Happy Memorial Day

In honor of all the brave men and women who, throughout the centuries, have given the last full measure of devotion to protect and defend the United States of America from all enemies, foreign and domestic.

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Premium catalog

My fantansy, horror & lit fic anthology, "Blood Picnic and other
stories", has been accepted for the Premium Catalog at Smashwords.
This is good news!

It's available in all the major e.book formats at the Smashwords
website, and I posted the book for Kindle at Amazon.com. However,
being in the PM will automatically propagate it to the iTunes
bookstore, Barnes & Noble and other major outlets. It will also be
available as a stand-alone book app for iPhone, iPad, Android, and all
other major smartphone OSs.

Of course, "being available" does not magically mean "selling copies",
but it does mean I need to do some work on organizing my marketing &
promotion. More items for the To Do list.

Sent from my mobile device

Flash fiction anthology now available: "Blood Picnic and other stories"
Just $2.99 at Smashwords <https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/54957> and
Amazon <http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004Z2KE14> Buy your copy today!

Buy my books: http://amzn.to/hWwRP9
Read my blog: http://www.TonyNoland.com/
Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/TonyNoland
Friend me on Facebook: http://on.fb.me/aSvNy1

#FridayFlash: A Common Purpose

A Common Purpose

by Tony Noland

The sun was a mottled green, bright as an apple in the center of the disk and fading to a foggy gray that filled the sky, the world and everything in it. Hector had expected everything to be utterly, completely black after turning on the timestop, but he had forgotten about the neutrinos.

In this frozen Planck-slice of a second, all the normal photons were motionless. The light of everything from the stars in the sky to the fluorescent bulbs on the ceilings was held mid-flight. He'd brought along a couple of wind-up flashlights, but they'd turned out not to be necessary. The stream of neutrinos from the sun dropped into something close to the visible spectrum, giving him more than sufficient light. He had plenty of time to think about the phenomenon as he walked from prison to prison.

At first, he tried to keep an idea of how much subjective time had passed. In this timestopped state, he never grew tired, hungry or thirsty, so the usual body clues were useless. He thought about counting his steps, but that would grow tedious. In the end, he decided to just wait until he had finished and could go back into normal time to figure it all out later. If he assumed a walking speed of three miles per hour, the distances between the prisons would let him calculate travel times. Within each prison, if he assumed three minutes to kill each inmate, he'd be able to calculate time per prison based on each one's population.

For a while, he kept track of the number of inmates at each prison he visited, but then gave it up. It didn't matter. The news people would eventually get a clear body count, if he ever really needed to know. It took so long to walk the hundreds and hundreds of miles between federal and state prisons, county lock-ups and local sheriff's holding cells that the numbers jumbled together. In the slums of the cities, he could kill the prostitutes and the drug dealers and their customers easily enough, but he didn't do much else in those neighborhoods. He disliked making subjective judgement calls on who was a criminal vs. who simply looked suspicious. Prisons were easier. Everyone in a cell was clearly guilty and was therefore a legitimate subject for culling.

Hector and the sun were the only things that moved. The sun's motion was subjective. As Hector walked from Florida to Maine, killing every criminal and prisoner he could find, the sun slid southward. As he walked across Quebec and Ontario, the sun lifted above the horizon. The sun moved fractionally, almost imperceptibly, since its subjective motion was dependent on the speed of Hector's actual motion. Three miles per hour wasn't much on this scale, but it added up.

By the time Hector had finished with Washington, Oregon and California, he was ready to take a break. His original plan had been to do all of Mexico in addition to the U.S. and Canada, but he had been working non-stop for what felt like many, many years. Even for a dedicated, tightly focused man such as he knew himself to be, he felt that he had exerted sufficient effort on behalf of the nation. He turned toward the desert and started walking.

The instant he turned off the timestop, every one of those filthy criminals would drop dead of an apparent heart attack. There would be an outcry, of course, and autopsies would show severe cellular disruption in their cardiac tissue. Investigations would look for the conspirators, the media would go crazy, and so on and so forth. It would pass. With the criminal element gone, a huge drain on the economy would vanish, society would be far better off without them and normal, decent people could get on with their lives.

Hector's sense of satisfaction grew as he walked to the termination site, which his calculations placed sixty-one miles northwest of Reno. Yes, this was a great day in the history of science, and in his own life. He was not only the cleverest physicist in history, he was also the most selflessly altruistic. Who else could have figured out how to stop time, and then put the knowledge to such good use? To such clear benefit to humanity?

Still many miles distant from the geographic locus of temporal energies that would take him back to his lab in Chicago, Hector saw movement. It had been so long since he had seen anything move that he was shocked into stillness. There was something just over the next rise in the desert scrubland. After a long time, his mind freed itself from its gridlocked state and he dropped to his hands and knees to creep forward.

Cresting the hill, he looked out over a sea of people, some standing and milling around but most sitting or lying on the ground. From just on this side of the hill, the crowd stretched to the far horizon. There must have been thousands, tens of thousands of people. They were mostly men, mostly white. Even from where he lay, he got such a sense of grim, pathetic despair from their voices, their posture and their expressions that he felt a deep chill of apprehension. He looked up at the sun, still green, still dim, still frozen in the sky. When Hector returned his gaze to the crowd, he saw the man nearest to him standing and pointing at him. Like many of the others, the man wore a tattered, white lab coat. His voice carried clearly through the foggy neutrino-light.

