9 Ways Writing Is Better Than Masturbation

9 Ways Writing Is Better Than Masturbation

1. If you're discreet about it, writing is an acceptable way to pass the time during a boring staff meeting.

2. You're much more likely to form lasting friendships with the phrase, "Wow, you're a compulsive writer, too?"

3. No one will ever try to sneak a camera into your bedroom to video you while you're writing.

4. Writing aids are comparatively cheap, and there is a size of writing implement to suit every taste. The options for lady writers range from  skinny and delicate to fat and chunky, while gentleman writers can put their words into something big and loose or into something tiny and tight.

5. The sensations of writing are not diminished by the calluses on your fingers resulting from frequent, vigorous writing.

6. Antique writing implements are just as fun and comfortable to use as modern writing implements.

7. Your spouse will be more understanding about you taking time to indulge in writing, and will almost certainly not ask to watch.

8. If you ever decide to turn pro with your writing, it's unlikely that anyone will make fun of the fake name you choose for yourself.

9. Spilled ink doesn't smell bad.

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#FridayFlash: The Battle of Cygnus V

Although Admiral Perryton made no protest when his guard shoved him down into the stool, he could not help exhaling sharply as his broken arms banged against his sides. The grinding of his tightly clenched teeth was almost loud enough to drown out the grinding of bone on bone as he tried to sit up, Academy-straight. He breathed heavily and deliberately, straining for breath in the hot, heavy, oxygen-poor room. Beads of sweat dripped down into his eyes.

First Citizen Reynold Karl Genesis Glassine, Chairman of the House of Glassine and leader of Cygnus V, continued studying the paperwork on his desk. With long, claw-tipped fingers, he turned page after page, marking and tabbing the synthpaper sheets in the binder. On its cover, a photograph of Admiral Perryton was captioned in red letters with his full name and title - Harcourt Mandelbrot Perryton, Admiral, 2nd Diplomatic Fleet, Earth Alliance, Commonwealth of Human Planets. Beneath this, in larger red letter, was the label ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE.

The reptiloid skin of his fingerpads make a slight sound as he turned each section of the report.

Whisk. Whisk. Whisk.

Finally, First Citizen Glassine set the folder down. Its pages all turned blank when his finger left it, a security precaution that, on another world, would have been an indication of how important Admiral Perryton was as a prisoner of war. On Cygnus V, it was a normal part of the operational security that governed every hour of the rogue colony's existence.

"So... this is what the Commonwealth sent to destroy us." The First Citizen leaned back in his chair as he spoke, his fingers laced over his thickly muscled torso. His eyes were large and protuberant, with the silvery-red cast of a dog's eyes by firelight. "I am at a loss, Admiral. Perhaps you might enlighten me."

Perryton looked at his captor, but said nothing. First Citizen Glassine glanced at the guard and nodded. With a whistling crack, the guard brought a length of stiff wire rope smashing onto the Admiral's left arm, knocking him off the stool. Perryton cried out, then swallowed his bellow of agony, choking it back to a gurgling moan as he rolled face first on the polished concrete floor. The guard picked him up by the shoulders and slammed him back onto the stool.

For a few minutes, the room was filled with the sound of grinding teeth and gasping, shuddering gasps of pain.

"You have a great deal of courage, Admiral. Even though you are a baseline Homo sapiens, and would have been swept away when we emerged, I am forced to note that you do indeed have courage. This is what puzzles me about your defeat. This is what I wish you to explain."

"Go gene-splice yourself."

The guard raised the whip again and the Admiral flinched, bracing for another blow. Before it could fall, the First Citizen raised his hand. With obvious reluctance, the guard lowered his weapon.

"My dear Admiral, it seems we have loosened your tongue at last. How wonderful that you are able to make light of your situation. Truly, I had no idea that an unaugmented human would be able to make a joke like that when faced with the prospect of having part of his face caved in. 'Go gene-splice yourself', indeed! Perhaps this was intended as an insult, but, as the Houses of Cygnus V have already taken many, many steps down the road of genetic enhancement, it is rather like telling our common Homo erectus ancestors to go build a fire, go sharpen a stick... go conquer a world."

Sweating and breathing heavily, the Admiral said nothing.

"We will supplant the common humans we came from, just as Homo sapiens supplanted the Neanderthals. All the worlds of this Arm of the galaxy will be ours. We are stronger, faster, smarter and can live more easily under wider environmental conditions. It is through intelligent design of our genomes that we have improved our genes and ourselves. We have become our own gods, and the humans will be swept before us. And yet... and yet..."

The First Citizen paused, considering his captive.

"Now that we have solved the problem of genome instability that caused the infertility in our offspring, we are poised to expand outward from this lone world, ready to leave our secret laboratories and incubation chambers and take our rightful inheritance. We knew the Commonwealth would discover us eventually, but it seemed that they did so too late. So why did the Commonwealth Military Command send only you? With the certain destruction of the old humans facing them, why send only you and your pitiful 2nd Diplomatic Fleet? Why not send one of the Defense Fleets? Or one of the Battle Fleets? Why you?"

Admiral Perryton blinked away tears and sweat, still saying nothing, offering only as expressive a shrug as his injuries allowed.

"I thought you a coward, you know. The way your ships simply waited out near the Jump Nexus, refusing to answer our challenges. Scanning, scanning, scanning... but not acting. Then, when we chased you, you scattered and ran. Your ponderous missile salvos went wide, dragged off course by the solar wind and falling harmlessly into the sun. All of your ships threw themselves into close orbits, trying to lose our cruisers inside the orbit of Cynus I, but finding their Singularity Drives too weak to pull out of the sun's gravity. Almost every scrap of hardware you brought was thrown away in a clumsy, foolish retreat. Everything except your own flagship, which you surrendered. A foolish diplomat and a blundering coward, hopelessly out of his depth in a pitched battle... that's what I thought you were." He looked up at the guard, who raised the whip again. Admiral Perryton braced himself for the blow. After a moment, the guard lowered his arm.

