#FridayFlash: The Girl at the Window

The Girl at the Window

by Tony Noland

Tommy Arken was in no position to curse anyone, not with Mr. Holsopple in such a bad mood and looking right at him. After making them run ten laps around the gym, that fat, smelly old man had them doing wind sprint relay races. Holsopple had already yelled at Tommy once, called him a lazy pantywaist in front of the whole class. Tommy would have cursed him with two hundred fifty-six, the square of a square of a square, but Holsopple kept looking over at him. He had no choice but to keep his head down and run. He would curse his classmates later, the ones who had laughed, anyway.

With a lunge, he handed his orange plastic baton to Danny Rickman, who took off back towards the other side of the gym. Tommy stood with the other boys on his team, breathing hard. He would join in the yelling when he caught his breath. His side hurt and he was swallowing lots of spit. He darned near threw up with all the running, yet another reason to put a curse on Holsopple.

Holding his side, Tommy stared hard at Holsopple, focusing on him for nine heartbeats, a small curse. If he'd gone for sixteen or twenty five, Holsopple would have noticed and probably yelled at him again. He didn't want to risk accidentally blessing the fat jerk by having to stop on a prime number before he'd reached a square.

He looked away after delivering his curse and saw a girl at one of the windows on the east wall. Up until this year, the boys and girls had all done gym together; now, in fifth grade, for some reason the girls all had gym with Ms. Willot and the boys were all with Holsopple. Tommy squinted at the girl, but he couldn't tell who it was because she was backlit through the windows, hidden in her own shadow. What was she doing? Just watching the boys do gym class?

As he looked at her, she shifted position. Her half-turn allowed the sunlight to frame her, and he recognized Sally Worrel's smooth face and dark eyebrows. Their eyes met and for a moment, she just gazed in at him. Then, peering through the glass, her small, pink mouth spread into a smile. Without realizing what he was doing, Tommy straightened up and smiled back.

"ARKEN!" Tommy jumped as Holsopple's bellowed snarl resounded over the boys' cheering. "Quit preening for your girlfriend! Thirty laps, Arken, move! Now, lover boy, move it!" The entire class went silent, then erupted in laughter and catcalls.

His face burning, Tommy saw Sally disappear from the window. Amid the jeering and whistles, he turned to start running his laps, his eyes on the gym floor in front of him. He fixed an image of Holsopple in his mind, concentrating as hard as he could. He started counting to two hundred fifty-six, hoping a mental image was enough to make the curse stick.

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How to blog effectively: a guide for writers

Over at There Are No Rules, Jane Friedman recently discussed something near and dear to my own heart: "Why Start A Website Or Blog If You Have Nothing To Promote?"

Excellent question. Here's my answer: even though I have nothing to promote yet, I expect to at some point. When that day comes, it would sure be nice if I weren't a rookie at the whole online presence thing. I started this blog for practice running a blog, as an outlet for my writing, and as a way to interact with and learn from other writers.

As I read Jane's article, it turns out these are all valid reasons. Am I lucky or innately shrewd? There's no way of knowing... or is there?

One of the latter parts of that article includes a list of suggestions for "What do you put on your site or blog when you have no book?" That's a decent set of metrics, so let's see if I've been doing this right, shall we?
* Do not write about the writing & publishing process, unless you have some very unique insights, or a very unusual spin/voice.
Verdict: FAIL I'm just a guy trying to dish up an extra-large bucket of awesome prose, with an occasional side of equally-awesome poetry. However, part of what I do here is to talk about the writing process. When I get some more info on publishing, I'll probably talk about that too. Is any of it unique? Nope. My struggles with craft, motivation, finding time to write and overcoming fears and doubts are no different than yours.

I might sometimes wax eloquent on the basics of writing, but it's too much of a stretch to call my insights or spin unique or unusual.
* Unless you are the most boring person on earth, you have passions and interests that aren't tied to writing & publishing. These things might be witnessed in your written work (maybe you have a fascination with a historical period), or they might be complementary life pursuits to your writing (e.g., librarian or teacher). What perspective or insight can you offer related to these things?
Verdict: FAILI have a lot of passions and things that are important to me. Do I write about them here? No. People don't come to this blog to hear my strongly held views on politics, religion, homeschooling, the designated hitter rule, forgiveness, the value of manned spaceflight, breastfeeding in public or Windows 7. That's why I have those other eight blogs and Twitter accounts.
* What do you know about, intimately, that no one else does (that you can still write about!)?
Verdict: FAIL From the standpoint of purely technical, factual knowledge, I suppose my own constellation of knowledge is unique and distinct from anyone else's. I can tell you how to re-gap a spark plug, poach an egg, properly apply a tourniquet, tie a taught-line hitch, etc., etc. So what? Do I pour any or all of that into my writing deliberately? It would make for pretty clumsy blog posts, no? "Today on Landless: How to build a window-box solar collector for only $5!".

What about things that are not just technical knowledge? What about the emotional landscape of my life? Is that unique? In its specific snowflake-type arrangement, sure, but again, so what? A multitude of joys and sorrows, triumphs and failures, hopes and disappointments - I've had my share, more than some, fewer than most. I've seen children born, I've seen relatives, close friends and co-workers suffer and die. Can I claim to be unique in this?

No, I don't think so. The trick here is to express it all in a uniquely compelling style. I could get maudlin and pour out my pain, or get rhapsodic and bellow out my joy, but that would be biography, not fiction. Wouldn't you really rather hear all of that coming from the characters in my stories?
* What do people compliment you on constantly?
Verdict: WIN A sense of humor. I like to think that people get a kick out of the humorous pieces of nonsense I put up here, such as that line about having eight other blogs and Twitter accounts (see above).

Come to think of it, though, sometimes the humor falls flat. Ah, well. You can't win 'em all.
* What types of media/materials/books are you always reading? Are there observations you can share? Snippets from your consumption?
Verdict: FAIL I suppose I could share snippets and observations, but I'm not sure it would be anything outside of fantastic examples of marvelous prose. I'd have to preface it with, "See? See? Isn't this great? Now THAT's how to write a seduction scene!", and then I'm right back to the whole writing-about-writing thing.
* Would it be appropriate to review books?
Verdict: FAIL Nope. I don't have time to review books on a regular basis. I know people who have done this successfully, but that's not me.
* How about interviewing people who interest you?
Verdict: FAIL Hmmm, although I've been thinking of interviewing people, I haven't done it yet. So, FAIL.
* Is there content/media you can curate?
Verdict: FAIL Not that belongs to me, no. This blog isn't an appropriate place for that, anyway.

So, how did I do?


Ouch! Wow, does it suck in here, or is it just me?

Nah, I'm only kidding. I give myself a WIN on humor, and I know where I stand on all the rest of it. When the day comes that I have a product to promote, I'll do it here, or somewhere else. Either way, this is a good place to hang out.

What do you think? Am I doing this wrong? IS there a wrong way?

