AudioBoo: "Ode to the Semicolon"


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Can you hear me now?

Benjamin Solah, one of my fellow writers in the Chinese Whisperings - Yang anthology, mentioned on Twitter that he was going to try to use AudioBoo in conjunction with some of his poetry and flash fiction. They certainly do seem like a match made in heaven, and it's something that has been warmly received. Benjamin has set up a website in association with the #SpokenSunday hashtag he proposed.

I've long been thinking about doing podcasts of some of my #FridayFlash stories, but as a Blogger user, I never got past the "but where would I host them?" part. Even though I don't have one of those cool Australian accents like Benjamin, Jodi Cleghorn or Annie Evett, I'm looking forward to giving this simplified form of podcasting a try.

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My Lovely Blog

Earlier this month, I was Graced with an award. I was then subsequently Monicaed with another award.

My humble thanks to Lovely Bloggers Grace Motley (whom you should follow on Twitter as @gracecrone) and Monica Marier (whom you should ALREADY be following on Twitter as @lil_monmon.) The rules for the award are:
1. Accept the award, post it on your blog together with the name of the person who has granted the award and his or her blog link.
2. Pass the award to 15 other blogs that you’ve newly discovered.
3. Remember to contact the bloggers to let them know they have been chosen for this award.
I'm always happy to see that my little scribblings here are finding homes in readers' brains. Or rather, in their minds, since getting a blog lodged in your brain would probably hurt like hell, even if you were reading it on an iPad. Then it would be cool AND painful. Much like me.

Where was I?

Oh, right, I was about to disappoint you.

The rules up above say that I'm supposed to pass the award on to 15 newly discovered blogs. Alas, I cannot comply, as I don't have 15 newly discovered blogs to award it to. My blog reading has been severely curtailed of late, due to the demands of cleaning up the oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico.

I'm just kidding. That's only a metaphor for busy life stuff. It only FEELS like I'm having to slog through mud, marsh and mosquitoes wearing heavy boots and two layers of Tyvek under a blazing sun in order to singlehandedly deal with an endless flood of toxic, sticky filth.

But let me not wallow in allegory.

Instead, I will leave you with this, a celebration of all of you, my lovely readers. Thank you for reading!

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Top 11 Least Helpful Things To Tell A Writer

11. "You know, if you haven't gotten at least one solid best-seller by the time you're 30, you should probably face reality and give up."

10. "If you don't read at least three novels a week, you can't really know your own genre."

9. "You had to hire a professional editor? I guess you're not really very confident in your own skills, huh?"

8. "You're doing your own editing? I guess you don't really want to be published, do you?"

7. "Formatting for e.books is way, way harder than you might think. There's no way you're going to be able to do it right."

6. "Formatting for e.books is simple. Only suckers pay other people to do it."

5. "Agents are a holdover from an obsolete system. They don't do anything for you except put up roadblocks and take 15-20% of your money."

4. "Agents are essential. If you submit your manuscript to a publisher without using an agent, you go on that secret blacklist they have for smart-ass newbies. You'll never get published."

3. "What really sells is basically what's already in the marketplace, with only very slight variations. Don't try to be truly original until your fourth or fifth published book."

2. "Once you're published, your publisher, agent and fan base won't let you do anything different genre-wise, since they'll have a vested interest in you as a cash cow."

... and the very least helpful thing to tell a writer...

1. "I can't see how you can sleep at night. All those hours, all that time and heartache you've put into this thing, when the odds are that you'll never get dime one for it. How do you know you're not just wasting your life?"

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Studying contract stuff for Kindle. New worlds to conquer.

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Zombie Luv Flash Fic Contest: Romeo and Juliet are Dead

This letter doth make good the friar's words,
Their course of love, the tidings of her death:
And here he writes that he did buy a poison
Of a poor 'pothecary, and therewithal
Came to this vault to die, and lie with Juliet.
Where be these enemies? Capulet! Montague!
See, what a scourge is laid upon your hate,
That heaven finds means to kill your joys with love.
And I for winking at your discords too
Have lost a brace of kinsmen: all are punish'd.

O brother Montague, give me thy hand:
This is my daughter's jointure, for no more
Can I demand.

But I can give thee more:
For I will raise her statue in pure gold;
That while Verona by that name is known,
There shall no figure at such rate be set
As that of true and faithful Juliet.

As rich shall Romeo's by his lady's lie;
Poor sacrifices of our enmity!

A glooming peace this morning with it brings;
The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head:
Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things;
Some shall be pardon'd, and some punished:
For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.


The iron door closes on the dead lovers, sealing away forever the ruined hopes of two households, both alike in dignity and now alike in misery. For fifteen generations, Capulet and Montague will live together as one wretched family, bound together by the shame of the crush'd flower of youth. Nevermore opened will be this tomb, this sepulchre, this monument to love and hate.

As within the cold walls the candle dies, so comes the darkness temporal to join the darkness eternal, that all-pervading world of sorrow and destitution that is the confounding horror of these, the unhappy lovers.

But o, fair and wise apothecary! How much dost thou know of the world, verily know of this world and of the next? In what flash of grace and wisdom did thee thy elixir concoct? With what powers imbue to ensure thy purpose, e'en though the lovers knew not thy devotion to their cause?

