Plagiarism - so damned stupid

Angel Zapata posted his documentation of a pernicious repeat plagiarist.

As a past victim of plagiarism, I feel a special kinship here. Opening up a publication and reading something that sounds familiar, then really familiar, then really, really fucking familiar. That horrible moment when you pull your own material from a few years before and, yep, there it is. Paragraph after paragraph, lifted word for word.

It was the semicolons (and the parenthetical asides) that gave it away; no one uses them to quite the same effect as I do. No one born in this century, anyway.

I made some enemies during that episode, but to be fair, they started it.

To the plagiarist: dude, did you think no one would notice? Do you think no one would care? Even stealing from Lovecraft... just because he's dead, did you think was OK? A sentence here, a paragraph there - no one will notice?

Well it's not your sentence or your paragraph, so hands off. Go do your own goddamned heavy lifting, you lazy jerk.

With apolgies to poets everywhere

In Memoriam For My Own Aspirations,
As I Edit My Own Writing

by Tony Noland

I envy not in any muertes
The captive muse of noble rage,
The sonnet born upon the page,
That never knew such summary words:

I envy not the scribe that takes
His vodka with a dash of lime,
Unfetter'd by the sense of crime,
That which a connoisseur never makes;

Nor, what may count itself as blest,
The scribe that never once penned Truth
But deals in faerie, ray-gun and sleuth;
Nor any want-begotten rest.

I hold it true, what deletions befall;
I feel it, when I rewrite most;
'Tis better to have written, then tossed,
Than never to have written at all.

With apologies to Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Go ahead and hate

In this past week's #FridayFlash, "A Level-Headed Man", as well as in "Third Shift at McSweeny's" and (to a lesser extent) in "The Death of Lee Harvey Oswald", I gave the reader characters that were supposed to be objects of irritation and dislike, if not actual hate.

By contrast, in "Nearer Comes the Moon", the main character was intended to be sympathetic.

I think I'm having better results writing villains than heroes in these. Is this because it's easier to throw flaws into high relief, or because I'm more familiar with human failings and frailties than with nobility and grace? Deeply flawed bad guys have always struck me as much more interesting, because they seem to lead more active and challenging lives.

Still, you can't have any dynamic tension if it's all bad guys all the time; there would be nothing for them to act in opposition to. Therefore, the challenge for next week will be to create a character that you will like, one you will root for.

As I sit here at this moment, this seems like a more daunting authorial challenge than writing a stimulating yet believable sex scene. (That will come at some point in the future.)

#FridayFlash: A Level-Headed Man

A Level-Headed Man

by Tony Noland

His makeshift tools were sharp and slippery, but Larry kept working on the lock. Even more than his schoolboy likability, Larry's ability to focus on the task at hand was the thing about him that Caroline most admired and most despised. In nine years, she had never once seen him lose his cool. Or fail.

"Don't worry, babe. I've almost got it. Shouldn't be long now." He sounded optimistic and encouraging, as he always did, but he didn't turn away from the lock.

He'd said the same thing ten minutes ago. She wanted to slap him. She was exhausted, her eyes were burning and she had to pee. He'd been up just as long as she had, but his hands kept moving slowly, deliberately as he manipulated the sharp little bits of aluminum he'd torn from her can of Coke Zero. She was also starving. They hadn't eaten since Mexico City, more than fourteen hours ago. She sat on her suitcase and watched him work.

Whatever the situation, Larry could be counted on to keep his head and come up with a solution. One time, they'd had a blowout doing 90 in heavy traffic on the freeway. The car had whipped around so hard it actually left the ground. If she'd been driving, they would have died on the spot. But Larry had flipped the wheel with one hand, slapped the hazard lights on and blared the horn with the other. With the car fishtailing madly, he'd negotiated across four packed lanes, bringing them to a grinding stop on the shoulder. Then he'd just turned and given her his "kick-ass grin", a shit-eating mass of toothiness he wore whenever he'd pulled off something especially clever. She'd opened the door and vomited onto the pavement through the stink of melted tire and hot metal. Larry had wound up making friends with the tow truck driver and getting the tow for half price. He was an amazing guy, and she had grown to hate him.

He said, "Ah, there we go!" and she saw both his hands rotate clockwise in unison as he succeeded in picking the lock. He turned the knob to open the door, then looked back at her with the beginnings of a grin. Just as he did so, both of them were blinded by an intense white light.

