NaNoWriMo: Winner!

After a heroic final day of 7K, I stopped at ~51K to log a win for NaNoWriMo 2010.


NaNoWriMo: "I'm Not Dead Yet!"

Did 2K on Sunday, 3K yesterday, need 7K today. Can I do it?

Probably not.


I hope so.

I think so.



That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

See you in 9 hours.

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NaNoWriMo excerpt: "What a fool I am!"

an excerpt from my NaNoWriMo, "Verbosity's Vengeance"

"She miniaturized it. God, what a fool I am, she cross-linked it directly to the VR rig! Mrs. White," he said, "is the analysis of the medical scans complete?"

"No sir," the computer replied, "the anomalies in Dr. Hunter's parietal lobe could be natural variation in tissue density, or they may be a result of grammartech meme-frequency modulation."

"Assume they're caused by the grammartech, about two hours usage so far. How long until damage becomes pathological?"

"Without additional scans under controlled conditions, extrapolation from existing data is unreliable."

"Extrapolate anyway," he shouted, "how much longer can she go on piping the grammartech through her visual cortex? Give me the range."

"Cortical tissue damage will result after additional usage. Best case scenario: four hours, eleven minutes. Worst case scenario: one hour, twenty one minutes. Speed and severity of damage will depend on the intensity of usage."

"Which means that just going there to try to rescue her people will be bad enough, but if she tries to fight Professor Verbosity..."

"Yes sir. Her brain will be irreversibly damaged, resulting in symptoms ranging from headaches and blindness to coma and death."

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R.I.P. Leslie Nielsen

In honor of the passing of Leslie Nielsen, here's the trailer for Forbidden Planet.

You can also see the monster attack, one of the best of early sci-fi movies.

Forbidden Planet also has a young Oscar Goldman, too, so it's one of my favorites.

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My NaNoWriMo Is Doomed

I'm now at ~38K with three days left. If I'm lucky, I'll get 2K done
tomorrow, which leaves 5K to do on each of Monday and Tuesday.

My NaNoWriMo is doomed.

This isn't to say that the book itself is doomed, or that I won't
finish it, or revise it. As a NaNoWriMo, though, it's going to take an
effort beyond heroic and bordering on miraculous.

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#FridayFlash: Chestnut Hollow

Chestnut Hollow

by Tony Noland

Some people swore that the house was haunted. Pfft. That's only because they wouldn't know a real ghost if it bit them on the ear. Regardless of what Mr. Archer's books said, the fact is, that old place was the only spot in the county that wasn't haunted. Like my Uncle Caleb always said, where the body dies, the soul resides. Until last year, nobody ever died in the house itself.

The land, though... the land didn't lack for ghosts. Shawnee and Lenape braves, English colonist irregulars, Army of the Potomac infantrymen. All around here, they were crouched and waiting, gripping their bowstrings and rifle butts, alert for some sign of attack.


I used to hope they'd realize the war was over, whichever war it was they were fighting in. Used to hope they'd turn from the battlefield and go on home to their mothers or their wives. But there they were, ready to fight the battle that already killed them.

I'll tell you, it was the saddest thing, looking at them. Smoky-looking men, thin and wispy. They looked like a mass of cobwebs quivering over a candle flame - crowded out in the meadows, packed shoulder to shoulder, and all of them on a hair-trigger. Worst part of it was that not one of them could see another. Thousands upon thousands of fighting men, ferocious warriors and soldiers from a hundred generations or more, and every one of them terrified 'cause he thought he was facing the enemy alone.

Archer said he had the Second Sight, but I know for a fact that he didn't. About eight years ago, when I was fixing the sump pump down in the basement of the place, he mentioned he'd seen a ghost in the kitchen. He said it kinda sidelong, like he knew how much trouble the Sight has been for me and my family. Then he started talking about how he could hardly stand to walk through a graveyard for all the ghosts around. That's when I knew he was a liar. People are dead long before they ever get put into a graveyard. It's hospitals you gotta watch out for.

He was a convincing one, though, I'll grant him that. Archer wrote two books about his fake haunted house. They were full of nonsense and lies, but they generated enough interest in the old place that he turned it into a haunted bed and breakfast. After a few years, it was pretty regular to see ghost-hunting tourists coming and going.

I heard about the "seance weekend" packages he was offering for the fall tourists. Archer was a fool. Still, he might have gotten away with his seances as long as he stuck to fog machines and hidden wires. It was when he started daring the spirits to show their cowardly faces, to reveal themselves and be vanquished... that was when they heard his voice, recognized him as the enemy and moved in for the kill.

Out my window, across the valley, I saw them, a rippling silver wave, on the march. All over the fields, I saw them heft their weapons as they moved in towards the house. I know what happened; I heard his screams. They faced the enemy and showed no mercy.

These fields used to be rich with the spirits of the dead. Now, there are no ghosts anywhere in the county anymore, except, of course, for Archer's up in the house. He decided to make himself their enemy. Nothing was ever the same again after that.

n.b. This was written for NPR's Three Minute Fiction contest, which I didn't win. You can read the winning entry here. My thanks to Icy Sedgwick and Danielle La Paglia for their excellent beta reads & comments.

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Happy Thanksgiving

Today is the day that Americans set aside for reflecting on the things they are thankful for.

Me? Whatever other blessings I enjoy, I can see, I can walk, and I'm not hungry. That's more than many can say.

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3 Word Wednesday: Advance, pander, shuffle

The words for today are: advance, pander, shuffle.

My kid wants a Gameboy Advance
In order to play "Dance! Dance! Dance!"
"Don't pander to craving;
Your money be saving!
Take my Shuffle and bliss out to trance!"

