Almost 2K

I did 2K on my book yesterday. Reworked and expanded the climactic fight scene ending to make more exciting, to put the hero in greater danger, to give the sidekick a bit of the spotlight and to give the heroine something to do other than just scream, "save me, save me". The villain and his chief henchmen ultimately fall, but at a huge cost to the good guys. What I wrote yesterday was pretty good. The whole thing will lead beautifully into the ending, where the bad guys are thwarted and taken away, a loser wannabe shows himself a true hero, a lone-wolf hero learns the value of trust and sacrifice, and love blossoms among the wreckage.

So why do I feel like such a talentless hack? The whole thing sounds unbelievably trite when I summarize it, as in the above paragraph. I write and write and write, and feel great when I'm writing. I feel great when I read what I've written. Then... I feel terrible when I think about all the other books out there, all of them loved and slaved over by countless writers, and I think, "Who am I to think that I can - or should - throw my little teapcupful into the wide, wide sea?"

Also, maybe I should restrict musing like this to my journals, instead of throwing it out onto this blog. After all, people come here to be amused by a clown, don't they?

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Just me and my soul

Going off for some more time out of town. Unless I'm careful (and productive) this trip is going to be a multi-day long dark night of the soul.

Updates as opportunities present.

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#FridayFlash: Good question

Good Question

by Tony Noland

"Good question... how about if I stab you right in the fucking eye so we can find out?"

Although the diners throughout the restaurant noticed the way Jimmy "Nine Fingers" Rosario stiffened and his mouth dropped open, nobody beyond the corner table heard the kid's response. The nearby tables were, of course, empty, as they always were when the boss had a meeting with the boys at Del Pietro's. The clear field of view from the corner went both ways - the boys could keep an eye on all the doors, but that also meant that everyone in the place could see them without obstruction. Around the dining room, the rest of the patrons might have paused for a moment, sensing that something had just happened, but the good citizens were all far too sensible to do anything other than carry on with their meals and pretend they didn't see the men in the corner.

Jimmy Nine closed his mouth and grinned. He turned away from the kid to address one of the other men at the table."Hey, Denny, your boy is a real fuckin' comedian, you know that? He's funny! A funny guy. So do me a favor and tell your funny guy he's gonna funny himself into a fuckin' body bag if he don't show some respect."

Arthur "Denny" D'Laurio wore a pained expression. "Thomas," he said, addressing the kid, "answer Mr. Rosario's question in a respectful manner."

The kid, Thomas Shoemaker, looked at the table for a moment, then looked up and spoke again, in the same measured tone he'd used before. "No, Mr. Rosario, I don't think that I'm too young to have the balls necessary for this job. On the contrary, I think you'll find that, were you to hire me, you would be fully satisfied with my abilities and commitment."

"I think you got balls for brains, kid." Jimmy Nine flicked his cigarette across the table, missing Thomas' face by a good foot to the left. Thomas flinched only slightly. "I think you're a fuckin' moron who should maybe get his legs broke for being a smart ass. Huh? How about that, tough guy? You got a smart ass comment for me, or what?"

After a moment, Thomas averted his eyes from Jimmy Nine's and looked down at the floor. Moving slowly, he leaned over and picked up Jimmy Nine's still burning cigarette and stubbed it out in the ashtray. "I don't smoke, Mr. Rosario," he said, "or I'd offer you a replacement."

"What the fuck does that mean?"

"It means that I've taken up enough of your time, gentlemen. Mr. D'Laurio, thank you for the introduction. Mr. Rosario, Mr. Antony, Mr. Capella, it was pleasure to meet you." Thomas turned to the large man at the head of the table, who had been silent throughout the post-meal discussion of the kind of person they were looking for. "Mr. Vincelli, thank you for allowing me to share the table with you, and for allowing me to present my qualifications. I'd like to reiterate that I am quite interested in the position, and would welcome the chance to work with you." Thomas stood.

Aderesto "the Acrobat" Vincelli said, "Sit down."

Thomas sat back down.

In the silence that followed, the Acrobat drew a long pull on his cigar and exhaled toward the ceiling. He tapped an inch of ash from the end of the tight-rolled Dominican, and drew on it again, and again. Finally, he set the stub in the ashtray and stood up. Around the table, everyone else stood also.

"He's in," said the Acrobat. "Denny, come with me. Jimmy Nine, fill him in on what he's gonna do."