"Police! Don't move!"

Larry's grin faltered and turned into a look of surprise, then he smiled again and laughed out loud. "Oh, man," he said, "oh man oh man. Okay, officer, no problem." He got to his feet, his palms spread out by his sides. Caroline turned as well, but her reaction was far less sanguine. Her need to pee was intense.

"It's alright, officer, I can explain everything." Larry stopped, then laughed again, this time at himself. "Oh my God, I didn't think people actually said that, and here I am saying it myself! Seriously, though, this is my house. You must think this is some kind of a break-in or something."

The officer in front had his flashlight held high, a long six-battery police brutality special. He kept the light shining in their faces. Behind him, lost in the glare, the other cop was watching the scene while he spoke quietly into his radio. Officer Flashlight said, "Stay where you are. I want to see some ID from both of you."

"No problem, officer. I'm going to get my wallet out, and my girlfriend's is in her purse, right, honey?" Larry gave her a big apologetic shrug to go with a frat boy wink. She wanted to die. She wanted to kill him. He smiled and nodded at the officer, and made exaggerated motions of getting his wallet out with three fingers, like people did on TV to show they were unarmed. She made no attempt to hide her irritation as she undid the snap of her purse and reached in. She saw the cop's hand move to his gun.

She took a deep breath. She slowly took out her wallet and removed her driver's license for the cop to see. He studied their ID's for a moment, comparing the pictures to their faces, then handed them back to the other cop. He lowered his flashlight, playing it over their luggage. "Alright, while my partner is running your ID's, how about you start at the beginning. We got a call about a possible burglary in progress at this address. We pull up and see you standing outside a freshly opened door. You said you had an explanation?"

"Jesus, my timing sucks, huh? We just got back from vacation," Larry said, "and I must have left my house keys in the hotel or something. When we got home, we couldn't get in. I didn't want to break a window or anything, so I, uh, I just thought I'd... " He spread his hands and grinned in an embarrassed way.

"You thought you'd pick the lock?" The officer did not sound impressed.

"I saw a guy do it on the Discovery channel, so I figured I'd give it a shot. Cheaper than a locksmith, you know? And my girlfriend really would like to get inside to powder her nose. It's been a long day, if you know what I mean." Larry smiled at both of them, but she only glared back, silent. "It took a little longer than I thought it would. I guess it looks easier on TV than it really is."

The cop didn't say anything, but continued to look at them, the house, the luggage. The second cop brought back the licenses and nodded slightly. Officer Flashlight handed them in turn to Larry and Caroline. "OK, Mr. Karlman, this all checks out. We had to check to make sure this was really your place; sometimes burglars make fake ID's with the address of the place they're breaking into. You're both free to go about your business. Let me give you a piece of advice, though. A lock that you can pick in ten minutes, any criminal can go through in ten seconds. I'd get some better locks if I were you. And next time, call a locksmith."

Larry shook his head and laughed again. He said, "Thanks, officer I will. And thanks for stopping by. I appreciate your work, even if it was a false alarm this time, thank God. Good night." He waved good-naturedly as the cops got back in their car and left without further comment. Larry pulled their suitcases through the door and closed it behind him.

Caroline was already sitting on the toilet with her skirt up and panties down, shuddering as she tried to get her body to relax. Larry tapped on the door, then walked in. She looked at his face, his grin as wide as she had ever seen it. She twisted her torso around, trying to face the sink. She almost made it. She convulsed, splashing urine on her legs and vomit over the floor tiles.

Larry shook his head as he undid his belt and lowered his pants. "Babe," he said, "you have got to learn to go with the flow." He stepped out of his pants and briefs and squatted on the floor. "You always get so tense, and always at the wrong times." He reached up between his legs and grabbed hold of a thick piece of string. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, his wide grin serene as he smoothly expelled the first of the bags of heroin.

Other #FridayFlash pieces can be found here

Ode to the Semicolon

Ode to the Semicolon

By Tony Noland

The simple thoughts of children need only simple punctuation,
A sentence with one verb, one noun, for every situation.
“I want a cookie.” “She hit me!” “When are we going to eat?”
These subject/object pairings up express these thoughts complete.

As we mature, our thoughts do too, become harder to express.
Complexity increases, stacked more and more, not less.
“Optic blasts are awesome, but adamantium claws are better.”
“Should I call up Mary Lou, or send an e.mail letter?”

