Flowchart of the Top 100 Science Fiction & Fantasy Books

SF Signal has a flowchart (a hilarious, marvelously informative flowchart) of the NPR Top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy books. I encourage you to go visit the site, because the discussion of how the chart was made is a good behind-the-scenes take on graphical representation of complex data.

Click on this picture to enlarge.

If you can read the decision point text without enlarging the above image, you've got better eyes than me, brother.

Also, I will note that I've read almost all of the books on the right side (science fiction), only a few of the books on the left side (fantasy) and about half of the books at the bottom (horror, lit fic, PoMo specfic, etc.)

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#FridayFlash: Cusp


by Tony Noland

He stood up, heart thudding and sweat running down from his pits as, pretending to be cool but knowing that his brother knew he wasn't, and with a half-wave of a hand that was much steadier than he might have imagined it would be, he indicated the one he wanted, the one second from the left, a redhead in tight yellow shorts.

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7 Easy Ways To Give You Time To Write™

One of the big challenges we face as writers is not having enough time to get the words on the page, let alone the time necessary to then scrape those words off again and replace them with even better words that actually make sense.

You can prowl the Internet and get all kinds of advice on how to get more time for writing, like "Focus on your short term and long term goals" and "Make it a priority" and "Write in short bursts". You know what? They all work, but screw that. You want time to write? I'll give you time to write. In fact, I'll capitalize it and give you Time To Write™.

1. Have an affair. OK, the key to making this one work is that you have to tell your wife that you're having the affair. Binary result tree: either she leaves you, giving you more Time To Write™, or she is OK with it, in which case (prepare to be blown away by my genius), a couple of nights a week you tell your wife you're with your girlfriend, you tell your girlfriend you're with your wife, and you sneak off to Starbucks to get, BINGO, Time To Write™!

2. Sell your kids. Seriously, they're nothing but a damned timesuck, aren't they? Coaching little Jimmy's soccer team, driving Ann-Marie from piano to tae-kwan-do, meeting with their teachers, working out savings plans for college... to hell with it! Sell them off to the highest bidder, and you not only will have at least twenty more free hours of Time To Write™ every week, you can get at least ten grand for each one of the little darlings.

3. Shave your head. Actually, this is more of a blanket statement about personal hygiene, and how much more Time To Write™ you'll have if you just give it all up. How much time does that morning shower cost you EVERY SINGLE DAY? (Ladies, this one will be especially valuable for you, since, let's face it, a guy forgoing the rituals of person hygiene would save him about 10 minutes a day, max.)

4. Give away all your clothes. Think about it... doing the laundry? Washing, folding and putting away clothes that are only going to get unfolded and dirty again? Who needs it? Give away all your clothes and go naked as much as possible. The great thing is, the airing out this involves will dovetail nicely with #3. Think of all the time you'll save just because you no longer have to choose an outfit every morning! Time To Write™ City, baby!

5. Burn down your house. I know, I know... you're probably kicking yourself for not coming up with this one on your own. Unclogging the toilet? Picking out new curtains? Cleaning the kitchen? PFFFT! Dissolve one big bag of styrofoam peanuts in two gallons of kerosene and you, my friend, have all the makings for Time To Write™! Just add a match!

6.Quit your day job. Look, you've got no wife, no kids, no house, you never shower and you go naked 90% of the time. Tell me how your Honda Accord is NOT the perfect 24/7 living space/writer's garret for you? What do you need money for? No expenses means no need for a day job! No day job (and no commute!) means 10, maybe 11 extra hours a day. Can you say Time To Write™? I knew you could!

7. Get the hell off Twitter and Facebook! If you can't stomach the first six suggestions, then for God's sake, at least do this one. If you're anything like me, just getting the hell off Twitter and Facebook would probably give you as much Time To Write™ as the other six combined.

Remember, these will only work if you give them a try! I guarantee you will see RESULTS!

UPDATE: See what happens when someone actually implements these suggestions - read about it here.

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Review: The Guns of Retribution

Westerns, perhaps more than any other kind of novel, need to evoke a certain atmosphere. This genre has a long and rich tradition as literature, but it also bears a tangential weight derived from radio, television and cinema dramatization. We see and hear tales of the old West in a visceral way, whether the images that come to mind are of Gary Cooper, John Wayne or Clint Eastwood. The new novel by Icy Sedgwick, "The Guns of Retribution", gets the atmosphere right. It's the story of a bounty hunter named Grey O'Donnell, on the trail of an old enemy. Through the machinations of a corrupt sheriff, he's brought face to face with his past, in a hometown he thought he'd left far behind.

Unlike the clean-shirted heroes that represent one common trope of Westerns, or the law-unto-himself drifter that represents another, O'Donnell is a man led to a fight he'd rather avoid, a reluctant savior of a town gone bad. Presented with the opportunity to wash his hands of the mess, he tries to take it, only to have that option closed to him by his sense of duty to his family. It all plays well, with the main character believably drawn. By turns conflicted, disgusted and opportunistic, O'Donnell responds to events in a plot that unfolds with a satisfying resonance with the ley lines of Western fiction. The scenes and settings feel historically accurate, without technological or societal anachronisms to pull you out of the story.

There are a few familiar characters in this book: the silent Native American companion, the dopey sidekick, the sexy-but-dangerous femme fatale, the pretty-but-pure maiden (typically in the role of a schoolteacher, here in the role of a hotel keeper). However, the characterizations and back stories of each of them are presented such that they grow outward from their stock character assignments. Perhaps the only exception is the aforementioned femme fatale. She offers her charms to O'Donnell almost the moment she sees him; on being refused, she arranges to have him beaten half to death. She repeats her approach and on his second refusal of her, arranges even worse. Is she simply a homicidal nymphomaniac? Motivations for everyone else are either implicit or explained, but she is a puzzle. She's the trophy wife of the territorial governor, left alone and bored in a dusty two-horse town on the edge of nowhere. Is dealing pleasure with one hand and pain with the other simply a way to pass the time? I would have liked to know more about her.

A Western adventure in the classic style, "The Guns of Retribution" is no mere shoot-em-up. It's a well-written and engaging story, with a hero who, if there is any justice left in the West, will go on to for further adventures. 
"The Guns of Retribution" is published by Pulp Press, and is available for Kindle at Amazon.com and at Amazon.co.uk. The author, Icy Sedgwick, is on Twitter as @Icypop. You can find her on Facebook and on her blog, "Icy's Blunt Pencil" at http://blog.icysedgwick.com/.

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Where to get free books for your Kindle

Good news: you've got a new Kindle Touch or a new Kindle Fire!

