Friday, May 31, 2013

Story The Twenty-second: A Colder War

Scraping in at the last conceivable minute. Hell, yeah.

Another week, another Wendig flash fiction thing. Probably the last one for a while, I think.

The challenge was to write a thousand words on one psychic power randomly chosen from the list. Mine was "cryomancy." So, I give you a secret agent, Soviets, the city of Hoboken, a mysterious sledgehammer and lots of stuff being frozen and shattered:

Redacted. :-)

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Hangovers

Status Update: No worries here on the bean front. Story is...fully outlined and ready to go...but I haven't actually started writing it yet. It's only 1000 words, being another Wendig flash fiction thing, but the spare time during a period in which I am actually awake and capable of imbibing coffee and not at work has been limited. Such is life.

I'm running late on it this week (the challenge's deadline is tomorrow, noon, so yes, that is late) because of Memorial Day weekend, two 450 mile drives and a couple of poorly-timed hangovers. Definitely one of those weekends you need a weekend afterwards to recover from.

I have a love-hate relationship with hangovers.

Wait, what?

How in the hell can anybody like hangovers? They're terrible! You wake up, you feel like the carpeting of a 70's back alley porno shop, you mope around all day, no energy, sick, exhausted, headaches, nauseated and generally lacking any of the sort of zim and zest for life you normally display. You feel low.

But I like it because it is all. Your. Fault.

Every single bad hangover I've ever had comes with an extra layer of shame and guilt. It's not like getting the flu, which you can always blame on the toilet seat at the last Wendy's you visited or the fountain at the gym, or your coworker Carl who insists on coming in even when he's barely coherent and able to stand (damn you, Carl!). No, hangovers are entirely your fault. And the entire time you wake up with one, at one level or another you know it.

Stay with me here.

Normally, I lack a certain amount of objectivity in my life. Basically, I'm an egomaniac. I think everything I'm doing is awesome, all the time. When I sharpen a pencil, that damn pencil is the best damn pencil in the world. I go for a walk, I take ALL THE WALKS. It's great being me.

A well-timed hangover pops that bubble.

It's like having a Jewish grandmother installed in the back of your head who disapproves of your life. Instant perspective. You wake up feeling like hell, knowing it's all your fault and some of the shame and guilt carries over into everything you do that day. The little old lady in the back of your head looks over your shoulder with everything you do and Judges.

"What are you doing this for? Do you enjoy pointless work? You're getting fat. You drink too much. Why do you hang out with THESE losers? You just watched an entire hour of television, you could be writing or out walking!"

She's a pain in the ass, basically, but she's objective. And a change in perspective is one of the most useful tools you can have. I've never had any positive life changes or Great Ideas happen as a result of being drunk, but I've had a ton of positive hangover-related ideas. It's like going through your normal day with crap-colored glasses. The things in life that could be better are immediately apparent.

My new writing habit is hangover-related, for example.

Having said that, I avoid them whenever possible and put a lot of thought into moderate drinking. Hangovers kinda suck and I tend to get them out of all proportion to any drinking I do. Booze really isn't my friend these days. Except when it is.

Probably the last week of the flash fiction for awhile. I'm spoiling to get back to some actual writing.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Early Bird Gets The Weekend

Status Update:  already done! And the coffee is twice as good because of it.

This was a lot of fun. Judging from the stories ahead of me in the comments, I was afraid I was going to be locked into writing fantasy since the seeds were all things like "God-king of Chaandahr immanentizes the eschaton" and "Orc-fearing psychic assassin saves the king from the dragon ninja." But mine turned out "cowardly conjurer seeks revenge," which was pretty easy to go with.

There was another in the batch of seeds (the generator gives you five at a time) about a "diplomatic gypsy hiring mercenaries" which might have been fun, but I'm definitely a "take the first result and run with it" sort of guy. Because I'm a daredevil.

I put quite a bit more time into setting down the plot before I started than the last couple of flash fiction pieces. One of the weaknesses of "Not Too Many Have Died" was that not a whole lot happens in it and there's no story or character arcs to speak of, so I decided to put some work into that not being the case this time around.

I'm fairly happy with the results. It's not too clear that it takes place in the 60's, or maybe the 50's, but without coming right out and saying it, there's not much you can do in less than 1000 words to make that blindingly obvious.