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Just Enough Power - 6

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The socks were oversized and thin, but they made the concrete floor tolerably cool instead of cold. There was an old oil stain in a corner, extending underneath one of the partitions that defined her area within some much larger, echoing space. From the stain and the slight slope of the floor, Lonnigan deduced she was in an abandoned parking garage, one of the upper floors judging by the temperature of the concrete. It was impossible to jump up from the bunk to see over the partitions; the heavy chain padlocked to the collar around her neck was only about ten feet long. She'd tried to get more data about her surroundings with a gentle Probe outward. In response, the collar had given her what felt like a hard tap to the skull with a piece of sharp rebar.

Once the shock of that pain subsided, she concentrated on her next move.

The bare facts of her condition gave her enough information to make some plans. Her own clothing was gone, replaced by one-size-fits-all hospital scrubs and a pair of men's gray athletic socks. The nanoblock collar felt smooth edged, and smelled like copper and steel; it was fastened by the chain to an eyelet bolted to the floor. Her bunk was similarly bolted down. Mattress and blanket were both clean-smelling. She had neither food nor water, but she had a bucket to piss into.

She sat on the bunk. The thirty or so small puncture wounds in her right thigh had crusted over with dried blood. Her neck hurt but the pain from a split lip and a heavy bruise on her right cheek was worse than that from her leg or neck. There was no meaningful pain anywhere else.

Therefore, she thought, while she'd been unconscious, someone had been mad enough to kick her in the face, but someone else had stopped him from going any farther than that. No fingers or toes broken, no ribs cracked and she didn't feel as though she'd been raped. So, she'd been handled more or less gently. That argued against torture, at least in the short term. They wanted her not just alive but functional. They'd also given her some basic amenities - bed, clothing, bucket. Therefore, they either wanted her in decent condition or they just wanted things to be able to take away as punishment or return as reward. The psychology of that wasn't lost on her.

As the hours passed in silence, Lonnigan grew in respect for her captors. The long delay meant she'd be stiff, hungry and thirsty when they eventually showed up, no doubt with food and water in hand. They were strengthening their position over her without doing anything at all. This was subtlety in action, and the fact that they were using such methods was a sign of respect to her. That flattery itself was, of course, another tactical move designed to reduce her resistance.

It was a small silver lining to her situation, but she came to the firm conclusion that, whoever had her, they were not working for the Mouse. She had no doubt that she'd have been raped, killed and fed to the dogs by now if it had been Meng-Shiu who had nabbed her at the storage locker. The only person left with any subtlety in her own Organization was Simon.

And, of course, Lonnigan herself. That chain of thought brought a smile to her lips just as she heard a metal door slide open somewhere off in the garage. A car with a big engine drove closer as the door closed again. The echoes made it hard to tell how far away the car was when it stopped. Four car doors opened, hard-soled shoes scraped on the concrete. She heard them approach, then one of the partitions was dragged out of the way. Four men, three of whom she recognized from her capture - the one with the smile whom she'd shot, the one with the gun and the one with the Talent. The fourth man she knew from photographs and reputation.

It suddenly occurred to Lonnigan that she had nothing to fear from these men. She wanted to help these men. These men were her friends. She had nothing to fear from these men.

"Marcus, that's enough."

Her vision clouded briefly as the pressure of the mind control lifted. She was left feeling nauseated, as though someone had been licking the insides of her ears. Lonnigan sneered at the emaciated Talent and said, "That was pathetic. Somebody get that man a sandwich." If the bony bastard had been within arm's reach...

"Excellent idea, Ms. Lonnigan. Such mental exertions do carry a high metabolic cost, as you are well aware." The speaker motioned to one of the other two men, the one she'd shot during her capture. The bandages across his face were large, but as he didn't seem to be in any lingering discomfort from having taken two rounds to the forehead, he was clearly Augmented with first-rate nanotech. Probably reactive-plasma bone grafts - expensive stuff. She should have gone for the neck.

The man set down the box he was carrying and opened the lid. Lonnigan's belly lurched as the three underlings took out hot dogs, unwrapped them and began to eat in front of her. The nearness of the food made her mouth water; when they took out paper cups of coffee, the combination of smells made her stomach growl loud enough to make its own echo. She ignored it and regarded the fourth man, the boss, as coolly as her chain and her hunger would allow.

With his arms crossed, he said, "Do you know who I am?"

She considered the smart-ass approach, but decided against it. "Yes. You're Sung Bo Kim."

"Very good, Ms. Lonnigan. Do you know why I went to the trouble of, ah, acquiring you?"

"I'm assuming you're about to tell me."

Kim smiled. Lonnigan shivered like a rookie; after being around Meng-Shiu for too long, she had forgotten how much threat real bosses could pack into so simple an expression.

"You may not be aware of it, but Aderesto Vincelli was a friend of mine. A dear friend." His smile went away, leaving an venomous blankness behind. "The 'message' you sent was received quite clearly. Quite clearly indeed. I intend to get revenge for what was done to the Acrobat, Ms. Lonnigan. And you will be the tool I use for it."

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Front Page

A few days ago, Mark Kerstetter tweeted "@TonyNoland Hey Tony, is this
you? http://tinyurl.com/23vclqy"

Why, yes. Yes it is. On the webmag "Escape Into Life" is a piece about 6MinuteStory, a writing prompt website. It's all about how this kind of fast-paced writing system makes for prose that is tight, focused, riveting. The article includes two sample pieces from 6MinuteStory that are good examples of this.

The first, a gripping and disturbing little bit of creepy mayhem, is "Bury My Heart At Wounded Thigh", by Tony Noland.


I wrote this in six mutues, based on a prompt from the website software. Everything, from plot to spellcheck, has to happen in those six minutes. It is as extemporaneous a piece of fiction as can be done. I'm pleased it came out well enough to make the front page.

Follow me on Twitter: @TonyNoland

#FridayFlash: Fear and Loathing

Fear and Loathing

by Tony Noland

"That's the dumbest idea I've ever heard."

"What is?" Nick Yarrow set his lunch tray down at the table next to Darren Mulcan and Janet Riordan.

"Janet's got our Mars base power problem all solved for us, and it only takes four miracles to make it work."

"Don't be an ass, Darren," said Janet. "The fusion guys are the ones who are relying on miracles. This is just good old civil engineering. It's not impossible, just expensive."

"Nice. NASA specializes in expensive," said Nick. "What's the idea?"

"It's stupid, that's what it is."

"Zip it, D. Go ahead, Janet. It must be a pretty good idea or else Darren wouldn't be trying to shoot it down."

"Oh, ha ha. L-O-L, Nick." Darren picked up his bag of chips and leaned back in his chair, scowling. Nick smiled at his melodrama and turned his attention to Janet as he started on his salad.

"Alright, look," she said. "With the heaters, environmental controls, scientific equipment, etc., we need around 4 kilowatts per day per person, right? And the calculation is that minimum staffing for a viable permanent base is 72 people, ranging up to around 300, right? That means you need around 300 to 1200 kilowatts per day."

"Not quite that much." said Nick. "You get some efficiencies of scale, but yeah, roughly speaking call 300 kilowatts a day your minimum."

"OK, any of the nuclear options mean heavy launches from Earth. Radiothermal conversion is too inefficient, actual fission reactors are too big and heavy. At $675 per kilogram just to get to an Earth orbit, sending it to Mars is too expensive."