"However, after eleven days of... this..." - he indicated the guard and the Admiral's arms - "I'm forced to conclude that you are no coward, nor are you a fool. Come, Admiral. Tell me what you are doing here. What is the Commonwealth up to?"

"Fourteen days? Is that how long I've been here? Fourteen days since I was captured?" Perryton looked down at himself. "Your... hospitality makes it difficult to keep track of time. I'd thought it no more than seven days, ten at the most."

"So? Seven, ten, fourteen, what's the difference? What are you up to, Admiral? What do you hope to accomplish?"

The human shook his head. "I've already done my job. It's too late, Glassine. You and your fellow genome-monsters have lost."

In under a second, the guard wrapped massive claws around the Admiral's neck and lifted him to his feet, shaking him. The First Citizen came around the desk, nose to nose with him. "Explain yourself."

Admiral Perryton twisted his grimace of pain into a snarling grin. "I allowed myself to be captured so I could see the look on your face when the first wave of fast neutrons from Cygnus hits this planet. All those missiles were loaded with microencapsulated black holes. Between them and the coordinated explosions of our Singularity Drives deep in the photosphere, Cygnus is going to undergo a swirl-nova implosion.  Every planet in this system, from the rocks to the gasballs to the little icebergs, every object in the Cygnus system is going to be ash and plasma in less than a week."

"You lie!" The First Citizen lashed out, slicing deep gashes in the Admiral's face with a sideswiping blow. Perryton didn't bother to contain his bellow of agony, giving full voice to it until it rang like a cry of triumph. "YOU LIE!"

"Go gene-splice yourself, you freak!"

"We'll evacuate the system! Launch our attack from another planet!"

"Not with the Jump Nexus evaporated, you won't. That was the diciest part of this plan. The hyperphysicists said it would take seven days for the solar instability to disrupt the this star's Nexus. I've been here fourteen, and you obviously have been more concerned with maintaining secrecy than testing your only way out of this system. You and I are stuck here, Glassine. We're going to burn up along with everything else."

"No... no!"

"The Commonwealth of Human Planets doesn't take half-measures to solve little problems like you. You should have known that."

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The 3 Big Secrets To An Engaging Blog

1. Provide value for your readers. Give your readers a steady stream of valuable information, useful tips,and inside secrets. That's what brought them to you in the first place, that's what will keep them coming back, and that's what will encourage them to tell their friends about your blog! Some examples of this done right: "6 Ways To Make Money Writing", "7 Easy Ways To Give You Time To Write", "12 Things Successful Assassins Do Differently"

2. Avoid self-absorption. The worst thing you can do is to make your blog all about YOU. Nobody wants to read a blog filled with introspective journal entries! Even though you are probably an interesting person, allowing your blog to devolve into a collection of posts about what's going on inside YOUR mind won't serve to engage anyone ELSE'S mind! Some examples of this done wrong: "The Worst Part of Writing a Novel", "Let's Talk About My Elbow", "Editing in the Face of Uncertainty" or pretty much any recent post at this blog.

3. You have great content... use it! Believe it or not, a huge mistake that many bloggers make is to turn their backs on their own work. Over time, you will write plenty of material for your blog, some good, some great and some that's really outstanding. Why should you let that still-relevant content languish in the past, left to the mercy of search engines? Highlight that evergreen material with fresh internal links and ENGAGE your new readers with your EXISTING content! Some examples of this done right: "Standing Desk Ergonomics: Height", "NaNoWriMo: 8 Essential Steps", "Lord V's Interrupted Tea"

Follow these 3 big secrets to an engaging blog and I can assure you that your blog will be just as successful as mine!

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You can't sail while you're in drydock

dry dock (n): [nautical terminology] a large dock from which water can be pumped out; used for building ships or for repairing a ship below its waterline

In recent weeks, I've been (mostly) taking a break from wearing my writer's hat. While the book-that-shall-not-be-named is out with my beta readers, I'm deliberately not thinking about it.  I haven't been poking around in the file, haven't been obsessively hunting down typos and grammar flubs that made it through the umpteen edits, haven't been moving commas around as I second guess myself.

In part, this is because I think I'll be much better able to be dispassionate about comments from the beta readers if I have some distance from it and can read it with reasonably fresh eyes. Mostly, though, I really needed the break in order to concentrate on other things.

It's been a great hiatus - a lot of things that were hanging over me have now been fully dealt with, to the satisfaction of almost everyone involved. Many other projects at various stages of completion have been moved farther down their respective roads, with each phase giving way to the next in more-or-less seamless transitions, guided by my hand and propelled by my brainsweat.

Although the break from the writing mindset has had unfortunate consequences for the frequency (and perhaps the quality) of posts here at Landless and for the timeliness (and perhaps the quality) of my #FridayFlash stories and my poetry, it's served a purpose. It's always been important for me to take time for reflection, time to determine where I am, where I want to go and how I should get there.

Time spent in dry dock isn't time wasted. I've been making do with patches and kludges throughout this long trip; I'm past due for a full refit. Sometimes, I wonder that I've managed to stay afloat on this sea of words for so long, let alone stayed on course and brought cargo into port, a heavy load of ore destined for the inland refineries. True, my headway wasn't what I wanted it to be, but given the storms and heavy seas I ran into along the way, I won't waste time complaining.

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Hello to "The End"

Over at Write Anything, you can read a little time capsule from six weeks ago, when I was finishing up "Goodbye Grammarian". The post is about how the whole writing process went over the course of this year.

Go take a look.

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Crushing a golf ball

This is just a little something for you to watch while I try to think up something interesting to say about traditional publishing vs. indie publishing vs. self-publishing.