There's a few throwaway references in there. The vacuum cleaner with the flier saying it was endorsed by the Pope is actually owned by my good friend, Neil. It's an Electrolux from the 20's and that was apparently back in the days before anybody thought to use these newfangled telephones to fact-check ads for fraud. Well, either that or it really was endorsed by the Pope, in which case I know whose vacuum-cleaner I'm going to use to beat back the undead during the impending zombie apocalypse.

The bit with the beer pitcher is based on something Penn & Teller wrote in "How To Play With Your Food", except in their version it was a milkshake and it wasn't a story--it actually did happen.

The "Infant of Prague" is from a Dead Milkmen song title "The Infant of Prague Customized My Van." And of course, "the Himalayan Snowball of Death" is an Amazing Jonathan trick.

Good times.

I'm headed up north to my parents' for Memorial Day weekend because a) it's been over six months and b) it looks like all my friends are going to be out of town anyway. The story next week is going to be another short one because I won't have a chance to do much prep work and I've apparently committed next Saturday to hanging out with friends in another town, which cuts into primo writing time. So! Maybe another flash fiction challenge. Maybe Something Completely Different.

But! The week after that--that week I'm going to go back to writing longer pieces. Maybe the final blast of Nightmare Town or another clone story.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Story The Twenty-first: To The Moon, Alice

Jumping Jesus on a pogo stick, I actually finished this one early. Apparently the Mayan apocalypse is going to be six months late because the world's ending tonight, folks.

Two reasons why: reason the first, Memorial Day is going to eat this weekend so I wanted to finish this week's story quick. Reason numero dos, I've been wanting to do one of Chuck Wendig's flash fiction challenges for a while now but kept spacing on the deadlines because that's the way I roll.

998 words, or thereabouts. I took the first random link the generator gave me: cowardly conjurer seeks revenge.

Redacted. :-)

Monday, May 20, 2013

Post Splatter

Well, so much for making the Friday deadline for Chuck Wendig's flash fiction thingy! This is good because I also didn't get below the 1000 word limit either. On top of that, this piece skirts the line between story and vignette dangerously close, occasionally stumbling over it drunkenly. I am full of fail this week.

In hindsight, I probably should have spun this up into a full story the moment I realized I wasn't going to make the deadline, because it's a fun idea.

The two genres I got from rolling on Chuck's table were "splatterpunk" and "noir", which reminded me of something I've always wondered about horror movies: what is it like to be the cop who shows up the next day in one of these films? The poor guy is confronted with all sorts of weirdness. How do you explain the wreckage after a Hellraiser movie or word a report on the inexplicable presence of were-sheep corpses all over the place? Hell, a person who lived in such a universe would probably be unfazed by a simple summer camp filled with dismembered coeds.

If I were to blow this up into a full story, I think the logical place to take it is the collision between duty and common sense. What happens if the investigator actually catches the killer? Anybody who's actually seen one of these movies knows what's going to happen--the killer can't be killed. Once it's on-screen all it does is kill and kill until the morally-appropriate characters survive. You can't jail something like that any more than you could handcuff a tornado.

Friday the 13th Part 3 was my choice for this story, in case you're not quite nerdy enough to recognize and/or google the references. It's a terrible movie and I've seen it far too many times, but I'd say it's iconic for the genre. It's the film where Jason acquires his hockey mask and it sets the bar for campy exploitation. It's the sort of ersatz slasher-horror which filled video rental shops during the 80's. Back in those days, we rated horror rentals by decapitations and boob shots.

It's also of note for another reason: one of my friend's cousins is in it.

She's the one who takes a shower and then gets it in the neck from Jason. She actually went on to do bigger and brighter things--she did some news reporting and was the reporter who broke the O J Simpson case. Her brother, Brad, was in a number of fairly cool movies back in the 80's. He was the non-famous kid in Red Dawn and played a vampire in Salem's Lot. I think he runs a production studio these days.

But the absolute best part of this is when Rob's in town. We all get together and when we're picking a movie to watch, we say:

"Hey, let's watch Rob's cousin get naked." To which he usually replies "Fuck you, guys, I'm going home."

