by Tony Noland
Water ticked and groaned in the pipes as the center pivot irrigation came to life. Dozens of rainbows flashed over the bean field, dancing in the spray. The sun-shot mist covered the undulating rise of greenery as Plot 621 rose up to meet State Road JJ.
"And what did he say when you laid down the law?"
Tom Wallott didn't respond, but continued leaning on the side of his pickup, watching the rainbows move over the land.
His neighbor, Bill Campbent, snorted. "I thought so. You didn't, did you?"
"You think that second pivot is running a little strong?"
"Don't change the subject, Tom. We both know damn well the pivots are calibrated properly. Why on earth didn't you just spell it out for Tom Jr.? He knows what's at stake, he'd do the right thing."
Tom reflected that the main thing about Bill was that Bill was a horse's ass. It used to irritate the hell out of him, the way Bill would give advice on matters he knew nothing about. Since Donna died, though, Tom had come to a sort of peace with lots of things. It wasn't Bill's fault he was a horse's ass. He couldn't help it.
"Thomas knows his own mind," Tom said. "We talked about it, one man to another. He's married and has own his life to lead in Wichita. He knows his affairs better than I do; he's made his decisions and I respect his judgment on them."
"Tom, him going off to Kansas for college is one thing, but turning his back on the farm completely? That's just wrong! Your great-great-grandfather cleared and claimed this land. Father to son, it's been worked ever since. Farming is in your family's blood. Doesn't that mean anything to him? And what are you going to do without a son to carry on? Sell out? You can't do that and you know it."
The leaves in the field were rippling, soaked with the false rain being sprayed on them. Thousands of years old, that water. For age on age it sat down in the aquifer, Tom thought, until just now. It was my soil moisture sensor that sent the signal, my control panel that closed the contacts, my electricity that fired up the pumps to draw that ancient water up to push these plants to produce on command.
On my command, he thought.
Tom adjusted his cap, mopped the sweat from his brow. June 14, 1974 was just such a day as this - bright and hot. It was two weeks to the day after he'd graduated from Iowa State with a degree in soil science, and a minor in English literature. The day his father laid down the law, the day Tom had boxed up his books and come home to do the right thing.
The plants were leaning, bent with the weight of the water. Bowed down, they were slowly being pushed face first into the mud of his great-great-grandfather's land.
"You know, Bill," Tom said, "the calibration must be out of whack. That second pivot is running too strong."
Comments and constructive criticisms welcome. Other #FridayFlash pieces can be found here.
that are under 500. My essay for the "why I write" contest at Editor
Unleashed was 500 words of quasi-intellectual bloviation about short
form literature plus 250 words of emotional-laden truth.
I've heard people I respect say that they couldn't possibly tell a
story in 500 words, or in a single tweet.
Could you? Could you strip a story down and down to make a single
illuminative spark of an idea into a small, bright flame of a
And if you could do it... should you?
Follow me on Twitter: @TonyNoland
Still, this is the kind of thing that prompts speculation, does it not? I took it as a story prompt and offered this, my winning suggestion:
Winner: @TonyNoland Contact the accounting dept, tell them the salary figure in the appointment letter is 40K too high. Ask for a new letterTony, you sly dog!
The prize for presenting the most creative solution could have been anything from some proof-reading, organizing a convention, being sung to, getting a nifty spreadsheet with complex formulae or getting some band recommendations.
I opted for the bands. Meg gave me a collection of great recommendations, some of which I was familiar with, others of which were new to me. (I was very glad to see that her tastes run to great vocal work.)
Fortune shared is fortune doubled, so without further discussion, I present the recommendations:
TG Collective. Meg described them as guitar empresarios. They describe themselves on Twitter as "Django-fried flamenco, jazz-ish contemporary classical monkeys; fond of cake"
Bowjangles - "combine fiery musicianship with energetic dance moves, vaudeville comedy and four part harmony singing in a dazzling stage show which will leave you spellbound."
Straight No Chaser (I'd seen this one before, loved it)
Trans-Siberian Orchestra (no intro needed, I think)
Imogen Heap: (amazing vocals here)
Thanks for the tips, Meg!
The real Tony tells you a truth.
The real Tony doesn't know why;
He's done it since he was a youth.
It's not that he wants to confuse you;
It's not that he wants to evade.
It's not that he wants just to use you,
But from lemons he makes lemonade.
When he tells you a lie, you are happy.
When he tells you the truth, then you weep.
He tells truth *and* lies, harsh and sappy;
Which is which? That's a secret he'll keep.
NOTE: I originally posted this in response to a comment by Laura Eno. However, I decided that it was a decent statement of what it means to write fiction, and deserved a more central restatement.
