Wednesday #limerick: crinkle, demand, navigate

Each Wednesday, I write a limerick to the prompt over at Three Word Wednesday. Today's words are: crinkle, demand, navigate

Staggering, too drunk to navigate
I'm caught on these pickets, must abnegate.
This damned little wrinkle
Means no girlfriend to crinkle!
I demand that her fenced yard must have a gate!

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Split Worlds - The Miller's Daughter

I have a special treat for you today. My guest blogger for Leap Day is Emma Newman, the scriptera profundata of the post-apocalyptic novel 20 Years Later and the creepy anthology From Dark Places. Today, she presents the latest installment in her Split Worlds series, an urban fantasy that mixes gritty noir with evil faeries in equal measure. Please welcome Emma, and enjoy her story, The Miller's Daughter. - Tony


This is the eighteenth tale in a year and a day of weekly short stories set in The Split Worlds. If you would like me to read it to you instead, you can listen here. You can find links to all the other stories, and the new ones as they are released here. - Em

The Miller's Daughter

The door slammed shut behind her, she listened to the key in the lock and the King's footsteps as he left her alone in the room. The miller's daughter looked at the piles of straw, the spinning wheel, the empty spindles and wept. How could the King be so stupid as to believe her father's boast? How could her father have been so stupid as to make such a boast in the first place? Was her life to be cut short by stupid men all around her? She kicked the spindles, scattering them across the floor, the flagstones were spattered with bitter tears.

The door opened, she hadn't heard the key in her anger, and a man unlike any she'd ever seen before entered. His hair was long and white, his eyes black, his face beautiful and terrifying all at once. The scent of flowers filled the room, he was taller than even the King himself. She shrank away from him as he shut the door.

"Good evening mistress miller," he said. "Why are you weeping so?"

"Because I am cursed with an idiot for a father and a fool for a king," she said, wiping the tears from her cheeks, wondering if he were an angel sent by God to save her. "I'm supposed to spin this straw into gold but I don't know how."

"What will you give me if I spin it for you?"

"My necklace," she said, it being the most valuable thing she owned.

The man held out a hand and she placed the necklace on the pale palm, marvelling at how long and slender his fingers were. Then she watched as he sat at the wheel and in three turns, spun a reel full of gold with just a few pieces of straw.

"Are you an angel?" she whispered, kneeling beside him.

"No child," he smiled and stroked her cheek.

She fell asleep as he worked, and when she woke at the turn of the key in the door the room was filled with spools of gold. The King entered, eyes wide and he took her hands and stroked her fingers.

He led her out silently, as they walked down the corridor his hand tightened around her wrist and she knew she wouldn't see the sun that day. She was taken to an even larger room, one being filled with even more straw. "Spin all of this into gold if you value your life."

The door was locked and she wept again, her fury channelled into hot tears. The sun set and as the anger turned to despair, the door opened silently once again and the white-haired man entered the room.

"What will you give me if I spin the straw into gold for you?"

Aside from her clothes, all she had in the world was a ring that once belonged to her mother. "The ring from my finger."

The man took it, sat at the wheel and began to spin the straw into gold.

"Are you a demon?" she whispered, kneeling beside him.

"No child," he smiled and stroked her cheek.

She woke at sunrise in a room filled with gold. When the King arrived, his gaze flicked between the gold and her breasts and her hips, she blushed and hoped the tongue moistening the fat man's lips would never touch her skin. His hand on the back of her neck, he walked her out of the room, into another even larger, being filled with straw.

"You must spin all this into gold tonight. If you succeed, you shall become my wife."

The door was locked, the miller's daughter cursed her father, cursed the King and tried not to think of his fingers worming their way under her bodice. The sun set, the fear returned but once more, the door opened and the white-haired man returned.

"What will you give me if I spin the straw into gold once more?"

"I have nothing left to give," she said.

"Then promise me your first child when you become queen."

She planned to be far away before the grotesque king had bedded her, so she agreed and knelt beside him once again to watch him spin the straw.

"Are you a sorcerer?"

The man laughed so loudly she feared the King himself would hear. "No child," he said.

Once again, the room was filled with spun gold when the sun rose. The King was so pleased he locked the miller's daughter in a room with furniture and generously provided guards at the door as the wedding was prepared. She watched the sun set from the tiny window, weeping at the thought of the conjugal night, wishing the white-haired man would return once more. And when the room was dark and her hope at its nadir, the door opened.

"What now, mistress miller? Have I not saved your life and elevated you to royalty as your father bargained for?"

