#FridayFlash: Aspirations


by Tony Noland

"You can do better than that, Billy. Try harder."

B's weren't A's, A's weren't A+'s and straight A+'s meant the classes must have been too easy.

Honor Roll wasn't Dean's List, Dean's List wasn't Magna Cum Laude, Magna wasn't Summa and Summa wasn't Valedictorian.

"You can do better than that, Billy. Try harder."

An honors B.S. wasn't a M.Sc., a M.Sc. wasn't a Ph.D and a Ph.D. wasn't an M.D.-Ph.D.

Brown wasn't Johns Hopkins, Hopkins wasn't Harvard, Harvard wasn't such a big deal as everyone made it out to be.

One million wasn't two, two wasn't four, four wasn't eight, and talking about money was crude, for heaven's sake, didn't he know that by now?

A four bedroom, two-and-a-half bath wasn't a 5/3, a 5/3 wasn't a 6/4.5 and sure it has 6/4.5, but just look at the neighborhood - who would want to live with all those snobs? Besides, who did he think he was anyway, buying such a big house when he was all alone? Any half-witted idiot on the street could find a girl and settle down, for heaven's sake, how hard is that? Especially for a boy with such regular features, it was just a matter of applying one's self.

The college professor, the nurse, the real estate agent, the speech therapist, the old college friend, the neighbor down the street, the nineteenth, twenty-sixth and forty-third matches from the dating website... all wrong.

"You can do better than that, Billy. Try harder."

Suffocation wasn't poison, poison wasn't electrocution, electrocution surely wasn't a shotgun blast to the forehead, but he'd never owned a gun in his life, didn't even know how to fire one, didn't think he could do it anyway, didn't think he could face her to do it, sleeping or awake. He didn't know how to hire someone for it, even who to talk to about the possibility.

But then...

Headaches and fatigue wasn't a lump, a lump wasn't a tumor, one medium-sized tumor wasn't metastasized breast cancer, spreading fast and drilling into bones, kidneys and lymph nodes.

A double mastectomy wasn't chemotherapy, chemotherapy wasn't chemotherapy plus radiation, hospital wasn't hospice, and hospice wasn't dead. Not yet.

He wasn't free. Not yet.

"You can do better than that," he thought, almost echoing her as she gasped out her latest round of dissatisfaction, rattling between pulses of the respirator. To his ally, working away within her, he said, "You can do better than that. Try harder."

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How to cross-post your blog to Facebook

Set up Networked blogs in Facebook.

Authorize syndication of your blog to your Facebook profile(s): personal, author page, writing groups, or a combination.

And, um... that's it. I think.

Actually, this is really just a test post to see if I did it right.

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Three Word Wednesday: buckle, evade, wedge

The words for today's Three Word Wednesday are: buckle, evade, wedge.

Buckle and boots are all shined,
Warrior, lean and refined.
A Marine's the thin edge
Of our armed forces wedge.
As he tried to evade, bullets whined.

Happy New Year.

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My Top Ten blog posts for 2010: rants, zombies, superheroes and fountain pens

Here are the funniest, scariest, most intelligent and/or stupidest things I've said all year.

1. 11 Ways You Can Stop Pissing Me Off On Twitter. This rant about how you (yes, YOU) can be a better user of Twitter is, by a large margin, the most popular thing I've ever done. Note to self: rant more often.

2. Aftermath of the Boxer Rebellion. A period set-piece which describes an attack, a victory and the birth of a legend.

3. Just Enough Power. The #FridayFlash that began the serial. A science-fiction, noir thriller about a dangerous woman who uses her gifts with deadly skill.

4. Rule #1: You Must Write. A discussion piece about writing, and what it takes to write the kind of prose that people will want to read.

5. "Parker 51." I bought a pen at a garage sale because I liked the way it looked. I paid a dollar; it turned out to be worth much, much more. This is the story of that pen.

6. Romeo And Juliet Are Dead. You know how at the end of the play, Romeo and Juliet both die? Well, what if they weren't really dead? This is a touching, sweet tale of eternal love among the zombies.

7. Bones Don't Burn. In the future, when everything is destroyed, there will still be bones, bones that tell the story of the people who once wore them.

8. Verbosity's Vengeance. A funny superhero tale, starring the Grammarian. This story was the basis for my 2010 NaNoWriMo book, which is my current large-scale WIP.

9. Straight and True My Arrow Fly. Forbidden love attracts the attention of a supernatural being, with unexpected consequences.

Tied for 10. Shirts and Skins. A gym class, a few basketballs and a strange, solemn boy who just doesn't fit in. --AND-- How to blog effectively: a guide for writers. This is my response to some advice by the wonderful Jane Friedman. Read the comments, and you'll see Jane herself stop by to give her response to my response (it was a very recursive sort of day).

Note: Although Ode to the Semicolon is my most successful poem ever, and would have been the #2 most visited page this year, it was posted in 2009. It's in the Hall of Fame, but doesn't make the list for 2010. Ditto for How Many Ways Can You Say Zero?, which would have come in at #8. Frankly, I have no earthly idea why one this is such a perennially popular post.

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Don't bother reading this

I know you're out there. It's Sunday and it's the day after Christmas, whether you celebrate it or not.

I know you're out there, and I know you're not reading this blog post.

Oh, maybe if you get this via RSS, it came across the screen along with the other 1487 blogs you read. You have 1486 pre-written, pre-formatted and pre-scheduled blog posts that scrolled along.

Plus this one.

You're not reading this because you have better things to do than read random scribblings from me. Even if they are fresh from my fingertips, that's no guarantee of quality.

I didn't write this last week before I went on vacation, or last year, when I thought of a FANTASTIC idea for a post-Christmas blog post, but thought of it too late. I didn't write this yesterday in some sort of Christmas depression, or during a break in the festivities in some sort of Christmas exuberance.

I'm writing it now. Today. Sunday morning. I'm unshaven, unshowered and slightly hungover. I ate enough yesterday to keep two and a half villages in a positive calorie balance. This morning, as penance and in an attempt to get some fiber to offset the chocolate, pistachios and cinnamon-apple roast pork loin, my breakfast was one bowl of Quaker Oats Oatmeal Squares(TM).

The box would have tasted better, but it would have had less fiber.

No, I'm writing this now, today. I'm writing this because I have other writing to do today, and this is a way to prime the pump. I'm writing this in a stream of consciousness manner, zipping from Christmas to RSS to dietary fiber to recursive self-reference because that is the way I get the juices flowing, the way I uncork my creativity, the way I unleash the muse, the muse that doesn't exist outside of my own mind but whose existence is no less real for all of that.

It's not about a muse. It's about me. It's always all about me. Didn't you know that? Even when it's not about me, it kinda is, at least in a small way.

In that sense, I'm the muse, not the writer.

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#FridayFlash: I'm Telling You Why

I'm Telling You Why

by Tony Noland

"Hey. Hey, pal."