For that scion of Montague, the true and faithful Romeo, he that would not live without the flower of Capulet, his Juliet, has thou ensured, o wise and mysterious apothecary, hast thou ensured that he should not too die without her? Dids't thou know so well that these two, these parts of a single whole, would ne'er peace find on earth while they lived?

O, apothecary! Let it not be said that e'en thy alchemy coulds't to the vault of heaven reach! Almighty God is jealous of his realm, and protective. By a lawyer's trick dids't thou ensure the love and peace of these two, finding for them a safe harbor between this world and the next?

The slow, cold limbs of Romeo stir and, stirring, lift him to his feet. Shrouds becloud his mind, yet his love and purpose are made fix'd and sure. From his bosom he draws thy second bottle, o apothecary, alike as to the first.

With slow step to Juliet doth Romeo lean.
To her lips sweet poison he doth pour between.
That death 'pon death may thus overwhelm
Two become one in love's quiet realm.

Dagger, begone! What matters a bleeding heart when set 'gainst love eternal?

See, his heart does not beat
yet it lives for her.
In his love he waits, and
for his love, he waits.

See, her heart does not beat
yet it lives again for him.
In her love she lives, and
for her love, she lives again.

She, her eyes ope, a slow and steady lift of cold hand and pale lip. He, his eyes shutter'd, returns the cold kiss for an hour, a day, a year.

Together, dead to life and alive in love, in slow passion through the centuries do they undisturb'd reside. In her slow, stilled mind as in his, there is naught but love, for now and for eternity.


This story was written for the ZombieLuv contest as well as for #FridayFlash.

  • Word count: maximum 1000
  • The story must be a romance between two zombies. Make it as horrific as you like. ;)
  • Stories containing animal cruelty, torture, graphic sex or violence, any form of exaltation of violence, racism or other forms of prejudice will be immediately disqualified.
  • Post your entry on your own blog, with a title resembling this: Zombie Luv Flash Fic Contest: Story Title
  • Leave your story title and a link to the story entry post as a comment at mari's randomities:
  • Copy and paste the contest logo and the guidelines at the end of your entry post.

Please note that the first part of this is the end of Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare. If he knew I were doing a zombie take on it, he'd probably want royalties.

UPDATE: This story has been anthologized as part of the Zombie Romance collection.

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Like it? Tweet it!

The power of teamwork

An insane collection of cheerleader fans in South Korea, using their bodies to make a human-powered TV screen.

Three words: feign, imply, virtue

For Three Word Wednesday:

Barbie, so full of virtue
Did feign a sneeze: "Akerchoo!"
Lest Ken should imply,
As they side-by-side lie
"Barbie, my dear, did I hurt you?"

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Guest blogger: submission guidelines

Do you write? Do you read? Do you know something the rest of us don't? From time to time, I'll feature guest writers here at Landless. If you would like to contribute a piece, you can DM me on Twitter or shoot me an e.mail (noland.tony -at- Here are some guidelines to follow.

  • Landless is all about writing and fiction. Articles should be about the writing life: challenges and how to overcome them, discussions of technique and mechanics, information about the business side of writing, etc. Whatever the topic, they should be informative and/or insightful.
  • Fiction and poetry submissions can be in almost any mainstream genre. Please browse some of my fiction to see what I'm talking about. Note that slashfic, hard porn, gratuitous animal cruelty, exaltation of violence, racism, homophobia and comparable works are unsuitable.
  • The article or piece of fiction should sound like you, in your own unique voice. This might seem like a no-brainer, but when doing a guest posting on a blog, there's an impulse to try to sound like the host. Resist this impulse. People who come to Landless get to hear me all the time; this is about them hearing YOU.
  • Articles should be 500-1500 words long, and must be carefully proofread for typos, misspellings, broken HTML, missing/redundant words, etc. Also, grammar and sentence construction must generally follow standard rules of English language usage.
  • Be passionate. Be funny. Be interesting. Be creative. Be excellent.

20 Warning Signs That Your Content Sucks

I am 9 out of 20 for suck. Quick, somebody send me some fan mail, send me some hate mail and go back in time to get me to give this list to my 17-year-old self. Thanks!

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Just Enough Power - 11

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The most surprising thing about Sung Bo Kim's Tuesday and Thursday planning sessions, thought Lonnigan, was how different they were from senior staff meetings she was used to back in the Mouse's organization. Kim started them at 9:00 a.m. exactly, had a set agenda, allowed some side discussion but kept everyone on task and he let everyone go at 10:00. Meng-Shiu's meetings always started sometime in the middle of the afternoon, and they either ended abruptly when he realized he was late for some evening engagement, or they devolved into drunken dinner parties. At best, they were wide-ranging discussions of whatever Meng-Shiu had on his mind, but usually turned into sprawling conversation pits as the hours wore on. Unimportant matters were debated endlessly, while important decisions were inevitably "tabled" so Meng-Shiu could make the decision later in private, without any input at all.

She'd come to loathe them as a waste of time. After the third time in a row she arranged a convenient schedule conflict to make it impossible for her to attend, she was never asked to be present for another. In the old days, under Meng-Shiu's uncle, meetings were small and short. There were a few top people, with a rotating presence of junior ops, allowed to sit in the room and see how the strings of power were pulled. Lonnigan had been to several of them, speaking only when spoken to.