Sometimes we have some general idea of what prompts people to think well of us. Other times, we are recognized for something specific. In this case, I know exactly what led Ezzy to consider me for the Honest Scrap Award. It was this revelation about my past. How do I know this? Elementary, my dear Watson... she told me so!
THE SILVER LINING - Gratitude
Thank you for the award, Ezzy. We've been pals on Twitter for the better part of a year; in the real world, that translates into something like two and a half lifetimes. As we each grow in our blogging, writing and tweeting, I'm grateful that the real-world truths about friends translates well into the digital world: attract new tweeps, but keep the old - one is silver, the other is gold.
HONEST SCRAP - can you handle the truth?
The Honest Scrap Award means that I am supposed to share ten things about myself that you may not know. These may or may not be telling, important or interesting, though, so take them as they are:
1. Both of my thumbs are double jointed.
2. When I was in high school, I ran a very profitable business with a friend. By leveraging our key assets (my smooth talking, his car, our joint entrepreneurial spirit), we bought a wide variety of alcoholic beverages which we re-sold to our classmates at a huge markup. The business grew so successful that by the end of senior year, we were able to get a bulk discount from the liquor stores for some of our larger orders.
3. I've been hit by cars twice - once on my bicycle, once as a pedestrian.
4. The high point of my weight was about 230 pounds, in 1996. In 2003-05, through a combination of diet and exercise, I got down to 170 pounds. This was right in my ideal body weight range.
5. Since then, through a mixture of complacency, stress and illness, I've gained back about 25 of those pounds. I now weigh 195 pounds. I'm working on getting back down to 175.
6. The first album I ever bought was a cassette of Scott Joplin rags. The second was a 45 of Joan Jett and the Blackhearts doing their cover of "I Love Rock 'n Roll".
7. Beginning at the age of ten, I sold newspapers (the old St. Louis Globe-Democrat) on a busy street corner every Saturday morning, from 5:45am - 10:30am, rain, snow or shine. When I was twelve, I added a Saturday night corner (5:30pm - 11:00pm) selling the early Sunday edition of the Post-Dispatch. When I was thirteen, I added a Sunday morning stint (5:30am - 12:30pm) selling the full Sunday edition of the Post Dispatch. I did all three for a few years, but eventually sold off my Saturday morning and evening corners to other kids. I continued to do the Sunday morning corner all through high school (sometimes desperately hung over from Saturday night).
8. My first time deer hunting, I rushed my shot and wounded a nice six point buck. I spent the next three hours tracking and chasing it for miles and miles through frozen woods and half-frozen swamp. Exhausted and half-frozen myself, I lost it in the woods as night came on and a fresh snowfall was obscuring the blood trail. I still feel guilty about not having made a clean kill; every deer I've shot since then has been guided by that memory.
9. When I first started writing fiction, I truly believed that I was one of those rare, golden writers who did not really need to revise. First draft, best draft. (Jesus, what a moron...)
10. I bowl tolerably well. When last I was in a bowling league (~15 yrs ago), my average was around 165. My highest scoring game in regulation play was 261.
And now, the awards portion of the show.
Instructions on The Silver Lining Award are to present it to bloggers who inspire you in some way. I always look forward to the tweets and posts from these folks - they are the kind of people who increase the quality of the tweetstream in a significant way. The Honest Scrap Award is pretty simple. List ten things about yourself that some of your blogger friends might not already know about you. Now, I realize that this may not be the first time that these folks have gotten these awards. That, dear reader, is simply an indication of how worthy of note they are.
Read them, follow them and enjoy!
school English composition. Those four classes were taught in 9th -
12th grade by (respectively) a soccer coach, a football coach, a
basketball coach and a baseball coach. For all four of them, a
successful composition was one that repeated back the themes that
they'd read to the class from the textbook.
About the best that could be said for them as teachers is that they
could usually tell when you made grammar mistakes. Variation and
deviation (i.e. original thought) was discouraged.
This was not the best environment to be a stubborn smart-ass with a
big vocabulary and a strong sense of individuality.
I sometimes wonder what my fiction would look like if I were to go to
a workshop or seminar, or if I were to take a class of some kind.
I've got a shelf full of books on writing (King, Lamott, LeGuin, Bell,
etc.). Between blogging, NaNoWriMo, #FridayFlash, etc., I've written
something like 600,000 words of fiction and related essays. Despite
the occasional horrible days, I'm generally feeling OK with the
progress I'm making.
Is there something to be gained from seeking some formal training or
education at this point?