The skinny guy at the bar turned away from the woman he was trying to talk to, impatient with whoever it was that was interrupting his moves. The woman looked relieved.

"What?" He sized the other guy up with a glance, the black leather jacket cut like a roomy sportscoat, the French blue shirt open to show gold chains, the chest hair and man tits. The skinny guy started to sneer, thought better of it. Maybe he was impressed with what he saw, maybe not. "What do you want?"

The big man leaned forward, beer breath preceding his words. "I just wanted to know if you was from the midwest."

"Am I from what? What the fuck are you talking about?"

"It's just, I heard you talking just now," the big man said, his voice loud and overly precise, the way a man speaks when he's trying not to slur his words, "and when you was talking to the lady, I figgered you was from the midwest, from your accent."

"No, pal, I ain't from the Midwest." He shook his head. "I was born here in Trenton, but you? I know you're from the Midwest, ain't you? Kansas or Ohio or some damned place? Am I right?"

"ME? What the fuck? I don't have no Midwest accent."

"No, no, it ain't your accent," the skinny man continued, "it's the fact that you smell like a pile of horseshit, and you gotta face like the ass end of pig. Get the fuck away from me, you drunk bastard." He turned back to the lady, just in time to see her grab her cigarettes off the bar and leave. "Oh, goddamn it, come on, sweetheart! Come on!" He clenched a fist in frustration and turned back to the interloper, just in time to catch a punch to the face.

He fell off the bar stool, surprised and knocked off balance more than actually hurt. The big man had been aiming the punch to the side of his head, and his own sudden movement made the blow land at a glancing angle, without much force. With a snarl, he bounded up, fists flying forward. He caught the big man one solid blow to the chest before he got tangled up in the other's forearms, held up for defense. As he drew back for a roundhouse right, the big man shoved in and up, knocking him sideways onto one of the empty tables by the jukebox.

At the other end of the bar, the bartender reached under the counter, passing up the 12 gauge shotgun in favor of the baseball bat. He'd gotten hold of the scarred old Rawlings, nicknamed "the peacemaker", when he felt someone grip his other arm. He looked up. The hand was liver spotted and wrinkled, but steady and firm; one of his best customers was reaching across the bar, shaking his head. The bartender paused, looked over at the brawlers, then back at the old man. After a moment, he shrugged and straightened up, leaving the baseball bat where it was.

With a shout, the skinny man picked himself up from the table and again threw himself at the big drunk. This time, he came in low and fast, feinting at his opponent's head before landing a flurry of body blows to the other's soft belly and groin. Grunting in pain, the big man brought his knee up for a clumsy snap kick. It wasn't pretty, but it hit hard enough to make the skinny man jump back and swear. Snarling, he whipped out the buck knife from his belt and snapped it open to show five inches of well worn and workman-sharp steel. He clutched at his side where the kick had contacted, flicking the knife back and forth. He waved it at the big man, making little feints in the air at his face.

With a stupid, drunken expression, the big man watched the knife glinting and flashing in front of him, then reached into his leather coat and pulled a .38, a blued-steel revolver that looked expensive. He raised it, pointed it at the skinny man's head and dramatically drew back the hammer. For a moment, the skinny man was frozen in fear at the escalation of the fight. Then, in a thoughtless panic, he drew back the knife and threw it at the big man.

The knife spun through the air, turning and glinting in the dimness. Its razor edge was almost in the big man's face before he reacted and pulled the trigger.

Both men jerked backwards in physical shock, knocked to the floor by the thudding impact of twin snowballs. Icy slush exploded in their faces, big, grapefruit-sized masses of dripping wet slop that hit hard, running into their collars, up their noses and down their shirt fronts. They both thumped down, gasping and coughing as they wiped the freezing mess from their eyes, mouths, necks.

Back down the bar, the old man heaved his bulk up off his stool and made to throw a bill down next to his mug. The bartender waved it away. "It's on me, Nick," he said. The old man cocked his head to one side, then nodded his thanks. He began to walk toward the door. The bartender continued, "Hey, you want another coffee to go? It's a cold night."

"No, thanks, Jimmy," the old man said, "I've got no cupholders in that old thing." Smoothly, almost gracefully, he stepped over the big drunk on the floor and got his coat from the rack by the doorway. He shrugged into it, a dirty old thing that could once have been any color, but had obviously seen many, many years of use. As he made to pull the door open, the bartender called out, "Hey, Nick. Have a good shift tonight, huh? Don't work too hard."

The old man turned back and smiled. He laid a finger against his nose and winked at the bartender. "Work's not work when you enjoy your job, Jimmy. And as for you two," he said, turning his gaze to the men on the floor, "you'd better watch out." Snow swirled into the bar as he left, huge diamond flakes that settled gently to the floor when the door closed behind him.

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Video: Get Tony On Ellen!

Was there ever a more ill-conceived, ill-fated idea?

Oh, Carrie... don't get caught up in my madness, I beg you. For your own sake, I beg you.

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Three Word Wednesday: educate, object, silence

The Words for today are: educate, object, silence

"So that's what they want me to do."
He'd object with silence, I knew.
My prayers of late
Serve to educate
And illumine the path straight and true.

"When God responds to your prayers with silence, it means that you already know the answer to your question." - Rabbi Chaim Ben-habbekah

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Excellent advice from Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman is so absolutely spot on with this:
Writers put off making wills (well, human beings put off making wills, and most writers are probably human beings). Some of us think it's self-aggrandising or foolish to pretend that anyone would be interested in their books or creations after they're dead. Others secretly believe we're going to live forever and that making a will would mean letting Death in a crack.

Others make wills, but don't think to take into account what happens to our literary estate as a separate thing from the disposition of our second-best beds, which means unqualified or uninterested relatives can find themselves in control of everything the author's written. Some of us are just cheap.

He's done a good deed by posting this.

Get a will. It lets you see that your property, your money and your young children are distributed, cared for or disposed of according to your wishes and not the wishes of the court.

Insert or attach this codicil to the will which specifies the disposition of your creative works and derivative works arising from them. Or take it to a lawyer and have something comparable drawn up.

I have a will. Do you?

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My blog posts over the next few days

Next few days, as I'll be feasting and festing:

I have a sweet & funny story ready and waiting for this FridayFlash on Christmas Eve.

I've also got a little something for you all on Christmas Day.

On the 28th, I'll post a list of my top 10 pages from 2010.

Then on New Year's Eve, I'll have my final FridayFlash of the year.

There'll be other stuff mixed in there, too, so spend your holiday here at Landless. You'll have a great time, or you'll get your money back.

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Getting on the Ellen DeGeneres show

On the subject of getting on the Ellen DeGeneres show:
(click on the image to embiggen it ---------->)

And so, after a bit of thought:

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A new book that will turn a writer into an author

Peevish Penman Presents: the Handbook of the Writer Secret Society.

