How to improve your home office

Some good info on how to improve your home office. I mean, assuming you have a home office and not just a laptop and a (usually) reserved corner of a couch.

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#FridayFlash: The Livin' is Easy

The Livin' is Easy

by Tony Noland

The woman saw trouble walking down the beach, but didn't say anything to her companion. Maybe they'd see someone else with bikini smaller, breasts bigger, anything to entice them to veer off and ruin someone else's day.

She tilted her head back down to her paperback, using her body and posture to make it clear that she hadn't noticed them or the irritated beachgoers in their wake. Overly muscled, overly tanned, two with greasy blond hair, the third bald, they kicked sand as they walked, clots flying forward and back with every step.

Laughing loud as they strode across the beach, they commented and jeered at the flabby, sunburned tourists. Wives scowled at husbands for not doing anything, husbands scowled at themselves for the same reason. Maybe twenty years ago, they thought, back when I was in shape, I would have challenged them... and their scowls deepened, for they were, to a man, old enough to be past the point of retaining any real delusions about what they would have said to three tough locals looking for a fight.

Kicking their way across the beach, the three saw her and her companion. Him, as fleshy and pale as any other man, sleeping through his vacation, fat legs splayed out from his beach chair. Her... even in a relatively demure tankini, she was an arresting sight. Brown hair with glinting red highlights, a richly pretty face, long legs, narrow waist, and high breasts, each a generous handful and perfectly balanced by her toned, smooth shoulders.

Like a triad school of barracuda, they changed course towards her.

She put her book down. Her companion snored lightly next to her, his expensive insulated water bottle forgotten in his hand, half-full of a cool, pleasant vacation beverage. His glasses were on the blanket next to the remains of lunch, his book on his face.

The locals dug their toes in and scuffed with more vigor as they approached. Along the crowded beach, heads turned to watch them cross the open space around the two of them. The first clots of sand landed across the man's big belly when they were still two strides away. He jerked awake and the book fell away just in time for the next mass of sand to hit him in the face.

He choked and spit. "What the hell? Hey, asshole, what the hell do you think you're doing?" The man was only half-awake, disoriented. "This is a private beach, goddamn it!" He reached for his glasses and pulled them on. His vision cleared as he looked at the three, realizing what he was facing.

The bald one, a big spider tattoo on his neck standing out against his tan, flexed and leaned forward into the man's face. "There's nothin' private about this beach, old man, is there boys?" The others laughed, flanking him on either side and flexing just as much. "We grew up here, unlike you, you fat old fuck. You hear that, sweetheart? You and all you fuckin' tourists, this is our beach, and don't you forget it." He punctuated his last with a shove to the man's chest.

The man staggered backwards one step, twisted to his left, then swung his water bottle upward in a wide, fast arc. The aluminum dented inward as it crushed the bald man's jaw. Two molars flew and a gout of blood sprayed from his mouth, and he dropped like a twelve point buck on opening day.

The man's grip shifted, his palm over the base of the bottle, and he pivoted in the sand to shove it deep into the solar plexus of the long-haired local on the left. Something cracked and the big man doubled over, vomiting. The third one shouted and stepped back; muscles bulged as he drew back his right fist. Before he could throw the punch, he screamed and twisted. He lost his balance grabbing at the paring knife the woman had shoved through his bicep; when he hit the sand, the hilt bent upward and he screamed again.

The man and the woman stood looking at the three locals lying on the sand - one screaming and clutching at the flow of blood between his fingers, one gasping and choking on his own foamy bile, one broken and silent. In less than ten seconds, two huge men in suits ran up, shouting, guns drawn. Both dropped to their knees as they arrived and brought the barrels down hard, blued steel cracking across the foreheads of the screamer and the gasper. Twin thudding cracks ended the noise on the beach, and three bodies lay still on the sand.

In a fluid motion, both suits went up on one knee and scanned their sections of the beach, guns out and at the ready. Nothing, and nothing more. "Are you OK, sir?" one of them said.

"And may I ask where the fuck were you? Incognito or not, I shouldn't have to deal with shit like this myself, for Chrissakes," said the man. He turned to look around at the faces staring from all directions at him and the woman. "Well?" he said in loud voice, "What are you staring at? Go back to your vacations." Up and down the beach, heads swiveled away, looking at books, the water, the sand, at anything but the scene of Aderesto "The Acrobat" Vincelli and his interrupted day on the beach.

"Private beach, my ass. Get the resort manager down here, right fucking now, and tell him to bring his security guy with him." He turned to the woman. "Sorry, honey. No more sun today."

She sighed. Was there anything worse than a day at the beach, ruined?

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Please note: I'm on vacation until mid-August, and will be able to respond to comments then.