Follow me on Twitter: @TonyNoland
Truth Lies Beneath
by Tony Noland
"It's gonna be just another sequel," said Marcus.
"I don't think so." replied Annie. "Jorge Amaroso said he wanted to remake the original, not just add another sequel to the franchise."
"And what director ever says, 'I'm just doing this film because I know everyone that saw the first eight movies will come see this one'? It's a slasher flick, no matter how much money he spent on it or how he dresses it up as a re-imagining or a reboot or whatever."
"What do you mean, dresses it up?"
"I mean they should have just called it 'Blood Picnic IX' and be done with it. 'Blood Picnic: Origins' sounds like a comic book."
"Look, did you see the trailer?"
"Sure, I watched it on YouTube, it looked great. They always put the best parts in the trailer. I saw the teaser last year; you know, the one that was just a campfire on a deserted beach? Practically everybody in the theater laughed when we figured out what movie it was about. 'Blood Picnic VIII' was so terrible, I still can't believe they're doing another one."
"That's just the point! This isn't going to be just another sequel. This one is going to be true to the original book!"
Marcus blinked. "There was a book?"
"Yes, you moron, of course there was a book, the book came first."
"Well... so what? It probably sucked."
"No, it didn't. It was actually pretty good. There was a lot of subplot that got left out when they made it into the original movie."
"Hold it, subplot? In 'Blood Picnic'? Give me a break."
"Seriously, the book is completely different. OK, OK, that's too strong, it's not completely different. The basic facts are there, Carl Scrimshaw is a psycho father driven to revenge against the people who hurt his daughter. The big thing though, is that in the book, she was his stepdaughter, and the father was actually one of the people sort of responsible for the boating accident. Or at least, he thought he might have been. That's a little unclear. I thought it was just bad writing, but after a while, I realized it was because the father wasn't sure. It was his stepdaughter, and he wasn't really sure he loved her, see? The guilt and uncertainty arising from that complicated parent/child relationship, mixed with his guilt over the accident is what drove him crazy, not simple rage. He went after them because it was a way for him to project the culpability away from himself."
"Project the culpability? You're bananas. This is 'Blood Picnic', not 'My Dinner With Andre' or 'Citizen Kane'. You know, scary teen slasher flick? Don't make it out to be more than it is, Annie."
"I'm talking about the book, not the first movie. In the book, it was a group of men and women, a bunch of bigwigs in the park commission who caused the boating accident. When the father goes after them, it comes across as the powerless fighting against the powerful. They took away that whole dynamic when they changed the victims into teenage girls for the movie."
"Because who wants to see a bunch of middle aged farts in bikinis, right?"
"Exactly. Didn't you ever wonder why the killings got more and more outrageous, more sadistic?"
"Well, I'm no student of culture, but I'm going to guess it was to heighten the tension? Or is that too obvious?"
"Ha ha. When you get to hear the inner voice of the father in the book, you realize that it's because he's trying to expiate his own remorse through murder, but it doesn't work. With each one he killed, his guilt and self-loathing grew, and he's driven to more and more extreme methods, trying to avoid admitting to himself that he's as much to blame as anyone. Finally, when he's run out of people to kill, he has to face his own conscience. His guilt drives him to kneel at his stepdaughter's bedside so he can confess and beg forgiveness for everything he's done."
"And so she can tear his throat out and possess him like a demon for the next seven slasher movies. Wow, Annie, that ranks right up there with the 'Illiad'."
She punched him in the shoulder. "They totally changed the ending! I'm not saying it's one of the great books, I'm saying there was more to it than just blood and screaming girls with big boobs."
Marcus started to say something, then, seeing Annie's scowl and crossed arms, changed his mind.
"Annie, come on, it's just a movie, OK? Or a book, whatever."
"It happens to be one of my favorite books."
He stared. "You're kidding, right? 'Blood Picnic'? I thought you liked Proust and Updike."
"Call it a guilty pleasure, alright? It was one of the first books I ever read that had an actual subtext. Yes, it's a stupid little book, and yes it's blood and gore and sex, but there are elements of a really good story in 'Blood Picnic'. I'm not saying it was the only book that led me to become a writer, but it was one of the books that helped me to understand that books can have layers. It made me think about writing something that gives the reader something new with a second or third read."
"So... if it was so good, why didn't any of that come into the movie?"
"The first 'Blood Picnic' movie was really low budget. Besides, you said it yourself. Who wants fat, middle aged complexity when you can have a bunch of stuffed bikinis?" Annie sighed. "I just wish Billy Divine had gone on to write more. I read a few of his other books, the ones that I could find, anyway. They were technially competent, I guess, but still pretty lousy, just slasher thrillers. I think he was a guy who might have been a good writer if he hadn't spent all his time on genre crap."
