My first blog post

Janus, god of transitions
Today marks my first blog post for the new writing site, Today's Author. Since today is the last day of 2012, I talk about transitions, endings, beginnings, and what we as writers can learn from the turning of the year.

Go give it a read.

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#FridayFlash: Close Range

"It's harder to melt tin and antimony, but lead pellets foul the gun barrels too much."

"Where do you find antimony? Since the Internet and all the utilities went down, it's not like you can go onto Amazon and just order some, is it?"

"There's a welding supply company in Norristown. All the grocery stores and gas stations are looted and destroyed, but nobody thinks to take specialty metals. I've got at least four hundred pounds of antimony in the workshop. At the rate I'm making and using ammunition, that'll be enough for at least a year."

"And the tin?"

"Same shop. The ammo is mostly copper, anyway. I mix up the alloy when I cast the pellets. The tin and antimony are just to improve the hardness and ballistics."

"Where did you get all the copper? Did you tear out pipes from one of the abandoned houses?"

"No, that would have been too much work. It's from a Home Depot in Cheltenham. I thought about taking coils of wire instead, since they're more compact, but it's at least four pounds of insulation to every one pound of copper. In the end, I made a furnace out of fireclay and concrete block right in the Home Depot parking lot. I used up forty bags of charcoal and spent a week melting all the copper in the place down into ingots. It was pretty nerve wracking being out in the open like that for a whole week, but ingots are much easier to transport and store up here."

"Is that Home Depot where you got the iron pipe for the gun barrels?"

"And the air compressors, the tanks and tubing, the trigger release valves, everything I used to build the airguns that guard the perimeter."

"What about food? What have you done about food?"

"Food isn't nearly as important as water. The solar cells run the distillers and reverse osmosis pumps."

"But what are you eating?"

"Not much."

"But you must be starving, right? Without food, how much longer can you stay here?"

"I don't need to worry about food. I set traps for the squirrels and rabbits, but I've found that wildlife doesn't like the zombies any more than I do. They seem to sense that this place is a secure oasis; they're attracted to it. Believe it or not, I just have to sit tight and keep the lights on. The larger game animals come to me."

"What kind of game animals?"

"The kind that can't do anything but ask lots of questions."

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At the end, Write Nothing

Today marks my final post for Write Anything. The site is going dark on December 31, 2012, just three days from now.
Since I came on board, some of my fellow Write Anything writers have become so successful with their writing that they needed to shift priorities, which meant moving on from this site. Others have seen their creative fires burn so low that they felt they had nothing more to contribute. People left and successors were found for the Write Anything group. Now that Write Anything itself is going on to that great Google cache in the sky, will us writers limit ourselves to our own respective blogs? Or will some successor group coalesce around a new center of gravity?
 Go read the rest of it, and feel free to say goodbye, either there or here.

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Sayer's questions

Yesterday, I posted 11 random facts about myself after Sayer awarded me the Liebster Blog Award. Today, I'll answer Sayer's questions.

1. What is your favorite color? /obligatory Monty Python

Lavender gray  (or maybe MSU green)

2. What is the worst movie you've ever seen? Was it so bad it was good, or was it just regular old terrible?

Can't remember the title, but it was a stripper movie. Even the NC-17 nudity couldn't make up for the terrible acting. I walked out halfway through, deciding that it was a waste of my time.

3. What was the best movie you've ever seen?

"Singing In The Rain", about as flawlessly perfect as a movie can be. Endlessly re-watchable.

4. What inspired you to create? (start writing etc)

I have too many thoughts and ideas buzzing in my head to keep them all contained there.

5. What is your favorite ice cream flavor? (Vanilla absolutely counts)

Banana chocolate chip vanilla frozen custard, from Ted Drewes, 6726 Chippewa Street, St. Louis, MO 63109

6. Who is your favorite writer?

P.G. Wodehouse

7. What is the last book you read?

I'm in the middle of several right now, including: "White Pickups" by Larry Kollar; "Gravity's Rainbow" by Thomas Pynchon; "Make the Bread, Buy the Butter" by Jennifer Reese.

8. Have you read any of my stuff? (yes, I know, I know)

Yes, I read your flash fiction.

9. How do you feel about books being turned into movies? Always a bad idea? Sometimes?

A great book can be a great movie ("The Godfather"). A mediocre book can give rise to a great movie ("Jaws"). A great book can make a lousy movie ("Pride and Prejudice"). The process of adaptation means turning one kind of art into another kind of art - always risky.

10. Is there any "everyone who has taste likes this" stuff that you just can't seem to get into? (It's LOTR for me)
Seinfeld. Utterly unfunny, and I think less of people who like it.

11. If I have 10 ice cubes and you have 11 apples, how many pancakes will fit on the roof?
What kind of roof? African or European?