The miller's daughter realised her father was not a fool after all. "But, sweet prince of magic," she said, kneeling at his feet. "What would you want with the grandchild of a miller?"

"The child will have royal blood and I would have its devotion."

"Give me a better King, let my children stay by my side, and you will not only have my devotion, but that of every child from my line as long as it endures."

"Devotion in return for a life with your children, that I will grant," agreed the white-haired man.
"But what will you give me if I replace the King with one of your liking?"

"Will the life of my father suffice?"

He smiled. "You are your father's daughter. I, Lord Iris of the Fae, accept your bargain."


Thanks for hosting, Tony! 

I hope you enjoyed the story. If you would like to find out more about the Split Worlds, it's all here: – you can also sign up to get an extra story and get each new story delivered to your inbox every week. If you would like to host a story over the coming year, either let me know in the comments or contact me through the Split Worlds site. - Em x


And thank YOU, Emma! To find Emma Newman on the web, visit her blog at, and follow her on Twitter as @emapocalyptic. She's a talented writer and a delightful person.

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Essential writing tools: the crescent wrench

My series on essential writing tools began with the ball-peen hammer. Today, I'll talk about another essential writing tool, the crescent wrench. This is one that every writer... a tool that no writer should... a versatile tool for many genres, the crescent wrench...

Oh, forget it. That joke won't be funny twice in a row.

Here, have an intro walkthrough of a creepy video game based on Alice in Wonderland:

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Essential writing tools: the ball-peen hammer

Today, I'm going to talk about one of the most important tools any writer can possess: the ball-peen hammer.

It may come as a surprise that many beginning writers are unaware of the value of a ball-peen hammer in producing volumes of high-quality prose on demand. This may be a result of confusing the ball-peen hammer's literary uses with its traditional uses in shaping (or "peening") metal, sealing welds and seams, and spread-locking rivets.

This post, then, is presented as a public service to inexperienced writers. Use the ball-peen hammer properly, and it will pay for itself many times over.

Although there are many ways the ball-peen hammer will help you write, I present here five of the most important. Begin by mastering these basic uses before going on to more advanced techniques.

1. Write another thousand words by sundown or I'll hit you with this hammer. The first use, and perhaps the most obvious, is as a motivational device. For this usage, imagine the ball-peen hammer in the hand of the person who is waiting for your prose. It could be an editor, a collaborator, an agent, a devoted reader, or someone else with a comparable investment in your output. Now, imagine this person to be very, very angry with you, and your writing is the only thing that can assuage their anger. (Note: if there is no one waiting for your prose, go find someone and promise to write something for them. Tell them it will be the best thing they've ever read. Make them WANT to read your work. Then give them a ball-peen hammer.)

2. Write with the face, edit with the ball. Getting the words almost right, mostly right, or nearly right takes brute force. For this, use the flat face of the hammer. However, for getting the words exactly right, precisely right, dead nuts right, use the ball. It concentrates your force in a much tighter area, allowing you to focus on the 1/64" that is ever so slightly out of place. Attention to detail separates good prose from great prose. Use the right tool for the right job.

3. Don't work copper with a carbon-steel hammer. As we all know, ball-peen hammers can be made from a variety of materials, with different intended uses. Forged high carbon steel hammers are extremely hard and will deform even the most recalcitrant, least malleable materials. These hammers are excellent for writing literary fiction. On the other hand, hammers made of soft iron or brass can provide comparable striking force and shaping power with less risk of gouging, marring or other damage to more easily shaped materials. Science fiction, fantasy, romance, mystery, horror or other genre writing are suitable writing styles for use with these hammers. Specialty hammers may be made of tightly wrapped leather, wood or plastics. These provide the lightest touch, and are excellent for subtle enhancements of shape without changes to the underlying form. They should be reserved for writing memoirs, essays and other non-fiction.

4. If your arm hurts, you don't use the hammer enough. Writing takes practice and skill, but above all else, writing takes endurance. If your arm starts to hurt after you've been swinging the hammer for five minutes, this means your arm isn't strong enough yet. Fortunately, the method for getting strong enough to wield the hammer for hours on end is to begin by wielding the hammer for minutes on end. Write until your eyes hurt and your backside is numb. Write until your brain is tired and you have no more words left in you. The pain you feel is the sensation of your writing muscles growing stronger. (Note: the beginner may want to start writing by using the same 32 oz. machinist's hammer used by the professionals. It is a rare beginner who can use a heavy hammer without producing poor quality work and risking career-ending personal injury. There is no shame in starting with an 8 oz. or even a 4 oz. ball-peen hammer. Work with it and grow your skill until your work is limited by the hammer you use, then move up. Your tools will evolve as your skill develops.)