Darren added, "Plus you get the environmentalists in a sweat over the launch itself. As if we can't design a container that would survive a failed launch."

"Janet, all of the options are pricey," Nick said.

"Right, because of launch costs. The stuff that has a high energy density is dangerous and complicated, and the relatively light and simple stuff, like solar cells or orbital mirrors, have such a low energy density that you have to send dozens of launches. Either way, the cost kills you."

Nick said, "And your proposal is...?"

"She wants to chew up Phobos and spit out microwaves!" Darren cackled. Janet picked up a french fry and made as if to throw it at him. Darren smiled sweetly and continued eating his chips.

Nick raised an eyebrow at Janet.

"Phobos orbits at 9100 kilometers, and cuts right across the magnetosphere of Mars," she said.

"What there is of it, yeah."

"Right, the field is weak, but it's there. Phobos is in a locked facial synchronous orbit, so its rotation matches its orbital speed, 7.5 hours. Even for a little ball of rock, that's pretty fast, right? So, we anchor conductive tethers to the surface of Phobos, let its own centripetal acceleration fling them outwards. Because of the synchronous orbit, they'll stay perpendicular to the magnetic flux lines. As it moves through, current flows from the outer tether towards the inner. Set up a microwave array at the end of the inner tether and beam the power down to the surface. Simple."

Darren leaned forward to say something, but Nick held up a hand to silence him.

"Janet, Phobos is 22 kilometers in diameter. Your tethers would have wrap the entire moon, and then extend at least, what, 50 kilometers outwards?"

"It's a function of escape velocity from the surface. Since the inner would have a big microwave converter at the end, it doesn't need to be as long, only about 40 kilometers. The outer would need to be 115 kilometers, minimum. It's better to make it wider rather than longer, though, since magnetic flux drops off as the cube root with distance from the surface of Mars."

"Didn't I tell you this was stupid?" said Darren. "You're right back to the same problem of lift weight. That much conductive cable would take fifty launches!"

"And I keep telling you that it won't. All you need to send is the microwave array and a receiver for the base. The tethers can be grown on-site from the magnetite debris on the surface of Phobos. Look, we were going to mine Phobos for ice anyway, right? Well, all that ice is going to be mixed with the debris. A small power plant and a railgun launcher would be enough to fling the material up to an orbital factory. Skim off the water, use the silicates, carbonates and metals as raw materials for a carbon-fiber conduction tether. Darren, we're not talking about a space elevator cable. Phobos's gravity is trivial! It doesn't need to be strong, just conductive. Once you have two hundred kilometers of cable, you extend it down to Phobos and hook it up. Bingo - instant electricity."

Nick asked, "How much electricity? What kind of capacity would it have?"

"Depending on how you do it, the numbers say it should produce 40 to 300 megawatts, deliverable to the Martian surface." She waved a carrot stick at Darren. "That's MEGAwatts, D, every single day. Enough to power a small city, not just a base."

"It won't power anything, because it won't work. The orbital eccentricities alone are enough to kill it!" Darren insisted.

Nick ignored him. "Janet, do you have numbers for all of this?"

"Yeah, I've been working on this for a little while. I know it sounds crazy, Nick, but -"

"What about deorbiting?"

She shook her head. "There's a drag effect, but it's small compared to the masses involved. Phobos was going to fall into Mars in 7 million years anyway. Converting orbital momentum into electricity at the rate of 300 megawatts a day speeds that up to 6.9 million years."

Nick said, "Alright, I've heard enough. Darren, I want you to assist Janet in preparing a proper theoretical analysis of this idea. Sign out some time on the cluster to get some hard numbers. Back-of-the-envelope isn't going to be good enough. There's an Advanced Concepts Committee meeting on September 17. They've been leaning on me for something outside the box, and you two are it. I want both of you to present a decent case for this at that meeting." Nick gathered the detritus of his lunch and prepared to leave. "Understand something, Janet. I think this idea is pretty marginal, but I'm going to let the ACC be the judge of how realistic it is or is not."

"Oh, and Darren? I don't want to hear the words dumb, stupid, ridiculous or any derivation thereof. Your job is to help Janet develop this concept by identifying the technical flaws, backed up with solid data, not prejudices. Give her specifics of why her idea won't work, so she can develop specific solutions. The meeting is in four weeks. Working closely together, you two should either have something with potential, or something we can rule out."

Nick stood and picked up his tray. "Have fun, you two." A slight smile spread as he walked away from the table.
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HTML FTW, baby

These buttons:

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... took longer than you might think to make and install.

But now I'm an HTML codemonkey stud for the rest of the day, so I think it was worth it.
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Just Enough Power - 5

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Lonnigan held out the last part of her breakfast. She released it, letting it float an arm's length away. Just as the Jade Prince first taught her, she focused without focusing, letting the power flow from her. Her shield was pulled together into a tight disc, supporting the remains of the protein bar. After half a minute, she had to remind herself to blink. After two minutes, fresh sweat was beading and running down her face and bare chest. Her eyes closed with the effort of concentration, and the bar dipped, then fell to the floor.

I don't really give a shit if you are tired and distracted, she thought to herself, what the hell was that? Only two minutes?

She picked up the bar, blew off the dust and ate it. It might have been safe to get some hot food somewhere, but she didn't feel like taking the risk; the supplies in the storage room were good enough for now. She and Simon had anticipated that it might have to serve as a hideout bunker for a while, so they'd leased climate controlled spaces. In the ninety minutes since her watch alarm had awakened her, she'd had three protein bars and a liter of water for breakfast, done her daily workout, and exercised her Talent to the point of failure. She'd even brushed her teeth with some of the bottled water. Lonnigan shook her head at herself. This wasn't preparation; it was procrastination.

Oh, Simon. What the hell am I going to do?

All the planning had seemed straightforward last night. Now, the best course of action was anything but obvious. If she assumed Simon was dead and moved on the Mouse directly, she wouldn't survive. Exacting revenge was a given fact, not just a option, but if at all possible, she'd like to avoid paying the price of her own life for it.

Unfortunately, Lonnigan didn't think even the Mouse was stupid enough to be drawn out into the open where she could kill him and then fade away into the night. He wouldn't come out, she couldn't really go in. Not alone. As simple as it would be to launch a frontal attack, guns blazing, it was impractical; she would have to do it the hard way. That meant she'd have to take apart the Organization, piece by piece, patiently stripping away his layers of protection until she could get at him. The fact that it would take time didn't bother her. However, a lot of the people she had in mind as sequential targets in this scheme were friends.

Well, they were former colleagues, anyway. Lonnigan didn't have any friends, not anymore.

As targets, they varied in difficulty, but was it possible to peel people away without killing them? Convince them to step aside and stay out of it as she moved on the Mouse? There was certainly plenty of resentment over that bastard's inept management. She couldn't count on resentment against the boss trumping loyalty to the organization, though.

No, the Mouse could replace people faster than she could kill them. She hated to admit that a job was too big for her to tackle alone.

Alone. Oh, Simon, are you dead? I've got to act on the assumption that you are; if you're still alive...

Lonnigan scowled as she made up her mind. If you're still alive, she thought, you'd better be in good shape. She knew how much punishment Simon was capable of withstanding, even now, but if Meng-Shiu had decided to get ugly, then he was going to pay. She'd start with his molars and work backwards.

