Writing a bio

You wouldn't think it would be so hard to write a biography for a publisher. They asked for two versions, one of 150 words for the website and one of 300 words for the book itself. No problem, right? Anybody that follows me on Twitter knows I can natter on about myself for hundreds, even thousands of words.

So why did it take me so long to write?

I had to think about this for a while. The answer I came up with is that writing a biography isn't hard at all. Updating a biography is what's tedious. At this stage of my career, I want to use those 150 or 300 words to tell people who I am, what I've written and where they can find me and my writing. The issue gets tricky when I start to make decisions about what to highlight and what to leave out.

If I have 50 words, you get my name, my Twitter handle, a link to my website and a funny line about the kind of things I write.

If I have 100 words, you all that plus a few book titles and maybe a recitation of what other people have said about my writing.

If I have 300 words, you start to get all kinds of stuff. In addition to the above, you also get lots of titles of e.zines, websites and anthologies with my fiction. You get titles and links to the projects I've edited or co-edited, the reactions to my poems and where you can find them. You get all kinds of stuff.

But is that really useful info, or is it just clutter? Anne McCaffrey limited her bio to "My hair is silver, my eyes are green and I still freckle: the rest is subject to change without notice!". Her website, of course gave much more than that, but it makes me wonder if people read author bios looking for information about the author and his/her works, or just to get a quick sense of them.

By the way, my hair is brown (going gray) and my eyes used to be brown but have turned to green in recent decades.

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#FridayFlash: The Unexpected Guests

The Unexpected Guests
by Tony Noland

"Dr. Ventor, what's the verdict? Give us the bottom line."

The conversation all through lunch had been of Washingon traffic vs. Boston traffic, the Redskins vs. the Patriots, the Senators (terrible, but cheap) vs. the Red Sox (no longer terrible and no longer cheap), and similar kabuki small talk.

Ventor glanced at General Sommerville's adjunct, an affable, intelligent and combat-decorated Marine who was, at the moment, in charge of pouring the coffee.

"Major Jackson is cleared for the entire packet of information on this, Doctor." The General waved a hand around the table, encompassing Dr. Simmons from CDC, Mr. Khovalin from the White House, Mr. Nakimura from NASA, Dr. Harrison from the Department of Agriculture and Mr. Jenkins, who had been introduced as being "associated with the project", and was therefore probably either NSA or CIA. "In fact," General Sommerville continued, "like the rest of us, Major Jackson has read the advance material you provided for us. Isn't that right, Jackson?"

"Yes sir," said Jackson. "However, I'll admit that much of it was rather technical, beyond my scope. I'm looking forward to your presentation this afternoon, Dr. Ventor."

"We all are," said Khovalin. "Still, it would aid our understanding if you give us the punchline first. Are they human?"

"For all intents and purposes? Yes. They're human."

"What does that mean? 'For all intents and purposes'... are they or aren't they?" Jenkins hadn't spoken much during lunch. His voice was reedy and sharp.

"It means, ladies and gentlemen, that from a genetic and biochemical standpoint, they are almost entirely identical to us."

Simmons ran her fingertips in small circles around her temples before tenting them in front of her. Harrison swore under his breath and dumped cream into his coffee, sloshing some onto the table. Everyone else at the table looked at the two scientists steadily before looking back at Ventor.

"However," Ventor said, "in addition to the genetic analysis we've done on them and on their clothing, we've had a team of evolutionary linguistic anthropologists working on them as well."

"Explain that, Doctor." General Sommerville's voice was flat and crisp, as though he were faced with a combat situation. "That was part of your advance material I didn't understand at all."

"As we all know, Harvard has very good molecular biologists. In addition to myself, two other Nobel laureates have set aside all other research to work on this. However, I thought it would be useful to have an alternative cladistic analysis made of the Arrivals, one that didn't rely on genetics."

"Cladistic?" Khovalin leaned forward. "What does that mean? Is that the genetic clock?"

"It's a way to measure how closely related different groups are. Genetics are the primary way, and, I think, the most reliable way to establish when species and geographic populations diverged." Ventor drew lines in the air in front of him. "From the sequence variations in certain key genes, we've got a very good cladistic tree, a map in time if you will, showing how the various subgroups of humans diverged as we spread across the globe. Clades, what we used to call race-groups."

Khovalin said, "And the Arrivals?"

"They don't match anything. The base sequences confirm that they are essentially human, that they evolved in the Afar Valley of east Africa, the same as we did. Best estimate is that we ran an identical evolutionary course up to about a hundred thousand years ago. Not 'similar'... 'identical'. After that, though, the DNA says that we split off, developmentally."

"Jesus Christ," said Nakimura, "there's living proof of the Many Worlds Theorem. If they -"

"Can we please focus?" Sommerville's voice cut off whatever Nakimura had been about to say. "Dr. Ventor, you said you had linguistic data of some kind?"

"Yes, I do, and it gives us some hope. For decades, linguists have been analyzing the thousands of languages across the globe, trying to figure out when and how they developed. They've worked up their own cladistic analysis of how people spread from place to place, within regions and across continents. It turns out that their maps more or less coincide with ours."


"So, Mr. Jenkins, we set a team of linguists to work on the recordings we've made of the Arrivals. They were completely unintelligible, speaking no known language. It turns out, however, that the base phenomes used in many of their words bear a relationship to a primitive dialect of Urdu."

"India?" said Khovalin. "They're from India?"

Ventor shook his head. "There's also a strong influence of proto-Germanic structures, most similar to Icelandic."

The table was silent. Finally, Major Jackson said, "Excuse me, Doctor Ventor, but what exactly does that mean?"