I'm on the road for a while, so no links. Sorry!

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Two years of Landless

It's been two years to the day since I started this blog. Things have certainly progressed in 24 months.

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Beta readers - the secret weapon

A beta reader is someone who will read your story after you think it's finished, but before you submit it. Beta readers do NOT exist to tell you how wonderful you and your writing are. That's what your mom is for.

The idea is to get a fresh set of eyes to go over your manuscript to catch all the flaws that you have become blind to. What flaws am I talking about? What do you want your beta reader to be looking for? It varies.

You should not ask your beta reader to check for spelling, grammar, verb tense violations, etc. That's the sort of thing you should be able to spot yourself. Point of view violations tend to creep in without us noticing, so those can be fair game. Sometimes you want a beta reader to check for stumbles in narrative flow, or get a sense of the believability of character motivations.

As an example, when a beta reader says, "It seems out of character for X to do Y.", YOU SHOULD LISTEN. Think about either changing the action, fleshing out or changing the character, or both. Nuance of character behavior separate decent books from good or great ones.

Treat beta readers kindly, and remember: they are doing you a favor by pointing out the stains on your tie.

I don't ask anyone to beta read my FridayFlash stories before posting them on this blog, although if I'm going to submit them for publication elsewhere, I do. What about you? How do you use beta readers?

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Announcement: judging & writing

Sharpen your pencils, your wits and your tongues, because I'll be judging next week's "5 Minute Fiction" competition. It's hosted by @LeahPeterson every Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. EST.

You don't want to miss this chance to put yourself at my mercy!

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#FridayFlash: Ayers Rock, By God

Ayers Rock, By God

by Tony Noland

The skiff bumped against the dock, like the firm kiss of an overly fond aunt. The deck master was already hauling in the sails, his motors humming and the fabric slapping as the wind was set free of the boat, taking its strong salt tang off across the landscape, up into the rising western hills and to the wasteland beyond.

Bala shaded out the harsh sun with a hand over his eyes. Glare from the white cliffs ahead told him everything he needed to know. There was life here, once. Twisted, stunted life, but life nonetheless. The gleaming sterility on the horizon was something he didn't need to go touch and taste in order to write his report, but that was irrelevant. All of this was irrelevant. Three and a half billion years in the making, and it was all irrelevant.

"You Bala?"

The thick accent only served to underline the contempt in the voice. Bala turned to face down at the dock. "Yes," he said, "I'm Dr. Bala. Are you Mr. Frederick?"

"Shit by God, no, I'm not Fred. Are you blind? I come to get you, that's all. Mr. Fred is waiting. Get moving, now, he's a busy man."

The man stood amid the sailors making fast the boat, some of whom growled and cursed at him to get out of the way as they worked the lines and did whatever else it was that sailors did when a ship went from being a free creature to being a captive, a night moth pinned to the board of a grimy, salty cargo port. Bala considered sticking to his original intent of waiting until the men had finished before trying to depart, but it was clear that the man would be more disruptive the longer he stood amid the sailors.

And all of the blame will be put on me, Bala thought, because I am who I am, and I am who I work for.

He climbed down the rope ladder and walked among the sailors. Politely, he gave instructions to the cargo manager as to which hotel to send his baggage. The man grunted in return, but Bala knew his effects would be handled properly. These men understood who their masters were.

Bala looked for Mr. Frederick's representative, saw him striding down the causeway toward the inland parking lot. Without trying to catch up, Bala walked in the same direction, the sweat spreading under his arms and across his chest. It was hot here, he thought, hotter even than back home. There was a joke the locals used to tell about the temperature being more bearable because it was a dry heat.

They didn't tell that joke anymore. He assumed that it was something else they held against him, the loss of a reason to laugh. So few people laughed these days.

He arrived at a battered old Range Rover, converted to run on either hydrogen or polyazide gas. There had once been a label on the big tank bolted on the back of the truck, but it was illegible. He wondered where the driver filled up his vehicle that such things were tolerated.

"Took you bloody long enough."

"It's a warm day," Bala said. "Are we going out to the works to see Mr. Frederick?"

"Nope, we're going straight to Ayers Rock."

"Don't you mean Uluru?"

"No, you little shit, I mean Ayers Rock."

They didn't say another word to each other for the next three hours. When they stopped for fuel, the man took care of it without speaking. Bala bought a package of crisps, a large bag of dried, pepper-and-garlic flavored rabbit meat and three apples. He also bought a case of water, six jugs of four liters each. When he brought them to the truck, the driver rolled his eyes and made noises of disgust, but said nothing.

They drove on in silence, Bala ate his food and drank his water in silence, they both urinated by the side of the deserted road in silence and when they arrived at the monitoring station, the man pointed at the biggest building, then walked away in silence.

Uluru gleamed and glared, like an iceberg trapped in a frozen sea, like the sarcophagus of a dead god propped up as a tourist attraction. The ground crunched under Bala's boots as he walked, encrustations of salt shattering and blowing on the ever-present wind. He'd been here before and knew to close his eyes to slits, but the air still stung. He opened the door without knocking.

"Dr. Bala! How wonderful to see you, man! You're looking good, like a second bride!" The station manager's booming voice shouted across the room in madras bashai, the colloquy that the bosses back home affected to show their common-man roots and to exclude outsiders from their conversation. The bosses did it, so every minor company functionary across the world used it, too.

Bala despised it and everything it implied, but what could he do? What could anyone do?

After the preliminaries - offers of restroom facilities, water, tea, food - they went into a small conference room. The oversized window faced Uluru, framing it and the whitened landscape all around in the highest quality plexiglas.