"Hey fellas. Here comes another poor time-stopping bastard."

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Evolution of a book cover

Writing "Blood Picnic and other stories" was no problem. Arranging it was a pain. Formatting it was a huge pain.

But the cover... ah, the cover...

I went through various iterations of it. Clean keys, bloody keys, etc. I finally settled on a version I liked:

It looks pretty good. Bold visual elements, title and author byline in a clearly legible font with good contrast, font size large enough to read in a thumbnail. Great, I'm good to go!

A screen-capture from Amazon
Crap. When the book is on the Amazon webpage, the little Kindle icon cuts off the last part of my name. There is a Tony Nolan, but he's an evangelical preacher.

So, back to the GIMP for a redesign. After some discussions on Twitter, I moved my name to the top, added some visual breaks and let the title be more central to the page.

What do you think?

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Wednesday #Poetry: Grin, Jumble, Naked

Welcome to my regular Wednesday poetry corner, brought to you by Three Word Wednesday and One Shot Wednesday.

Today's words are Grin, Jumble, Naked.

You grin and my heart does a tumble
Emotions a-swirl, in a jumble
Does my naked form
Get you sexy and warm
Or was that a laugh 'neath your mumble?

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Cowboy Don Explains Cultural Relativism

This podcast explains cultural relativism perfectly:


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My Non-Winning Entry for #5MinuteFiction

Another year of that and she was
sure she’d go mad. ’twas because
that 5MinuteFiction
had become an addiction -
it forced her to write without pause.

Congratulation to Leah Peterson on the one year anniversary of #5MinuteFiction! I've been a past participant, finalist a couple of times and won once. I also judged to pick the finalists one week, so I know how hard that job is.

Great work, Leah!

n.b. Unlike the wild free-for-all of most week's, this week gave a starting sentence: "Another year of that and she was sure she'd go mad." As you can see, I bent it a little.

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FridayFlash in the news

There's a good write-up in the London Weekly Standard about #FridayFlash. It reads, in part:
Friday Flash (fridayflash.org) is a web-based project set up by one writer to spread short stories - getting more people to write and to read them. Based on the concept of "flash fiction" - which Friday Flash defines as a story of 1,000 words or fewer - anybody who fancies a go can bash out a short piece of fiction on a Friday, post it to their blog and tweet it using the hashtag #FridayFlash.
The article quotes Jon Strother and does a good job explaining FridayFlash.

It's a bit strange to read an article like this and hear FridayFlash described as a new phenomenon, but I guess I'm pretty close to it.

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It was going to be awesome

I had this totally, 100% awesome blog post ready to roll this morning.
It even had a picture of Garfield and everything.

Can't post it, though, because my internet connection is down.

So dies art.

Sent from my mobile device

Now available: "Blood Picnic and other stories"
Just $2.99 at Smashwords <https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/54957> and
Amazon <http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004Z2KE14> Buy your copy today!

Buy my books: http://amzn.to/hWwRP9
Read my blog: http://www.TonyNoland.com/
Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/TonyNoland
Friend me on Facebook: http://on.fb.me/aSvNy1

I'm Still Here, Allegories and Celiac Disease

So much for the Rapture. The thing about Twitter is that the several days of lead time we got on this made the jokes fly fast and furious, right from the start. By the time the Rapture didn't happen, the joke was already stale.

(I've been busy the past few days, and will be busy today, so I'm just tossing out thoughts before I go shower and am thence offline for the rest of the day.)

I said my FridayFlash, "Again Take Up Thy Sword, Warrior King" was based on a true story. It is. Read the last line out loud: "With a bellow of conquering fury, King Dhoane'e of No Land attacked the first of the Dead Lines!" Then go back and re-read the story, substituting "writer" for "King". The number of settlers in the valley is my twitter followers, the number of nobles is the people who follow this blog, etc., etc., etc. Silly, but that's me.

Someone I know is being tested for Celiac disease, i.e. gluten intolerance. The list of symptoms matches up suspiciously well with a varied list of years-long medical complaints. No test results back yet, but that's a potential life-changer, that is.

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#FridayFlash: Again Take Up Thy Sword, Warrior King

"Again Take Up Thy Sword, Warrior King"

by Tony Noland

His grip on the leather-wrapped hilt shifted as the Warrior King leaned on his longsword for support. The steel-shod tip of the scabbard scraped against the stone steps during the long climb to the uppermost balcony. Dhoane'e remembered days when he would take these stairs at a run, two or even three at a time, dashing upwards to reach the view over his little domain. From his highest tower, he could see the entire valley, and could also best see that which threatened it.

One flight below the top, Dhoane'e stopped to rest. A curse had laid him low, and it was three days of torment before his own magicians could break the spell. He was weary, weary of leg and arm and heart, weary the way he knew old men grew weary. Yet the invaders came, and who would stop them if not the King? There was no one else to whom this task could fall. When he was a lad, he was thin and penniless, without prospects or property. At great risk, he left the land of his birth, turning his back on its cold granite halls and harsh, glaring light to seek whatever fortune he might find.

So many years of travel and hardship, but they all blurred together as but a moment of prologue to the beginning of his true life. When he first set eyes on this valley, with its fields and rocks, the cool rills that traced around the meadows, he knew that he had found his home. He bargained for it, paid for it, fought for it. Certain that this was his life's purpose, he took it and declared himself King. Dhoane'e, who once had been possessed of not a handspan of ground to call his own, was now absolute monarch... of a tiny sliver of land less than three days march across.