"It means, Major, that not only is our DNA sequence development much more random than I or any of my molecular biologist colleagues ever would have dreamed, it also means that the linguists were right all along. Look, you brought me in to tell you if these people pose a threat, right? A biological hazard? Here it is, in a nutshell." He ticked his fingers as he spoke.

"One: genetic analysis of their clothing shows it to be cotton, wool and flax. Their belts are made from cow leather, the buttons are either wood or ivory and bone from familiar animals. Not exactly the same as our cows, pigs, and goats, but close enough. That means they've had agriculture, animal domestication and close association for a long time, long enough for cross-speciation of diseases similar to bird flu, swine flu, smallpox, etc. Similar, but with significant strain variation.

"Two: they have the same genes as we do, so diseases that infect them could infect us.

"Three: their language derives from similar roots as some of our languages, but it's scrambled and homogenized to a much, much greater degree than our languages are. That means these people got around. They were very mobile, much more than we were twenty thousand years ago. That's probably why the genetics are so hard to read.

"Four: if they got around that much, they must have transfected each other with waves of diseases, in the same way that Europeans were decimated by the Black Plague in the 1300's, native Americans were decimated by smallpox in the 1500's and Africans are being decimated by HIV today.

"Five: their base DNA incorporates some seqences from viruses that are completely new to us. They not only had the opportunity for exposure to pandemic diseases, they experienced them. And they were bad. Very bad."

Khovalin turned to Simmons. "Well? What do you think? What's the CDC say?"

Simmons shrugged. "A full set of brand-new pandemic viruses? Not just one, but several, perhaps dozens? All at once?" Simmons shook his head. "If we were exposed to them individually over the course of centuries, we'd have time to rebuild populations. But all at once? There's just no way to know how many millions, perhaps billions of people will die. We don't have the mortality models for that kind of event."

"We do."

Everyone at the table turned to look at Jenkins. He stirred his coffee before taking a sip. "This is not that different than some of the biowar scenarios. The ugly ones, where one side decides to preempt a conventional war and decides to roll the dice on a surprise first strike with biological weapons." He set his cup back into the saucer. "We have models for just this kind of thing, using human viruses -" he pointed at Simmons of the CDC "- or viruses that attack crops and livestock -" he shifted his bony finger to point at Harrison of the USDA "- or both at once. The fact is, after an infection event similar to what we're facing with the Arrivals, the human population drops below to extinction levels. I had the numbers run again yesterday, after I got Dr. Ventor's reports."

The silence returned.

"So... what do we do with them?" Khovalin asked. "Send them back through?"

"Not possible," Nakimura said, "at least not any time soon. The portal is still only one-way. We're working on it, but so far, we can't even shut it off."

"If we can't send them back, then we have to keep them isolated," Simmons said, "all five thousand of them. Keep them all in a BioSafety Level 4 containment facility, same as we'd use for ebola or smallpox. It's our only option."

General Sommerville cleared his throat.

"Well..." he said, "that's not our ONLY option."

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Wednesday #limerick: demolish, resolution, transform

Every Wednesday, I compose a limerick based on the words from Three Word Wednesday. This week's words are: demolish, resolution, transform

The goal of my new Resolution:
To transform my soul's constitution.
The flaws I'll demolish
And facets I'll polish;
It starts with the pop of this bouchon.

These  words were fun to work with. If you'd like to read more of my limericks inspired by Three Word Wednesday, you can buy my e.book (the one with the descriptive title): 

Poetry on the Fly: Limericks Inspired by Three Word Wednesday

Only $0.99 - what a bargain!

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New science fiction story published

That title should probably read "accepted for publication", but that's a quibble. My science fiction story, "Sunset at the Sea of Fertility" has been chosen by Tyche Books for inclusion in their forthcoming anthology, "Ride the Moon".
Release Date: February 29, 2012

The list of stories includes:
  • Krista D. Ball, “On the Labrador Shore, She Waits”
  • Marie Bilodeau, “The Buried Moon”
  • Kevin Cockle, “Dowser”
  • David L. Craddock, “Shara’s Path”
  • Theresa Crater, “White Moon”
  • Isabella Drzemczewska Hodson, “Husks”
  • Ada Hoffmann, “Moon Laws, Dream Laws”
  • Claude Lalumiere, “The Secondary 4 Class of Prettygood Park High School”
  • C.A. Lang, “Tidal Tantrums”
  • Amy Laurens, “Cherry Blossoms”
  • Billie Milholland, “Small Seven’s Secret”
  • Tony Noland, “Sunset at the Sea of Fertility”
  • Jay Raven, “Bitter Harvest”
  • A. Merc Rustad, “With the Sun and the Moon in His Eyes”
  • Rebecca M. Senese, “Moon Dream”
  • Lori Strongin, “A Moonrise in Seven Hours”
  • Chrystalla Thoma, “The Black Mermaid and the Moon”
  • Shereen Vedam, “Aloha Moon”
  • Edward Willett, “Je Me Souviens”
This is a strong lineup, and I'm happy to be included.

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And hast thou slain the Shoppingblock?

'Twas Christmas and the saling sales
Did Frye and Gimbals in the haze
All flimsy were the sylvangroves
And the Starbuck's outplayed

"Beware the Shoppingblock, my son!
The gees that shine, the gaws that catch!
Beware the Target bird, and shun
The lugubrious RockBandersnatch!

He took his credit card in hand:
Long time the awesome deal he sought
So rested by the Burger King
And stood awhile in thought

And, as in junkjust bought he stood
The Shoppingblock, with high-res game,
Came whiffling through the reviews so good
And halfoffed as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The wiimote blade went ticky-tack!
He Left 4 Dead, and with Red Dead
He went Redempting back.

"And, has thou slain the Shoppingblock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O anamorphic day! Callooh! Callay!'
He installed in his joy.