New "Inhumans" anthology is out

Breaking vacation radio silence to pass along this word, which I got
from Tina Hunter (@TinaHunter):

"My friends @TonyNoland and @ChrisChartrand are in this anthology
(just released). Congrats Guys!"

Thanks Tina!

Hey, everyone, go check out, 'cause she's a cool cat.

Follow me on Twitter: @TonyNoland

The book video

This is still cool, no matter how many times you see it.

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If I were really on the ball, I'd have scheduled a whole bunch of blog posts to cover my vacation time, the way John Scalzi does.

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Being wrong

Interesting take on the experience of being wrong.

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Book promotion: Chinese Whisperings

Over on the Chinese Whisperings website, I talk about what it was like writing interwoven fiction, as well as the experience of collaborating with an editor in Australia and co-authors scattered all over the world.

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#FridayFlash: Coffee Break

Coffee Break

by Tony Noland

The ozone stink of Dr. Hussman's laboratory was thick, thicker than Jenner could ever remember it, almost thicker than the roaring exhaust fans could handle. With the primary synchrotron running, there was only one spot in the lab where a man could work for more than a few hours without getting a headache, and Hussman was in it, staring at the readouts on the main control console. His gray hair ruffling in the breeze of fresh air coming from a dedicated air vent, he had his noise-canceling headphones on, eyes flicking back and forth among the dozen screens, lost in the miracle he'd created. At least, Jenner thought, it was the miracle he hoped he'd created. There were cheaper ways to make ozone.

Jenner stepped to the downstream positron injector array and unplugged one of the monitoring sensors. A yellow alarm light started to flash on one of Hussman's screens and the old man whipped around like he'd been bitten. His look of alarm turned to irritation on seeing Jenner with the fiber optic cable in hand. Jenner waved at him, pointed at the door to the office annex; Hussman gestured back impatiently, but nodded before turning back to his console. Jenner plugged the sensor back in and left the lab. Hussman watched the readout status, waited for it to return to green, then stood and followed Jenner out.

"Goddamn it, that's sensitive equipment in there! You can't just grab at whatever little piece of shiny you feel like playing with as though -"

"- as though I were a monkey in the zoo. Yes, Dr. Hussman, I know. Is it ready?" Jenner went to pour himself a cup of coffee, then paused to give the pot a sniff. He turned to the sink and poured the burnt, viscous sludge down the drain.

"Hey, what are you doing with my coffee?" said Hussman, "That was perfectly good coffee! I like it like that!"

"No you don't." replied Jenner, without looking back. "You just don't give a shit. You wouldn't know decent coffee if it bit you on the ass. And you didn't answer my question. Is it ready?" Jenner rinsed the pot, contemplated the discolored glass for a moment then reached for the sponge and dish soap. He began to wash it, raising a slick of gray-brown foam as he scrubbed at the network of dark stains. "Doctor?"

"No. It's not ready yet. There are some troubling instabilities in the auto-harmonizer sequence. There are spikes in the chrono-pulser network that I haven't been able to isolate, and one of the positron injectors is due for a recalibration."

"All of which means that it's ready, but that you don't want to turn it up to full power. We've been through this, Doctor. Everything will be fine. There's no reason to be afraid." On the third scrubbing, the soap suds remained white; Jenner decided the pot was as clean as it was likely to get. Final rinse, cold water, paper filter, seven scoops. When the first perks sizzled down and the aroma of coffee started to overtake the ozone, he turned to face Hussman. The scientist stopped biting his thumbnail and straightened.

"I'm not afraid. I'm not afraid of anything." said Hussman. "I just... want it to work."

"It'll work."

"I know it will. Of course it will, I don't have any doubts of that. I built it, didn't I?"

"We, Doctor. We built it."

Hussman's face twisted and flushed. "Yes, Jenner, your money was essential, so I suppose you may claim that 'we' built it."

Jenner let it go; he was far too impatient to get the machine operational. Of course the guiding inspiration had been Jenner's all along, but Hussman's self-serving revision didn't matter. It was absurd to waste any time over his wanting to take all the credit for building the machine. So long as it worked the way Jenner had designed it to, that wouldn't matter at all.

So long as it worked this time; Jenner gritted his teeth at the thought of starting over yet again.

"Doctor, I'm going to charge up the primary vortex stabilizers and take the system up to 80%. As soon as the secondaries are charged, we'll start the injection sequence. We should hit full power in less than three hours."

"It's not ready yet!"

"Injection begins in a little over an hour, Doctor. If you're not there to assist me, I'll do it without you."