The manager faced the window and said, "Magnificent, isn't it? All of the company's finest accomplishments, hell, our nation's greatest triumph, all rolled into one beautiful picture. It's quite a rock, that's for sure."

India conquering Australia in only two years was a triumph of economic and military might. Using hydrogen bombs to dig the Great Inner Sea was an engineering accomplishment without parallel. Fine-tuning the evaporative cooling of the sea water to mitigate the severity of the monsoons back home was the most successful geosculpting effort man had ever mounted to counter the effects of runaway global warming. A thousand million of his countrymen lived and prospered because of what had been done here.

But this, Bala thought, this? Beautiful? Even if the salt from the evaporated seawater made this land a pristine, gleaming, crystalline white, even if it helped to cool the planet by reflecting sunlight away, even if fewer than a million people had been displaced and fewer than a thousand species had been poisoned to extinction, this was still an abomination.

It was an abomination.

"Yes," Bala said, looking at Uluru. "It's beautiful."

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Miss Otis Regrets

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NaNoWriMo update: back in from the ledge

I'm feeling better about my NaNoWriMo novel. After coming within a whisker of giving up on it, I'm making good forward progress now. The trick was to get past what I thought the characters were supposed to be doing and just let them go.

When I was stuck, I had no idea what to do next. There were things I wanted to do with the plot, but couldn't see how to get from here to there. What did I do to break out of it? I started a fight.

I like writing fight scenes, so I had my hero chase down a bunch of bad guys and engage them. Then, in a twist so old it probably gets its own social security check each month, I had my hero get knocked ass over teakettle. Battered and stunned, he was about to get cut in half when, at the nick of time, another hero arrived to save him. However, he ALSO was blasted down and they were BOTH going to be cut in half when, at the nick of time, they were both saved by a mysterious stranger who turns out to be the hero's love interest in disguise.

How corny is THAT?

Still, it got me going again, and the complications around the relationship of the hero, his lady friend and the villain are enough to pull me forward. I need to write this so I can find out what happens.

How about you? How's NaNo going? Exciting and engaging? A deathmarch? Feel free to comment and whine, complain, brag, etc. I don't judge.

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Three Word Wednesday: clutch, delight, happy

Today's words for Three Word Wednesday are clutch, delight, happy.

I'm working on my NaNoWriMo novel, but I still have time to inflict a horrible limerick on you:

My dashboard just gave me a fright
CHECK ENGINE came on Monday night
The clutch has gone crappy,
I'll really be happy
To fix it and turn off delight.

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Nanowrimo excerpt: tea and whiskey

"Care for a cup of tea, vicar?"

Alex grimaced. "You know, that joke is just as funny now as the first fifty times you told it."

The old man smiled and snapped his yellowed teeth forward as though taking a bite from the air. "Old jokes are the best, Alex. You always know when you're supposed to laugh. So, do you want the tea?"

"Any coffee?"

"Nope, just tea, and it's herbal, caffeine-free tea at that. Doctor made me give up caffeine after I had the pacemaker installed. Welcome to my own little corner of hell."

"What about decaf coffee?" Alex asked.

"I may be in hell, but I haven't sunk THAT low. I've got herbal peppermint, herbal spice, herbal chammomile, herbal oolong, herbal orange pekoe and Jim Beam."

"Jim Beam? Sam, the doctor made you give up caffeine, but he lets you drink whiskey?"

"No," the old man said, "he wanted me to give that up, too. I did, mostly."

"I'll take the oolong, with the wiskey on the side."

"One finger or two?"

"Just a splash, enough to drown the taste of the tea."

The flame hissed under the tea kettle, the mugs and highball glasses clinked as Sam set the table. He pulled a bottle from the cabinet under the sink, poured out an ounce or so for Alex and a much more generous glass for himself. With a grunt and a sigh, he eased into one of the wooden chairs. After raising his highball glass and nodding in a silent toast, Sam sipped at his whiskey. Alex did the same, thinking back on the old days when Sam would have taken care of a drink like that in a single mouthful, then followed it with a great many more before the evening was through. Witness the price of fast living, Alex thought.

"Thinkin' up a sermon, Alex?" said Sam. "You got that 'there but for the grace of God go I' look on your face."

Alex looked down into his whiskey and smiled. Some superpowers fade, some don't. "Something like that, Sam."

The kettle gave a sputtering whistle that grew in volume. Sam made to get up, but Alex beat him to it. After pouring the water into the mugs and returning the kettle to the stove, Alex sat down and nursed his whiskey.

"OK, Alex, we've got our tea, we've got our whiskey and I don't have any muffins. Let's have it. What's going on?"

Alex pushed the teabag around for a moment, then set his spoon aside to sip the whiskey again. "I've got a problem, Sam."

"Obviously. It must be something of significance for you to come all the way out here to see me. The fact that you're all tounge-tied tells me it's something to do with your personal life, not anything to do with your shop or anything having to do with the Grammarian."

Involuntarily, Alex shifted his eyes around the room, as though there were spies in the corner.

Sam snorted. "Nobody's listening in on us, Alex, you know that. It's staggeringly unlikely that anyone would give a rat's patoot about Sam Rainman or his infrequent guests. As for the Silver Cypher," Sam knocked back his whiskey, "he's been dead a long time. So let's have it. Who is she? Wait, no, don't tell me, let's see how badly the old skills have atrophied." Sam leaned forward and scrutinized Alex's face with narrowed eyes behind his thick bifocals. Alex, fully aware of how this game was played, made his face completely neutral.

"She must be smart or you wouldn't have looked twice at her, no matter how worth looking at she is. However," Sam said, "she still must be pretty good looking, for all that. You may be a super-brained superhero, but you're still a man. Not only that, but she must find you fascinating, or at least interesting, or you wouldn't be wasting your time on her."