Bad news: you spent all your money on a Kindle, and now can't afford any books.

Good news: there are lots of places to get free books for your Kindle!

Bad news: It's mostly classics and public domain works, so the Twilight books aren't among them.

Good news: Hang on, that isn't bad news. The Twilight books were terrible.

Bad news: Listen, you sneering snob, lots of people liked the Twilight books. It's not your place to judge. Just give the list of links to the free books for the Kindle, OK?


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Wednesday poetry: cherish, guarantee, nausea

Welcome to my regular Wednesday poetry corner, brought to you by Three Word Wednesday. Today's words are: cherish, guarantee, nausea

Rejection of works that I cherish
Brings nausea and makes me feel bearish
A sure guarantee
'Twill be death of me,
I must publish or else I will perish!

... but of course, the first step to publishing a book is finishing a book, no?

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Chinese Whisperings: The Dogs of War

The print edition of "Chinese Whisperings: the Yin & Yang Books" is coming out soon. In advance of which, the first part of my story "Dogs of War" is up at the publisher's website, along with a discussion from me about how I wrote the story, where it came from, and what it was like working in collaboration with Dan Powell, Chris Chartrand and the other authors in the anthology. "Dogs of War" is a short story, which gave me much more scope to develop characters and ratchet up the tension than I typically have in flash fiction.

If you're the kind of reader who likes a glimpse behind the curtain, read on!

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Interview: Icy Sedgwick

Today on Landless, I interview Icy Sedgwick, a talented writer whose new book, "The Guns of Retribution", was released by Pulp Press this month.
Q. Icy, in a minute, I'll ask you about how long you've been writing, if you always wanted to be a writer, etc., but first... you're a native of the North of the U.K., and have returned to Newcastle after living in London for several years. However, your new book, "The Guns of Retribution" is a tale of gunslingers and bounty hunters set in the American West. What prompted you to write a Western? What's a nice girl like you doing in a genre like this?
Yes, my publisher and I have a feeling I may be the first Geordie girl to write a Western! A Western was one of the genres my publisher gave me as an option, and given my predilection for writing historical fiction, it seemed like the obvious choice. I’ve been fascinated by the Old West since I did it at school, I enjoy the movies, and I’d had an idea for a gunslinger character for a while, so it was all good timing. Besides, women write gritty crime fiction, so why not Westerns?

Q. Were Westerns a big influence on you? Who are some of your favorite Western authors?
I’ll be honest, I’d never really read the books, only seen the films, but I’d read plenty of Old West non-fiction. My publisher recommended some novels and I really enjoyed “Flashman and the Redskins” by George MacDonald Fraser. It's a really fun read.

Q. This book is quite different in setting and language than some of your other works. What are the commonalities between Westerns and, say, steampunk?
Locations and themes are very different but if you write Westerns OR steampunk, you have to pay attention to your historical research. Sure, steampunk is more alt-history, and deals with the likes of airships and steam engines, but you're not going to suddenly stick computers in the middle of a steampunk story, and the same goes for Westerns. It's the right detail used at the right moment that brings the stories to life, regardless of their genre. 

Q. "The Guns of Retribution" is being published by Pulp Press. You also have works that you've published yourself. How does it feel having a foot on each side of The Great Divide?
I can see the appeal of self-publishing but if I'm honest, I prefer indie publishing. The very fact that someone has read your work and said they want to be involved with it is a massive confidence booster, and you get to work with people who really know what they're doing. Writing is a lonely business at the best of times, and indie publishing can help you feel a little less "lost at sea."

Q. So how long have you been writing? Did you always want to be a writer?
I can’t remember how long I’ve been writing – it’s something I’ve done for as long as I can remember. I’ve always been scribbling little stories and so on, but it wasn't until I was 16 and did a creative writing course that I really thought "I want to be a writer." I've been working up to it ever since.

Q. You're beginning a graduate degree program later this year. That's got to be an exciting step. Can you tell us about it?
I've wanted to do my PhD ever since I finished my Masters degree but I was always put off by the cost. I've since looked into it and found it was more affordable than I thought it would be, so away I go! I'm going to be looking at the representation of haunted spaces in contemporary horror cinema, using Freud's theory of the uncanny as my starting point. I'll be looking at all sorts of things, include set design and generic convention, so it should be pretty interesting.

Q. How do you see your graduate program informing your writing? What's your next writing project?
I think that the fact it's based on a particular strand of horror means it should dovetail nicely with my fiction, although my next project is the sequel to The Guns of Retribution. I was going to work on my historical vampire project but Grey keeps dragging my attention back to the sequel. Things take a supernatural turn in this one...it seems I can't get away from ghosts!

Q. Westerns, steampunk, horror... Icy, what do you think of the advice that's often given to emerging writers about picking only one genre to work in? The thinking is that it's better to hone one's craft to mastery in a single style of writing than to work in multiple genres. Care to comment?
I can understand the rationale behind such a supposition but I think that an emerging writer should write whatever story comes to them. While you're learning your craft, it's important to try as much as you can - how can you know you like writing science fiction but you don't like writing comedy unless you try them all? The mechanics of storytelling are the same across all genres - once you start choosing particular genres all you're really learning are conventions. They're useful, but I think it's more important to learn how to tell the story first. Once you decide you want to start pursuing publication, then it's time to narrow down the number of genres in which you'd like to work. Then again, it's worth bearing in mind that genres operate in "families", so if you choose to write sci fi and horror, then new fans won't be surprised. They might be if you suddenly turn to chicklit.

Q. Do you think writing can be taught?
Definitely. I think the impulse towards storytelling is inherent within humans - we're social creatures, we make sense of our world through narratives. Writing is just a way of recording these stories. Some people are naturally more skilled at that than others, but the tools you can use to order your thoughts and tell a story in the best way are definitely available to everyone. 

Q. Last question: John Wayne or Clint Eastwood?
Oh, Clint Eastwood every single time!
Icy Sedgwick is the author of the Western, "The Guns of Retribution", now available for Kindle at Amazon.com and at Amazon.co.uk. Icy is one of the bright lights of Twitter as @Icypop. You can find her on Facebook and on her blog, "Icy's Blunt Pencil" at http://blog.icysedgwick.com/.

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Spiders on drugs

Please, watch this video showing the effects of various common drugs on spiders. You'll see alcohol, THC, nicotine, LSD, etc. in a whole new light.

You're welcome.

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Volcano on video

A volcano eruption for you. Because what Saturday would be complete without a volcanic eruption?

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#FridayFlash: Palimpsest


by Tony Noland

With both hands, he yanked her inside and slammed the door, hard. When he turned around, he saw her lying across the bed, on top of the floral print comforter that was probably older than she was.