Someone you know is a major contributor to this book. I will give you one guess, just one, as to who that person is.

Purchasing info is right here.

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12 Days: "Up North"

My story, "Up North" appears today at "12 Days - 2010". Check it out.

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#FridayFlash: Island of Stability

Island of Stability

by Tony Noland

"Prepare to leave orbit, Lieutenant. It's time we went home."

"Yes, my lord."

Captain Luraleth hooked his way to his cabin, passed through the
curtain and sealed it behind him. He stretched out of his uniform
collar and bent backwards, straining until he felt the vertebrae pop
and the skin crack underneath his dorsal scales. Too long on this trip,
he thought, far too long.

Hanging from the ceiling loops, he looked at himself in the reflection
pool and knew that he was lying to himself.


The fact was, he was too long in this job, too long in the service of
his queen... too long as a male. It was time, he thought. Time to go
home, to go down into the deep caverns and surrender himself to the

The captain let himself go limp, felt the loops cut into his talons,
digging into his flesh and helping him to relax. Yes, he thought, he'd
seen fifty years in this body, and fifty-five in his last one, also
male. Would he come out of the LifeDeath as a male again, or as a
female? There was no way to know. It was a gambler's chance one way or
the other.

He hoped it would be female. He'd heard that being female was easier.
Not that he'd ever been afraid of hard work, far from it, but... he
was tired. They'd been on this boring damned survey mission, hiding
above this boring damned planet for two years (more than eighteen
local years). The aliens were stupid, misshapen and ugly, as always.

With a sigh, he reached for the nosemask of his private methane tank.
He was almost out, had been hitting it harder than he have should of late.
Even off duty, it was no way for an officer to behave, let alone the
captain. Yes, he thought again, it's time to go home.

Four local days later, the ship made ready to break orbit. The
lightdrive engineers slotted in the reprocessed fuel rods for the
condensed fusion generators and confirmed that all was working
properly. They cycled the airlock and dumped the slag from the
reprocessing reactor core, a loose, pebbly grit of useless heavy
elements. With a twisting of space only faintly detectable to the
alien's satellite network, the ship was gone.

The slag fell and incinerated in the atmosphere, reduced to
microparticulates of dust. One hundred and fifty thousand feet above
the ground, one microscopic mote ran into an ice crystal, melted and
refroze, sticking fast. At one hundred thousand feet above the ground,
the ice crystal grew and fell through the troposphere. At fifty
thousand feet above the ground, the ice crystals extended uniformly in
six directions, accreting and growing still heavier, falling faster
through the cold air.

And at five feet, ten inches above the ground, it fell onto the
outstretched tongue of Kyle McAllister, much to the shrieking delight
of his four year old daughter, Henrietta.

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I would like to thank the Academy

I'm late.

Not just late, but very late.

Months late.

Monstrously, hideously, late.

Embarrassingly late.

The question is... am I disastrously late?

Irretrievably late?

Unforgivably late?

I hope not.

Thank you!

So many months ago, I was honored by Marisa Birns, Maria Protopapadaki-Smith, John McDonnell, Gracie Motley and Icy Sedgwick with blogging and fiction awards. As I was on the road at the time, and almost entirely off-line, I couldn't respond very well over my phone, but I promised to follow-up as soon as I got back to a computer.

However, life came at me with teeth bared and claws outstretched. "Soon" became "real soon" became "this weekend" became "oh my God".

For months, this has been an unresolved item on my to-do list, a flagged e.mail in my inbox, carried forward and carried forward and carried forward again.

These folks deserve better treatment than that!

But, how to handle this? Clearly, I dropped the ball on acknowledging and reciprocating. Now, months later, what should I do? I got a variety of answers, but this sums it up best:

I know they've moved on and I'm probably making too much of this. I do that kind of thing a lot. Still, my obligation remains. So, let me offer my thanks for these awards. I encourage everyone to go check out their fine blogs and online fiction, and to buy them a drink if you ever meet them in a dimly lit pub.

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New Fiction: Cliche of the Titans


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Three Word Wednesday: drabble, lean, utter

The words for today's Three Word Wednesday are: drabble, lean, utter.

One hundred word fiction's called "drabble"
A form in which I don't dabble,
Lean writing's a scream,
But that's too extreme,
I'd utter naught more than pure babble.

Heh, that's not bad, is it?

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A Secret Santa Surprise

A Secret Santa Surprise for @babelonandon

A normal link just wouldn't do
Ms. Riggs, this poem's for you,
Got your name from Sabrina
(Secret Santa mas fina),
Happy Holidays and New Year, too!

Thanks to @introvertedwife for the organizational excellence!

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Should I be on Facebook?

Actually, I already am, but Ziggy Kinsella is wondering about it. He's a thoughtful guy, so go check out the discussion.

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Guest writing today at the NOT

I'm guest writing today at Michael J. Solender's blog, "not from here, are you?". The story is titled "Home Cure", and it was the basis for my 2009 NaNoWriMo novel about a man coming home from World War One to confront a mystery, solve a crime and prevent a tragedy.

You can read the story here.

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Goals for 2011

In 2011, I will:

1. Take my NaNoWriMo firmly in hand and make it the primary focus of
my writing. I'll do this by extending this first draft and finishing
the next roguh draft. I'll revise, edit, re-edit and line edit it by
July. I'll have it beta-read and proofread. I'll revise and finish the
book. I'll write a good hook, a good letter and start submitting it to
agents by the end of the year.

2. Have perfect attendence at #FridayFlash, and stop letting other
concerns trick me into being a rude jerk. I'll read and comment on the
stories of my pals and the people who comment on mine. I'll do this by
making #FridayFlash exist beyond Friday, reading and commenting
through the week.

3. Lose twenty pounds. I'll do this by eating salads instead of
sandwiches for lunch, by limiting myself to two desserts a week, one
drink a week. I'll resume the exercise program I had to completely
abandon when my hernia made it untenable.

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#FridayFlash: The Time Is Now

The Time Is Now

by Tony Noland

"Nothing, sir. No distress signal, no activity on any frequency."

"Acknowledged, Uhura. Analysis, Mr. Spock."

"The vessel appears to be derelict, Captain. Scanners indicate only minor power fluctuations in the impulse engines."

"And the crew?"

"The ship's life support appears to be functioning at minimal levels, but there are no life readings, sir."


"That would seem logical, Captain. The configuration of the ship would suggest that it possessed escape pods, but none are present."

"Hmmm. Mr. Chekov, weapons status?"

"No readings, Keptin. Their varp core is off-line, their shields are down and their veapons are deaktivated. Hull integrity is von hundred percent, sir. Eet does not seem that they vere in a fight."

"Hmmm. Mr. Spock, what do you make of her? She's too big to be a crusier, too small to be a cargo ship."

"The configuration of the vessel does not match that of any ship in the computer registry."

"No, she's a puzzle. Speculations?"