"Or maybe he only had one good book in him," Marcus said.
Annie took off her glasses and cleaned them, then said, "I don't believe in that. A writer has has many good books inside of her as she has the time and energy to write." She put her glasses back on, and the silence grew between them.
"Annie..." he said, "maybe Billy Divine was just a pen name. What if, once the writer developed his chops, he quit the slasher stuff and started writing real books?"
Her eyes widened.
Seeing her reaction, he said, "If that were the case, then maybe there's a bunch of great stuff out there by this guy, just waiting for you to discover." He smiled in an encouraging, hopeful way.
"You know..." she said, "I never thought of that."
Comments and constructive criticisms welcome. Other #FridayFlash pieces can be found here.
I still think so.
True, you have to wade through a bit of learned discourse, but as the echoing gravitas of academe is punctured halfway through with an off-stage callout, that's about as close as you can get to a pie in the face of pomposity.
The punchline is there.
You just have to read through to get to it.
Remember, this took place in 1986. Back before the advent of small, cheap digital cameras, it wasn't common practice to photodocument one's life. Taking a picture meant 35mm film in rolls of 24 exposures, 36 if you were a big shutterbug. Having that film developed was expensive enough that you didn't take pictures of just anything.
True, dancing with La Scala wasn't an everyday occurrence, but neither was it the first time I'd performed live before an audience of thousands. To be honest, it didn't occur to me to take any pictures backstage.
I can provide one bit of verisimilitude, though. You know how beautiful and graceful ballerinas look on stage, how ethereal and diaphanous? Well, when they are all lined up behind the curtain on stage right, waiting to use the rosin box, they're all business - they look like they're working.
And they smell like sweat and hairspray.
Take a look to learn about the anthologies and the editors, Jodi Cleghorn and Paul Anderson. Also, the links at the bottom let you get some background on the writers, many of whom will be familiar to you. As for my own biography page, if you ever wanted to know more about me - where I'm from, why I write the way I do, what I want to achieve as a writer, what I love about my favorite book - stop by the author page over at the Chinese Whisperings website.
The Red Book is on sale now; the Yin and Yang books will be on sale later this year.
Ultra Bit of Sweetness #2: In celebration of Valentine's Day, Textbroker.com has collected some love poems, written to celebrate punctuation marks - the exclamation point, the comma, and (my personal favorite) the semicolon. They were written by (respectively) Edward Truitt, Stacey Harwood, and yours truly, Tony Noland.
These poems were all winners in the National Punctuation Day 2009 contest hosted by Grammar Girl, and first appeared in her newsletter.
I'm really please to see the semicolon getting some love. Poor guy - I think that people stopped taking the semicolon seriously when smilies became commonplace. Who can take a punctuation mark seriously when it makes your sentences look like they're winking at the reader? Such a pity; the semicolon is the hallmark of complex thought and rich language.
by Tony Noland
Mr. William J. Smith
2280 W. Pine St.
Okemos, MI 48822
Mr. Charles Demereste
Demereste & Associates Literary Representation
76 W. 54th St., Suite 600
New York, NY 10027
September 18, 1975
I got your letter of August 29; I'm sorry it's taken me so long to respond. It's just that your discussion of a book tour to go with the release of "Blood Picnic" came as a surprise to me, especially after I thought I'd made myself plain. I had to give my response a lot of thought, since I'll admit, I was a little dismayed to hear that you'd already started making the bookings. I know that my position must sound a little crazy to you. I never expected Scribner's Sons to pick the book up and push it, certainly never expected them to make my appearing in public a non-negotiable.
It's not that I'm ungrateful or that I have anything other than the utmost confidence in you to make B.P. a rousing success. After all, you've been my agent for twenty six years. If I can't rely on you by now, we're both in trouble!
The fact is, Charlie, I need you to go back to Mr. Wilkins at Scribner and try one more time to get him to lighten up. Did you tell him that my face was burned when I was in fighting the Japs in '44? I never go out in public if I can help it. Kids laugh behind my back when I go to the grocery store; can you imagine me on a book tour? Hell, that's why I've never come to New York to meet with you. I simply cannot appear in public as Billy Divine. I hate to be a pill about this, but if he can make a non-negotiable, so can I. Don't think I won't walk away from this deal if appearing in public is a sine qua non. I'd hate to see the deal fall through and see you lose the commission, but there it is.