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Wiswell's questions

Yesterday, I posted 11 random facts about myself after John Wiswell awarded me the Liebster Blog Award. Today, I'll answer John's questions.

1. If you were given sheltered time tonight to watch any one movie, during which no one would walk in, call, or text to bother you, what would you pick?


2. What’s the last book that left you envying the writer?

I envy lots of writers, but most recently? "The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making" by Catherynne M. Valente.

3. What did you envy about that book?

Right from the start, the book goes off into deep, unapologetic fantasy, completely self-assured in the 150-proof wierdness. No initial chapter of throat-clearing to establish a framing normalcy, no explaination of why and how the adventure is a logical outgrowth of something. It just dives right in.

4. What’s your favorite phone call that you’ve ever received?

Someone I worked with 17 years ago called me out of the blue to talk about a recent project of hers, prompted solely by the thought that I might be interested in hearing how things are going.

5. What is the most recent food you couldn’t resist?

Caramel nut clusters.

6. What is the sickest burn anyone has ever laid on you?
(A crowd of Tony and Tony's friends. Alcohol is present.)
Person A: "Hey, Tony, I've got a complicated problem. Maybe you can help me with it."
Tony: "Sure, what's up?"
Person A: "Well, it's a science question. You know a lot about science, so I figured you'd know the answer."
Person B: "Or at least he'd be able to make up something that sounds plausible, right?"
(General laughter and agreement.)
Tony: "....."

7. What is the sickest burn you’ve ever laid on someone else?

Not going to answer this one. My past is littered with my attempts to score points with the sick, sicker, sickest burns. My wit was so sharp that among my friends and family, respect for my verbal skill gradually turned into fear. The bon mots were hilarious (for everyone except the target), but dreadfully pointed. I've since made a conscious decision to lay off that kind of thing.

8. Has there ever been an instance where it felt like any media had made you more violent? Can you recall an instance?

The NRA's recent press conference made me want to punch Wayne Lapierre and his lackeys in Congress.

9. Has there ever been an instance where it felt like any media had made you kinder? Can you recall an instance?

Yes, this one:
10. You’ve got a friend named ‘John’ who tends to listen to musicians one song at a time, and dislikes albums. You’ve got a band you want him to try. What song do you recommend first?

Ella Fitzgerald. Start with "Miss Otis Regrets" , from the Cole Porter Songbook

11. The ghost of a loved one is going to try to communicate with you through a car stereo. It’s all that was available at the time, don’t judge. You don’t have to tell us who it is or what they wanted to say, but you do have to tell us what the song would be.

"Nothing" from the original cast recording of "A Chorus Line"

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My Top 10 posts in 2012

As 2012 draws to a close, I thought you might like to have a quick look back at the most popular posts of 2012:

1. Standing desk ergonomics: height. This explains, in diagrammatic detail, exactly how high to make your standing desk. Very informative.

2.  The best fundraising speech ever. I wrote these when I had a speech to write. Funny, but DON'T actually use this formula.

3. March 2012. Curiously, the data say that this compilation of  everything I wrote in March, 2012 is among the biggest hits. Why March? No idea.

4. Let's talk about my elbow. In which I talk about my elbow.

5. Precise magic. A #Fridayflash story about a new kind of witch.

6. Funny, but useless. Editing - when good words must go.

7. 12 things successful assassins do differently. Advice on how to make a killing.

8. 6 ways to make money writing crap. Advice on how to make a different kind of killing.

9. The last page. A #Fridayflash story about the closing of a book.

10. Hey, jerk - I'm talking to you! Does following too many people make you an asshole?

Also among the most popular were  Ode to the semicolon (a poem written in honor of my favorite punctuation mark) and How to repair a dead monitor (a DIY how-to that will save lots of money). However, these were written before 2012, and aren't in the running for Best of 2012, no matter how evergreen they are.

Enjoy, and feel free to link, RT or otherwise cross-post these.

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Tony Noland: limited biography

I was recently awarded the Liebster Blog Award by both John Wiswell and the enigmatic Mr. Sayer. Thank you, gentlemen!

The rules here are:

1. You post 11 random facts about yourself.
2. Answer the 11 questions your presenter gave you.
3. You pass the award on to 11 other bloggers.
4. Compose 11 new questions for your recipients.

Since I was awarded this twice, doing all of it in one blog post would make for a very long entry, well into TLDR territory. Today, I will give you the 11 random facts about myself. Tomorrow, I'll answer John's questions and Sayer's questions in separate blog posts.

11 Random Facts About Tony Noland:

1. I have holes in the back of my jaw, left over from when I had my badly impacted wisdom teeth removed ~25 years ago in a heroic session of oral surgery.

2. When I sold newspapers on the street corner as a child, I used to cut off the fingertips of gloves so that I could still make change in the wintertime without having my hands freeze completely. (This was back when there were such things as newsboys... and newspapers.)