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#FridayFlash: Lightning Fast

"I am confused, Sergeant Vitonne. Why is it that I am being held?" The old man's accent, which had been barely noticeable at first, seemed to be deepening as the evening wore on. Vitonne heard vvyy iss eet dat I em beink helt, and thought of the evil spies in the old, cold war James Bond movies.

"It's just that we need to understand some things, Mr. Janowiscz."

Behind his thick glasses, the old man's eyes blinked several times. Vitonne thought the action made him look a nocturnal primate, the kind that eats bugs and hides a lot.

"What things?" Janowiscz said. "Please, I am very tired. The mugging was nothing. I was not harmed, only bothered a bit. I do not wish to press charges. I would like to go home."

"I know, I know, and we'll get you out of here just as soon as we can. It's just that we've had a... communication from someone in our State Department."

"What does the State of New York want with me? I'm retired. I don't even own my shop anymore."

Vitonne shook his head to clear it. Vaat doss dee Shtaaat off Noo Hyorrk vaant viss mee? Being in the interrogation room with Janowiscz was starting to get to him, but he couldn't figure out why. The old man seemed harmless enough, and he was far from the only immigrant to lose his ESL polish sitting in that chair.

"Not the State of New York, Mr. Janowiscz. The U.S. State Department. When we entered the preliminary report of the incident into the computer, a flag came up. They asked us to hold you until one of their people got here." Vitonne paused, not really wanting to ask the next question. He had plenty of illegal aliens in his family, but they were three or four generations back. His personal feeling was that if somebody snuck into the U.S. so they could work hard and try to make an honest pile, why not? In his experience, aliens were less likely to get involved in trouble, not more.

Still, he thought, duty is duty.

"Mr. Janowiscz... can you think of a reason why the U.S. State Department might be interested in you? Something having to do with your residency status, maybe?"

"My status, young man, is that I am a citizen of the United States. I was sworn in as a citizen at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library in Ann Arbor, Michigan on May 8, 1997. You may go look that up if you wish. I would appreciate you not making accusations. I am an honest man, and I am retired."

Hi vass svaarn een ass a zitizen...

"Calm down, sir, please. It was just a simple question."

"It was NOT a simple question. It was an accusation and I do not need to sit here while you insult me. I would like to go home now, please."

Vitonne fought off a powerful urge to go to the door and push the buzz-button. Janowiscz's eyes were huge behind the glasses, wide and unblinking. Vitonne felt his own eyes start to water. A hot pressure was building in his head, like the start of those migraines he used to get.

"I would like to go home. Now. Open the door, Sergeant. You will open the door and let me go."

His head was really pounding now, the feeling in the back of his neck like a razor sharp vice, gripping hard. Vitonne bobbed his head around, seeking some relief. The pain and pressure eased up only as he moved toward the door. Shooting pains down his arm made him gasp, fearing a heart attack or stroke, but these pains, too, were eased by moving his arm upward, outward toward the button.

"You will let me go."

Vitonne's world was pain, nothing but pain. The door out of the room was like an island he was swimming toward. If he could reach it, he could escape the agony that now tore at every part of his body. The old man's voice rang in his mind - HYU VILL LETT MEE KOH...   HYU VILL LETT MEE KOH...   HYU VILL LETT MEE KOH...


When the team of special agents from ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and the OIAPI (Office of the Intergovernmental Attaché for Persons of Interest) showed up, both men were gone. Witnesses said that they'd seen Sergeant Vitonne escorting Janowiscz down to the garage, but hadn't thought anything of it. After all, Vitonne looked preoccupied, and Janowiscz? He looked like such a harmless old duffer, didn't he?

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Frankly, to be honest, and honestly

I'm listening to the audiobook version of "Mission of Honor" by David Weber. It's important to note that I'm listening to the audiobook version as I make my daily drive in the car, rather than physically reading this doorstop of a novel; it informs what I'm about to say. If I were reading the text, I could let my eyes skip over all the boring stuff, but it's hard to fast-forward the CD while I'm driving.

This book is driving me crazy, but I'm going to see it through to the end as a lesson and warning to myself: "Don't Write Books Like This". Space opera science fiction is supposed to have action. Exciting people doing exciting things. Sure, you need some exposition and some character interaction, but a healthy percentage of the book should be occupied with the beloved accoutrements of space opera: spaceships, lasers, fights, plots, chases, escapes, good guys, bad guys, lovers, friends, enemies.

What you should NOT do is have 98 out of every 100 scenes be people sitting around a table talking about:
  1. what happened in the preceding 17 books in the series
  2. how they feel about what happened in the preceding 17 books in the series
  3. bad guys explaining (in excruciating detail) what they are about to do to the good guys
  4. good guys discussing and speculating (in excruciating detail) what the bad guys might be planning, all of which the reader already knows because of the scenes immediately preceding (see point 3)
  5. after the ONE ACTUAL ACTION SCENE IN THE FIRST 400 PAGES OF THE BOOK, good guys explaining to each other (in excruciating detail) how bad they all feel about what the bad guys did
Stylistically, this book is lousy. The characters are admirals, presidents, queens, leaders of vast star empires and armadas of unspeakable power. Yet, every one of them speaks with timidity and qualification.
  • "I suppose..."
  • "It seems to me..."
  • "It may be that..."
  • "I think that..."
  • "I tend to agree..."
  • "Perhaps..."
  • "It could be..."
  • "This is almost..."
  • "That's nearly..."
  • "To a certain extent..."
  • "In some ways..."
So much of the book is taken up with this kind of mealy-mouthed mush. Have you ever met an admiral? Or a senator? Or a high-ranking captain of industry? This is so very, very, VERY not how they talk.