Even without a tour, B.P. will sell well enough to make them some money, you know that. All of his talk about it being a new age of acceptance of disability is BS. His line about authors needing to be in charge of their own publicity is BS, too. People want to meet Billy Divine, the author of the great thriller? Tell 'em tough rocks and be done with it. If Salinger can hole up someplace, why can't I? Yeah, yeah, I'm no Salinger, but Charlie, you have to work with me here.
I know this is the big break for both of us, but to be honest, Charlie, I'm not sure I want a big break at my age. Handle the details with Scribner as you see fit, but two things I won't budge on: no book tour and nobody - I mean NOBODY - finds out who Billy Divine is a pen name for. (It's a stupid name and I should have chosen something that didn't sound so obviously nom de plume-ish in the first place, but that's water over the dam.)
Charlie, that brings me to the main reason it took me so long to respond. I've decided to hang up my Underwood. I'll send off the final draft of "The Howell Beach Horror" by parcel post when I mail this letter. That will be my last book. We've always worked well together, Charlie, and you know how stubborn I can be. Don't try to talk me out of it. If B.P. does well, then H.B.H. will too, as will the whole backlist, the ones that are still in print, anyway.
In recognition of all of our years together, Charlie, I want you to up your commission from 15% to 25% for H.B.H and the future sale of anything on the backlist, including any future printings of B.P. Don't try to argue with me on that, either. You're a good man and you deserve it.
I'm not going to get all sloppy in this letter and tell you how much I appreciate everything you've done for me, or to thank you for taking a chance on an unknown rookie writer all those years ago. I'll save all that for later, after we sell H.B.H.
P.S. I'm serious, Charlie - no book tour, and NOBODY learns who I am! - Bill
In a small house in Okemos, Michigan, a man pulls a letter from his typewriter, stands and stretches. At the window, he watches the sun rise through a line of clouds, low on the horizon. As dawn slowly pinks the sky, he sighs.
Time to change agents again. He chides himself for being foolish with "Blood Picnic". Too good, damn it. If he'd skipped all the moral ambiguity and cut that final tearjerker scene with the stepdaughter, he could have avoided the literary overtones.
The key to staying safely in the obscurity of the mid-list is to keep the blood flowing and the tits showing, and leave it at that. From age to age, that's the kind of thing that gives a steady income without the risk of a best seller. After four hundred years of turning out penny dreadfuls, he should know that.
With the sun up and shining, he returns to the typewriter and feeds in a clean sheet of paper onto the platen. He consults a pad with some handwritten notes and begins to type.
Mr. W. James Smith
2280 W. Pine St.
Okemos, MI 48822
Mr. Andrew Horowitz
Horowitz, Klein and Goldstein
141 Arch St., Suite 232
Philadelphia, PA 19021
September 19, 1975
Dear Mr. Horowitz,
A beautiful young bride is possessed by the ghost of a woman long dead, a woman whose animal passions killed her. Now, once again in a fresh young body, she is free to indulge her desires, no matter how depraved. The bewildered husband of the innocent victim, unable to satisfy the passions of his demon-possessed lover, is shocked to be faced with the most awful of choices: share his demon bride with other men or see her destroyed. Can he find a way to free his love from the clutches of this horror of horrors?
This is the premise of "The Taking of Mrs. Jones", a supernatural thriller novel of approximately 80,000 words. The novel draws on my recent experiences in the more sordid parts of Vietnam, where I was injured in the service of my country. I believe the novel would appeal to young men of my own age.
I have taken the liberty of including the first five pages of the manuscript. May I ask your opinion of it? I am seeking representation for "The Taking of Mrs. Jones." It is my first novel, and I would value your opinion of its merits and commercial potential.
Please note that for the purposes of this novel, I am writing using the pen name "Daniel Cutlass". I have one additional supernatural thriller novel, nearly complete, written under the same name.
I look forward to hearing from you.
W. James Smith
The sequel to this story is "Truth Lies Beneath".
Comments and constructive criticisms welcome. Other #FridayFlash pieces can be found here.
The rules for the award are simple:
1. Thank the person who gave this to you.
2. Copy the logo and place it on your blog.
3. Link to the person who nominated you.
4. Tell up to six outrageous lies about yourself, and at least one outrageous truth - or - switch it around and tell six outrageous truths and one outrageous lie.
5. Nominate seven "Creative Writers" who might have fun coming up with outrageous lies.
6. Post links to the seven blogs you nominate.
7. Leave a comment on each of the blogs letting them know you nominated them.
Seven things about me, six lies and one truth:
1. During my brief stint with the U.S. Navy, I served on the USS Chicago, a nuclear attack submarine.
2. During my brief stint with the Michigan Legislature, I represented the city of Petoskey (Leelanau County) for a single term.