"Speculations based on insufficient data are frequently inaccurate, Captain."

"Yes, Mr. Spock. Well, let's go get some more data. Scotty?"

"Aye, Cap'n?"

"Meet us in the transporter room."

"On mah way, Cap'n."

"Mr. Sulu, match course and speed. Lt. Uhura, Mr. Spock, Mr. Chekov, you're with me. Mr. Sulu, you have the conn."

"Aye, sir."


"Sulu, what the blue blazes is going on up here? What are you doing to my life support?"

"Nothing, Doctor! That is, I don't know what's happening! After the Captain and the others transported over to that derelict ship, the computer just shut down."

"These damned machines! Nothing but a tangle of wires and trouble making circuits! Can't you get Scotty to come back here and figure out what's wrong?"

"I can't raise them, Doctor. There's been nothing but static since they transported."

"Come on, man! It's been more than an hour, we can't go on like this. We'll run out of air if we don't get the computer to turn the life support systems back on."

"You're right, Doctor, of course. I can only think of one solution."

"Well? Do it, man, or we'll all die!"

"Initiating full computer reactivation sequence in 5... 4... 3... 2... 1... REBOOT!"

And in a massive red and blue flash, the derelict spaceship exploded, killing everyone aboard.

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The 12 Days of Christmas

In honor of the 12 Days - 2010 fiction anthology (for which I'll be contributing a story on the theme of "Four calling birds"), I thought it appropriate to get into the holiday spirit.

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Three Word Wednesday: judge, nightfall, safety

The words for today's Three Word Wednesday are judge, nightfall, safety.


The Judge said, "Hang the man high!"
Tomorrow at noon's when I'll die
But come nightfall he'll see
What rage lives in me
No safety on land, sea or sky


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Writing 12 Days

I've written my story for the "12 Days - 2010" anthology, on the theme
of "Four Calling Birds". Need to edit and perhaps line up a beta
reader or two who can give me a 24hr turnaround.

Any volunteers?

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Deciding what to write

There are several things vying for my attention at the moment. Most
pressing was the line edits for the Choose Your Own Adventure book for
whic I'm an associate editor. That's now essentially done - shots
fired, target down, body removed. I just need to sweep up the shell

The "12 Days - 2010" story is next, then get back to writing a few
more episodes of "Just Enough Power", then I can probably revisit my
NaNo novel draft about the Grammarian.

Three more #FridayFlash stories and I will have kept my New Year's
resolution to have perfect attendence. 52 new flash stories, in
addition to all of the specials for holidays, etc.

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#FridayFlash: Copperhead


by Tony Noland

Every time he spit, the taste was moldy paper, plaster dust and bits of old glue. Blood snaked down his arm from the gash, but grime and grit thickened and slowed it, made it divert across his forearm in its course toward his wrist like a million-year-old river staggering down the slope of a see-sawing continent.

Anyway, not enough of it got to his hands to make his grip get slippery, at least, no worse than what the sweat was doing. The duct tape around the handle of the hammer was about as old as he was. The long, heavy crowbar was bare metal, rough enough that it cut him as he swung it, even through the calluses.

He spat again, paused to wipe a chunk of something from his eye, the good one.

The bar made its low, musical cough as he tore out another section of the wall. Not sheetrock. Cheap-ass thin stuff was behind sheetrock, or, god forbid, plastic. No, this was good old plaster and lath, a hundred, maybe a hundred and fifty years old. Smooth, with a dozen or more different layers of wallpaper, silken shreds of emerald, sapphire, gold, rose, ivory, all in patterns of flowers, vines, pineapples for Christ's sake, intricate diamonds, more flowers. The layers made the wall come down in easy chunks.

And there among the mouse turds and sawdust ran the copper. Thick old pipes and heavy wiring, many times more robust that they needed to be, than the efficient newer places had.

Fiber optic cable was worthless, but this? With a find like this, he could eat for a week.

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The martini - the sophisticated drink for the serious drinker

This tweet was not the most widely re-tweeted thing I've ever said, but it's struck such a chord with some people, that it deserves to be repeated.

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How to overcome nanowrimo hangover fatigue

What is the best way to overcome NaNoWriMo hangover fatigue?

Five simple steps:

1. Take December 1 off.

2. On December 2, re-read the last 10 pages of your nanowrimo. Not the whole thing, mind you, just the last 10 pages.

3. Set it aside and write something else. A flash, a poem, a blog post, anything.

4. Read the first 10 pages of your nanowrimo. Again, not the whole thing, just the first 10 pages.

5. Think about how different the book at the end is from the book at the beginning. Consider how to connect the two in revision.

Is this the best way to get the energy back, or what?

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Three Word Wednesday: demise, effort, revival

Good lord, today's Three Word Wednesday is practically the story arc of my 2010 NaNoWriMo experience. The words are: demise, effort, revival

It was on the ropes, that's for sure,
But demise of my book? Premature!
My effort so vast
Of writing real fast
That revival was joy, clear and pure!

The 7,000+ words I wrote yesterday to push my NaNo over the finish line for a win? That was a personal record for single day writing, and the ~12K for the Sunday-Monday-Tuesday was also a personal 3-day best.


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NaNoWriMo: Winner!

After a heroic final day of 7K, I stopped at ~51K to log a win for NaNoWriMo 2010.


NaNoWriMo: "I'm Not Dead Yet!"

Did 2K on Sunday, 3K yesterday, need 7K today. Can I do it?

Probably not.


I hope so.

I think so.



That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

See you in 9 hours.

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NaNoWriMo excerpt: "What a fool I am!"

an excerpt from my NaNoWriMo, "Verbosity's Vengeance"

"She miniaturized it. God, what a fool I am, she cross-linked it directly to the VR rig! Mrs. White," he said, "is the analysis of the medical scans complete?"

"No sir," the computer replied, "the anomalies in Dr. Hunter's parietal lobe could be natural variation in tissue density, or they may be a result of grammartech meme-frequency modulation."

"Assume they're caused by the grammartech, about two hours usage so far. How long until damage becomes pathological?"

"Without additional scans under controlled conditions, extrapolation from existing data is unreliable."

"Extrapolate anyway," he shouted, "how much longer can she go on piping the grammartech through her visual cortex? Give me the range."

"Cortical tissue damage will result after additional usage. Best case scenario: four hours, eleven minutes. Worst case scenario: one hour, twenty one minutes. Speed and severity of damage will depend on the intensity of usage."

"Which means that just going there to try to rescue her people will be bad enough, but if she tries to fight Professor Verbosity..."

"Yes sir. Her brain will be irreversibly damaged, resulting in symptoms ranging from headaches and blindness to coma and death."

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R.I.P. Leslie Nielsen

In honor of the passing of Leslie Nielsen, here's the trailer for Forbidden Planet.

You can also see the monster attack, one of the best of early sci-fi movies.

