#FridayFlash: Possible Hims for Origin

"Possible Hims for Origin"

by Tony Noland

"What about him, Orry? He's cute."

"I'm sure I saw him checking you out. Go talk to him, Orry. What have you got to lose?"

"Origin, I have someone I want you to meet. Come on, I'll introduce you to him."

"So? What did you think of him? What do you mean, 'who'? Jesus, Orry, don't be so dense, I mean *him*, the medical student!"

"Oh, I'm sure Origin would be happy to show him around. They'll have lots in common."

"Did he call you? Well, did you call him? Why on earth not, Origin?"

"Origin Elizabeth, don't you dare speak to me that way. Heaven knows I don't ask for much in this world, and if it's too much trouble for you to pick him up from the airport, just say so. I was only trying to help. I thought you'd appreciate a chance to get to know him, to spend some time with someone your own age. You're not getting any younger, you know. And here I am without a single grandchild."

"Excuse me, Miss Origin Bates? I'm Dr. Fleichmann, the oncology resident? I'm sorry, we're running a little behind. Dr. Wenkler will see you in just a few minutes. You can wait for him right in here."

"All right, Origin, what we're looking at is your left breast. This is a PET scan image. It's sort of like a CAT scan, but more precise. Now, what I want you to look at is this shadowy area. See him right here?"

"Thank God your father isn't alive, Origin. He loved you so much, this would kill him. And you, all alone in the world."

"Orry? Orry, honey? Father Conahaugh is here. Please see him, honey, he just wants to pray with you. Please, sweetheart, for me? Do it for me?"

"UltraUnited MediCare, this is Tammy, thank you for holding. Miss, uh, Origin, I spoke with... oh, I beg your pardon, Miss Bates. Anyway, I spoke with your InsuriCo representative, a Mr. Thomas Jackson? He said there were a few things they had to straighten out before they could process your claim. He asked you to give him a call. In the meantime, would you like to give me a credit card number so we can take care of your bill?"

"Dr. Wenkler's office, may I help you? I'm sorry, Dr. Wenkler is with a patient right now, can I have him give you a call back? And could you spell that please? O-R-I-G-I-N B-A-T-E-S? Thank you. And does he have your number?"

"Origin? Good news - the last scan is clean. I'd say you're all done. Well, not DONE, since now that you're a cancer survivor, that means follow up visits. I'm going to give you the name of an oncologist in St. Paul. He's a good guy. I want you to schedule a six month review with him after your move. I'm gonna miss you, Origin. You were a good patient. No, it's true, you were one of my best! You're a brave woman, Origin."

"Met someone? Origin, what do you mean you met someone? You only just got there! Well, when can I meet him? I'm coming out. What? What do you mean, 'don't come out', why shouldn't I come out to see my baby?"

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Wednesday #poetry: figment, inclined, vulnerable

Today's words for Three Word Wednesday are: figment, inclined, vulnerable

"It's vulnerable 'cause it's so old."
"That's 'venerable', with virtues extolled!
The prolix inclined
can't go flying blind."
"Go figment yourself, you fat told!"

Oh dear....
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Rub your word processors with salicylic acid

NOTE: An important lesson about writing is in the final section. It's in bold, and it's underlined. You can't miss it. Skip ahead if you only care about that, and don't want to listen to me complain about my aches and pains.


I spent a good chunk of the weekend doing some home repair stuff involving hard to use tools and very heavy things held at very awkward angles. Since my fingers ache right now, stiff and sore, I've been ascribing that pain to all of that manual labor.

However, before I began all of that, I also spent an hour on a chilly, windswept field, writing in a notebook held on my knees at a strange angle. The sun was bright, but the cold and damp was penetrating enough that my fingers were aching after an hour of it. This was especially pronounced in my writing hand, my right.

When I then went home and starting working with a carbide-tipped concrete knife and the large sheets of concreteboard... well, let's just say that ergonomics were nowhere to be seen. My right hand, and in particular the second knuckle of my right middle finger, are letting me know that I'd better stock up on the naproxin and anti-inflammatory creams if I want to be a cross between David Brin and Tim Allen.

Come to think of it, my right elbow hurts like hell, too. Did I overstrain it in muscling a piece against the wall? Or is this chair too low, and I'm killing myself with a repetitive stress injury?

Since this is a writing blog, not a "listen to me complain about my aches and pains" blog, let me spell out the writing lesson here:

Take care of your tools. 

If your computer had a virus that was making it lock up and misbehave when you tried to write, you'd do something about it.

If your pen were splotching ink all over your page when you tried to write, you'd do something about it.

If your printer jammed and chewed paper before smearing the toner on the draft you're trying to print, you'd do something about it.

Your hands are your most important writing tools. Take care of them.

