This writing challenge was a lot of fun, and I enjoyed doing it all in uninterrupted dialogue.
Click on over and read all the entries, which include some familiar names like John Wiswell, Laurita Miller and Laura Eno among others.
by Tony Noland @TonyNoland
This science fiction adventure ran as a serial on Twitter, March 24-26, 2010. Each episode was posted hourly, around the clock, tracked by the hashtag #run. This was an experiment in 24/7 engagement, author to reader. Did you see it on Twitter? Did it work? Feel free to leave a comment, brief or extensive, to let me know what you thought of the content, form or logistics. Suggestions for future serials are welcome.
Update: A special tip of the hat to @Doublelattemama and to @FutureNostalgic for their enthusiastic support of this story with RTs and the #runpancakes hashtag on Sunday, March 28, 2010. PJ and Sam, thank you!
#run The sole of my right shoe flaps with every stride. I hadn't wanted to run barefoot so soon, but so be it. At least I'll be quieter.
#run I push the shoes into a snowdrift. The spies won't be able to get anything from them. The bugs are strictly intramuscular.
#run Rock salt digs into my heels, even through the calluses. Road crews must have been out prepping for the ice storm.
#run I've been running since midnight, but now I've got a strong, icy tailwind. Only another 35 miles to go. The wind chill feels great.
#run I know I won't really need to eat for another couple of days, but the habits of a lifetime are hard to break, even now. I miss coffee.
#run The gallon of molasses and rum I drank is keeping the bugs happy, thank God. So much easier and faster than eating four jars of jam.
#run I should get off this road before the sleet gets much worse. I don't want to be seen by someone pretending to be a simple jogger.
#run Gasping, grunting as they run, pushing through the pain of the wall, getting that sweet rush of a second wind. I remember it all.
#run The poisonous buildup of lactic acid in muscles pushed past the brink of failure - burning, tearing pain. I remember that, too.
#run Now, when it's too late, when I can't feel either pleasure or pain when I run, I wish yet again that I'd never taken that contract.
#run It was natural that they came to me. How many molecular biophysicists are also mammalian physiologists who run marathons?
#run Such a ridiculous idea. Nineteen separate grant proposals rejected! And then came the Army, with gobs of money and infinite patience.
#run "Sure, I can make your soldiers tireless and unstoppable. What's holding them back is how their muscles work." God, what a fool I was.
#run If the money had come from a company, they would have wanted results sooner, and I never would have been able to do it.
#run The nanoengineered retroviruses worked as my simulations predicted. Only on the forty-first round of testing on mice, but regardless.
#run The necropsies showed the virally-enhanced streptococci had invaded all of the muscles, and were happily degrading the lactic acid.
#run Without any buildup of metabolic toxins, the muscles could go at 140% forever, or until the cells started to tear themselves apart.
#run As long as their blood supplied their muscles with glucose and oxygen, the mice could happily run four mouse-marathons in a row.
#run Invasion of the cardiac muscle was a surprise, but their improved hearts turned out to be a complementary, even synergistic mutation.
#run Synergistic coordination of degradation. It amazes me that I used to talk like that. I had no idea what that would really mean.
#run The mice were willing, even eager to run for hours and hours. I was blind. I paid no attention to that eagerness, that compulsion.
#run Army doctors didn't understand what I'd done and were skeptical about the results. If only I hadn't been so arrogant, gotten so angry!
#run It was so childish, injecting myself with the culture, just so I could show them it worked on humans. I had no idea what I was doing.
#run None of the mice had shown any notable discomfort, let alone the kind of incredible agony that makes you wish for death.
#run Every muscle in my body, even the little ones in my feet, pulsing and throbbing like I'd been dipped in flaming kerosene.
#run When it stopped, it was like turning off a switch. I expected to be sore for days from those horrible muscle cramps. Instead… nothing.
#run That first run afterwards, the one I took to clear my head - that was like a dream. Ten miles in fifty-five minutes, and I felt great!
#run I was itching to show those smug Army guys how well it had worked, hungry to prove myself. Itching and hungry - that's how it started.
#run I was ravenous, but I vomited everything up. Steak, salad, even the toast and coffee. It was the last coffee I ever had…
#run The only thing that tasted good was maple syrup with vodka. I had five. My gut churned, but I felt no pain. Just the itch to run.
