Why make resolutions?

I know people have mixed reactions toward New Year's Resolutions. Life coach gurus will tell you that the time to make a change in your life is not after some arbitrary date on the calender, but NOW. Resolve to do what you want to do starting TODAY.

Fair enough, but humans are culturally entrained to live by symbols and ceremonies. We crave communally recognized milestones to make the passage of time. Even though holidays, anniversaries and other significant dates are arbitrary, every society on Earth lives and governs itself by them.

Whether fixed (Christmas Day, the date on which you were born/married/ordained/etc.), movable (the first full moon of spring, the last home game of the season), or capricious (the day of your first kiss, the day she left, the night you picked up the gun and then put it down again), these arbitrary dividers between before and after help us make sense of our lives.

Or at least keep the memories in order.

So, take the time at the turning of the year to look back AND to look forward. Look back, because introspection in support of an examined life is rarely wasted effort. Look forward, because deciding what kind of a future you want of the live in helps you to make specific plans and preparations to getting it.

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What happened to last year's resolutions?

Time for the annual performance review. My resolutions for 2013 were:
1. Publish "Verbosity's Vengeance: A Grammarian Adventure Novel".
2. Finish an outline, rough draft, revised draft and polished draft of my next book.
3. Rework my writing schedule to get more done, and refocus my efforts so that the things I'm getting done are what I need to be getting done.
How did I do? It's been a mixed bag this year, an amalgamation of highs and lows.

1. Yes, Verbosity's Vengeance was published on September 14. People who have read it and posted reviews on Amazon and on Goodreads liked it, with some people having enjoyed it quite a bit. If anyone read it and didn't like it, they kept quiet about it, for which I'm grateful. So far, many fewer people have actually taken a chance on the book than I hoped. When the next book goes on sale, these people will have the satisfaction of being all, "Oh, you just started reading Tony Noland? I've been reading him since his first novel."

2. Yes, the rough draft of the next book is finished. It's a sad, brutal mess, and not even close to the polished phase, but at least it exists. I opened a vein for this one, digging into some painful personal experiences to provide characters, plot twists, and overall emotional verisimilitude. I might be tempted to think that most of my readers would rather read something funny from me, but based on sales of Verbosity's Vengeance, I can be confident that even if I alienated my entire existing reader base, those would not be major numbers anyway.

3. Yes, I'm getting more done and have been more focused on the important things. Unfortunately, this has involved dealing with lots of major disruption in my day job that began in May and continues to the present. I've accomplished much less with my writing. My output had to be severely curtailed as I kept the ship afloat, which meant making some hard choices about how I spent my writing time. Rather than doing five things badly, I tried to do two things well. It didn't work out as I'd hoped.

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Trying to Stop Smoking

On the drive from Philadelphia to NE Ohio for Christmas, we had a little "incident" with the minivan. A stalling, lurching engine would be bad enough, but billowing plumes of acrid smoke from under the hood contribute to circumstances which, to say the least, do not inspire confidence in the vehicle. Being 300 miles in either direction from a) home, and b) our destination, we had a range of options available to us, none of them great.

To make a long story short, we made it to where we needed to be, despite the failing transmission. The last couple of hundred miles gave me a new crop of gray hairs to add to the existing collection, but that's the inevitable price demanded by an exciting day. At least it stopped smoking when I shut the engine off.

The minivan is now parked on a street a couple of miles from where I am now. There it will stay until I figure out exactly what to do. Might be a clutch plate, might be something more. Either way, I'm not going to sink more money into this thing. We've wrung the last drops from this husk; it's time to cut our losses and move on.

We were planning on getting a new vehicle after the holidays, but this sudden catastrophic failure has forced my hand. A new minivan will run anywhere from $30,000 - $40,000, an expenditure I was not expecting to make at the After Christmas DoorBuster Sales.

I make about $2 for every copy of "Verbosity's Vengeance" sold as an e.book. If any of you would like to buy 80,000 copies real quick, I'd be cool with that.

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Speaking seriously

Probably the most awkward part of writing an introspective, confessional blog post is the first line. Now that I've gotten that out of the way, I need to decide if this second line will actually get into the meat of what I wanted to say in this post, or continue to beat around the bush as I dither about just how detailed to be in sharing the thoughts that consume me.