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Story The Twentieth: Not Too Many Have Died

The truth about slasher movies, hard-boiled detectives and maniacal children.

Redacted. :-)

Thursday, May 16, 2013

On Being "Busy"

Status Update:  my impressive buffer of beans continues. If I had a penny for every coffee bean sitting in reserve, my apartment would get robbed by a meth-head looking for copper, if pennies were still made of copper. Which they aren't. Writing continues at a regular pace.

This week's piece is going to be a response to Chuck Wendig's last flash fiction challenge, which involved rolling a dodecahedron with unique numbers on each facet twice and cross-referencing the results on a table filled with arcane and surprising entries and then using the resulting collision of genres as a story seed. It's going well. It's fun to write. Tomorrow--noon--is the deadline, which is a bit problematic because I'm lazy and do my writing much like I do everything else in my life: hastily and at the last possible minute. And on the weekends if it at all possible.

I enjoy flash fiction. It lets me pretend I'm writing a story but does not take up a large amount of my time. I can then use the remaining time to do what I do best: fuck-all.

More seriously, it's a good exercise. You have only so much space to develop character and drive the story along. You have to use a critical eye to weed out frippery and hoohah which distracts from the important stuff. You can't take that five page diversion to talk about your Grand Theory Of Simian Logic or introduce needless characters simply because you really feel the need to vent about that prick who took the last box of jelly donuts at the store.

But it is something of a distraction. I'm working on a few things which are slowly developing into novels. Every piece of flash fiction is time I'm not spending writing the next chunk of Cameron Webb or fleshing The Axe In The Tree into a full length novel or novelating (it's a word if I say it's a word, dammit) any of the other stories I've written this year.

There's nothing stopping me from using the time freed up by writing flash fiction to work on longer pieces, but I have a hard time changing gears from one project to another. I'm not a multitasker.

It's mostly about priorities, which is a thing everybody struggles with. Every time the subject of writing comes up, it seems that people are always "too busy." It's just one of those topics that triggers that response, sometimes before anybody else even starts discussing it. It's the same with anything: getting back to the gym, sorting out your financial bullshit, doing a marathon, frying up the world's largest pancake, whatever.

Nobody ever has time for that. I've written damn near 200,000 words this year and I can assure you that not once in this entire period have I ever sat down at my computer and not thought of all the other things I could be doing at that point such as (here's a list! Writers love lists!):

Having a beer, going for a walk, watching a movie, hanging out with a friend, grabbing some Taco Bell,  turning on the TV, playing video games, organizing the shit on my coffee table, clipping my finger nails, surfing the Internet, listening to the radio, sweeping the floor, going shopping, building a model of the Devil's Tower out of mashed potatoes (it MEANS SOMETHING), reading a book, reading, well, just about anything except what I'm about to write.

I would rather do every single one of those things before sitting down to write. But then I stop and think of the end result. Just about every single one of those things are things I do anyway and have no real lasting impact in my life. I will not remember drinking that beer or going for that walk in a month. I'll probably remember reading that book and of course, I'll still have that Devil's Tower mashed potato sculpture, because that shit is seriously awesome, but the rest? They're short term goals.

The people who say they're "too busy" are actually saying "I've decided at some level that what we're talking about isn't very important to me and haven't made it a priority in my life but I still wish that I could have done it...but not enough that I'm willing to clear out free time which I actually do have and put in the work."

You just have to stop and think about what's important and make it a priority. If you chisel out the time because something's important enough for you, you'd be surprised just how much time you actually have. That short term stuff can wait--it'll always be there if you want to go back to it.

This week's story uses "Splatterpunk Noir" as a seed. It's fun. I like noir. I like gore! They're two great tastes that taste great together, like Oreos and, uh, raw meat.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Postina

This story was really hard to write.

I mean, really hard. At times--and this is integral to the format--it felt like I was solving an equation for x, except without the payoff of a reasonable-looking number to say I pulled it off successfully at the end.

Sestinas typically have a sonorous feel to them. The tight repetition of words tend to give everything a somber and foreboding tone. Done right, they have the same dignity and sense of process as the tolling of a bell.

In prose format, I reasoned the phrase repetition would probably make for better humor, so I went cornball with this.