Even now his own conceit in naming his realm after himself caused him to smile. He climbed to the top, standing straight and sparing his sword further indignity. It was powerfully magical, forged by the second-best armorer among the green dragons. The keenness of its edge matched the vitality of the wielder. He drew it out four fingerwidths and checked the edge, then slid it back with a sigh. Barely sharp enough to cut potatoes, let alone slay the monsters that massed on his valley's doorstep.

They had come almost from the first day of his self-administered coronation. Any man with property may call himself King, be his crown of emerald-encrusted platinum or a filed iron band. But a crown of any kind attracts the dreaded monsters. To be a King was to fight them in a constant war. Thousands who had grown weary of the fight had renounced their claims and cast off their diadems, seeking lives of peace under another man's rule.

Such was not his way.

Dhoane'e fought with vigor, and, after a time, fought also with hard-won skill and experience. With his bear-like strength and his keen wits he won battle after battle. Settlers came to his valley to see the new Warrior King of this tiny realm. Liking what they saw, some stayed to be his people. Now, in the bright morning sunlight, with the cool air flowing down from the mountains, Dhoane'e looked over the valley and felt refreshed. More than two thousand settlers were here, with more coming every month. His little kingdom was not so little anymore. In addition to the settlers, there were one hundred and fifty five who had joined the ranks of the noble class. He looked over his sun-lit kingdom and was pleased.

Until the first shadow of the day crossed the land.

To his right, from the narrow gorge path that led up into the wastes beyond the realm of kings, the monsters rolled forward. They ranged in size from taller than a man to the size of a hill. Huge and powerful, they shook the earth with each step. They were blind, slow and stupid, but what made them fiendishly difficult to fight was that they were almost completely invisible. Their armor-hard magical skin made them so, and it covered all parts of them save for their gaping mouths. Like twisted black lines floating ten, twenty, even fifty feet in the air, their mouths would flex and writhe, ready to lunge downward to bite off the head of man or beast.

These dreaded lines of death came to all Kings of the earth, in proportion to the size of his realm. Dhoane'e had heard frightening tales of the continent-wide armies of such that came to attack the Greater Kings, and he longed to test his might against them. One day, he vowed, he would join the hallowed ranks of the Greater Kings. Today, though... today he had to summon the strength to protect his little kingdom.

Standing on his balcony, he raised his fists to the air and breathed deep, breathed in until his ribs cracked. Then he shouted out his battle cry with all the force he possessed. Again and again he did this, and his spirit quickened. He smashed his fists against his chest, the plates of his gauntlets striking sparks from his armor. The blood pounded in his ears and he felt his battle-lust wash away his fatigue. With a running leap, he jumped off the balcony and onto the glowing bridge of solidified air that led to the field of battle. As he ran he drew his shining sword, and its edge was now so sharp as to slice through a rainbow. He circled the air with it, and the keening whistle caused all the invading horrors to turn to face him.

With a bellow of conquering fury, King Dhoane'e of No Land attacked the first of the Dead Lines!

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100 Stories for Queensland

The anthology, "100 Stories for Queensland" is out in paperback, and I've already got my copy:

What a good looking book!

All proceeds from sales of this collection go to benefit the victims of the horrendous flooding in Queensland, Australia earlier this year. From the Amazon page, where you can buy the book right now:
100 STORIES FOR QUEENSLAND is a collection of flash fiction in aid of the survivors of the 2011 Queensland Floods. 100 STORIES FOR QUEENSLAND has something for everyone, from slice of life to science fiction, fantasy to romance, paranormal to literary fiction. Heart-warming, quirky, inspiring and funny, the stories between these covers will lift readers to higher ground. Contributors include NY Times Bestselling author Sean Williams, popular authors Anita Heiss, Janet Gover and Sue Moorcroft. Foreword is by Queensland Writers Centre CEO, Kate Eltham. Wholesale discounts have been purposely kept low to maximise the money donated to the Queensland Premier's Flood Appeal - the nominated charity fund.
In this volume you'll find some of your favorite authors, and new writers whom you'll love. I was honored to be a part of this effort as part of the editorial staff. This is a collection to be proud of. Enjoy!

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Check the tags

"We are called upon to give and give and give, to give until it hurts, and to continue giving until we have given all we possess."

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Tags: charity, patriotism, intestinal flu

Wednesday #Poetry: Damp, Incensed, Skid

Welcome to my regular Wednesday poetry corner, brought to you by Three Word Wednesday and One Shot Wednesday.

Today's words are Damp, Incensed, Skid.

Damp fog enshrouded Skid Row
Hiding all crimes from lampglow
Beyond reason incensed,
His right arm all tensed,
The mugger drew back for a blow

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Sick and tired

I'm battling a nasty flu bug at the moment. So, funny and/or informative blog posts? Yeah, I got nothing. Watch a McDonald's commercial instead.

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Fiction: The Bunny Rabbit's Command

Once upon a time, a bunny rabbit was hit by a death ray. Or rather, it
WOULD have been a death ray for the bunny if the bunny had been from
Cylaxia IV.

The Science Council of the Kelanites (who are, of course, the mortal
enemies of the Cylaxians) had spent a great deal of time and money in
developing a death ray that would kill Cylaxians but not Kelanites. It
was no big deal to make antimatter projectors, neutron evaporators and
gamma-ray lasers. Both sides had those. King Ssondrl's great insight
was in getting his war scientists to build a weapon that only pointed
one way.