A paragraph break will forestall that decision, allowing me to continue to shy away from the real subject of this post while delivering a passable illusion of developing content. Should I do another paragraph break? No, that would make this "paragraph" only a single line, far too brief even for a blog post. My sentences are long and complex, but even one of my more baroque constructions couldn't pull off the trick of standing alone.

But I digress.

Or do I? Is this really a digression? While all this self-referential blather would appear antithetical to my stated goal - i.e. the introspective, confessional blog post I came on here to write - it seems to be accomplishing my REAL purpose, which is to hide my real thoughts and feelings behind a cloud of meaningless textual chaff. After all, the marketplace of ideas has little demand for the inner workings of my mind, however grammatically they are presented.

My head is a crowded place. Like a Time Lord without the time (or the lordliness), I lead too many lives, both simultaneously and in sequence. They bleed across their separating membranes, the triumphs of one diminished by the tragedies of another, the base metal here burnished and elevated by the admixture of gold from there. There is nothing within me that is unalloyed anything, but then, that could be said of any of us, no?


Another stone thrown to the pond,
Another leaf freed from the tree,
Another piece seized from the loaf,
Another word heard out of me.

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Too pretty to be an engineer

We join our hero, Alex Graham (aka the Grammarian), in the middle of a cocktail party conversation with his old friend Walter McHenry and Kate Hunter, a woman he's just met.

"Alex Graham, this is Kathryn Hunt. She’s just moved into town.”
Alex extended his hand. “How do you do, Ms. Hunt.”
“Very well, thank you, Mr. Graham. It’s, ah, Hunter, actually. Kathryn Hunter, but please, call me Kate.”
“Kate it is. Please, call me Alex.” In a moment, another glance between them was enough to cover the awkwardness of Walter’ having gotten her name wrong, and to establish the beginnings of an acquaintance. He let go of her hand. Her grip had been confident and her nails were moderately short. The silver pendant that rested on the upper swell of her cleavage had an oddly cut emerald, offset by five small diamonds. The diamonds were of good but not outstanding quality, probably a third of a carat in all.
“Kate?” said Walter. “Huh. And here I’ve been calling you Kathryn all evening.”
“Yes, you have. Strange, isn’t it?” She sipped at her drink, looking over the lip of the glass at the string quartet. The moment stretched out a fraction longer than was comfortable.
She’s used to meeting and greeting, but doesn’t like small talk, Alex thought. Wears glasses, but skipped them for the sake of her outfit. Doesn’t spend a lot on jewelry, but that pendant is a modern setting. Is she in sales? An administrator of some kind?
Aloud, Alex said, “So, Kate. Did I hear Walter say that you’ve just moved here?”
“Yes, that’s right,” she said, “I moved here last August.”
“August... the start of the school year?” Kate’s eyes narrowed a bit and she inclined her head at Alex. He thought he might have scored a hit, but he couldn’t tell if she was happy about that or not. He went on, “And how are you finding things here in Lexicon City? It’s not been too difficult of a transition, I hope.”
“Things have been fine, thank you. Although I must admit that I haven’t gotten to see much of the city yet. My new job has been keeping me rather busy. I haven’t even gotten my place properly furnished.”
 “I could certainly give you the names of a few furniture stores in town. I’m sure you’d be able to find some suitable items, regardless of your, ah, tastes in decorating.”
Kate smiled and said, “My tastes? Or do you mean regardless of my budget, Alex?” Her smile assured both men that she wasn’t offended, but Alex had to use a minor pulse of power to suppress a blush even as Walter smiled more widely.
“That depends on what your new job is, right?” Walter sailed into the opening. “What is it you do again? We kinda got sidetracked when you were about to tell me.”
Her smile shifted to a half-hesitant quirk of the lips. “I’m at Lexicon Polytech.”
“Oh?” Alex said quickly, trusting that his effort to stay foremost in the conversation with her was not too obvious. “Well, you look a little too well-adjusted to be one of the graduate students.” He smiled, hoping the joke went over well.
 It did. She smiled and shook her head. “No, and I’m not a postdoc, either.”
“Alex, come on!” Walter rolled his eyes. “Does she look like a Ph.D. to you? Besides, LPU is an engineering technology research school. I mean, really, open your eyes, pal! Have you ever seen anyone who looks less like an engineer?” He winked at Kate, all boyish charm.
In a flash, Kate’s smile was gone as muscles clenched along her jaw line.
Uh oh, Alex thought. He glanced at Walter and winced. Even though Kate’s changed expression shouldn’t have been hard to read, Walter was oblivious.
She looked up at the big man and said, “You’re right, Walter, I’m not a postdoc and I’m not an engineer.”
“See, Alex? I told you.”
“I’m a full professor in the Materials Science department. LPU was so eager to hire me away from CalTech, they threw in tenure. My undergraduate work at Yale was in organic chemistry, and my master’s degree at the University of Chicago was in cryogenic electron capture. For my doctoral work at M.I.T., I invented a method for autoassembly of interphase semitransitional solids. Here at LPU, I’m continuing my work on quantum oscillation dampening fields. Lots of chemistry and physics, but you’re right, no engineering degree.”
She handed her empty glass to Walter, whose mouth was hanging open wide enough for his foot.
“Now then, if you’ll excuse me, gentlemen,” she said, “I think I’ve had enough entertainment for one evening. Mr. McHenry, it was fascinating to meet you. Truly, it was. Alex, I still need to get the contact info for those furniture shops you mentioned. I’d love to get together with you to discuss it. Perhaps sometime this week we might meet for coffee?”
Alex, pleased and surprised, caught the chagrined look on Walter’ face. However, before Alex could say anything, a pistol shot exploded from the far side of the room, followed by a man’s voice, shouting, “All right, nobody move!”
At the last instant, Alex remembered to temper his reaction down to that of a normal man. He turned toward the sound of the gunfire. At the far end of the room, a dozen armed men, masked and wielding pistols and automatic weapons, pushed their way through the crowd. The guests and partygoers were shoved ahead, some of them tripping and falling. Around the room, dozens of people were digging out cell phones. A half dozen security guards lay unconscious by the doors.