5. A rusty hammer is still a hammer. In working out your best writing process, you may find your writing set aside in order to deal with concerns of family, day job, health or other matters. The ball-peen hammer, of whatever material, of whatever weight, sits on the shelf, untouched. Days may turn to weeks, weeks to months or even years. Know this: though the hammer may grow cobwebbed and dusty, though the head may rust and the handle split and rot, it is still a hammer. When you are ready to pick it up again, it will be there for you. Whenever you wish, you can choose to swing the hammer. You can write. The only limitation is within you. Naturally, after long absences, skills atrophy, calluses fade and muscles weaken. These can be recovered. All that is required is for you to pick up the ball-peen hammer and wield it anew. (Note: the hammer you used back when you were younger - a teenager, in college, before you were married, etc. - will almost certainly not fit your hand now. This is to be expected. You will need to try out several different hammers before you find one that is right for you NOW, at your CURRENT stage of life. Fortunately, there are many, many hammers to choose from, readily available and all at reasonable prices.)

The ball-peen hammer... one of the most reliable tools any writer can possess, metaphorically speaking.

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How to write great openings

I'm pleased to report that Debz Hobbs-Wyatt selected my entry as the winner in the How to write great openings competition on her blog. Her criteria:
  • Great opening line (interesting from the outset)
  • An immediate question HOOK
  • A sense of place and time
  • A sense of character
  • A sense of urgency
  • Clear CONFLICT
  • Must read on
The entries were limited to 100 words. Mine, which you can read at her website, hit the mark for 7 out of 7 of these factors. With this win, I get a free story critique for the opening of my sci-fi/noir serial, "Just Enough Power" and a copy of Voices of Angels, just released by Bridge House Publishing.


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#fridayflash: Ringtone, ringtone

Ringtone, ringtone

by Tony Noland

The cell phone in her lap rang again, the same blaring mix of synthpop trance laid over a baby crying, set to full volume.

Again, Tamura ignored it. After half a minute or so, it stopped.

It would ring again and she would have to act. Maybe on the next ring, maybe on the one after that, but it wouldn't be long.

Around her on the bus, the sidelong looks had grown, becoming more obvious. With every call, the comments, too, were rising. Private eyerolls had given way to disbelieving whispers to seatmates. Exasperated sighs and irritated mutterings, loud enough for her to hear, came next.

It wouldn't be long now.

From three seats behind her, she heard a woman's voice, young sounding but with a smoker's gravelly edge. She was swearing to God that if that fucking phone rings again, she'd go up there and answer the damned thing herself. Did anyone doubt her? She wanted to know, did anyone doubt her? After a day like hers, and with four hungry kids to face when she got home, she shouldn't have to put up with crap like that, wasn't that the truth? Wasn't it? Around her, other voices gave assent and encouragement. The voices agreed that someone certainly had to say something.

Please, Tamura thought, please don't. Not you, whoever you are. Not somebody's mother. Let it be a man. Please. Make it a man.

Gray skies threatened, but the windows of the bus were dry. The traffic was thin, rush hour long since over. Only the last shift people out now. Working people, the bottom rung.

She had to put out the left eye of the first person who said anything to her about the phone's incessant ringing. The randomness was part of the task set before her. Whoever it was, Henrique had said, man, woman or child. The first person who complains to you about the ringing, you stand up, point your fingers, pop-in-pop-out and run away with the eyeball. Bring it to me, he'd said. Bring it to me so I can hold it while it's still wet.

Or else.

Tamura sat still in her seat, sweaty palms spread on her thighs, waiting for the phone to ring again.

Inked up blue jeans, red hightops, and a throwaway plaid jacket. Bits of shiny steel superglued to her face and ears, made to look like piercings. No one would be able to give a meaningful ID on her, Henrique had promised that. They'll never know what hit them. They won't have time to react. It'll be over in a flash.

He'd promised.

The bus rolled on, the muttering behind her grew as the woman with the cigarette voice worked up her courage, egged on by her seatmates.

And Tamura waited for the phone to ring again.

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Would you like a Hertz doughnut?

Today's Google doodle:

This is in honor of Heinrich Rudolf Hertz's birthday.

What was that product Google tried to push? The one that was going to be like Twitter, only better? Oh, right... Google Wave.