#run They doubted me, said they'd cut the funding. I blew off steam with fifteen miles in the morning, another eighteen that afternoon.
#run I know I sounded crazy in the final conference call. I was on my cell, talking as I ran. The itch was so bad, how could I *not* run?
#run My heart ached, my legs burned unbearably. Initially, a steady pace of 160 beats per minute scratched the itch. Then it took 170.
#run The sun rises, blocked by a thick mass of sleet-heavy clouds over my shoulder. My training watch says 205 bpm. Another 24 miles to go.
#run Every runner I see - they're all Army spies. They think I don't know that they're watching me, waiting for me to stop. But I know.
#run There's one, heavily swathed against the sleet. She stares at my bare feet, T-shirt and shorts as I sprint past. She is one of theirs.
#run No Army simpleton is going to pretend not to believe me, then take credit for my work! I burned down the lab at the University. Ha!
#run My order from the wholesaler arrived yesterday. Fourteen pallets of Briar Rose Black Molasses, thirty cases of generic 151 rum.
#run I have everything I need. Glucose, alcohol and space to run, to work, to sweat, to give the bugs the lactic acid they need.
#run The sleet is so thick now, I can barely see. The road is so slippery, I feel like I'm swimming. Faster… I have to go faster!
#run I'm right here, jerkface - get on your own side of the road. Hey, look out, you fool, look out! LOOK OUT!
#run Ahhh… what happened?… Blood? A car?... I have to get out of this ditch, must get up, must run, must… where is my left leg?
#run Somebody, please help me… no, not the blood, I have to get up… the pain is unbearable… the itching… please - help me run… please…
This concludes "The Running Bug". For more fiction, visit http://www.TonyNoland.com #run
I really do want to know what you think, so please feel free to comment, ask a question, make a suggestion for next time, anything at all. Thanks!
hundred stories in various genres (a handful of which were published),
a dozen novel outlines (most of which were shelved after 10-15K of
actual prose), two novels at ~50K completed first draft stage.
But no finished novel.
I think it's time I faced the fact that I haven't finished a novel -
"finished" being defined as "written, re-written, edited, re-edited &
polished" - for one simple reason. It's not that I don't have time
(although I never have enough), or ideas or skills sufficient.
It's that I'm scared.
I'm not nearly so bold and confident a writer as I pretend to be. [Oh,
don't act so surprised. I'm as human as you are.]
The first stuff I wrote was lousy, but at the time I thought it was
great. I still feel the need to apologize to everyone on whom I
forced my first NaNoWriMo effort. Having recognized that I needed to
develop my skills, I stepped back to the short story, then to flash.
While I can't claim to have mastered the flash form, I can be
confident that I'm pretty good at it. So, now that I've gotten good at
driving around on quiet suburban streets, it's time to get out into
real traffic. If you never buck up enough courage to get onto the
freeway, you will forever be stuck in the sticks.
Everywhere that's interesting, enlightening or fascinating requires
movement in order to get there.
I think it's time to quit screwing around.
Follow me on Twitter: @TonyNoland
Just Enough Power
by Tony Noland
Two inches of twenty year old scotch in a chipped glass. A twelve dollar cigar brought to life with a disposable plastic lighter. Aderesto "The Acrobat" Vincelli's big leather chair groaned as he leaned back. He squinted through the first clouds of gray-blue smoke at the woman in front of him. Unlike so many who had been on that hard wooden stool, she wasn't hiding utter terror with a pretense of calm. Her hands, her eyes, her neck: these told the Acrobat that she wasn't pretending. She truly wasn't scared, not of him nor of Benny's 9mm.
Which meant she was either crazy or powerful. The uncertainty was her protection for the next three minutes.
"Sounds like a load of crap to me."
She inclined her head before responding, as though he'd merely voiced an opinion instead of a death sentence.
"Oh? I'm surprised you take that position."
"Shut the fuck up. I had you scanned before you were brought in here, you know that?"
"I assumed as much."
"Then don't try to bullshit me. I know you got nothing. No weapons, either external or internal. No psi-booster circuitry, no nanotech, no artifacts of any kind. So don't tell me you're some kind of messenger assassin when you got nothing to do your killing with."