3. During my brief stint with Milan's La Scala ballet company, I danced Swan Lake.
4. During my brief stint with NASA, I once worked on the space shuttle Columbia (while it was on the ground).
5. During my brief stint with the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, I helped treat a constipated jaguarundi.
6. During my brief stint with a fertility clinic, I was invited to contribute a sample to the sperm bank (I declined).
7. During my brief stint with the St. Louis Cardinals organization, I had the opportunity to try to hit a ground ball past shortstop Ozzy Smith, future Baseball Hall of Famer whose career stats would include thirteen Golden Gloves. (I hit a short hopper toward second base, which Ozzy fielded easily.)
Which one of these is the truth?
And now, in a big twist, instead of nominating seven deserving
Leave a comment with a name and a link, and I'll gather them all up at some point in a future blog post as
Based on this data, I expect that this blog will receive its 3000th unique visitor about eight weeks from now. Thanks, everyone! I'm thrilled and gratified at the response to my scribblings, not to mention somewhat surprised.
I must think up something cool to celebrate. Whatever it is, there will be games and prizes. A grand prize worth 3000 cents, and other prizes to be determined.
However, today, I ran this blog, Landless, http://www.TonyNoland.com, through this website analyzer tool and came up with ESFP, Extroverted, Sensing, Feeling, Perceiving.
ESFP? WTF? STFU!
"They live in the present moment, and don't like to plan ahead"
Are you kidding? When you Google "ant grasshopper fable", there's a picture of me next to "ant". Never was there a more introspective, cautious, thoughtful and analytical guy!
So, I am left with three possibilities:
1. This blog is a complete sham. The personality that shines through it is utterly false, with no true relationship to who I truly am, which is the way I live my daily life.
2. My life is a complete sham. The personality that shines through it is utterly false, with no true relationship to who I truly am, which is the way I write on this blog.
3. This blog analyzer tool may or may not be a complete sham. I am a complex person with a complex personality. This blog, as an outlet for my more creative and lyrical efforts, shows one side of that personality, the most strongly ESFP side. The extent to which this is a small or large part of my overall personality can't be determined by an automated website analyzer.
1. COFFEE It's not just that I'm a caffeine addict. It's that a cup of coffee has a talismanic power. It says, "I will be here, in this spot, for at least as long as it takes me to drink this scaling hot coffee." The ABC method of writing (Apply Butt to Chair) demands this; to make ABC work, I demand coffee.
2. QUIET Oh, how many times have I read people's Top 10 playlists for writing. I've seen the endless debates about what is best to drown out the outside world: jazz, classical, easy listening, oldies that you know by heart, talk radio, a TV with the sound off, a TV turned to the weather channel, etc. My favorite music to write to? Silence. I've tried all kinds of sounds, but find them all too distracting. Unfortunately, silence is sometimes hard to come by. Earplugs were suggested yesterday; I've got some OSHA-quality ear protectors in my shop. I'll have to try them.
3. A DEADLINE Yes, I envy the self-motivated writer who turns out 2K a day, with no external pressures driving them. No, that's not me. When I'm writing to a deadline, the words come as they should. The weekly deadline of FridayFlash, the daily wordcounts of NaNoWriMo, the submission dates for contests or committments - these are easy to work within. The nebulous "I'll get it done someday" stuff? That turns into "never". How many times I've thrown my hat over the wall in order to set up an externality for myself! I know I need to be stronger about being internally motivated, about setting firm deadlines for myself - e.g. novel revisions finished by April 30 - but I'm not. Rather, I haven't been up to this point; I've got a few notions about how to change that.
Those are my three writing essentials. And you? What are you three essentials?
A few snapshots of Snowpocalypse 2010 (click on them to enlarge):
Snow on the air conditioner unit (ironic, no?)
My dog, Daisy, in a sheltered part of the yard.
What Daisy was looking at.
The gas & power company trucks parked in front of my house. If they shut off gas or power, I freeze to death. It was nice knowing all of you.
by Tony Noland
"Excuse me, Mr. Maverick? Casey Maverick?"
Knuckles whitened on the spoon's handle. Espresso swirled around it, arrested mid-stir.
"I'm sorry, I don't mean to interrupt you, Mr. Maverick, but I just had to tell you what a fan I am."
Withdrawn and laid aside, the spoon stained the saucer of the demitasse.
"I'm Richard Betz." The young man held out his hand; after a fractional pause, it was accepted.
"It's such a thrill to meet you; it's an honor to shake the hand of a such a great comedian!"
Betz stifled a giggle.
From his seat, the older man regarded Betz, the lines around his eyes deepening.