Don't know what made me think of that.

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Three Word Wednesday: Cancel, Elastic, Labor

The words for Three Word Wednesday are: cancel, elastic, labor

"Mrs. Caraway, we have to cancel the epidural - your labor has gone too quickly for it. Now don't worry, you're far more elastic than you realize. On the next contraction, I want you to push and push hard. Are you ready? No, no, you'll be fine, I promise. I just need you to push, OK? Mrs. Caraway, it will be fine, now push! Push! PUSH! PUSH!"

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Ray Bradbury's future: 2 out of 3

From @RedBakerson comes this discussion of Ray Bradbury's predictive powers.

Big TVs: check.
Pneumatic people tubes: no.
Prunes: check.

Two out of three ain't bad. Ray Bradbury: writer, futurist, gourmet. Clearly, he was a man of regular habits.

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Works of art: bookbinding

A little something for anyone who loves books.

I have some old folios that I've been considering binding up. Might be worth fooling around with.

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Cheap Chocolate, All You Can Eat

My FridayFlash this week is featured over at "Cheap Chocolate, All You Can Eat". Feel free to comment, there or here!


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Let's talk about my elbow

My right elbow hurts. Let me tell you about it.


I'll wait?

Go ahead.

No, seriously, go ahead and leave.

No, it won't hurt my feelings. I know you don't care about my elbow, and that you aren't going to read this blog post. Even if you clicked on this one, you got as far as the first line ("My right elbow hurts. Let me tell you about it.") and closed the tab on your browser, or hit MARK AS READ on your RSS feed.

That's OK.

My right elbow is of interest to me, but probably not to you. After all, repetitive motion injury isn't something you will ever have to worry about. After all, you're a writer, not a bricklayer. Or a tile setter.


My right elbow hurts from all the time I spend at the computer. It was exacerbated by the tile setting, but the primary cause is mousing and typing, scrolling and writing.

Yes, I've adjusted my chair height. I even bought a better chair and rearranged my desk setup to accomplish that bit of ergonomic optimization. Helped, but not enough.

I recently set up a standing desk, with an old laptop stacked atop some plastic trays. I use it for writing, leaving the desktop for online stuff, other work, e.mail, etc. The change has helped, but not enough.

In the mornings, I am heavily scented of spearmint and menthol, the consequence of liberal application of BenGay. This, along with naproxin, has made things tolerable.

However, today is a banner day.


Because today I bought a brace for my elbow. I'm wearing it now. A stretchy black contrivance of lycra, spandex, velcro and pixie dust, it's compressing my elbow as I type. It's holding in the warmth of the BenGay, and it's helping. My elbow hardly hurts at all.

Of course, I also feel like this is the first step on a downward slope toward AARP membership, buying a Buick, and the cost of prescription drugs being a major topic of my conversational repertoire, but that can't be helped.

Death and decay comes to us all. This is not the "start of the aging process". The aging process started the day I was born. Life is not a journey toward a destination, but simply a journey.


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Wednesday #limerick: angelic, foster, ruin

Each Wednesday, I write a limerick using the prompt over at Three Word Wednesday. Today's words are: angelic, foster, ruin.