Related concepts bloom within, so quickly they do roll on,
To show they’re separate (but connected), apply the semicolon.
The sentences could stand apart, but linking them together
Allows the thought to seamlessly express itself much better.

“We danced all night; it was divine.” describes one case in point.
The first and second halves of which each other do anoint.
“We danced all night. It was divine.” How choppy and how stilted!
Without the semicolon how the narrative gets wilted!

Conditional or adverse, it supports concept relations;
O semicolon, praise we all, the best of all notations!

Like it? Tweet it!

Note: This poem appeared in the September 23, 2009 edition of the Grammar Girl newsletter, in celebration of National Punctuation Day, 2009. Any of you modernists who says that the use of semicolons is an affectation of overstylized writing had better goddamn well not say it in front of me.

Note #2: It's funnier if you read it out loud.

Note #3: Better yet, let me read it out loud to you. We can both laugh.

Note #4: If you liked this poem, you'll LOVE my book, "Verbosity's Vengeance: A Grammarian Adventure Novel". It's where word nerds and world domination meet!

Help keep the words flowing.

On being a poet

I've just learned that a poem I submitted to a contest has won! I'm
very pleased and gratified (not to mention surprised). I'll post more
info, along with the poem itself and links to the publisher once it
comes out.

I wrote it to be educational, celebratory and funny; the publisher
apparently agreed.

Follow me on Twitter: @TonyNoland

#FridayFlash: The Death Of Lee Harvey Oswald

The Death of Lee Harvey Oswald

by Tony Noland

The noise of the crowd picked up as the first police motorcycles turned the corner. His hands in his lap, Lee Harvey Oswald stroked the smooth walnut stock one last time. His sixth story window was ideally suited to cover the entire area. He resisted the impulse to reposition the extra rounds on the window sill. He hoped the cars would stop in the confusion so he'd have time for the entire clip.

Oswald looked out onto the plaza, his pulse spiking as the moment approached. This wide, manicured greensward... he was suddenly struck by how different it was from the ragged, weed-strewn lots he'd always known. Growing up, moving away, coming back. From this Olympian seat, it all looked so clean, far nicer than his wife's dirty, disappointing hometown.

Even now, when he'd left the worker's false paradise to return to the United States, he didn't want to admit that Dallas could outshine Moscow. He made himself feel a surge of fresh anger at the capitalists. He wondered how many brother workers it took to keep it so trimmed. Even if they were all coloreds or white trash, they were still members of the proletariat and deserved to be liberated from their exploitation.

It wouldn't be long now. Behind the motorcycles came the long police cruisers, sheriffs nosing at the trough of presidential publicity. Behind the cruisers came a black sedan. Behind the sedan was the target.

Oswald lifted the rifle to his shoulder and let his breath in and out slowly, just like he'd been taught at Camp Lejune. He watched the long convertible turn the far corner. He lost it for a moment behind the rise, then it returned to view. It slowed to take the second corner, then slowed more as it approached the underpass. Through a very slight heat shimmer, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy's head was centered in the iron sights. Oswald gently squeezed the trigger.

Just beyond the muzzle, directly in the path of the high-velocity copper-jacketed slug, a silvery paraboloid lupped into existence. It hung in the air for 0.03 seconds, long enough to catch the slug and return it into Oswald's face as a blast of shrapnel and gamma rays. Oswald's head snapped backwards, the muscle fibers in his neck contracting hard from the heat shock. His body collapsed, sending the rifle skating across the floor.

In the plaza, Abraham Zapruder's 8mm camera recorded the worried expressions of the President of the United States, the Governor of Texas and their wives as four shouting secret service agents jumped onto the limousine's running boards. The car accelerated and left the plaza without further incident.


"Report, Mr. Tovik."

"Processing, sir. Primary waveform has now re-collapsed, secondary waveforms not yet stabilized."

"Estimated time to full stabilization?"

"It's hard to say, sir. These secondaries are reinforcing each other as they collapse. I'm getting a lot of feedback loops."

"I wanted an estimate, Mr. Tovik, not an excuse."

"Yes, sir. Estimated time to secondary waveform stabilization is 960 seconds."

"Thank you, Mr. Tovik. Relax, kid. I'm aware of the difficulties associated with secondary waveforms; you may revise with further data. Deliver your updated estimate in 840 seconds."

"Yes sir. Thank you, sir."