"You wouldn't dare. After everything I've done, everything I've sacrificed, you wouldn't dare exclude me from First Light, deny me my rightful place in history! Get out of the way, I'll charge up the primaries myself. And I'm not going to be assisting you, you're going to be assisting me, is that clear? For the record, YOU are assisting ME. You stay away from my machine until I call you in an hour. You hear me, Jenner? Don't come in until I call you!" Hussman almost tripped over himself in his frantic rush to go back into the lab.

Through the plate glass, Jenner watched Hussman muttering to himself as he began to uncouple the safety lockouts on the heavy power relays. The floor vibration changed pitch as the power cycles ramped up. Across the room, the control board began to shift from a placid, uniform green to a pixelated, flashing red as each subsystem went from STANDBY/READY to CHARGED/ARMED.

Jenner turned and poured himself a cup of coffee. It was OK. Not great, but OK. Made properly, coffee was a surprisingly delicious beverage. It was one of the few things he would miss about this place when he went home.

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Get cracking

So, did you miss me?

I got one story written this week, which will appear as this week's #FridayFlash. I need a few more to slot in, as I will be gone baby gone beginning Saturday.

Strange days ahead, I'll tell you that much.

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Science fiction writers, this one's for you

Get ready to revise all that ultra-futuristic prose about semi-autonomous cooperative/collective micromachines.

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Guest blogger: @FutureNostalgic, on AudioBoo

With the increasing popularity of AudioBoo, a number of writers have either embraced it, tried it or are considering it. I asked one of the most prominent members of the #FridayFlash community of writers to discuss some of the issues around AudioBoo.


Hello folks, Sam from Future-Nostalgic here. Tony has kindly offered me the opportunity to write a guest post at Landless about my thoughts on the rising phenomenon of AudioBoo as it relates to flash fiction.

First of all, what is AudioBoo?

From Wikipedia:
AudioBoo allows...users to record and playback digital recordings up to 5 minutes long which can then be posted on the AudioBoo website...These recordings are referred to as 'boos.'
I can see the potential of Audioboo for authors of flash fiction, not least because the 5 minute limit for individual boos is ideally suited to reading a story of 1000 words or less. Audioboo is, I'm told, incredibly easy to do, simply register for a free account then record direct onto the Audioboo website, or record your boo offline and upload it later and away you go. It is also possible to embed the Audioboo player on your blog or website so listeners can access it directly from your site.

I suppose there is a certain appeal to hearing an author reading their own work, and from the author's point of view, Audioboo may help identify areas for improvement in their work, and help them tighten up their writing as they gain more experience of how it actually sounds. There is also potential for an increased audience among those people who prefer listening to reading from a screen

So, why isn't everybody doing it?

The author can be, by their very nature, an introverted beast who prefers to be represented through the written word than through other media. Having said that, some #FridayFlash authors, like Tony himself, and Icy Sedgewick, Benjamin Solah and Jodi Cleghorn to name but a few, feel much more comfortable about having their voice accessible online.

In fact, with the ease of use that Audioboo provides, Benjamin Solah has begun a new Twitter meme and website, #SpokenSunday to combine #FridayFlash with Audioboo podcasting, giving authors a new outlet for their work, which leads me on to something important, the voice itself.

Some of us are blessed with a naturally good speaking voice, others achieve it through training, but there are still others of us who feel that, for whatever reason, our speaking voices are not conducive to public performance. Guess which group I fall into? The standing joke on Twitter is that my voice resembles a cat gargling with spanners. Neither do I have a knack for accents, nor the ability to voice female characters.

I have a regional accent too, that, to be honest with you, I am proud of. The accent in and of itself does not worry me, though I am conscious that it may subconsciously influence the listener and their enjoyment of my work, so I'd prefer it wasn't part of the equation. I am comfortable with the voice I hear inside my head when I speak, though having heard a recording of my voice, I do not like how more high pitched and squeaky it sounds when I hear it back; there's the cat with the spanners again.

For me to feel happy having my stories available in an audio format, I would probably need to pay to have them recorded by someone who doesn't empty the room by the time they've spoken the first sentence, someone like my good friend and very talented author and voice artist Emma Newman, who offers a recording service for flash fiction (and longer works) at very reasonable rates.

I would prefer to go down this route, if funds allowed, for another reason, namely that I prefer my words to speak for themselves, rather than me speaking them. Let me explain – part of what I love most about writing, and reading come to that, is the reader's ability to interpret the story themselves, to hear in their own head a comfortable voice, their own, and to construct a mental image of the setting and characters in a story. For me it's part of the mystique of a story. I am sure there are readers who prefer to hear a story read exactly as the author intended, I prefer to give my readers the opportunity to enjoy the experience without the distraction of my voice, trust me, that's a blessing; I also enjoy my anonymity.