I thought my approaches would foster
angelic love, but I've lost her.
My hopes lie in ruin
Now I'll spend my days ruin'
My groping attempt to accost her.

~~~~~ * * * ~~~~~

Are you kidding? You still haven't bought my collection of limericks? Why don't you love life?

You can read more of my limericks inspired by Three Word Wednesday in my, which is cleverly titled:

Poetry on the Fly: Limericks Inspired by Three Word Wednesday

Only $0.99 - less than a hot dog at the convenience store!

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The Grammarian, redux

Today over at Write Anything, I talk about my novel WIP, "Goodbye Grammarian". Specifically, I address the question, "It's been more than a year, so where the hell is the damned book?". The post is titled, "Hello Grammarian". Go read!

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A story for Valentine's Day

When you think of Eros, the god of love, you probably don't think of him the way I do. Click on over to my story at Escape Into Life, a perfect one for Valentine's Day: "Straight and True, My Arrow, Fly"

And remember: true love only hurts you as much as you hurt it.

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That's no muse!

I have a stock answer for that perennial question, "Where do your story ideas come from?". Some people talk about being visited by a muse, or about looking at things from a different perspective, or allowing inspiration to strike, or finding the core concept and working outward from there.

Today, I'm thinking about this question so I can write a blog post. My stock answer is long and boring and uninformative. It's all about storycraft, plotting, character development, etc., none of which have anything to do with ideas. So, I'm going to give some thought to this, to try to come up with a better answer than, "My ideas don't come to me. I go to them."

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Don't hesitate to be creative

First, a trailer for a science fiction movie coming out later this year:

That's Iron Sky. Now, a few words about creativity.

At some point a few years ago, Johanna Sinisalo came up with the original story. Jarmo Puskala then came up with the concept for the movie based on that story, and Michael Kalesniko wrote the screenplay, mapping out the action, deciding who would say what and in what sequence, in order to bring this story to life on the screen.

All of this lays out a very rational structure, build up over the basic idea:

Nazis. On the moon. With flying saucers.

I can only imagine the conversations that took place within Ms. Sinisalo's circle of colleagues (and perhaps within her own head) when that idea popped up. Or maybe it was brainstormed in one of those California wheatgrass-chianti-and-tofu fueled group writing binges I've heard so much about.

Nazis. On the moon. With flying saucers.

"Sure," someone probably scoffed, "and why not give them some dinosaurs and vampire unicorns, too?"

"Oooh," chimed in someone else, "and have Richard Wagner lead an battalion of of laser-armed ninjas! Riding steampunk tanks! Carrying poisoned sunflowers!"

Now, there's no way of knowing what other surprises this movie might have up its sleeve. What I do know is that this movie has

Nazis. On the moon. With flying saucers.

and that's enough of a creative statement for anybody, isn't it? That's taking the freak flag out past the city limits of Gooneyville and planting it firmly in the weed-grown soil of the unincorporated areas of WhatTheHell? County and saying, "I claim this for my own." This team of writers was able to make this whack, bizarre idea compelling enough to get a studio to sink $XX,000,000 into lots of CGI, B-list actors and what looks like 48,000 gallons of gray paint.

Will this movie be any good? I have no idea. However, if ever there was an argument for just opening the gates of creativity and running through them at full tilt, this is it.

I mean, with the possible exception of this:

Coming soon.

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#fridayflash: Ten Million Robots, One Heart

Ten Million Robots, One Heart

by Tony Noland

The gas regulator's hiss seemed loud, too loud, even though it was the only noise left in the room. Every other device and monitor had been turned off. EKG, respirator, everything that had been beeping, chirping and buzzing around him for so long - all of it was silent.

She leaned in close, put her ear next to his mouth. If anything, the hiss grew louder. The tube that ran under his nose had two small nozzles, each giving a constant flow of oxygen, enhancing the composition of the air, giving him more to work with. Clear tape held the tube to the sides of his head. It puckered his grayish skin into odd, flat wrinkles, pinched and overly pink.

"Bach," he said in a papery whisper. His breath smelled of vinegar and acetone, the parched lips cracked and bleeding as he gasped out each word. "No machines. Anymore." He sucked at the air, the hospital sheet rising and falling with the effort of his breathing. "Too quiet. In here."

His hands were like ice, but she held them. "OK, Dad. Bach it is. How about the Brandenburgs?"