'Twas Christmas and the saling sales
Did Frye and Gimbals in the haze
All flimsy were the sylvangroves
And the Starbuck's outplayed

* With apologies to Lewis Carroll.
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My Top 10 blog posts for 2011

What were visitors to this blog interested in? A retrospective stats shot of the top 10 posts from 2011:

1 Great April Fool's Day #FridayFlash Blog Swap: index of stories
2 NaNoWriMo: 8 Essential Steps
3 Great April Fool's Day #FridayFlash Blog Swap: kickoff, invitation and instructions
4 Where the Hell is Tony's #FridayFlash?
5 Complex Geometry
6 Simple Geometry
7 Guest blogger Trevor Mcpherson: How to use mind mapping to write a novel and capture ideas
8 When the Room Stops Spinning
9 Again Take Up Thy Sword, Warrior King
10 A Large Slice of Fire

That's two blog swap pages, one advice post, one guest blogger advice post, and six stories. The stories break down as three horror, one fantasy allegory, one corporate drama and one goofy satire.

My sincere thanks to Trevor Mcpherson (who wrote the #7 post and who graciously provided a copy of his mindmap for you to download), to Neil Gaiman (the subject of, and commenter on, the #4 post), and to all the writers who participated in the GAFDFFBS.

Interestingly, while these are the Top Ten most popular posts written in 2011, the Top Ten most visited posts overall actually included some that were written earlier. These qualify as "perennial favorites", and they include:
That last one has a certain Zen quality which always makes me stop and think, even though I wrote it. It is instructive about the nature of internet popularity.

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#FridayFlash: The Diamond Anvil

The Diamond Anvil
by Tony Noland

"Remember, Peter, they're from the Pentagon, which means they'll be stupid, skeptical, and stubborn. Take it from the top, and use small words."

"OK. Good morning, gentlemen, and welcome -"

"Actually, they won't get here to the labs until the afternoon. We changed the tour schedule. And Congresswoman Reily might be with them; if she is, address her first. Say, 'Congresswoman Reily, General Powers, gentlemen, ladies' just like that."

"Viktor, can we skip practicing the introduction? I've done dog and pony shows before, you know."

"I know, but this is important."

"They're always important. Investors, inspectors, site visits from the Pentgon accountants... the dog and pony shows are probably the most important thing I do. Next month, I'm planning to learn to juggle, so I won't have to waste any time on showing off any of my actual research."

"Can we drop the sarcasm for once? Please? If this works out, we'll be rolling in money forever and you'll get a Nobel prize."

"WHEN this works out, my experiments will all be classified so highly that I won't even be allowed to read my own notebooks. And nobody will ever hear my name again because I'll be disappeared into Area 51."

"For Christ's sake, why do you always insist on -"

"Relax. I'm kidding, Viktor, I'm kidding. Sure, we'll both be famous and rich. Oh, don't be like that. Come on, huh? With my brains and your mouth, we'll go -"

"- we'll go to the moon and beyond. Yeah, yeah. Just do the presentation, OK? You want to skip the intro, fine. Give me the guts of it, just like you're going to tell it to the power people from D.C. Remember, small words."

"Right, here goes. Ladies and gentlemen, this device is the heart of the dissociation projector. As you can see, this fully functional prototype is of a size and weight suitable for shoulder-fired operation."

"And how does it work, Dr. Lazlo?"

"Does Congresswoman Reily really talk like that? So high and squeaky?"

"Just answer the question."

"Because if she talks like a mouse, I'm gonna laugh, Defense Subcommittee Chair or not."

"Just answer the question!"

"I'm glad you asked, Congresswoman. While the functioning of the device is rather complex, the primary reaction takes place in the diamond anvil cell, here. Hey, should we open it up so they can see the diamonds? She's a woman, right? You think that would help?"

"No, I don't think it would help. Don't be a sexist pig. They'll see a presentation in the morning all about the diamond anvil and how it works. The morning is intentionally boring: accounting, background and theory. The afternoon is exciting and sexy, where you show them the gun and blow stuff up. We're gonna start slow and finish big."


"Thanks. And since the prototype is the only working model of the death ray, we can't very well pop the gamma containment lattice just to show them the diamonds, now can we? It would take five hours to recalibrate everything. If you want, we can open it up after the shooting's done and the radiation drops back down to normal levels."

"Well, yeah, I guess that makes sense. Anyway, uh, so, the primary reaction takes place in the diamond anvil cell. Unlike comparable systems used in materials science research, which use natural diamonds, the diamonds used in this cell are composed entirely of Carbon-17. They were made for us using a magnetically guided plasma migration through a sintered erbium-hafnium matrix doped with -"

"Too much, Peter, too much. Back off a little."

"They were made for us using a special process. It's complicated. You wouldn't understand it."

"Please don't be a smartass, not even in jest. Did I mention this is important?"

"Carbon-17, blah blah blah, special process, blah blah blah, happy to provide your staff with all the necessary technical detail. OK?"


"Fine. While normal diamond anvil cells can achieve pressures of up to 900 gigapascals before mechanical failure of the diamonds, the carbon-17 diamonds can withstand much greater stresses. We operate at pressures in excess of 200 exapascals, a level at which we are able to do some remarkable things. Normally, even such pressures as these would not allow for deuterium-deuterium fusion. However, carbon-17 diamonds have a collapsar-like resonance state which is activated by phase-enhanced phonons cresting a doppler wave at -"


"- which is activated by a special kind of pulsed light, analogous to a sort of pulsing laser beam. Ladies and gentlemen, the net result of shining this pulsing laser beam into the carbon-17 diamond anvil cell is a kind of slow-burning fusion, the energy of which is transferred back into the beam as it passes through the diamonds."

"Excellent, perfect. Say it just like that tomorrow."