There are practical challenges too, not least of which is microphone technique. I don't believe many of us are naturally gifted with the ability to simply pick up a microphone and record. It takes practice, and while I may, eventually, be persuaded by my good friends (enablers) in the online author community to take a deep breath and podcast one of my stories, I can't imagine me ever taking the plunge without a lot of behind-the-scenes preparatory work, training, practice, and a script.

And then there's the issue of recording quality. There are some very good freeware audio programs available, Audacity for example, that can do a lot to improve the quality of an audio recording however, what such programs cannot help with is the quality of the audio input, and I am not convinced the microphone I have available will necessarily be up to the job.

To successfully podcast my stories I will need a new microphone, voice training and a good deal more confidence about my voice than I currently possess, though if my friends keep working on me as relentlessly supportively as they have been lately, you may hear my first Audioboo sooner than you think!

So, what do you think about podcasting your work? Is Audioboo something you'd like to try? And do you have any hints and tips you'd care to share that may help me decide to take the plunge?

Finally, I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Tony for handing over the mic to me for this post, I'd better hand it back again sharpish before my voice empties the room. Again.

Thanks, Tony!


You're very welcome, Sam! So what do you think, everyone? Do you Boo, either as a social medium or to read your fiction? Do you think it's a valuable tool for a writer, either as an outlet to reach an audience or as a means to improve your writing? And if people on Twitter are Tweeps, what do we call someone on AudioBoo? A Booer?

Direct links to the AudioBoo accounts for folks that Sam mentioned: Tony Noland, Icy Sedgewick, Benjamin Solah, Jodi Cleghorn, Emma Newman

SpokenSunday: Not My Intention

For SpokenSunday, a tale of love and laundry.


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#FridayFlash: Grey Ghost Gone

Grey Ghost Gone

by Tony Noland

Harold pulled into his garage, killed the engine and took off his sunglasses. Six more hours until sundown, as if it mattered. Nothing mattered, not anymore. The life of Harold W. Rentnick III was never much to speak of, but his night-time secret identity as a vigilante super-hero used to make his days bearable. Not long ago, he lived for the night, was anxious to leave this plush prison and go out to prowl the mean streets. Now, he just sat alone at home watching CSI reruns and movies from his Netflix queue.

True, home was a 34-room mansion on a secure estate, but so what? Harold knew that he was a boring, unloveable lump. It was his alter ego, the Grey Ghost, whom everyone liked to be with. When he was behind the mask of the Ghost, he could be clever, funny, charming, flirtatious... free. People liked him when was the Ghost. People only tried to hang out with Harold because he was rich. Whether they were from families that were rich, super-rich or don't-bother-asking-rich, it was all about money. There was no one he could trust, with whom he could be himself. Money was like a disease that kept him apart from everyone else, a disease for which he knew no cure.

In the end, it was all worthless. He hated being Harold. He'd trade every cent of it to be able to be the Grey Ghost again; even if he had to start over from nothing, he'd do it tomorrow. But it was impossible.

He got out of the Benz and went into the empty house. The super-strength and ESP, he missed those, of course, but more than that or any of the other powers, he missed being cool and mysterious, being admired. He missed hanging out with RocketMan and Raptor, just kicking ass and patrolling together through the watches of the night. He even missed his on-again, off-again dating with Electra, crazy jealous as she was of that partnership he'd had with the Blonde Bombshell. He missed all of his friends.

But he dared not put on the magic ring that gave him his powers, not even once for old time's sake. The pain was just unbearable when he took the ring off, and he couldn't stay as the Ghost for more than 72 hours without dying of thirst.

The ring was upstairs, on his dresser in that little carved wooden box, the same one he'd found in that cave in Bolivia. It had taken him a while to figure out the powers that came with the ring, but it was a chance to completely reinvent himself. How ironic that the same aspect of the ring's power which had made him feared and hated in the criminal underworld was also the very thing that forced him to retire last year.

As the Grey Ghost, all forms of metal and other inorganic matter passed right through him. Bullets, knives, shrapnel... none of it could touch him. It wasn't exactly full intangibility, but it let him walk through brick walls, go in and out of locked vaults, stuff like that. It scared the hell out of the crooks. It never occurred to him to think about his teeth.

Harold walked down the back hall towards the kitchen. For more than twenty years, he'd been a super-hero, one of the best. Then, last spring, the first time he'd tried to go out after having his first cavity fixed at the dentist, his new filling fell right through his mouth as soon as he put on the ring. He hadn't noticed until after that night's work, but when he took the ring off, that stabbing pain was horrible. He'd had to endure a redrilling session to set a new one, which had also fallen out the very next night. He didn't feel the pain as the Grey Ghost; as soon as the magic ring came off, though...