Empress wheeJaaNilop had the same idea, though, and the Imperial
Research Service had been put to work on a comparable task, although
naturally in the reversed sense. Both sides sought some key way to
distinguish their species on a molecular level. Although the
feathered, scaly Cylaxians looked very different from the chitinous,
multi-legged Kelanites, both had rather similar biochemistry, right
down to their DNA. It's funny how the universe works.

Eventually, though, since Cylaxians used molybdenum in their
inter-cellular ion pumps, while Kelanites used predominantely
chromium, both sides focussed their attention on this key difference,
which each side saw as a chink in the other's armor. Scientists being
even more universally similar than biochemistry, both sides took about
the same number of years to develop their weapons. It was pure
coincidence that both sides decided to field test their weapons in the
same skirmish.

In a dogfight that looped through the blackness, a Cylaxian scout ship
(offered as a lure) was targeted by a specially modifed Kelanite
fighter, which was then targeted by a specially modified Cylaxian
fighter right behind. Twin death rays lashed out, parallel and
overlapping, stabbing out into the vast reaches of space.

Nine years later, the beams crossed the icy wastes out at the
threshold of solar space. Fourteen hours later, they narrowly missed
the moon. Two and a half seconds later, they hit the bunny rabbit,
first the Kelanite beam (deadly to Cylaxians), then the Cylaxian beam
(deadly to Kelanites).

Bathed in invisible energies, the bunny rabbit stopped chewing the
moutful of clover it had been working on. For long minutes, it sat in
the sunshine as its biochemistry rearranged itself. A hawk, circling
up above, saw the bunny and prepared to swoop down for a meal.

The bunny rabbit saw the flicker of shadow from the hawk's wing, and
issued his first mental command to the first of his soldiers. The hawk
instantly wheeled away to do his master's bidding.

Sent from my mobile device

Now available: "Blood Picnic and other stories"
Just $2.99 at Smashwords <https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/54957> and
Amazon <http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004Z2KE14> Buy your copy today!

Buy my books: http://amzn.to/hWwRP9
Read my blog: http://www.TonyNoland.com/
Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/TonyNoland
Friend me on Facebook: http://on.fb.me/aSvNy1

Review of Blood Picnic: "take your breath away with the final line"

A new review of "Blood Picnic and other stories" (available at Smashwords and Amazon for $2.99) has been posted over at Journey of a Bookseller. It reads, in part:
If you like short stories that leave you thinking, this collection of stories is for you!... This is nice mix of horror, irony, and oddities that kept me reading until I finished the book. He can write a whole story and take your breath away with the final line.
Why not buy a copy of "Blood Picnic and other stories" and see for yourself? (Did I mention it's available at Smashwords and Amazon?) I know you'll like it!

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Flash fiction and the challenge of "Candice"

I feel as though I should clear something up. I wrote "HI MY NAME IS Candice" as a way to explore the puncturing of a balloon. I wanted to take take someone to whom image and status is very important and make sure sure the audience knew he was a pompous, condescending snob. Then, I wanted to not only make him partially sympathetic, but to put him in a situation where he would become VERY sympathetic.

It's not an unusual plot arc to have a disagreeable character become a form of anti-hero, but it was an exercise I thought would be instructive. I wanted to show some vulnerability beneath an MBA exterior, to show that real human connection is something that money and status can't buy. Actually, my real intention was to interlace a lot of erotic imagery as the key to forcing a basal, carnal attraction. That would slice through all the confounding layers of civilized distancing that keeps him from making connections with people, even people he VERY MUCH wants to connect with.

However, the slapstick with the splashing Coke Zero seems to have drawn everyone's attention away from the erotic images I put in. More importantly, a funny thing happened with that story. The overwhelming majority of comments said, "Oh, he's blown it with her now, too bad". I don't know why this reaction surprised me. True, I'd been thinking of connection in purely sexual terms, not in romantic terms. In the unfocused back of my mind, I saw this as a way to bridge the divide between them. For almost all of the readers to think otherwise made me wonder if it that was really possible.

I mean, ANYTHING is possible - as the author, I'm the shaper of this world. But is it likely? Is it believable? Once you write the scene out, the nebulous ideas about characters and situations become the reality of that world, the details become set in concrete. The people in there now have to actually deal with a cotton-poly uniform shirt soaked in Coke Zero and adhering closely enough to show off every piece of lace on Candice's bra.

Given this guy, with his specific flaws and personality traits, and given this woman, with an as yet only hinted-at character, was it really possible to get them back to a point that an amicable relationship was possible? True fact: I once deliberately dumped a cup of ice water down the front of a girl's prom dress, then talked my way back into her good graces before the end of the night. Was there any way to let Christopher recover his chances with Candice?

So I wrote "Candice on the Couch" as a way to explore that very thing. The big thing I would have loved to hear from people is whether they thought this was at all believable. Even with the cock-up by Blogger and the splattered nature of the reading and commenting of Friday Flash in general, I'm pleased that some folks thought it all worked, and even to the extent that they were hooked by these two.