"The value of this process is seen when the beam, now charged with a cycling resonance pulse of high-intensity quasi-phonons, hits a solid object. Uh, Viktor, this is the point where I was going to disintegrate the block of lead. Should I do it at this point or wait until I finish the explanation?"

"Um.. no, go ahead and blast it. Then wait for everybody to calm down before you start talking again. The melting lead will make them pay attention better, especially when you blow up the other stuff. They're going to go bananas over this, Peter, just completely wild. Man, this is going to be great."

"Heh, it should be pretty good. The concrete wall is going to be the best, though. I like blowing holes in concrete even better than making trees explode."

"I dunno, I like the trees best. Anyway, you do the small demo, take them outside, blow some stuff up, let them blow some stuff up and...?"

"And finish with a full description of how we can scale it all up to anti-personnel, anti-tank, anti-aircraft and anti-satellite sizes, just as soon as they give us more money than God."

"Perfect. Perfect! Now then, once more from the top. Just to be sure."

The first review of "Poetry on the fly"

The first review of "Poetry on the fly" is up at Amazon: five stars. The review by Jeff Posey reads, in part:
Five stars! For a bunch of limericks? Yes. Here's why: They made me laugh, they made me sad, they made me think and squirm and reflect. They even, some of them, made me confused. When any form of writing can elicit that range of emotions and reactions from me, especially in so few words, it makes me respect it and rate it highly. 
But limericks? For crying out loud. Who writes limericks anymore? And who reads them?
Well, reading them isn't good enough. You've got to say them. You've got to speak these out loud, or you'll miss the beauty and joy of them. I recommend reading them aloud to other people. To your friends and family.
Maybe while you're on a vacation (and you're not the one driving). You'll find things in here that will delight and amaze you.
Tony Noland has a way with words that is nothing short of astonishing. 
Well, now, that's the kind of thing that makes you want to go drop $0.99 on it and start reading them out loud, isn't it?

For the record, almost all poetry is intended to be read out loud. You miss at least half of the emotional content by just reading them on the page. As the reviewer correctly notes, for the very best experience of my poetry, read it out loud to someone else. You will be amazed at how much you'll enjoy the experience

Don't believe me? Toss a buck at Amazon and see for yourself.

A thumbnail, for future reference
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Wednesday #limerick: belief, festive, rumple

Today's limerick is prompted, as always, by the Three Word Wednesday prompt. This week: belief, festive, rumple.

It beggars belief that a bump'll
Cause gigantic linemen to crumple.
On holiday festive
A brain pan gone restive


News alert!

I'm pleased to announce that I've collected the first two year's worth of my Three Word Wednesday inspired limericks into an anthology, now available at Amazon for Kindle and Kindle apps on iPhone, Android, PC, Mac and other devices:

"Poetry on the fly: Limericks inspired by Three Word Wednesday" has a foreword by Thom Gabrukiewicz, the curator and guiding light behind 3WW. This canonical slim volume of poetry can be yours for less than a buck with the click of a mouse - makes a great stocking stuffer!(1) Whether you like your limericks funny, interesting or thoughtful, this collection is for you!

(1) Assuming you have a Kindle or Kindle app in your stocking.

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New fiction for Christmas

Today, at Write Anything:
The year they finally caught Santa Claus was the same year the big stained glass window at St. Philip-in-the-Fields was broken by a piece from that Russian space probe that went haywire. You remember it, right? The one that was supposed to study Venus? Me and Jenny Swoboda were necking in the back corner of the parking lot at St. Philip’s after the Winter Dance when that big chunk came flaming out of the sky and smashed into the church. At first, we thought it was a cop or her dad or somebody, that bright light shining in the window for a good couple of seconds before that deafening explosion. ...
Read the rest of this story at Write Anything: "Russian Space Probe Explosion Teen Sex Santa Claus"

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A new cover for "Sleepers"

Here's an news flash for you about Megg Jensen’s bestselling novel SLEEPERS. Megg is one my pals on Twitter, and a good egg.  To celebrate the re-launch of her book in January of 2012, she's arranged for it to have a new cover. This is by the artist PhatPuppy (Claudia McKinney). If you check out Claudia's website, you can see why Megg describes her as incredible.

Please click to enlarge.

Synopsis: An adoptee raised in a foreign land, sixteen-year-old Lianne was content with her life as handmaiden to the queen, until a spell cast on her at birth activated. Now she's filled with uncontrollable rage and access to magic she thought had been bled from her people years ago. Even her years of secret training in elite hand-to-hand combat and meditation can’t calm the fires raging inside her.

Her heart is torn between two boys, the one she’s always loved and the one who always ignored her. But when the kingdom threatens to tear itself apart due to rumors surrounding the queen’s alleged affair, who will Lianne protect and who will she destroy?

You can read reviews of SLEEPERS at Goodreads

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How yWriter handles scenes

This is going to be heavy on pictures, light on text. I use yWriter, which I've mentioned before. I recently downloaded Scrivener for windows, and while it's interface is dead on sexy, it seems to lack some of the features that yWriter has.

As part of a discussion on twitter today, I decided to do some screen captures showing how yWriter handles the metadata of a scene: which POV is it, which characters are present, where it takes place, how long the scene lasts in-story, etc. All of this is compiled into reports that will let you see (for example) which of your characters is getting the most screen-time, what items are important and which are just MacGuffins, the pacing and tension balancing of your scenes within the whole story arc, etc.

I don't use all of these features, and you can similarly ignore the ones you don't need. It's nice to be able to keep my characters straight, though, and to have changes I make in one place propagate throughout the manuscript.

Each photo below is a different screen tab for Chapter 2, Scene 3 of "Goodbye Grammarian". Click to enlarge.