Meng-Shiu liked things big and loud. He talked about how good it was for morale for everyone to have "informal time" together, how it "fostered community". Bullshit, she thought. Letting your senior staff show off for their subordinates by trying to out-shout each other? Letting those junior people see all the bosses get drunk enough to sing karaoke? That's not community, just mutual contempt. Meng-Shiu's organization became a reflection of his own sloppy, self-indulgence.

As she closed the conference room door behind her, Lonnigan realized that she'd been thinking of her old home in the third person - no longer we and us, but as them and they. She worked for Kim now. How long until she began to unconsciously refer to Kim's organization as her own? Kim and his top advisers didn't trust her, but Lonnigan respected them for their reticence. She wouldn't trust a co-opted assassin either. Not right away.

Her part in the planning meeting was done and she'd been politely dismissed. This was the first time she'd been allowed to go back upstairs unescorted. She knew it was a test, and that they were waiting for a call from Wig or whoever was waiting for her, confirming that she'd come straight back to her room. If she ever wanted to get any freedom of movement, she'd have to earn it with Girl Scout-like adherence to instructions. That wasn't something that came naturally, but she did it anyway.

She walked down the hallway toward the back stairs. Before she'd gone halfway, Adams stepped out from a doorway to block her way.

"So," he said, "have a good meeting with the boss, Lonnigan? Feeling nice and important?"

Lonnigan crossed her arms and said, "What do you want, Adams?"

"Ooh, getting snotty already, isn't she? She must be spending too much time with the big-wigs, thinking she's gonna move up in the world, huh?" He leaned forward as he spoke, punctuating his words with a melodramatic sneer that bared his pale yellow teeth. A vein throbbed under the translucent skin of his forehead. He'd be so easy to snap, she thought. I could probably do him one-handed.

"Step aside, Adams."

"Why? What's your hurry? You got somewhere to be? Somebody waitin' for you?" His eyes scanned down and up, lingering on her breasts before returning to her face. "Ah, so that's how your managing to fit in so well. You're just a... friendly person, is that it? Or are you just good at... fitting things in?" His leering grin was ugly, yet with such a pathetic undercurrent that Lonnigan's fury was checked with disgust.

"Last warning, Adams. Step aside."

"You and me, we should be together, Lonnigan. We're the only Talents in the place, even if you only barely qualify. You know they're just gonna throw you away when they're done with you, right? That's how it works, how the world treats Talents. We're just tools to them."

Whatever toxic mixture of emotions were behind the twisted expression on his face, her sharp laugh wiped them all away. He turned bright red, then paled and began to quiver. "Speak for yourself, you pathetic loser," she said. "I fully intend to be... to be..." Her words trailed off to silence as her own face lost color and went blank.

His voice took on a resonant tone that shook with rage. "I said, we should be together."

It suddenly occurred to Lonnigan that Adams was the most handsome man she had ever seen. She thought he was handsome and sexy. She thought he was wonderful. As he came closer to her, it suddenly occurred to her that she wanted him, very badly. She thought that having him touch her would make her very, very happy. A stabbing in her neck from the psi control collar told her something was wrong, but she couldn't figure out what it was. Her mind was filled only with thoughts of Adams, and how handsome and sexy he was.

Adams came in close enough that Lonnigan could smell the old sweat on his body, smell the sour milk and rancid olive oil on his breath. She thought he smelled wonderful. She thought he looked wonderful. With both hands, Adams pulled her face down to his and pressed his tongue into her mouth. She thought he was a wonderful kisser. She thought that his kisses made her very, very happy. His right hand moved under her blouse to shove her bra aside and cup her right breast. Her collar stabbed, again and again as some conflicting thought tried to make itself known. She flinched as the edge of the fabric tore at her skin, but then she thought it felt wonderful. She thought it felt wonderful to have his hands on her breast and his tongue in her mouth.

It suddenly occurred to her that she wanted him to touch her everywhere. She felt his hand leave her breast and grope at the waistband of her slacks. She thought it was wonderful to have him touch her. The pain from the collar was making it hard to think, hard to hold anything in her mind.

Stepping forward like an avalanche, Woczinski gripped the back of Adams' neck with one huge hand and yanked him backwards with so much force that the bony, stick-like Talent flew ten feet down the corridor before crashing into a side table. With his other hand, Woczinski grabbed onto Lonnigan's arm.

She was limp for a moment, disoriented and confused. Then her eyes cleared and her face became as Death. Woczinksi held her firmly, preventing her from moving even half a pace closer to Adams. Lonnigan delivered hard jabs to three different nerve clusters, trying to loosen his grip. Each time, a plasma shock erupted from the nanotech accumulators under his skin, pushing her blows aside and burning her fingertips in the process.

"Let me go!" she screamed. "I'll kill the little fucker, I'll rip his goddamn balls off and choke him to death with them! Let me go!"

"You're not gonna kill him, Lonnigan," Woczinski said, fending off her attacks with inhuman speed and power. "In fact, you're not gonna do anything to him."

"Let me go!"