Alex's face betrayed nothing, at least, not intentionally.

"Ah," the old man continued, "so it's not that she's interested in you, but in something you have. Your money? No, you'd never fall for a golddigger, and you're too smart to let on how much you really have. Your exciting hobby? Not just no, but hell no. You never told anyone your secret identity voluntarily. You're not the trusting type. So if she doesn't want your money and she's not a hero hound, what is it? Your technology? If she doesn't know you're the Grammarian, then... aha!" His voice was triumphant. "She wants some of that grammartech you developed. But if it's not the hero angle, why would she want it? Why would she want it?" As he mused, the old man's hand reached for the bottle.

"Sam, stick to the tea."

As though he'd been stung, Sam jerked, but in the way a strong man would respond: slightly.

"Fine. She can't be an entrpreneur looking to make a buck. You'd never let it go for that. There must be some kind of altruism involved. If not to make money, then what? A non-profit? A government group? Is it for research? Right, that's it. She's a scientist of some kind, and she sees an application for your tech, some way to make the world a better place." Sam smiled and snapped his fingers. "She's a professor at Lexicon City University, probably an engineer of some kind, she's got a thing for advanced tech in general, superhero technology in particular, she's got dark hair, green eyes and you're about to fall for it and hand it over. Am I right?"

"You're just guessing about the eyes and the hair, but you're right in all the essentials. You've still got it, Sam."

Sam's smile vanished. "Don't patronize me, Alex. Back in the old days I would have had all of that out of you in three seconds based solely on how you stirred your tea. After a minute I could have told you her middle name, her favorite brand of shampoo and how many times you'd met her for coffee." He sighed. "It's hell to get old, pal. Avoid it if you can."

"I'm not sure I prefer the alternative."

"What, you wouldn't choose going out in a blaze of glory instead of sitting on the shelf, drying up like an apple core somebody forgot to throw away?"

Alex stirred his tea. "When a hero dies in a firefight, it means the bad guy won." He didn't look up, just kept stirring.

Sam squinted at him. After a moment, his look of intense concentration broke into a wry smile as the old man finished his analysis and came to some private conclusion. "Here," he said, sliding the bottle toward Alex, "you need this more than I do. Damned heroes, you're all alike. A bunch of fools, every one of you."

The bottle was half-full. Alex studied the label for a moment, then set it down, unopened. "Alright, Sam. That's my problem. There are a lot of potential applications of the grammartech, but they way she's proposing it doesn't look like it can be weaponized."

"Anything can be weaponized, Alex, you of all people should know that."

Alex grimaced. "Yes, I know. I've been considering this for days, ever since she first asked to learn more about it. We're not talking about the equipment or mental augmentor applications I developed for my, ah... for the..."

"For the Grammarian?"

"I wish you wouldn't be so indiscreet about it."

"Just because this isn't your secret lab doesn't mean it isn't safe, you know." Sam waved his teaspoon around the kitchen. "Aside from the fact that I have 'security through obscurity' by living out in the boonies, I turned on the cognitive suppression field projector you gave me a couple of years ago. Nobody can eavesdrop on us, physically, electronically or otherwise. I think you're just looking for a way to keep beating around the bush instead of telling me what she wants to do with the grammartech."

It took a little more than an hour for Alex to explain the technical details of Kate Hunter's research. After Sam had all the background information, he sat for a while, musing.

"And can I assume that you've been applying your considerable intellect to thinking of ways she could put this to an evil purpose?" Sam asked.

"Evil seems a bit strong, but, yes, I have. I don't see any misapplication that's at all credible."

"How likely is it that you're blinding by your swooning love for this Dr. Hunter?"

Alex flushed. "I don't think that's at all likely, but I recognized that if my judgement were, in fact, compromised, then I'd be the last person to realize it. Hence, my trip to see you." He poured another whiskey for himself and another small one for his friend and mentor. "Look, Sam, we both know what my capabilites are. I can analyze a thousand angles on something and do in a week what would take most people a year. And we both know that the same analysis would take you less than a minute, and you'd come up with a better answer than I would. So, I'm asking you to consider whether there's any serious reason to be concerned about letting her use the grammartech in her research."


"What? What do you mean, no? You won't help me?"

"No, I mean there's no reason to be concerned. You said you weren't going to give her any of the brain-linking hardware, right? The equipment that lets you use the language processing centers of your brain to augment and control your energy beam projectors?"

"That's right, I won't even tell her about that end of things. As far as she's concerned, this is an artificial intelligence based system, computers only."

"In that case, you have no reason to worry. Computers are a dead end and they always will be. It takes the human brain to enact the fine control of the grammartech that raises it up to superpower class technology. And even then, unless you've got an IQ higher than 170, using it that way makes you dumber than a box of dead flies. Just look at your friend the Avant Guardian."

"Don't remind me. Every time he does something strenuous in that armor of his, it's like his brain is being pulled in three directions at once. The stronger he gets, the stupider." Alex shook his head. "If only I'd had a chance to get back the prototype from that engineering subcontractor before Waters bought it out of bankruptcy. That's how Professor Verbosity got his version of the grammatech hardware, I'm certain of it. Thank God neither of them has been able to reverse engineer any of it."

"Well, just so long as your lady friend doesn't try to hook up your software to a brain scanner, you should be OK." Sam looked at him. "Of course, don't give her any crazy ideas, will you?"

Alex raised his whiskey glass in a toast. "Never."

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NaNoWriMo update: hello Week 3.