"Report, Mr. Kholahn. Give me the broad picture from the primaries. The details can wait until the secondaries settle down."

"Yes, sir. The telemetry is almost complete. President Kennedy completed his first term, and was reelected. A major issue in the 1964 campaign was his unwillingness to escalate American presence in Vietnam. Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Korea and Indonesia became full satellite nations under China by the time Humphrey was elected president in 1968. His attempts to pursue trilateral detente were ineffective, and relations among all three superpowers soured badly. In the face of the relatively weak United States, the Soviet Union and the Chinese People's Empire consolidated power in Eastern Europe and southeast Asia, respectively. Both nations openly launched orbital nuclear weapons in 1971, targeted against each other and against the United States.

"President Nixon followed suit in 1973, fulfilling his strong anti-Communist campaign. With the landing of Apollo XX in 1979, Nixon claimed the moon as sovereign U.S. territory, escalating tensions worldwide. Shortly after his election in 1980, President Reagan proposed moon-based weaponry as part of a 'Star Wars' weapons platform. During Reagan's second term, the installation and testing of a fusion-pumped gamma ray laser, fired from the Sea of Tranquility, was the trigger point for a preemptive nuclear strike by both the Russians and the Chinese on North America. The United States responded in kind. All three superpowers initiated extensive use of automated neutron bombs from orbit against each other and against sympathizing nations."

"Total casualties?"

"Immediate human death toll estimated at 3.5 billion. As the blanketing of fast neutrons also killed or sterilized most large land-based vertebrates, starvation and disease in the subsequent ecological collapse claimed a further 3 billion over the next 10 years. By 2063, human population was approximately 3 million in scattered pockets worldwide."

"Only three million left alive? A 99.94% death rate in 100 years after intervention?î

"Yes, sir."

"HA! Mr. Kholahn, once Mr. Tovik gets the revised figures on the secondaries, prepare a clean copy of your report and beam it over to Councilor Torrovinol's office by priority carrier. Append the following preface: "Torry: 99.94% - beat that! It's your move, with my compliments! Regards, Charrak."

Other #FridayFlash pieces can be found here

Shifting points of view

Blog posts are thin while I'm in an undisclosed location, but I wanted
to mention that tomorrow's #FridayFlash fiction will be an experiment
in shifting POV.

The attentive reader will have noticed by now that I tend to have a
purpose with these pieces. They are exercises in various aspects of
writing, not just nice stories.

For a long time, I would just write stuff. It was good, it was bad,
whatever. I wasn't thinking of selling any of it, so quality didn't
really matter.

Now, I'm working on getting better. It's become almost a problem, how
achingly intense is the need - not the desire, the *need* - to write
well. This might be TMI, but fortunately, that's why I set this blog

One of the things I most enjoyed from previous #FridayFlash postings
was the detailed feedback. I love hearing that a story was immersive
like a novel, or was heartbreaking, or inspiring, or had a main
character that was repulsive.

Also, although I didn't quite LOVE hearing that something didn't work,
I really, really appreciate the folks who took the chance to give
their honest opinion and say, "Tony, nice story, but that part was
murky and confusing."

My ego is as fragile as the next guy's, but if you want to run with
the big dogs, you gotta get off the porch.

I hope everyone likes the story tomorrow. Please feel free to tell me
what you thought of it.

Sent from Gmail for mobile |

Follow me on Twitter: @TonyNoland

Early mornings

It is a blessing to get up early, to start your day before sunrise.
This morning was particularly beautiful.

Orion, frozen as he always is in his endless chase of the lion, shone
brightly overhead. A sharp crescent moon cut through the eastern sky.

These were with me as I drove to the airport, like emblems of Night,
ambassadors from the underlying world of beauty and perfection beneath
our own flawed world.

By the time I got to the long-term parking lot, the sky was
lavender-pink, the moon was faded and my old friend Orion was returned
to his daytime slumbers. I don't see him nearly enough this days.

Sent from Gmail for mobile |

Follow me on Twitter: @TonyNoland

"That was no football, that was my wife!"

“Doctor, doctor, you've gotta help me!”

“Hey, you can't come barging in here! Who are you? What are you talking about?”

“It's these Tonka football people, doc! I've tried everything except low humor, and they just won't stop!”

“What on Earth is a Tonka football? Get out, you lunatic!”