That is really great news to hear, since this was a tricky thing to pull off, especially since I played around with the chronology pretty extensively. A straight narrative going from A to B to C in chronological order would have been impossibly ponderous and lurching into the unbelievable. I felt that if you already knew that they're together, it would trick you into seeing the various stages as being reasonable, when you might not see them that way if they came on in sequence. A few people took issue with the different tone of this story than the previous, but not really with the plot arc. As scenes in a novel, this would be disastrous, but since they're two different stories, they can have different tones.

However, a funny thing happened with this story, too. It's my own damned fault, of course, and I should have seen it coming. People started asking if this is the start of a serial. They were hooked by the characters, they love Candice, mistrust Candice's motives, see Christopher as on the verge of something great, just know that Christopher is going to blow it with a ham-handed move when the movie is over...

I suck and I'm unintentionally mean, because I didn't intend this as the start of a serial. Having teased you, I'm going to disappoint you. I already have one serial I had to put in moth balls, and I still have people mad at me for leaving Patricia Lonnigan in the lurch. Odds are, I'd have to do the same to Candice. It seems I have time to write blog posts and some poetry, work on my novel and do Friday Flash. I don't wish to suborn my Friday Flash time for he sake of a serial, since experimental writing is a good way for me to grow as a writer.

Still, I don't want to leave you completely on edge. Candice is using him. She's the check-out clerk at his supermarket. She sees the high-end groceries he buys, always in single-serve portions. She sees the Patek Phillippe on his wrist, the BMW he drives and the expensive clothes he wears. He's babe in the woods, and she knows it. Despite the somewhat opportunistic way she'll date him for his money, she does come to like him and they both start to feel real love, grown outward from the infatuation on the one hand and the gold-glitter on the other. Money can't buy love, but it needn't stand in the way of it, either.

However, after one of his co-workers sees him "slumming" with a check-out girl, Christopher will revert to his social-climbing ways and dump Candice. Then, after an unsatisfying fling with a woman at work, who is just as superficial and distant as he used to be, he tries to go back to Candice. She refuses him, and he has to prove that he's not just another rich jerk. In the end, he encourages her to get an accounting degree at the community college, and she gets a job as a claims adjuster for an insurance company. They live happily ever after.

What do you think?

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#FridayFlash: Candice on the couch

HI MY NAME IS Candice: Candice on the couch

by Tony Noland


Christopher watched Candice as she laughed. He was utterly taken by the way she gave herself over to the laughter, the way she threw her head back and put a hand on her stomach as she shook with it. “Ghostbusters” was one of his favorite movies, and he’d bought it on VHS, then DVD, then the widescreen version on HD-DVD and again on Blu-Ray. He could quote practically the whole thing, line for line.

Candice had never seen it. When she laughed out loud when Venkman shocked the guy in the psych experiment, Christopher’s own laugh had been more in nervous relief. All the best bits, so familiar to him that he only smiled at them when he rewatched it alone, were cracking Candice up completely. Venkman getting slimed, Ray sliding down the firepole, Egon saying “it would be bad”… they were only halfway in, and she loved the movie.

She loved “Ghostbusters”. Incredible.

He turned his eyes back to the screen and sipped his Jack and Coke. Actually, it was Maker’s Mark and Coke Zero; it wasn’t half bad, even though it was mixed much more stiffly than he usually drank. Candice had rolled her eyes when he offered her a glass of wine with dinner. Fortunately, she’d done it before he’d had a chance to casually mention that he recently secured a case of Frog’s Leap Cabernet from 2002, and at a very good price. He felt liked he’d dodged a bullet. The fact that he didn’t have any Jack Daniels prompted another eyeroll. When he said he didn’t have any Coke either, because he only drank Coke Zero, she crossed her arms over her chest and scowled at him.

“Yes,” she said. “I know.”

He’d paused, a frozen microwave dinner in each hand. The moment stretched, held, then broke when her lips twitched upward into a hint of a smile.

“Yeah, well, I’m almost out, though. I was going to pick up some more today, but… something happened.”
She smiled a bit more. He smiled back, and soon they were both laughing.

Now, as he sipped his second drink, he watched her laugh, sitting over on the couch, wearing his Yale sweatshirt and a pair of his gym shorts. It all felt surreal… not in the Dadaist, “conceptual art” sense, but more like “how the hell did I get here”. Or maybe “this is a scene from someone else’s life”. As he thought about it, this marked the first time in more than ten years he had watched “Ghostbusters” with anyone, and the first time he had ever watched it with a girl – woman! – in his living room.

Back in the grocery store, he’d tried to say something, anything to her, but she was so angry she wouldn’t listen. Standing amid the gathered crowd, soaked in soda pop, her eye inflamed, she was like an angry elemental, one of the ancient Greek furies. The manager, a bony woman with frizzy, bright red hair, was quick to tell Candice to let go of his shirt and to calm down, which made her even more angry. The turning point came when the manager apologized to him for Candice’s “atrocious” behavior, and then snapped at Candice to apologize as well.

Before she could respond, Christopher blurted out, “Are you kidding? I don’t blame her a bit!” Whatever Candice had been about to say, she bit it off and stood silently fuming. Everything moved fast after that. The manager told her to go home, and to be sure to clock out.

Candice yelling at him in the parking lot, making sure he knew that she not only had lost almost an entire shift’s pay thanks to him, she now had to stand in a chilly, windy evening for an hour to catch the next bus home, only so she could listen to her snotty roommate laugh at her sorry state.