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Indie Interview: Larry Kollar

My friend and collaborator Larry Kollar (@FARfetched58) is celebrating the release of the newest book in the Accidental Sorcerers series, "The Sorcerer's Daughter". I invited him onto Landless so I could learn a little more about the man behind the books.

Tony Noland: Larry, congratulations on "The Sorcerer's Daughter"! Tell us about it.

This is the third book in the "Accidental Sorcerers" series. While Bailar, Mik, and Sura help the Conclave prepare for potential conflict with rogue mages, Sura learns that she is a scion of a noble House in one of the Alliance cities. But when she learns the price of her history, it may be too late.

This was a fun one to write. It starts out with a snowball fight, which provides a vehicle for tying up the last loose end from Water and Chaos, the second book. They prepare to teach combat magic to other apprentices, and have to prove themselves to some of the older kids. Finally, there's an escape and a chase scene at sea!

With this book, the first meta-plot of the series, Sura's origin story, is complete.
TN:  You're a prolific indie author, with a number of titles out on the market. Do you see writing as a career?

I write technical documentation for a living, so… in a way, yes. ;-) As far as writing fiction, I've calculated how many books I'd need to sell on a regular basis to do it full time. It's a pretty big number, but some indies have racked up bigger numbers. I need to step up my marketing game.
TN: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?

I was very young. I have been able to read as long as I can remember, but remember puzzling out the concepts of "quoted dialog" and paragraphs when I was 5 or 6. I think I started trying to write stories soon after.
TN: What was the hardest part of writing your book?

Trying to avoid cramming too many subplots into a novella. What got cut was the relationship between Charn and Isa, the friends at the annual Gathering. Charn now has a girlfriend at home, but doesn't know how to tell Isa. Meanwhile, Isa is willing to do anything to keep him…
TN: It sounds like there's a long plot arc for these characters. What’s next?

The next story is Into the Icebound. With the apprentices finally coming into their own power, their challenges are growing as well. Plenty of action!

TN: Thanks, Larry! Good luck with "The Sorcerer's Daughter" at Amazon and over at Smashwords!