“Please, you gotta help me! It's those guys in Minnetonka, Minnesota! They've got my e.mail mixed up with the parent of some kid who plays football, and I keep getting e.mails asking me to send rice krispies treats and powerade to the practices, or to make sure the uniforms are washed for photograph day. At first it was just a crazy mix-up, even good for my poetry, but now it's driving me bananas!”

“You want me to get the e.mails to stop?”

“No, I already got a guy taking care of that, although not the way I could have wished.”

“So what do you want?”

“I want you to give me some Viagra.”

“VIAGRA?!? What does that have to do with a mistaken e.mail?”

“Every time I try to make love, I get distracted thinking about these Tonka football e.mails, and I have an equipment failure! It's not lack of desire, believe you me! It's just that I'm too distracted! I'm climbing the walls! You gotta help me!”

“Well, I am NOT giving you a prescription for any Viagra!”

“WHAT?!? Why not? Don't you think it would help?”

“No, it's because this is a travel agency. The doctor's office is next door!”

#FridayFlash: Third Shift at McSweeny's

Third Shift at McSweeny’s

By Tony Noland

"This kind of thing was easier back when matches were made of wood."

"Were women just a little dumber back then, too?" she asked. "A little easier to impress?"

"Possibly," he said, "but you didn't meet women in bars. At least, not respectable women."

Kelly waited for him to look up from the matches he'd piled on the bar and give her a wink or a leer, some layered look of self-referential irony. One of those 'I know you know this is bullshit, but aren't I cute anyway?' kind of looks that every guy gives, usually sooner rather than later. But he didn't. He didn't even raise an eyebrow. He splayed the fingers of his right hand a bit more and wiggled them at the matches, entirely intent on them.

She let the silence hang. It was her turn to talk, but she felt like it was still his move. He wasn't cute, and he wasn't funny, but she'd gotten tired of cute, funny guys bringing their pearly white A-game to their flirtations. Her last boyfriend had run out of funny after five weeks. She was taking a break before taking on a new one. She'd been planning on just having a little R&R tonight, stringing a few guys along, maybe getting them to fight over her before going home alone.

However, this guy had blocked all the other action with his little stunt with the matches. She'd given him a light, then let him take a seat. When he said he had a bar trick she might like to see, she'd been a little annoyed at him wearing out his welcome, but let him have the book of matches.

On the other hand, she didn't really mind, not particularly. He was handsome enough to be good table decoration. Well, no, not handsome, she decided. More like interesting. The unfairness of that made her smile a bit. Millions of girls would cringe at being called 'interesting looking', but on an old guy, it was a half-compliment.

Old? She narrowed her eyes at him. No, not old either. That had been her first impression of him - old and rich. The rich part must have been from his shiny, black leather shoes and his watch, a big, scratched Rolex. Why old? His face was tanned, but not wrinkled. No gray hair, and none of those disgusting spots on his hands. His hands looked rather strong, in fact.

Without realizing it, she was licking her lips before every puff on her cigarette.

"Almost got it," he said. He was moving the fingers of both hands now.

"What exactly is supposed to happen?"

"The matches will spontaneously burst into flame, angels will sing, and you will fall in love."

She coughed, then scooped up her cigarette, cursing and slapping at the inside of her right thigh.

"Careful," he said, "that's lit." His eyes had remained fixed on the pile of matches.

"Fuck you! Who the fuck do you think you are? How dare you feed me a line of crap like that! You think I'm going to tumble for you, just because you set up a little parlor trick?"

"It's a bar trick, not a parlor trick. And I didn't say you'd fall in love with me. In fact, I can assure you that it won't be with me."

"Really. So this whole thing is to benefit some other lucky guy, but you go home to a cold shower?"

"I'm afraid so. Love isn't for me. Not anymore."

"What's that supposed to mean? Wait, never mind. I don't really care, OK? Why don't you just pack up and get out of my face, pal." She tapped her index finger hard on the bar, her shiny red nail flexing backwards. He didn't respond, but continued to move his fingers slowly.

She stubbed out her cigarette. "Fine, asshole, if you're the wingman, who's maverick? I might as well bust his balls and get this over with." She was looking around the bar, trying to spot the friend, but no one was paying them any attention.

"I don't know who he is. It doesn't matter, really. Look." His right hand clenched suddenly, scooping up the matches into a tight fist. He rapped his knuckles on the bar and opened his hand.