3. I not only know the difference between a basting stitch and a blanket stitch, I know when to use each.

4. There is a five year old child who fears me as a result of a peek-a-boo game gone horribly wrong when she was two years old. To this day, she will not look me in the eye or come anywhere near me.

5. I learned to drive in cars with automatic transmission. I began to drive a stick shift in the early 1990's and now prefer them.

6. Although I like to play video games, I don't get to spend much time on them these days.

7. I was once shot in the chest with a fireball from a Roman candle firework. It hurt.

8. No one would be more surprised than my 18-year-old self to learn that not only am I now a regular churchgoer, I'm also a cheerful giver and one of the leaders of the congregation. The theology I was raised in put too much church between me and God.

9. When someone tells me that they met someone who reminded them of me, my first reaction is to worry about what the guy did.

10. I eat more than I should.

11. When I was touring in the Forbidden City in Beijing a few years ago, a Chinese tourist thought I was somebody famous and asked if he could have his picture taken with me. I said yes and we posed for a few snaps, arm in arm. It's pretty rare that you see a grown man so happy and excited.

Remember: check back tomorrow for the answers to these questions: 

John's questions:

1. If you were given sheltered time tonight to watch any one movie, during which no one would walk in, call, or text to bother you, what would you pick?

2. What’s the last book that left you envying the writer?

3. What did you envy about that book?

4. What’s your favorite phone call that you’ve ever received?

5. What is the most recent food you couldn’t resist?

6. What is the sickest burn anyone has ever laid on you?

7. What is the sickest burn you’ve ever laid on someone else?

8. Has there ever been an instance where it felt like any media had made you more violent? Can you recall an instance?

9. Has there ever been an instance where it felt like any media had made you kinder? Can you recall an instance?

10. You’ve got a friend named ‘John’ who tends to listen to musicians one song at a time, and dislikes albums. You’ve got a band you want him to try. What song do you recommend first?

11. The ghost of a loved one is going to try to communicate with you through a car stereo. It’s all that was available at the time, don’t judge. You don’t have to tell us who it is or what they wanted to say, but you do have to tell us what the song would be.

Sayer's questions:

1. What is your favorite color? /obligatory Monty Python

2. What is the worst movie you've ever seen? Was it so bad it was good, or was it just regular old terrible?

3. What was the best movie you've ever seen?

4. What inspired you to create? (start writing etc)

5. What is your favorite ice cream flavor? (Vanilla absolutely counts)

6. Who is your favorite writer?

7. What is the last book you read?

8. Have you read any of my stuff? (yes, I know, I know)

9. How do you feel about books being turned into movies? Always a bad idea? Sometimes?

10. Is there any "everyone who has taste likes this" stuff that you just can't seem to get into? (It's LOTR for me)

11. If I have 10 ice cubes and you have 11 apples, how many pancakes will fit on the roof?

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Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to all my Landless readers! I hope today is a terrific day for you. If you're a writer, I hope you enjoy the words Santa put into the stocking of your mind. And if you're NOT a writer, I hope you enjoy the words Santa put into the stocking of MY mind.

Now, having put in my bid for "Worst Christmas-Themed Muse Analogy of 2012", I'm taking the day off. Enjoy your holiday!

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Fresh review(s) of Blood Picnic

If you pop over to Amazon, you can read the reviews of "Blood Picnic and other stories". Just for fun, I've included below some excerpts of a review that I think really captures what I was trying to do with this anthology of flash fiction:
There were some really good, and even great ones...the book deserves some of the good reviews I see here... reminiscent of Steven King... I would read more by this author, and a couple of the stories would have been really interesting to expand on.

For the sake of full disclosure, I've also included some excerpts of a 2-star review:
I found the stories a bit formulaic... mechanical plot twists weighed it down and rendered the wit trite... more snark than substance

Which review is more accurate? Spend $0.99 and go find you for yourself! When you're done reading, feel free to leave a review. I think you'll like it, but I'm pretty biased. Whether you feel like the person who wrote that first review, or are more like the second, all views are welcome.

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#FridayFlash: Every Christmas

"The only thing I ever got for Christmas was a slap to the face. You don't have to get slapped too many times before you stop asking for stuff like Christmas presents."

In another time, another place, such a statement would have frozen the people he was with. Without conversation to drown it out, the carols B101 had been programming since before Thanksgiving would have been the only sound in the room. The radio would have continued to play in the background, with Brenda Lee's "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree" or Dean Martin's "Let It Snow" taking the place of real human voices.

The moment would hang and linger as each of his listeners tried to process what he'd just said. Was he joking? Was he serious? What did he mean by it? How was this a good response to the usual chit-chat banter about what you got for your kids, for your wife or husband, for your siblings or parents? Amid the small talk, what did he mean by dropping a neutron bomb like that?