He asked her name, who she was, where she'd come from. She didn't answer.

Voice more frantic than commanding, he told her to get up, get off the bed. She did.  After a moment, he told her to get out of her wet clothes. She didn't.

A heavy boom of thunder rolled across the sky, muffled to a softly thudding echo by the falling snow. It was coming down blizzard-thick, obscuring the lights out on the highway to dull orange glints, only barely and intermittently visible. He looked at her and told her again to go take off her clothes, or she would surely catch pneumonia. She looked back with an expression that was hollow, her dull eyes showing little recognition or understanding.

From double-wound scarf to thick leather boots, she was covered in snow. Where her hair pushed out from under her hood, it was encased in a mass of ice, melting and dripping onto her face in the warmth of the room. The tip of her nose was waxy-white; the florid red of her cheeks was rising and spreading like a slow poison across her skin. She lifted a hand to her face and covered a deep yawn that cracked the skin of her badly chapped lips. The motion seemed to make her swoon and she sank back down onto the bed, eyes closing.

He grabbed her and forced her to stand, shaking her, yelling in her face about hypothermia and going to sleep and never waking up and the need to get out of her wet clothes. Didn't she know they were trapped with no phone and the power could go out any minute? There was no help to be had, not until the storm was over. She blinked twice, slowly. Again, he asked her name, asked her where she'd come from, did she have a room here, why she was out in the parking lot in this storm.

She yawned and sagged into his arms.

The weight was more than he expected and he staggered backwards, dropping her. She slipped sideways and hit the bedframe, her forehead clunking off the edge of the metal with a wet, tearing sound. He grabbed at her shoulder, shouting at her to wake up. Her glazed eyes rolling up at him, full of hope and despair. She was an outcast from a race of angels, all tears and blood and ice water, running down the flushed skin of her smooth, perfect, newly-marred face.

He eased her head to the floor and ran to the bathroom. Arms full of thin hotel towels, he tore at her clothes, pushing at the heavy, wet canvas and nylon. Stripped to her skin, she was naked and blue-white in the spreading pool of her own blood and meltwater. She offered nothing, neither assistance nor resistance, as he dried her, bandaged her and put her in the bed.

As he kicked off his boots, he prayed that, whoever she was, the warmth of his own body would be enough.

n.b. This story came about through the intersection of three separate story prompts:

The Six Words challenged of Easily Mused: thunder, softly, poison, boots, highway, ice

This week's Three Word Wednesday (for which I already wrote a limerick): dull, race, yawn

John Wiswell's writing challenge of September 14

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I would like to thank Helen Howell for the Seriously Cute Blogger Award, which she was kind enough to bestow on me recently. The condition of the award is that have to discuss five books, television shows and or other creative works I’ve consumed lately.

1. The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes. This heartbreaker of a picture book describes a school year in a middle grade. Set in the 1950s, it's told from the perspective of one of the popular girls in the class who goes along with the most popular girl in her campaign to tease and humiliate Wanda Petronski, a slow, shy and lonely immigrant girl. The favorite subject for ridicule is her threadbare dress, a faded blue that she wears every day. In response to the teasing, she says she has one hundred dresses at home, and, every day, she describes a different one and explains why she isn't wearing it. The narrator slowly comes to realize the cruelty of what she and the other popular girls are doing, but can't bring herself to fight the social pressures that make her continue. The end of the book is sharp, sad and masterfully told.

2. The Dead by James Joyce. A short story, one in a collection of his stories I've been reading. The story of a dinner party, told by one of the attendees. As the party unfolds, characters are illuminated, histories laid bare and futures charted. With just a few simple lines, Joyce creates people that live, breathe and walk. The plotting elements are simple: will this person show up to the party drunk, and if so, can his mother convince him to behave himself? Will the young men, clearly more interested in the young women than in the impromptu piano recital, be able to conduct themselves graciously, or will they embarrass the host? Why does that song sung by the up-and-coming tenor seem to affect the narrator's wife so deeply? This story is so simple on its face, and yet so complex and beautiful in its construction and narrative power.

3. Salt and Pepper, with Sammy Davis Jr. and Peter Lawford. Two hip, swinging owners of a hip, swinging nightclub in London's hip, swinging SoHo discover the body of a murdered secret agent. They get tangled up in a plot to overthrow the British government through nuclear blackmail, and have to save the day while continuing to be hip and swinging. Sammy Davis Jr. gets to sing, Peter Lawford gets to roll around in bed with a beautiful double agent. In every other scene, fresh cigarettes are lit, fresh drinks are poured and (for Sammy Davis Jr.) fresh outfits are stylishly worn. After watching this needy little screwball echo of the Rat Pack, starring the two least important members of the Rat Pack, I noticed that the executive producers of the movie were Sammy Davis Jr. and Peter Lawford, and I was not surprised. n.b. This is a movie, but I watched in on my TV via streaming Netflix, so I'm going to rule it eligible for the SCBA.

4. The Guns of Retribution by Icy Sedgwick. A gunslinging bounty hunter in the Old West is caught up in the dirty deeds of a corrupt sheriff. To save those nearest and dearest to him, he has to avoid killers, thugs and the unwanted sexual attentions of a dangerous woman. Later this month, I'm going to be posting a full review of this book, along with an interview of the author.

5. The Sword of the Lictor by Gene Wolfe. This is the third volume in the Book of the New Sun series, a complex and deeply interwoven science fiction tale. Set in the far, far future, Earth's sun has faded to a quiet red and human societies have spread to the stars and back again over and over. The narrator is a Torturer, an official societal role in the service of law and government. Through travels and challenges, he has come in contact with the highest rulers of the world, the lowest beggars and criminals, and visitors from beyond. Is there hope for the world, a way to revitalize Earth and make it a place where man can thrive again? Or are the old, old religious stories true, and the path for mankind leads to some New Sun? This is detailed, richly plotted high science fiction.

I'm pleased to pass this award on to Zoe E. Whitten (@Zoe_E_W) for her bracingly straightforward manner (and because "Seriously Cute Blogger" is surely not on her list of expected sobriquets) and to Jeff Posey (@Jeff_Posey) for his discussion of corporate communications.

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Wednesday #Poetry: Dull, Race, Yawn

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

Today's words are: Dull, Race, Yawn.

Another damned dull Wednesday dawn,
Another damned limerick (yawn!)
A race to the bottom -
Bad poems? I've got 'em.
Joy, hope and verve: all gone.

Frankly, I could do with a cup of coffee.