After replacing the filling for the fourth time, the dentist said he'd have to pull the tooth and set a crown if the fillings kept coming out. Harold considered what it would mean to have endured the drilling into his jawbone to set the pin, only to have to go back and do it again and again when his intangibility kicked in. That wasn't a volitional power like the flight or the X-ray vision... it just happened when he put on the ring.

Harold thought of the needles jabbed into his jaw, the smell of burning bone during that last session in the dentist's chair, the metallic taste of the most recent filling. With his jaw still aching, he made the hardest decision of his life. He'd given up his life's work, his passion, the only thing that made life enjoyable. He sent a secret coded message to the mayor and to Fellowship of Protectors, telling them of his decision to retire, citing "medical reasons". Every single one of them expressed concern, offered support, asked if he needed help. The Diamond Devil and Ms. Crusher even offered to meet up in real life.

He didn't answer any of them. None of his friends - the Grey Ghost's friends - knew who he really was, and he wanted to keep it that way. He couldn't bear to let anyone know that behind the mask of the Grey Ghost, the spookiest, cleverest hero of them all, he was just Harold Rentnick, a worthless billionaire.

From one of the kitchen cupboards, Harold took a tall glass. From the refrigerator, he took a container of orange juice. From the butler's pantry, he got a fresh bottle of Grey Goose vodka. It had been his favorite brand since he'd picked his nom-de-heroique. He smiled at that private joke one last time. In his pocket was a rattling bottle, a full prescription of sleeping pills. Unbuttoning his shirt, Harold went out onto the deck where the hot tub and the razor blades waited.

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Deadlines, whisperings and mindless minions

I've got a few things looming over me, so have been directing my attention to them of late. Don't you just hate that?

The Chinese Whisperings - Yang anthologies are in the home stretch, and the dates for various promotional activities are set. I'm gearing up to coordinate my own promo stuff here and on Twitter with the work on the CW website. Part of that will be posting an interview with my counterpart writer in the Yin anthology, Tina Hunter. It should be interesting!

I've been lining up guest bloggers for Landless, something fairly new for me. I'm looking forward to having them, as I know that the topics they've chosen will certainly be thought-provoking.

Paperwork for the Xpress anthology "Inhuman" was sent off this week. The book should be out in a month or so.

A new writing project is gearing up for August and September, one in which I will be taking on a role roughly equivalent to a managing section editor. The writers I'll be working with are all people whose writing I admire and respect; in some ways this is a big relief, and in other ways it really ups the ante for me.

One of the things that is complicating life a bit is some travel next week and a vacation after that. It's certainly going to curtail my on-line life, especially as a good chunk of that is going to be spent unplugged at a cabin in the woods. I'm hoping to overdose on hiking, reading and sleeping, but I expect to get very little writing done. So, I'm trying to write a few blog posts, #FridayFlash stories and other items to get ahead, auto-scheduling them to post on time.

In my absence, my loyal electronic slaves will also be set up to auto-tweet about things that I think my Twitter community might like to know about, links & such. I will do my best to respond to RTs, questions & comments, but I might be slow about it. It's not hard to schedule all of those, but it takes a bit of time to write two weeks worth of tweets in one setting. Even at a rate well below my normal rate of posting (~20 - 30/day), that's ~100 tweets. If it takes 1 minute to write each one, that's close to two hours to do them all. At that point, it becomes work!

Just out of curiosity, do you do this? Work like hell to get everything taken care of before your vacation so you can relax? Or do you just turn off the lights and walk away from it all? Or do you take the fun parts with you and leave the rest behind?

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Listen to this

My pal Emma Newman tweeted that one of her voice commissions is up at the HarperCollins website, promoting "Shine" by Kate Maryon. Go give it a listen!

Congratulations, Emma and Kate!

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The Versatile Blogger

A little while ago, T.L. Brink was kind enough to award me the Versatile Blogger Award

The award calls for me to share seven things about myself. I've talked about myself a few times in the past, so these will have to be seven new things, right?

1. I'm allergic to dust and pollen. I almost choked into unconsciousness once when I walked into a pumpkin field in bloom, the heady scent of pumpkin flowers giving way to an allergic reaction that made me sneeze so hard and so frequently that I couldn't breathe in between sneezes. Talk about a stupid way to die... forced to sneeze to death by pumpkin flowers. Fortunately, a friend was with me and helped me to stagger out of the field to the upwind side.

2. I was once told that my biggest asset is that I'm not afraid to look like an idiot when the circumstances call for it.

3. The one time I got a crew cut, I looked like a white supremacist neo-Nazi. Scared the hell out of the neighbors, who thought I'd gone around the bend.

4. My first girlfriend didn't so much dump me as get tired of me, start cheating on me and then just stop wanting to talk to me on the phone.

5. I love to ice skate, but have few opportunities to indulge.

6. I've been focused on flash and short stories so much of later, that I've done essentially nothing on novel WIPs in months.