Forbidden Planet also has a young Oscar Goldman, too, so it's one of my favorites.

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My NaNoWriMo Is Doomed

I'm now at ~38K with three days left. If I'm lucky, I'll get 2K done
tomorrow, which leaves 5K to do on each of Monday and Tuesday.

My NaNoWriMo is doomed.

This isn't to say that the book itself is doomed, or that I won't
finish it, or revise it. As a NaNoWriMo, though, it's going to take an
effort beyond heroic and bordering on miraculous.

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#FridayFlash: Chestnut Hollow

Chestnut Hollow

by Tony Noland

Some people swore that the house was haunted. Pfft. That's only because they wouldn't know a real ghost if it bit them on the ear. Regardless of what Mr. Archer's books said, the fact is, that old place was the only spot in the county that wasn't haunted. Like my Uncle Caleb always said, where the body dies, the soul resides. Until last year, nobody ever died in the house itself.

The land, though... the land didn't lack for ghosts. Shawnee and Lenape braves, English colonist irregulars, Army of the Potomac infantrymen. All around here, they were crouched and waiting, gripping their bowstrings and rifle butts, alert for some sign of attack.


I used to hope they'd realize the war was over, whichever war it was they were fighting in. Used to hope they'd turn from the battlefield and go on home to their mothers or their wives. But there they were, ready to fight the battle that already killed them.

I'll tell you, it was the saddest thing, looking at them. Smoky-looking men, thin and wispy. They looked like a mass of cobwebs quivering over a candle flame - crowded out in the meadows, packed shoulder to shoulder, and all of them on a hair-trigger. Worst part of it was that not one of them could see another. Thousands upon thousands of fighting men, ferocious warriors and soldiers from a hundred generations or more, and every one of them terrified 'cause he thought he was facing the enemy alone.

Archer said he had the Second Sight, but I know for a fact that he didn't. About eight years ago, when I was fixing the sump pump down in the basement of the place, he mentioned he'd seen a ghost in the kitchen. He said it kinda sidelong, like he knew how much trouble the Sight has been for me and my family. Then he started talking about how he could hardly stand to walk through a graveyard for all the ghosts around. That's when I knew he was a liar. People are dead long before they ever get put into a graveyard. It's hospitals you gotta watch out for.

He was a convincing one, though, I'll grant him that. Archer wrote two books about his fake haunted house. They were full of nonsense and lies, but they generated enough interest in the old place that he turned it into a haunted bed and breakfast. After a few years, it was pretty regular to see ghost-hunting tourists coming and going.

I heard about the "seance weekend" packages he was offering for the fall tourists. Archer was a fool. Still, he might have gotten away with his seances as long as he stuck to fog machines and hidden wires. It was when he started daring the spirits to show their cowardly faces, to reveal themselves and be vanquished... that was when they heard his voice, recognized him as the enemy and moved in for the kill.

Out my window, across the valley, I saw them, a rippling silver wave, on the march. All over the fields, I saw them heft their weapons as they moved in towards the house. I know what happened; I heard his screams. They faced the enemy and showed no mercy.

These fields used to be rich with the spirits of the dead. Now, there are no ghosts anywhere in the county anymore, except, of course, for Archer's up in the house. He decided to make himself their enemy. Nothing was ever the same again after that.

n.b. This was written for NPR's Three Minute Fiction contest, which I didn't win. You can read the winning entry here. My thanks to Icy Sedgwick and Danielle La Paglia for their excellent beta reads & comments.

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Happy Thanksgiving

Today is the day that Americans set aside for reflecting on the things they are thankful for.

Me? Whatever other blessings I enjoy, I can see, I can walk, and I'm not hungry. That's more than many can say.

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3 Word Wednesday: Advance, pander, shuffle

The words for today are: advance, pander, shuffle.

My kid wants a Gameboy Advance
In order to play "Dance! Dance! Dance!"
"Don't pander to craving;
Your money be saving!
Take my Shuffle and bliss out to trance!"

I'm on the road for a while, so no links. Sorry!

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Two years of Landless

It's been two years to the day since I started this blog. Things have certainly progressed in 24 months.

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Beta readers - the secret weapon

A beta reader is someone who will read your story after you think it's finished, but before you submit it. Beta readers do NOT exist to tell you how wonderful you and your writing are. That's what your mom is for.

The idea is to get a fresh set of eyes to go over your manuscript to catch all the flaws that you have become blind to. What flaws am I talking about? What do you want your beta reader to be looking for? It varies.

You should not ask your beta reader to check for spelling, grammar, verb tense violations, etc. That's the sort of thing you should be able to spot yourself. Point of view violations tend to creep in without us noticing, so those can be fair game. Sometimes you want a beta reader to check for stumbles in narrative flow, or get a sense of the believability of character motivations.

As an example, when a beta reader says, "It seems out of character for X to do Y.", YOU SHOULD LISTEN. Think about either changing the action, fleshing out or changing the character, or both. Nuance of character behavior separate decent books from good or great ones.

Treat beta readers kindly, and remember: they are doing you a favor by pointing out the stains on your tie.

I don't ask anyone to beta read my FridayFlash stories before posting them on this blog, although if I'm going to submit them for publication elsewhere, I do. What about you? How do you use beta readers?

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Announcement: judging & writing

Sharpen your pencils, your wits and your tongues, because I'll be judging next week's "5 Minute Fiction" competition. It's hosted by @LeahPeterson every Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. EST.

You don't want to miss this chance to put yourself at my mercy!

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#FridayFlash: Ayers Rock, By God

Ayers Rock, By God

by Tony Noland

The skiff bumped against the dock, like the firm kiss of an overly fond aunt. The deck master was already hauling in the sails, his motors humming and the fabric slapping as the wind was set free of the boat, taking its strong salt tang off across the landscape, up into the rising western hills and to the wasteland beyond.

Bala shaded out the harsh sun with a hand over his eyes. Glare from the white cliffs ahead told him everything he needed to know. There was life here, once. Twisted, stunted life, but life nonetheless. The gleaming sterility on the horizon was something he didn't need to go touch and taste in order to write his report, but that was irrelevant. All of this was irrelevant. Three and a half billion years in the making, and it was all irrelevant.

"You Bala?"

The thick accent only served to underline the contempt in the voice. Bala turned to face down at the dock. "Yes," he said, "I'm Dr. Bala. Are you Mr. Frederick?"

"Shit by God, no, I'm not Fred. Are you blind? I come to get you, that's all. Mr. Fred is waiting. Get moving, now, he's a busy man."

The man stood amid the sailors making fast the boat, some of whom growled and cursed at him to get out of the way as they worked the lines and did whatever else it was that sailors did when a ship went from being a free creature to being a captive, a night moth pinned to the board of a grimy, salty cargo port. Bala considered sticking to his original intent of waiting until the men had finished before trying to depart, but it was clear that the man would be more disruptive the longer he stood amid the sailors.