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#FridayFlash: Travelling in the Darkness

Travelling in the Darkness

by Tony Noland

Dr. Goldfarb flipped the pages of the chart, as though there were something in them that he didn't already know just from looking at the patient. Back and forth, back and forth. Dr. Sommerlin watched him read, splitting his attention between Goldfarb and Mr. Kaminski. Although there was a certain similarity in the frowns each of them wore, Goldfarb's looked displeased while Kaminski's was... what? Can a frown look hopeful? No, Sommerlin decided, what looked like a frown on Kaminski was just intent concentration. It was the gaping holes where his eyes should be that gave it the sinister cast.

With the sniff Dr. Goldfarb used when impatient with people less intelligent that he was (and, of course, everyone was less intelligent than he was), he closed the metal cover of the chart and held it in front of him.

"Why am I here, Rick? There's nothing I can do for this man."

Sommerlin nodded, continuing to watch Kaminski. Through the one-way mirror, his observation room had a greenish-gray cast. Kaminski sat in his plastic chair, hands folded in front of him on the table, mouth tight and eye sockets gaping. His eyeballs were in the felt-lined box in front of him, the lid closed. Sommerlin was thankful for that; it was unnerving to see the glass prosthetics looking up at him. Modern printing methods made them quite realisitc, down to the pattern of veins around the iris.


"Wait. Just watch."

"Why? There's nothing for me to treat. I can't reconstruct what isn't there." Goldfarb flipped open the chart again. "If if had just been the macular degeneration, I might have been able to do a deep theraputic injection of that new synthetic hormone Bayer came up with. Then at least he might have retained some light/dark sense, maybe even some facial recognition. But with the damage from the explosion, there's nothing for me to work with."

"I know, Ben, I know. That's not why I asked you to come down here. Just watch him."

"Watch what? Come on, Rick, the man has no eyes. Not even a terminus of the optic nerve. It's a tragedy, of course, since he seems like a nice guy, but we deal in tragedy much more often than in miracles." Goldfarb checked his Rolex, a heavy, gold model. "I've got a flight at 4:30. How about we go get a late lunch and you can take me out to the airport?"

"Here it comes." Sommerlin pointed at Kaminski. "Watch, he's just about to do it."

"Do what? I don't see what -"

Kaminski vanished.

The metal chart case hit the floor with a clatter. Goldfarb's eyes bugged outward and he put a hand on the glass. He leaned in close, the fact of what he'd just seen overwhelming his rational mind for a moment... but only for a moment.

"All right," Goldfarb said, "OK, fine. Ha ha. Joke, right? What is this, a projector or something? We're watching a movie? Ha ha. Funny stuff, Rick, just hilarious." His hands had been roaming the glass, seeking some means of establishing that this was a trick. The one-way mirror was as firm as it had ever been. Coming to himself, Goldfarb dashed from the room, went around the corner and yanked open the to door to the observation room.

"Mr. Kaminski? Are you in here? OK, this is very funny, and I certainly appreciate the humor of it. Really, this speaks very well for how you're, ah, adjusting to the, ah, circumstances of your, ah... injury." He was pacing the room, looking under the table, moving the chairs, opening and closing the box with Kaminski's eyeballs. Nothing.

Sommerlin pushed the button on the intercom. "He's not there." Goldfarb jumped at the sound, turned to face the mirror.

"What do you mean he's not here? Where is he? This is not funny, Rick. I don't know what the hell you're doing with this, but I didn't come all the way down from Boston to be made a fool of."

"Just step away from the table, Ben. He'll be back in a moment. It'll be easier for you to accept if you're in the same room when he comes back. Convince you it's not a trick."

"It IS a trick. It has to be!"

Sommerlin shook his head, forgetting that Goldfarb couldn't see it from his side of the mirror. "No, it's no trick. It took him two years after the accident to figure out how to do it, but he did. Somehow, he did it."

"Did WHAT?"

"He described it as rewiring himself. All of the neural functioning devoted to sight - the visual cortex, the hypocampus, Broca's area, the concatenated glial cells in the frontal lobe - he reworked it all so he could... do things. And don't ask me how he did it or how it works," Sommerlin said, cutting off Goldfarb's objections, "because I don't know. I've had him under CT scan, PET scans, high-gain quantum magnetometers, MRIs, you name it. Before, during and after his... his... activities. It's crazy, irrational, impossible even, just not physically permissible by any law of physics or biology and yet, there he is."

"My God."

"I've got fifteen terabytes of data that I can't make heads or tails of, Ben. I need you here, with me, making sense of this. I had to let you see it, really see it happen, or you never would have believed me." Sommerlin checked his watch. "He'll be back in about twenty seconds. Listen, Ben, there's something you have to know before he comes back."

"What? What are you talking about?"

"I just don't want you to be alarmed. It's a... side effect or something. It goes away after a while, but it's unnerving. Just be calm, OK?"

"Be calm? Why should I need to be calm? What's going to happen when he -"

Kaminski appeared.

Though Goldfarb had moved the chair in his initial searching, Kaminski materialized sitting in it. Upright and comfortable, his face was smooth and pleasant. He looked at Goldfarb with eyesockets alive with twisting, writhing tendrils, bright with blue and red flames. They bulged from underneath his eyelids like handfuls of hungry, glowing worms, squeezed tightly and protruding between grasping fingers.

Kaminski looked straight at Goldfarb, looked him right in the eye and smiled.

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Wednesday #limerick: immobile, proximity, retribution

Today's words for Three Word Wednesday are: immobile, proximity, retribution

I'm immobile, and so your affinity
For sharp knives in my close proximity
Makes me fear retribution
For my "redistribution"
Of your wife, your car and your big TV.

Beware the 99%. They will sneak into your house and take everything you've worked so hard to accumulate.

Fortunately, one of the benefits of having a mansion is that, after you catch the guy who took your stuff, one of the rooms in the basement makes a perfect place to... "interview" the thief.