This book is a mess, a hackneyed, thin, meandering pastiche badly stapled onto a cardboard thin plot that would buckle and collapse in the middle of Week 3 if it hadn't already buckled and collapsed during Week 2.

However, thanks to the support of friends, which ranged from gentle discussions to drill sergeant exhortations to the sending of helpful links, I've decided to keep going. When the end times come and our most dreadful sins are tallied against our souls, let the record show that I was encouraged to write this steaming, awful pile of book.

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No excerpts of NaNoWriMo

I was going to post an excerpt of my NaNoWriMo, but reason prevailed. So you get nothing.


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#FridayFlash: Three Cold Cokes

n.b. This story is the sequel to Hellfire. You might want to go read that one first.

Three Cold Cokes

by Tony Noland

We sat and sipped our Cokes without speaking, the silence of the wheezing air conditioner stretching out among the four of us as I tried to keep it together, tried not to cry, tried not to scream that it was Tick, Tick, Tick, just Tick and Tick alone and that I'd had nothing to do with it.

The minutes passed. Reverend Carrin said nothing, just watched me and Tick and Caleb Fielding.

Tick, you stupid jerk! What have you done, I thought, what have you done? It was Friday morning when the Reverend had called our parents, saying that he was concerned about how the youth of the church were reacting to all the media coverage of the "miracle"; it was Friday afternoon when I walked into the church office and saw Tick and Caleb standing by Mrs. Singleton's desk, waiting to go in. Like me, they were freshly showered, sweating in Sunday pants and long sleeves. Caleb looked confused, Tick looked completely blank. If I didn't look terrified, then I was a better actor than I knew.

When Reverend Carrin invited us in and made a little small talk about what a strange week it had been since "the events of last Sunday", I thought maybe we had a chance. He sat us down in the chairs facing his desk and left us to get some Cokes from the little refrigerator in the outer office. Caleb whispered to Tick, asking what was going on, but when Tick said nothing, Caleb leaned across him to ask the same of me. I don't know what I might have said, but the Reverend came back at that point. He unscrewed each of the three bottles and handed them to us. Then he sat down, laced his fingers together on the desk in front of him, and said nothing more.

The sweat ran down my neck, but I didn't dare wipe at it, didn't dare look over at the other boys to see if they were as nervous as I was. I sipped my Coke and tried to be cool. Whatever happened, I told myself, I would NOT be the first one to crack. Tick was a world champion liar who could keep a straight face until doomsday. Caleb didn't even know what Tick had done, though, so it came down to me. If I could keep it together, just keep it together, I thought, I could get out of there alive.

I sipped at the Coke until it was all gone, and still, Reverend Carrin said nothing. He just sat behind his desk, a patient, expectant expression on his face, like he was interested in what we had to say, once we got around to saying something.

Don't crack, I thought, don't crack, don't crack.


I jerked at the sound of the Reverend's voice breaking the silence like a gunshot, bumping into Tick and sloshing some Coke from his nearly-full bottle. Ordinarily Tick would've raised a hell of a fuss about somebody getting a mess on his church clothes, but he kept his poker face on and didn't respond.

"S-sir? Reverend Carrin, sir?" Caleb sounded scared. Even though I felt bad for him, a massive surge of relief rose within me. I hadn't been the first one to crack. Whatever else happened, it hadn't been me.

The Reverend got up from behind his desk and said, "Caleb, I think I've kept you long enough on a beautiful day like this." With a gesture, he had Caleb get up and walk to the door. "You go ahead and run on home, now. Thank you so much for coming in, Caleb, it was good to see you. I don't get as much time to be in this kind of small group ministry as I'd like, especially with the youth of our congregation, so I appreciate your taking the time for me. Could you please tell your folks that I'll look for them on Sunday? Thank you, Caleb, you have a blessed day, now, you hear?" The Reverend stood at his open office doorway and, smiling a genial, paternal smile, watched Caleb go through the outer office, out the door and down the steps toward the street.

When he closed the door and turned back to us, the smile faded down into a somber, pained expression. He crossed the room and sat on the front of his desk, facing us with arms crossed.

"Boys." His face slowly turned from one of us to the other as he spoke in a low, slow voice that sounded like the opening of the book of Revelation. "I've been a father for a long time, boys. Both of my sons are grown and gone now, off with jobs and families of their own. They're two fine men, and I'm very proud of both of them. But, like I said, I've been a father for a long time, and I know a prank when I see one."

My leg twitched. Tick didn't move.

"But," the Reverend continued, "I've been a pastor even longer than I've been a father, and I know the hand of God when I see it." He sighed. "Boys, this thing you've done... I don't think you truly understand what's happened here. I'm setting aside my anger at the two of you for how dangerous and foolish that was, how close you two came to burning down this church." He paused. "Well, I'm trying to set aside my anger, anyway."

He stood and held his hands behind his back.

"Because you can't be angry at God for the messages he sends you, nor at the messengers he chooses." The Reverend lowered his gaze to look me right in the eye. "I don't need to know the details of how you did what you did, or which of you did what as part of this. Not yet, anyway. What's most important to me right now is that you two see that God was working through you, was taking your... foolishness... and turning it to his own purposes. Boys, even besides the effect it's had on our congregation, I've been on the phone with newspapers, radio stations, all of the major networks, the big websites, all kinds of people who want to talk about what happened here. This has been a blessing, a sign.

"Now, you know as well as I do that the world is not keen to hear the word of God, nor to see evidence of his presence in our lives. I'm realistic enough to recognize that they are calling in part because it's a slow week for news. Will the people who see and read the stories believe it as a miracle, in the traditional sense of the word? I doubt it, but they will see evidence of our community of faith, and that may inspire more of them to come to the light. Was your little stunt a miracle? No, it wasn't, but the way that God worked through you, took your prank and used it to further his church on Earth, to spread the word of peace and forgiveness to that many more people... that's the miracle."