Without looking back, the big man left, trailed by Denny.

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An all-purpose generic blog post: the big 6

Witty play on words, with a tangential reference to the eye-grabbing title that justifies the blatant SEO phrasing.

Introduction of main theme of the blog post, in the form of a rhetorical question. Restatement of theme as a declaration, stressing its broad significance. Real life examples citing famous people and citing my own experience writing fiction. Another funny bit of wordplay to let you know that, while I don't take myself seriously, I do consider this an important topic that YOU should take seriously.

Short, self-referential paragraph musing on various ways to discuss and/or present my thoughts on the main theme. Expression of opinion of blog posts that contain bullet lists.

1. Least obvious aspect of main theme. This is the first item on the list, primarily to show you how clever I am and how deeply I've thought about this issue.

2. Most obvious aspect of main theme. This is the second item on the list so that you can think, "Hey, I thought of that!", and get a flush of pleasure at beating me to the punch.

3. Obscure aspect of main theme. Several sentences explaining why this is actually quite important, even though in truth it may not be. This is included to give you something to argue with me about.

4. Another obvious aspect of the main theme. "Quotation from famous person supporting the view that this is important."  - Famous Person. Reworded declaration that if it's good enough for Famous Person, it's good enough for me.

5. A joke aspect of the main theme. This is put in to keep the list from getting too dry and academic.

6. Moderately obvious aspect of main theme. This is presented as the most important aspect, primarily to get you to argue with me about which aspect is truly the most important.

Final paragraph restating the main theme. Declaration that attention paid to the main theme will improve your life in unexpected ways. Funny word play, snippet of wisdom, punchline-type phrase to wrap up.

Question posed to readers: what do you think about main theme? Invitation to argue disguised as question?

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Seven random facts about me

Thanks to Helen, I'm Versatile again!

The rules of acceptance are: I must admit to seven random facts about myself, pick more people to receive the award.

1. Both of my thumbs are double jointed.

2. I don't like ketchup.

3. My feet are size 11-EEE. Make of that what you will.

4. I once skinned, quartered and butchered a full-grown doe using my pocket knife.

5. For whatever reason, I hate calling people up and talking on the telephone. Goes for Skype, too.

6. I have a mission statement for my writing, but I don't have a five year plan for my writing career. I do have a one year plan, but it's in shambles.

7. I drive a car with a manual transmission, something that is quite rare in the U.S.

In turn, I now bestow this award onto Icy Sedgwick, Maria Kelly, and, what the heck, Neil Gaiman, if only for his essay on the defense of icky speech.

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Wednesday #Poetry: Banter, Fumble, Glance

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

Today's words are Banter, Fumble, Glance.

I'm smooth, with a good line of banter,
My words would please and entrance her;
But if you should glance
At what I call "dance"?
That fumble looks more like a canter.

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Post-vacation update: writing? What writing?

I took my novel work-in-progress on vacation. My expectation was that the quiet, off-line times at the campsite would be the perfect opportunity to really dig into this thing and make some great things happen.

What a fool I was.

First off, there were precious few quiet times in which to write. Actually, no. That's not strictly true. There were a lot of occasions when I COULD have been writing, but did other things instead with friends and family. I swam, I fished, I shot at clay pigeons, I hiked miles and miles in the woods, I went to museums, nature preserves and historic sites, I saw "Captain America" on opening day, I ate smoked whitefish, ice cream and tourist fudge, I skipped rocks on the beach, I built fires, I cooked meals, I built sandcastles, I admired the sandcastles built by children, I set up tents and I took them down repeatedly, and I drove and drove and drove.

As a matter of fact, there were precisely three stretches of more than an hour when I could theoretically have written new prose and edited old without undue disruption of what was going on around me. One of these was sitting on the beach in witheringly bright sunlight, conditions which make a laptop almost impossible to use. I could have used pen and paper, but instead, I read a book. Got a damned bad sunburn, too.

Secondly... well, I have a bit of a reputation with my friends and family. This is best typified by the reaction I got on the second occasion, which was fairly early on in the trip. Things were quiet, other people were napping, so I got out my laptop to work on my novel. Almost immediately, the indignant cry went up, "Good God, you're not working, are you? You're on vacation - put that away!" Reactions like this make it hard to go off and write.