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Grammar Nazi sketch

A grammar Nazi sketch, forwarded to me by Tom Gillespie.

I like to think that I'm not quite this bad.

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Get me a fsking butterfly, NOW!

Bullets whined around them, sending chips of old Soviet concrete flying.

"Goddamn it, Corporal, get some suppression on that. There's no civilians around, so don't worry about engraved invitations. Flip 'em a flash bang and a couple of frags. I don't want to be here all day for this bullshit."

"I'm on it, Sergeant." Corporal Tilden braced himself behind the wall, flashed around for a quick check of distance. A spray of small arms fire erupted a moment later. The Corporal grinned. "They do like those 7.62s, don't they, Sarge?"

"Stop talking and take them out."

"Yes sir. I estimate 150 yards. I'm going to have to use the slingshot." He nodded at the Sergeant's left hand. "How bad is that, sir? Can you hold the other end?"

"It's just a scratch, Tilden. Give it to me." Holding his injured left index finger at an odd angle, Sergeant Noland wiped his other fingers on his pants leg. When they were dry, he took hold of the section of rubber tubing Corporal Tilden held out. It was an awkward grip, but he wrapped the tubing around his good fingers and held it firmly. He held his hand so that the tubing stayed dry; the blood, still oozing from the long cut on the side of his finger, dripped onto the ground, making a muddy pool in the dust.

The Corporal fitted a grenade in the cup of the slingshot.

"Order of fire, sir?"

"A flash bang, lobbed high, followed in close order by two frags, bounced off the far wall. Then we'll come around and mop up."

Twenty minutes later, it was all over. The bad guys numbered two dead, one (maybe two) about to die from injuries sustained, and three (maybe two) who would be taken into custody and given medical care. The good guys were untouched, which made it a very good day indeed. They set up a perimeter and called it in: evac order for the wounded, paperwork for the dead.


"Yes, Corporal?"

"You called it in as us being unharmed." He pointed at the wound on the other man's left hand. "Are you OK, sir?"

"This isn't worth calling in, Tilden." One-handed, Sergeant Noland rummaged through the first-aid kit in the Humvee. "Shit! Who the hell used up all the butterfly bandages?" He held up a small roll of surgical tape, almost empty, then threw it back in the box in disgust. "Corporal!"


"Get up into the tool box and bring me a roll of duct tape."

"Yes sir!"

Noland tipped his canteen over his finger, then used a wad of surgical gauze to wipe away the caked blood. The wound gaped, ugly and wet, but the bleeding had subsided to a slow ooze. He tore open an alcohol pad with his teeth and scrubbed at it. This brought a fresh flow of thick blood, along with a string of cursing. He kept scrubbing (and cursing), using more wipes as they became soaked. By the time he was finished, the blood was flowing freely again, clean and bright red, dripping onto the steel floorpan of the Humvee.

"Cut me a couple of butterfly bandages, Corporal."

"Uh... sir?"

The Sergeant looked up at him. "Are you telling me you don't know how to make a butterfly bandage out of duct tape? Jesus Christ, Tilden, you've been in the army how long? And you've never had to make do in the field?"

"Uh, Sir, we have a first aid kit, shall I -"

"The first aid kit, Corporal Tilden, is distinctly lacking in butterfly bandages, for which sloppiness you and every other man in this squad will pay dearly. Now, do you know how to cut a butterfly bandage or not?"

"Sir, no sir."

The sun slanted across the Sergeant. He squinted upwards.

"Corporal, do you even know what a butterfly bandage is?"

"Sir, no sir."

"Jesus Christ." It was said in such a sighing, sad voice that anyone who heard the simple exclamation would know that Sergeant Noland had just written off an entire generation of U.S. Army soldiers as a lost cause, a complete waste of taxpayer dollars. "Tilden, a butterfly bandage is a bandage that looks like a butterfly."

"Sir, yes sir."

"It's wide on the sides, narrow in the middle. It's used to grip on either side of a gaping wound, just like this one -" he waved his bleeding finger in the air "- to reinforce the stitches, or, as in this case, in the place of stitches."

"Sir, yes sir."

"We have no butterfly bandages, Tilden."

"Sir, no sir."

"So I want you to tear a thin strip of duct tape off that roll, maybe a half-inch wide and a couple of inches long."

"Sir, yes sir. Like this, sir?"

"That's fine. Now, take these scissors from the first aid kit and cut the strip at an angle. No, not all the way through, just enough to make a little notch in the middle of that strip. Good. Now fold it back. Turn the strip around and do it on the other side."

"Like this, sir?"

"No, cut it in line with the other cut, but leave some tape in the middle. Good. Now fold it back, too. There, see how it looks like a butterfly?"

"Sir, yes sir."

"Bullshit. It doesn't look anything like a butterfly. That's not the point. Give it to me."

Using his good hand, Sergeant Noland squirted antibiotic cream into the wound, then stuck one side of the tape to the lower part of his finger. He pulled it up, tight across the wound and secured it. The wound was pulled closed, with the narrow part of the cut piece of tape resting atop it. Blood oozed around the tape, but the wound was secure.

"Cut me two more, just like that one. Then let's get the hell out of here. It's taco night tonight, and I'm hungry."

"Sir, yes sir."

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The 12 days of writing

I learned about this 12 day set of writing exercises from Icy Sedgwick, who got it from Writer's Digest. As Icy suggested, I'm starting this 12 day set tomorrow (Dec 13), culminating in Christmas Day.

The 12-Day Plan of Simple Writing Exercises

Day 1: Write 10 potential book titles of books you’d like to write.

Day 2: Create a character with personality traits of someone you love, but the physical characteristics of someone you don’t care for.

Day 3: Write a setting based on the most beautiful place you’ve ever seen.