7. I'm not very involved in writerly social sites like Editor Unleashed (now defunct),, Fictionaut, etc., even though I know a number of writer friends and acquaintances who live and die by them.

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#FridayFlash: The Aftermath of the Boxer Rebellion

The Aftermath of the Boxer Rebellion

by Tony Noland

"I say, Artie? If you're not otherwise occupied, we're almost out of cartridges. Think your dad could spring for some more? Him being Lord Yaxley and all?"

Arthur Wilberforce "Artie" Wooster drew a bead on the last of the rebellious native fleeing across the yard, squeezed the trigger and dispatched the bugger. His friend Harry's sense of humor was more dryly British than most Englishman's; it came from trying too hard.

"I can ask," Artie said, "but the old fellow has always been a bit tight-fisted with his younger sons. Besides," Artie said, as he scanned the yard below the window, "I thought your latest fortune was made with that last cargo ship."

"It was, but since the damned Chinese rose up back in March of last year -"


"- April, 1899, then. More than a year ago, anyway, since we first got wind of these damned Boxers; this whole damned nuisance has scuppered my import and export business." Gustavus Karl Friedrich "Harry" von Prosser sat, his chair leaned against a wall.

Artie said, "Will you be ready for the dance at the Embassy next week-end?" He nodded at Harry's wounded leg. "That looks like it might sting a bit." Artie withdrew a silver flask from his pocket and passed it over. By such a means did he let his friend know his care and concern.

Harry drank deeply from the flask, then smiled up at Artie, said, "Wouldn't miss it for worlds. Oh, I might just possibly sit out the sprightlier tunes, to give it a bit of a rest, you understand." His expression of gratitude was frozen at the sound of a scream from within the building. Both men stopped and listened intently. Another scream, then moans of a desperate nature filled the hallway beyond. Harry passed the flask back to the suddenly pale Artie, who also drank deeply of it.

"Do you think..." started Artie. He swallowed, then continued, "Do you think that's normal? God take me for a damned sinner, but with that last attack by the Chinese, I'd ... well, not forgotten, but been distracted. Do you think she's... alright?"

"She has her sister Agatha in with her, and you know what a bulldog brick she is. There's an English midwife with her, too. We sent the Chinese midwife away months ago. Can't trust 'em these days. But come, she'll be fine! It's been going on since sundown last night; it can't be much longer now." Another scream tore at the air, a sound like a defenseless woman being killed. Artie turned from the window, made as if to go to her, stopped. The birthing bed was no place for a father. This was woman's work, and they were welcome to it. Another scream, and his hands gripped the stock of his rifle, turning the knuckles white.

"That's a good sign, Artie, now, can't you see that? 'Arbeit härter, Kinder stärker.' - that's what my Gran always used to say, what?" Naturalized citizen as he was, and desperate to be as English as possible, for Harry to make a joke about his own German origin meant that he was thoroughly anxious to distract his friend's mind. Artie knew it, and he held out his hand; Harry shook it, a grin on his pale, sweaty face.

"Well, if your Gran's any judge, my little Kinder is going to be as strong as they come. What's a good name, eh? What shall I name the little bugger?"

"You can't go wrong with a strong English name. When the time comes, I know what I'll name my son: Alexander Charles. That should get him into Eton, what? Especially if I drop the 'von' and build a new wing on the school. Of course, with you being from an old family, you can name him whatever you like."

"Almost, I suppose. The middle name has to be Wilberforce, in accordance with an old family tradition. For the first name? I think perhaps Bartholomew. Or Brian." He stood, thinking and saying different names out loud a few times, to get the feel of them on his tongue. He was about to say another name aloud when he stopped.

The back room had been silent for a long, long time.

Artie swallowed, held his ground. In the hardest thing he had done in all his 37 years, he held his ground and did not move. He did not go in to hold his bride, the beautiful, fragile woman he had dragged halfway around the world. He did not run to her, he did not kick in the door, burning though he was to know if she... if she...

At the end of the hallway, the door opened, and his sister-in-law Agatha came out. He saw her take a deep breath, then walk forward with a strong, steady step.

"She is doing as well as can be expected." Agatha said, answering the question Artie dared not ask. "She's had a very rough time of it, but with some rest and quiet, and perhaps a bit of brandy, she'll be fine."


"Your son is in with her, and is resting peacefully." Artie collapsed into a chair. The sleepless night, the attack at dawn, the long hours on watch... he felt as weary as a man could.

"Artie. You need to know something." Agatha's voice was firm and strong, as always, but there was a note of sadness that chilled Artie to his core. "He was born with the cord wrapped around his neck," she continued, "and the midwife had a devil of a time getting him undone. He was a bit blue for a while. The midwife says she's seen such births before. The boy might grow up perfectly fine and hale, or he might be a bit... slow. It's the luck of the draw, Artie, and there's nothing to be done about it. We can't know the truth until he's older. Regardless, your son is resting comfortably now. What name have you picked?"