In other times, other places, he'd said it and frozen the people he was with. Now, though, he was alone; his oversharing dismissal of Christmas, brought out in front of the mirror in his standard snorting sneer, silenced only himself.

For years, he was the guy who could always be counted on to ruin the mood. He brought stupid presents to the office party gift exchange... not silly stupid like a carefully wrapped box of AA batteries, or funny stupid like a bobblehead doll of some Mets infielder no one had ever heard of. Other people brought stuff like that and it was a riot. No, he brought stupid stupid things, like a king-size stick of deodorant, a big bag of rubber bands, blank videocassettes, and (one year) an old Gideon bible from a used book store. When his present was unwrapped, nobody laughed, no matter how far along the party was, no matter how drunk everyone was.

What are you trying to do, somebody once asked him, ruin Christmas?

"Christmas," he'd snort. "What's Christmas ever done for me?" It was his usual rebuttal when challenged, brought out on the rare occasions when someone had the courage and bad judgement to challenge him, or to try to cheer him up, or to change his mind. These occasions delighted him, just as a foolish calf delighted the river crocodile by coming too close to the water's edge. He loved nothing more than the chance to move the conversation onto his turf, to make the day about him and his pain and rage.

The worst part about him is that his pain and rage at Christmastime were just as real as the joy and nostalgia everyone else felt. He HAD been slapped when he'd asked about Santa Claus, he HAD been locked in his room for wanting a bicycle, he HAD been thrown out of the house on Christmas Eve, 1972. Nine days after his sixteenth birthday, he'd had the last fight of his life with his father. Words had turned to shouts, shouts to threats, threats to a thrown punch. His father responded with a half-full bottle of Iron City broken across the forehead of his good-for-nothing, piece of shit little brat, always whining, always crying, never lifting a goddamned finger. The bottle led to the belt, the belt gave way to the steel-toed boots that his father wore down at the plant.

An hour later and forty miles west of town, his father dumped him out of the passenger seat into the snow-filled ditch at the intersection of Route 9 and Scroggins Mill Road. After a while, perhaps three hours, the traffic light above him switched from green, yellow, red, green, yellow, red to blinking yellow, yellow, yellow. Bright lights from a state trooper in the early hours of Christmas Day, lights blinking red and blue, not red and green.

"Christmas... what's Christmas ever done for me?"

The bathroom mirror had no answer. The silence was heavy, but it wasn't complete. Through the walls, he could hear carols, laughter, conversation, music. When he retired, he had no reason to attend the office Christmas parties anymore. They were his only link to the world of eggnog, tinsel, wrapping paper and fancy chocolates, that world in which he would forever be a outsider, though everyone else seemed like a native. Now, he didn't even have people to offend and shock.

It was disgusting, how he couldn't keep himself from crying this way. Pathetic, stupid, disgusting. What had Christmas ever done for him?

Every Christmas it was the same.

The tears, the pain he didn't understand, the longing for something he couldn't describe.

Every Christmas it was the same.

Every Christmas it was the same.

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How To Avoid The 2012 Mayan Apocalypse

Step 1. Find the guy who installed the time machine in the modern Mayan ruins so he could go back and teach the ancient Mayans about movable type, gunpowder, and smallpox vaccination.

The time machine is hidden in the pyramid on the left.

Step 2. Sweet talk him until he stops mumbling, "Nobody listens to me. Nobody ever listens to me."

Step 3. Get him to go back in time AGAIN and have the Mayans reset the date of the apocalypse to 12/21/2112.

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An Unexpected Shout-Out

Over on Tom Gillespie's blog Adventures in Writerland, Rebecca Emin is being interviewed about her book, "A Knowing Look and other stories". When asked what attracted her to the short fiction form and who some of her favorite authors are, she said (in part):
One day I saw a competition on a blog for short stories, entered it and won, which was a massive surprise. I then discovered Friday Flash (#fridayflash on Twitter) ( and began writing flash fiction as a part of that community. I read a lot of flash fiction as well and am now totally hooked on the form. It would be impossible for me to name one favourite short story writer as I read so widely now, but I always enjoy stories by Tania Hershman, Nik Perring ( ) (who also edited A Knowing Look), Tony Noland, and Alison Wells.
Thanks for the shout-out, Rebecca!

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A fireplace video

Almost as good as, fireplace videos are relaxing. Here, relax:

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Emollient, Veritable Polymath, and Scrimshandered

(Challenge accepted)


An early sleet rattled against the windows. I hoped it would dislodge some of the grime.

When I say it was early, I don’t mean it was early for December. Around here, the weather goes from “hot enough for ya” to “brass monkey’s balls” without stopping over at sun-dappled anything. I mean it was early for me… too early. Seven o'clock a.m. is an hour for cops, drunks and other respectable people. It was an hour I hadn’t seen in at least a year, and hadn’t seen willingly in at least ten.

The corpse on the table didn’t care what time it was.