"Mr. Maverick, I apologize, I don't want to take up a lot of your time, but - may I sit? thanks - I've got a question that I really hope you can answer. See, I'd love to be able to do what you do."
"You mean you want to suffer?"
Betz bit his tongue and turned red as he nodded, his face contorting with the effort of self-control.
Finally, wiping his eyes, he said, "God, you are just amazing in person! No, I mean keep a straight face like that! How do you do that serious, flat-faced delivery without ever breaking it and smiling? You're better than Steven Wright or Buster Keaton. My friends tell me I'm a funny guy, you know, around the office and everything. They keep telling me I should do stand-up. I did it a few times on open mike nights, but I couldn't keep from cracking up. I thought maybe you might be willing to give me some pointers."
"So... you want to know how it is that I'm able to say such funny things without laughing?"
Betz couldn't help himself; his laughter snorts, and he took several breaths to calm himself. "Please?"
The comedian drummed his fingers on the table for a moment, then slid his espresso over to the the younger man.
"Here. You drink while I talk. It's already grown cold and someone might as well benefit from it."
"Ha! Benefit from it! That's classic! God, I can't believe I'm having an espresso with Casey Maverick!" Betz downed the cup eagerly and set it back on the saucer.
"Now then, young man, please don't interrupt me, and I'll tell you everything you want to know."
Betz made just one muffled squeak as his face widened into a huge grin.
"I've tried many times to tell people the truth, Mr. Betz. No one ever believes me. They just... laugh. I used to do that, too. I used to laugh all the time back when I was Kasimir Marveski. I was the funniest guy I knew, at least in my own mind. I thought my obscure little jokes were hysterical, even if no one ever laughed at them. That didn't stop me from telling them, from laughing at my own hilarity. I was a happy man, Mr. Betz."
He closed his eyes. When he reopened them, they were red and wet.
"Until, that is, my wife left me. It blindsided me completely. She said a lot of things on the way out the door, but what cut me the worst was what she said last: '... and your jokes aren't funny'. Those were her final words to me before the door slammed. 'Your jokes aren't funny'. I'll tell you the truth, Mr. Betz, it made no sense for me to latch onto that the way I did. I was in shock, I suppose, but the thought just echoed, back and forth. I got it framed in my mind somehow that if I were actually funny, she'd come back to me. So, when the devil appeared and offered to make it so, I signed the contract without a second thought. From that moment, everything I said would be funny."
Betz's eyebrows twitched and his grin widened fractionally.
"You don't believe me," the older man said. "But it's true. The problem is, Mr. Betz, Satan has his own sense of humor. Did you know that? Not ten minutes after my blood was dry on the contract, the police called. At the morgue, they started giggling around me as I identified her body. At the mortuary, they snickered as I made the arrangements. When I spoke at her funeral, they roared. After someone posted a video of it on YouTube, I couldn't escape the publicity.
"In the end, I had to leave my position at the university. You can't teach if no one takes you seriously, if they interrupt every lecture with giggles and guffaws. Fortunately, all the agents who'd seen the video made it easy to get work as a comedian. All I had to do was open my mouth. It didn't matter what I said. The agents negotiated the contracts for the stand-up gigs, the Comedy Central specials, the movies. I grew famous, we all grew rich, and my soul shriveled a little more each day."
He put his hands together, fingers interlaced.
"My mother died two days ago, Mr. Betz. I am expected to give the eulogy at her memorial service on Friday. I don't think I can face that again. That's why I came here and loaded up my espresso with puffer-fish poison, what they call tetrodotoxin."
He sat in the silence, drumming his fingers. He looked at the wide, rictus grin on Betz's face, the saliva leaking from the corner of his mouth. After a little while, the old man stood, put a few bills on the table and picked up his hat and newspaper.
"But you know what's strange? I feel better for having had a chance to tell someone the truth, to talk about it without being interrupted with laughter." He patted his admirer on the shoulder. "You're a good listener, Mr. Betz. A good listener."
Comments and constructive criticisms welcome. Other #FridayFlash pieces can be found here.
Note: Special thanks to Anastasia M. Ashman of Istanbul, Turkey, for being my muse this week. This story grew out of one of her tweets. Sen, Anastasia ederim!
... and now, for a bit of a departure from writing, fiction and related matters. (Click on any image to enlarge.)
Do you cook? Cook well enough to require good tools? Then you know the frustration of trying to keep both of your professional quality, high-carbon steel 8-inch chef's knives ready for use at a moment's notice ...
when conventional knife blocks only have one large slot.
Do you keep one of them in a drawer, where the edge can get nicked? Hell, no!