"Woczinski, don't hurt her but don't let her go." Sung Bo Kim walked past them and moved toward the stunned Adams. Kim motioned to two of the men he'd brought with him, telling them to carry the Talent down the hall, away from Lonnigan. In the silence, Kim watched them go, then turned to face Lonnigan. He stepped within kicking distance, then within arm's reach of her

"Ms. Lonnigan," he said, "you have my apologies. Adams is a disruptive man. I should have made better arrangements to keep him isolated, especially as he is in an unstable phase right now. If he were not an important part of my plans, I would get rid of him today." Kim bowed from the waist. "I apologize to you, Patricia Lonnigan. You will not see Adams again unless it is absolutely necessary."

Her blouse still undone and her arm still clamped by Woczinski, Lonnigan stood in silence for a moment. Then she returned Kim's bow and said, "I accept your apology."

Kim studied her face for a moment. "Ms. Lonnigan, I need Adams for a while longer. Do I have your promise that you won't seek to harm him?"

She thought of all the replies she could make, all the ways in which she could tell Kim that merely harming Adams would be little more than a beginning for what she wanted to do to him. After minutes of silence, she said, "Fine. I won't harm him. But when the time comes, I want to be the one to do him."

Kim laced his fingers together and said, "I'm afraid I've already promised that favor to someone else, in recompense for past offenses." His eyes flicked over to Woczinski, whose expression did not change. "However, if Mr. Woczinski has no objection, I'm willing to let you offer suggestions as to methods."

The huge man shrugged. "Fine with me, Mr. Kim. The slower the better."

"Thank you, Mr. Woczninski. Now then, would you like an escort to your room, Ms. Lonnigan?"

"No." She strode down the hall toward the stairs, but turned back before ascending. "Thank you, gentlemen," she said. "That would have been... unpleasant."

Kim inclined his head slightly, but did not speak. Woczinski shrugged in a gesture that could have meant almost anything.

Lonnigan turned away and went up to her room.

The First EpisodeThe Previous EpisodeThe Next Episode’All

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A reminder of what I said at the outset

Way back in April, I said:
I'll be honest, though. As much as the idea of a serial, particularly this serial, appeals to me, I have a lot of other things on my plate at the moment. I'm not sure I could polish up a serial and do a decent FridayFlash every week. Sad fact, but there it is. Unless something changes, I'm going to have to post episodes of "Just Enough Power" on an occasional, rather than a regular, basis.
Fear not, though... I'm hoping to get an episode up today.

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There are lots of projects I want to work on, but haven't been able to. Writing a little is almost worse than not writing at all. It's just enough to almost scratch the itch, but not enough to make it go away.

It's like a drug. If I gave it up cold turkey, after a while I could convince myself that the need isn't there. I could archive all the files, put away all the books, chuck my special pens and be someone who used to write. I could twist the desire and refocus the energy into something else.

Until the next time I had to clean out the attic, or copy old files onto a new hard drive. Then the books and files, pens and notebooks would come out again, and I'd bemoan the lost years.

I need to face the truth. Things like this don't go away. Not really. They can be overwhelmed and surmounted by other obligations and desires, but that just means it will go into remission. This isn't something that's bolted onto my psyche, like an aftermarket hood ornament.

Being a storyteller isn't something I do.

It's who I am.

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Taking time to think

My blog posts during the week have been thin of late. I've been busy, yo.

A story of mine was selected for the Inhuman flash fiction contest at Absolute X-Press. The story will be in the anthology, to be published next month.

Sadly, I did not win the Bristol Prize for short fiction (or if I did, they didn't notify me).

My submission rate has been substandard of late. That's something I hope to be able to address in the coming weeks.

I'm also going to have to resist the urge to knock out a YA best-seller. I just don't have the time for it.

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#FridayFlash: Friday Flash, Flash, Flash

Friday Flash, Flash, Flash

by Tony Noland

"I can't help but feel like God must have made them just to be pretty, you know?" Mary Jean's breath smelled of Pepsi and peppermint schnapps. It didn't mix too well with the aroma of Jack and Coke that came from Tommy (or Thomas, as he had already begun to think of himself), but that didn't matter.

"Well," he said, "it isn't really just for show." He propped himself up on one elbow, feeling the lumps in the turf under the scratchy wool blanket. The heat of the day was gone and the nighttime dew would have been cold, if not for the drinks. He pointed up into the flashing, blinking darkness over the wheat stubble. "You know what it's for?"


"Sex." Mary Jean's eyes opened wide in an exaggerated expression of shock. For anyone who'd given as many blowjobs as she had, it was more than disingenuous, but Tommy (Thomas) wasn't about to call her on it.

"Oh, you're funnin' me! How could that be? Now, Tommy Jenkins, you stop that, you're just trying to get me to blush!"

Fat chance, he thought.

"Seriously. Fireflies flash their tails to attract mates." he said. "The females flash in one pattern to say, here I am, here I am. The males flash to say, check me out, check me out. Once they've settled the preliminaries, the female changes her flash to one that says, OK, come get me. The male's flash switches to, OK, baby, here I come."

"Now where did you learn that?"

In the senior biology class you slept through. "I dunno, just reading."

She giggled. "Tommy, you're always reading. It ain't natural for a young man to be so caught up in books all the time." Her tone turned serious. "When do you go off to the University?"

For Christ's sake, don't cry again. "A week from Sunday. I get settled in and learn the ropes for a couple of days, then classes start the next Wednesday."

Mary Jean sipped her drink. "Are you gonna forget me?"