He didn’t care if I smoked his cigarettes, didn’t care if I took the cash in his wallet. The poor bastard who had only recently stopped dripping on my carpet had died an ugly death. A scrimshandered letter opener was jammed up one nostril, right to the hilt. The head was bent back over the table, and that was where he must have gotten the veritable nose job. His thick mass of dark hair was matted with a heavy emollient no barber ever used. Red and sticky, it sure as hell didn’t smell like Bay Rum. The stuff in his wallet said he was either Raymond Tollifer (this from a Carpenter’s Union card), Richard Tollman (Teamster’s Union card) or Reynolds Tollerude (student ID from Princeton Goddamned University). Mr. Dead was a polymath puzzle, a cooling slab of Renaissance Man. Whoever he was, he’d obviously been left in my office as a message for me.

A note would have been simpler. It was too early for games, but then, I hate games at any hour.


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So soon, the crap creeps back in

After a busy, tiring weekend, I popped on Twitter a few minutes ago, thinking to see what's up, what people are talking about, maybe chat a bit. What I saw was sniping and counter-sniping about President Obama's eulogy at the memorial service for the shooting victims in Newtown, CT. It was, by most accounts, a moving, touching, respectful act of the leader of our country.

But not by ALL accounts, and those were the ones I saw on Twitter tonight.

Conservatives carped that the President wasted no time in making political hay of the dead children and teachers. By this, they presumably mean that he is opening the door to tougher gun control laws.

I also saw someone say that the real cause of this shooting was the liberals, who have inculcated a widespread disrespect for "innocent life". Apparently, the logic here is:

"cop-killer ammo + assault rifle + lunatic pulling the trigger over and over and over = killing children"


"abortions = killing children"


"liberal Democrats = abortions"

so therefore

"liberals pulled the trigger in Newtown, CT"

It's outrageous, disgusting crap, and it is flowing back into the public sphere like a foul, stinking tide. It was kept away for less than 48 hours, but now it's back in full force.

All those first graders who asked Santa for dolls, bikes, puppies and video games, but who instead got early "Christmas presents" of three or four copper-jacketed, expanding slugs each? They weren't available for comment on how irredeemably shitty the right wing has become.

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The price of a life

As of this writing, I don't know exactly what kind of weapon was used to murder those innocent children and schoolteachers in Connecticut. Latest word is that the shooter had two handguns and a .223 caliber rifle. I'm assuming the rifle is an assault-type semiautomatic, rather than a bolt-action or single-fire.

The term ".223" means that the bullet jacket is two hundred twenty-three thousandths of an inch in diameter. The .223 is designed for hunting, varmints and plunking, with a lighter load of powder than the comparable 5.56 NATO round. (The 5.56 is designed for protecting Europe from the Red Army of the Soviet Union.)

For a couple of hundred bucks, you can pick up a .223 rifle. With only a moment's searching, I found a serviceable AR-15 .223 with a 30 round clip for about $720. Depending on the power of the ammunition and bulk discounts, bullets range from about $.25 - 1.00 each.

So: .223 assault rifle + lots of .223 ammo = ~$800.

For 28 lives, that works out to about $29 per life.

In case anyone is counting.

UPDATE: The killer started by taking his mom's Glock and shooting her in the face. After she was dead, he took her Sig Sauer and an AR-15 to the school. The rifle was found in the car, so all the killing was done with the Glock and the Sig.

I'm too sick at heart to redo the calculations as to the cost of the weapons and ammo.

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#FridayFlash: Caution - Genius At Work

"Let me get this straight: you have an idea, but you won't tell me what it is."

"That's right."

"And you won't tell me because you think I won't like it."

"I know you won't."

"But you think I will like what your idea can do for my company."

"I'm certain of it."

"And for an exclusive worldwide license to this wonderful mystery idea, you want me to give you full access to the facilities and staff of the NovoGeneTech laboratories in Palo Alto and buy you a dairy farm."

"One that can handle at least four hundred animals in confined pens. There's a place by Gilroy that would be ideal, but the location is something I can be flexible on."

"Not to mention that you also want twenty million dollars in cash, up front."

"It doesn't have to be in cash. An expense account would be fine, so long as it didn't have a monthly spending limit."

"And the return on my investment would be...?"

"I can reduce by 97% the production cost of all nine of NovoGeneTech's blockbuster nucleotide therapy treatments while also increasing output by at least 800% in the first six months. We both know that you'll hit market saturation at the high end of the income curve in about six years. My idea will position you to lock in the top three quintiles of the entire population for the next thirty years, not just the richest 0.1% who can afford your gene augmentations. Everybody wants perfect pitch, high intelligence, ultra-charismatic sex appeal and so on. Give me what I want and I'll make sure you can give them what they want."

"You can really do that?"


"Then why won't I like your idea?"

"Because it's not very... nice."