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From beginner to expert in 4 not-so-easy steps

Clearly, I still need to work on my starry-eyed self-aggrandizement. I was sure that video about editing would take off like a gasoline-fueled prairie fire, instantly spreading across the Internet and blogscape like the gospel of a new prophet. That would have been amazing, especially considering I've never done a video presentation of a writing concept before. (My Xtranormal video about getting on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" doesn't count, since that was just a script.)

Silly, I know, but whenever I try something new, there is a deep-rooted tendency to think that I'm gonna do it like it's never been done before. Were Wikipedia to have an entry for "happy, ignorant enthusiasm", I imagine my picture would be there, or there would at least be a link to my website as an archetypal example. Ridiculous.

based on Hersey & Blanchard, whoever the hell they are
Hang on, what's this?

Is this a dagger I see before me?

No! It's a wikipedia article about "happy, ignorant enthusiasm"! It doesn't have my picture, though, but it does have a very clear description of me and others like me.

It turns out, EVERYBODY starts out as happy, ignorant and enthusiastic, because they have no idea of the complexity of the thing they want to accomplish, be it writing great fiction, making really cool videos, sinking a free throw or anything else. On the chart to the right (click to zoom), that would be a D1 - high enthusiasm, low competence, and without a single fracking clue what they are letting themselves in for.

Of course, as soon as you start to do it (whatever "it" is), you have a better understanding of the process, and a much better understanding if you make a deliberate effort at studying how it's done. This can be self-guided study or as part of a formal degree program or course of instruction. Either way, it doesn't take long until you realize that, "hey, this thing I love and want to do a lot of? It's actually pretty damn difficult". Hence the stereotype of the bitter graduate student, a classic D2. You now understand the problem; you just lack the skills to solve them. "Enthusiasm? What's that? Oh, yeah, I remember being happy... once."

The next step is where things start to get better. You spend that first thousand hours practicing, you write your first million words, you finish your MFA program. The toolbox is getting filled and, more importantly, your soul is getting slowly filled with the record of accomplishments. Minor ones at first, then more important ones. The other favored analogy is that the scar tissue and calluses are getting thicker and thicker. One day, you think, "I can do this. I really can." It's still not automatic, nothing approaching the effortless grace and ability of the leaders of your field, but you can do it. This would be D3, where skills are high, confidence is good, enthusiasm is on the rise.

Nirvana awaits at D4. This is where you are the complete package. You not only have the skills to deliver the goods, you have confidence in your craft and your voice. The guys down at the D3 level want to be you. The guys at the D2 level fear they never will be, and come to you asking for advice. The guys down at the D1 level think they already are as good as you, and just haven't been discovered yet. Pity the poor D1s for their ignorance, but do not despise us. (Er, I mean, them.)

Then, just as you are a wonderfully competent and accomplished individual, you decide to undertake a new project. A D4 writer of short stories, you decide to write a novel. Guess what? You're back to D1 and you have to start the process all over again. Why?

Because writing a novel is different from writing short stories. Making a video is different, too. Some skills are transferable, but these are different tasks. Depending on the task and your innate proclivities, sometimes you can race through this cycle of learning & development, sometimes it's harder. For each new job, there's a whole new skill set you need to acquire, develop mastery in and develop confidence in.

As a novelist, I'm squarely in D2 at the moment. Sucks to be a D2.

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#Fridayflash: Pumpkin Brains, Forever

My FridayFlash story this week, "Pumpkin Brains, Forever", appears today over at the Amwriting.org website. Go check it out!

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Why editing matters

Keep this in mind for after NaNoWriMo.

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Wednesday #poetry: breach, ember, tentative

Today's words for Three Word Wednesday are: breach, ember, tentative

NaNoWriMo's like storming a beach
Through all of November
  Plot's tentative ember
Is fanned to a flame - find your niche!

 n.b. Doing NaNoWriMo this year? Check out my "8 Essential Steps" post for some advice & encouragement.

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NaNoWriMo: 8 Essential Steps

This is a post for all you folks who have never done Nation Novel Writing Month, but are considering giving it a shot. All of you who have already done NaNoWriMo might want to read it as well, but only for that sense of satisfaction one gains by looking back on the part of the mountain face you've already successfully scaled.

1. It will only be fun if you make it fun. NaNoWriMo can be an exhilarating, delightful thrill ride. This lasts through Week 1. Week 2 sucks. That's when it starts to become work. Actually, Week 3 kind of sucks, too, because that's when you realize that the idea you started with is way, way too thin to support a full 50K. Fortunately, because you are allowed to go off in new directions and incorporate new ideas, Week 4 becomes fun again. The process of writing forces you to be actively creative. You don't just sit and wait for ideas - you have to gin them up. That's a lot of fun. Embrace the suck, call it fun and keep going.