Within the ball of flame that he held, she saw herself. Her eyes, her hair, her long red nails, her high red heels, every burning reflection of herself glowing, welcoming, inviting. The flames in his hand licked upwards and inwards, moving within his palm, and she could feel them, hot and wet on her neck, on her lips, along her thighs, across her breasts. She heard a sound like music, like singing, like the beating of an angel's wings. She heard her own voice, calling, moaning, crying out with every touch, every caress, every act of passion and release that she had ever wanted. Folded into one towering moment was all of the attention and desire that her soul could withstand. The ball of light grew to a blinding intensity and she knew nothing but the song of love that rang through every part of her body, endlessly vibrating her to tiny, shimmering pieces.

When she opened her eyes, she was alone at the bar. She saw a small pile of ash on the bar next to her crushed cigarette. She blinked slowly as she looked around. Walking out the door was her man. She sat and watched the door close behind him.

Recognition took only a few seconds. She snapped out of her stupor and almost broke an ankle pushing through the crowd as she dashed for the door. She yanked hard and minced up the steps as fast as her shoes and skirt would allow. Up on the sidewalk, she looked left. Nothing. She looked right and saw him.

Not her drinking companion, not the old guy. She saw...

She swallowed hard as he walked towards her. He was cute and his friends were laughing at something he'd just said. He had brown hair and khaki slacks and he was perfect. He was perfect. He turned from them as he saw her approach. His eyes flicked up and down and he looked surprised for just an instant, then he had his game face on. He smiled a bright, pearly white smile.

Before he could speak, she held out her hand and said, "Hi. My name's Kelly. What's yours?"

Other #FridayFlash pieces can be found here


One of my haiku was archived on Dragonfly Collection. Some insightful poetry over there. And mine.

Poetry was always something I've thought as a plane above, and something I've thought myself unworthy to attempt.

So I do it anyway. Go figure.

Tony (excited): "Audio drama... now, I can finally scare somebody!"

I've agreed to do a script for an audio drama over at Necropolis Studio Productions. This is going to be an interesting experience for me. I've done scripts before, but for shorter, live pieces. I've written both horror and sci-fi before, but not horror/sci-fi. Working with recorded audio, with sound effects, music transitions, etc. will be something new for me.

I got the general outline from the producers for plot, length, and specific elements. I've got a few ideas about how to put it together with some fairly plausible sci-fi, and some fairly gory horror. I need to bump the sci-fi up from "interesting" to "exciting", and the horror from "eerie" up to "scary".

I may make a few blog notes about this writing process, but mostly, I'll keep it close to the vest. Just wanted to share this development.

Profanity in flash fiction

I got inspired yesterday and wrote my #FridayFlash fiction piece. I edited it up after finishing, then did more tweaking this morning. I'm going to call it done and slot it into the auto-post queue for Friday morning at 8:00am EDT.

This piece has a character who uses profanity. A lot of profanity. It's an indication of her personality which sets things up very well. Is it necessary to have her use profanity? Well, word choice says a lot about people. Education, sophistication, background, temperament, etc.

There is a very different sense that you get about a person if they say "To heck with you!" or "Forget you!" instead of "Fuck you!". That particular word choice fit this person.

Ever the genteel and delicate wordsmith, I wondered if readers might like to be warned about a story that contains adult language. I put the question to the writers on Twitter:
Suppose, hypothetically, that a #FridayFlash piece had profanity in it. Should that be flagged as NSFW in a link tweet? #writing #fiction
Among the several thoughtful responses was my favorite, by Meika:
@TonyNoland only in the USA
This is a minor point, but teachable moments typically arise in the falling of a single leaf. The lesson I'm going to take from it this is, "Your readers are not children in need of protection. Give them realistic characters in challenging situations. It's a sign of respect."

This doesn't mean I'm going to deliberately put profanity in everyone's mouth from now on, but if one of my characters is the kind of person who would swear, fart in public or piss against an art museum wall, I'm going to let him do it.

What is Twitter good for?

I was discussing Twitter with Susan Cross in a forum thread over on Editor Unleashed. I'm going to expand on that discussion here.

I just tried to explain the value of Twitter to a firm Twitter-skeptic. I failed. For every example I gave of a source of information that might be of value, this person said, "I can get that information on my own, just as well and probably better, when I need it, without having to filter it out of bunch of useless crap."

This person was someone who is trying to start and build a business. I'm kind of kicking myself because I stressed Twitter's power as a means to gather and acquire useful information.