Also, I'm getting really fucking tired of people using the blah-blah-blah nothing phrases like:
  • "Frankly, it may be that..."
  • "To be honest, there could be..."
  • "Honestly, we might..."
  • "If we're being open about it, we might consider..."
  • "To be frank, there's a certain amount of..."
Shit, lady, you're the HERO OF THE BOOK! You've personally (and at great cost) saved the life of the star empress of one star system in one book, saved the life of the president of another star system in another book, and done all kinds of other wonderful things. You had a STATUE raised in your honor when they thought you were dead! I think we can take it for granted that you're a straight shooter. You're 70 years old (though you look like a very hot 32), you've been in a jillion space battles, you've become fabulously wealthy and you're the hero of 50 planets! Stop talking like a teenybopper!

For that matter, all you other admirals, leaders of worlds, and captains of star-industries need to quit being such PUSSIES!

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One man and a thousand horny women

On the faraway planet of Xoort, the women outnumber the men by a thousand to one. You might think that this would mean a matriarchal society, but you would be wrong. It is an iron-clad patriarchy; the society is ruled by the men in a rigid aristocratic oligarchy. The men control the economy, they control the government, they control more or less everything. The women are trained from childhood to accept their subservience. They are desperate for the approval of the men, culturally complicit in this arrangement.

All of the women are also horny, every single one of them. My god, are they horny! All day long, all they can think about is sex. When they last had sex, how long it lasted, when they might be able to have sex again. Sex, sex, sex! They have sex with themselves, sex with single partners, sex in groups, sex in stable relationships, sex with strangers, sex for fun, sex for money. Sex, sex, sex! But almost always - and this is a very curious feature of Xoort - they are only able to have sex with other women.

This is a huge problem, because no matter how horny they are, no matter how often the women have sex with each other, they are all achingly eager to have sex with a man. Every woman who's had sex with a man is quick to make it known that sex with other women just can't compare. Sex with a man is everything they ever dreamed it would be, and more! Not only is the sex just so very, very, VERY much better, sex with a man is the only way to get pregnant.

On Xoort, the social status of a woman is determined by how many children she has. Under this system, only the 5% of women who have carried a child to term are considered "real" women. All the rest are viewed as mere girls, without social standing or voice in anything. Even among that 5%, the women are ruthlessly judged by how attractive and interesting their children are. Barely 0.1% of the "real" women have children good enough for them to be considered "ladies".

You might ask, why is this a problem? Surely these men, surrounded as they are by so many willing, desperately horny women, should have no problem clearing their schedule for them, right? Wouldn't they all be happy to start in on fathering just as many children as possible?

This is where you would be wrong. Because there are so MANY women competing for his attention, each man can afford to be very selective. Actually, there are a large contingent of men who aren't that selective, and take wickedly unscrupulous advantage of the situation. They have sex with lots of women, forcing them to do horrible, unspeakably degrading and destructive acts, all the while promising them a houseful of beautiful children. When the man is done (or when the woman wises up), he dumps her and goes on to the next one. Not much is done to stop these predators, other than a bit of tut-tutting among the other men. For the most part, the women are blamed for being so stupid as to allow themselves to be taken advantage of.

Even among the nice guys, though, it's a buyer's market. None of the men wants to waste his time (or his energies) on the frumpy women, the boring women, the odd looking women or the potentially high-maintenance women. He only wants the amazing women, the incredible women, the awesome, compliant, true-breeding women. After a lifetime of having lots of sex, the man has learned to distinguish good sex from fantastic sex, and he only wants the fantastic kind. Even worse for the women, if the children are wonderful, the man shares the credit. If the children are ugly and dull, it's all the woman's fault. To get the best sex and the best kids, he is only interested in the best women.

So how can these men tell which is which? On Xoort, in order to have sex with a man - REAL sex, that is - every woman has to send her picture to a bunch of men in hopes that one will choose her. The women spend enormous amounts of time on these photos, working to get them just exactly right. However, the men have a lot of photos to paw through before deciding which (if any) he will consent to take into his bed. If her smile isn't bright enough, if her hair is a shade of brown that's a bit too reddish, if her earrings are too big (or not big enough), if she's showing too much confidence (or not showing enough), if the picture isn't of sufficiently high professional quality... any of these will get her picture tossed into the shredder after a moment's glance.

Women have cried out for centuries at the unfairness of this, saying that many frumpy, odd-looking women with crooked smiles are absolutely top-notch at sex, and could easily give birth to beautiful children.

The men aren't buying it. They all say, "The system works... why not? I don't care how unrepresentative the glamour photos actually are, how little they reflect the woman being photographed. If the women can't be bothered to provide me with a cheesecake shot that immediately stimulates me, then I'm not going to waste my time finding out what she's really like. I'm a busy guy and I have plenty of women to choose from."

The men rarely if ever provide pictures of themselves. Why should they? It's not like they are working to attract the women.


This parable of agents and authors, of writing and publishing was inspired by a blog post from Nora Lumiere.

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Wednesday limerick: amuse, excite, sincere

Each Wednesday, I compose a limerick based on the prompt from Three Word Wednesday. Today's words are: amuse, excite, sincere  (it's more fun if you read it aloud - try it!):

"You made this amuse-bouche with WOOD?!"
"Try it! It's really quite good!"
"I know you're sincere
about 'High-Fiber' here,
but it fails to excite as it should."

    ~~~~~ * * * ~~~~~

Protip: if the menu says that the appetizers are made with all natural, organic, freshly ground sawdust? You're in the wrong restaurant.

My book of limericks inspired by Three Word Wednesday is FREE to borrow from Amazon:

"They made me laugh, they made me sad, they made me think and squirm and reflect. ... Tony Noland has a way with words that is nothing short of astonishing" - Jeff Posey, Amazon review

That's right, FREE. Of course, if you're not in Amazon Prime, it still only costs $0.99. That's less than a coffee. And I'm not talking Starbuck's, I'm talking about the burnt mud they sell at the convenience store. It's worth the buck - you'll love it!

Don't have a Kindle? NO PROBLEM! Get one of the free Kindle apps for PC, Mac, iPhone, Android and a host of other devices. You can read "Poetry on the Fly" (or any of my other great writing) anywhere you like!