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Just Enough Power - 17

The First EpisodeThe Previous EpisodeThe Next Episode’All

Wig's arm was extended in marksman pose, though his Glock was less than five feet from Lonnigan's face. The laser dot on her forehead moved up and down with every beat of his heart, but it didn't move much. Wig was good with a gun.

She didn't speak, didn't respond, just kept her eyes locked on his. The silence in the room stretched out - five seconds, ten, then twenty. Lonnigan allowed herself to blink, her eyelids catching on her dry eyes. Still, she said nothing, and still, the laser sight on Wig's weapon gleamed. A bead of sweat ran down from her scalp onto her face, reflecting and refracting the beam; out of the corner of her eye, she saw it glint redly on the glass-fronted cabinets.

The sweat ran down, the laser light flashed, and still, she said nothing.

Wig pursed his lips into a scowl and lifted his weapon to point upward, resetting the safety in the same motion. For a moment, the laser dot shone on one of the ceiling tiles before he thumbed it off.

"Goddamn it, Lonnigan!" he said. "You know goddamn well you should have reported this! Mr. Kim is NOT going to be happy about this breach of security, and I swear to God, if he tells me to kill you, I'm gonna do it with a smile on my face. This is bullshit, Lonnigan, this is total and complete bullshit! It's no way to treat family!"

"And is that what I am, Wig?" She was running the heel of her hand across her forehead, wiping away the slick of sweat. "Am I part of the family or not? After hitting Tong's data storage facility, I figured that was the end of my probation. After all, I killed four of Tong's people while I was getting Mr. Kim that little plum, and I did it solo. Did I pass the test or not?"

"Don't question Mr. Kim, Lonnigan. Don't even try."

"Fuck you, Wig, I will question it when it comes to this constant suspicion about me. He recruited me, watched me, tested me and decided I'm OK. Hell, I even got to go out for an afternoon by myself for a change. But I guess I wasn't really by myself, was I, Wig? What was it? Live surveillance or a bug? You didn't shoot me the instant that fucking DOJ guy came up to me, so I'm guessing it was electronic, and you only just today got around to reviewing the feed? I figured there was some stupid ass reason you called me for a reset, and this bullshit interrogation is it."

"You're on thin ice, Lonnigan. You better calm down."

"Don't FUCKING tell me to calm down, Wig. In case you didn't notice, that Glock is still in your hand, not your holster. You've got some kind of fucking nerve, you know that? Speculating about whether or not I can be trusted when you were ready to kill me just because you didn't like the truth when you heard it. Why the hell should I trust you, huh? After all these months, I thought maybe we were friends, or at least friendly. Now I know we aren't, and never will be."

Wig holstered his gun. "Lonnigan, you meet with a federal agent, it sets off alarm bells. Simple as that."

"I didn't meet with him, he tagged me. He wants the same thing Mr. Kim wants, to knock over Tong." Lonningan got down from the table and reached to put on her shoes.

"Yeah?" Wig's arms were crossed. "And is that what you want? Really?"

"What I want? It's what Mr. Kim wants, and I work for Mr. Kim. However, none of you assholes trust me because I haven't worked here as long as you. Therefore, nobody gives a shit what I want, and every one of you will continue to not give a shit what I want until I prove to you that I'm part of this organization. I was GOING to gift wrap Mr. Department of Justice and give him to Mr. Kim at the staff meeting tomorrow morning. Stringing the DOJ along and throwing them at Tong will, at the very least, distract the Tong organization while we rip into them. It's a nice plan, it's MY nice plan, and I was GOING to use it to get some respect around here. All you bastards get to run down leads independently and set up stuff that you think might turn a profit. But me? Oh, hell no, I'm not allowed to do jack shit by myself, not even have lunch, apparently, let alone set up an op." She straightened and looked him in the eye again. "But that's fine, Wig. Fine. I don't care. Let's go up and see Mr. Kim right now, and I'll lay it out for him. He can do whatever he wants." Her hand was on the doorknob now, ready to leave.

"Hey, Lonnigan."

She took a deep breath, then turned to look back at Wig. "What?"

"I... might have overreacted." He scrunched his face up and squinted at her. "I say 'might have'. Mr. Kim will decide about that. But, regardless, I just... well, look, I'm sorry I scared you."

Lonnigan rolled her eyes. "You didn't scare me, Wig. For chrissakes, don't pat yourself on the back."
"Listen, tough guy, I saw the sweat roll down your face. You were scared."

"Wig, I've had my Talent since I was five. Without this fucking psi-suppressor collar, I could have frozen your Glock and broken your neck, and taken less than a second to do both. However, with this collar on... well, let's just say that self-restraint doesn't come naturally to me, especially when it comes to instinctive self-preservation reflexes, but I'm working on it. It's an effort, but I'm working on it."

She opened the door and walked out of the room. Wig caught the swinging door and followed.

The First EpisodeThe Previous EpisodeThe Next Episode’All

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Flux, capacitors, and flux capacitors

This is flux. It is used to make clean, oxidation-free electrical contacts in soldered circuit joints. Flux is real.

This is a capacitor. It is used to store electrical energy until it is needed, or to smooth out the flow of electricity into sensitive circuits. Capacitors are real.

This is a flux capacitor. It is used to initiate the time circuits in a time machine built into a DeLorean, a type of high-end automobile. Flux capacitors are not real.

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Genre hopping for fun and profit

Through a mysterious combination of stratified densification of the hippocampus, looming deadlines and crossing the beams when I shouldn't have, my post on writing in multiple genres went up last week at Write Anything, rather than the date I had marked in my calender.

Regardless, feel free to pop over and read it. I write in multiple genres... is that a good thing or a bad thing? I discuss the issue at length, and dispense some pearls of wisdom along the way. Comments welcome, there or back here.

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Talk like a pirate? Oh, what the heck.

September 19 is International Talk Like a Pirate Day, a loopy, intentional holiday. Those of you making multimillion dollar deals in teleconferences spanning eight timezones may wish to hold off on too much indulgence in the holiday patois, especially if no one else on the call has a sense of humor. However, you CAN slip in a quick, "Hello, Mr. Tashimodo, how arrrr you?" at the beginning of the call. Chances are, no one will notice the brief insertion of counterculture crack-whackery.

You could also be more adventurous during the rest of the call, if so inclined. Just be sure to hit the mute button after you use repeated nautical analogies in making the sales projections for FY12Q2, FY12Q3 and FY12Q4("trim the sails", "land ho", "steady breeze and no bottom", etc.); hearing someone giggle after they've made sales projections doesn't inspire confidence.