The third occasion was the couple of hours I spent at a Starbucks, waiting for the completion of the emergency repairs to my car at the Firestone next door. I used this time (and Starbucks' WiFi) to catch up on some e.mail and write a blog post for Write Anything discussing the future of publishing and my own future as a writer. The venti Americano was ~$3, the new rotors, pads, calipers, boots, brake lines, fluids and associated labor was ~$800. That works out to about a dollar a word for that chunk of writing; too bad it was going in the wrong direction, i.e. away from me.

So, here I am, back at home, with no meaningful progress made on my book.

How's your summer been so far?

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Barton Fink

Another clip for you writers out there:

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#FridayFlash: Scaling Cadillac Mountain

What I Want You To Do

by Tony Noland

Her thighs had gone numb from the sitting. Her ears were numb from the words. Her eyes were numb from the world she'd been thrust into.

She'd pretended to cry, then pretended to laugh through the tears. It was what they all expected of her.

What others had expected of her... if there had been a pole star of her life, that was it.

She should have run off and gotten an abortion, given it up for adoption, anything, but she married him instead. Because it was what everyone expected. He was a man, like any other, but in her heart, she'd always wanted more.

After two more kids and the first ten years, the expectations closed in, seemingly for good. The kids grew, grew some more, then left. They went from pleasant to unpleasant to pleasant again. The dogs came, died and were replaced, one after another like shedding, smelly batteries in a transistor radio you couldn't shut off.

They changed houses twice, changed churches once. During thirty four years of marriage, she'd been on top less than a dozen times, seven of them drunken New Years Eves.

The kids were paying for the funeral. She's wanted him quietly cremated, lied and said it was his dearest wish to be scattered in Acadia National Park. She'd always wanted to go there, suggested it for a honeymoon. Climb Cadillac Mountain, take a week to do it if need be. Smell the ocean, hear the gulls, feel the cold wind on her face, see the dawning sunrise explode over the Atlantic.

But he wouldn't hear of it, not thirty four years ago, not for their tenth, twentieth or thirtieth anniversary. Why should he waste money so he could get his ass chewed by mosquitoes, and in some Maine hellhole for fuck's sake, that's what he wanted to know.

The kids split the cost of the big bronze casket three ways. She shed her tears and told everyone she needed to save every penny, that there just wasn't much. They all nodded understandingly and she was grimly happy to let them live with their own expectations.

Her fingers had gone numb from gripping her cane. Her heart was numb from thirty four years.

Ninety days. She would wait ninety days before booking the flight to Bangor. She would wait for a while.

It was what they would expect.

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The 20 Greatest Movies About Writers

GeekWeek had this list up a while ago: The 20 Greatest Movies About Writers. I don't think any new movies have come out that could dethrone even one of these.

Follow the link for many more clips.

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Word frequency counter

If you don't use a dedicated novel writing program like Scrivener, yWriter, or Liquid Story Binder, you may not have easy access to word frequency counting. This widget is a freebie that will tally up which words you use most often
, so you can see just how many times the word "very" comes up.

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Vacation limerick

A Tuesday so hot, fair and bright
But Noland is nowhere in sight
I'm off on the beach
Beyond cell phone reach
So retweet this blog post, alright?

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Dating advice from Star Trek the Next Generation

Got the link to this from @ganymeder. Hilarious, but only because my moves are so much like Riker's.

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#FridayFlash: Sunlight on the Plaza Below

Sunlight on the Plaza Below

by Tony Noland

He waited, his PowerPoint finished and the screen dark behind him. Thomas had to let them draw their own conclusions. If he led them too blatantly, if they realized that they were being manipulated, then his enemy would survive and his own destruction would serve no purpose. In this lull of shuffling papers, he waited for the Regional Director to start insulting him. When she did, he knew the Assistant Administrator would see it as a violation of his turf and blunt her attack. They would grapple over who had the right to tear off the head of the upstart little troublemaker. Each would want to demonstrate ferocity and expertise for the other executives.

After no more than four minutes, Thomas knew, either the Director or the Administrator would exert his authority and silence both subordinates. If the Director spoke, it would be about focusing on the more important task at hand. He preferred to be viewed as a statesman. He thought it made people respect him. On the other hand, the Administrator would tell everyone to save the pissing contests for after the dog and pony show. He enjoyed talking like an uncultured redneck. He thought it made people underestimate him.