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The #FakeElements meme was bouncing around Twitter this weekend. I chimed in randomly at first, then decided to start doing them in order.

Most essential element in taxidermy solutions: hiderogen
Element found in most antibiotics: healium
Element that used to be funny: lithgowium
Essential element for effective cliffhangers: perillium
The element found in the center of an apple: coron
Essential element automotive ferries: carborne
Element found in shining armour: knightrogen
Element that fetches a high price at the pawn shop: hocksygen
The element orthopedic surgeons love: kneeon
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#FridayFlash: A Friend In Need

The muddy water didn't do much to get the blood off his cuffs, but the doctor's hands came out of the basin cleaner than they went in. He washed with the regular soft soap until the water went scummy and gray, then dumped it out the window and rinsed the basin with fresh from the ewer. In the clean water, he washed again with the special hard lye soap. It was from a recipe he'd read in an issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, designed specifically for use after childbirths and gynecological examinations. It stung like hell and it smelled of witch-hazel and kerosene, but the article had reported good results in keeping the lingering effects of the female anatomy from being absorbed into a doctor's hands.

From his front porch, the sound of a footstep on the stair tread made him look up. He'd been fetched out of bed at two o'clock to assist Granny Osterholm with Jenny Winfield's delivery. Granny was an old hand and a good midwife, but this was Jenny's first, and the labor had been long. Two days she'd struggled with it, such that by the time the moment came, she was exhausted and couldn't deliver. He didn't fault Granny for what she did... he'd have probably done the same. Reaching in to ease the baby out, helping it to turn in the birth canal was a mercy on poor Jenny. That the baby died before the young woman could suckle her was one of those tragedies that too often came with long labor. The doctor was just glad that Granny had had the sense of mind to come get him when the bleeding wouldn't stop. It would be a month or more before Jenny could get out of bed, and there was no way to know if she'd ever be able to carry again, but she was alive. That was more than could be said in many such circumstances.

Another footstep, now on the porch itself. He didn't recognize the tread. Who would be calling now? The news must surely have spread through town that he'd had to ride out to the Winfield homestead in the small hours. It was clear five miles out on the northwest platte, a solid hour each way, and in the dark of the moon, too. Unless it was a true emergency, who could be so inconsiderate as to not hold his complaint until he'd had a chance at a change of shirt and maybe a cat nap?

Now, a knock on the door. A man's hand, to judge by the weight of the knock, but restrained enough. No pounding crisis, then. He considered feigning sleep, but thought better of it. Even after being well established out here for more than ten years, a doctor's trade came from his reputation. His hands left neither mud nor blood on the gray towel. After taking a fresh set of cuffs from the box and buttoning them on, he shrugged into his day coat. Before he left the room, he retrieved his spectacles from the pocket of his mud-spattered traveling coat.

As he approached the door, he heard the man's weight shift on the porch, as though he'd been about to knock again. The doctor opened the door into the gray light of mid-day.

"Good day, sir. Are you, by chance, Doctor Johannsen? Doctor Ivar Johannsen?" The stranger bore all the marks of a trail rider - lean face, knife-cut hair, worn tackle, gunbelt - but his voice was measured, even cultivated. He was also literate, since he must have read the sign card in the window to get the doctor's full name. If he'd just asked in town, it's doubtful they would have given out his Christian name along with the "Doctor Johannsen".

"I am, yes. What can I do for you, Mister...?"

"Cooper, Samuel Cooper. It's not so much what you can do for me, Doctor, but it's my friend who needs the help."

The doctor looked past his visitor. He was alone on the porch. Two horses were tied up at the rail, but only one was saddled. The other, a pack horse, was laden with gear that could have been for prospecting or for surveying. Neither horse looked like it had been ridden hard.

"I'm sorry, your friend? Where is he? Back at your campsite, wherever that may be? I have to tell you that I'm just back from a house call, an overnight delivery of a woman come to term before her time. I perceive that this isn't a grave necessity. If you could come back in an hour or so, I could -"

"Excuse me, Doctor, but I have him here with me."

Again, the doctor looked at the horses, then back at his visitor. "Ah. And... where is he, exactly?"

Cooper turned and waved at the pack horse. The doctor's eyebrows came together in a brief twitch of a scowl, then smoothed back into professional politeness.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Cooper, I'm a physician, not a veterinarian. I suggest you take your horse around to the livery stable. Mr. Carpentier does an excellent job of horse doctoring. Now, if you'll excuse me, I must -"

"No, Doctor, not the horse. I'm talking about my friend." Seeing that the doctor still didn't understand, he stepped away from the porch and unhitched a bundle from one of the side packs. It was bulky, a Navajo blanket wrapped in oilcloth, tied with twine. The bundle looked heavy, but Cooper lifted it with wiry grace. "May I come in?"

The doctor stepped aside and Cooper laid the bundle down on the floor of the waiting room. With a twitch of practiced fingers, he undid the half-hitch knots that held the oilskin closed. The bundle opened so easily, it almost seemed as though it were unrolling itself. When the bones were exposed to the air, they gave off a whiff of mold, sage and desert cinnamon. On the brightly patterned red and yellow blanket, the skeleton of a man was arranged in perfect order from skull to metatarsals. At a glance, he could see that it was complete and correct, with each vertebra in its proper place.

A single bullet hole pierced the skull right between the eyes, surrounded by jagged stellate fractures of the lachryma fossa.

For a time, the doctor stood silently, looking down at the remains. Finally, he said, "What exactly is it that you want from me, Mr. Cooper?"

"I'd like you to bring him back, if you would be so kind. We had a... a falling out, which got somewhat out of hand. I cleaned him up as well as I was able, but the spirit healer over at the Navajo settlement wasn't able to work any magic for him."

"And what on earth makes you think that I could bring someone back from the dead?"