Larry Kollar lives in north Georgia, surrounded by kudzu, trees, and in-laws. His day job involves writing user manuals—some of which may have been fiction, but not by intent. He has had short fictional works published in the Hogglepot Journal, the Were-Traveler, and the anthology Best of Friday Flash, Vol. 2. Longer works include his first novel, White Pickups, and the popular Accidental Sorcerers series. For more of his strange fiction, and even stranger reality, visit his blog, Far Manor, and follow him on Twitter as @FARfetched58. For first looks and exclusive offers, join Larry’s “Fleet Commanders” mailing list: http://eepurl.com/nDOP9

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"my top five favorite books"

A new review of "Verbosity's Vengeance" not only gives it 5 stars, the reviewer puts my humble effort among his top five favorite books of all time. Why? From the Amazon review:
I've always been a fan of the superhero genre, but it's not everyday that a story in that category would move me in such a profound way. Given the nature of my favorite paragraph in Verbosity's Vengeance, I cannot help but feel moved. It's likely because I agree with the sentiment of just how powerful language really is. This story reinforces it in spades, and I encourage other fans of language to pick up a copy of this story.
There you go! If you love language and respect the power of well-chosen words to transcend the limits of space, time, and human existence, you will love my book.

Alternatively, if you are just looking for a fun, intelligent, exciting superhero story with lots of explosions AND clever wordplay, you'll also love my book! Available now for $2.99 for the Kindle reader and Kindle software. Makes a great present for ages 12 and up.

Still not convinced? Read the first couple of chapters for free. Just click on the cover to open the book and start reading!

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My next book

My 50K NaNoWriMo is sitting quietly on my hard drive, marinating in its piquant first draft juices. It's a corporate thriller, full of threats, intimidation, double-dealing, and innocent people used by indifferent forces to achieve twisted ends. Evil is sometimes thwarted, sometimes rewarded, and if virtue triumphs, then the game isn't over yet. This is a story I've been wanting to tell for years, and I'm glad the writing went the way it did for NaNoWriMo. I'll let this draft sit for this month, then start revisions in January.

This will be my next book, written in a different way and to a different standard than "Verbosity's Vengeance". Whereas the debut novel detailing the adventures of the Grammarian was a full-length novel of 108K, I'm going to make this one half that length at most. The production time associated with it should be a third of what "Verbosity's Vengeance" took.

In writing "Verbosity's Vengeance", I shared the angst and uncertainty of the writing process. While this helped to whet the appetite of a few people, it mostly drained me of the fire needed to re-write it. I spent a lot of time writing about writing the book, instead of just writing the book. That in turn extended the production time, which I believe cost me significantly.

Maybe it's oversharing to observe that most of the hopes I had for "Verbosity's Vengeance" have been crushed and stripped away by the experience of bringing it to the light of day. They were unreasonable hopes, of course, but as they were the hopes of a know-nothing, debut novelist, working with minimal support or backing, unreasonable hopes were to be expected. Now that uninformed hope has been replaced by a measure of experience, I'm better positioned to know what to expect the next time around.

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The Moving Finger writes

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
 Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit,
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
 Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

But helpless pieces in the game He plays,
 Upon this chequer-board of Nights and Days,
He hither and thither moves, and checks… and slays,
 Then one by one, back in the Closet lays.

And, as the Cock crew, those who stood before
 The Tavern shouted— “Open then the Door!
You know how little time we have to stay,
 And once departed, may return no more."

A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
 A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread—and Thou,
Beside me singing in the Wilderness,
 And oh, Wilderness is Paradise enow.

Myself when young did eagerly frequent
 Doctor and Saint, and heard great Argument
About it and about: but evermore
 Came out of the same Door as in I went.

With them the Seed of Wisdom did I sow,
 And with my own hand labour’d it to grow:
And this was all the Harvest that I reap’d—
 “I came like Water, and like Wind I go.”

Into this Universe, and why not knowing,
 Nor whence, like Water willy-nilly flowing:
And out of it, as Wind along the Waste,
 I know not whither, willy-nilly blowing.

And that inverted Bowl we call The Sky,
 Whereunder crawling coop’t we live and die,
Lift not thy hands to It for help—for It
 Rolls impotently on as Thou or I.