2. Really look at your schedule. 1667 words per day for 30 days is 50,000 words. However, odds are, you don't really have 30 days to do 50K. Either your day job will limit your writing during the week, or your family will limit your writing on the weekends. Thanksgiving kills a day, Black Friday kills a day, your husband's birthday kills one evening, your sister's wedding kills a weekend, etc. Look at your schedule for November and strike off the five days that will most likely be unproductive. For all the others, make them 2000 word days. 2000 x 25 = 50,000.

3. Don't do it alone. The NaNoWriMo website has many different forums to interact with other writers on a variety of pertinent subjects. Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, Easily Mused... these and other communities are chock full of writers who are either doing NaNoWriMo or have done it in the past. Got a question? Want to kvetch or crow? Need a boost or want a writing buddy? It is SO MUCH EASIER TO WRITE when you aren't doing it all alone. Speaking of which...

4. Get the buy-in of your family and friends. I'm not talking about your online buddies or your Facebook friends and third cousins whom you have never set eyes on. I'm talking about your parents, spouse, siblings or other emotionally attached people with whom you breath the same air. (n.b. I'm assuming here that they know you write. Don't laugh... many people keep their writing completely secret.) Getting this buy-in is not strictly necessary, but it's much harder to have fun with NaNoWriMo if they believe NaNoWriMo to be, at best, a waste of time and effort. It's hard enough when it's clear they don't support you; if they are actively working against you, either by consistently reiterated negativity or through deliberate sabotage, you may still complete NaNoWriMo, but only with scorched earth tactics. Nobody said art was easy.

5. Plan ahead. Plotters lay out everything in advance. Pansters write by the seat of their pants, letting the story unfold by itself. To go for 50K and end up with something that will be at all salvageable, it will help if you have a general idea of what you want to happen. You don't need a detailed outline or massive story bible, but please, for your own sake, before you begin NaNoWriMo, ask yourself these questions: Who is my main character? Where does she live? What does she want? Who or what is stopping her from getting it? What is she going to do about that? If you take a moment and write down the answers to those questions, you will be able to write your book. Halfway through, you might decide to change the answers, or you'll discover that what you thought was the real obstacle was just a transient thing, or a front for the REAL obstacle. Nice... write it down.

6. Pace yourself. You're going for 2K a day. If you catch on fire early on and knock out 5, 6, 7 or 10K in a day? That's terrific! Please know, though, that 10K a day is hard to sustain. Even 5K a day is a demanding schedule. You have a long way to go, so don't burn yourself out too soon. The hardest part of a race is the last lap. Oh, and don't forget to eat and get some sleep, too.

7. Let it go. Lord Bicepton is defending the honor of Princess Honeycheek from pirates! After swimming to the side of her royal caravel, he climbs the rigging and draws his brace of pistols, forcing the hideous Pierre le Beouf to retreat! Just write it down and keep going. DO NOT STOP TO CHECK if "caravel" is the right word for the kind of ship you have in mind, or if that kind of ship has side riggings that someone could realistically climb, or if seawater would have made his pistols useless, or if you spelled "le Beouf" right, or, or, or... just keep writing! If you write something that you think needs a fact check, spelling check or any other kind of check, just type in a TKTK and keep going. Why TKTK? That sequence of letters isn't used in English words. Later on, during editing, you will search for TKTK, find the kludgy bits and do a proper job of it. Seriously, even if this bit of fact checking is completely necessary to make later plot elements work, just TKTK it and go on. To keep it honest, though, you don't want the TKTKs to count as words, so addTKTK them to the end of a wordTKTK in the paragraph in questionTKTK.

8. Don't listen to haters, snarkers or professional authors. When you complete NaNoWriMo, you will have accomplished something that 99% of the people in the world have never done and will never do. It takes work, resolve, courage, creativity and stamina. It takes heart. Yet, for everyone who is ready to congratulate you and celebrate your accomplishment, there will be someone quick to dismiss and deride. They will attempt to belittle your accomplishment, belittle you and belittle the entire NaNoWriMo concept. Scientific studies have shown that almost all of these nay-saying people were exposed to high levels of mercury as children; they should be pitied for their inability to experience joy, either in themselves or in others. Pity them, but do not listen to them. True, you won't be able to sell your NaNoWriMo without more writing and massive amounts of editing, but that's why there's the National Novel Publication Year plan.

Have fun with NaNoWriMo, you crazy kids!

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Me, a new book, and the Dogs of War

Now available in paperback from eMergent Publishing: The Yin & Yang Book

This anthology is a collaborative effort among a diverse group of talented writers. Each of us took a situation and wrote a story around the characters and events of that scene. The twist? As we wrote, we interwove our stories with those of our fellow authors, such that my characters interact with those of the others.