"Bertram," Artie said, in shock. "Bertram Wilberforce Wooster."

"Bertram," said Agatha experimentally. "Bertram. Bertie Wooster." She nodded. "Good. A good strong name for a boy who will do us all proud, I'm sure."

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Book promo, take 1

As some of you may know, I'm one of the contributors to an anthology coming out later this year:

In two mated anthologies, ten female authors (the Yin Book) and ten male authors (the Yang Book) worked together to interweave stories stemming from a single location and event. Think Rashomon meets Run Lola Run with a dash of Spiderman-meets-Batman. Those of you who like my flash fiction should note that my story in this is a full short story, ~4000 words. The longer form gave me a chance to be horribly vicious and psychotic to allow my characters to fully develop their own unique personalities.

The stories are complete or nearly so, and in the e.mails among the group, our editors, Jodi Cleghorn and Paul Anderson, are pulling back the curtain to give us writers a peek at their Ultra Secret Plan For World Domination And High Ranking. Very cool!

Go over to the Chinese Whisperings site and check it out. You'll find a lot of familiar names among the list of authors for both books. There's a lot of info about me and all the other authors, in case you just can't get enough of us via our blogs & websites.

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Three Word Wednesday: acrid, bane, tepid

Warning: From the National Weather Service ... EXCESSIVE HEAT WARNING in effect until Wednesday, Jul 7, 8:00 PM; Additional advisories also in effect

A BOOM and a foul, acrid smell,
Transformer exploded, then fell.
Without any power,
This damned tepid shower,
Is the bane of my AC-less hell.

(go ahead and read it out loud... no one is watching you)

Here is today's Three Word Wednesday

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Working my fingers to the bone

And offer up brilliance to read,
I'll show them a mind
Of a serious kind,
And work 'til my eyes start to bleed.

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Balls of Fire

Balls of Fire

by Tony Noland


The scar tissue makes a little map of Australia over my heart, an island of wrinkled pink skin in an ocean of black hair. I've seen some of the guys at the gym, looking at it sidelong in the shower. I know the rumor is that it's a gunshot wound. I can't say I'm sorry to have that rep, especially as it's hard to figure a guy like me as a player. A guy like me? Nah, I never been shot. Not with a gun, I mean.

Still, the burn was pretty bad; if it hadn't been for all that sweat, my chest hair might have caught on fire. Then I wouldn’t be The Guy Who Maybe Got Shot In The Chest Once, I'd just be The Guy With Only One Nipple. And for what? It wasn't even like I ever got anything out of all of that. Out of Marie. You know how people say, "oh, we're just good friends", when what they really mean is "we hang out a lot because there's nobody better around at the moment"?

Well, Marie and I really were just good friends. Trouble with being friends with a woman, though, is that you don't want to hurt her feelings. If you're actually dating, you don't even think about it, you just say stuff in the heat of the moment.
When ALL the moments are hot, that's a lot of talking.

But you’re just friends, you think before you speak, am I right?

What I’m trying to say is, I should have said something, that’s all. As soon as she pointed that damned Roman candle at me, I should have said something.

You know those things are made in China, right? By schoolkids? Seriously, they put schoolkids to work with all that gunpowder and cardboard, making explosives for pennies so we can piss away our dollars with the crackles and flashes. They use the wages to buy books and pencils and stuff.

The thing is though - and this is nothing against Chinese kids, just kids in general - if you know one thing about kids, it's that they sometimes screw up. If the label says it's a ten-ball Roman candle, that doesn't mean it's a ten-ball Roman candle. It means it's maybe a nine or eleven ball Roman candle. That's nothing to get upset about, just something to realize.

So at the Fourth of July barbeque at her Mom and Dad's house, when Marie turned and made a joke about pointing the Roman candle at me, I froze. She had her arm outstretched like it was a magic wand or something; the end f it was only maybe a foot away from me, and it was still smoking. I couldn't very well have done a duck-and-cover, not with a plate of ribs in one hand, two beers in the other. You would have froze too and you know it.

After I told her to put it down, her Mom sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose, and her Dad cleared his throat in that I'm-going-to-make-a-speech way like he always did. I could see Marie get mad; just as she was saying that it was perfectly safe because she'd counted ten fireballs, number eleven shot out and hit me in the chest.

Like I said, lucky for me it was a hot day. It burned through my shirt and drilled into me. For whatever reason, I didn't drop the plate or the bottles, just hopped around, trying the bat it out with my elbows. It's funny... you always think you'll be cool in a crisis, but there's something about pain like that, just makes you an idiot.