I heard Tick snuffle. When I turned, I saw tears rolling down his cheeks, though he never moved a muscle.

"Boys," said Reverend Carrin, "I'm thinking that it would be a good idea for us to continue this discussion after you've had a little while to think about what I've said. I'm thinking that you both would like to have the chance to contemplate how God has been present within you and how God has not only saved you from your own stupidity, but has made you his chosen servants. I'm thinking three hours of service on the church cleaning crew, every Saturday from now until Christmas, would give you a good opportunity for that contemplation. So long as I see evidence that you are earnestly trying to understand God's mysterious ways, there will be no need to involve your fathers in this. How does that sound, boys?"

Tick snuffled again, choked back a sob. I looked up at the Reverend and nodded.

"That's fine, then. Whittle, I'll see you tomorrow morning at 9:00, then, alright? You run on home, now. I want to talk to David alone for a while, man to man."

When I got home, I realized that I was still clutching the empty Coke bottle in my right hand.

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The book that changed my life

The book that changed my life was The Most of P.G. Wodehouse. It's a collection of some of Wodehouse's best, funniest stories. It includes works from Wodehouse's major canons of short stories: Jeeves and Wooster, tales of the Drones Club, Mr. Mulliner and the golf stories.

It changed my life for a couple of reasons. First, it's a fantastically funny book, with intricate wordplay, high farce and memorable characters. Second, it introduced me to my favorite author and initiated a devoted love for, and appreciation of, Wodehouse's wonderfully sophisticated writing. It takes a level of genius to make a man being chased by a goose one of the funniest scenes in all of written English prose.

Third, and most importantly, I was given this book at the age of 15 by my father, a man to whom, up to that point, I would not have ascribed much of a sense of humor at all nor any particular remorse at the lack of one, let alone thought of him as someone who had hidden away on his bookshelf one of the funniest anthologies in the universe. He saw that I was a troubled young man and he gave me this book. The lesson I learned from this book, both as a book and as a gift, is that the world around me and the people who inhabit it are vastly more complicated than they might first appear.

Everyone is an ocean, with swells and storms and sunshine and vast, hidden depths that hold secrets no one can ever possibly fully know.

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Cat vs. Printer: The translation

Thanks, Annie!

p.s. this changes nothing with respect to tweeting about cats.

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On being alone: loneliness vs. solitude

So many people assume that solitude must necessarily entail loneliness, that no one would ever choose to be alone, even for a while.

Don't get me wrong - I like being with people, being with family and friends. I like talking, listening, eating and drinking with people.

However, I also enjoy being alone. I like going to new places alone, walking unfamiliar streets alone. There is a kind of freedom in gliding quietly, anonymously through the world. In the coffee shop, the restaurant, the book store, the mall... stopping and looking at things, walking past without a glance, moving slow or moving fast, just as the day suggests itself to you.

This isn't about taking time to write in my head, to plot or plan or parse. It's just time to let the noise of the world drain out of my ears, leaving them more open to be refilled with sound when I rejoin society.

I found this video on a post by Roger Ebert about lonely people.

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Three Word Wednesday: gesture, immediate, treasure

Today's Three Word Wednesday words are: gesture, immediate, treasure

Revise for immediate cause?
It's NaNo - there's no time to pause!
May I suggest your
Plot's not worth the gesture,
Just treasure each terrible clause.

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Falling behind

Guess what? I'm behind in my NaNoWriMo word count. I got up to 10K on Saturday, but put up a zero yesterday. Today is going to have to be a very efficient day to get back on track.

I've got to say, these zero word count days are hard to bounce back from. That's two this month, and it's only November 8th.

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10K today

I just broke 10,000 words on my NaNoWriMo novel. This is more
tweet-worthy than blog-worthy, but it's Saturday, so what the heck.

Sent from my mobile device

Follow me on Twitter: @TonyNoland

#FridayFlash: "Hellfire"


by Tony Noland

Whittle closed his eyes and prayed more fervently than he had ever done before, filling his mind with the prayer, not merely in silent supplication to God almighty, but in a desperate, almost frantic plea which completely drowned out the deacon's wheezy voice, just finishing the first reading, a long passage from the prophet Jeremiah. Please God, he prayed, Tick screws up everything he touches, please, please let him have screwed this up, too, please!

There was a slight shuffling as the choirmaster stood to lead the congregation in the singing of the psalm. The rich tenor voice rolled across the pews of sweaty men and women like a proud sea eagle crying out over the water. The responsorial came back to him like an echo of a rolling wave, ragged and powerful. Whittle's bible was turned to the psalm, and he joined the singing without paying attention. Fourteen verses would take perhaps three minutes, then there was the second reading, then the gospel lesson. Figure on another fifteen minutes, twenty at most before Reverend Carrin started his sermon.

Why, God, why did Tick have to be such a fool? And why did he have to rope me into it?

August was when summer turned lousy. The fourth of July was just a distant memory which turned the long days even more flat and tiresome as the tales of it grew in the telling. It was too hot to play, and the games they'd been playing all summer were played out anyway. It was too dry to go swimming, what with the creek so low in its bed and the mosquitoes hitting their stride on the mud banks. By the ox-bow bend, they were so thick they had to fight each other to find an open patch on your skin to bite.

Worse, anybody foolish enough to say how boring the summer was got put to work quicker than you could cut a switch. There were garages, sheds and workshops to clean out, gardens to be weeded, windows to be washed, fences to paint. The list went on and on, enough to crush the life out of any kid who spoke up, and most who didn't.