My story is titled, "Dogs of War". It's about a couple of guys going on a business trip, one of whom has no idea what he's up against. You can read a teaser of "Dogs of War" right here, or, if you'd rather hear me read the teaser to you, I can do that, too. If you've read my flash fiction and enjoyed it, then you will really like what I can do when given the space of several thousand words to work with.

The print version of The Yin & Yang Book is available for pre-order directly from eMergent Publishing and will be available from Amazon and other outlets next week. The book has 22 stories (including mine), told in ~90,000 words.

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#FridayFlash: Roofline


by Tony Noland

Up here, she could pretend it was OK, that she didn't mind. Or she could wallow in self-pity about the unfairness of it all, sometimes even to the point of crying real tears. Or she could allow herself to feel all noble, looking up at the nighttime sky and thinking about everyone who had things so much worse than she did. It wasn't that bad, compared to what some people had to endure.

Endure. Tolerate. Survive.

She didn't know what she wanted, or what kind of a night it was going to be. If anything, she was just tired of thinking about it, tired of dealing with it, just tired of everything.

Pigeon droppings were dried to a lumpy gray crust on the stone wall that surrounded the roof. They were everywhere, but the coating was thickest on the south side, along the part that was sheltered from the wind by the utility shed. She crossed to the north side and looked down onto the street. Cars, trucks, taxis, a bus. A few cyclists, a stream of hurrying pedestrians, collars and hoods pulled close. Last week's snow - three wet inches worth, the first of the season - had melted over the weekend, so the pavement was mostly clear. Salt rimed the lanes, splashes of white that looked like a smoother version of the pigeon shit she was leaning against.

The air felt heavy, like more snow was on the way. The temperature was down, way below freezing already and a rising, gusty wind pushed at her, buffeting against her chest like someone trying to make a line move faster. She took off her knitted cap, letting the wind rake through the stubble on her scalp. Facing full into the wind, her eyes began to water and she felt her ears tingle. Twenty minutes of this and she'd have frostbite.

She knew she had less than five.

And, though she hated it, hated it with every part of her body, hated that she had to just endure, tolerate, and survive it, there was nothing to be done, no alternative. She spent the next four minutes hating, but there were no tears this time. It might have felt like a victory of some kind, if it had mattered whether or not she cried beforehand.

Her hat and gloves went into one pocket of her coat, her scarf into the other.

It is what it is. That's how it goes. You play the hand you're dealt.

She unzipped the coat and threw it onto the gravel roof.

We all have our crosses to bear. Shit happens.

Her shoes were next, socks removed and stuffed inside. She unbuttoned her jeans and slid them down, shivering with the icy wind that raised hard, painful goosebumps on her bare legs. The sweatshirt, T-shirt, bra and underwear went on top of the jeans and coat. The shoes she put on top of all, so nothing would blow away.

Life sucks and then you die.

Shaking with cold, she stepped up onto the thick concrete block and raised her arms outward. The tears flowed and froze on her face, torn from her unwilling eyes by the knifing wind. She tottered and hunched, muscles contracting in the freezing air.

Nine seconds after the pain and rage made her cry for real, she arched her back and burst into flames, a huge explosion of heat and light, like an oil refinery set ablaze. It roared up into the night, lighting up the sky for blocks around, the outline of her naked young body a dark shape within the roiling conflagration.

She wept and moaned, promising herself that this month she would not scream.

Would not scream.

Would. NOT. Scream.

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Wednesday #Poetry: admire, follow, piece

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

Today's words are: admire, follow, piece:

Don't admire those with banners unfurled,
On Wall Street, their brickbats a'hurled;
You follow their dreck

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How do I give someone a +K on Klout?

How do I give someone a +K on Klout?

First, go to Klout.com and log in (click on any of these photos to enlarge):

Then, go to your lists (which you can import from Twitter), to the list of people you influence, the people that influence you, your friends, or wherever else you might find people to bestow +K on.

Then, click on the item box on the right to give them a +K in something they're already known for, or write up a new category for them.

There you go! If someone is helpful to you or you like the way they do things, give 'em some +K love!

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Just Enough Power - 18

The First EpisodeThe Previous EpisodeThe Next Episode’All

Shiowshu Chen killed the engine of the Mercedes, and the three men sat in silence. Slatted sunlight lit the periphery of the parking garage, but where they'd parked, it was little more than an element of ther overall concrete gloom. Shiowshu had taken his sunglasses off once they'd made the turn onto the first upward spiralling ramp. Ricky Gao still had his on, even though the tinted windows of the Mercedes had made them unnecessary in the backseat. Simon assumed that he'd left them on for dramatic effect. They were the wide, wraparound style, tinted mirror-blue in shiny black frames. If Ricky's face had been thinner, they probably would have made him look like a killer robot, or something else even more lethal than he was. With those cheeks and that neck, though, Simon thought he looked like the sort of cartoonish pigs one found on birthday greeting cards.