"Professor, I promise to listen with an open mind."


"If you can deliver on that scenario you laid out, then yes, I promise you that I'm interested in hearing your idea."

"Fine. I should tell you that without the antigen recognition sequences I've developed, you won't be able to do this without me. Just in case you had some thought of stealing my idea."

"Noted. Go on."

"OK. You're limited in your production because you have to extract your nucleotide preparations from the blood of the people you have locked in the basement at NovoGeneTech, right? No, wait! Please don't call security - I'm just putting your current problem in context."

"That's a damned lie. I don't know what you're talking about. There's no one... we don't... that's a damned lie. You can't possibly know anything about how we run our production facility, which, I might add, is operated with the strictest, most scrupulous adherence to all NIH and FDA ethics guidelines."

"Fine. We both know what the truth is. I'm not here to blackmail you, I'm here to help you."

"You can't blackmail me because that's a damned lie! No one is 'locked in the basement'. If any of our employees in the production facility want to leave, that's perfectly within their right to do so. Their employment contracts stipulate certain things about transportation of company property, but -"

"Said company property being the engineered gene-constructs you put into their bone marrow. Please, can we just get back to my idea?"

"I will NOT have the good name of this company threatened by unsubstantiated allegations of misconduct!"

"Look, you don't have to say anything, OK? Just sit for a minute and neither confirm nor deny. You extract the nucleotide preparations from their blood, which means you're limited by the amount of blood they can give you. I'm guessing you have maybe twenty people in the facility. That's twenty pints of blood every six weeks, maybe more if you're giving them hormones and iron supplements."

"This is outrageous!"

"My idea is this: pull some of the genetically engineered bone marrow cells, retrograde engineer them back into the adherant cancer cells they started as. Alter the surface antigen bindings so that they mimic bovine stem cells. We take a herd of cows, inoculate their bladders and large intestine with these engineered human-bovine chimeras. The cows all get benign bladder cancer and bowel cancer, huge masses of cancerous tissue that signal-stimulate the growth of new blood vessels. In short, they'll bleed like crazy into their urine and feces. We keep them penned up and collect it for processing and extraction."

"Extraction? You mean isolate the nucleotides from their... from the blood in their waste?"

"Yep. Each cow will produce at least thirty pounds of usable material every day. Conversion efficiency will be lower than from pure human blood, but the numbers work out perfectly. Plus, it's fully scalable. Need more blood? Infect more cows."

"But bladder cancer is really painful, isn't it?"

"Not nearly as painful as bowel cancer, but so what? It's a minor surgical procedure to clip the major nerves. They won't feel a thing, probably. Of course, that kind of blood loss will wear them out, but not much more than milking would. When an animal is reduced to skin and bones, you throw it away and infect a fresh cow."

"That's... an idea we hadn't thought of. I'm not sure how it would go over with the FDA."

"What? The animal welfare aspect?"

"No, the fact that we'd be making our line of gene therapy treatments from bloody cow shit. Still, that's what the PR guys are for, isn't it?"

"So we have a deal?"

"Professor, let's just say that I'm willing to pay to hear the real details of your idea."

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Who will next wear the crown?

On today's Write Anything post (my penultimate post for that venerable but soon-to-be-shuttered writing site), I look back on 2012 with some tough questions. Was this year a "Win" with respect to my writing? If so, why? What success tipped it into the win column? Also, what price did I pay for that success? Am I willing to pay that price again?

The King Is Dead... Long Live the King?

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Funny, but useless

When I wrote up the first synopsis of "Verbosity's Vengeance", it ran to about 8000 words over 15 pages. This was a thumbnail sketch of each scene.

I cut it to 4000 words, then to 2000, then to 1000, then to about 900, which let it fit onto 3 pages. This was my goal all along, since a 3-page synopsis is about as much as anyone in the publishing industry has any interest in reading.

What I discovered in the process was interesting. First, I'm a long-winded SOB, in love with adjectives and blind to my own verbal excesses. I had to let the thing sit untouched for a couple of  weeks before I could even see how to pare it down further from 2000 words.

Second, I had to cut all reference to a couple of supporting characters, then cut out references to one subplot. It all fit, but I felt that something essential to the overall book was lost.

Third, one of the subplots (and its driving supporting character) is now looking rather superfluous. I was able to cut and cut and cut the descriptions of those scenes until they more or less boil down to "X and Y talk about stuff so X can feel better about doing what he was going to do anyway." The action of the main plot stops while the MC is on one ruminative digression after another.

Was a death sentence more clearly warranted?

It's a shame, because in many ways, this supporting character is one of my favorites. Wry, sardonic and wise, he's a humanizing touch that helps to illustrate the MC's history and private ambitions. The interactions deepen the MC and make him more than a cardboard superhero-in-disguise.