If Tick's discovery of the box of sparklers had led to a few flashing moments some clammy evening, if they had been used to light up a game of kick the can or had served as the special effects in a game of space rangers of the lost ark, if the boys had simply lit them and enjoyed them and moved on, Whittle would not now be facing damnation.

As Reverend Carrin finished reading the gospel, one spark leapt from the candle near the altar. Whittle's heart lurched and hammered in his chest, but the candle burned on, smooth and serene. With the rest of the congregation, Whittle sat down, sweat pouring down his face and neck. His mother handed him a paper fan, motioning that he should remember to keep it low and be quiet. Disturbances in church, especially by boys who were old enough to know better, led to repercussions afterward.

Sermon note cards arranged at the podium, the Reverend began his sermon. He started slow, with a joke about the weather, the oppressive heat that made everyone smell of wool and garlic. It was a lead-in to his main theme, building on Jeremiah.

Oh, God, why did it have to be Jeremiah? Did Tick know the reading for today? Had he been that organized? Reverend Carrin always preached about hellfire when the reading was from Jeremiah, that old scourge of the ancient world. Could Tick have known? Is that what gave him the idea to pack the sparkler dust in a long, deep hole in the middle of the big candle? When the wick burned down and exposed the gray flakes, they would catch and make "a show like no other". Out in the shade of Tick's dad's garage, Whittle, Billy, Tom, Carl and Charlie all laughed uproariously at the idea, its inspired brilliance leading to a full two hours of screaming, hysterical portrayals of the Reverend, the choirmaster, Mrs. Cook of the altar guild and everyone else in the congregation. How the boys would laugh should such an unlikely, impossible thing ever come off!

Another spark shot from the candle. The Reverend looked back at the flash, but did not interrupt the flow of his sermon.

In Whittle's pocket was the scrap of paper Tick had shoved into his hand, right before the service started. "I snuck in and did it this morning. Will go off half hour after lighting."

Charlie was the altar boy this morning. He'd lit the big candle forty minutes ago. Whittle could see by his bored, sleepy expression that he knew nothing of what was to come. All of them would be rounded up for questioning and every one of them would be dead, completely and utterly dead.

Please, God, please!

With the very first time Reverend Carrin pounded his fist on the podium, it was as though God had heard Whittle's silent pleadings and had decided to answer, not with mercy and forbearance, but with all the righteous indignation of creation itself. Just as the words, "... and he will smite you with HELLFIRE!" slapped into the faces of the congregation, the candle erupted in a gout of flame a foot, two feet, three feet high.

The wax, Whittle thought. Oh dear sweet Jesus the wax! The sparkler dust was not fountaining out in a fourth of July display, it was igniting the liquid wax like a rocket, spraying a jet of billowing, roaring flame up into the air above the altar. The brass candletop was channeling it upwards in a swirling blast, red-orange and white that went on for what seemed like hours.

Men shouted, women screamed, children cried in terror. The Reverend backed away from the altar in shock. He turned to face the congregation to say something, but was interrupted by Mr. McAndrews leaping from his pew, his hands clenched in fists in front of his face. He ran past the Reverend and fell to his knees before the altar, screaming in a broken, ragged voice, "Please, God, forgive me! Don't burn my family, please, God, I'm sorry for what I've done, I'm sorry, please! I swear I'll never do it again, please!" Tears streamed down his face as the flames collapsed and the candle, now lopsided and chopped in height, guttered back to a smaller flame.

Mr. McAndrews' hysterical, sobbing voice, "Praise God, praise him, praise God, praise his name, I'm sorry, please forgive me, thank you Jesus, please" was joined by a chorus of others in the pews and moving forward to the altar, pleading for mercy and forgiveness, begging for deliverance from fire and damnation, shouting praises to God for the miracle before their eyes, crying in wonder and shock. Amid the fervor, dozens of cell phones were out, taking pictures, making calls to families and to the media, alerting the world to this tangible sign of God almighty in their midst.

And though Whittle both peed his pants and vomited onto the pew, he was far from the only member of the congregation to have done so. Who could not be overwhelmed at such a moment?

This story continues with "Three Cold Cokes".

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Being a writer

This blog post from Delia Cabe is brilliant.

It includes these videos. Hysterical and so true.

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Three Word Wednesday: abrupt, kernel, wield

The three words for Three Word Wednesday are: abrupt, kernel, wield

Abrupt was the network's collapse
The problem fell right in our laps
Three hours we just whiled
As the kernel compiled
Geeks wield the power of the NAPs.

A bit of a stretch, I know, but I'm doing #nanowrimo, so standards get lowered all over the place.

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NaNoWriMo - the opening

The Grammarian screamed with rage and dove for the Avante Guardian's neck, his powerful fingers outstretched.

Surprised, the Avante Guardian's reaction was not as lightning-fast as it could have been. The Grammarian actually got his hands near the Guardian's throat before they were batted away so vigorously that he was knocked backwards over Professor Verbosity's equipment. It all came falling down with a crash on top of the Grammarian. The residues of the sentence-memes that still clung to his costume were electrostatically sticky, and the electronic components hung onto the Grammarian like ornaments on a horribly sloppy Christmas tree.

The Avante Guardian had the good manners to hide his smile behnd a hand, but Idiom Boy openly snickered.

"Listen, Grammarian," said the Avante Guardian, "I don't know why your upset. I just rescued you from Professor Verbosity, for pete's sake! I'd have thought you'd be grateful."

"I had everything under perfect control! I didn't need you crashing in here messing things up." As he spoke, the Grammarian pulled the sharp-edged bits of circuit boards and sub-assemblies from his clothes. A high-density capacitor snagged on his cloak and caused a small rip in the smoky gray fabric.