And all of the blame will be put on me, Bala thought, because I am who I am, and I am who I work for.

He climbed down the rope ladder and walked among the sailors. Politely, he gave instructions to the cargo manager as to which hotel to send his baggage. The man grunted in return, but Bala knew his effects would be handled properly. These men understood who their masters were.

Bala looked for Mr. Frederick's representative, saw him striding down the causeway toward the inland parking lot. Without trying to catch up, Bala walked in the same direction, the sweat spreading under his arms and across his chest. It was hot here, he thought, hotter even than back home. There was a joke the locals used to tell about the temperature being more bearable because it was a dry heat.

They didn't tell that joke anymore. He assumed that it was something else they held against him, the loss of a reason to laugh. So few people laughed these days.

He arrived at a battered old Range Rover, converted to run on either hydrogen or polyazide gas. There had once been a label on the big tank bolted on the back of the truck, but it was illegible. He wondered where the driver filled up his vehicle that such things were tolerated.

"Took you bloody long enough."

"It's a warm day," Bala said. "Are we going out to the works to see Mr. Frederick?"

"Nope, we're going straight to Ayers Rock."

"Don't you mean Uluru?"

"No, you little shit, I mean Ayers Rock."

They didn't say another word to each other for the next three hours. When they stopped for fuel, the man took care of it without speaking. Bala bought a package of crisps, a large bag of dried, pepper-and-garlic flavored rabbit meat and three apples. He also bought a case of water, six jugs of four liters each. When he brought them to the truck, the driver rolled his eyes and made noises of disgust, but said nothing.

They drove on in silence, Bala ate his food and drank his water in silence, they both urinated by the side of the deserted road in silence and when they arrived at the monitoring station, the man pointed at the biggest building, then walked away in silence.

Uluru gleamed and glared, like an iceberg trapped in a frozen sea, like the sarcophagus of a dead god propped up as a tourist attraction. The ground crunched under Bala's boots as he walked, encrustations of salt shattering and blowing on the ever-present wind. He'd been here before and knew to close his eyes to slits, but the air still stung. He opened the door without knocking.

"Dr. Bala! How wonderful to see you, man! You're looking good, like a second bride!" The station manager's booming voice shouted across the room in madras bashai, the colloquy that the bosses back home affected to show their common-man roots and to exclude outsiders from their conversation. The bosses did it, so every minor company functionary across the world used it, too.

Bala despised it and everything it implied, but what could he do? What could anyone do?

After the preliminaries - offers of restroom facilities, water, tea, food - they went into a small conference room. The oversized window faced Uluru, framing it and the whitened landscape all around in the highest quality plexiglas.

The manager faced the window and said, "Magnificent, isn't it? All of the company's finest accomplishments, hell, our nation's greatest triumph, all rolled into one beautiful picture. It's quite a rock, that's for sure."

India conquering Australia in only two years was a triumph of economic and military might. Using hydrogen bombs to dig the Great Inner Sea was an engineering accomplishment without parallel. Fine-tuning the evaporative cooling of the sea water to mitigate the severity of the monsoons back home was the most successful geosculpting effort man had ever mounted to counter the effects of runaway global warming. A thousand million of his countrymen lived and prospered because of what had been done here.

But this, Bala thought, this? Beautiful? Even if the salt from the evaporated seawater made this land a pristine, gleaming, crystalline white, even if it helped to cool the planet by reflecting sunlight away, even if fewer than a million people had been displaced and fewer than a thousand species had been poisoned to extinction, this was still an abomination.

It was an abomination.

"Yes," Bala said, looking at Uluru. "It's beautiful."

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Miss Otis Regrets

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NaNoWriMo update: back in from the ledge

I'm feeling better about my NaNoWriMo novel. After coming within a whisker of giving up on it, I'm making good forward progress now. The trick was to get past what I thought the characters were supposed to be doing and just let them go.

When I was stuck, I had no idea what to do next. There were things I wanted to do with the plot, but couldn't see how to get from here to there. What did I do to break out of it? I started a fight.

I like writing fight scenes, so I had my hero chase down a bunch of bad guys and engage them. Then, in a twist so old it probably gets its own social security check each month, I had my hero get knocked ass over teakettle. Battered and stunned, he was about to get cut in half when, at the nick of time, another hero arrived to save him. However, he ALSO was blasted down and they were BOTH going to be cut in half when, at the nick of time, they were both saved by a mysterious stranger who turns out to be the hero's love interest in disguise.

How corny is THAT?

Still, it got me going again, and the complications around the relationship of the hero, his lady friend and the villain are enough to pull me forward. I need to write this so I can find out what happens.

How about you? How's NaNo going? Exciting and engaging? A deathmarch? Feel free to comment and whine, complain, brag, etc. I don't judge.

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Three Word Wednesday: clutch, delight, happy

Today's words for Three Word Wednesday are clutch, delight, happy.

I'm working on my NaNoWriMo novel, but I still have time to inflict a horrible limerick on you:

My dashboard just gave me a fright
CHECK ENGINE came on Monday night
The clutch has gone crappy,
I'll really be happy
To fix it and turn off delight.

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Nanowrimo excerpt: tea and whiskey

"Care for a cup of tea, vicar?"

Alex grimaced. "You know, that joke is just as funny now as the first fifty times you told it."

The old man smiled and snapped his yellowed teeth forward as though taking a bite from the air. "Old jokes are the best, Alex. You always know when you're supposed to laugh. So, do you want the tea?"

"Any coffee?"

"Nope, just tea, and it's herbal, caffeine-free tea at that. Doctor made me give up caffeine after I had the pacemaker installed. Welcome to my own little corner of hell."

"What about decaf coffee?" Alex asked.

"I may be in hell, but I haven't sunk THAT low. I've got herbal peppermint, herbal spice, herbal chammomile, herbal oolong, herbal orange pekoe and Jim Beam."

"Jim Beam? Sam, the doctor made you give up caffeine, but he lets you drink whiskey?"

"No," the old man said, "he wanted me to give that up, too. I did, mostly."

"I'll take the oolong, with the wiskey on the side."

"One finger or two?"

"Just a splash, enough to drown the taste of the tea."

The flame hissed under the tea kettle, the mugs and highball glasses clinked as Sam set the table. He pulled a bottle from the cabinet under the sink, poured out an ounce or so for Alex and a much more generous glass for himself. With a grunt and a sigh, he eased into one of the wooden chairs. After raising his highball glass and nodding in a silent toast, Sam sipped at his whiskey. Alex did the same, thinking back on the old days when Sam would have taken care of a drink like that in a single mouthful, then followed it with a great many more before the evening was through. Witness the price of fast living, Alex thought.

"Thinkin' up a sermon, Alex?" said Sam. "You got that 'there but for the grace of God go I' look on your face."

Alex looked down into his whiskey and smiled. Some superpowers fade, some don't. "Something like that, Sam."