His apology had evolved from an offer to pay for dry cleaning of her clothes, to an offer of a ride home, a place to clean up before she went home, as he did not live far from the store. She was angry and vengeful, and had accepted everything he’d offered and demanded more. It was only after they’d pulled up at his house that the actual logistics of it all became more real.

Yes, a chance to “clean up before she went home” was fine, but what did that mean? Once they were in the house, it was clear that just giving her some clean clothes wasn’t enough. Soaked and sticky, from her hair to her shoes, what she needed was a shower. As bizarre as it felt, he got her a towel and some clothes to wear while he ran her clothes through the washer and dryer.

It all blurred together in his memory, how one thing had led to another. Her coming out with damp hair, her face clean of makeup, her brown eyes unadorned, the left one still bloodshot. Standing in the kitchen, barefoot and in his oversized clothes, she looked younger. She also would have looked more innocent and somehow sweet if she had not looked so defiant. It was then that he realized that throughout it all, she had never seemed humiliated or embarrassed. If someone had spilled a bunch of soda pop on him in a public place, Christopher knew he would have wanted to sink into the earth forever. He never got that sense from her, not in the store, not in the kitchen, not when she was looking over his DVD collection while waiting for dinner to cook.

He had an insane urge to ask her how she did it, how she was so self-possessed. Instead, he sipped his drink, watched her laugh at the Stay-Puft marshmallow man and wondered what he was going to say when the movie was over.

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UPDATE: Read my author's discussion of this story.

"Igor, bring me a fresh brain" - creating characters

Today over at Write Anything, I talk about creating characters. You get the best monsters when you put in the strangest brains.

Take a look!

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Actually ironic

The song "Isn't It Ironic" is a favorite of writers, because the situations depicted, while bittersweet and tragic, aren't really ironic. To make the point, here's a video that interposes a few additional lyrics that make the situations actually ironic. Example: a traffic jam when you're already late... to get an award for having reduced traffic congestion.


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Pay no attention to that mouse behind the curtain

I have a complex inner life. It usually doesn't well up so profoundly that it spills over into a blog post. Yesterday was one of those days when it did.

It's good to know my writerly issues are neither unique nor insurmountable.

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Honesty in writing, dammit

You want honesty? I'll give you some honesty. I'm tired of pretending that I know what I'm doing with all of this shit.

I don't read enough fiction. There, I said it. With the flood of stories my friends write, the books recommended to me or given to me, articles on the internet and magazines I get, I can barely manage ten hours a week spent reading fiction. The list grows, longer and faster than I can possible keep up with. I've given up a lot to get more time to read and write, and it's still not enough. It would be great if I could spend all my time on this, but I can't.

The "holy crap, this novel SUCKS!!!" phase of my WIP is not a one-and-done, not something that I went through and got over. Friends talked me in from the ledge when I was whining about this during NaNoWriMo, and have periodically offered again to kick me in the ass again if I ever felt like quitting. This feeling does not arise from a sense that this is too HARD to do, that I'm shying away from the sweat and effort of it. It's a recurrent fear that I'm wasting my time on a book that no one will read or get, a book that no one will think is at all engaging or funny. It doesn't help that several of the people I've told about this WIP have responded with a confused headshake. Yes, I KNOW it's not like anything you're familiar with - that's the whole point! It's different! If I wanted to knock out a trope ridden "farmboy finds a magic book, learns to be a magician" thing, I would. I've got 15,000 words of that novel sitting in a drawer, OK?

Yeah, it would be great if I were to return to "Just Enough Power" and write out the rest of the plot. It's all there - Patricia Lonnigan gets beaten up, gets to have lots of slippery, angry sex, she gets to kill lots of people, and she gets revenge on all the people who wronged her, but she has to pay a heavy price for it. You know what? I'm deliberately NOT writing that so I can FINISH MY DAMNED WIP. You think I don't feel the lure of every other half-finished fucking story I have sitting on my hard drive? You think I don't hear those voices that say, "oooh, that one is MUCH better than this one."? I do, believe me. But I've committed myself to this WIP. The Grammarian comes FIRST, Patricia Lonnigan comes NEXT. It has to be that way, or I'll go crazy flitting around from flower to flower.

It's really hard to sustain enthusiasm for a WIP when these doubts and fears set in. Hard, that is, until I actually take a deep breath and open my work again. After re-reading three pages, I KNOW this is a good book, or could be. I can make this thing shine, make it the kind of book I want it to be. I just wish I could be sure that the readers will see the same kind of thing in it that I do. Yes, yes, it's a non-random event - it's not up to the reader to make the book great. They'll see whatever I put in there, and it's up to me to MAKE it happen. It takes an effort of faith, in the story, in the system, and above all, faith in my own abilities as a writer.

I'm not a very trusting person. That has consequences for me as a person, and as a writer. The thing is, though, there's a difference between confidence and faith. Confidence is based on data, and deals with the known. The tables say that a 10"x10" pillar of No.1 grade oak will support 6500 pounds. If I load it with 5000 pounds, I can be confident of its performance. It's when I load it with 6800, or 7000 or 8000 pounds that I need to have faith in its performance.

I'm confident I can write good flash fiction. I need to have faith that I can write a good novel.

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#FridayFlash: HI MY NAME IS Candice


by Tony Noland

More than once, Christopher told himself it was not only creepy and low class, but undignified to be so taken with this girl. No, he thought, not girl. Young woman. Aside from being less condescending a term, it was more accurate. She had to be at least late teens, maybe early twenties, what with a pair of... with a full figure like that. The mental correction of his own thoughts was automatic. He berated himself for almost objectifying and depersonalizing her based solely on her female anatomy.