(Translated by Edward FitzGerald

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#GreenTuesday e.book sale

Green Tuesday! 11.3.2013After Black Friday and Cyber Monday comes Green Tuesday! The e.books you buy today in the Green Tuesday e.book sale are all made from 100% recycled electrons, guaranteed! Even better, those electrons aren't just recycled on the producer end; they are fully recyclable after you're finished with the e.book.

These e.books, including "Verbosity's Vengeance", are trans-fat free, gluten free, cholesterol free, cruelty free, and (at only $0.99 each) practically free free.

A wide range of titles are listed in the Green Tuesday e.book sale, so hop on over and take a look. You're sure to find a few fun reads to fill up that e.reader you just got, or to pre-load the e.reader you're planning on buying for yourself or a loved one.

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NaNoWriMo success!

This afternoon I put the final words together to put my NaNoWriMo over the top. At 50,133 words, it clocks in as a winner! There's still a bit more to write to wrap up the ending and make the draft truly done, but it's nice to be able to mark this one as over the line.

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Gone again

I'm off on a trip to Prague as of this afternoon. Between now and then, I have a ton of things to do, none of which include writing fiction or blogs. Since I'm sitting at 43K for #NaNoWriMo as of this morning, I'll have to abandon my plan of finishing before I leave town. Fortunately, I'll have lots of time in airports and buckled into a seat in coach to keep writing.

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Taking a break

No fiction written yesterday, NaNoWriMo or otherwise. As of right now, I'm still at 38,053. Many things were vying for my attention yesterday; many things vie for my attention today. NaNoWriMo is a deadline, but there are other, more important deadlines snapping at my heels.

Fortunately, since I took a break last night, I was able to lay aside all (or at least most) of my burdens, mental and physical. An evening off, with an early-ish bedtime has eased away a big chunk of my exhaustion. With luck, dedication, and plenty of coffee, I might get done today all the things that need to get done today.

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Withdrawal from the world

Coming into Week 3 of NaNoWriMo, I'm at 32,500 words. Progress is steady, which is a pretty good feeling. If I get a solid push, I might be able to finish up this week, which would make my schedule for next week MUCH more pleasant. Alas, my optimism is counterbalanced by the knowledge that the next bit will be harder to write.

All of this writing means that I've not been blogging or hanging out on twitter much. It's not that great of a loss to the communal life of the mind, I know, but it's nonetheless a mental dislocation for me. Can't be helped, but I thought I'd mention it.

In the dark hours of the soul, I question whether the book I'm writing will ever see the light of day, or if it even should. That makes the ROI calculation klunk hard on the "don't bother" side of the ledger. This is all the more true since it's going to need heroic amounts of editing. That's not only to make it a more coherent, compelling narrative, but so that I won't open myself up to slander charges. Too many real people and real events are in it for me to carry it off without substantial camouflage.

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Finding time to blog

During NaNoWriMo, my time for blogging is much diminished. However, odd moments like this one can be used for it. In this case, I'm blogging via email.

Most platforms support it. You have to approve a contributor (in this case, myself), then allow that email address to send posts in directly. Such posts have an immediacy that other posts lack; they're more like personal status updates than topical thought pieces or essays.

Do you write blog posts by email? Would you if you could?

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Nothing to report except self-loathing

My NaNoWriMo is at 17,823 words. The big start I had has given me the cushion to withstand a few slow days. I'm still on track to hit 50,000 by the end of the month, but I'm behind the pace I wanted to be setting. I'll be traveling during the last week of November, with uncertain opportunities to write. More importantly, I don't know what my connectivity will be, so I need to get NaNoWriMo finished well before the end of the month.

Here in Week Two, I am, as usual, convinced that this book is the dumbest waste of time and effort I've ever undertaken. My inadequacies as a storyteller are revealed more plainly with every dreary thousand words I fling onto the page. The manifest truth is that I was never meant to be a novelist. The searing, brutal, reality of this is inescapable.

This isn't about me. For the good of society, I should a) stop writing, and b) burn everything I've written up to this point, lest some unsuspecting innocent happen to come across it. I'm committing a crime against humanity, creating a weapon of mass destruction. This book is a bucket of powdered polonium, a mylar balloon filled with uranium hexafluoride, a rack of leaky vials of the Zero Hour Plague. This book I'm writing is the fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse, the one God loved the world too much to set free.