She nodded. "I see."
"Well? Is that all you got to say? Tell me why I shouldn't duct tape your face and give you to my boys for a week before I send what's left of you back to Meng-Shiu and tell him what he can do with his 'message', whatever it is."
"It's my job to deliver Mr. Tong's message. As it happens, I do have one minor native Talent."
One second later, Benny's nine was up and against her temple, pushing her head slightly to the right.
The tip of the Acrobat's cigar brightened and dimmed.
"Bullshit. The scanners would have spotted any significant concentration of native Talent organelles."
She shrugged with her eyebrows, not moving her head."Like I said, it's a very minor Talent, a rudimentary form of shielding."
Benny's finger pressed against the trigger, held taut and steady.
"Again, I call bullshit. If you had power sufficient to project a bulletproof shield, I'd know it."
"Oh, it's not bulletproof, not even close. However, it's more than strong enough for me to do my job."
The Acrobat's eyes flicked and Benny pulled the trigger. The guide rod shot forward on its spring and the firing pin struck, coming within one sixty-fourth of an inch of the round in the chamber. The impact made an echoing musical note, like that of a small bell rung at the bottom of a lake. The thug drew back his arm to smash the useless pistol across the bridge of her nose. His own momentum carried him backwards as the nerve impulses at the base of his brain met a barrier they could not cross. He hit the floor, twitching.
The woman stood gracefully, taking a moment to watch Benny's eyes widen and weep as his heart and lungs lost their coordination. To her side, the soft ringing echoed as the Acrobat pulled the trigger of the .38 revolver he'd yanked from his desk drawer. He threw the gun at her and missed. Ducking down, he stabbed again and again at the red alarm button under his desk, but the contacts would not close, the signals would not travel down the wires.
She stepped over Benny's twitching soon-to-be-corpse and came around the desk. The Acrobat had stopped moving. His head flopped over as he looked up at her.
"You're a healthy man, Mr. Vincelli. Even after I've finished paralyzing you from the waist down, in all likelihood you'll live another ten or fifteen years. Of course, you won't be aware of them. I'm also going to pinch off the blood supply to some of the more important centers of your brain. In a few minutes, you won't be able to process language, recognize faces or build long-term memories anymore. All of this will be accomplished with a single stroke, if you'll forgive the pun." She smiled.
Around a mouthful of drool, the Acrobat mumbled, "... kill me... instead..."
"I'm afraid I can't do that. Mr. Tong's instructions were quite specific about the message I'm to send."
Intelligence fading, his eyes formed the last question he would ever have the capacity to ask.
"Oh, the message isn't for you. It's for Mr. Tong's other competitors, the ones of actual significance. You are the message, one they'll be able to contemplate for a good long time. Goodbye, Mr. Vincelli."
Alas, when I composed the blog post, although the text in the screenshots was very blurry, you could just barely make out what it said. So, in the interests of keeping things secret until the book comes out later this year, no screenshots.
However, I will say that my first draft was 5000 words, which I cut to 4800, then to 4300. That's what I sent to Jodi. Notwithstanding the fact that she felt my text was "tight" and the dialogue "mesmerizing" (ahem: woot.), Jodi cut it to 4100, with suggestions for more cuts and a target of 3650. I'm now at 3747 and will try to shave off another 100 before returning it to Jodi.
As promised, it's not just dialogue, dialogue, dialogue. Somebody vomits, too.
UPDATE: Finished the cuts and edits, ending this round at 3636 words. Go me! What a remarkably kick-ass story this is!
Any flash genre acceptedLook for it to appear next week on his website, "Not from here, are you?"
All entries MUST be 500 words or less
All entries MUST incorporate these five words: Queasy, Alarming, Beast, Patronize, Avoid
n.b. If my story appears on April 1, know that it's not a joke. I meant every word of it.
by Tony Noland
UPDATE: This story has been published in the anthology, "100 Stories for Queensland", a collection published in 2011 to benefit the victims of devastating floods. You can find all the information necessary here.
Believe me, you want to go buy this anthology, not just because it's in service of a really good cause, but because my story is really sexy and funny. You should buy the book for my story alone. Seriously. Don't believe me? Just read the comments to get an idea of what I'm talking about.