"Forget you?" he said. "Now how could I do that? You're my girl, Mary Jean. You always have been." Leave you behind, maybe, but never forget you.

Her eyes misted over, then turned wicked. She sat up on the blanket and smoothly pulled her T-shirt off. Her pink lace bra was a bit undersized, the freckled tops of her breasts spilling out. She pulled down her right cup, exposing the nipple, then covered up again. She did the same with the left, then alternated in triangular flashes of pale skin.

"Hey, Tommy, here I am, here I am, come get me, come get me!"

Tommy (Thomas) arranged his face into a grin. He thought about that other kind of firefly, the kind that flashed signals to lure males in, not to have sex, but to entrap and devour them.

Just one more week, and I am SO out of this town.

"OK, baby, here I come, here I come!"
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Twitter is down again. So how do I comment on this?

Felt like tweeting about the fact that Twitter is down.

But I can't, because Twitter is down.

So I went to tweet about how irritating that is.

But I couldn't, because Twitter is down.

Cognitive dissonance, that is.

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How I killed the man without fear (and why)

AKA "Writing Without Fear - A Bad Idea"

In a comment on my most recent #FridayFlash, "Bones Don't Burn", there were a great many terrific comments, but one by pegjet really struck me. She said, "You are fearless with new styles of writing. I admire and envy your abandon." I've been thinking about that comment all weekend.

I don't think of myself as a particularly courageous writer. I've worked at the fundamentals to become technically competent - worked harder than some, not as hard as many. Once you have confidence in your ability with the mechanics of writing, that makes it much easier to focus on the creativity.

When I first started writing, I did it fearlessly because I didn't know what I was doing. I thought everything that came from my pen was golden - what was there to fear? Eventually, I learned enough about writing to understand the true nature of what I'd been writing, and became horrified at just what I'd been inflicting on my friends and family. I realized how far I had to go before my writing would be worth reading; I became paralyzed by fear, thinking I'd made a HUGE mistake in ever even trying to write fiction.

That state of affairs lasted a while, until I decided to stop trying for genius and strive for competence instead. Talent is an in-born asset: you have either a little or a lot. Competence, even mastery, though... that's different. Anyone who's willing to put in 10,000 hours of practice can get good enough to let sheer technical mastery fill in the gaps where talent leaves off. Powers of observation, rigorous drawing of connections or oppositions, workman-like construction of plot elements - all of these can be taught and practiced.

I have a general idea how much writing talent I possess, but I'm certainly no stranger to hard work. Intelligent effort and focus in acquiring and mastering new skill sets in an old song for me. The thing is, the key to true mastery is to switch up what you do, to not let yourself get complacent or self-congratulatory. A carpenter who's learned how to make a great table is a novice all over again the first time he tries to make a china cabinet.

I'm pretty up front about why I switch genres and styles. When you set yourself a challenge, there's no guarantee that you'll write something good. The only thing you can be sure of is that you will have the opportunity to learn something about your craft.

There are plenty of writing exercise books to choose from. I don't mean writing prompts; fun as they are, they won't impose restrictions on you that force you into unfamiliar territory. I mean, write a story that is only dialogue, or write and re-write the same story three times, first from the perspective of the woman, then from that of the man, then from that of the lady next door eavesdropping through the air vent. These stories are hard to write, but worth the effort.

May my muse save me from being a fearless writer! The day I go back to writing without fear is the day I've stopped exploring the reaches of my ability, stopped trying to improve. Is that courage? The willingness to risk putting out a clinker when something doesn't work? It's the only way I know to get better. To date, I've written about 200,000 words of fiction. Eventually, I hope to write so well that the question of innate talent vs. acquired skill becomes irrelevant. That's the writer's Turing test: is he an extremely talented writer, or merely supremely skillful?

Some people have twenty years experience. Other people have one year of experience, repeated twenty times. The difference is self-examination, and a continual effort to improve.

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#FridayFlash: Bones Don't Burn

Bones Don't Burn

by Tony Noland

The skeletons rose from their graves in the usual way - slowly, smallest bones first.

They had a hard time of it. Grass grew tall and heavy over the yard, thickly matted roots the last obstacle in their patient rise through the soil. Madeline Andrea Cummins (August 13, 2154 - August 23, 2154) disappeared entirely into the earth, her wispy newborn bones too fragile and half-formed to rise intact through the church's six feet of earth. Her mother, Jennifer Andrea (Wilcox) Cummins (October 9, 2135 - September 19, 2154), came up only half-way, then stopped, as suicides often will. Madeline's father, Carl David Cummins (April 1, 2132 - December ?, 2154) was not buried in the same churchyard. He wasn't buried anywhere, to tell the truth; his bones had long ago been cracked and scattered by the dogs.

The bones of the dogs, of course, don't matter at all.

Jennifer's parents, Alexander Mondrian Wilcox (June 12, 2093 - August 21, 2154) and Elizabeth Andrea (Richter) Wilcox (February 9, 2094 - August 23, 2154) would have come up, but although they had been buried in as much haste as the others who were among the first to die, they had pre-paid for ornate bronze caskets. Side by side, deep and quiet, they did not join in the slow, upward parade. Carl's parents, Carl Brian Cummins (November 3, 2083 - December ?, 2154) and Madeline Julia (Arnold) Cummins (November 26, 2084 - December ?, 2154) had been with him when they died. He wrapped them together in the blue tarpaulin that the three of them had been sleeping under since they'd left the city. Carl Jr. sewed it closed with his spare boot laces. Thus wrapped, he prayed over them and left them by the side of the road.