"I've heard stories about your skill as a physician. I thought maybe you'd be willing to help."

"Help? 'Help'?" The doctor's voice rose with indignation. "I am a doctor, sir, not a charlatan fabulist. I will thank you to take up your... "friend", and leave my office at once. This is an insult to -"

"I have one hundred and forty-eight souls." Cooper had drawn a small pouch from an inner pocket of his vest and waved it gently. "When the Navajoes couldn't help me, I killed them all and took their souls. Surely that's payment enough for you to forgo your, ah, professional reticence with respect to death magic?"

Again, the doctor stood silently for a time. Then, with a sour face, he held out his hand for the pouch. Cooper offered it without another word. When it was tucked away inside the breast pocket of his day coat, the doctor said, "Close the door."

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Wednesday limerick: beat, pressure, substance

Each Wednesday, I compose a limerick based on the prompt from Three Word Wednesday. Today's words are: beat, pressure, substance  (it's more fun if you read it aloud - try it!):

"No pressure, just beat your own pace,"
is the best way to manage this "race".
So others write faster?
That's not a disaster;
I'm shooting for substance and grace.

    ~~~~~ * * * ~~~~~

Speed, quality, volume: pick two.

My book of limericks inspired by Three Word Wednesday is FREE to borrow from Amazon:

"They made me laugh, they made me sad, they made me think and squirm and reflect. ... Tony Noland has a way with words that is nothing short of astonishing" - Jeff Posey, Amazon review

That's right, FREE. Of course, if you're not in Amazon Prime, it still only costs $0.99. That's less than a coffee. And I'm not talking Starbuck's, I'm talking about the burnt mud they sell at the convenience store. It's worth the buck - you'll love it!

Don't have a Kindle? NO PROBLEM! Get one of the free Kindle apps for PC, Mac, iPhone, Android and a host of other devices. You can read "Poetry on the Fly" (or any of my other great writing) anywhere you like!

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The worst part of writing a novel

There are a lot of great things about writing a novel. Creativity is its own reward, of course, since the act of being creative makes you a more complex and interesting person. (This is not to say that it will automatically save you from being a nitwit, asshat or wanker, but habits of reflective thought are a step in the right direction.)

However, despite the salubrious halo effect that writing has had on me in a global sense, I find that, in a more narrow sense, it has made my conversation impossibly tedious. Specifically, my recent blog posts, tweets, Facebook posts, etc. have been inordinately consumed with info about exactly where I am with it, what I'm thinking about it, hopes, fears, dreams about it.

In short, I'm like the guy who won't shut the fuck up about his golf game, and how he thinks his new clubs will help him in the annual tournament at the country club.

What happened to me? I used to be so interesting and funny, sometimes even informative. On one grand occasion, I tried to be thoughtful and analytical, although that didn't go so well. The point is, it was more than my book, my book, my book. Even if you cared about the status of it, my beating you over the head with it so much is bound to make you change the channel.

In fact, I wonder how many people read the title of this blog post ("The worst part of writing a novel") and skipped past it, assuming it would be another whinefest about edits, characters, beta readers, formatting, marketing or other issues related to my book. "Looks like Tony is still in reruns. Maybe I'll come back when his stupid book is published and he stops talking about it."

The worst part of writing a novel is the risk of self-absorption it entails.

So, here's the deal. I'm going to declare a moratorium on talking about my book until I get it back from my beta readers. That's probably the middle of September at the soonest. If I mention my book by name between now and September 14, the first person to call me on it gets a free copy and a public acknowledgment here. I'll also throw in a Grammarian action figure complete with First Line Hook Grappler(tm) and Dramatic Impact Gun(tm), if such a thing ever sees the light of day.


Using misleading entry titles to increase clickthroughs

I was originally going to title this blog post, "Sexism in the Videogame Industry" or "How Much Will You Lose Loses Under the Ryan/Romney Plan?" or "Obama's Worst Nightmare", just to prove my point about how suckering your readership is rude. Instead, though, I'll just note that the only other thing less ethical than misleading blog post titles is blog posts entirely devoid of content.

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How to fix broken characters

Today over at Write Anything, I talk about one really effective method for fixing "broken" characters - the tropes, walk-ons, cardboard, boring, half-drawn characters that populate many rough drafts.

How can these be repaired in order to keep the story zipping along? Read the post and find out!

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#FridayFlash: Death Centered

February 4, 1995 was the day that car slipped on the ice and crushed my father against a fire hydrant buried in a snow drift. Everyone seems to think that I count the days of my life from that date, but they're wrong. While it's true the scene is never far from my mind, it's only because it would be indelibly burned into any child's mind.

Dad didn't even have time to curse. The hood of his parka was pulled up, so he only saw the old Reliant as it struck him. I'd always imagined that when Dad died, he'd be unspeakably loud, bellowing his fury at the world in a rage, either limping drunk or acid sober, depending on how the daydream played out.

Instead, he only said, "Hey, WHOA!" His last words were "Hey, WHOA!" The grill of the car crushed his body, snapping his spine against the frozen hydrant. The blood fountained up out of his mouth, spraying through the icy air, up and up and up and down and down and down onto the hood of the Reliant like the thick, steamy exhalation of a murdered dragon.

"Hey, WHOA!"

All the times he'd gripped me by the hair and slapped me across the face, he'd hissed into my swollen, ringing ears. Stupid, worthless, puke, hate, nothing, pissant little shit weak nothing. I knew where I stood with Dad; he never let me forget. He'd been... what? Not eloquent - he would have used the belt on my neck for using such a "fag word" to describe his language when he told me what he thought of me. So if not eloquent, then what? Creative? Energetic? Vigorous? All that and more, driven in with a backhand, a clenched fist, a beer bottle, a belt, and once, one stupidly, numbingly memorable time, with the can opener that had slipped and spilled his baked beans on the kitchen floor.