He turned away from Ricky and looked out the window. Concrete, fluorescent lights and some windblown trash in the corners. Nothing of beauty here, and yet... Simon would never admit it to his captors, but these visits to his cardiologist had become immensely important to him. In the first month after he'd helped Lonnigan slip loose from Tong, he'd been confined to his rooms, his meals brought to him. As the weeks passed, however, Tong allowed him more freedom of movement, permitting him to range throughout the mansion during several hours of the day. This was in no way because Tong was feeling any better towards him; it was because he was afraid he looked foolish keeping an old man locked away upstairs. Simon's solitary confinement had become a house arrest. He was escorted and/or monitored wherever he went, but it was still better than being cooped up.

An overture about being allowed to walk the grounds of the estate was summarily refused. His customary daily walks among the manicured gardens, observing the progress of whatever flowers were in bloom, were replaced by walks in the hallways and stairwells, supplemented by hour-long sessions on the treadmill in the gym, where he got to smell the sweat of the hired muscle and try to tune out whatever was blaring from the TV in the corner.

"Let's go," said Shiowshu, "your appointment is at 2:00." He got out of the car and scanned the surroundings again before opening the back door. Simon got out. Ricky slid over and got out after him, bumping into his back. Deliberate or not, it wasn't important enough for Simon to comment on. The three men set off, walking abreast. They passed a dozen or more empty spaces. Shiowshu had parked the car in the center of the level, away from stairwells, ramps and elevators. The first time he'd been brought here for an appointment, Simon had questioned this procedure, then laughed at the scowl he'd gotten for an answer. He was far older than both of them put together; did they really expect him to make a break for it? To try to escape from them on foot?

Yes. That was exactly what they expected, and they were taking steps to prevent it.

Simon laughed again and began a running stream of sardonic commentary about Tong and how badly he must be frightened if he gave such instructions about an old man with a bad heart. Inside, though, he ground his teeth and gave Tong more credit than usual. Of course he might have tried to make a break for it, were circumstances a little different. A bad heart, weak bones and false teeth didn't mean he'd forgotten how to pull a trigger or how to gouge a man's eye with a soda straw held just so. Circumstances being what they were, however, he'd decided against any escape attempts. For now.

"I'll go scout up ahead. You stay with the old man." Shiowshu lengthened his stride and moved ahead, toward the skybridghe that connected the garage with the hospital. He got on a pace or two before Ricky replied, "Hey! Hey, chiung guk kai!"

The younger man stopped and turned. "Don't call me 'Junior', Ricky" he said.

Actually, Simon thought, that Chinese term translated to something more like little-boy-with-shit-in-his-diaper, but Junior was close enough.

"I'll call you whatever I want," Ricky said, waving his hand between them. "I'm the one in charge here, I give the orders. You stay with the old geezer; I'll do the scouting ahead." He put a big hand on Simon's upper arm and shoved. Simon stumbled forward into Shiowshu and went down to one knee. Ricky blew past both of them, with long strides that had him puffing before he'd gone twenty feet away.

With all the dignity of his years, Simon got slowly to his feet and made a production out of straightening his jacket and tie, as thought soothing a wounded pride.

Under his breath, Shiowshu said, "Fucking idiot."

Simon replied, just as quietly, "Well done." Ricky Gao wasn't actually stupid; he never would have risen to any position of responsibiltiy if he had been. However, he was a self-important bully, and lazy besides. This made him as easy to manipulate as if he truly had been saddled with substandard intelligence. In Ricky's wake, the two of them moved toward the skybridge, walking at an old man's pace.

"Have you contacted Lonnigan?"

His face impassive, Simon said, "My intermediates have almost certainly found her and made contact by now. I'm waiting for confirmation." Shiowshu's question wasn't a surprise, so Simon had his answer ready. The young man had been a great help, but that wasn't enough reason to trust him. Not completely, anyway. At first, Simon had tried to give him the impression that he had a network of operatives outside the Tong organization, that he'd set in motion a plan that had been constructed and held in abeyance for just such an occasion as this. However, Shiowshu was sharp, much sharper and more insightful than Simon had anticipated. During one of their private conversations, Shiowshu had made it clear that he knew damned well that Simon had no one on the outside other than Lonnigan, and that the "plan" was an improvisation. What impressed Simon the most, though, was that he'd also made it clear that he wasn't going to press for details, that he was content to wait until Simon was ready to confide fully. Until then, Shiowshu was willing to roll with it, whatever "it" was.

In Simon's long experience, the better the man, the more comfortable he was with uncertainty. Small men with small abilities felt it necessary to be in on every detail, be part of every decision. They liked having everything planned in advance, then went to pieces when the plan fell apart. For all his power and authority, the current head of the Tong organization was such a man. Shiowshu, on the other hand, was a young man with very little power or authority in the eyes of Tong. In his secret dealings with me, though, Simon thought, he did his part, gave me the tools I needed to do mine and then trusted me and himself to stay flexible and get the job done. Shiowshu was young, but he had the makings of a solid leader.