I'm fairly happy with it. It has some of the typical difficulties with flash fiction. You don't have a whole lot of time to develop characters and setting. It is always one step away from being a vignette instead of a fully realized piece.

My big takeaway is that I really don't want to have to type the phrase "sweating like a TV preacher in church" ever again. I could probably use the prose sestina as aversion therapy for phrases I overuse. I should write one consisting wholly of adverbs because I am a recovering adverb junkie.

The name's a reference to an Auden poem. I was too lazy to dig up an acute to place in the appropriate part of the title, so there you go.

Anyhow. Next up this week: either more flash fiction or another 10,000 words of Cameron. Or maybe more Bo. Or even a follow-up to Roxie Rides The Train. The future is wide open, I guess.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Story The Nineteenth: Back Forty Moralise

Fun story. Very challenging to write. Coors, werewolves, and some phrases I hope I never have to look at again, ever.

Redacted. :-)

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Paradox Of Restrictions

Status Update: I'm STILL using beans from two weeks ago. Like I said, my stocks are impressive. Bombs will fall from the sky, the populace will be replaced by talking radioactive cockroaches and Brendan Fraser will be an A-lister again before I run out. Actually, I think I might have to get more this weekend. Brendan may still have hope.

Cerebral post hooks, I've got 'em. Even now, there are people being led here by spurious Google results about coffee beans and finding obscure blathering about writing instead. Perhaps they will click on one of my stories, expecting to read about the best kind of coffee beans to use with a French press and get a story about a killer tree instead.

This week's story is another short one. I'm playing around with formulas, something you typically do more of in poetry than in prose. In this case, I'm taking the sestina and seeing what happens when you graft it into a short story format. Yes, this is the sort of thing that usually results in awful and contrived things. I'm doing it anyway because that's the sort of daredevil I am.

Instead of ending lines with words, I'm ending paragraphs with full sentences which will be repeated throughout. The final three paragraphs (the envoi) will contain two pre-determined sentences each--one at the terminal position, one in the paragraph itself. This is either going to be completely awful or amazing, kind of like that idea you had for a spur-of-the-moment meal last time you were piss-on-yourself drunk. Who knew that bananas and jalapenos would have such an interesting texture deep-fried?!

Much like the poetry version, there's a surprising amount of advanced planning involved. The sestina works based off of word (and in my case) sentence pairs. You have to look ahead at the structure and keep in mind that your choices will have to play against each other successfully in separate combinations as the structure works through its different permutations.

If you fuck it up, your poem/story/whatever will sound like Captain Beefheart lyrics. That's right, the Mascara Snake! Fast and bulbous!

So.

It's fun. It's short. It' something different. If you don't constantly try things that make you uncomfortable, you will never grow.

I actually like subjecting myself to restrictions when creating. It's the paradox of freedom--most people, when they have all the choices, will fall back to the comfortable. Think back on what you did this weekend: did you go exploring? Did you take a class and learn something knew? No, you probably did much of what you usually do on the weekend. You probably wrangled up a few friends, had a drink or two. Maybe you went out to your favorite restaurant and watched some TV afterwards. Game of Thrones was on, gotta catch the latest episode. No problem with that--it's good for you to have emotional touchstones. But you can't really grow doing it.

Proper use of restrictions is one of many ways to shake your brain out of its rut. This is because you are constantly working under restrictions anyway, except these are the restrictions you've built yourself. You've grown so used to them over the years you don't see them anymore. Hence the word "rut."

And that's all it is, really. The more arbitrary the restrictions you follow, the more interesting the results when you've finally pounded through it all. Make a story without verbs?! What kind of madness is this! No characters at all? Describe things only with smells? It might (and probably will) suck, but if you can learn one thing from the exercise, it's worth it.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Random Mortem

Short fiction is hard. I've said it before, and I'll repeat it until I get sick of myself saying it.

In books, wasted time is measured in chapters. Short stories, pages. When your word limit is in or near the triple digits, words trickle away from you like grains of sand.

You wind up doling out double duty to everything. Dialogue doesn't just convey words, it describes the speakers and the environment. If you give a physical description it has to convey background as well. Everything conveys characterization and if a sentence doesn't drive the plot forward, you have to kill it or replace it with something that does.