It was my fault for coming into the kitchen to ask what happened. Beans on the floor, can opener in hand, murder in his eye... I still have a crook in my right forearm from where those bones didn't set right. A weak little piece of shit nothing isn't worth taking to a fucking doctor, for fuck's sake.

Maybe eloquent is the best word after all.

"Hey, WHOA!"

I don't count the days of my life from February 4, 1995, the day Dad died in the snow, leaving his blood and guts and shit to steam and freeze in the snowbank.

I don't count the days of my life from November 9, 2006, the day my son was born.

I don't count the days of my life from April 1, 2011, the day my son made me spill my beer all over myself when he snuck up behind me and said "BOO!" for an April Fool's Day joke, and then ran from me in terror when he saw the look on my face. That was the day I came to know myself for what I am, for what Dad made me into, but it's not the date that I count the days of my life from.


I count the days of my life from February 4, 2012. That's the day I realized that I had to leave my wife and my son, that I had to go away, go far away to somewhere safe, somewhere they could never find me, somewhere I could never, never, ever hurt them. I can feel my father inside me, and I'm not a safe man to be around.

My life began when I finally had the courage to protect my son from a monster.

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Attention agents: line forms at the LEFT

Scenario A 

I gave my beta readers six weeks, but they all read it so avidly that they return their comments in a week. Although there are a few bumps and rough spots, they all agree that this is the best thing they've read all year. They are uniformly emphatic that this IS going to be the runway favorite for the 2013 Hugo and Nebula awards.

After making the minor tweaks and polishes my beta readers asked for, I announce on Twitter and Facebook that "Goodbye Grammarian" is now finished and ready for publication. In the first six hours, I get three agents sending me their contact info with a request to get a first look. Within a week, I have sent letters to a dozen agents; eight of them want to see the first fifty pages, the other four write nice letters to say they wish they could take me on as a client.

All eight call me back five days later and tell me how fantastic it is. Four of them offer immediate representation and the other four ask for permission to pass it along to other agents. Three of the agents who want to take me on as a client mention the 2013 Hugo, and stress the importance of timing. One of these agents cautions me that while it's a fantastic book, it's not Pulitzer fantastic. This person also suggests that maybe I should keep a space cleared on my mantlepiece for the Pulitzer after I write another book or two.

My agent shops "Goodbye Grammarian" around for a couple of months. After sorting through all the offers from the competing publishers, I go with the one that offered a $100,000 advance for this book and a separate $450,000 advance as part of a three-book deal. The only change asked for is a change of title, from "Goodbye Grammarian" to "Verbosity's Vengeance: A Grammarian Adventure". The publisher sees this title as more suitable for the first in a series of books featuring the Grammarian. I send a case of good scotch and/or good chocolate to my agent, my editor and to each of my beta readers.

The book is the smash hit of 2013, winning the Hugo and the Nebula. By August of 2013, I've finished the first draft of the sequel. Plushie action figures of the Grammarian are rush-produced in China, just in time to hit the December Christmas rush at Costco, Wal-Mart and Sam's Club. By June of 2014, my agent and I are sorting through film adaptation offers.


Scenario B

Although I gave my beta readers six weeks, it takes more than ten weeks (and one or two gentle reminders) before they all respond. Their comments all start off the same way: they remind me that I asked for honest feedback, they offer disclaimers that their comments are "just one person's opinion", and they affirm that there are actually several good bits in the book. None of them agree on which bits are good.

The plot's a jumbled hash, the characters are formulaic and wooden, the dialogue is unnatural sounding, the action is boring, the jokes aren't funny. The book could possibly be saved by a complete rewrite, but it would have to be by someone with more talent and/or experience than me. The general consensus is that, for the sake of my career as a novelist (assuming I insist on still trying to have a career as a novelist), I should bury this book and go write a better one for my debut effort.

None of my beta readers are willing to re-read a future revision of "Goodbye Grammarian". One of them asks that her name not be mentioned in the acknowledgements. Another suggests that maybe he's "not the right person" to beta read for me, and asks that I not only not send him the rewrite, but that I not send him any other book I might decide to write. I send a nice gift to each of my beta readers to thank them for their honesty and efforts on my behalf. They all acknowledge receipt of the gifts, but still don't want to read anything else I've written.

I shelve "Goodbye Grammarian" and begin a new and better book. It is based on this story, and it features vampires as a persecuted minority who rise up to challenge the ruling power structure. I feel confident that it will be a smash hit... once it's finished.

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#3WW: Crumble, drawn, uneasy

Each Wednesday, I compose a limerick based on the prompt from Three Word Wednesday. Today's words are: crumble, drawn, uneasy  (it's more fun if you read it aloud - try it!):

I feel courage crumble - I'm queasy.
It's no wonder that I am uneasy...
 "Come have your blood drawn."
An hour before dawn?
Her sharp teeth make her look really sleazy!

    ~~~~~ * * * ~~~~~

Um, cholesterol testing usually only needs a few ounces of blood. Why are you drawing a gallon? And why are you using your mouth instead of a needle?

Oh, wait... while the "phoney phlebotomist" thing is alliterative and an EXCELLENT promotion for some sexy vampire novel, it's not going to do much for a slim volume of my limericks, is it? How about this:

My book of limericks inspired by Three Word Wednesday is FREE to borrow from Amazon:

"They made me laugh, they made me sad, they made me think and squirm and reflect. ... Tony Noland has a way with words that is nothing short of astonishing" - Jeff Posey, Amazon review

That's right, FREE. Of course, if you're not in Amazon Prime, it still only costs $0.99. That's less than a coffee. And I'm not talking Starbuck's, I'm talking about the burnt mud they sell at the convenience store. It's worth the buck - you'll love it!

Don't have a Kindle? NO PROBLEM! Get one of the free Kindle apps for PC, Mac, iPhone, Android and a host of other devices. You can read "Poetry on the Fly" (or any of my other great writing) anywhere you like!