With the barest movement, he shook his head. "Too tired." His tongue pushed out over his lips. Swollen and covered with sores, it did nothing to wet them. She reached for the glass of ginger ale, now mostly melted ice. Again, he shook his head as she brought the bent straw to his lips. When she continued to hold it there, he took a tiny, tiny sip, barely enough to coat the tip of his tongue. "Besides," he said, "Concerto. Too long." Another gasping breath. "Final chords. Best part." Gasp. "Hate. To miss it."

She set the glass back on the tray by the bedside, and took the iPod from the speaker deck. Her fingertip moved across the glass face for a moment.

"The Well Tempered Clavier? Book 1, from the beginning?" she said. He nodded, more a movement of the eyelids than of the head. She replaced it and pressed the PLAY button. Glenn Gould's recording filled the room with the familiar first notes of Prelude No. 1 in C Major. Though it was playing softly, it was as perfectly balanced as the best electronics could render.

Next to the speaker deck was the box of a dozen jelly doughnuts, raspberry filled. Just as he'd asked, she'd bought them that morning, fresh and hot from Fleischmann's Bakery, still in business over in their old neighborhood. The warm, sweet aroma overcame the pine-and-lemon disinfectant smell of the room. He couldn't eat them, of course, but he could smell them, and he'd assured her that they were wonderful.

They sat, listening to the music.

He said, "Do you. Still play?"

"Sometimes," she said. "Not as well as Glenn Gould, though." He started to say something, but she said it for him. "I know, Dad. Nobody plays as well as Glenn Gould." They shared a smile, the kind that only comes when old jokes are told among friends.

The Prelude ended and the Fugue began, and they listened.

"I'm sorry the nanorobots didn't work, Dad," she said. She looked down at the bed, seeing it through fresh tears. "I know it was experimental, a crazy long shot, but I still hoped for... for..."

"A miracle?" He smiled. "Nothing. Works right. First time." He drew a labored breath, gathering strength. "Doctors will. Get my heart. After. Will figure out. Why injection. Didn't work." He gasped again, the exertion of his speech taking a toll. He licked his lips and smiled again. "Besides. Damn things were. Pink. Looked silly."

She laughed and wiped away the tears she couldn't stop. "They were pink because of the synthetic hemoglobin and you know it. It was supposed to help them bind to your heart and let them laser out the damage." With her free hand, she pulled a tissue from the box. "Your problem is that they didn't know you as well as I do. They were trying to match human blood. Instead, they should have made the little things green. It would have suited you better, you old Vulcan."

He smiled, his dry, flaky lips cracking. She felt his fingers spreading into the greeting that he had taught her so many, many years ago, the gesture that was an emblem of their shared kinship and fellowship through adolescence, adulthood and old age.

"Live long," he whispered, "and prosper." Again, he smiled, and she smiled back. His eyes fixed on hers and, his face turning sad, he waved at the gas regulator. "It's time," he said. "Time."

She held the tissue to her eyes, stemming the fresh flood. Unable to breathe, she nodded, rose and went over to the knob on the wall. With a shaking hand, she turned it until the hissing stopped. Bach's music seemed ten, a hundred times as loud as before. She sat again, letting the sobs come and the tears fall.

"That's better," he said. "Now. I can. Really smell. The doughnuts." He reached out and held her hand.

The music played. For the time they had left together, they sat and listened, surrounded by the warm aroma of happy memories.

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Is that a railgun in your pocket?

Science fiction writers, rejoice! Reality is catching up to your imaginations. The U.S. Navy has taken delivery of the first industrial-scale railgun. Conventional projectile weapons, from handguns to shoulder-fired weapons to ship-mounted hardware, use chemical propellants to shove the hunk of metal at the target. Railguns use electromagnetic pulses to do the same job. From the article:
While the muzzle velocity of gunpowder-propelled projectiles is generally limited to around 4,000 ft per second (2,727 mph/4,389 km/h), the U.S. Navy says its railgun will be capable of launching projectiles at velocities of 4,500 to 5,600 mph (7,242 - 9,012 km/h).
Greater muzzle velocity means longer range with the same size round. Also, it means that the ship won't need to carry large supplies of gunpowder or other chemical explosives.

Click to zoom in on that distortion curve

I'd like to draw your attention to the distortion curve on the right side of the banner. That bent curve is light distortion from the compression shock wave in front of the projectile. It's moving fast... very fast.

Also, that Latin at the bottom of the seal, Velocitas Eradico? I believe that translates to "Speed Kills". Nice.

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Wednesday #limerick: control, flesh, razor

Each Wednesday, I compose a limerick based on the words from Three Word Wednesday. Today's words are: control, flesh, razor.

"Zip the razor, quick now, 'cross your wrist;
Part the flesh, 'cause you won't be missed..."
That voice in my head,
It still wants me dead,
Seeks control of me, through venom hissed