Over on Jim Wisneski's Soft Whisperings is a special anthology for today, "The UnLuck of the Irish". It features plenty of dark and disturbing twists on Irish folklore, including one by yours truly, entitled "What the Wind Knows, It Cannot Tell".
by Tony Noland
Half a sausage pizza and seven beers into the evening, Peters was bored. He put a DVD into his laptop, adjusted his headphones and started to watch a sermon on forgiveness and tolerance. He fast-forwarded, skipping to the middle.
“- for then as for now. Jesus was speaking to you! Reaching out over the centuries to put these words in YOUR heart! In today’s reading from Luke, the thirteenth chapter, Jesus tells a story of a tree that produces no good fruit. So what does the master do? He orders the gardener to cut it down, stop wasting the soil, get a better tree in there. He wants a return on his investment, doesn’t he?Peters paused the DVD, Pastor Jim Dennet frozen on-screen, open-mouthed and sweaty. The guy had more charisma than three politicians. These inspirational DVD sold plenty; between them, the books and subscribers to the newsletters and websites, Dennet’s ministries made more than thirty million dollars a year.
But the gardener says, no sir, give that tree another chance, sir. I’ll feed it, and water it and take care of it, sir. Give it another chance, sir, another chance to produce. If it does, well and good. If not? Zip! Onto the fire! Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, when you hear that story, where are YOU? Where are YOU in that story?
I know what you’re going to say, you’ll say, Pastor Jim, that’s an easy one! I’m that sad and sorry tree, the one that’s letting everyone down. The master is God who’s ready to cut me down, and the gardener is Jesus who’s come to redeem and save me. And if I don’t do good, zip! Onto the fire I’ll go! And I’ll say good for you, that’s a good interpretation.
But hold the phone! I say, hold the phone just a minute, brothers and sisters. Is that all this gospel has for you? Not at all! There is more to this than meets the eye! What if you aren’t the tree? What if you, and I mean YOU, born a sinner the same as I was, what if YOU... are the gardener? What if Jesus is asking YOU to step up and feed your fellow man? Feed him and protect him and support him? To hold him accountable, sure, but to begin... with love?
Or what if YOU are the master? After all, what did the master do? He called it like he saw it, and was all set to do the right thing according to the world's values, the correct thing, the profitable thing! But what did he end up doing? Why, he stayed his hand! He tempered justice... with mercy. Mercy, brothers and sisters! He listened to the gardener who said, oh, no, give this poor wretched sinner of a tree just one more chance! The master turned aside from a straight profit and loss mentality, a return on investment mentality, a worldly mentality and accepted the notion of mercy that the gardener offered.
Don’t you see, brothers and sisters? We find so much in the Gospels if we only open our hearts to Jesus and let him –“
He looked over at Dennet's daughter, finally asleep on the bed. He'd give it another twelve hours, then call again with the next set of instructions.
He reached into the cooler for another beer.
Comments and constructive criticisms welcome. Other #FridayFlash pieces can be found here.
“You can do anything you want, but you can’t do everything you want.” – Anon.
There is no shortage of writing advice out there. Books, websites, blogs a’plenty will give you all of the secrets of writing success. How to boost your productivity, improve your focus, raise your quality, etc., etc. One of the chestnuts I’ve come across more than once is “avoid skipping around genres”. Pick a genre and stick with it. If you write sweet and sappy, your readers will come to expect sweet and sappy. You need to keep writing sweet and sappy (and ONLY sweet and sappy) to develop a following.
If you should ever write anything weird and spacey, or sexy and scary, or (God forbid) something gruesome and ugly, you’ll just piss everyone off and alienate your readers. Your original readers will abandon you and you won't get any new ones because your body of work is too inconsistent.
Disembodied Voice of Reason: “Whoa, Tony, hold on, you really went off the rails there. Are you OK?”
Tony Noland: “Fine! I’m fine! Never better!”
DVR: “You don’t sound fine.”
TN: “I'm just getting a little frustrated with conflicting advice. I asked about writing in multiple genres in an #agentchat on Twitter. I got opposite advice from two different agents. I should say, from two people who identified themselves as agents. I’m trying to find my way as a writer, trying to find my voice, whatever the hell that means. I'd like to avoid making rookie mistakes that I'll just have to spend a bunch of time and energy correcting later on.”