Decision made, she cleaned up and pulled on fresh clothes. From a lockbox, she took out a gray nylon shoulder bag and opened it. A holstered Sig-Sauer P250, 9mm, just like the one she was already wearing. Four extra clips, fully loaded. Boxes of ammo, 2000 rounds. A folding hunting knife, five inches with a lockback blade. Thirty thousand dollars in bundles of twenties. A box of caffeinated mints.

From another locker, she added a first-aid kit, three changes of socks and underwear and a hairbrush. She grabbed another three protein bars for the road and left the storage room, locking the door behind her. When she was a hundred feet away from her car, she heard a THUPP. Without hesitation, she dropped the bag and threw herself to the left.

It was the wrong direction. She grunted in stabbing agony as a long tether covered in barbed fish hooks slapped against her right thigh. The hooks dug through her jeans and buried themselves into her skin. The oblong cylinder at the end of the tether whipped around fast, five other tethers extending from it, swinging through individual arcs to land on her leg and dig in with their own hooks. Lonnigan drew her Sig and spun around, putting all her weight on her good leg.

Three men stood some distance away. The one in front started to say something. His smile was blown sideways as Lonnigan shot him in the face, a double tap. She refocused on the one on the left, the one with the gun. Then, too late, Lonnigan shifted her aim to the one on the right, the more dangerous one. His gaunt face, translucent and skeletal, seemed to twist as it suddenly occurred to her that there was no reason to fight these men. These men were her friends. They wanted to help her. There was no reason to fight them.

Lonnigan pushed up her shield to block the mind control and instantly felt a jagged shriek burn into the base of her brain. She fell, dropping the Sig as she grabbed at the feedback pod hooked to her leg, trying to tear it free. Hooks dug into her hands as the nanotech circuits amplified and scrambled her psionics before stabbing them back at her.

In less than three seconds, it was over.

She was unaware as the men approached, then bent over her limp body.
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Rule #1. You must write.

I write stories every week, and post them as part of #FridayFlash. Why?

Robert Heinlein famously gave five rules for writing. I'm not going to Google up a link for them, because I don't need a link, and neither do you. I memorized them a long time ago, and I'm happy to repeat them for you.

Rule #1. You must write.
Rule #2. You must finish what you write.
Rule #3. You must not go back and re-write that which you have written, except under editorial edict.
Rule #4. You must place what you have written out in the marketplace.
Rule #5. You must keep it in the marketplace until it sells.

Not too long ago, my fiction was, to put it mildly, crap. I'd started to follow Rule #1, but was failing at Rule #2. Much of what I wrote was fragmentary half-efforts. What I actually finished wasn't 10% as good as I thought it was. I didn't show it much, just wrote in isolation. After sending out some stories to some magazines, and collecting the expected rejections, it dawned on me that marvelous, gripping fiction would not be something I could just sit down and knock out. I would need to learn something about the craft and practice.

This blog was part of that effort, a place to interact, ask questions, learn, post my work and get feedback on it. I can't improve my writing if I don't know what works, and what's wrong with it. I don't get paid for any of the material I post here, so Heinlein might take issue with this approach. However, Mark Twain said that you should write for free until someone offers to pay you. I've been paid for my work since starting this fiction endeavor, so I'm going to defer to Twain on this one.

By this time, you might be asking, what does all of this have to do with #FridayFlash, and what it means to me?

Allow me to illustrate:

After I posted my first #FridayFlash story, "Nearer Comes the Moon", the readership of this blog more than tripled. That's a lot of eyeballs pointed at my writing. I'm happy with how the readership of this blog is growing. I shill and tout, but people come here (and keep coming back) because they like what they read. That's where #FridayFlash comes in.

I have no unique or novel insights to offer on the writing life, on technique or on anything else related to writing. I won't go into the sense of community, the great friends I've made, the private reassurances in fearful moments that I've given and received, the opportunities #FridayFlash has opened to me - both those I've chased after and those that came to me - or any of the other outward-looking benefits of being a regular #FridayFlasher.

No, I'm going to focus on what it's meant for my skills as a writer.

If you've not read my first #FridayFlash story, or you don't remember it, take a moment and give it a quick look. I've improved so much since then, it's hard to believe I ever let a story go up in that condition. For example, the word "Once" starts paragraphs 2 and 3, and "He" starts paragraphs 4, 5 and 6! Where the heck is the attention to detail? Well, when I started, I didn't know to look at such mechanicals. I was just making it up as I went.

It might have been John Wiswell who pointed that tweak out in a later piece, or maybe Lily Mulholland did. I forget, because I have gotten so much valuable advice and feedback on my stories since then. The ones that people went gaga over, the ones that fell flat, the scary ones, the funny ones, the confusing ones - I learned something from each and every one of them. On every piece, I read your comments, I listen to your opinions, I think about what you say and what you don't say.

The fact is, my writing is better because of #FridayFlash. I'm a better writer because of the commitment I've made to it.

I found a rhythm that works. I found a pacing that I like. I found a voice. Is it my Voice? Shoot, I don't know. All I know is, it sounds like me. It's a voice I feel comfortable in, rather than one I've clumsily sewn together from elements of my favorite authors.

There are rules I have yet to follow, and sharp-edged cliffs yet to scale in this writer's path.

You know what? Bring 'em on.

As I look back on where I've come from, I know what's brought me this far. It's #FridayFlash.

This is my entry in the #FridayFlash writing contest.

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#FridayFlash: The Endless War

The Endless War

by Tony Noland

Even though the General knew the guy's real name, the name he had been born with, he didn't use it. That would have been disrespectful for one of the galaxy's top undercover agents. Nor did he refer to him by any of the multitude of code names the agent went by. Those changed daily, even hourly, depending on circumstances and according to a pattern that the General himself was not privy to. This was going to be a hard enough sell; the General did not want to risk losing any authority by using a compromised or outdated name.

"I've got a job for you, son. It's vital."

The agent didn't move, the fixed expression of boredom on his pale face betrayed by a slight flicker of his bright green eyes. He was interested.

Carefully, thought the General, carefully.

"The reports from the front aren't good. You've seen the scan imagery, gotten the briefing from Dr. Goldman. We're going to lose this war unless..." He let the thought hang, the hook baited. A pause, then green eyes swiveled to look directly into his own.

"Unless what?"


The General didn't answer right away, but drummed his fingers on the table for dramatic effect. The agent was good, very good, but he wasn't the first of his kind the General had had to manage.

"We've been fighting the Bugs for thousands of years. We establish ourselves somewhere and as sure as night follows day, they try to move in. For almost all of our history, they have been attacking, and we've been essentially powerless against them."

"And if we were just to accept them? To leave them alone?"

"Don't get cute. It doesn't work that way, you know that. We can't reason with them, or negotiate a truce. They're mindless predators. They don't think, they just attack us, feed on us. It's in their nature. For us to live, they have to die."

"You mean wipe them out? Kill every Bug everywhere in the universe?"

The General sighed, packing a thousand generations of weariness into one long, drawn out sigh. Melodrama, he thought, they're always such suckers for melodrama.