It didn't matter to Thomas which of them called off the eager lieutenants. Thomas had prepared several different strategies, depending on which of them spoke first, and how the other reacted. He estimated that from the moment the attack was called off, he'd have perhaps twenty minutes until one of them gave the signal that it was OK to renew it. He'd have twenty minutes before he was completely ruined. Twenty precious minutes to make sure that Mr. Winterwell's entire program was discredited. Winterwell had to be not merely wounded, but infected with an incurable case of reputation rot. Thomas would see to it that he was a dead man walking.

The shuffling paper stilled as the Regional Director set her pen down and removed her reading glasses. Thomas fixed his face in a slightly anxious-looking attentiveness as she began her comments, dismissive and condescending. He let his face fall with a tinge of dismay, then lifted his chin slightly and set his mouth in a firm line, to convey resolve. When the Regional Director paused in her diatribe to draw her fourth breath, the Assistant Administrator interrupted. Thomas did not need to look at either the Director or the Administrator to know that they were watching the byplay. They were also watching him. He must not show weakness, but he must not show impenetrable bravado, either.

Winterwell. The jealous, bitter old bastard had arranged things as skillfully as only a soulless sociopath could. Thomas had been made to suffer deeply by his maneuverings. He thought of his prospects with the company, which had been so bright and shining and limitless. His future now lay in broken pieces before him. Where once he'd been on a fast track, now he was shackled in the litigatory hell of EEO, CR, and HR. His mentors didn't return his calls, his colleagues avoided him, his friends and clients always had other plans for lunch. As he stood and listened to the bickering of the subordinate tier of executives, Thomas' heart and soul were consumed with rage. At Winterwell. At the Division Head. At the entire company. At all of mankind.

None of this showed on Thomas' face. He had learned some very important lessons while managing the vicious, wretched people in Winterwell's department. How to wait for the right moment, how to swallow the bile and hide the fury, how to show nothing of your true feelings and intentions - he had turned these skills over and over in his mind, spinning them through the dark hours of the night like a blank on a lathe. For weeks, his mind had been preparing a weapon for his use. How ironic that after all the shouting and desk pounding, after all the e.mails and memos, after all the words, he would use silence to finally win the day.

These powerful people could be manipulated, but it had to be done gently. He knew he could use them as the means to enact his revenge, but revenge was not something to be done in the heat of the moment. Not if you wanted it to be complete.

The Director clicked his pen, twice. The Regional Director cut off in mid-sentence and turned to face his superior. The Assistant Administrator looked, and saw the Administrator also facing the Director, allowing him to speak unchallenged. The two elder gods, then, had worked out this sequence before coming into the room. Behind his blank face, Thomas registered that the Director was saying nothing about focusing on the task at hand. He was instead talking about the founding of the company, and the mission it had pursued from its earliest days. By this, Thomas knew that he was a dead man.

Thomas shifted his plan in an instant. If all was preordained, then he would not have twenty minutes. He would not have even five. He was already finished. He had failed in his desired form of revenge before he'd even begun, and Winterwell had won again. He, Thomas, would be forced to leave in disgrace, and Winterwell would be free to continue to spread whatever lies he liked while sitting in the corner office on the 43rd floor, the office that faced onto the plaza.

The office that Thomas had long considered as his own rightful destiny.


Thomas had always believed in contingency planning. Along with decisive action, it was one of his core executive strengths. He had so very much wanted to see Winterwell suffer a protracted humiliation and ruin. It was his only true regret, that his revenge would be too quick for him to enjoy.

As the Director made his first reference to the larger implications of the present case, Thomas reached into his pocket and pushed the button on the detonator.

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The Book on the Bookshelf

In connection with yesterday's video, I'd like to bring a book to your attention.

It's "The Book on the Bookshelf", by Henry Petroski. I enjoy all of Petroski's books, but this one is especially fun for writers and readers. From the Amazon page:
Book-lover though he may be, however, Henry Petroski is, first and foremost, an engineer and so, in the end, it is the evolution of bookshelves even more than of books that fascinates him. Pigeonholes for scrolls, book presses containing thousands of chained volumes, rotating lecterns that allowed scholars to peruse more than one book at a time--these are just a few of the ingenious methods readers have devised over the centuries for storing their books: "in cabinets beneath the desks, on shelves in front of them, in triangular attic-like spaces formed under the back-to-back sloped surfaces of desktops or small tabletop lecterns that rested upon a horizontal surface." Placing books vertically on shelves, spines facing outward, is a fairly recent invention, it would seem. Well written as it is, if Book on the Bookshelf were only about books-as-furniture, it would have little appeal to the general reader. Petroski, however, uses this treatise on design to examine the very human motivations that lie behind it. From the example of Samuel Pepys, who refused to have more titles than his library could hold (about 3,000), to an appendix detailing all the ways people organize their collections (by sentimental value, by size, by color, and by price, to name a few of the more unconventional methods), Petroski peppers his account with enough human interest to keep his audience reading from cover to cover.
If you own bookshelves or have ever tried to make any, you'll enjoy this book all the more.