DVR: “I know you, Tony. You want to avoid making any mistakes at all. That damned 'zero defects' standard of yours has gotten you into more trouble than your smart mouth. Regardless, what’s your problem here?”
TN: “The problem is that I’ve written a bunch of different stories in different genres, and several of them have gone over pretty well.”
DVR: “Why is that a problem? I would have thought you’d be happy with a positive response to your fiction.”
TN: “I am! It’s just that I don’t want to write in just one genre all the time. I get lots of ideas, see? Some of them are happy, some sad, some kind of scary or ugly. I don’t want to be pigeonholed.”
DVR: “Has that been a problem? Are people upset because you’re put up different types of writing?”
TN: “Not exactly, but every now and then someone says something like, ‘Tony, if you wrote stuff like this [i.e. this genre] all the time, I’d come back more’ or ‘Tony, you are very, very good at [specific genre], you should write more of it’ or ‘Gee, Tony, this is so much better than that [other genre] story you wrote last week, this is your true calling’. It just makes me worry that I get too many people who read one or two stories, but don’t come back because they get turned off by a story that’s not what they were expecting.”
DVR: “So, you aren’t happy with the loyalty of your readership? Or is it the growth rate of your readership?”
TN: “I’m just worried that I’m doing this wrong!”
DVR: “Doing what wrong? What exactly are you concerned about?”
TN: “Just… everything! All that advice that says don’t switch genres!”
DVR: “What advice? You mean the stuff at the top of this blog post?
Pick a genre and stick with it. If you write sweet and sappy, your readers will come to expect sweet and sappy. You need to keep writing sweet and sappy (and ONLY sweet and sappy) to develop a following. If you should ever write anything weird and spacey, or sexy and scary, or (God forbid) something gruesome and ugly, you’ll just piss everyone off and alienate your readers.That advice?”
TN: “Yes, that advice. Look at me, look at this blog, then look at that advice, and tell me I’ve got nothing to worry about!
DVR: “You’ve got nothing to worry about.”
TN: “Oh, thanks a lot. That helps tremendously, really, it does.”
DVR: “Relax, Shakespeare. Two things, OK? First, that advice is passed around by agents who are thinking of the marketability of their authors, not their creativity. It’s not intended to be a straightjacket to prevent you from exploring your writing wherever your imagination takes you. Some writers work exclusively in one color: butterfly-pastels, FM-red, bone bruise-purple or some other shade. Others jump around. One kind of writer isn’t necessarily better or more noble or talented than another. It’s just that people are different. If you want to write different things, why not?”
TN: “But the logic of that doesn’t hold up. If sticking to one genre supports the marketability of the writer, then by posting my variety of stories here, I’m working against myself!”
DVR: “Ah, that brings me to point number two. You aren’t understanding the advice properly.”
TN: “I’m not?”
DVR: “No. The advice shouldn’t be taken to read, ‘write only in one genre’. The advice is actually, ‘publish only in one genre’. They’re talking about publications. Putting stuff up on your own blog doesn't count. Have you published any of these stories?”
TN: “Well, a couple of them.”
DVR: “So don’t worry about it. This is a playground, for you to have fun and get some exercise. Finding your voice means getting comfortable with writing prose that sounds like YOU, not like you trying to channel Wodehouse or Asimov or Trollope or McPhee. You need some time and space to do that, to work out what direction you want to go in. You can write whatever you want; this advice applies only to material you’re publishing. Writing and publishing are two different things.”
TN: “So… I don’t need to worry about genre hopping until I want to publish my books?”
DVR: “Exactly. Even then, you can still write whatever you want; just give it some time and sit on the material that’s outside of your main racket. Publish it later, after you’re so famous with one kind of writing that the genre switch will be taken as a sign of your genius and flexibility, instead of a sign of your inability to concentrate.”
TN: “Wow. I guess I never thought about it that way before. I really shouldn’t stress out about this stuff so much, huh?”
DVR: “It’s OK, Tony. It just shows that you care, that you’re interested in doing good work.”
TN: “Interested, or obsessed?”
DVR: “Heh, you said it, buddy, not me.”