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New review: "Tony nails it - a rare ear for dialog"

A new review of "Blood Picnic and other stories" is up at Amazon, Goodreads and elsewhere. In it, Jeff Posey compares my handling of dialog to that of John O'Hara, noted novelist and playwright:
That's a lot of dialog for only $2.99!
My biggest impression is of Tony's ability to capture dialog. He reminds me of John O'Hara, who could carry a deeply emotional and descriptive story through dialog alone, even without tags to indicate who is speaking. That generally works only with two characters in conversation, and Tony does that in a highly skilled way with the story "Intervention." Nothing but quoted material. Not a single "he said" or "she said." The acid test is reading it out loud. Tony nails it. The guy has an ear for dialog that is rare. Very rare.

High praise, indeed! Dialog is something I enjoy writing, and I'm glad that shone through. I will note that the Wikipedia entry has this to say about John O'Hara:
He was particularly known for an uncannily accurate ear for dialogue. O'Hara was a keen observer of social status and class differences, and wrote frequently about the socially ambitious. His Novel BUtterfield 8 was made into a movie starring Elizabeth Taylor that won an Oscar in 1960. A controversial figure, O'Hara had a reputation for personal irascibility and for cataloging social ephemera, both of which frequently overshadowed his gifts as a storyteller.

While I can't necessarily lay claim to such a degree of skill with dialog and insight into the social Other that John O'Hara possessed, my own personality is as sweet as timothy honey and as universally inoffensive as bunnies in sunshine. So I think I might have a leg up on that score.

The review (4 out of 5 stars) goes on to note some formatting and copyediting mistakes in the text. Note to self: punch copyeditor in the mouth as soon as finished with this blog post. The overall conclusion of the review is that:
"As long as you're willing to hang on and take some rather bizarre twists and turns (and you don't mind a little blood with your picnic), you'll enjoy the ride."
Why not pop over to Amazon to take a look at this review, along with all the others? "Blood Picnic and other stories" is $2.99. You can find it for many formats at Smashwords, and in device-specific formats at Amazon, Amazon-UK, Amazon-DE, Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo, Diesel Books and other e.book outlets.

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p.s. *punch* Ow!

#FridayFlash: Volume 3: The Bites of Love

Volume 3: The Bites of Love

by Tony Noland

"So, she was all like, 'Well, what did you think? Pretty good, huh?' and I was like, girlfrenemy, you need to get the meds ADJUSTED! Your quote unquote book sucks!" Brittany ("Brit" to her bffs, and "Brittania" to her vbffs) added an extra hair flip to her eyeroll, to emphasis her point.

"Bitch, you did NOT say that! You did NOT say that! You're such a cunt, 'tania!" Only Brittany's vvVbffs got to call her "'tania", and Harmony was *totally* Brittany's vvVbff. They had been together since, like, forever, or like third grade or something.

"Of course I didn't say it TO her. I was all like, oh, yeah, Chandra, it's like, really good! Especially that part where the mean vampire is trying to bite Melissa, and the good vampire fights him off and then kisses Melissa's hand before disappearing into the night? And she gives him her scarf that smells like her perfume? That was like, so so SO romantic!" Brittany snorted. "And the whole time, I was like, a fucking scarf? Please! Kevin wants a blowjob every time he opens a door for me! And if he were ever, like to get into an actual fight and have to, like, actually fight off some guy who was trying to rape me or something? Jeez, I'd be on my back for like, a year! Maybe if Chandra had ever like, had a single date in her LIFE she would know what boys expect."

Harmony waved the stir stick from her mocha cinnamon latte in front of her, slicing through the air as though drawing a line through Chandra's name. "Too. Much. Reading."

"Absofuckinglutely. And you know what she said to me?" Harmony (whose bffs called her "Harmon", and whose vbffs called her either "Whore" or "Whorehouse") shook her head. "What that bitch said to me, TO ME, House," said Brittany (who was a reciprocal vvVbff of Harmony's), "was that she was glad I liked it, but that she wasn't going to make any of the changes I suggested since she'd already 'formatted it'. And I was all like, 'formatted it'? What the fuck does that mean? And she started talking about Kindles and Nooks and digital this and self-publish that, and I was like, then fuck you, bitch, why'd you ask me to read it if you didn't want me to tell you how to make it better?"

"God, what a cunt!"

"Like a total cunt! Like, as cunt as a cunt can be! You know she is actually going to try to sell that thing? Like, actually, really, truly, like, FOR REAL sell that book online at Amazon? And, get this, you know what she said?"

Harmony shook her head again, her silver hoop earrings tinkling with the movement.

"She said it's her third book!" Brittany's voice was high with outrage. "Her third book! And she put the other ones up for sale, too. She said how, like, people were asking her for another book so she wrote this one faster than she expected to. I was like, oh, that's great, how cool, how awesome for you, as though it was all like a big deal or something. And when I asked her if the other books were about vampires too, you know what that bitch did? She looked at me like I was stupid and was like, well, duh, of course they are. And I was like, well, damn, bitch, how the fuck was I supposed to know this was the third book in a series? It's not like it says, 'This Is The Third Book In A Series' in the beginning. Then she was all like, didn't I notice how the characters kept referring back to previous events and didn't I wonder why the good vampire and the bad vampire teamed up to save Melissa and blah blah blah about the love triangle and stuff?" Brittany picked up her clove-mulberry chai and sipped it. "God what a stupid bitch. I hope she chokes on that book."

"Oh, forget it," said Harmony, "it's just a electronic Kindle thing. It's not like it's a real book."

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Many genres...

From Chuck Wendig's interview with Elizabeth Bear:

Q: You write across many genres. Any advice for genre writers?

A. Stick to one, if you can. ;-)

At least to start with: it’s easier to build a career that way. I think I’ve confused a lot of people, and if I’d kept writing near-future cyberpunk adventures indefinitely, my sales numbers would probably be a hell of a lot better now.

On the other hand, I wouldn’t have the critical recognition I’ve garnered, so…

And that's the tradeoff, isn't it? Once again, the do it/don't do it, this hand/the other hand leaves the decision up to you.

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Wednesday #Poetry: Backward, Ease, Omission

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

Today's words are: Backward, Ease, Omission.

My boat turned backward, I'm wishin'
That when we set out to go fishin'
I'd brought one more oar
To ease back to shore
Now I'll pay for my sin of omission!

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Just Enough Power - 16

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The room came back as it always did, feet first. Lonnigan had been through the recalibration procedure often enough to wear thick socks before coming down to the tech lab. Still, her first sensation on regaining consciousness was prickly cold from the ankles down, like she'd been wading barefoot through deep snow. There was a moment of disorientation, then the rest of her senses and memories snapped into place. Her brows came together in an involuntary scowl. Almost as quickly, she forced her expression into as smooth a mask as she could manage.