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The Evolution of the Book

Fascinating and fun look at writing systems through the ages.

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I'll have a slice of tau, please

A wonky campaign to relegate pi to the dustbin of history and replace it with a more useful fundamental constant: tau.

Mathematicians... you muthuh fuckas is crazy.

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On vacation

I'm going to be on vacation for a couple of weeks, soaking up some sun, alcohol and mosquito venom.

While I'm gone, Landless is going to have some videos, some short posts, some fiction, some poetry... in short, the usual stuff. However, it might be a while before I'm able to respond to any comments.

Don't worry, though.

I'll be thinking about all of you the whole time I'm away.

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#FridayFlash: In the Right Light

In the Right Light

by Tony Noland

"What's she doing?"

"Keep your voice down, Vincia. You'll find that there's a big difference between how the Academy teaches magic and how it's actually done in the field." Wissa nodded to Esme, who was standing by the girl's head. The senior fairy's delicate hands were making small gestures of Power over the sleeping form, little more than specific curlings of finger and thumb. Wissa turned away from the bed and pulled on Vincia's sleeve, drawing her away from the bed. "She's determining what the girl wants. We can't very well grant her the secret desires of her heart without knowing what they are, now can we?"

"Oh." Vincia closed her wide, blue eyes and concentrated for a while. When she opened them, she was almost hopping up and down with excitement.

"I know what she wants!"

"I said, keep your voice down!" Wissa's speech was quiet to the point of being sub-vocal, but it had an intensity that made Vincia blanch.

The rookie flushed. "But I know what the human wants!", she insisted.

Wissa sighed. "Alright, Vincia, tell me. What do you think she wants?"

"She wants red hair. You can read it in her thoughts, plain as anything." Vincia stood a little taller. "I don't know if I mentioned it, but I took First Honors in Dream Perception."

Wissa said, "You mentioned that, yes. Red hair, eh? Gee, you read that desire without any trouble at all. What shade?"

"What... shade?"

"Yes, what shade? Brick red? Auburn? Flame? What shade of red does she want?"

"Oh. Right, I see what you mean. Give me a minute, I'll check." Vincia closed her eyes again. Her brow furrowed as she set to work.

"While you're in there, see how long she wants it." Wissa said. "And if she wants it curly, wavy or straight."

Vincia nodded and concentrated. More than a minute passed in silence as she worked. Finally, she said, "She... it's not just the hair. She wants a whole package. Glowing auburn hair, sort of curly, down past her shoulders. She also wants green eyes, long fingers and a sweet sounding laugh." A few beads of sweat stood on Vincia's forehead. "And... green high heeled shoes. And... and..."


"And... I'm not exactly sure. It's complicated, like she has a specific image in mind of what she wants, but that's not really it.The hair and other physical features are only part of it. It's as though..." Vincia frowned and bit her lip as she focused on the girl in the bed. So intense was her concentration that she started to drift sideways in the air.

Wissa put a hand on her arm to steady her. "Forget it, kid. The desires of a human heart are impossibly complicated. Even when they think they know what they want, they almost never do. There's no such thing as a simple desire."

"Never? Not even in a simple human?"

"There's no such thing as a simple human, either. That image you picked up was of an attractive woman with red hair. It's the same idealized image I saw, too."

"Oh. Well, then what are we waiting for? We can just cast the spell and be done, right?"

Wissa tried not to let irritation color her voice too heavily. "I said that was my interpretation. I'm a lot better at this that you are, rookie, but Esme over there is twice as good as you and me put together. We could go charging in there and make the girl grow up to look that way, but that's probably not what she really wants. If we give her something that's only partially right, it'll nag and gnaw at her for the rest of her life. It'd be worse than giving her nothing at all. Esme is establishing what she really wants and, more importantly, how to give it to her."