After I got out of the hospital, I never saw Marie again. She sent a letter apologizing, an old fashioned, real paper letter. She never called, though. Maybe she was embarrassed. I was pretty mad, so I didn't call her, either. After a few weeks, I was able to get around without the skin graft killing me with every move. What with one thing and another, with the way things worked out and all, she and I, we just never met up after that.

So what I’m trying to say is, you boys just gotta be careful with those things, OK? Your mom’s already pissed off at me for giving you the fireworks in the first place, I don’t need a trip to the emergency room on top of it. Hang on, though, before you go off and light those things, get your Uncle Tony another beer, huh?


This piece was written for #SpokenSunday in celebration of Independence Day, and all the fools like me who love fireworks.

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#FridayFlash: Megalo-Man vs. Dr. Tarantula

Megalo-Man vs. Dr. Tarantula

by Tony Noland

With all the titanic power of an atomic furnace, Megalo-Man tore the enormous uranium power cell from from the TransformoTron Projector and heaved it right at the slavering jaws of the gigantic RoboViper. Exactly as he'd planned, the positive and negative terminals of the power cell each hit one of the deadly robot's titanium fangs, creating what scientists call a short circuit.


An enormous explosion blew the RoboViper to a hundred million pieces!

"So much for Dr. Tarantula's plan to terrorize Bastion City!"

"Megalo-Man!" cried Nick Richards, "Dr. Tarantula is getting away!" The ace reporter pointed at a hidden door, where the shadowy form of the dastardly Dr. Tarantula was fast disappearing.

"But Laura! Is she...?" said Megalo-Man, torn between his concern for Laura Williams, the one true love of his life, and his sworn duty to uphold the law, protect the innocent and pursue evil in all its forms.

"She's only knocked out, Megalo-Man! She threw herself in front of me to protect me from Dr. Tarantula's Sleep Ray!"

Megalo-Man breathed a sigh of deepest relief, though he hid it from his best friend. No one must ever know of his love for the pretty nurse, for if his enemies ever discovered... no, it was too horrible to contemplate!

"Take good care of her, Ace," said the Azure Adventurer, "I wouldn't want her to have to get her hair done all over again!"

Ace grinned. He knew his super-powered friend's feelings better than that!

"Go get him, Megalo-Man!"

The hero winked and as he flew away after the scurrying Dr. Tarantuala, he cried out his clarion call of justice: "Evildoers... BEWARE!"

Violins swelled and a rich baritone voice said, "Will Megalo-Man catch Dr. Tarantula before he reaches his Flying Super Fortress? Can our hero recover the three remaining Diamonds of Doom before time runs out? Tune in tomorrow for another thrilling episode of... MEGALO-MAN! Brought to you by Kellogg's Super Atomic Crunch cereal, the nutritious, delicious breakfast favorite of kids and moms all across America! It's Super ATOMIC!"

* * * * *

Eighty four thousand, six hundred and eleven light years from Earth, the radio astronomer stopped the playback. The room was silent for a long time. The astronomer had heard the recording hundreds of times, but the sheer alienness of it always made her middle hands clench with amazement. Her department head, the president of the university, the representatives from the royal acadamy of sciences, the High Council of Warriors... everyone was waiting for the Empress to speak. All of Her Majesty's hands were unflexed, but the astronomer wondered what emotions she was hiding behind that stillness.

"Professor," the Empress said at last, "why have We had no evidence of this race before now? A radio-capable civilization sufficiently advanced to create nuclear powered cybernetic weaponry is of great interest to Us."

The astronomer swivled her eyestalks nervously. "These transmissions would ordinarily be too faint and degraded for us to reconstruct, Your Majesty. It was only a fluke, a fast moving black hole that I was studying. It moved between us and their star and caused a gravitational lensing effect. Um... gravitational lensing is when -"

"We are well aware of what gravitational lensing is, Professor, do not presume to lecture Us."

All of the mortified scientist's eyes twisted shut at once, and she started to apologize. The Empress cut her off.

"We are not angry with you, Professor. In fact, We are well pleased with you." She turned to the High Council of Warriors. "Admiral, begin preparations for an envoy mission to this system. We recommend a carrier plus fourteen light cruisers, but We leave the details to you. We expect you to be ready to depart before the end of the year. You will be Our Ambassador to these beings. Professor, We request and require you to accompany this mission as chief scientist and Vice-Ambassador. The academy of sciences will select six members of your science team, you may select the other three. You will be gone for at least six years, so wrap up your personal affairs."

The Empress wriggled her top forefingers and bared her front row of teeth, all nine of which trembled with excitement.

"We are eager to meet these Kelloggs. Very eager indeed!"

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