That conversation, which had established the two of them on a better footing, ended when Simon asked him the single most important question, the one he didn't expect to get a truthful answer to. Why was he doing this? Why help an old man whom Shiowshu's boss, the head of the Tong organization, had marked as a traitor and internal enemy?

His answer, when it came, had been phrased very carefully. "Mr. Simon," he'd said, "I think the day will come when it will be to my advantage to have you in my debt." That was all he'd said on the subject, and Simon had never brought it up again. It was enough to reassure Simon about the young man, and enough to work with him in this haphazard covert operation.

But it wasn't enough for Simon to confide in him that he'd put the Department of Justice onto Lonnigan, and thereby, eventually, on a course that would destroy the Tong.

From the skybridge, Ricky Gao called back to tell them both to get moving. His voice echoed through the parking garage, and Shiowshu put a hand under Simon's elbow so he could make a show of hurrying him along.

The First EpisodeThe Previous EpisodeThe Next Episode’All

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Should I use a pen name?

In my post over at Write Anything this month, I talk about writing horror. Specifically, I talk about my conflicted feelings surrounding my horror writing. Chris Chartrand left a great comment about using a pen name to write Westerns, thereby to distinguish his work in that genre from his work in others.

Frankly, when it comes to writing fame, I'm a bit of an egotist. I've always looked forward to seeing banner headlines like "New Bestseller by Tony Noland" or "Tony Noland Signs Five Book Deal for $8,000,000". Seeing some other name in that slot just wouldn't be the same.

Or would it?

What if I were to use an "open" pen name? Instead of setting up a fictitious name and wearing it all the time, what about using it as an identified persona? Everybody would know it's me writing, but because the byline is different, it would be clear to my readers what to expect and what NOT to expect. That might clear up some of the reader confusion (and disappointment) that comes when readers approach my work, with all the different genres I cover.

If the byline says "Tony Noland", it will be a Tony Noland story (whatever that means). Could be sci fi, fantasy, lit fic, etc. Anything except horror.

On the other hand if the byline says (for example) "Valois Yafud", you'll know that Mr. Yafud writes horror and nothing but horror. If you like that kind of thing, you'll see the byline and keep reading. You might even seek out horror writing by Mr. Yafud, because you liked my horror stories. If you don't like my horror or any horror at all, you'll see the byline and skip it.

There wouldn't be any faking or confusion. It would be an open secret that "Valois Yafud" is really "Tony-Noland-writing-as-Valois-Yafud". Consider a story that opens with two kittens happily playing with a ball of yarn. If it's a Yafud story, you will have a clue about where the thing is likely going; if it's a Noland story, you may still be surprised, but you'll know that there is at least one direction it won't go.

There are certainly precedents for purposeful pen names and open secrets in writing.

What do you think? Is this something that would aid you as a reader, or is it an overly complicated solution? Is this the best way to handle the problem of writing in multiple genres?

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A scary story

Today at Write Anything, I talk about my work as a writer of horror. It's scarier than you might think. In fact, it's the scariest story of them all.

Read it at:


I did my own cover art. Got a problem with that?

I did my own cover art for "Blood Picnic and other stories". I composed the elements, arranged the lighting, shot the photo, framed it, put it out for public comment, incorporated suggestions, added the touches of digital blood, selected the fonts and effects for the attribution and title and put it all together. Could a real graphic artist have done a better job, even building on the photo I took? Oh, absolutely. I don't know what details of color, shadow and proportions would have been changed, but it would be much better than I could do. When I send a piece of my photoshop work off to a real artist, the way it looks when it comes back always reinforces that fact. I do OK, but I'm no artist.

In the #bookmarket tweetchat yesterday, the topic was cover art. The opinion was expressed that an author doing his own cover art is taking a big risk, i.e. that it might end up looking lousy. Said opinion was expressed by a graphic artist; I agree, and I said so. I noted that I did it myself because I didn't have the ability to pay an artist for a cover. This reason was, to put it kindly, waved away.

At the end of the chat, the graphic artist said, to a chorus of agreement from other graphic artists, that any author that "claims they can't afford professional covers" is kidding himself and needs to "rethink his plan". I'm pretty sure this was intended to be insulting and dismissive of stupid amateurs, so I took it as such.

I've got a couple of standards that I'm bringing to it, OK? My published work needs to be a) good, b) salable, and c) result in a net positive on the balance sheet. Look, I would LOVE to be able to have gotten professional editing support, professional cover art, professional promotion for "Blood Picnic". The book would have been better because of it. It would be great to have such things for my future anthologies and novels. Will I get it? If I can find a way to pay for it, sure. The fact is though, this whole thing? This "writing"? It's a pay-as-you-go thing, which started from zero. Not only have I got no wealthy patron behind me, no big government grant, and no generous fellowship covering costs, but Mrs. Noland and the four little Nolands get first crack (and second, third, fourth and fifth cracks) at any spare money that happens to come along. It doesn't leave much for writing-related expenses.