I'm going to have to figure out a way to retain these touches, but jettison all the talking over cups of coffee. I just wish I'd had this long night of troubled insomnia a while ago, before I'd started sending this book out to slush piles.

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Poetry to decorate by

(Not my house.)
To hang decorations, I must.
Too bad I'm allergic to dust.
I'll keep clear my head
With an allergy med
And into Christmas be thrust.

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The Black Dog of Depression: History of a Metaphor

Those of us who suffer through occasional (or regular) bouts of depression know just how apt is Winston Churchill's metaphor. Through a cycle of successes and failures, advances and setbacks that would have broken a lesser man, he suffered recurrent depression and nearly paralyzing melancholia. He described the days of his dark moods as being pursued by a black dog.

It's a perfect turn of phrase, capturing the inescapable sense of helpless isolation, the futility of trying to hold your ground against a powerful, dangerous beast. Running will do no good, yet there is nothing to do BUT run. If you slow down, if you give in, even if you stumble through no fault of your own, the black dog will catch up to you and that's the end.

Depression is like this:
No company’s more hateful than your own
You dodge and give yourself the slip; you seek
In bed or in your cups from care to sneak
In vain: the black dog follows you and hangs
Close on your flying skirts with hungry fangs.

Perfectly apt lines describing those days when "no company is more hateful than your own". But guess what? This is an 1863 translation of lines that were written more than two thousand years ago, by the poet Horace. Paul Foley, the author of the article "‘Black dog’ as a metaphor for depression: a brief history", says that the original Latin probably translates better as "a dusky companion", and that the translator (J. Conington) was using a looser phrase that would speak to his 19th century audience.

Still, that means "black dog" was in common parlance in 1863. Where did it come from before that? Mr. Foley's article traces it back to Samuel Johnson, that great lexicographer, word nerd and bon vivant of the 1770's and 80's. The phrase was used in his circle and amplified by him:
In the place where you now are, there is much to be observed… But what will you do to keep away the black dog that worries you at home? … The great direction which Burton has left to men disordered like you, is this, Be not solitary; be not idle: which I would thus modify;– If you are idle, be not solitary; if you are solitary, be not idle.
For those of us who have to deal with our own black dogs, that's pretty good advice.

If you're interested in how language evolves and how phrases arise and become eternal, go give Mr. Foley's article a read.

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#FridayFlash: The Last Page

The old Corolla came fast through the intersection, doing at least fifty through the school zone, maybe more. William R. Granville Jr. watched it from the driver's seat of his Audi A4, still almost perfect in the second year of a two year lease. He sat at the light, waiting for his turn arrow, like a good citizen. Not on his cell phone, not checking messages, not distracted by anything, William was present in the moment and just where he was supposed to be. He squinted against the morning sunlight through his windshield and saw the oncoming car change lanes to get around a slowpoke.

Like a stumbling horse, the Corolla skidded sideways on a glaze of ice and came right at him. From the moment the other driver lost control to the moment he slammed into the Audi was only a little more than a second, hardly enough time for William to register what he was seeing.

It took much less than a second for William's door to crush inward, the heavy maroon plastic shattering to reveal the silvery edge of tearing metal. The front and side airbags exploded in a cloud that looked white at first, but then turned into a rainbow swirl as they whumped into William's face and chest with the force of a swung tennis racket. He couldn't see the ragged sheet metal of the door jammed inward and upward against his thigh, couldn't see the blood and bone spraying as the knife edge torn into his left thigh.

To be sure, he felt it. Felt the discrete sensations of pressure on his leg, the burning of tearing flesh, the otherworldy deepness of sensation as his left femur splintered and was driven upward by the impact of the Corolla. He felt the separation of his pelvis like a door in the wall of the universe violently yanked open for the first time since the moment of Creation itself. After that, everything, even the sun-bright shrieks from his dislocated hip and tearing back muscles, were drowned out by the unbelievable cascade of pain from his face. The airbag broke his nose and shoved the broken frame and lens of his eyeglasses into his left eye, crushing the eye socket from the bridge of his nose inward.

It was more than pain, more than an entire world made of solid pain, where rivers of pain tumbled over pain-cliffs, sending a spray of pain droplets into the pain-air where the light of pain made a permanent pain rainbow that shone forever and filled the eyes and minds and lives of all the pain-people with the colors of pain forever and ever and ever.

William felt it all, but with the kind of detachment that comes from being at a meeting that you weren't invited to, where you were truly running with the big dogs. He felt outclassed, inadequate to be the recipient of such distilled agony. There wasn't time for the usual flood of anger, excitement, and determination to overcome all odds and pull out a win. This wasn't like the hostile board meetings and conference tables where he could  hold his own until he was able to recruit an ally or two.

He was alone, and alone had to play the cards he'd been dealt. It wasn't fair, but then, life wasn't fair. Never had been. Anyway, the facts were plain: he was going to have to put this one in the loss column, try to make it up somehow later. For William, there was always time to make the balance sheet come out right, always time to settle scores, always time to turn old enemies into supporters, always time to come up smelling like a rose.