And on top of all of that, you have to have a point much earlier than in other forms. You can noodle around for pages when writing something longer until you get to something that resembles a plot. In flash fiction, not so much.

If anything, it feels like writing a joke. You picture yourself reading to an easily bored audience, constantly having to reassure them that there's a payoff coming very shortly.

Anyway.

Random Wikipedia gave me "Sirusho," a young Armenian pop singer who's fairly big in Greece at the moment. I wound up Youtubing some of her songs. Very catchy, actually, if you're into vaguely-Bollywood-sounding bubblegum.

The second or third thing that came to mind immediately was a young death metal enthusiast with a very limited conception of evil, dabbling in amateur thaumaturgy. I think it worked out okay. I started off with a resolution to not describe him directly much, but had to break it near the end, after the Devil wandered off. Annoying, but necessary to the punchline.

...and I just realized I'd been misspelling her name all this time. D'oh.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Story The Eighteenth: We're Big In Armenia

My first attempt at flash fiction. 1000 (or so) words, death metal, nice red candles, tasteful syncopation, and the true meaning of evil.

Redacted. :-)

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Great Emu War

Status Update:  Still riding high from last week's beanstravaganza.

As it turns out, no teeth will be pulled this week. It was just a consult. I never really know what to expect from doctors. Sometimes the first appointment is just  a getting-to-know-you/holy-hell-man-what-the-noodle-is-wrong-with-your-choppers kind of thing, sometimes you get a crazy lunatic who wants to do everything at once and there's a window miraculously open in their sch--WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR, LET'S DO THIS NOW.

This was more of the first type. Also, my dentist looks an awful lot like Drew Carey. So! No painkillers and heavy sedation this weekend.

I'm still holding to my original plan:

This week's story is going to be a writing exercise in flash fiction. 1000 word limit (or so). The seed is going to be random Wikipedia. Take the first link, whatever it is, read for five minutes, then work it into the story as a major plot point. I'm a little curious what it will be: for every article about something completely amazing like "The Great Emu War", there's a bajillion articles about tiny little 3 man bergs out in the lawless yonder of forgotten Canada. So, who knows what to expect? Kind of the point, really.

I do need a bit of a break, though. Something to shake things up a bit. This sounds likes a fun change of pace.

Whatever this little bad boy will grow up into, this story will take me to the one-third point of my resolution: week 18 of 52.

I'm in a bit of an odd mental place. I'm still having fun, but it's becoming an ingrained habit. I'm not sure if I could stop writing now even if I wanted to. I really want to start finishing up novels and whatnot. I'm getting a little burnt out on short fiction, partly because I've written a lot of it, partly because I'm coming to the conclusion that short stories really aren't my strength. I tend to think in chapters instead of paragraphs. A short story to me is a novel which you can read in a day. Short stories are actually pretty difficult. You have less time to get a reader's attention. You have to give regular payoffs at a faster pace and it has to be more self-contained than a novel. There's a reason why you don't see a whole lot of correlation between short story writer's success as novelists and novelist's success as short story writers.

One thing I am sure about is that even after my resolution resolves I'll probably continue writing like this. Writing something different every week really improves the quality of my work. Back when I tried to just grind through a novel all at once, day after day after day, my writing really suffered. I get burned out really easy on the same thing if it's all I'm thinking about all the time. What I'm doing now seems to be great at giving me a built-in excuse to step back, let things percolate in my subconscious.

This just goes back to what I was writing about last Thursday, about regular small daily habits. There is a great power in them. Because you did something yesterday and the day before that, you don't want to break the chain today. The longer the chain, the more times you've hit your regular goals, the more ingrained it is and the less you want to break your winning streak.

There's a system that Jerry Seinfeld (yes, that Jerry Seinfeld) uses which he calls "Don't Break The Chain." It's pretty simple. Get yourself a calendar and some idea what habit you want to reinforce. It could be brushing your alpaca daily, could be doing fifty push-ups, could be writing a paragraph or taking a photograph of something you haven't taken a photograph of before--just find a habit and a calendar. Every time you do your thing, draw a big damn X over the day. That's it.

It's deceptively simple, but it works. The more X's you get in a row, the less likely you are to break the chain, because it's right up in your face. If you screw up, that empty day on the calendar will haunt you.

This blog is actually my calendar and each entry is an X.