My self-publishing only becomes vanity publishing when I sink more money into it than I could ever hope to recoup through sales. Hence my irritation with the graphic artist who was dismissive of my having done my own cover art. Book #1 had a few typos, has a tolerable layout and has a decent but not fantastic cover. My plan, what I intended all along, was for profits from Book #1's sales to pay for Book #2's pro editing and pro cover art. Book #2 would then pay for Book #3's editing, artwork and promotion. Lather, rinse, repeat until I have no more worlds to conquer.

That's my plan. I'm not going to "rethink" it because it's a good plan and it's working. It's been slower and more difficult than I expected, but every plan of attack suffers when it comes in contact with the enemy. For my next book, I might try putting out a call: "Will Edit In Exchange For Cover Art". Aside from that, the plan is what it is. Anybody who doesn't like it can either tell me how to do better within the particular constraints of my life, or shut the hell up.

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#FridayFlash: The Curious Case of the Chronofundibular Emancipation Engine

The Curious Case of the Chronofundibular Emancipation Engine

by Tony Noland

"You will, of course, forgive me if I think you an imbecile."

Professor von Kindermord puffed, blowing aside the minute particles of brass filed away from the piece he was working on. Squinting, he peered through the jeweler's loupe affixed to his spectacles. "But of course, my dear Harrison," he replied. "I should be honored to have you think me an imbecile. Nothing else would so utterly reassure me that I have settled on the best possible course of action." He set aside the tiny triangular file and picked up a set of micrometers. The measurement he took of the complex, bi-torsioned worm gear obviously pleased him.

"And if I take the further liberty of considering you to be a madman? A veritable Prince of Bedlam?"

"Such things are proven or dis-proven in the fullness of time, Harrison." The stoop-shouldered old German drew on a pair of white cotton gloves. With angelic care, he loosened the benchdogs and the lifted the worm gear from its cradle on the bench. Cupping it in his hand like the Star of India, he took slow, careful steps across the room. "If you would be so kind, Harrison? The door, if you please?"

Harrison, a protuberant man, wide of forehead and red of face, stepped around his rival and opened the heavy oaken door. He reached into the hall and turned up the gas, the better to light the Professor's path. "Shall I precede you, sir, or would you have me follow?"

"I take your meaning, Harrison, doubled and doubled again though it may be. Whether I would or no, you and every other man of Science shall follow where I lead, for this is to be the triumph of the age." His milky blue eye glanced into the face of Britain's native intellectual champion and saw that his bolt had gone true to the mark. With steady, careful steps, he carried the final mechanical element toward his lifework's culmination. "Harrison, I am an internationalist. May I extend my offer to you one final time? Assist me in this? We, working together as men of Science first and foremost, can set a precedent that could once and for all ages sweep away the foolishness of national ambition. Let us not be German and Briton, but man and man. Let it be so, Harrison. What say you?"

Their slow, steady walk had brought them down the hall to another door, which Harrison opened for the Professor.

"No, Professor. The nations of the world are what they are through divine providence. Our respective monarchs are fixed points on this Earth as the stars are fixed points in heaven. I would achieve the honors of Science for my nation and for my Queen, and for no other. What you propose is democratic anarchy, the only possible outcome of a gentle, pernicious, mass regicide. I would rather try and fail as a proud Briton than wear the laurels of success in a world without Britons at all."

"Ah, my dear Harrison. Such a pity."

"Not so very much a pity, my esteemed Professor, for this construct of yours cannot succeed. It simply... cannot." He looked up at the Chronofundibular Emancipation Engine, a massive structure of interconnected mechanica, electrum-plated drive rods, enhancement gearing and galvanic fluid conduits. Harrison stood, taking it all in. Sudden doubts were as plain on his face as his chin whiskers. If it worked as the Professor expected, then he was beaten and the world would see a new Golden Age. If it did not...

At the heart of it all gleamed what appeared to be a crystalline tank. Harrison nodded at it. "Is that one of Madame Curie's autoluminescent condensers? Rather large, isn't it?"

"Ah, Harrison. Must we play these games right up to the very last leg before the finish line? It is my own design, building on the principle of the Curie condenser. There are 279,936 infinitesimally narrow Curie condensers within that leaded crystal vessel. Once this final guidance element is in place... like so..." - the brass worm gear slid into its housing with a click - "the lignum vitate gearing will regulate the flow of liquified radium across the wolframite mesh. As you well know." The Professor closed the access panel on the control box, pushed a small rod upwards and opened a valve. He stood back, as did Harrison.