This looks like a job for...
As you know, every geek has a couple of dead hard drives lying around. S/he doesn't throw these away because geeks never throw anything away!
Pull the drive apart and get the lower fixed read-head drive magnet.
Affix this to the top of the knife block.
The second chef's knife will grip hard against the powerful neodymium magnet. If you have more knives, the sides present more space for more magnets.
Problem solved, thanks to WriterGeek!TM
(Note that WriterGeek!TM always attaches the knife to the magnet with the blade facing AWAY from the user. Safety first, kids!)
I am pleased and honored to learn that Jen Brubacher at Scribo ergo sum nominated me for the Prolific Blogger Award, and said some very nice things about me besides. Thanks, Jen!
As it happens, this is my 250th post to this blog. What could be more appropriate than to celebrate such an occasion with an award for being prolific?
The Award rules require that I pass the Award on to my fellow bloggers. Of the many wonderful bloggers I read, follow and generally wish I more closely resembled, I must select only seven. I would like to present the Prolific Blogger Award to:
Weronika Janczuk. Weronika is a young writer whose drive and dedication is an inspiration to this older writer.
JR Peck, Geeks in Action. JR runs several blogs where he reviews books, writes code, fights the good fight and keeps the faith.
Dan Powell. Dan's stories are consistently top notch, and always on the must read list.
Carrie Clevenger, Mindspeak. Carrie combines great writing with an irreverent sense of humor and a split personality.
Alan Baxter, The Word. Alan's blog is not only interesting and insightful, it is also of lasting cultural significance. (But you don't have to take my word on that... just ask him about it.)
Emma Newman, Post-Apocalyptic Publishing. Emma is a dedicated and creative writer, and is a delightful person to boot.
Maria Protopapadaki-Smith, Mazzz in Leeds. Maria's fiction is finely crafted; it goes down like a glass of high-octane rum punch.
You can read and follow any of these guys, and you'll be better off for having done so.
However, I had a fairly serious setback at the end of last week which reset the clock back to zero. More like -2, to be honest, since a) I no longer had the abdominal marocaine pump, and b) I ran out of vicodin.
Yum, yum, yum.
I expected this whole thing to be a character-building experience. I didn't really expect that to be quite so eye-wateringly true. I'm just glad I took notes on what it felt like (and looked like). Having spun all of that into gold, I'm sure I'll be able to give it to the king at some point so he can use it somehow.
All in all, I felt like deep-fried shit on Friday and Saturday, and have been on a slow upwards curve since. Today is the first day I've been out of bed since then. I was able to take a shower and I made it downstairs. Go me. Also, I've been able to leave my chair for two (count them, TWO) trips to the kitchen.
In preparation for this recovery time hiatus from normal life, I expected that I'd be reading books, working on that backlog of New Yorkers and writing up a storm.
I watch movies, read flash fiction, mess around on the internet, do sudoku and crossword puzzles. I filled out a lot of paperwork about myself for an upcoming writing project, and set up a Facebook page in conjunction.
Today, in my new surroundings - living room instead of bedroom - I grabbed my muse by the throat and shook her until she came across with a story for this Friday. It's written, revised and slotted in.
The story is crap, but what can I do?
Tomorrow will be better than today, and next week will be better still.
The voting will last for a month, after which time the winner will get promotion via EU and Smashwords, top billing in an anthology and $500. Forty-nine runners-up will fill out the book.
The recognition would be nice, and the $500 would be nice, too.
Really, though, I entered as a lark, and wrote something that is erudite and insightful while simultaneously clever and funny.
Or at least I think so. Of course, I thought that about my campaign platform for class president in my senior year of high school. I understood and respected the significance and traditions involved, but I really thought that everyone needed to lighten up about it.
In the end, I got the ten signatures necessary to get on the ballot. In the actual voting, I got three votes - mine, and my two mates who got the joke.
What's the difference here, you ask?
The difference is, that was before the Internet was available for civilian use. Now I have a blog, with all of the immense, world-spanning power and influence that comes with it.
Cheers, everyone, and don't forget... vote for me!
UPDATE: Out of curiosity, does it make me a jerk that I didn't just ask you to go vote, but to vote it UP? Feel free to leave anonymous comments.
UPDATE #2: Sigh. I see that my essay sank from "Average" to "Bad". With luck, I will stay above "Terrible", but I'm not going to bet anything on that. The math indicates that a solid coterie of voters were quick to vote it down. Automatic (but probably incorrect) conclusion: I suck, and I was a fool to think I could be a writer. Secondary (and probably closer to accurate) conclusion: You can't win 'em all.