If he were the sort of person who used words like "captivating", "lush" or "hypnotic", he would certainly have used them to describe Candice, one of the checkout clerks at the supermarket near his new house. However, Christopher W. Pennefield never used such words, and never read the kinds of ridiculous, time-wasting novels that contained them. Her black hair, her pale skin, her... full figure. Just as water is wet and fire can burn, it was an objective fact that she was unlike anyone else he had ever seen. She was captivating, lush and hypnotic, but he made himself think of her as merely pretty.

Besides, as attractive as Candice might be, especially when she used blue, green or black contact lenses to make her eye color match her eye shadow, Christopher reminded himself that she was just a checkout clerk. Even if he did find himself doing his shopping when he knew she'd be working, and going through her line even when others might have been faster, he knew it was ridiculous. He had an MBA from Yale and was on his way to being a rising star in his new company; he should be focusing on his own peer group for romantic opportunities. There were surely professional women he could start a relationship with; he just hadn't made the right connections yet. After all, he'd only just moved here for the job very recently, just last September.

He looked around at the supermarket decorations, changed over from Memorial Day sales to the Fourth of July sales. Nine months? Had it really been that long? His house was here, in a decent suburb. It was much bigger and nicer than he needed, but he bought it expecting to be entertaining clients and co-workers, schmoozing with the higher-ups. It hadn't really worked out that way, though. Aside from one time when a couple of guys came over to watch part of a football game, he'd had the place to himself. He hadn't even met most of his neighbors yet. That was partly because of the long hours he'd been working, right from Day One. You didn't climb the ladder by sitting down on the bottom rung. Partly, too, it was that when he was home, he was either working in his den or trying to catch up on much-needed sleep. The yard guys took care of the yard, the pool guys took care of the pool.

As he began to take items out of his cart and place them on the conveyor belt that would bring them within Candice's reach, he tried to remember the last time he'd spoken to someone outside of work. The guy at the car wash place? The barista at the Starbuck's in the food court of his building downtown? That candidate for city council who'd been canvassing before the primary elections?

His mind occupied with the task of memory, his fingers slipped, and he lost his grip on the 2-liter bottle of Coke Zero. It dropped onto the belt and the cap cracked, just at the seam. Soda pop exploded out in a wide circular spray as the bottle fell forward, bouncing off a box of Low Sodium Wheat Thins. He shouted and held up his hands to shield his face from the spray, just as Candice screamed and did the same. She caught the brunt of the assault as the bottle, propelled by the jetting fluid, bounced once, then flipped over and landed in front of her.

Horrified, Christoper grabbed at the slippery bottle, but only succeed in knocking it over into the well of the bagging area in front of Candice. When the bottle thumped down on its bottom, hard, the seal of the cap gave way completely. The cap itself rocketed upward and hit her squarely in the left eye, while the foaming contents of the bottle fountained upwards, soaking her face and chest. Candice screamed again and began clawing at her eye with both hands. Her elbows out to her sides, she threw her head back and squirmed in pain as she desperately tried to remove the contact lens that the cap had knocked to the side of her eyeball.

Her back arched, her hair flung backwards, her Coke Zero-soaked chest thrust outward, Candice was hopping and shaking, her torso waving and weaving as she tried to pluck the contact lens. She began growling and stomping her foot in animal pain and frustration as the lens dug into her eyeball. With each stomp, a shock wave rippled up and down her captivating, lush and hypnotic anatomy, every seismic nuance laid bare in soaking wet high definition. Christopher couldn't move, couldn't speak.

Finally, she hooked the edge of the errant lens with a fingernail and tugged it out from the edge of her eyelid. She doubled over forward with the instantaneous release from the searing pain. Both hands over her left eye, she sobbed involuntarily, just once. Then, with a wild, feral expression on her face that Christopher had never seen on the face of anyone, man or woman, she looked up. Among the crowd that had already gathered, she saw him standing, still struck dumb and motionless by what he had just witnessed. He cleared his throat and tried a nervous, apologetic little smile.

With a snarl, Candice leaned over the counter and grabbed Christopher by the front of his shirt. She pulled him across the counter, pulled his face down close to hers, until he was within breathing distance of her. One eye, medium-brown and already bloodshot, and the other, brilliant green and beautiful, locked onto his own as she spoke through gritted teeth.

"There. Are. Better. Ways. To. Get. My. Attention. You. ASSHOLE!"

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UPDATE: Read the sequel, "Candice on the Couch"

Blood Picnic now available at Amazon

I'm pleased to announce that "Blood Picnic and other stories", my new anthology of flash fiction, is now available for the Kindle at Amazon.com:

Click to enlarge. 28 stories of fantasy, horror, lit fic and magical realism.

Kindle books can be read on the Kindle e.book reader, or on your Mac, PC, iPhone, iPad, Blackberry or Droid smartphones. Just download the Kindle reader app from Amazon, on the same page where you view and/ buy Kindle books.

You can get "Blood Picnic and other stories" from the US Amazon website, or from the Amazon sites serving the UK and Germany. Prices are $2.99, £2.06 and EUR 2,32 respectively.

There are no reviews on the US site yet, so if you'd like to be the first, act fast!