The central tank began to glow with the unearthly blue of Curian elemental combustion, but far more evenly and brightly than Harrison had ever seen in his own laboratory. His breath caught in his throat. The machine was coming to life. Pipes and gauges ticked and groaned as pressures built, then gearing began to turn as the thousand and one tiny push rods took up the strain. Harrison turned to face the Professor.

"Any.. any last words, Professor? What shall I say about you at your funeral oration?"

"Your bravery in the face of defeat does you credit, Harrison. Will you shake hands?"

Harrison clasped the old man's hand, dwarfing his thin, bony fingers with his own hand, thick, beefy and red. They stood together for a moment, then the Professor climbed slowly onto the seat of the Engine and said, "I should advise you to step behind the observation screen. If this does, by some evil chance, not quite live up to my expectations, I would not wish you to be injured in the explosion." Harrison bowed and moved behind the protective screen, his eyes fixed on the Professor, now outlined by the penetrating blue glow from the tank.

The Professor lifted a hand in salute, took a deep breath, then twisted a control valve open. In a brilliant flash, the entire engine disappeared. Harrison was thrown forward into the screen with the thunderous concussion of air rushing into the vacuum. Then, almost before he could register that the machine had worked, that the Professor's Engine had actually accomplished the impossible, he was thrown backward by a second pressure wave, equally explosive in the contained space.

Harrison picked himself up and rushed from around the screen, only to see the Professor leaping down from the seat of the Engine. Broadly muscled, with back straight and hair once again a dark, walnut brown, the Professor jumped up and down, shouting in his native German, "It worked! By heaven and by God, it worked! I'm young again! Young! Young! It worked! Harrison! It's fantastic! Did you see? Did you see? Where are you, my good man? Did you... see... the Engine... it worked..."

The Professor's neck craned back as he looked up at his erstwhile rival. Harrison, after a moment, crouched down to kneel on the floor, the better to speak with, congratulate and console Herr Doktor Professor Wilfred Mannheim von Kindermord, the unquestioned Titan of the Scientific Age, who now stood less than ten inches tall.

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Wednesday #poetry: eject, impact, render

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

Today's words are: eject, impact, render 

Theia hit Gaia and sent her
reeling, and thus caused to render
by impact eject
the source of Selene's sect:

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Knocking someone's teeth in

I realized a while ago that the opening scene of my WIP had to establish a) a few key characters, and b) their motives for interacting. Why is this superhero tracking down the supervillain? Why is the supervillain trying to kidnap the superhero?

The first part (character introduction) has been done. As for the second... frankly, if the motivation on both sides boils down to "Well, duh. He's a superhero/supervillain! That's what they DO!" then the book is going to be pretty damned thin, no matter how many punches get thrown, bombs get exploded or innocent bystanders get brain-sucked and left for dead in dusty, rusty warehouses.

So why IS the Grammarian trying to find Professor Verbosity? Why the complicated game of cat-and-mouse? Why not just tase him for a simple cuff-and-stuff? Initially, it's because a pattern of criminal activity suggested that Professor Verbosity is planning something big. Verbosity used to be content with theft, arson, blackmail, industrial sabotage, etc., some of which he'd done on his own, others which were contract work. This is more ambitious, though, and the Grammarian wants to find out who is behind it all and make a bigger catch than just Professor Verbosity.

Alright, but why is Professor Verbosity keeping the Grammarian around? Why kidnap him instead of just putting a full clip into that super-powered brain of his and dumping the resultant not-at-all-super corpse into a vacant lot somewhere? Because when we first meet him, Professor Verbosity is a criminal, to be sure, but he's actually kind of a wuss when it comes to killing. He's not like the Joker, or even the Green Goblin. This changes over the course of the book, in ways that catch the Grammarian off-guard.

What prompts this change? Well, it's a modification I need to make to that opening scene I mentioned. I have to go back in and edit it so that the stakes get raised, thereby fueling the motivations and actions of not only the Grammarian and Professor Verbosity, but also the Avant Guardian, Parenthesis Woman and other characters. How to get the ball rolling?


Instead of someone escaping with bruises, cuts, etc. that will heal, leaving them essentially unchanged in any permanent way, I'm going to have the Avant Guardian overdo it while he's trying to show how tough he is. He's going to break Professor Verbosity's jaw and knock out a few teeth. The repercussions of that one super-powered punch will set in motion a sequence of escalating revenge attacks.

So, I've got escalating revenge attacks, superheros with high-tech weaponry, supervillains with pain-maddened monomanical agendas, shadowy criminal overlords, and the lives of hundreds of innocent victims hanging in the balance, including those of the brilliant love interest and the annoying sidekick. If I can't write an exciting book with all of that, then I might as well stick to bad limericks.

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