As I thought about it, I realized that more important that that was Twitter's power to provide and disseminate information.

However, as I thought about it some more, what really matters most is Twitter's power to do both through the networks and relationships it initiates and fosters.

If you're trying to build a brand, reach an audience, get hooked into "the scene" (in whatever field), social networking is not something you can simply dismiss as useless ADD-esque garbage.

Make it a one-way street inward and you become a silent lurker, drowning in the info-tsunami.

Make it a one-way street outward and you become a screaming billboard, alienating your audience with the marketroid b.s.

Make it a give and take, provide quality input and learn from the best of what you see, allow the network to develop at a reasonable pace, neither starving it nor force-feeding it, and I think Twitter can be quite useful and rewarding.

My friends and followers on Twitter are a mixed group. Some are personal friends, others are people with shared interests, others are people with whom I either have or would like to have a professional relationship. They're not all customers or clients, but I treat them with that same level respect and consideration. I think before I tweet, try not to overshare, and use correct grammar to the greatest extent that the form allows.

These hold true for anyone, not just for writers.

Don't hide your light under a bushel, but don't be a jerk, either.

#FridayFlash: Nearer Comes the Moon

Nearer Comes the Moon

by Tony Noland

She wasn't out. Not really. Not yet. He interrupted his long, slow, even breaths to make a small snorting sound, just the sort of sound made by a large man in a light sleep. She roused slightly and lifted her head towards his. His eyes were closed, of course; he could hear her hair on the pillow. After a moment, she sighed and lay back down. Within another half-hour she was fully asleep. He let her go deeper before he slid out of bed and floated toward the window. It was open only two inches, the compromise between her nighttime chills and his insistence on fresh air. Two inches was enough. He turned his skin to full black and flattened himself so he could glide noiselessly out into the moonlight.

Once out over the backyard, he reformed his body and rose as quickly as he dared, though that was far, far slower than he was capable of. As he always did, he regretted the limitations he had placed on his own power. As he always did, he immediately felt guilty about that regret. Sonic booms and lightning flashes did not belong in Ashland County, Ohio. Having chosen this life, he wished that he could learn to accept it in its entirety.

Once he reached five thousand feet he could open up and climb faster. He wouldn't be able to even feel the moonlight until one-fifty, but above five the crackle of his lifting power wouldn't be audible. Above seventy, there wouldn't be enough moisture to conduct electricity, and he could really stretch his legs. He would cover the last eighty in less time than this first five.

He probably wouldn't be able to linger tonight. Allison had been irritable all evening. She was bound to be sleeping only lightly. He knew he should have waited longer, or just stayed in tonight. After all, the day after the full moon tasted almost as good. He'd been so hungry, though, and the skies tonight were so clear. It had been raining all week. He hadn't even seen the gibbous moon.

He shook his head as the icy air whistled past him. Imagine! Him, not being able to see the moon! The moonlight on his blackened body felt soft, though he knew that was only an illusion, a memory of past feedings. There was still far too much air here. The feeling would be real soon enough.

He looked down at the dark and cloudless countryside. Glowing islands on the gently curving horizon, Columbus to his left, Cleveland to his right, Toledo ahead and the tiny firefly glow of Canton behind. He turned his face back to the sky, back to his true home. Lightning from a clear sky would be seen, but he couldn't wait any longer. He reached his mind within himself and pulled, hard. He exploded upwards, energy arcing outwards in all directions from the expanding volume of ionized air he left in his wake. His forehead glowed dull red through his carbon-black skin; his feet and fingers stretched out from the acceleration. When the air was gone he stopped pulling and he flew upwards on momentum alone.

Glory be to God, he thought, why do I always forget how the moonlight tastes! He turned himself over and over, the undimmed moonlight washing over every inch of his body. He stretched himself into a flattened man-like shape, then into an irregular sheet many yards across. He exposed himself as fully to the polarized moonlight as his body would allow. He rippled and twisted and coiled himself, straining and wallowing in it. He twisted into a tangled mass of threads, then flew outwards into a gossamer cloud form. In the near-vacuum, he floated and fed for hours, the joy of the moonlight making him forget everything but his hunger and the satiation of it.