"That's not possible," said the General. "The Bugs outnumber us ten million to one. In many ways, this is their universe and we're just a small part of it. We can't go out and eradicate them, but we can defend ourselves when they attack. It means constant vigilance, but we've come up with a couple of things that can hold them at bay. They just might turn the tide for us."

He slid a printout across the table.

The agent scanned across the page, lingering over the schematic diagrams and long chemical names. "I'm not a scientist, you know. What is this?"

"That is part of the strategy our top experts have developed. Right now, the best armor we have for our personnel is form of polymerized crystal, molded to fit and laced with molecular bonding to make it resist almost all forms of attack. It will even hold off the Bugs for a while, until the acid that they secrete allows them to penetrate it. After that, they feed on the flesh within."

The General saw the agent wince. Was that too much, too bloody a truth to lay out so flatly for him? No, the General thought, better keep up the pressure. I can't afford to have him refuse.

"However," he continued, "things are going to be different from now on. There's an advanced form of atomic deposition that will alter the molecular structure of the crystal. The procedure results in a hyper-dense armor that's worlds better than anything we've ever had."

"Let me guess - it blocks the Bugs completely, right?"

The General shook his head. "You've got a lot to learn about Bugs. The new armor is good, but it's not that good. It doesn't stop the Bugs; nothing can stop the Bugs. However, it slows them down considerably, long enough to deploy the kinetic weapons."

"Kinetic weapons?"

"They attack in waves. If the Bugs can't establish a firm toehold, we can knock down an entire assault force, assuming we have someone who knows what he's doing wielding the multi-filament weaponry. That buys us enough time to repair the armor and get ready for the next attack. Between the advanced defensive ability of the hyper-dense armor and the offensive capability of kinetics, we can live quite happily, right in the middle of their universe."

The agent was silent for a long time. Finally, he slid the printout back across the table. "So what is it you want me to do?"

"I want you to get trained on these tools, deploy them and show the Bugs what human technology is capable of."

"And if I refuse?"

"Then the Bugs win."

The General waited. The agent was good, had a decent poker face, but the General saw that he'd carried the day. There was enthusiasm for the job in those green eyes.


The woman in blue silk pajamas asked, "Well? How did it go? Is he going to do it?"

"Of course. He's even eager to get started."

She smiled and came to him. He circled his arms around her as she pressed herself to him. She ran her fingernails up along his scalp, and kissed him, just the way he liked.

"You," she said, "are one devious, manipulative guy. I love that about you, did you know that?"

"Ha. Don't try to fool me, sweetheart. You love me for my body, first, last and always."

"That too. What did you say? How did you convince him? He's so much more stubborn and difficult than any of the others were. I used every trick in the book with this one and I couldn't get through to him."

He looked down into her pale face, her bright green eyes gleaming up at him. He linked his hands at the small of her back and kissed her.

"It's all in how you present it, babe. I just explained to him how cavities develop, how fluoride works and helped him to understand the importance of regular brushing. The next time he goes to see Dr. Goldman, I think his teeth are going to be very, very clean."

Feel free to comment on this or any other post.

Beautiful, baby, beautiful

I was pleased to be honored recently with the Beautiful Blogger Award:

This was bestowed on me by Ganymeder, a fellow #FridayFlasher and all around good egg. Her citation for me is:
~What can I say? I just love his writing. He’s the author of the Just Enough Power series as well as some great poetry, including “Ode to the Semicolon.”
Thank you! These two pieces represent two very different sides of my creative ability: dark and brutal vs. light and whimsical. I'd guess that anyone reading the two side by side might have a hard time believing that one person wrote them both. It's gratifying to hear that they both appeal.

I should note that Ganymeder introduced her son to creative writing and helps him put his work out on the Internet for people to read and comment upon. Sooner or later, the child welfare people will catch wind of this and put a stop to it. Where will the accountants, lawyers and politicians of the future come from if such efforts are not squashed? Until then, however, creativity abounds.

So, the guidelines for this award are that I am to reveal 7 things about myself, and pass the award along. I'm going to take a cue from Alan Baxter and hold off on the list of new nominees. I'll hold this as an option for the future.

The 7 things about me, all perfectly true:

1. When I was hit by a car in 1993, it meant a rather unnerving ambulance ride to the emergency room. The doctors assumed that I had massive bleeding in the brain, since one pupil was dilated significantly more than the other. The only thing that kept them from drilling a hole in my head to let the blood out was the fact that I was awake and articulate. It turns out I just have one weird eye.

2. I was an early adopter of OS/2 and used it as my primary operating system for most of the 1990s. (You don't have to tell me about losing causes.)

3. I bought my current watch primarily because it has a slide rule on the bezel.

4. I earned a Sharpshooter & Marksman's rating when I was 14. What does that mean? It means I could put 9 small holes in a quarter from 50 yards away. That makes me deadly in addition to beautiful.

5. Someone once said that talking to me was like talking to a rock star. I didn't even owe this person any money.

6. Even though I'm regularly asked to write funny things and be funny in public speaking situations, I'm always nervous about doing so.

7. There are a great many things that I'm very good at, but which I don't particularly enjoy doing.

There you have it - the life of a Beautiful Blogger!

Feel free to comment on this or any other post.

How to behave like a professional: 3 easy steps

Myra McEntire wrote a blog post decrying Colleen Lindsay's decision to make public her correspondence with an abusive and insulting nitwit. I should note that Myra very carefully did not name any names, provide links, etc., but spoke in general terms about what to do when a nitwit comes calling. Personally, I think the best thing to do with a nitwit is ignore them.

Colleen, however, named the individual, encouraged her hundreds (perhaps thousands) of blog readers and her 17,903 Twitter followers to mock this person, write snarky poems about him, etc. I was aware of Colleen's blog post because it was linked in an RT of an RT. I can only guess how far those RTs spread.

In response to Myra, Colleen self-identified as the person being discussed, which is why I feel comfortable naming names. Colleen responded, in part:
"I treat everyone with the utmost professionalism and respect. Up until the moment that they no longer extend me the same courtesy."
Colleen was the guiding force behind #queryfail. If you don't know what that was, take a Google moment and form your own opinion as to the professionalism and respect of that episode.

What is most notable in Colleen's comment is the part where she denies being in a position of power, since she works evening and weekends and doesn't make a lot of money as an agent. Specifically, in this case:
I am *particularly* not in a position of power over [xxxxxxxx xxxxxxx] as an agent because I had already rejected him (on the basis of his query alone) before he chose to attack me.

And make no mistake - letters like the ones he sent me *are* an attack. It was the same as if he had walked into our offices and started shouting at me to my face.

When someone attacks me? I fight back. Period.
If she had ignored him, or written a nasty note back, or shouted in his face, that would have been fighting back. Even simply posting the correspondence on your blog and linking in your Twitter feed, with its 17,903 readers (and perhaps hundreds of thousands of 2nd order readers), would have been ugly but perhaps still professional.

Launching a vastly disproportionate counter-attack, recruiting those many thousands of people to help you, is irresponsible.