"It sure didn't look like you had things under control," said Idiom Boy. "In fact, it looked to me like you were on the losing end of the stick."

The Grammarian put a hand to his forehead and rubbed it. "It appeared that way to you because neither you nor your employer have Professor Verbosity as an arch-enemy, while I have been battling him for years. He's planning something big, something whose scale is far beyond anything he's attempted up to this point. I was trying to learn what it is, and the only way to do that is to trick him into revealing it."

The look of confusion on the Avante Guardian's face was complete. "But you were losing."

With difficulty, the Grammarian took a deep breath and counted to ten before speaking.

"I lost this fight on purpose. I couldn't make it look too easy, or Professor Verbosity never would have fallen for it." The Grammarian sighed. "I will admit that the verbal bonds he used on me were much closer to flawless than I expected, but that's beside the point. He never would have let me die; I'm too important to him as an audience, the braggart." Another capacitor was badly snagged on the Grammarian's titanium flexalloy shin guard. He pried it off with a screwdriver from the Professor's workbench. "Once it was clear to him that I was helpless, he would have taken me to the location of his latest project, shown it to me and explained it in excruciating detail. Yes," he sighed again, "excruciating, and in the literal, not the figurative, sense of the word. Still, it would have been worth it to crack this case. Now the work of months is completely undone, thanks to you two." He scowled, checking himself for remaining bits.

"Oh." Avante Guardian stood, thinking. The effort was plain on his face.

"Is that really how you work?" said Idiom Boy. "You track people down for a long time before you move on them? That doesn't sound like much fun."

"As opposed to the 'smash in the window without a second thought' modus operandi of you and your cretinous employer?"

"He's not my employer, he's my partner. And he doesn't even like croutons." The Boy paused. "Uh, do you, boss? I mean, partner?"

"Do I what?"

"Like croutons?"

"You mean those little bread cubes on salads?" The Avante Guardian considered for a moment. "Yeah, I like them sometimes, if there not too garlicky. The cheese ones are OK."

"Really? You like croutons? I could have sworn you didn't. That one time when we were at lunch, over at Manzolini's, that Italian place on 14th? You told the waitress -"

"BE QUIET!" Both Idiom Boy and the Avante Guardian jumped at the Grammarian's shout. "I said cretinous, not, not... the English language doesn't even have an adjectival form of the word crouton! How could you confuse cretinous for -" He stopped himself, clenched his fists and took another deep breath, then still another as he counted to ten, twice. When he opened his eyes, the other two heroes were standing awkwardly, exchanging glances.

"I'm leaving." said the Grammarian. "I have a lot of work to do, or rather work to re-do, thanks to your exploits of this evening." He swirled his cape around himself, the nanofabric rippling into a perfect camouflage. To the unaided eye, it was as though he began to blur, fading into invisibility, all except for a large, irregularly shaped patch around his knees. Small sparks were crackling around the hole torn by the Professor Verbosity's capacitor, and the invisibility effect was flickering like a bad fluorescent light bulb. the Grammarian gritted his teeth.

The Avante Guardian said, "Hey, Grammarian?"

Near the doorway, a dim, shimmering outline with a big flashing patch at its knee paused, as if waiting to receive an apology.

"If you were going to be wrapped up and helpless when Professor Verbosity took you to his secret hideout, then how would you have been able to escape once you were there? What would you have done?"

From the outline came the sound of someone drawing a deep breath, holding it, then exhaling quietly.

"I would have thought of something, Guardian."

With a whoosh (and a slight crackle), he was gone.

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Welcome to NaNoWriMo

Me: Um, hi. My name is Tony, and I'm a NaNoWriMo author.

Crowd [in ragged unison]: Hi, Tony.

Me: I've been writing for one day.

Crowd: [scattered applause]

Me: My, uh, my NaNoWriMo novel is titled "The Adventures of the Grammarian: Verbosity's Vengeance".

Crowd: [mixture of confused mutterings, several excited squeaks and a few moans of disappointed frustration]

Me: I was gonna do a different novel, but this one was just calling to me. It's based on a story I wrote that some people thought was pretty funny. So I thought I'd, y'know, stretch it out. To a novel. That's like, fifty times longer. [pauses] Oh Jesus, what am I doing? This is lunacy!

Crowd: [murmurs of agreement]

Me [sipping coffee and taking a deep breath]: Well, one way or another, I'll give it a shot. I wrote a synopsis:
Though fervently committed to the Cause of Clarity, the Grammarian isn't exactly on the A-list of superheroes. It irritates the heck out him that other heroes not only get all the glory, they also get a lot more dates. Sure, they can fly or throw freight trains around like matchsticks, but can they tangle up a criminal in his own mismatched verb tenses? However, his resolve is put to the ultimate test when a powerful new super-villain rises to threaten Lexicon City. Despite their superpowers, none of the city's heroes is able to stand against him. The only hope rests with the man who wrote (and edited) the book on heroics: the Grammarian!
This isn't just going to be puns, wordplay and clever turns of phrase. It's got a character development arc, a confused but cute love interest, an ego competition angle, and a bunch of super-villains. It's also got an important underlying message that's topical and socially redeeming, and I think it would go over big with middle grade or young adult audiences.

Crowd: [mostly skeptical noises, with a few shouted words of encouragement, a few laughs of derision. One cry of "Hubris!"]

Me: Well, besides, I figure that if I can't pound out fifty thousand words with what I've got going on this story, then I should re-think this whole novel business.

Crowd: [silence]

Me: So, anyway. That's me.

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