The kettle gave a sputtering whistle that grew in volume. Sam made to get up, but Alex beat him to it. After pouring the water into the mugs and returning the kettle to the stove, Alex sat down and nursed his whiskey.

"OK, Alex, we've got our tea, we've got our whiskey and I don't have any muffins. Let's have it. What's going on?"

Alex pushed the teabag around for a moment, then set his spoon aside to sip the whiskey again. "I've got a problem, Sam."

"Obviously. It must be something of significance for you to come all the way out here to see me. The fact that you're all tounge-tied tells me it's something to do with your personal life, not anything to do with your shop or anything having to do with the Grammarian."

Involuntarily, Alex shifted his eyes around the room, as though there were spies in the corner.

Sam snorted. "Nobody's listening in on us, Alex, you know that. It's staggeringly unlikely that anyone would give a rat's patoot about Sam Rainman or his infrequent guests. As for the Silver Cypher," Sam knocked back his whiskey, "he's been dead a long time. So let's have it. Who is she? Wait, no, don't tell me, let's see how badly the old skills have atrophied." Sam leaned forward and scrutinized Alex's face with narrowed eyes behind his thick bifocals. Alex, fully aware of how this game was played, made his face completely neutral.

"She must be smart or you wouldn't have looked twice at her, no matter how worth looking at she is. However," Sam said, "she still must be pretty good looking, for all that. You may be a super-brained superhero, but you're still a man. Not only that, but she must find you fascinating, or at least interesting, or you wouldn't be wasting your time on her."

Alex's face betrayed nothing, at least, not intentionally.

"Ah," the old man continued, "so it's not that she's interested in you, but in something you have. Your money? No, you'd never fall for a golddigger, and you're too smart to let on how much you really have. Your exciting hobby? Not just no, but hell no. You never told anyone your secret identity voluntarily. You're not the trusting type. So if she doesn't want your money and she's not a hero hound, what is it? Your technology? If she doesn't know you're the Grammarian, then... aha!" His voice was triumphant. "She wants some of that grammartech you developed. But if it's not the hero angle, why would she want it? Why would she want it?" As he mused, the old man's hand reached for the bottle.

"Sam, stick to the tea."

As though he'd been stung, Sam jerked, but in the way a strong man would respond: slightly.

"Fine. She can't be an entrpreneur looking to make a buck. You'd never let it go for that. There must be some kind of altruism involved. If not to make money, then what? A non-profit? A government group? Is it for research? Right, that's it. She's a scientist of some kind, and she sees an application for your tech, some way to make the world a better place." Sam smiled and snapped his fingers. "She's a professor at Lexicon City University, probably an engineer of some kind, she's got a thing for advanced tech in general, superhero technology in particular, she's got dark hair, green eyes and you're about to fall for it and hand it over. Am I right?"

"You're just guessing about the eyes and the hair, but you're right in all the essentials. You've still got it, Sam."

Sam's smile vanished. "Don't patronize me, Alex. Back in the old days I would have had all of that out of you in three seconds based solely on how you stirred your tea. After a minute I could have told you her middle name, her favorite brand of shampoo and how many times you'd met her for coffee." He sighed. "It's hell to get old, pal. Avoid it if you can."

"I'm not sure I prefer the alternative."

"What, you wouldn't choose going out in a blaze of glory instead of sitting on the shelf, drying up like an apple core somebody forgot to throw away?"

Alex stirred his tea. "When a hero dies in a firefight, it means the bad guy won." He didn't look up, just kept stirring.

Sam squinted at him. After a moment, his look of intense concentration broke into a wry smile as the old man finished his analysis and came to some private conclusion. "Here," he said, sliding the bottle toward Alex, "you need this more than I do. Damned heroes, you're all alike. A bunch of fools, every one of you."

The bottle was half-full. Alex studied the label for a moment, then set it down, unopened. "Alright, Sam. That's my problem. There are a lot of potential applications of the grammartech, but they way she's proposing it doesn't look like it can be weaponized."

"Anything can be weaponized, Alex, you of all people should know that."

Alex grimaced. "Yes, I know. I've been considering this for days, ever since she first asked to learn more about it. We're not talking about the equipment or mental augmentor applications I developed for my, ah... for the..."

"For the Grammarian?"

"I wish you wouldn't be so indiscreet about it."

"Just because this isn't your secret lab doesn't mean it isn't safe, you know." Sam waved his teaspoon around the kitchen. "Aside from the fact that I have 'security through obscurity' by living out in the boonies, I turned on the cognitive suppression field projector you gave me a couple of years ago. Nobody can eavesdrop on us, physically, electronically or otherwise. I think you're just looking for a way to keep beating around the bush instead of telling me what she wants to do with the grammartech."

It took a little more than an hour for Alex to explain the technical details of Kate Hunter's research. After Sam had all the background information, he sat for a while, musing.

"And can I assume that you've been applying your considerable intellect to thinking of ways she could put this to an evil purpose?" Sam asked.

"Evil seems a bit strong, but, yes, I have. I don't see any misapplication that's at all credible."

"How likely is it that you're blinding by your swooning love for this Dr. Hunter?"

Alex flushed. "I don't think that's at all likely, but I recognized that if my judgement were, in fact, compromised, then I'd be the last person to realize it. Hence, my trip to see you." He poured another whiskey for himself and another small one for his friend and mentor. "Look, Sam, we both know what my capabilites are. I can analyze a thousand angles on something and do in a week what would take most people a year. And we both know that the same analysis would take you less than a minute, and you'd come up with a better answer than I would. So, I'm asking you to consider whether there's any serious reason to be concerned about letting her use the grammartech in her research."


"What? What do you mean, no? You won't help me?"

"No, I mean there's no reason to be concerned. You said you weren't going to give her any of the brain-linking hardware, right? The equipment that lets you use the language processing centers of your brain to augment and control your energy beam projectors?"

"That's right, I won't even tell her about that end of things. As far as she's concerned, this is an artificial intelligence based system, computers only."

"In that case, you have no reason to worry. Computers are a dead end and they always will be. It takes the human brain to enact the fine control of the grammartech that raises it up to superpower class technology. And even then, unless you've got an IQ higher than 170, using it that way makes you dumber than a box of dead flies. Just look at your friend the Avant Guardian."

"Don't remind me. Every time he does something strenuous in that armor of his, it's like his brain is being pulled in three directions at once. The stronger he gets, the stupider." Alex shook his head. "If only I'd had a chance to get back the prototype from that engineering subcontractor before Waters bought it out of bankruptcy. That's how Professor Verbosity got his version of the grammatech hardware, I'm certain of it. Thank God neither of them has been able to reverse engineer any of it."

"Well, just so long as your lady friend doesn't try to hook up your software to a brain scanner, you should be OK." Sam looked at him. "Of course, don't give her any crazy ideas, will you?"

Alex raised his whiskey glass in a toast. "Never."