How to behave like a professional: 3 easy steps

1. To the very best of their ability, professionals act like professionals all the time. However funny or clever or satisfying it might be to act like a snarky newbie, save yourself the hassle and don't. This is true in an ephemeral, impulsive environment like Twitter or in something that requires more effort like a blog.

2. Your reputation as a professional will be built up on your 1000 best days, and will be ruined on your 10 worst days. If you are having a bad day, the kind where you might say something damaging or insulting, try not saying anything at all. Turn off the computer and go do some work, or talk a walk or go to a movie.

3. Remember: notoriety is built on attention; reputation is built on respect. If all you have is notoriety, people will want to watch you for your amusing or outrageous antics, but they won't want to work with you. They'll want to work with a professional instead.

Feel free to comment on this or any other post.

Just Enough Power - 4

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Just Enough Power - 4

by Tony Noland

Ricky Gao reached over and slapped Simon. The old man grunted and sucked in a hard breath as both lips split wide. Simon knew Ricky hadn't hit him very hard, but he bruised so easily these last few years, couldn't take a punch like in the old days. It took a long time for the burst of flashing lights to settle and fade, longer still before he could see clearly. He looked up at Tong, watched him try to hide his shock at the blood. No, Simon thought, you didn't intend to see this escalate so quickly, did you? Again, you're not in control of a situation of your own making? Idiot.

Simon moaned, let his head loll over. If they thought he was dying they might untie him. The ropes itched.

Ricky said, "Was she worth it? I really want to know. She always seemed like a pretty cold bitch to me, but if she got all wound up for you, she must have a thing for the grandpa look, huh?"

"That's enough, Ricky."

"But Mr. Tong, all I was -"

"Shut your mouth."

Simon wheezed, letting the blood and saliva spray onto his shirt with each exhalation. He didn't have that many cards to play, and since the blood clearly bothered Tong, Simon wasn't going to let it go to waste.

"Why did you warn her, Simon?"

"Does it matter?"

"Where is she?"

"The only thing I'm sure of is that she's not here. Not yet, anyway."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

Simon sighed. There was no point in trying to spar with him. He lacked the subtlety to even try to hear what isn't being said. Simon felt a pang of grief that the Organization he'd worked so hard to protect and build was going to be run into the ground by this fool. Thank God he'd be dead soon and wouldn't have to see it all crumble.

"It means," he said, "that Lonnigan is a single-minded young woman and she likes her old Uncle Simon. I'm a thin, gray, spotted old teddy bear, a fond plaything of her youth with which she is loathe to part."

"Don't be a jackass, Simon."

"Don't ask stupid questions, Meng-Shiu. You were planning to kill her, yes?"

Tong maintained a carefully neutral face, but Ricky grinned.

"So, I warned her off. Ideally, I'd have wrapped up my affairs here and also gone into retirement, but life is not always as we would wish it to be, is it?"

"I grabbed the phone from him, Mr. Tong. I could tell he was doing something, but I didn't know what, so I -"

"Shut up, Ricky."

Squinting and jutting out a lower lip was, Simon knew, the Mouse's way of looking calculating. It also covered up a lot of mental wheel spinning when he didn't know what to do. It was pretty late in the day for Tong to realize that he now had no one to advise him, no one who could offer a course of action more subtle than a switchblade.

"What is it with you pre-Plague types?"

"I beg your pardon?" Simon forgot to spit blood, he was so surprised at this non sequitur.

"You. Uncle Qing-Mei. There's no rationality to it. No return on investment. No sense. Lonnigan is the same way, learned it from you, obviously. Why would she come back here just to rescue you? The sensible thing to do is cut her losses and try to disappear. I'll find her, of course, and string her skinny ass up as a trophy, right after I bolt a nanoblock collar on her. She's gonna be a lot of fun for as long as she lasts, but my question to you is, why? Why would she come right back here where she knows I'm waiting for her?"

An alien mind, Simon thought. A cold, wriggling, greedy little alien. Unbelievable.

"When the Silicon Plague hit," Simon said, "your Uncle and I both got lucky, survived without too much in the way of after-effects. With so many dead all up and down the chain, there was a power vacuum; he rose and I rose with him. That struggle taught us the value of loyalty, of trust and respect. When Lonnigan came to us, your Uncle and I both saw potential in her. She took to the instruction we offered. You didn't, as you recall."

"And why should I have listened to you? You sit in your office and push paper around. How would you know what it really takes to command respect in the world?"

"Because I'd already killed twenty-three men before I even met your Uncle, you little shit. When he came over from Beijing he was assigned to me so I could teach him how to be an assassin."

"You killed... wait a minute, you're older than Uncle Qing-Mei? I thought..."

Simon shook his head, wincing at the crick in his neck. Old bones.

"You don't even know the history of your own family, Meng-Shiu, let alone the institutional facts of the Organization. That's why you're such a lousy boss, because you're intellectually lazy."

In a spasm, Tong's Glock was in Simon's face, the barrel two inches from his face, close enough that Simon could smell the metal, traces of leather and gun oil underneath it. The safety was off.

Simon looked up at Tong. "You know," he said, "in all the years I worked for the Jade Prince, as a partner and adviser, we had countless disagreements, many of which led to heated discussions. Only once did he ever pull a gun on me. You can use a gun to end an argument, but that doesn't mean you've won it."

Tong frowned, beads of sweat on his red face as he squinted and puffed his lip. After a full minute, he straightened and put the gun back in its holster on his hip.

"Ricky, take Mr. Simon to the third bedroom on the left."

"Sure, boss." Ricky grabbed Simon under the right arm, jerked him to his feet. Tong's mouth opened as though he were about to say something, then closed again.

Simon stumbled as Ricky forced him along. The ropes dug and cut into the delicate, paper-like skin on his wrists, and he began to bleed underneath them.

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Circle of Friends

A little while ago, Anne Tyler Lord honored me with the Circle of Friends Award. Anne is one of the bright spots on Twitter, a positive, upbeat and supportive person. Thank you, Anne!

In considering whom to pass this award along to, I've decided to thanks some cities.


Yes, cities. Visitors to this site come from all over the world, but in the last year, the top 10 cities have been, in order of frequency:

London, UK
New York, NY
Addison, TX
Bielefeld, Germany
Portland, OR
Gibsonton, FL
Telford, UK
Los Angeles, CA
Atlanta, GA
Batley, UK

All I can say is, if I can have visitors from such a diverse set of countries and cultures and have them come back for more, I must be doing something right. Thank you for all of your support, friends!

Feel free to comment on this or any other post.

#FridayFlash: A Bucket of Rocks

"A Bucket of Rocks"

by Tony Noland

"Ah, hang on just a sec."

Her glass of pinot gris is almost to her lips when he says it. She almost spills a drop when she stops it without taking her first sip.

"I, uh... I just wanted to ask, I mean, before you drink that, I wanted to ask..."

She lowers the glass, sets it back on the table next to her menu. Off to a poor start, the date is shaping up to be one of those where you drink too much. Now, when the drinks had arrived and they had something to do that would give a perfect excuse for not talking, he wants to talk. His beer sits untouched in front of him.

"Do you want this?"