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Renegade A to Z in tweets

For everyone who didn't participate in the A to Z blog series in April, Reginald Golding is orchestrating a Renegade A to Z blog post series for May. I responded to the challenge last night:

A is for Absinthe, specifically the bottle I've had sitting in my liquor cabinet for five years, but am too much of a coward to drink.

B is for "Blood Picnic", my new anthology, now on sale for Mother's Day. See blog for details.

C is for Cunnilingus. (Bet you didn't see *that* one coming, did you?)

D is for Dirk Pitt, the most overwrought (and over-written) protagonist ever.

E is for Elfquest. Remember Elfquest? I do.

F is for Friends
. Remember Friends? I don't, because I never saw it.

G is for Golllum, who got a much better treatment in the movies than in the books.

H is for Hansel, locked in a cage, waiting for Gretel to rescue him. Girl power, yo.

I is for Isolation
, which I need to write.

J is for the Justice League, who would get their ASSES KICKED by the Avengers.

K is for Kobolds, the most annoying monsters ever to have to kill as a 2nd level Fighter.

L is for Lucy van Pelt, that bitch.

M is for Mariachi Music, which is surprisingly danceable after you've had enough tequila.

N is for Noland. Tony Noland.

O is for Orpheus
, the original tourist who ended up in the wrong bar.

P is for Perfect
, which I will never be, and which I'd be happier if I stopped *trying* to be.

Q is for Quintessence
, a perfectly lovely word that I almost certainly won't get to use in conversation any time soon.

R is for Regional accents
, which add so much to writing when done well, and which make you want to kill the author otherwise.

S is for Sam Spade
, the rootstock of all hard-boiled detectives.

T is for Tequila. (See "Mariachi Music")

U is for UberTwitter
, which became UberSocial after Twitter turned asshole. (Good luck, @TweetDeck).

V is for Very
. There... I said "very". Edit that, pal.

W is for Wollstonecraft
, steampunk before her time.

X is for Xylologist
, someone who studies forms of wood. Scrabble, anyone?

Y is for YA
, a genre which will probably not welcome my novel, but what the hell, I have to call it something!

Z is for Zelda
, a game I've heard a lot about but have never played. #loser

n.b. My original tweets for D and M didn't come through. As @Farfetched58 pointed out to me, "D or M are both DM commands. http://t.co/QG1Lkdn I could txt "D TonyNoland xyz" to 40404 & you'd get it." You learn something new every day, if you pay attention.

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Wednesday #Poetry: Grace, Jitter, Thin

Welcome to my regular Wednesday poetry corner, brought to you by Three Word Wednesday and One Shot Wednesday.

Today's words are Grace, Jitter, Thin.

May grace of God's goodness abound
Which sometimes seems thin on the ground
No jitter could save
Him from a wet grave
bin Laden's no longer around.

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Mother's Day sale on "Blood Picnic"

If your mother is anything like mine, a diverse collection of thrilling flash fiction would make a GREAT Mother's Day gift. So, I'll make it easy for you. From now until Mother's Day, May 8, you can get "Blood Picnic and other stories" at a special sale price of $0.99 using the code NU66H.Wondering if this book is right for your mom? Here's some more info:

Ebook Short Description
The versatile Tony Noland has gathered some of his best flash fiction and short stories for this diverse collection. These 28 stories range in style from fantasy and horror to magical realism and literary fiction. Whether you’re looking for potent true-to-life tales or want your fiction full of zombies, flying carpets or deals with the devil, this collection will amuse, delight and surprise you.

So show your mom how much you love her, and give her my book, in a variety of e.book formats. But don't be a cheapskate about it, OK? With the coupon code, it's only $0.99, and she's worth more than that. Get here something else in addition to my book. Like flowers. Or scotch.

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Wordles as a top-level overview

This is the wordle from "Blood Picnic and other stories".

Wordle: "Blood Picnic and other stories"

It's more balanced than I would have expected. There aren't any repetitive phrases that overwhelm everything else. Since this is a collection of stories, rather than a novel, you might expect a certain heterogeneity. I avoided the overuse of the words "that", "very" and "suddenly". However, it seems that I like the word "just" quite a lot, perhaps too much.

Compare that to the wordle for my novel WIP, "Goodbye Grammarian".

Wordle: Goodbye Grammarian

I'm guessing a novel about Batman would emphasize the words "Batman" and "Bruce", so I'm not too worried about the massive preponderance of "Grammarian" and "Alex". Oh, and the love interest is named Kate. Can you tell?

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What's wrong with stories set in the Old West

Someone who purchased my anthology, "Blood Picnic and other stories" asked why I didn't include one FridayFlash story she particularly liked. It was a creepy Western, complete with a dusty saloon, a mysterious stranger, an arrogant rancher and a strong dose of the supernatural.

Why didn't I include it? What's wrong with stories set in the Old West?

Well, nothing, really. I wrote that story to try my hand at the genre. The story came out alright, but that's not really a setting that speaks to me, so I don't have much of a body of work in that vein. The stories in "Blood Picnic" are divided into fantasy, horror, literary fiction and magical realism. Slotting in one western was problematic, even with the supernatural element.

I'm working on putting together an anthology devoted exclusively to science fiction. It'll be priced the same, $2.99, and will be about the same length, 28K words. It should be out soon.

Honestly, though, unless I get a call from a publisher asking me to do one, don't expect an anthology of western stories.

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