Day 4: Write a letter to an agent telling her how wonderful you are.

Day 5: Write a 20-line poem about a memorable moment in your life.

Day 6: Select a book on your shelf and pick two chapters at random. Take the first line of one chapter and the last line of the other chapter and write a short story (no more than 1000 words) using those as bookends to your story.

Day 7: Write a letter to yourself telling you what you need to improve in the coming 6 months.

Day 8: Rewrite a fairy tale from the bad guy’s point of view.

Day 9: Turn on your TV. Write down the first line that you hear and write a story based on it.

Day 10: Go sit in a public place and eavesdrop on a conversation. Turn what you hear into a short love story (no matter how much you have to twist what they say).

Day 11: Write the acknowledgments page that will be placed in your first (next?) published book, thanking all the people who have helped you along the way.

Day 12: Gather everything you’ve written over the previous 11 days. Pick your favorite. Edit it, polish it and either try to get it published or post it on the Web to share with the world. Be proud of yourself and your work.

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Let me give you the finger

Pretty much a zero day, writing-wise. It's now been about 30 hours after a screwgun slipped and put a high-speed Philips bit into my left index finger. It still hurts a bit (no pun intended).

Not bad, eh? This is one that I probably could have gotten stitches for, but the butterfly bandages have held it together pretty well. It only hurts to any serious degree when it gets torn open again. As I'm going to need this finger tomorrow, I'll probably superglue it closed.

Just out of curiosity, is there any interest in knowing how to make a DIY butterfly bandage out of regular surgical tape? Or, in a pinch, out of duct tape?

By the way, somebody do me a favor and draw some kind of analogy to writing. Or talk about how life experiences inform your writing. Or something like that.

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A lonely, rocky road through the Plateau of Practice

Almost every endeavor I've tried in life follows one of two paths. Either through an enthusiasm of my own, or by way of an invitation from someone, I try something new. I read up on it beforehand, I exert my considerable focus and energy, I pay attention and learn from my initial, stumbling mistakes. I get, if not good, then minimally competent.

Then it happens. I come to the wide spot in the road, that place where the learning curve starts to flatten out. It is that lonely place, that bleak and windswept terrain, that bone-strewn wasteland that separates the pretenders and the dilettantes from the devotees and the professionals. It is...

the Plateau of Practice

On every skill journey, I have come to this place and faced the rocky path that leads forward into an unknown fate.

Sometimes, as with drawing, doing calculus, playing the violin, and composing poetry, I travel down the road long enough to know that it's not worth it. The road is hard, lonely and painful, and it's not worth it. Whatever glories might await me at the end of a thousand hours of practicing, it's not worth it. Minimal competence is good enough. I know that this is not the right path for me and I turn back.

Other times - working with wood and stone and metals. singing, and writing - I don't notice the rocks and biting flies on that long road nearly so much as I notice how much ground I've put behind me after every hour of walking it. This road, with its twists and turns, hides the final destination from me. Is it fortune? Is is just a huge circle that will take me back to the beginning? Is it worth it? I keep going, reveling in the movement forward and trusting that the prize, whatever it is, will be there.

It's an uphill road, sometimes steeply, sometimes slopingly, but I marvel at how strong my legs have become along the way. The rocks are rough, the gravel road and the sharp-edged handholds a thousand abrasive rasps, but I delight in the thickened calluses on my hands and feet. The blazing, blinding sun beats down; my tanned, toughened skin protects me. The icy, biting night wind tears at me; I dig my shelter in the sand and am warmed by thoughts of my progress.

Sometimes, when I come to a rise, the road straightens, giving me a long, long, long view ahead. Not of the prize, not of the city on the hill, not of the maiden fair and lovely... but of more road. Road and more road, stretching on forever.

The bones are thick in these places. Despair wells up from the sand like a night fog, wrapping the traveler in the lying stink of wasted time and jealousy and self-recrimination.

I'll admit, I have wept when faced with this long view. I have fallen to my knees and cursed myself for the foolishness of setting out on this journey. My strong legs, my callused hands, my sharpened senses, my fieldcraft and travelers tool kit... worthless. The road ahead is too hard, I am too tired, too injured, too weak, and the prize is not worth it.

On some skill journeys, this is where I lay down and died.

However, there are other journeys across this plateau where, after a short time or a long time, I rouse myself and go forward again. Sometimes, I'm helped to my feet by a passing friend, someone else who is on the same journey I am. Other times, there are mentors and guides who can advise me on how to tackle the next leg of the journey. These roads through the Plateau of Practice are lonely, but they don't have to be completely so.

I don't need to reach the goal today.

I don't even need to put miles and miles behind me today.

I just need to keep moving forward.

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#FridayFlash: Is this Tony Noland?

"Is this Tony Noland?"

by Tony Noland


"Hi, can I speak to Tony Noland, please?"

"This is Tony."

"Hey, Tony! How you doin', man?"

"Uh, fine. Who's this?"

"Tony, my name is Harrison Bendarick. I'm an associate acquisitions editor with Home Depot Books, and I just wanted to reach out to you and say how much we all liked your blog series about your bathroom remodeling project. Really, just outstanding work, Tony, I love it, just absolutely love it."

"Oh. Uh, thanks, Harrison. I'm glad you liked it."

"Listen, call me Harry, OK? I've got a feeling that after you hear the offer I have for you, we're gonna get to be good friends, so we might as well get off on the right foot, you know what I'm saying?"

"Uh... OK. I mean, sure Harry. What's on your mind?"

"I'll tell you, Tony, we all just loved that blog series on the bathroom, the marble tile installation in the shower? Funny? Are you kidding me? Funny, funny, funny! Listen, we were cracking up in here. Cracking. Up."

"Well, that's good, Harry. I hoped it would be an amusing take on the job."