Unaware and unintentionally comic looking, her eyebrows are up and her mouth is open in surprise. Does she want this? This? Another first date? Another evening wasted, spent dancing the same old stupid dance, circling, posturing? Another night of bad theater, playing the starring role of Single Woman against a fill-in-the-blank guy playing Single Man? Why would she want this?

"Because it looked like you really would have rather had the beer."

Oh. He was asking her if she wanted his beer. Good Lord.

"The only reason I ask is... well, look." He takes a deep breath, then rushes on. "The fact is, I don't really like beer. I ordered it because that's what guys are supposed to drink. Every time I go out on a date I drink beer when I'd really rather be drinking wine. It's stupid that there's a gender thing tied up in it, and maybe it's just me being too concerned with how I'm presenting myself here, and..."

She says nothing, lets him have his say.

"OK, and now I'm talking too much, even before drinking anything. It's just that I thought I saw you hesitate when ordering wine, and then when she brought the drinks, it looked like you would really rather have had the beer. The long and the short of it is, I think I could really get to like you, and I want to get off to a good start." His mouth twisted into a half-smile. "I'd like to get off to any kind of a start on a date without a bunch of b.s., to be perfectly honest. So, what I'm trying to say is, do you want to trade drinks?"

Her answer is not that long in coming, but long enough that it's obvious she is considering carefully how to respond.

"Actually," she says, "I don't really care for beer. I ordered the wine because I like wine."

"Oh. Ah, right. Well... right, sorry." For three seconds, a complicated swirl of emotions plays across his face, ultimately settling on a mixture of disappointment and grim resolution. Another one of those dates where you drink too much.

His bottle of Heineken is almost to his lips when she laughs out loud. He spills a bit onto his lap when he stops it without taking his first sip.

"I'm just kidding," she says. "I would really rather have the beer. I'm just... well, it's hard to admit that someone has you pegged so well."

He grins. She does the same.

The waitress, working up another check over at the cash register, hears the laughter and she smiles. First date. Thank God it seems to be going well. They always tip big when they laugh.

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I shouldn't be posting this

In a comment on the second installment of "Just Enough Power", Anton Gully said something interesting:
"I find this kind of depressing because I should be reading it in a book not here."


This could mean, "Tony, your writing is so amazing and gripping, you shouldn't be giving it away here, you should get yourself a publisher and an agent who knows something about movie rights."

Or it could mean, "Tony, I hate having to wait to read a story this fantastic in installments, I just want to hoover the whole thing down in one bleary-eyed, stay-up-late-to-finish-it night."

Or it could mean, "Tony, I like short fiction; I don't come to your site to read serials."

I guess I should explain that this serial is born out of the happy marriage of a very well-received FridayFlash and a fully outlined novel that never got written. I was put under the gun by several readers of the first installment of "Just Enough Power" who were asking for a follow-up story in the same vein.

Look, I realize that you might be world-weary and blase about getting fan mail, but I am as yet quite susceptible. For various reasons, I needed to write the sequel early and fast; it occurred to me that I could recycle my novel plot for the purpose.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I'd abandoned that novel because it wasn't very original or interesting. It lacked something, a spark or freshness that I wasn't able to give it, no matter how jewel-like was my writing.

Enter the flash story. What my novel was missing was some of the sci-fi elements that would elevate a standard noir gangster novel from a regular cheeseburger and fries up to a full rack of ribs drenched in awesome.

The length I had planned for the novel was ~80K. That would mean 80 installments of 1K each. Will I really post that many? Probably not. For example, I don't think I'd be able to adequately lay out the sub-plot about the turncoat federal agent who is a decent enough sex-partner-of-convenience and who may (or may not) be a love interest.

My question to you is: if I were to present the main thread of the plot here, would you then go on to buy the much-expanded novel, with lots more sex, vastly more killing, a touching scene of separation, some Twinkies, and a handful of sharpened pencils used rather abruptly?

Feel free to comment on this or any other post.

Choose Your Own Adventure: The Mendigans


by Tony Noland


Don't start reading here! Go back to the beginning of this story, and Choose Your Own Adventure!


Just Enough Power - 3

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Seven separate signs declared that Franny's Diner 'n Diesel served breakfast all day. Patricia Lonnigan assumed that the coffee was straight from the Diesel half of the establishment. Put on a big urn at sunrise and let it boil for the rest of the day - that was the only way to get a brew like this, thick enough to chew.

She didn't care.

Serials and FridayFlash

I've been waffling on making Just Enough Power into an ongoing serial. Ideally, I'd write the whole thing, then publish it in ~1K episodes, posting them weekly. So as not to interfere with the FridayFlash, Tuesday would be a good day for these.

Having left everyone with a cliff-hanger last week, I feel a sense of obligation to you to let you know what happens. It's not a story that can be told in a single post, believe me.

I'll be honest, though. As much as the idea of a serial, particularly this serial, appeals to me,

#FridayFlash: Just Enough Power - 2

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Just Enough Power - 2

by Tony Noland

A thin cloud of old cigarette ash flew up as Meng-Shiu Tong slapped the newspaper onto his desk. "That fucking little bitch has gone too far this time, Simon. Too far!"

Jolian Simon lowered the sheaf of documents he'd come in to discuss and closed the door behind him. "You mean Lonnigan?"

Tong snatched the paper off his desk and threw it at the old man. "Of course I mean Lonnigan! I specifically told her to put the Acrobat in a coma, and what does she do? She screwed it up. One simple little assignment, and she screwed it up. Look at that, it says he's conscious. Conscious for Chrissakes! I wanted him dead in the first place, I never should have agreed to send in your goddamned prima donna for a simple gun job. Never!"

"She sent a full after action report. The Acrobat is taken care of."

"He's conscious and talking to his family! I wanted him out of action, and he's up kissing his wife!"

Simon shook his head. "The Acrobat is awake, but he's bewildered and terrified. He's not talking to anyone, and he doesn't even recognize his wife," he said. "The spy we planted in the household says the entire family is paralyzed with indecision about what to do."

"I ordered her to put him in a coma, goddamn it."

"Yes, you did. And I seem to recall saying at the time that a coma was no better than dead. If he were just in a coma, instead of shipping him off in a casket, he'd be shipped off to a quiet bed somewhere. Either way he's instantly out of the picture and one of his people would take over. This way, they don't know if he's going to get better or not. That whole organization is out of the picture for the weeks, maybe months for the medical testing, and we'll be able to solidify -"

"Don't you say one more fucking word in defense of her actions, Simon. I have just about had it with both of you."

On the muted television that hung in the place where the bookcases used to be, a smiling woman was excited about the forecast for the next five days. Clear and sunny, although there was a chance for some rain on the weekend.

"If my services are no longer required, Mr. Tong, I -"

"Don't give me that Mr. Tong bullshit, either. You worked for Uncle Quing-Mei until he died, now you work for me until you die, is that clear?"

Simon stooped to pick up the newspaper from the floor.

"Never threaten."


"You should never threaten. If you're going to kill someone, just do it. A threat is a warning, and you should never give a warning to a target."

"Don't lecture me on how to run my show, Simon. It's exactly that kind of insubordination that I don't need. I don't want to kill you, I just want your little protege to do as she's told."