~~~ * * * ~~~

Are you kidding? You still haven't bought my collection of limericks? Why don't you love life?

You can read more of my limericks inspired by Three Word Wednesday in my, which is cleverly titled:

Poetry on the Fly: Limericks Inspired by Three Word Wednesday

Only $0.99 - what a bargain!

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You picked a bad title for your book. Now what?

Today over at Write Anything, I discuss the terrible mistake I made in choosing the title of my flash fiction anthology, "Blood Picnic and other stories".

Why is "Blood Picnic" a bad title? Click on over to the post and find out: "A Bloody Bad Title". Leave a comment, there or here. Commiseration is appreciated, as is schadenfreude, if you can be funny about it.

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What blog statistics tell you

How many people visit this blog? Since I started this as a way to connect with people who might like my writing, how's it going? Is it accomplishing that?

To get a read on how well this blog is doing its job (and therefore how well I'm doing mine), I did a little noodling around in Google Analytics, and here's what I found:

Year Visitors Unique Visitors Page views
2009 3,350 1,628 4,728
2010 13,100 6,737 17,736
2011 12,837 6,550 17,945

There was a viral spike in 2010 associated with my instructive post, "11 Ways You Can Stop Pissing Me Off on Twitter", which skews the data a bit. However, it looks like a decent trend toward growth. People come to see me juggle baby geese, and some of them like it enough to come back for more.


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Best rejection letter ever

I found this on the internet, so I have no idea if it's authentic or not. Still damned funny.

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Using Dropbox with Autohotkey to write faster and better

I've talked about AutoHotKey here before, in a blog post about how to write faster. To re-cap, AutoHotKey is a program that will auto-expand small snippets of text into full words. The AutoCorrect function in MS Word does this as well, but once AutoHotKey is up and running, your text expansion works in every program you run: Scrivener, yWriter, web browser comment boxes, MS Word, e.mail programs, spreadsheets, whatever.

So where does Dropbox come in?

I've got two AutoHotKey scripts running on all of the various computers I use. They are in the Dropbox root folder, and I have them both set up to run as part of the Startup for each. One of the scripts has all the me-specific entries: like typing "tg" and having it expand to "the Grammarian", or typing "tnll" and having it expand to "". Saves lots of time for any frequently used word or phrase.

The other script is one I downloaded from the AutoHotKey site. It corrects spelling and capitalization on-the-fly, based on 45,000 commonly misspelled English words. Whatever program I'm using, wherever I'm typing, (like when I just tried to type "whereever"), AutoHotKey is there to make me look good.

Whenever I add a phrase to be expanded, or fine-tune the spelling correction, that change goes into the scripts and propagates across to my other Dropbox-enabled computers.

Writing faster and better was never so easy.

UPDATE: A comment below asked where you can get the AutoCorrect script. It's right here. Once you go to that page, click "Save As..." and it will save as AutoCorrect.ahk, which is the text format for an AutoHotKey script. Load it using AutoHotKey, and you are good to go.

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#FridayFlash: Alone in the Woods

Alone in the Woods
by Tony Noland

Melissa turned again, tape and ballpoint in one hand, notebook in the other.

"Hey, is someone there?" she called, louder this time. No response. "I have the landowner's permission to survey these trees. Hello?"

Silence. The woods were quiet and cool in the deep shade. She listened for a while, trying to figure out what had tipped her off that she was not alone in the woods. With one hand, she tucked some stray hairs behind her ear and cocked her head.


This far into the older growth, there wasn't even the hum of bugs. No deerfly, no blackfly, and few mosquitoes, nothing her industrial strength repellant couldn't handle. She adjusted her stance on the slope and called out again.

"I'm Melissa Hartwick, from the Forestry Department at Lake Superior State." She did not say Dr. Hartwick or Professor Hartwick; the people up here were touchy about snotty downstaters. "I'm doing a survey for the green winged bark borer. Hello? I'm happy to tell you all about it. Hello?"

Her voice resounded in the woods, not an echo, exactly, but more like the forest swallowed her words and spit them back to her.

With a sigh, she turned back to measuring the tree. She'd long since gotten over feeling foolish about calling out to unseen people in the woods. If there was no one there, then there was no one to hear her and it didn't matter. When there was someone, most of the time whoever it was came up to talk after they'd been found out. People weren't nearly as good at moving unnoticed through the woods as they thought they were. Sometimes they just moved away, continuing their hiking or poaching or moonshining, whatever brought them to the deep cover in the first place. It didn't matter to Melissa; she was only there for the trees.

Only once had she encountered someone who looked like he might like to take physical advantage of a woman alone in the forest. She drew his attention to the Smith & Wesson under her field vest and he'd cut the conversation short on his own. The gun was primarily insurance against wolves, black bear, and other critters, but when you're 5'3" and pretty, a handgun's not a bad thing to have just on general principles.

A hundred yards behind her and up the slope, some rocks shifted, thunking down against the rotted bole of a fallen trunk.

"All right, that does it," she said aloud, "whoever you are, you messed with the wrong gal." She made a show of stuffing her tape measure and other gear into her backpack and stomping forward toward where the sound had come from. Bluster and bluff worked with most wild animals, and with most people, too. Expecting her visitor to bolt at her approach, she grew apprehensive as she neared the spot. She snorted loudly and stamped in visible irritation as she circled around wide. At the spot, she saw the rocks, twenty years worth of lichen torn away where they'd banged against each other. But apart from the rocks, the dirt and what was left of the rotting tree... nothing.