On either side of the table, the straps hung loosely. The marks on her arms were redder and more chafed than previously; she must have been thrashing around quite a bit. The knowledge added to her anger, but she did nothing to let it show. While she waited for the last traces of dizziness and nausea to pass, she rubbed her wrists and flexed her hands, balling them into fists and letting the fingers go limp.

Wig sat in his chair, book on the table beside him, his Glock in his lap. He looked as though he hadn't moved since she'd been put under an hour before. Lonnigan resisted the urge to feel gratitude towards him for his attentions; it was his job to stand watch over her while she was out. From the first time she'd had to come down here to Sung Bo Kim's domain to get her psi-suppressor collar serviced, Wig had been with her for it. Every two weeks, he'd brought her here, sat himself in that chair with a book or magazine and waited while the chains of her servitude were reforged.

"Lonnigan," he said, "you know how I can tell you're in a bad mood? Because you look so calm and serene. When you're in a good mood, you just look pissed. You ought to learn to do something about that." He holstered his weapon under his jacket and remained seated. By now, he knew better than to offer a hand to her. Unaided, she swung her legs down off the table and made to stand.

"Hold it," he said, "relax for a minute. This looked like a bad session for you. I'm guessing a couple of extra minutes would do you some good. Besides, you still need to tell me about the guy you had lunch with. We might as well have that conversation here as anywhere." So saying, he glanced over at Sung Bo Kim. Without giving any evidence of having heard or understood anything Wig had said, the technican nevertheless left the room, taking his assistant with him.

"Well? Let's have it, Lonnigan."

She reached up and rubbed the collar around her neck. As always right after a recalibration, it prickled, an unpleasant, electrical sensation that would fade in an hour or so. The band of nanomech circuitry was roughly an inch wide, carbon-black and smooth against her skin. The intensely dark color, characteristic of a lot of graphene/fullerene nanomech, absorbed light and disguised the mass of the thing, making it look as thin and light as satin. In fact, from a distance, it might have looked like nothing more than a tawdry fashion mistake were it not for the status indicator lights and the goddamned lumpy gelbattery pack at her throat. Lonnigan despised how it made her look like a fucking St. Bernard dog, complete with a cask of brandy slung around her neck. She'd asked to have it relocated to the back of her neck; if she had to have it on the collar, she'd said, at least let it be someplace where she could hide it with her hair.

No good. She'd been told that, firstly, the collar electrodes had to stay positioned over her spinal cord to do their job of suppressing her Talent. Secondly, the weight of the gelbattery pack pulling down in front kept the pressure off her windpipe. If it were in back, she'd have trouble breathing.The collar was designed that way, so that was how she had to wear it.

Bullshit. It was all bullshit, and she knew it. What was worse, she knew that Sung Bo Kim knew that she was onto the lies, but he didn't care. You wear it this way because this is how we want you to wear it. It made her want to kill somebody.

"Lonnigan? Who was he?"

She looked up at Wig, brought back to the present. She took a deep breath. "He was an agent for the Department of Justice. He wants me to be a double agent for him, threatened to lock me up or kill me if I didn't play along."

Wig stood up in a smooth motion, like a snake coiling up for a strike. Somehow, in the same motion, he'd drawn his Glock and had it half-up toward Lonnigan. "This is something you should have told us immediately."

"Yeah, well, he was an asshole, and I don't like being pushed around."

"What EXACTLY did he say, Lonnigan? Play along how? What does he want you to do?"

Over the last day and a half, shed given long hours of thought to how best to play this. "He wants to use me to get at Meng-Shiu Tong. He thinks I still work for him, that I'm a double agent here under the nose of Mr. Kim. The agent, Jones or whatever the fuck his name really is, he thinks he needs to strongarm me to get me to hand over Tong to him. He doesn't understand that I work for Mr. Kim now."

Wig's gun arm didn't relax in the slightest. The moment stretched on in silence.

"And who the fuck do you really work for, Lonnigan?"

She lifted her head, but didn't reply.

The Glock came up. Wig's thumb moved over a switch and a red laser dot sprang to life on her forehead.

"I said, who do you really work for?"

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Monday morning blues

Maybe it's just a 9/11 hangover, but it feels like more than that.

When the passengers were pressed against their seats as the planes were diving in, when the choking smoke and searing flames forced the trapped office workers to their knees, when the jumpers felt the wind rush past as they tumbled through the air, when the would-be rescuers heard the concrete walls crack and saw the ceiling come crashing down...

When each of the victims was at the moment of death, whether it came fast, slow or somewhere in between...

Did any of them say, "Damn, I wish I'd written that novel"?

When faced with The End, and given the chance to look back, or rather, forced by circumstances to look back over your life, over what you've done and what you've left undone, what you have and what you lack, the list of people you love (or don't) and the list of people who love you (or don't)... does this book matter?

"Damn, I wish I'd written that novel."

Will that novel, the one you just knew you were capable of writing, will that novel rank as one of the great regrets of your life? Or will it be one of the triumphs?

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9/11 in memoriam - the falling man

One victim among many.

Not just a tragedy... an atrocity.

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#FridayFlash: So Goes the Turing Test

So Goes the Turing Test

by Tony Noland

“Anything yet?”

“No.” Smythe-Wikkes tossed the mass of punchtape into the SECRET – SHRED & BURN rubbish bin. “It’s just another number. Nothing intelligible.”

“Damn," said Jackson. "We’ll never beat the Nazis at this rate.” Smythe-Wikkes raised an eyebrow. Jackson was the pride of Harvard University, but the senior codebreaker felt that, even for an American, the young math prodigy was taking liberties with dangerously loose talk. He clucked his tongue at him, which should have been enough to make the man blush for his defeatism. Rather, it would have if Jackson had been at Bletchley long enough to pick up on British social cues.

“We need something new,” Jackson continued, “some fresh approach. Your computational machine is a marvel, but without the proper instructions, it’s little more than a gifted child. It needs to be trained if it’s going to be any use to us.”

“Who shall we get to train it? Alan Turing was going to work for us here at Bletchley Park, but he was rude enough to slip off a glacier in Switzerland.”

“Yes, he’s not much use to us from the Great Beyond.”

"I should think not. Well, Professor Jackson, you were brought over to fill the dead man's shoes. A bright idea wouldn't come amiss. What would Turing do?"