"Lonnigan is one of the best operatives this organization has. She's smart, experienced, talented, and fully capable of -"

"Her Talent is a joke. It's like the whole rest of the world has guns and knives and she had a sharpened paperclip."

Simon drew a deep breath before speaking. "It's precisely because it's a low-grade Talent that she's so effective. She's completely outside the arms race among the nanotech weaponry, the Talent booster implants and major native Talents. Those kinds of energies are too easy to detect and defend against, but Lonnigan always has the element of surprise. She's a formidable woman."

"She's a woman, and that's the problem. You can't trust women to do what they're told, they always think they know better than you. I say a coma, she doesn't listen, she gets fancy because she thinks she knows better than me."

"I don't think she intends to be insubordinate. She was just... using her best judgment."

"No! That's not what I want! I don't want people to use their fucking best judgment, I want people to do what the fuck they're told! Why can't she understand that? Why can't you, Simon? What, are you part woman, you gotta question every single goddamn thing I say?"

Simon set his reports on top of one of the piles on the desk. "Your uncle found my counsel useful."

"Counsel, yes. Argument and contradiction, no. It's been almost two years, Simon, what's the matter with you? Why can't you get it? Uncle Quing-Mei isn't running things around here. I am. You do what I tell you to do. Is that clear?"

Lips pursed, Simon squinted at the floor for a moment before speaking. "That's a contact from Sung Bo Kim."

"What is?"

"That." he said, indicating the papers he'd brought in. "Kim is one of Vincelli's biggest allies."

"I know who the fuck Sung Bo Kim is."

"Well, he's prepared to bargain. It seems he went to go visit the Acrobat. He found him healthy looking and conscious, but paralyzed from the waist down and unable to speak or think coherently. The fact that the Acrobat kept pissing himself in terror seems to have affected Kim rather profoundly."

Tong picked up the report, glanced at the first page, then threw it back onto the desk.

"Kim wants to make a deal with you." said Simon. "It's not a bad offer, but we can squeeze a lot more out of him than he's put forward. He's very upset."

"Where is she?"

Simon shrugged. "Not back yet. She's driving instead of flying. It's a security measure."

"I want to see her. Tell her to be here, Thursday night. Ten o'clock."

"Here? Your office?"

"Yes, here, goddamn you, now get the fuck out. You tell her, Simon. Tell her to be here at ten o'clock sharp. I want to debrief her personally about her assignment."

The councilor nodded, as if in thought. "Alright, I'll tell her." He turned to leave. When he was at the door, Tong said, "Oh, and you be here too. I think it would be best if you were here for that particular conversation."

As Simon left, before the door closed behind him, Tong picked up the phone.

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I am a poet, not a writer

Oh my God! I've been incredibly busy the last week or so, and I can FINALLY say why.

Last Thursday, I got an e.mail from the office of Kay Ryan, the Poet Laureate of the United States. As part of a program to re-orient the No Child Left Behind educational reforms, the Obama administration wanted to do away with, or at least de-emphasize, standardized testing. Don't get me started on standardized testing, but OK, fine.

That whole thing had to take a backseat to the health care fight, but now that the new bill on that has been signed into law, Obama apparently wants to come off that bounce and dive right into the education reforms.

So where do I come in? Well, in order to get any Republicans to sign onto this AT ALL, he has to promise a back-to-basics approach that the conservatives will agree to. As it was explained to me, part of that was to include reinstating rote memorization as an instructional tool.

Obama (who is certainly no dummy), wanted to encompass modern teaching methods, yet get Republicans to back the reforms. In what I think is a damned clever move, he is actually putting the Poet Laureate to work as part of this educational reform effort.

It's taken a thousand phone calls and a lot of faxing of contracts (tricky, since I don't have an agent), but to make a long story short, I will give you one guess, ONE GUESS, whose poem about semicolons will be read by Ms. Ryan in the kickoff ceremony at the White House TONIGHT as an example of the kind of teaching tools that can transform American education.

It was brought to her attention after my alma mater, the University of Chicago, featured it on National Grammar Day. Obama taught at the U of C, and apparently surrounds himself with fellow Maroons. I can't know if he himself actually read my "Ode to the Semicolon", but he'll hear it tonight.

I would be so very, VERY much more colloquial in expressing my excitement, were it not for the fact that my visitors have gone from ~20/day to ~9000 in the last 36 hours, since it was announced.

To all of the new guests, welcome! Feel free to check out the links at the top for more information about me and my writing!

For all of my regular readers, I'm sure you won't be surprised when I say that today, April 1, 2010, is a day that I will remember for a long, long time!

UPDATE, 10:45am: I just found out something incredible!

It is a day for rumination on the nature of mankind. My first tweet setting up this April Fool's day joke was read by people who follow me on Twitter. Through RTs, it was also read by my 2nd order followers, people who don't follow me directly, but who might be peripherally aware of me.

One of these 2nd order followers ("X") was fooled by the gag. As with everyone who I knew to have been taken in, I contacted X at the earliest possible moment to reveal it to be an April Fools joke. (I have no way of contacting the people who read it, believed it, and went away without commenting or tweeting about it, since I don't know who those people are.) Several of my followers had already publicly tweeted about it being a joke, so the cat was out of the bag, at least to an extent.

It turns out that X doesn't like April Fools day. The jokes, the gags, the attempts to lure people into believing things that aren't true - all of this makes this the worst day of the year for X. In fact, X feels that, in the case of a writer with a blog, an April Fool's joke is not just a silly piece of throw-away stupidity, as in the case of the iCade Arcade Cabinet.

The theory goes that, specifically for writers, running the risk of alienating forever a fraction of the people who read (and fall for) the joke. That fraction of people will now associate me with a stupid April Fool's joke, rather than with the deathless, inspiring prose for which I have heretofore been so widely admired. [<--JOKE] As a consequence, when my Great American Novel comes out, those people will think, "Ah, he's that jackass who pranked me. I will not buy this book!"

With respect to this lingering distaste for me and my work, X feels that the fault is not with X for X’s reaction, but rather with me for having put an April Fool’s joke on my blog. Or maybe it’s for having made the joke about my work, instead of about something unrelated. Or maybe it’s because the joke was too plausible. Hard to tell.

I follow X, but X doesn’t follow me. X expresses opinions in a forthright manner, and this is no exception. I will admit that such forthrightness directed at ME is a little uncomfortable, but such is life. I’d like to say two general things about X’s response.

First, X expressed these opinions about this joke, and about me, without naming names. There was no "that Tony Noland is an asshole". Rather, X used this episode as a starting point for a discussion about the impact of our actions in the public sphere, and how it could impact our careers as writers. That discussion is a useful one to have.

Second, this is not the first prank posting I've done, nor do I expect it to be the last. I didn't intend to be mean-spirited about this joke, and I made a reasonable effort to telegraph it as a gag. Perhaps those who don't know me and my sense of humor didn't catch on instantly. Many people did, and thought it funny, to one degree or another.

So, what conclusion do I draw? It's not that I need to stop making jokes, or change my sense of humor. It's that you can't please everyone, and changing your style in order to avoid offending a small percentage of potential readership will suck the life out of you and your writing.

As a writer, that's a good lesson to learn.