When his cells were filled and he started to ache from the cold, he came back to his senses and resumed the shape of a man. With the return of his form came the guilt. He had been gone too long. Again. He spared a moment to look at the moon, her light no longer so delicious now that his hunger was no longer so keen. In the airless void, where no sound could carry, his lips moved as he said goodbye. He turned his head downward, leaving his home to return to his house.

The air was shimmering around him as he floated above the backyard, still glowing with the heat of his re-entry. He stretched into a long, thin tube and snaked out over the swimming pool. He slipped in, the water boiling off his tendril body as it went beneath. He twisted himself on the bottom at the deep end, dispersing the heat as rapidly as he could. He rose and shook the water off before gliding back through the window. His wife was still sleeping as he resumed his human shape with its pinkish-brown color. He settled gently back into bed, listening to her regular breathing. Then he heard her sniff slightly. Once, then twice more.

"Chlorine?" she murmered. "Did you use the pool to cool off again? Oh, honey, haven't I asked you to use the hose? You know I hate that chlorine smell."

"I didn't want to turn the water on and wake you," he lied. He had forgotten about the hose. "Sorry."

She sighed sleepily. "That's alright. How was it? How was the weather?" She was already almost back to sleep.

He twisted and put an arm around her as he spooned against her side. He kissed her lightly on the ear. "Everything was fine. Goodnight, sweetheart. I love you."

"mm love you too..." she murmured.

As she slept, he lay awake, as he always did, thinking of the sun, the moon and the stars. As he always did, he decided that had made the right choice.

Other #FridayFlash pieces can be found here

I Will Not

I will not, will NOT, WILL not, WILL NOT, WILL NOT, WILL NOT make detailed comparisons of myself with authors who have been nominated for or who have won the Hugo, Edgar or Pulitzer.

Not in terms of daily word count.

Not in terms of blog readership or number of followers.

Not in terms of name recognition or respect.

Not in terms of books published.

Poll results - when are you a real writer?

A little while ago, I posed the question, "When are you a real writer?". It's a question that Emma Newman thought about over on her wonderful fiction blog, Post-Apocalyptic Publishing (nominated for Best Writing Blog, btw).

I posted a poll to go with the rhetorical list of milestones. Here are the results:

35% - "I write... isn't that enough?"
35% - "I sold something!"
21% - "The IRS has begun to care about my writing income!"
0% - "I won an award that you've heard of!"
7% - "I quit my day job!
0% - "NYT bestseller/Oprah/Hollywood"

If one can accept the wisdom of the crowd (or this crowd, anyway), writing is not about externalities of publication, judgments or valuations by agents, editors, or anyone else.

There's an insight in there somewhere.

Quitting time

I realize it would be pretty damned stupid to let one little technical glitch loom unrealistically large in my life, to fall down and die over a stubbed toe, but this is only the most recent in a long chain of roadblocks, slings and arrows.

Every time I try to write, something happens to prevent anything from getting done.

External issues or internal turmoil, I just can't seem to make it happen.

So, this leaves me with two options.

A: Give up.

Accept that this is a foolish pipe dream born out of a mid-life crisis.

Box up King, Lamott, Maas, Bell, Rhodes, Strunk and White and all the rest.

Create a folder on the hard drive labeled "Archive - Writing" and dump everything into it.

Tell myself that none of it was any good, anyway, that I never really had a realistic chance of success.

Tell myself that I'm just too busy right now.

Tell myself that I'll write again someday - maybe when my kids grow up, or when my wife goes back to work, or when I retire.

Try not to think about the cold whisper behind all of these - "never again".

B: Keep going.

Deny that this is a foolish pipe dream born out of a mid-life crisis, but is instead a trembling little flower of creativity, clinging tenaciously to the hard, cold granite of my overly analytical life.

Re-read King, Lamott, Maas, Bell, Rhodes, Strunk and White and all the rest, and start reading books on motivation and emotion to go along with the craft and technique. I'm not going to be able to think my way out of this. It's time I stopped trying.

Look through the folders already on the hard drive "Writing projects" and follow one of those paths I started down.

Remind myself that some of it is good. Not all of it, not yet, but realize that my chance of success is just as realistic as anyone else's.

Accept that I'm busy, and demand the right to write.

Tell myself that I'll write EVERYday - so that maybe when my kids grow up, or when my wife goes back to work, or when I retire, I'll be able to look back at the stories and books I wrote.

Hear the cold whisper, trying to get me to stop. Face the darkness, and whisper back, "No, I will not stop. You cannot make me.".