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NaNoWriMo update: hello Week 3.

This book is a mess, a hackneyed, thin, meandering pastiche badly stapled onto a cardboard thin plot that would buckle and collapse in the middle of Week 3 if it hadn't already buckled and collapsed during Week 2.

However, thanks to the support of friends, which ranged from gentle discussions to drill sergeant exhortations to the sending of helpful links, I've decided to keep going. When the end times come and our most dreadful sins are tallied against our souls, let the record show that I was encouraged to write this steaming, awful pile of book.

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No excerpts of NaNoWriMo

I was going to post an excerpt of my NaNoWriMo, but reason prevailed. So you get nothing.


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#FridayFlash: Three Cold Cokes

n.b. This story is the sequel to Hellfire. You might want to go read that one first.

Three Cold Cokes

by Tony Noland

We sat and sipped our Cokes without speaking, the silence of the wheezing air conditioner stretching out among the four of us as I tried to keep it together, tried not to cry, tried not to scream that it was Tick, Tick, Tick, just Tick and Tick alone and that I'd had nothing to do with it.

The minutes passed. Reverend Carrin said nothing, just watched me and Tick and Caleb Fielding.

Tick, you stupid jerk! What have you done, I thought, what have you done? It was Friday morning when the Reverend had called our parents, saying that he was concerned about how the youth of the church were reacting to all the media coverage of the "miracle"; it was Friday afternoon when I walked into the church office and saw Tick and Caleb standing by Mrs. Singleton's desk, waiting to go in. Like me, they were freshly showered, sweating in Sunday pants and long sleeves. Caleb looked confused, Tick looked completely blank. If I didn't look terrified, then I was a better actor than I knew.

When Reverend Carrin invited us in and made a little small talk about what a strange week it had been since "the events of last Sunday", I thought maybe we had a chance. He sat us down in the chairs facing his desk and left us to get some Cokes from the little refrigerator in the outer office. Caleb whispered to Tick, asking what was going on, but when Tick said nothing, Caleb leaned across him to ask the same of me. I don't know what I might have said, but the Reverend came back at that point. He unscrewed each of the three bottles and handed them to us. Then he sat down, laced his fingers together on the desk in front of him, and said nothing more.

The sweat ran down my neck, but I didn't dare wipe at it, didn't dare look over at the other boys to see if they were as nervous as I was. I sipped my Coke and tried to be cool. Whatever happened, I told myself, I would NOT be the first one to crack. Tick was a world champion liar who could keep a straight face until doomsday. Caleb didn't even know what Tick had done, though, so it came down to me. If I could keep it together, just keep it together, I thought, I could get out of there alive.

I sipped at the Coke until it was all gone, and still, Reverend Carrin said nothing. He just sat behind his desk, a patient, expectant expression on his face, like he was interested in what we had to say, once we got around to saying something.

Don't crack, I thought, don't crack, don't crack.


I jerked at the sound of the Reverend's voice breaking the silence like a gunshot, bumping into Tick and sloshing some Coke from his nearly-full bottle. Ordinarily Tick would've raised a hell of a fuss about somebody getting a mess on his church clothes, but he kept his poker face on and didn't respond.

"S-sir? Reverend Carrin, sir?" Caleb sounded scared. Even though I felt bad for him, a massive surge of relief rose within me. I hadn't been the first one to crack. Whatever else happened, it hadn't been me.

The Reverend got up from behind his desk and said, "Caleb, I think I've kept you long enough on a beautiful day like this." With a gesture, he had Caleb get up and walk to the door. "You go ahead and run on home, now. Thank you so much for coming in, Caleb, it was good to see you. I don't get as much time to be in this kind of small group ministry as I'd like, especially with the youth of our congregation, so I appreciate your taking the time for me. Could you please tell your folks that I'll look for them on Sunday? Thank you, Caleb, you have a blessed day, now, you hear?" The Reverend stood at his open office doorway and, smiling a genial, paternal smile, watched Caleb go through the outer office, out the door and down the steps toward the street.

When he closed the door and turned back to us, the smile faded down into a somber, pained expression. He crossed the room and sat on the front of his desk, facing us with arms crossed.

"Boys." His face slowly turned from one of us to the other as he spoke in a low, slow voice that sounded like the opening of the book of Revelation. "I've been a father for a long time, boys. Both of my sons are grown and gone now, off with jobs and families of their own. They're two fine men, and I'm very proud of both of them. But, like I said, I've been a father for a long time, and I know a prank when I see one."

My leg twitched. Tick didn't move.

"But," the Reverend continued, "I've been a pastor even longer than I've been a father, and I know the hand of God when I see it." He sighed. "Boys, this thing you've done... I don't think you truly understand what's happened here. I'm setting aside my anger at the two of you for how dangerous and foolish that was, how close you two came to burning down this church." He paused. "Well, I'm trying to set aside my anger, anyway."

He stood and held his hands behind his back.

"Because you can't be angry at God for the messages he sends you, nor at the messengers he chooses." The Reverend lowered his gaze to look me right in the eye. "I don't need to know the details of how you did what you did, or which of you did what as part of this. Not yet, anyway. What's most important to me right now is that you two see that God was working through you, was taking your... foolishness... and turning it to his own purposes. Boys, even besides the effect it's had on our congregation, I've been on the phone with newspapers, radio stations, all of the major networks, the big websites, all kinds of people who want to talk about what happened here. This has been a blessing, a sign.

"Now, you know as well as I do that the world is not keen to hear the word of God, nor to see evidence of his presence in our lives. I'm realistic enough to recognize that they are calling in part because it's a slow week for news. Will the people who see and read the stories believe it as a miracle, in the traditional sense of the word? I doubt it, but they will see evidence of our community of faith, and that may inspire more of them to come to the light. Was your little stunt a miracle? No, it wasn't, but the way that God worked through you, took your prank and used it to further his church on Earth, to spread the word of peace and forgiveness to that many more people... that's the miracle."

I heard Tick snuffle. When I turned, I saw tears rolling down his cheeks, though he never moved a muscle.

"Boys," said Reverend Carrin, "I'm thinking that it would be a good idea for us to continue this discussion after you've had a little while to think about what I've said. I'm thinking that you both would like to have the chance to contemplate how God has been present within you and how God has not only saved you from your own stupidity, but has made you his chosen servants. I'm thinking three hours of service on the church cleaning crew, every Saturday from now until Christmas, would give you a good opportunity for that contemplation. So long as I see evidence that you are earnestly trying to understand God's mysterious ways, there will be no need to involve your fathers in this. How does that sound, boys?"

Tick snuffled again, choked back a sob. I looked up at the Reverend and nodded.

"That's fine, then. Whittle, I'll see you tomorrow morning at 9:00, then, alright? You run on home, now. I want to talk to David alone for a while, man to man."

When I got home, I realized that I was still clutching the empty Coke bottle in my right hand.

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