Jackson’s blonde brows knitted for a moment. Then, brightening, he said, “Hey, I’ve got an idea. Alan Turing was brilliant, right? One of the best at getting mechanical data processors do what he wanted? If we can’t have Turing to train the machine, maybe we can have it train itself in abstract language processing.”

… and thus was the unholy Skynet born to this reality, eighty years ahead of its time.

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Stabbed in the Eye by Mr. James Joyce

Stabbed in the Eye by Mr. James Joyce

by Tony Noland


are you, Mr. James Joyce,
to know me as you do?


dare you?
No Dubliner I, I who was no
artist as a young man
and am now but a pale shadow of an
artist as a not-yet-old man,
yet with a single line,
you, Mr. James Joyce,
illuminate, reveal and expose me.


have I done to you that
your dead lines live in me
exposing the cracks in the pot
I call my soul,
the milk-filled pot
I have so carefully glued
back together?
Can it be fair that you have this power over me


your ashes and dust were
ashes and dust before my poor
Irish-American mother
drew her first breath, child of an angry
Irish mother?


in my heart is the peg that tunes the
ancestral chord,
that emerald string, plucked
and singing at your touch? Do you
know, Mr. James Joyce, that in
my land,
your land,
means nothing but beer and bad loans?
For forty one years I
never read you,
Mr. James Joyce,
because you were thrown in my face whenever
writing was discussed. I
never read you,
Mr. James Joyce,
and now that
I have read you
I know
you know
who I am,
Mr. James Joyce,
you force me to look into that cracked pot and wonder


this shaky pen, the sole
inheritance of a hundred generations of poets
on my mother's side
should now be put to the service
of such a poor scribe,
the blood thinned
with time & space. No longer Irish, no longer Catholic,
barely a writer, and as a poet,
a joke
not worth the name.
Will I ever evoke the knowing word, the cupping of
breath and life that you, Mr. James Joyce,
laid down in
your refractory lines?
And will you forgive me,
Mr. James Joyce,
when I fall short
of you?

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Wednesday #Poetry: Erode, Heart, Observe

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

Today's words are: Erode, Heart, Observe.

Engine roared like fit to burst,
Heart desperate to cross the line first,
He set a cruel pace.
"God, 'erode a fine race,
But observe, now, his motorbike's cursed!"

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Just Enough Power - 15

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Lonnigan sat down in the chair and lifted her chin. "This is bullshit, Wig. I just had this thing serviced three days ago. I'm not due for at least a week." The chief technician said nothing as he fitted the restraining strap to her forehead. She knew his name was Sung Bo Kim, but didn't know if he spoke any English. He'd never spoken anything but Korean to the other technicians, or to her when giving her instructions about lifting her head or sitting up or whatever. Still, that didn't mean he wasn't merely pretending not to understand her conversation.

Wig shrugged. "The boss said you had to come down for a battery change. That's good enough for me, ought to be good enough for you."

"You're not the one getting clipped and dripped."

"No, I guess I'm not."

Sung Bo Kim lifted the needle in front of her and said something that meant she was to hold still. Bastard speaks English, she thought, I know he does. They all do. With a quick swipe, he rubbed a spot on her arm with an alcohol swab, then, without waiting for it to dry, slid the long, thick needle deep into her forearm. He nailed the vein perfectly, like an Inuit spearing a fish. In a continuation of the same fluid motion, he started easing in the plunger on the syringe. Her eyes narrowed as she focused on the little pulse in his neck, fluttering gently under the thin skin just behind his left ear. It was a 50 cc syringe, mostly full. It felt like ice cold shards of glass in her arm, burning and throbbing as they moved upwards through her bicep. At her shoulder the pain fanned out across her chest, diminishing in intensity, but changing to a spreading wave across her body. She could almost feel it when the drug hit her heart; a sharp spike in her sternum, then just an ache, like the residual burn of a hard slap across the face.

Her vision blurred and the quivering pulse in Sung Bo Kim's neck was lost to her. He continued pushing the plunger on the syringe until its full contents were in her. With a smooth motion, he withdrew the needled and pulled the waiting strip of medical tape from the back of his hand to secured a fresh cotton ball onto her arm. He stepped away and Lonnigan closed her eyes. She strained against the straps holding her onto the chair. It was impossible to tear them free, of course, but straining against them helped to hide the full-body tremors from the drug. A flush of sweat rose from every part of her body. Despite herself, she was grateful for the box fan that Sung Bo Kim had set to blowing against her face before she'd been fully strapped down. He did his job with efficiency, but he was no sadist.

Through clenched teeth, she said to Wig, "This is not necessary."

"Lonnigan, the day Mr. Kim decides you don't need to wear the psi-suppressor collar anymore is the day you don't have to do this anymore."

"I'm talking about the drug. Tell Mr. Kim I'll wear the fucking collar, but Sung Bo here can do the battery change without the neutralizer injection." The big muscles in her legs were aching, and the tremors were showing more. The room was turning sparkly-dark; it wouldn't be long. "This is b-bullshit, and it's not necessary."

Wig shook his head. "Come on, Lonnigan, what do you want from me? You're a dangerous person. You and I both know that anytime your collar is off, the temptation to do something stupid goes up by like a thousand percent. I like to think that you wouldn't kill me on your way out the door, but that's not something I can count on, is it?"

She slid her eyes sideways to look at him. Would she kill him? Wig had been professional, even collegial since the day she arrived. He was the closest thing she had to a friend in this organization. Would she kill him?

"See?" he continued. "I can see it on your face. It wouldn't be anything personal, and you'd probably try to avoid killing me, but there it is." Wig settled himself in his own chair, shifting the Smith & Wesson from its place across his lap to the side table. He picked up his book and opened it. "Have a nice nap, Lonnigan."

"F-f-fuck you."

He smiled. In another minute, when she was almost out completely, he said, "Oh, and Lonnigan? When you wake up, you can tell me who that guy was you had lunch with, and what you talked about."

She hardly felt the sharp pounding of her heart as the room swirled into blackness.

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Juggling plates, apples and adverbs

Watch this:

Notice that the juggling itself isn't that difficult, technically speaking. What makes this brilliant is the delivery, the patter, the schtick surrounding it. In control at every moment, he gives the impression of being on the edge of chaos.

If your writing is technically competent, but could use more energy and life in the delivery, watch the video again. Look at what does he does with his hands vs. what he does with his voice and body. Then go a little crazy.

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Building a loyal Twitter following, Noland style

From James Killick's blog comes the article, ""How to build a loyal Twitter following". It's a cogent article, with lots of good insights. I've copied his section titles below, but I encourage you to go read his blog, since these are discussed in detail there, along with recommendations for best practices. Still, let's see how I'm doing, shall we?