And I'm behind schedule on it.

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#NaNoWriMo, Day 6: 10K+

Broke 10K yesterday. This keeps me slightly ahead of the standard pace, which is where I need to be. I'll note that, on re-reading yesterday's last writing, I realized this morning that my MC was "shocked" twice in the same paragraph. Will I fix this repetition?

No I will not! That's not how NaNoWriMo works! If I get wrapped up in editing one paragraph, I'll want to edit the whole damned 10K, and there's no time for that. Believe me, I know - I wrote it.

However, I need a little mental break to cleanse the neurons. As today is Wednesday, I'll give you a little poem, based on today's three words for Three Word Wednesday: amplify, criticize, moan

Writing can amplify fear,
A moan of self-doubt looming near;
But to win NaNo's prize,
I won't criticize.
Forge ahead and put it in gear!

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Blogging during NaNoWriMo

It should be pretty clear by now that my take on blogging during NaNoWriMo is that I won't be, much.

Yesterday's writing took me up to 9400. I'm ahead of the standard pace, but I don't want to allow that lead to be eroded. Since I have another thing I need to throw some words at today, so I'm going to be VERY busy over lunch.

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More testing

I'm semi-consoled by the thought that no one is reading any of these anyway.

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#NaNoWriMo: voice dictation

Day 2. Logged 4122 words in yesterday's opener. I think that's a record for me.

Today, I have a big block of time where I'll be on the sidelines of a soccer practice & game. In the past, I've taken my laptop to type during the slow bits (which make up 95% of any soccer game), but have since been told that this is not acceptable.

Therefore, I'm going to try voice dictation with my phone. Plenty of people talk on phones on the sidelines without being scorned, shunned or suffering social approbation. Granted, not many of them will be doing it with a bluetooth gaming headset complete with boom mic, but I'm willing to look cutting edge. The fidelity of voice recognition drops from "not great" to "lousy" outdoors if you don't use a microphone of some kind - too much wind and ambient sound.

I expect that the quality of prose today will be marginal, but that's OK. Better to log a bunch of strange, semi-coherent words than to log none at all. I know the next five plot points, so I can keep talking as long as I need to.

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NaNoWriMo, Day 1

Wrote 240 words before coffee. Power went out in high winds. Have since written another 1200 at another location.

Hoping to do 3000 today.

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The Eyeball in the Jar, part 2


Four days after the storm, the body of the handyman was found amid a mass of debris thrown up on a river bend far, far downstream of the red clay town. Word was sent to the sheriff, who came along directly. Black or white, corpses were an irregular part of the sheriff's job, but not rare enough to cause significant distress in his mind.

As he drove out to take a look, he already knew a number of key points. He knew the man who'd discovered the body, just as he knew everyone in the county, at least to nod to if not to speak with. The body had been described as several days gone, but no one had been reported missing locally. Therefore he (whoever he was) was from out of town, from someplace upriver based on where he was found. The high waters from the storm lengthened the possibilities, but not unduly. He arrived at a spot near the river, where he was met by the discoverer, who led him down a trail to the where the corpse lay.

It was when the sheriff stood beneath the mounded tangle of branches that he got a clearer picture. The corpse stretched out more or less horizontally, held aloft by one thick limb under his back. Instead of dangling on either side, the arms were up in front where the sheriff couldn't see them. It gave the corpse a curious sense of modest repose. Smaller branches were driven into the lower back and legs like pins into a cushion. A mass of flies buzzed around these wounds, crawling and congregating over the slime that oozed through the holes in the corpse's shirt and pants.

Oozing but not bloated. Thrown around hard enough to get skewered, already dead (or dead enough) to not notice. Soaked in the flooding river, then baked in the sun after the waters receded. These observations jostled in the sheriff's mind as he tried to get a sense of how long the body had been there. That would tell him roughly how far it had come before tying up, which would give him somewhere to start.

After a moment, the sheriff took hold of the trunk and levered himself up onto one limb fork, then onto another. The entire tree was set shaking, jostling the corpse so it wiggled on its lacerating supports. Flies erupted thickly, but didn't go far. The sheriff only had to climb high enough to look down on the body. A rough description of the face would simplify the inquiries.