"Oh, right. If we just give her red hair and green eyes to match the image, she might perceive the magic. Subtlety is essential."

"Subtlety is essential," Wissa repeated. "At least they still teach that at the Academy. Modern methods are..." Wissa fell silent as Esme turned from the bed to face her junior colleagues.

"I've determined what she wants." Esme said. "This is going to take a light touch. Vincia, come over here so you can watch. No, put your wand away. I want you to observe only; Wissa and I will work the magic. I know you received top marks in your classes, but I want you to see how it's done in the real world before you start casting any spells."

Esme and Wissa drew their wands, held hands and stepped toward the bed.

"What's the spell, Esme?", asked Wissa. "What is it that she wants?"

"It's not that she wants red hair." Esme looked at Vincia, who blushed. "Or that she simply wants to look like Nicole Kidman. It's more complicated than that. You'll see when we're inside. Ready, Wissa? Let's begin."

With that, the senior fairies touched their wands to the girl's forehead and set to work.

In the morning, the girl woke as usual, dressed for school as usual and brushed her hair as usual. And, as usual, the face she saw in the mirror looked back at her with an unacceptably plain flatness. She turned her head from side to side, dissatisfied with her face no matter what any angle she used. With a sigh, she went downstairs for breakfast.

Her father was reading the paper and eating a piece of buttered toast as she came into the kitchen.

"Hey, sport." he said. His daughter didn't answer, but headed for the toaster to make her own breakfast. Her father put down his paper and looked at her for a moment, then got up from the table. "Sport? Come over here a minute." He took her by the arm and led her closer to the window. Morning sunlight streamed in from the clear autumn sky.

"What, Dad? I already brushed my hair."

"I know. I'm just looking at your highlights."

"My... highlights? I have highlights?"

Her father laughed. "Sure. Didn't you know that your hair looks almost red in the right light?" He smiled and put his hand on her chin, gently turning her face this way and that in the sunlight. He sighed. "You're getting so big, Kelly, so grown up. I don't know what I'm gonna do with you in a few years."

Kelly, who had an idea of what he meant, blushed and smiled. Her father kissed the top of her head and went back to his newspaper and toast.

For the rest of the day, Kelly smiled and thought of her highlights. When Derek Patterson looked at her during Art that afternoon, for once she didn't duck and stare at her desk. Instead, her heart racing, she sat up straight and tossed her head a bit so that her hair could catch the light from the big windows. She looked back at Derek in time to see his mouth hanging open.

In the air above the classroom, Esme smiled at her handiwork.

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I am interviewed by @ganymeder - Cathy Russell

Over on her writing blog, Cathy Russell (@ganymeder) has an interview of me, wherein I discuss my fantasy/ horror/ lit fic anthology, "Blood Picnic and other stories". Am I a plotter or a pantser? Why and how did I design and create the cover? How did I come up with the names for the sections of the book? All this information and more is over at the interview. Enjoy!

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Writing about plotting

I'm talking about plotting over at Write Anything today. How do you make something compelling happen in your fiction? How do you keep a narrative flowing smoothly from scene to scene, location to location? Simple!(1) Use the LOCK, Luke! Not familiar with the LOCK method? You, dear reader are in for a treat. James Scott Bell's(2) LOCK is a great tool for constructing plots, straightening out tangled plot messes and livening up blah fiction. Go check it out!

(1) Notice I said "simple", not "easy". Writing is still hard, but LOCK helps to makes the process rational.
(2) Not a paid endorsement. I just love his book, "Plot and Structure".

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Wednesday #Poetry: Cease, Heat, Nasty

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

Today's words are Cease, Heat, Nasty.

Bright sun beats down, and it's nasty
This heat's like a furnace, all blast-y
I'm thirsty, so cease
These "good manners", please!
Give me a beer, not a half-assed tea!

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Switching genres

In this post over at Write Anything, one of my fellow WA bloggers, Jacqui Murry, lists 15 writing blunders to avoid. Gentle reader, what prompts my blog post is blunder #7, in which Jacqui is pretty blunt about people who write in multiple genres:
Don’t switch genres. Pick one and excel at it. Don’t excuse your inability to focus by saying you love all genres and that’s why you jump around. That’s code for ‘I failed at one so I’m trying another’. How many published authors do you read that switch from literary to thrillers? Fiction-nonfiction is about as big a leap as readers will accept.