"Amusing? We're talking FUNNY, Tony, absolutely FUNNY!"

"Ah, right. Funny is a good goal sometimes. Humor can often make a dry subject come alive. It helps to personalize things, make them more accessible."

"Accessible, exactly! And that thing you did with having a pretend reader make comments? That was brilliant! It made the whole thing brilliant and accessible. That's exactly the word our senior acquisitions editor used. Accessible! You made the whole project accessible! And funny!"

"Yes, well, it sounds like it did what I hoped it would."

"Listen, Tony, here's the deal. I wanted to talk to you and get all of this settled in principle, you know? Just you and me, get the outlines of it put in place before we bring in your agent to fuss with the details."

"My... agent?"

"Yeah, I know, I know, I should have called your agency first, worked through them, but I figured, what the heck, you're a do-it-yourselfer, you might appreciate the direct approach before we get the lawyers involved to work out the contracts."

"Oh. Right. Yeah, that's... that's a good idea. I mean, I assume it's a good idea. Listen, Harrison, I'm - "

"Harry, please, Tony!"

" - right, Harry, sorry. I'm still not exactly clear on what we're talking about here."

"Oh, jeez, I got carried away, didn't I? It's just that we are all SO EXCITED about this!"

"Well, if you can just give me an overview of what you have in mind..."

"OK, listen, Tony, here's the deal. I'm reaching out to you because, number one, we all loved your blog posts about the bathroom remodel. They were informative and accessible, and funny, funny, funny."

"Right, I've got that."

"The pictures were fine. Nothing wrong with them at all, perfectly fine for snapshots taken by a homeowner. For what they were, they were fine."

"Uh, OK."

"So don't even worry about that. We've got that angle totally covered."

"That angle?"

"Right. We'll have a pro do the photography. We just want you to focus on the work and the writing."

"Harry, you said that the blog posts were number one. Maybe you could tell me what number two is?"

"Number two is that this was all done with Home Depot products, right?"

"Uh... yeah. Except for the shelves. Those came from a custom tiling place."

"But everything else was from Home Depot?"

"Yes, I think so. Just about everything."

"Listen, that's fine, that's exactly what we thought, and that's awesome, Tony, really, just perfect."

"Ah, good. It's just perfect for...?"

"Tony, I don't know if you're aware of it, but Home Depot publishes a line of home improvement and DIY books, everything from general how-to and maintenance to specific books on interior design, electrical, plumbing, you name it."

"Yes, I know. I have a couple of your books."

"Outstanding! Outstanding, Tony, that's just fantastic! So you probably can already guess what I'm talking about, am I right?"

"Ah, not really. You want me to write a book about tiling?"

"Tony, that would be a great project right there, just an absolutely great project, but we have something else in mind. See, one of the things that we at Home Depot like to do is to help people to take charge of their own homes. We serve contractors and builders, but the do-it-yourselfer is a core customer for us. Are you with me?"


"So, what's the big stumbling block that keeps people from actually pulling the trigger and doing projects around the house? That's something we ask ourselves all the time, focus group the heck out of it, in fact. What keeps people from starting projects? It's not lack of knowledge or discretionary income or anything like that. You know what it is?"

"Um... lack of confidence in their ability to do the job properly?"

"Oh my God, Tony, you are a natural! Are we on the same wavelength here, or what? Am I right? Am I right?"

"Yeah, well, it's pretty basic, I guess."

"Absolutely! Abso-darned-lutely! So when we read your blog posts, we thought, BINGO! Make it accessible, make it real, and above all, make it funny, and there's your answer right there."

"So you want me to write a funny book about tiling?"

"Again, another great project idea, and one that I'm writing down right now so we don't lose it. That would make a great project for us someday, seriously. But, no, what we're thinking is this: you do the work, blogging about it in real time, and it becomes a destination blog at the Home Depot website. We're talking the whole deal - a corporate blog under the Home Depot masthead, tweeting under the Home Depot name, tie-ins with the Home Depot page on Facebook, the whole bit. Just make it all as funny as your blog posts, funny and accessible and brilliant, and everybody in America will see that home improvement projects can be fun AND funny."

"But... but I've already finished the bathroom. You want me to tear it out and do it over?"

"No, no, obviously we're talking about doing OTHER PEOPLE'S bathrooms! We get people with terrible bathrooms from all over the country - do a Facebook thing or run a contest or something - and you come in, remodel their bathrooms and write about the jobs in that funny Tony Noland style. Maybe branch out into all kinds of remodeling jobs. I'm talking kitchens, carpeting, insulation, roofing, whatever. You do the work, talk about the work, make the jobs accessible for people. Do you love this? Do you love this, or what?"

"Let me get this straight, Harry. You want me to go be, not so much a writer of books about remodeling, but rather a full-time general contractor who blogs for Home Depot?"

"And be funny the whole time! Like a funny handyman! You could do that thing where you have a conversation with yourself as an anonymous reader, or even answer letters from actual readers. We're thinking something like Car Talk, except with home improvement. Do you love this idea, or what?"


"Tony? Hello? I've left you speechless, haven't I?"



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Bathroom remodel, 3 of 3: "Tackling the Tiling"

In the prologue to this series of posts, I gave an overview of how this bathroom remodel project came about.

In Part 1, "Damage and Demolition", I showed you the damaged shower wall and how I cleared it all away.

In Part 2, "Structure and Stuffing", I showed you the rebuilt stud wall, the insulation and the concreteboard.

In this third and final post, "Tackling the Tiling", I'll take you through the final steps of installing the tile, the shelves, the trim work and the shower unit.

Hypothetical reader of this blog post: You must really enjoy this DIY stuff, Tony.

Tony Noland: Yes, Hypothetical Reader, I do. It's taken a lot of time away from my writing, though.