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Interregnum: anthologies

Interregnum (plural in·ter·reg·nums or in·ter·reg·na). n.
- the time during which a throne is vacant between two successive reigns or regimes

Now that "Goodbye Grammarian" is off to my beta readers, I have a few weeks before I can resume work on it. I've made the decision not to start a new book until this one is truly finished. Various ideas are presenting themselves for consideration, but they are just thoughts at the moment. This means I am, in a manner of speaking, between books for a little while.

Buy this book.
When I originally assembled "Blood Picnic and other stories", it had an entire section devoted to my science fiction stories, Friday Flash and others. In the process of final edits and revisions, I decided to move those out of that anthology and give them space in a new collection, devoted entirely to sci-fi. Unfortunately, I never got around to creating that anthology.

Since "Blood Picnic" came out in April 2011, I've written another 80 Friday Flash stories here at Landless, as well as other stories for other venues. Anticipating this suspended time while "Goodbye Grammarian" is being beta read, I had previously thought that I might use this block of time to put together a couple of new anthologies, for the science fiction stories and for other pieces. I did not anticipate how tired I'd be as a result of the final push to finish the beta draft. Given that I have more traveling to do later this week, I'm going to say that next week will be a good time to start these interregnum projects.

Right now, I'm just enjoying the break in my writing schedule. If my brain had toes, it would be wriggling them in the sand, not doing much of anything.

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Earth Invades Mars 2: Laser Assault

Congratulations to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory on the successful landing of Curiosity last night! The huge (2000 pounds!)  explorer, equipped with a huge science deck, used a combination of parachutes, rockets and belaying tethers to touch down right on target, right on schedule.

Photo courtesy of NASA

Curiosity has plenty of instruments on board, but the laser breakdown spectroscopy system is among the newer ones for a Mars mission.

Photo courtesy of NASA

It works like this: zap a spot with a high intensity laser, ionize the material to a plasma, use a spectrometer to read the elemental composition from the emission spectra. Unlike the carbide teeth on a grinder wheel, lasers never get dull, so as long as Curiosity has power from its nuclear cell, the science can continue.
Good luck, Curiosity!

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#FridayFlash: The Statefair Letters

My dear nephew Wormwood,

It is with some distress that I received your most recent report. The Ohio State Fair was a perfect opportunity to ensure the absolute corruption of Tony Noland's soul, yet he remains only partially corrupted. If you continue to let such simple tasks remain undone, your career as a Tempter will forever be a less-than-remarkable footnote in the annals of our family. Clearly, you misunderstood the instructions I gave you in my last letter for how you should tempt the Patient at the Ohio State Fair.

The Seven Sins were not a mere suggestion as to your method of approach; they were what the humans call a "check list". If you like, you should think of them as a chain with seven links. If any one of the links goes unforged, the Patient may very well escape us and go floating up to The Wretched Place. He'll be weighted down by those links that are around him, but he will ONLY be weighted down. For his soul to be bound to us for all eternity, you must forge all seven links, and forge them well.

Gluttony is far too simple. The Patient already had a strong propensity toward this Sin; his indulgence represents no accomplishment at all on your part. If in addition to the elephant ears, french fries, pepperoni pizza, mashed potatoes and gravy, coleslaw, pierogies with sour cream, sauerkraut, corn dogs, cotton candy and slider burgers, you had also enticed him to consume salt water taffy, deep fried pickles, baby back ribs, gyros or caramel corn, perhaps his gluttony might have been notable.

Context, my dear Wormwood, context is everything. For a normal day, his eating would have been wonderfully disgusting. For the Ohio State Fair, however, it was rather restrained, and I blame you for that. Why, didn't you even notice that he had unsweetened iced tea? Or that his order at the Dairy Association counter included ice cream and milkshakes for everyone else, but a pint of low fat strawberry milk for himself? Why were you not paying attention? That would have been a perfect opportunity to tempt him into a strawberry milkshake instead.

As for his conduct with respect to the other Sins, you have much to answer for:
  • Wrath: not only did he not lose his temper with anyone, but on two separate occasions, he went out of his way to note placatingly that everyone was hot and tired. This not only turned away his own wrath, but that of the people he was with. 
  • Avarice: not only was he not miserly, he was generous with money for rides, treats, and souvenirs. He used his money to make other people feel BETTER, not WORSE. (Where in Hell were you, Wormwood?) 
  • Sloth: he was the first to push on to the next exhibit, the first to volunteer to go forward, the first to map out the schedule of events. Did he suggest simply waiting around until the lumberjack show started? No. He encouraged everyone in his party to use the time to explore the prairie grass exhibit AND the wetlands exhibit in the Natural Resources Pavilion. 
  • Pride: he paid no attention to the mismatched dorkiness of tan cargo shorts, a green-and-blue plaid shirt and a bright red baseball cap. When his pen leaked in his pocket, his only concern was that his little Moleskine notebook was clean. He didn't care AT ALL that the blotch on his shorts might affect his appearance. 
  • Lust: the worst thing he did was give an extra-long glance at an exceptionally attractive young woman, what you described as "a hottie in a pink crop top, denim mini and kicky leather ankle boots". (Just ONE glance at just ONE "hottie"? Wormwood, you are impossibly sloppy in your work.) 
  • Envy: surrounded by goods and materials, equipment and adornments and young, strong, healthy men and women, he could have been envious of them in a dozen different ways. Instead, you report that he felt only "joy" (a hateful word) at seeing the young people "doing well for themselves" and "having a good time". Appalling!

Your work ethic is entirely suspect, Wormwood. The Ohio State Fair is a place for people to go and have fun, see interesting things and learn about new products and services. It is the lion's den. You were sent there to Corrupt and Tempt, not ride rollercoasters on the Midway. I expect better work from you in the future, or I will roast you on a spit and eat you while you are still screaming.

Your affectionate Uncle,


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