I feel a certain sting at this advice, given that I switch among multiple genres in my Friday Flash stories. I feel this all the more so since my anthology of flash fiction and short stories, "Blood Picnic", has fantasy, horror, literary fiction and magical realism stories. I took out all the science fiction stories because there were almost enough of them to make their own anthology; look for that collection later this year.

Are all of these stories in these multiple genres a series of failed attempts, and I wasn't aware of it? Am I just excusing my inability to focus? When I try to write in a new style, am I just telling myself that it's an exercise in experimentation and growth, when in fact it's actually nothing more than lazy dilettante inconsistency? Is all this filthy genre switching not simply a symptom of my writerly angst, insecurity, self-loathing, etc., etc., but in fact the cause of it?

Ah, well. There are so many reasons to believe I'm doing this all wrong. Might as well add another log to the fire and get back to work.

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8 Reasons To Defy Reader Expectations (and 3 Reasons to Meet Them)

8 Reasons to Defy Reader Expectations

1. Readers like to be surprised. There’s nothing worse than a predictable book. Even if you’re using a standard boy-meets-girl plotline, you have to find ways to make it fresh. If you don’t offer little surprises along the way, the reader is going to be bored. They might finish your piece, but will they come back for more? Doubtful.

2. Actually, readers like to be amazed. The surprises along the way will make readers happy – great turns of phrase, interesting settings, funny or intriguing characters, etc. What readers really like is a plot that keeps them turning the pages. Have you gasped out loud when something happened in a story that you absolutely never saw coming?

3. Word of mouth. People aren’t going to talk up your work if it merely meets their expectations. You need to give people something to talk about. “Tony Noland… is he any good?” “He’s OK.” Please God, no! What you want is for people to say, “He’s amazing! There was this one story where…”. Nobody needs to talk about a story with nothing surprising or unusually engaging.

4. Keep the old, entice the new. Readers discover new writers all the time. They also move on from their old favorite writers if there’s not a good reason to linger. After all, time is limited for all of us. A high percentage of repeat customers is what separates really successful businesses from minimally or marginally successful ones.

5. Continuous improvement. You can always be better at what you do. Your prose could be tighter, your dialogue more gripping, your settings more interesting, your plots more compelling. That’s true for anyone. Once you know what you’re doing, it sets the bar pretty low for yourself if all you’re trying to do is meet expectations.

6. Travel broadens the mind. To defy reader expectations, you have to go to new places in your writing. This kind of experimentation helps you in many ways, not least because it gives you a different perspective on the mainstays of your fiction. Fresh elements and ideas will make your work all the more compelling.

7. New worlds to conquer. Even though you may write perfectly serviceable prose in one genre or style of writing, but you may find that you can truly shine in a different one. Even better, if you already write great fiction in one style, you might be able to expand your empire by doing the same in another style. Then you would just have to decide whether to rule that separate land under a pen name.

8. Stagnation = death. Writing is a creative process. Working to meet reader expectations is valuable work, to be sure, but that can’t be the entirety of writing. When readers already know what they’re going to get from your work, why read it? If you are just turning the dial to crank out another piece like all the others, why write it? Why live that way?

I don't hate you, Reader. This is for your own good. Because I love you.

3 Reasons to Meet Reader Expectations

1. Baseline standards. It’s a rare writer who can ignore readers’ expectations for a readable font and even margins. When you get into proper grammar, spelling, and other mechanics of writing, there’s a bit more latitude, but not much. Consistent characters, stable environments and linear plots are also to be messed with only with caution. Readers generally like to be surprised and amazed, not confused and irritated.

2. Punctuated equilibrium. The fossil record shows that a species can go for a long time without changing, successfully riding out the passing years doing the same thing it’s always done. However, when there is a major shift in the environment, and unfamiliar pressures are put on the species, it can evolve with astonishing rapidity, changing behaviors, biochemistry and fundamental body architecture to survive, adapt and thrive once again. Species that don’t adapt are relegated to occupying niches that resemble the old environment, or they die out completely. I leave the interpretation of this allegory as an exercise for you.

3. Keep the old, entice the new. This one appears twice for a good reason: it’s true. Your readers enjoy your work. Maybe it’s your humorous dialogue, your lush settings, your bloodthirsty monsters or your clever plot twists. Having built up a readership with some measure of loyalty, you need to honor their commitment to you by reciprocating and giving them what they’ll like. Notice that I said, “what they’ll like”, not “what they want”. Readers want more of the same, because they enjoyed what you gave them last time. Of course, part of the reason they liked it is that it defied their expectations.