He ran all day, trying not to hear the barking of dogs behind him and ahead of him.

Along the side of the church, the skull of Henry David Aaronson (January 8, 2071 - September 1, 2154) emerged two springs ago; he lacked only his hips to be complete. Alas for Henry, titanium does not rise in the earth, it sinks. His wife, Patricia Rose (Arnold) Aaronson (July 12, 2093 - September 3, 2154) rested, full and complete, but meshed in the grip of the roots, held away from the sun. Osteoporosis had left her bones almost as splintery as little Madeline's, but Pat had always been a stubborn, willful woman. Against the advice of her sister Madeline, she'd married Henry for his money, thinking him an old man who could not last long.

Those who marry for money, work for it.

Pat and Henry, Alex and Betsy, Jennifer and poor little Madeline - they and all the others stayed safe and secure and quiet, kept from the sun by the ornamental landscaping gone heavy and matted, wild and self-indulgent. A stone wall of moderate height, a simple enough vanity built by the church elders in 2009 and repaired multiple times since, surrounded the churchyard. The wall and the stone flags of the walk kept the fires out and the grasses tall. When the people all got sick and died or went away, this town wasn't long to follow all the others into ruin. Houses would collapse or burn in the lightning-born prairie fires, their propane tanks exploding in enormous fireballs that no one saw or heard. Across the landscape, fire and rain and rust swept away everything but the ugliest concrete overpasses and the most ornate granite churches.

There were no mice to dig and gnaw. No birds to pluck and peck. Nothing with a spinal cord walked or flew, crawled or swam anywhere. For the grasses and flowers, together with the insects and worms, the world had returned to the paradise they had once known, and still remembered.

Lying in the shadow of the church, patiently or impatiently, the bones wait for fire to free them from the grip of the grasses. And when they are free? Will they lie in the sun, uncovered and naked? Will they rejoin with imagined ligaments and dance out their freedom in dry, pale steps across a blackened earth? Will they sprout flesh and take up again the chores of life?

Will they?

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Voting is open: What #fridayflash means to me

Over on Jon Strother's blog, voting is now open on the essay contest, "What #FridayFlash means to me". Pop on over and read the entries; they are all insightful and inspiring.

My own entry is "Rule #1: You must write."

Congratulations to everyone for their great essays!

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The Motivation Video

Everyone in the world has posted this video, or links to it, but it really is fascinating.

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Just Enough Power - 10

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"When am I going to get my stuff back?" Lonnigan's arm snapped forward; the tip-heavy knife rotated twice before thudding into the target.

Wig leaned his chair back. "What stuff?"

She picked up another knife from the table at her side. "My cell phone, my Glocks, my money, my hairbrush - all the stuff you guys took from me when the three of you grabbed me in Chicago." Her arm snapped, and the knife joined the first five, stuck in the heavy block of maple bolted to the wall.

"Don't hold your breath. Woczinski kept your guns. He kind of felt entitled, since you shot him in the face."

"That only entitles him to the one I shot him with, not the one in the bag." She picked up another knife.

Wig shrugged. "Take it up with Woczinski. The phone went into the back office, to get scanned and scrubbed. It's being monitored; so far as I know, you haven't gotten any calls."

Thud. The paint of the smiley face target was badly scarred, with the area between the eyes taking the brunt of the damage. The tips of the blades were penetrating more deeply now that the wood was getting chewed up.

"And the rest?"

"We split the money, but Adams took everything else. I wanted the knife and the mints, but he insisted on taking everything. He even went in and cleaned out the rest of that storage locker. Took the clothes, food, everything."

"What did he do with it all?"

"He piled it up and burned it."

Lonnigan's arm paused, faltering the throw.

"All of it?"

"All of it."

She thought of the gray cashmere coat, the chocolate-colored Italian leather boots with the bone buttons, the FN 30-.06 with the burled walnut stock and 12-9X light gathering scope.

"Why would he do that?"

"Because he hates you."

"Why?" In one flowing motion, she scooped up the last knife and whipped it out. Her accuracy suffered for the speed of the attack, but the last blade still caught the target in the lower part of the face.

Wig watched Lonnigan cross the training room to collect the knives. As always, he kept his right hand on the butt of the HK on his hip, and his left on the shock-paralysis remote control for her psi-suppressor collar. Lonnigan had been cooperative, but he might still have to kill her if she tried anything stupid. Her face cleared as she moved, the flush of anger smoothing into a nearly expressionless look of abstract thought, an angry killer's blankness. He tightened his grip on his piece, but she worked the knives free and carried them back to the table before repeating her question.

"Why does he hate me, Wig? I could understand Woczinski holding a grudge, but he knows it was just business. None of you have any particular reason to trust me, but I've never done anything in particular to Adams."

"He's a Talent," Wig said.

"So? So am I, or I would be if Kim would take this fucking dog collar off me." she replied. "What's the matter, is he jealous?"


Lonnigan twisted her face to snort, saw that Wig wasn't joking.

