two of my favorites. This time, I simply pulled back the side of my duster to reveal the pistol strapped to my hip.

“Oh, my God. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to,” he blubbered.

“Shut up. Do you even know what you’re copping to?”

His eyes glassed over. “I…well…”

“That’s what I figured.” I cleared my throat and launched a ball of spit and mucus at him, aiming over his shoulder. He flinched. I missed—on purpose. Making them sweat wasn’t usually part of the contract, but, as I’ve said, I like to keep things interesting. This time there was no contract. I was flying solo.

My target shifted and moved an elbow underneath his body. My foot connected causing a pop as the steel toe cracked ribs. He groaned and fell back to the ground.

“I know you didn’t do it intentionally—cuz you’re not that smart—but you lost me for a few days. If you were smart, I’d give you credit, but you did it by accident. Hence the steel toes,” I said, tapping the toe of a boot against the dumpster.

Huffing between pained breaths he managed to expel a question. “What…do you…want?”

“It’s quite simple really,” I said. “Tell me where Honey took the kid.”

The pain on his face disappeared, replaced by stone-cold fear. “If I tell you, he’ll kill me,” he sobbed.

Ha! “If you don’t tell me, I’ll kill you and then I’ll find them anyway. Your choice.”

It was like I could see the wheels turning, his mind working out his best chance of survival.

“Let me give you some motivation.” He squinted at me in confusion. “Five…four…” I reached for the gun at my hip.

“Okay, okay,” he cried. “To the docks, he’s got a warehouse, like in the movies.”

I smiled all nice and pretty for him. “That wasn’t so bad, now, was it?”

He shook his head slightly. I pulled my arm back and cracked him once across the nose. He slumped backward. I tossed a card onto his unconscious form on my way out of the alley.

The Takedown

There were a lot of warehouses scattered around the docks, but I knew the one I needed. Anyone who was anyone in this business knew which one–it wasn’t exactly a secret. Honey thought he had such a sweet setup that he was untouchable. I guess it was part of how he got his nickname. The other part of the two-fold reason was that he was quite fond of using “Sweet!” as an exclamation for nearly everything. He liked to joke that there wasn’t a judge in the state who could make a criminal charge stick.

That was about to change.

Honey and I had done business before. He would hire me, and I’d do the job. The cash was clean. I’d move on. Every so often, Honey would ring me again. Another job. I made sure to avoid jobs that would conflict with his business ventures. He paid well, and I didn’t see a reason to burn the bridge. Until I caught of whiff of one of his dealings that crossed more lines than a two-year-old coloring a crossword.

If I’d known finding the kid would be as easy as knocking on Honey’s door I wouldn’t have wasted my time tracking that loser middleman. I shook my head and knocked on the maintenance door on the waterfront side of the warehouse. The secret knock. The one only his hired guys knew.

“Who is it?” A gruff call came from the other side of the door.

“Law,” I responded in an equally gravelly tone.

There was a click and a squeak as the lock was pulled back and the door opened. The guy on the other side was new. At least new enough that I didn’t know him. But, it had been a while since Honey had hired me.

“What’s the password?” the grunt stared down his nose at me.

God, I hate this part. “Worker bee.” I rolled my eyes.

“Is Honey expecting you?”

“No. But he’ll see me.”

He shuffled his feet and wrung his hands. My confidence was larger than this grunt’s physical size and I could tell that unsettled him.

“Today, Junior. I got shit to do.”

The grunt turned and waved me into the building. “Wait here.”

He returned quickly and ushered me upstairs into the overly plush office that seemed completely out of place in the rundown grungy warehouse, then left the two of us alone to talk business.

“Law!” Honey laughed. “It’s been too long. How are you?” He rose from his oversized ornate desk and met me halfway into the room.

I met his enthusiasm with a fake smile and a warm handshake. “I’m good. And, yes, it has been too long.”

Honey reached for the decanter to pour me a drink. Just like a stereotypical criminal underworld boss. I hid a smirk.

“What brought you to my neck of the woods? Should I be concerned?” he joked.

I didn’t respond. He turned back to me holding a drink for himself in one hand, one for me in the other. I took the drink and slugged it while Honey’s eyes settled on my other hand which held my pistol. His drink fell from his hand and bounced on the lush carpet.

“Whoa, now, Law. I’m sure that, whatever it is, we can talk about this.” He instinctively raised his hands.

I raised the gun. “Sorry, Honey. Not this time.”

“Nah, it’ll be alright,” Honey said, his voice cracking with fear.

“You crossed a line that you can’t uncross.”

Honey opened his mouth again to plead his case, but they called me Law for a reason. I felt the recoil as I pulled the trigger. The red of Honey’s blood splattered the wall behind the desk as his body landed with a muted thud.

“You let your guard down, Honey.”

Lyrics to Shakedown

Audio of song via YouTube

Review of Rise by Brian Guthrie

I watched a video of a writer giving a lecture to college class and he discussed his reasoning for writing fantasy as opposed to other genres. The paraphrase of his answer was this: he can include the excitement of a thriller, the intrigue of a mystery, the relationships of a romance, and all with the inclusion of dragons.

But why stop there? In Brian Guthrie’s Rise, he starts with a science fiction setting based on a familiar idea, the scarcity of water, then takes the world and literally breaks it into dozens of floating pieces (or shells in this case) and tops it all off with the addition of dragons.

rise

The main character Logwyn is  is tasked by her Queen to find and interview four individuals in hopes of understanding and piecing together the answers of a problem that threatens to destroy everything. Unlike many fantasy novels, it is not necessarily Logwyn’s job to take action, but instead to sort the pieces of the puzzle in hopes of uncovering the answers that seem to be eluding the Queen. That perspective, along with the recounting of the tales from her interviews give plenty to hook and draw the reader deeper into the world.

The twist of having the world broken into different shells instead of kingdoms or regions adds another level of complexity. Most people grow up knowing about the other shells, but never visiting or meeting others from any other than their own. Logwyn’s puzzle effects them all, but isn’t the only connection. Across the shells is a network of knowledge and information. The network controls the flow of water to different areas of different shells and that network is breaking down, decaying.

The more you read and the further you dive into the world the more you get sucked in wanting to not only help find the answer for the Queen, but the desire to learn the stories of these people Logwyn is interviewing and what is it that connects them all so deeply.

Where are the dragons you ask? If tracking down four different stories and solving a problem that threatens the whole of existence isn’t enough, there are always dragons striking seemingly from nowhere while raining terror and stealing lives when unexpected. The dragons hold an additional puzzle piece, but what, and why? Those questions and others are left hanging while the reader pines for the next installment of this epic series.

Interested? Buy Rise from Inkshares – tiny.cc/risenovel

Don’t forget the upcoming sequel. – tiny.cc/fallnovel

Follow him @nidfar on Twitter to find out what he’s working on next.