A few weeks ago, I started perusing some of the magazines listed at Duotrope’s Digest and I came across several magazines and online sites that admonish writers to avoid O. Henry endings.It's an informative article; go check it out.
The first one or two times I saw this warning, I didn’t take much notice. But then as I began to see the same message over and over, I tried to interpret its meaning. I wanted to be sure that I wasn’t violating some sort of unwritten – or, in some cases, written – rule with my stories.
5. Reconsider the “Please comment!” request. “People are happy to comment on my fiction; less so on other posts/articles,” says writer and blogger Tony Noland. “My opinion and an open question helps prompt discussion. On fiction, I state clearly that comments and constructive criticism are welcome – such as on The Green Fields of Home." He adds that on other posts he’s not as overt, and thinks it seems desperate to say, ‘Please comment!’”The other 7 tips are quite useful, too. Check them out.
Bear in mind, I make no claims to be an expert in how to get readers to comment on posts. All I can do is put up quality content, let people know about it and create conditions conducive for commenting.
Is that enough? Or should I do more? Would more encouragement to comment be inviting or annoying?
NOTE: I don't even know why I feel it necessary to point out that there's a joke at the end up there. You guys should be familiar with my sense of humor by now.
by Tony Noland
Eleven dead flies lay on the floor in front of the judge. Charlie Lund figured they were real, though no one else noticed them. Well, someone else might have noticed them, but had pretended not to. People frequently pretended not to see things, even things that were really, truly there. The more uppity the person, the more likely it was they would pretend not to see.
The flies made a kind of a pattern on the floor, with glowing blue and green lines connecting them. The lines were Not-Real, so they were all for him; he was sure no one else could see them. The lines jiggled in time with the voice of the lawyer They'd given him.
Popping and slipping, the lines moved from fly to fly like an electric connect-the-dots. At first they made different shapes dancing among the tiny corpses. After a bit, they settled down, the green lines making a bent sort of "C" and the blue lines that wove among them making a lopsided "L". He thought that was pretty funny, that the dead flies were spelling out his initials with their glowing lines.
It was like they were cheering him on, his own private fan club, shouting his name out in their buzzing little dead fly voices. He smiled at that, but the judge looked at him when he did. After that, he didn't smile, but used his paying-close-attention face. He looked from his lawyer to the judge and back, and only watched the cheering dead flies sidelong like.
The judge was a woman. That was the capper as far as Charlie was concerned. That was just the absolute cherry on top. It was bad enough he had a lawyer who was probably a fag. There had to be a dozen judges who could have sat as the head of his parole board, maybe a hundred. He knew why They had made sure he got a whore for a judge and a fag for a lawyer. It was because They liked seeing him squirm; he was a danger to Them and They knew it. He could see Them among normal people and he knew how much of society They controlled. They wanted him to crack, stay locked away. Well, he would show Them this time.
He would be cool cool cool, and he would get out. And then things would be different. Oh, yes. Very different.
Silence stretched out; the judge was waiting for him to speak. Charlie pursed his lips and got to his feet. As he did, the dead flies lifted up from the floor, swooping and calling his name. He was thrilled that they were Not-Real, too. Charlie faced the judge and folded his hands, holding his smile inside as the dead flies crawled all over the judge's snotty bitch face. The glowing strands flowing from them braided themselves into a spiky noose around her neck. The flies were chanting his name, saying Charlie-Charlie-pull-the-noose-tight, Charlie-Charlie-pull-the-noose-tight...
But he couldn't do that. Not here. Not yet. Not until later, after he found out where the judge lived.
With his serious-but-really-sorry look firmly fixed, Charlie drew a deep breath and began to ask for his freedom.
Comments and constructive criticisms welcome. Other #FridayFlash pieces can be found here.
Don't wait! Go hug a grammarian today! If you don't, you'll look back with regret; the time that you would have been spending doing so will have been worth it!
This result puts me near the bottom of the field. I'd hoped to do better, but as of this writing, the essay got 559 views. Even if I assume that 70% (well, OK, 85%) of the people who read it think that I'm a no-talent hack (or worse), that still leaves a hundred people on the good side. That kind of exposure is a decent enough ROI for this contest.
Scoring/ranking by the community is part of the judging process. Winners will be announced later this week.
I offer my congratulations to the eventual winner, the runners-up and to everyone who participated.