It's not about you, it's about them

Oh dear. No, no, no. It IS all about me. Me, me, me. All the time. Just me. Do I ever RT anyone else? Do I ever even TALK about anyone else? Good lord, no. That would take time that I could spend talking about me. Tony "self-absorbed" Noland, at your service. By which I mean, at MY service.

Tell 'em what they'll get

What, and spoil the surprise? When have I ever said straight out, "I'm a writer, poet and editor and I tweet about writing, poetry and editing." I mean, aside from my Twitter bio.

Tweet about what you know or what you care about

Why limit myself? "Always certain - sometimes correct" - if it's good enough for the Obama administration, then by God, it's good enough for me, and should be good enough for my readers and followers.

Share relevant content

Come now. "Relevant" is such a slippery standard, isn't it? What I had for breakfast is important to ME. The fact is, I do have a colossal ego and a finely honed wit to match. I could make a bowl of cold oatmeal funny and entertaining for my followers. Don't believe me? Watch:

Tony Noland: "I just had a bowl of cold oatmeal."
TN follower: "Cold oatmeal? Why?"
Tony Noland: "Because I'm a writer. I'm trying to build my bran."

Retweet intelligently

Hell, why start now?

Be yourself

"People hate a fraud"? On the contrary. People ADORE frauds. They LOVE frauds, so long as they are CONSISTENT frauds who are entertaining, deliver the goods on demand and are always in character. My God, look at Lady GaGa. I only wish I could be one-thousandth the fraud she is. That would make me a miliGaGa. I could *totally* live with that.

Don't block tweet #ff

I never do this because it's pretty damned annoying when done thoughtlessly. A clear win for me.

Remember followers aren't fans

Jesus, ain't THAT the truth. They're a fine bunch of folks, but fans are in love with everything you do. I'd much rather have pals, confidants and colleagues than a cadre of boot-licking sycophants who laugh at all my jokes (even the ones that aren't funny) just because I'm the one that told them. Let me tell you, post just ONE story centered around sadomasochist three-way sex, and you get nothing but strange looks for DAYS.

Be interesting

I like to think I do this on a consistent basis, even when I'm not funny. Like my old high school English teacher used to say to me, "If you can't serve as a role model, you can still serve as a warning to others." He used to say that to me all the time. Come to think of it, though, I don't recall him saying it to anyone else. I wonder why?

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#FridayFlash: The Test

"The Test"
by Tony Noland

He turned the card over, but the back side was blank. The instruction was block-printed with a wide pencil. With his thumb, he smudged the words; a gray streak followed across the creamy cardstock, smearing the crisp writing. A soft lead pencil, sharpened to a medium point. Sketching charcoal? No, not that soft. An HB 1, maybe. He set the card aside for the moment.

Other than his name, written in a cramped hand with blue-black ink, the envelope was blank, too. Held up to the light, he saw no indentation in the paper. Gently, he ran a fingertip over the words, felt nothing. He smelled the envelope, moistened a fingertip to smudge the ink and smelled it again. Fountain pen ink, from a pen with an extra fine nib. He held the envelope up to the light once more and considered it for a while. The loops of the capital T and N, the slant of the n's and the y... whoever wrote his name was familiar with good fountain pens, but usually wrote calligraphy. This spidercrawl was a poor attempt to hide an artist's hand.

But not the same artist who wrote the message on the card.

He set them aside, next to the wrapping papers. On the desk lay the olivewood box, glowing with linseed and beeswax. An old fashioned polish for an old fashioned gun case. He stepped around the back of the desk and reached over to slowly open the box from behind. The lid came up more easily than expected; he stopped it halfway. Millimeter by millimeter, he eased it open. At about the three-quarter mark, a needle-tipped dart shot upward from a small hole in the crushed velvet lining. The sleek glass syringe sailed through the air to impact against the lowest shelf of books near the fireplace. A reddish-brown liquid splashed and dripped from the broken needle.

Had he been in front of the box, it would have caught him just under the chin. Probably would have broken off under the skin, too.

With one smooth motion, he opened the lid the rest of the way, then backed away toward the window, keeping the desk between himself and the open lid. He crossed his arms and noted the time. Five minutes? Better make it ten.

It didn't take nearly that long. Thirty seconds after the lid was fully open, twin streams of liquid shot upwards from what had appeared to be hinge screws. They spread into a loose spray at about chest-height and rained down onto the carpet. The fine old wool began to smoke, giving off an acrid stench. The delicate image of flowers and leaves, knotted in Samarkand more than a hundred years previously, dissolved in char and spreading ruin.

He opened first one window, then the other, throwing them wide in their casements to let the rain come slashing in. The gusts pushed into the room, twisting and thinning the coiling smoke. Holding his handkerchief over his nose and mouth, he stepped to the side table, pulled the orchids from their vase and threw them into the fire. With a smooth motion, he dumped the vase's contents onto the rug. A bubbling hiss rose as the water met the acid, the dying noise quickly subdued by the force of the deluge. From the burned center, the flood spread, darkening the rug from the color of a desert sunset to that of old blood, a rough circle of transfiguration centered on him and the box.

Using the tip of his knife, he flipped back the partition that covered the inner part of the gun case. The pistol was a fine weapon. Old and heavy, .50 calibre. A strong man's weapon. Long barrel, bird's eye maple grips. He lifted it out of the box, balancing it through the trigger guard. Yes, heavy. It would take practice to fire this with any kind of accuracy, and probably special exercises to strengthen the wrists beforehand. The gun made a pronounced, resonant sound as he set it down, like the last ring of a church bell. Under the gunrest, nestled in its own velvet-lined space, was a pasteboard box of cartridges, unlabelled. This was harder to remove, but eventually, pinched between his knife and his pen, he lifted the box out and opened it.

Thick brass rounds rolled across the desk, each with a star-indented hollow point of pure silver. He didn't have to smell the cartridges to know what they were.

For a long time he stood, contemplating the gun and the fifteen bullets in front of him. The wind blew harder and the rain spray fell across the small glass-topped bar. Sherry and port, brandy and akvavit... the droplets splashed and ran down the sides of the crystal decanters to pool in the silver tray.

The card lay on the desk, just where he'd set it.


He picked it up and turned it over.


Heart pounding in his chest, he gripped the gun, lifted it and cracked it forward, exposing the five empty spaces, wide and waiting. He picked up the first of the bullets and slid it home.

And through the moan and shriek of the wind and rain, he could hear a wolf, howling in feral joy on the first night of the full moon.

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Speaking of double entendres...

You can't beat the blues classics for double entendres.

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