Except... the light was fading, and he was cold.

The pain was still there, but he wasn't aware of it any more than a fish is aware of the water. The pain was everywhere and everything, which meant it was nowhere and nothing. Behind the pain, though, was a cold, red darkness unlike anything Billy had ever seen. Or was it light? The world was a roaring silence of pain and cold, but the colder he got the warmer he felt. The cold warmth expanded into the bright darkness, replacing the numb agony that filled the sky from horizon to horizon.

Suspended in this new world of all-consuming yet unfelt agony, William could see nothing. In that timeless moment, he felt the presence of another, a calm and masterful Other, someone who knew his way around this landscape of pain and darkness. A strong, gentle hand placed itself on his, loosening his grip on the steering wheel. William hadn't realized he was still holding on to the wheel, still had a grasp of the physical reality of his everyday normalcy. His hand was guided to a book, one like his old college textbooks to judge by the feel of it. A thick hardback with pages that were glossy to his fingertips, the book was on the last page. It was, he knew, the story of his life.

In the business world, there were times when you had to make decisions you didn't want to make, all too often as you accepted the consequences of other people's bad decisions. William had made his way in the world by not complaining about how hard the work might be or how risky the outcomes. He always said, "never worry about the future, never apologize for the past, just see that today goes in the win column". That wasn't always possible, of course, but it was the attitude of success that mattered.

William knew what the Other wanted him to do. He hesitated only a moment, then closed the book firmly. If he had to close out his account with a loss, so be it - what's done is done and he would take it like a man. Steeped in cold, black agony that he could no longer feel, William waited for the end.

To his surprise, the hand of the Other guided him through the darkness to another book, one at least twice as thick as the previous book. Gently but irresistibly, the Other led his fingertips across the embossed cover. It was rasping and rough to his touch, like sandpaper or sharkskin. The entire cover was taken up by a presswork circle with the book's title in raised letters in the middle. He slid his hand over the cover, trying to make out the words.

"The Life and Times of  William R. Granville Jr.
Volume 2: From A One-Track Mind to A One-Eyed Amputee"

The Other held his wrist, guiding him to open the book, to turn over the first page of Volume 2 of the story of his life. William screamed and fought, tried with all his might to pull himself free, but the Other, with the strength of the entire world, forced his hand forward.

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Each rotten December

On Wednesdays, I compose a limerick based on the prompt from Three Word Wednesday. Today's words are: battle, fluid, harvest  (it's more fun if you read it aloud - try it!):

The battle commences once more
More fluid this year than before

Each rotten December
Depression dismember
A harvest of "Joy" 'mid the gore

 ~~~~~ * * * ~~~~~

For me, Christmas is an anxious, depressing time of the year, made all the worse for the fact that it seems to start a week or two before Halloween. I really like Advent, but always have to struggle to gear up for Christmas.

I'll leave this "buy my book" boilerplate intact, but really, it's more out of a sake of completeness than out of any notion that readers will get this far in today's post.

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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Dropping the price of an

I dropped the price of my flash fiction anthology, "Blood Picnic and other stories". When Amazon updates the website, it will go from $2.99 to $0.99. I can't say this will send any shockwaves through the publishing world, but the new price brings it more in line with the price point for other anthologies.

This move is long overdue. It's not unusual for the price to drop after the book has been out for a while, and this has been priced the same since in came out last year. Eventually, when I have some firm plans for "Verbosity's Vengeance", I'll append the first chapter or two onto "Blood Picnic" as a teaser.

Come to think of it, there's another blog post that I need to write about the status of "Verbosity's Vengeance", but that will have to wait for another day.

Bonus: want a free reviewer copy of "Blood Picnic"? Be one of the first ten people to comment on this post with the word "review" somewhere in your comment. All I ask is that you leave a review at Amazon after you're done reading.

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Apparently, I make people worry

Today over at The Bathroom Monologues, John Wiswell (@Wiswell) has a post up entitled, "Social Neurosis and Tony Noland". It's a good read.

If I inspire the same kind of social anxiety in YOU, ask your doctor about this simple, low-cost method of dealing with TARS (TonyNoland Anxiety Reaction Syndrome). Remember - a better life awaits you.

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The first Sunday of Advent

Will someone please tell me where 2012 went? Life goes by in a whirlwind, the sheer mass of daily responsibilities bending space-time around itself more completely than any black hole.

What happened to October? To June? To March? Can it really be December already? Time to set out the Advent wreath and sing "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" before each Sunday dinner? Really? Already?

They say that when you are young, the days are short and the years are long, the way time should be. Somewhere along the line, that reverses: each day is long and wearying, but the years flit by like leaves in the wind.

O come, o come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, o Israel