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Democracy is...

Happy Independence Day! I'm off watching the parade, so I give you the video entitled "Democracy Is...", embedded below. You might as well watch it - it's only 0:56 long, and it's cute. It's also simplistic, idealistic and unrealistic, but what the heck, this is a fiction blog.

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Review of "Blood Picnic": "poetic and beautiful"

Catherine Russell has posted a review of "Blood Picnic and other stories": It reads, in part:
Each story is short enough to read in a single sitting, yet long enough to establish character interest and depth. The four sections of the book hint at the diverse range within its pages, and Mr. Noland switches between them with a dexterity that’s amazing to behold.
The review goes on to note that all the hyperlinks work, the type is easy to read, and the book looks good whether you're reading it on a Nook or an e.reader app.

Why do I pay attention to the mechanical details of formatting and readability? Because you, dear reader, deserve nothing less than perfection.

"Blood Picnic and other stories" is $2.99 For many formats at Smashwords In device-specific formats at Amazon, Amazon-UK, Amazon-DE, Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo, Diesel Books

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#FridayFlash: "The Knife"

"The Knife"

by Tony Noland

The old house creaked and moaned. For fifty-two years, ever since the previous owner had built it with his own hands, it had been a solid, quiet house. Now, after half a year of being cold and empty, the house seemed to protest every move the new owner made. Doors stuck in their hinges, heavy old light switches resisted her fingers, floors noisily protested her every step. She'd begun her inspection with the upstairs; she knew that to make it livable for a single woman with a modern lifestyle, she'd have to tear out a lot of the stuff the previous owner had so painstakingly installed so many years ago.

Downstairs, in the kitchen, a long chef's knife lay on the dusty counter. Within a week after the funeral, workers hired by the lawyer for the estate efficiently cleaned the place out, disposing of everything the old man had ever owned. The handle of the knife was scarred and burnt. It was as old as the house itself and the old man had kept it sharp. Since there was a big chip in the blade, the cleaners decided it was worthless and had intended to put this knife out with the garbage, but it had been left behind.

Upstairs, the bedroom floorboards groaned as the woman inspected the closets, using a flashlight to peer into every corner and cupboard.

The knife twitched on the counter. Slowly, it turned, its blade making a soft skittering sound as it scraped on the worn linoleum. Then, as the woman's footsteps creaked through the upstairs hallway, the knife inched forward along the counter, worming back and forth.

The stairs began their individual protests as the woman came down. The knife moved more quickly. As she reached the first floor landing, her footsteps were muffled by the threadbare carpeting. She turned and headed toward the kitchen, wanting to see just how bad it was, if there was anything that could be saved or if it would have to be gutted entirely. The knife turned as well, orienting itself until the tip was in line with the doorway from the dining room.

The knife waited, as though gathering its strength as the woman stopped to look at something in the dining room. What little sunlight that came in through the single, grimy window glinted dully on the keen edge of the heavy carbon steel.

Step, step, step, turn and she appeared in the doorway. Her hand flicked on the overhead bulb and the old knife launched itself forward into the air. The woman fell back, screaming.


"Yep, look at that, completely rotten. The kitchen subflooring is bad, even the joists under the kitchen are bad. With nobody in the place to use the water heater, one of those old pipes must have sprung a leak last winter. It's a lucky thing you didn't try to go into the kitchen or you'd have ended up down here in the basement, maybe with a broken neck. I'll tell you, Miss Waters, your grandpa built this place to last, but a house has to be lived in, y'know? Cared for, if y'know what I mean."

The woman looked up at the rotted flooring, the crumbling beams riddled with insect holes and fungal growths. "Can you fix it?" she said.

"Oh, sure. We'll jack it up around the perimeter, tear all this stuff out and put in new joists. Actually, that'll make it a lot easier to redo the kitchen, if that's what you want. Save you a lot of money to do it all at once. I mean, if you still want to live in this old place. Just 'cause your grandpa left it to you, doesn't mean you have to live here."

She stepped forward and pointed her flashlight at the spot in the floor where her grandpa's favorite knife had plunged downward in front of her just as she started to enter the kitchen.

"Yes," she said, "I still want to live here."

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