"Hold it." she said. "Seriously? Why the hell would he be jealous of me? His Talent is worlds more powerful than mine. Mental influence is uncommon anyway, and the kind of precision thought implantation he does is practically unheard of. My little kinetic stuff is nothing compared to that."

"Are you hungry, Lonnigan?"

"Huh? What are you talking about?"

"I said, are you hungry? You had lunch about three hours ago, right? So, right now - are you hungry?"

"Well, I guess so. Some. Why?"

"When we were closing in on you, Adams wouldn't shut up about you and your calorie balance. He estimated that your Talent level imposes about an eight hundred calorie per day bioburden on you. Just enough to let you eat whatever you want and stay all curvy and chesty like you are, even with the dog collar on. Don't do it," he added, seeing her hand move to one of the knives.

Lonnigan twisted her scowl into a lingering sneer, then picked up the knife and threw it across the room. Thud.

Wig eased his grip from the remote control.

"Go on." Lonnigan said.

"Adams burns about seven thousand calories a day, whether he's using his Talent or not. If it weren't for those olive oil and and whey protein shakes he's always drinking, he'd be even skinnier than his is now. Fact is, Lonnigan, his Talent is eating him up. He's keeping ahead of it for now, but one of these days it's gonna kill him. Until then," Wig said, "he looks like a freak and he doesn't have any friends because he's a pain in the ass."

Snap. Thud. "And this is my fault how?"

"It doesn't have to be your fault. Using your, if you'll pardon the expression, piss-ant little Talent, mixed with smarts and a pair of balls as big as any tough guy's, you've moved up in the world. Gotten respect, a certain reputation. Mr. Kim wouldn't have wasted time on you if you weren't worth the effort. Adams is just a tool to be used as long as he lasts. He pretty much knows the score, too, and it frosts him. Hence his serious dislike for you."

"If Adams hasn't managed to take control of his own career by now, that's his problem."

"How old would you say he is?"

She shrugged. "I dunno, forty-five, fifty maybe."

"He's twenty six years old," Wig said. "And he'll be dead before he's thirty."

Lonnigan stood quietly for a moment, holding the knife up. When she threw, it clattered broadside to the wall and fell to the floor. "You made me miss," she said.

"Just stay out of his way, Lonnigan. Mr. Kim told him to lay off, but you pretty much represent everything he wishes his Talent had given him, instead of the shit sandwich he got. He really doesn't like you, and he's not the most stable of guys."

"Gee, Wig, thanks for the warning." Snap. Thud. "I'll be careful, really I will."

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Parker "51"

I picked up a fountain pen at a garage sale yesterday, one that was unusual looking and in excellent shape. Odd color, too, a smooth tan with a gold cap. Most old fountain pens are black, blue or maroon.

After handing over my dollar, I went on my way. Later in the day, I had a chance to examine it. 14K gold-filled cap, converging lines, a hidden nib, barrel and cap in excellent almost scratch-free condition. Interesting blue diamond on the clip, and transluscent gem-like shapes on both ends.

Tiny lettering on the barrel said Parker "51", so I Googled it, andgot more info as to how to date & value the pen. Conservative estimate is that it's worth ~ $600.

It filled properly on the first try and writes well with a fine line.

Nice pen.

UPDATE: Pictures, and many thanks to Sam and to Julie for advice and links for information on this pen, and for defining the term "SUMGAI" for me.

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#FridayFlash: One Percent Inspiration

The flicker of the lab's fluorescent lights only bothered Shoshanna during all-nighters. The lights were always on, since Dr. Rudoleski kept his people hopping 24/7. She rarely saw him except during the marathon lab meetings on Fridays. He wanted a 10 minute summary from everyone about their week's activities, which meant a minimum of three hours. Usually, they ran for more than five, with him throwing out difficult, probing questions for everyone who'd had a good week and sarcastic comments for everyone else. God help anyone who had nothing to report.

Rudoleski had a nasty habit of deliberately calling the lab at odd hours; they were all sure to get yelled at during the weekly staff meeting if at least one person wasn't there to answer the phone in the middle of the night. Everyone worked on the 4th of July. Legend had it that Rudoleski called every year at 2:45 a.m. on July 5 and always asked, "Who else is there with you?" Tonight was just another Wednesday, though, and Shoshanna was alone in the lab.

Whenever a new person joined the group, or someone left after graduating or getting a job, the lab pecking order was resorted. It was partly based on seniority, but postdocs always outranked grad students, and doctoral candidates always outranked master's students. As she was the only master's student in the lab at present, it meant she had a bad time of it. It was frustrating as hell for her to have to kowtow to some knucklehead who didn't know jack about quantum oscillatory crystal magnetohydrodynamics, just because he or she was a newly minted crystallography PhD from some other, lesser university.

Shoshanna was one of the best, which was why Rudoleski had agreed to take her on. He practically never wasted his time with master's students; only if they looked very promising would he consider them. She knew that by "promising", Rudoleski meant "productive". Everyone who came out of Rudoleski's lab was well trained, but the last person he'd carried through the entire trifecta was a legend. That guy published three papers from his master's work, five papers and a patent from his doctoral dissertation and an astonishing eleven papers as a postdoc, one of which was published in PNAS. He'd gone on to a tenure track position at the University of Chicago, and was currently a favorite for a chemistry Nobel. Rudoleski frequently held him up as an example during the staff meetings, saying, "See what you could do with a little effort?"