She wasn't scared, not exactly. The woods were as much a home to her as anyplace else was. She knew the sounds and scents, the rhythms and behaviors in every kind of forest, from the buzzing heat of the resurgent scrub that came on after a clear cut to the pained solemnity of an isolated patch of old growth pine. The only reason these primordial old trees were here was that the hillside made them unprofitable to cut. She could go on for hours to her students about the microclimate effect of the rockslide soil, the time-eroded contours, the winds off the lake that twisted these trees into knotty, burly fantasies. These trees were worthless as timber, but they were as old as the world, older than the glaciers that had scraped the land clean for a hundred miles in every direction. Only this sheltered horseshoe valley had been spared, a quirk of geography splitting apart a million tons of ice to either side as it marched south and retreated north, again and again. And throughout, forced into dwarfism for ten thousand years by the cold, dry winds, these trees survived.

These ugly, misshapen brutes were strong and proud, ancient and beautiful, and she loved them. She rested her hand against the log and felt for the dead heart of the fallen giant.

Behind her, the bark of a tree split open and a creature leapt out, it's claws spread wide. Its shrieking cry made her turn and scramble backwards. With one powerful swipe, it knocked her into the air. She flew a dozen feet downslope, crashing onto loose soil of the forest floor. Her backpack was slashed through with four long, ragged gashes, and her materials spilled out. Papers, field guides, sample bags, GPS, all of it sent scattering onto the ground. She started to reach across to pull the Smith & Wesson, but her broken forearm sent white-hot jolts of pain upwards into her shoulder.

Scrambling backward, she drew the pistol with her left hand just as the creature gathered itself for another spring. She got off a single shot, but it was enough. The .45 slug tore through its face, blowing its head backward and twisting it in the air. The thing was dead before it hit the ground next to her. It bounced and skidded a few feet, then lay mostly still, limbs quivering with the energy of the dead.

She scooted back away from it. Panting, she clenched her teeth and willed herself not to throw up. After a time, she stood, cradling her broken arm. With the toe of her boot, she turned the thing over. Its face - what was left of it - was all teeth and gaping jaws. Thick, dark sap ran everywhere and the decayed bark in its mouth gave off a stench of fungal wet rot, of good heartwood gone bad. With her good arm, she wiped away the sweat on her forehead, then kicked the body, hard.

"Fucking tree vampires," she said. "I wish they'd never reintroduced these damned things."

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Quiet Thursdays

Every now and then, I wonder if Thursdays feel neglected here at Landless. Specifically, in the long march between my Wednesday limericks and my FridayFlash stories, do Thursday mornings get lonely? Do they worry that I don't love them as much as I love other mornings?

Monday usually gets something fast, because hey, it's Monday, right? I'm lucky to be awake, let alone clever.

Tuesday sometimes gets some really good stuff, because I've had a chance to think about things on Monday, maybe even write them and get them edited and slotted ahead of time. Those are good days.

Wednesday is a limerick, and, if I'm feeling ambitious, sometimes more than that afterwards.

Thursday afternoon will often see the posting of the FridayFlash, but not always. Sometimes, Thursday gets nothing at all, not even until the wee hours.

Friday often gets no specific post, if I've sent out the FridayFlash on Thursday. In bad weeks, though, when I'm swamped, I might not get the story up until Friday afternoon.

Saturday usually gets nothing, or perhaps a quick blurb. Sometimes, though, I post longer, ruminative, coffee-fueled blog posts, introspective and thoughtful pieces that no one reads because (DUH!) it's Saturday! A more organized blogger would just post a funny cat video on those Saturdays and bank the long piece for a Wednesday.

Sunday? Usually nothing, unless I find myself with some time to kill and a story idea that needs to be written up. This past Sunday, it was "The Gospel According To St. Judas", a nature-vs-nurture story that was, to put it mildly, not well received.

A weekly schedule of blogging and writing. Not the best schedule, perhaps, but there it is.

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Wednesday #limerick: detach, jolt, surge

Every Wednesday, I write a limerick inspired by Three Word Wednesday. Today's words are: detatch, jolt, surge

From caffeine, I will not detach
Dew, Jolt, Surge... any old batch.
But a triple espresso?
Cardiac arrest-o!
For coffee, no soft drink's a match.


Are you kidding? You still haven't bought my collection of limericks? Why don't you love life?

You can read more of my limericks inspired by Three Word Wednesday in my, which is cleverly titled:

Poetry on the Fly: Limericks Inspired by Three Word Wednesday

Only $0.99 - what a bargain!

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