The mass spectrometer was warmed up, the standards run and internal calibrations complete. As soon as the samples were ready, she could analyze them and have all the data in a spreadsheet by sunrise. She rubbed her tired eyes. Shoshanna's master's defense was three weeks away. With all of her cramming and memorization, she felt she knew more about how to capture and store energy in crystals than any other person alive, except for Rudoleski himself. Her thesis was solid, with important advances in the field. Still, it was all incremental work. The one thing she lacked was a punchline, a knockout piece of data that would make everyone forget Aleksandr Mikhailovitch Ivanaov. She wanted so badly to overhear someone say, "Sure, but what about that Shoshanna Epstein? You better keep an eye on that one, she's your *real* competition."

She crossed the analytical section of the lab and entered the magnet room. On the bench, the big superconducting electromagnets were arrayed around the test vessel, alternating with the ultrasonic resonator horns. The ultrasound had been her biggest idea yet, one she had told no one about. It had taken her a week to program the computers and set up the test bed, and then another three days to align and calibrate everything. Tuned properly, the nine sonics harmonized, forcing the solution to cavitate. Inside that little bubble, a small speck of plasma hotter than the core of the sun formed and re-formed a thousand times every second. Once she turned on the rest of the system, her calculations showed that the magnetic flux lines converging on that plasma would catalyze the creation of a crystal lattice from the yttrium solution.

All the delays were infuriating, but at last everything was ready. In just over an hour, the world was finally going to have the perfect quantum energy storage system. This would revolutionize everything, and she would be famous. She took a deep breath and pressed the activation switch. The small room grew loud with the sound of the cooling pumps kicking on in the pre-cycle.

Out in the lab, the phone rang.

Shoshanna closed her eyes and cursed. She wanted to watch it happen, but the only person who would be calling at this hour would be Rudoleski. Shoshanna turned and left the room, hoping that the call would be finished quickly.

Behind her, the control computer activated the system and tried to send nintey five kilowatts through the magnetic flux array. If the operation had been done during the day, when the rest of the campus was using normal amounts of power, Shoshanna's misplaced decimal would have tripped the main breakers and shut down the building's power. With a light load everywhere else, however, the equipment got the full ninety five.

The first crystal formed just as her calculations predicted, so far as they went. Yttrium was forced into mated electron shell configurations, and crystallized. However, under the press of the extra magnetic flux, triplet atoms fused together into a superheavy element, releasing massive amounts of energy. The new element twisted the crystal structure, and the bubble dimmed as all of the energy in the system drained away into the crude but fully functional allo-spacial quantum torsion well Shoshanna had unintentionally created.

The yttrium continued to fuse and the speck of hypercrystal grew, absorbing enough energy every minute to power a small city for four hours. At the programmed time, the superconducting magnets shut down. Within the little test vessel, yttrium fusion ceased and the glowing bubble surrounding the tiny speck brightened again. The ultrasonics remained operational; they were the only thing keeping the hypercrystal stable and containing the energy.

Shoshanna hadn't noticed the odd pulsing of the lights out in the lab when the magnets overpowered. Rudoleski's impromptu grilling about her thesis defense material had rattled her, badly. She was near tears when she was finally able to hang up and return to the magnet room.

With a shaking hand, she reached out to shut down the system so she could pull a sample. Please let this have worked, she thought, please!

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How to synchronize and back up files for dummies (and writers)

Let's say you have multiple locations from which you work (desktop, laptop, day job computer, home computer, Mom's house, boyfriend's house, etc.). You add 3000 brilliant words to MyAwesomeYANovel.doc on the laptop, but the file on the desktop is still last week's version. How do you keep all your files coherent? If you're comfortable with someone else storing your data, you could use cloud storage (Google Docs, DropBox, etc.) and do all your work on a single file. These services work great... when the network is on. What about when you are offline? How do you have 24/7 access and keep ALL your files up-to-date across all your locations?

E.mail them to yourself? Sneakernet them around with a thumb drive? Regardless of how you get the new version next to the old, it's distinctly sub-optimal. Opening two files and doing the cut-and-paste mambo is a pain, and you might miss something. Word has a "compare and merge" function, but it sucks.

Another thing to consider is backing up data. During many years as a computer user, I've had my fair share of lost data. Hard drive crashes, misplaced thumb drives, Diet Coke spilled onto a stack of floppies (remember floppies?). What with massive oil slicks, earthquakes and enormous sinkholes a real risk, you're probably thinking, "Tony, how do you avoid the risk of data loss these days?"

Well, I use Windows Live Sync. Installed on my networked computers, I have an instant, minute-by-minute backup. When I add, delete or edit a file on one desktop PC, it's mirrored to another one at another location. When I turn on my netbook, the newest version is delivered when I connect to the network. If I'm roaming or am offline for some other reason, my netbook saves the changes to the files and folders, and sends the newest version to the other two computers when I'm able to reconnect. If there's some kind of a conflict, with multiple edited versions of the file on different PCs, each is sent to all the other computers in my account, tagged for easy reference so I can sort it out later.

Because I'm paranoid about data loss, I still back up my files to a thumb drive and to NAS, but it's nice to have everything backed up to an off-site location. If my house burns down, destroying both my desktop and netbook, at least I'd have my little stories to keep me warm.

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