From a secure position several feet above the corpse, he looked down. The first thing he saw was the hands tied together at the wrists. Next was the thick rope double-wrapped around the corpse's throat, and the jutting angle that marked a broken neck. The rest of the rope, the part that was slung around a thick branch, had been hidden from view on the ground. From this angle, it was plain. Waving away the flies and the stink, the sheriff gazed down at the corpse, considering. After a long while, he called down to the man who'd discovered it.

"This man drowned," the sheriff said. "Got caught up in the river, probably during that storm. Maybe drunk, maybe not. Maybe he fell in, maybe he was swept away. Drowning's a bad way to go, poor bastard."

As he spoke, he noticed something else about the corpse. One eyelid was shoved back, the socket alive with a wriggling, pulsing mass of maggots that spilled out across the bridge of the nose. The other eye was vacant, as though there were nothing in that eye socket at all.


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Halloween fiction: "The Eyeball in the Jar"

In 1922, a lynch mob in a red clay town killed a local handyman. He was dead from a broken neck even before they strung him up, but as plenty of blood came out of him anyway as he dangled, the mod was satisfied. The stated reason for the murder was that he'd overcharged one of the mob for digging a drainage ditch, or maybe that he'd been disrespectful to someone's wife.

The real reason was that the mob was drunk and times were hard in that red clay town. Three of the members of the mob were facing foreclosure if the rains didn't come soon. The bottles passed around and talk turned from crops and cattle to banks and bills, and then soon enough turned down darker, uglier lanes. Talk led to action, and someone's fate was sealed. It could have been any one of a dozen hardworking men hauled away to the low, lonely marshes and battered by the mob that night. It happened to be the handyman.

As the sun rose the next morning, it shone brick red through lowering clouds. By nightfall, the first heavy air blew in. Gusts followed and rain followed after that. Since no one had the decency to cut the handyman down from the lonely tree where they'd strung up his already-limp body, he was left to swing in the storm.

Storm winds blew for two days, pushing over windmills and outhouses. The thundering rains raised creeks to their banks in some areas, well over them in others. It was all some could do to keep all they owned from being washed away.

When it was over and the water receded, the land near the creeks was changed, but only a bit. The tree with the dead man was gone, uprooted and swept away.


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Which book to write for NaNoWriMo?

Which one should I write?

1. A talented but untried junior executive is recruited to be a high-level fixer in one of the Company's most corrupt divisions, an assignment he's not allowed to refuse. Who's pulling the strings? Who can he trust? More importantly, can he clean the place up before it destroys him?

2. The Grammarian's new protégé Halo Dahlia is taking well to her training, but just as she's about to fly solo as a superhero, she throws it all away to help one of the worst criminals in Lexicon City. What terrible power can the Shadow Lord have over her? More importantly, how can the Grammarian stop his friend without killing her?

Think about it. Meanwhile, here's a trailer for a TV show:

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Price drop:

My fun, exciting (yet still rather cerebral) superhero novel, "Verbosity's Vengeance", is on sale for $0.99. Join the Grammarian as he uses his punctuation- and grammar-based powers to battle supervillains and schemers, protect the innocent, and rescue the helpless.


"The entire story is leavened with humor, wordplay, and heart... a delicious read."- Kevin J. Mackey, Amazon review

"A tale that follows proudly in the steps of tragicomic superheroes, going right back to Thor (the god, not the Marvel character) and Odysseus. ... There's substance here, and it's a rewarding read." - K. Hajer, Amazon review

"The Grammarian himself is a clever underdog. He's effective and powerful and has an amusing way of describing his predicaments and his fellow superheroes.This is a fast paced, funny and thoughtful story. I enjoyed it very much." - Renn Hadley, Goodreads review
If you've been considering "Verbosity's Vengeance", now's a great time to grab a copy and dive in.

107K words, 289 pages. For Kindle from Amazon, for Nook and other EPUB format directly from me.

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Collaborative NaNoWriMo

The online grammar-checking website Grammarly is going to be doing something interesting with NaNoWriMo this year. They're calling it GrammoWriMo:
We’re accepting submissions through October 25, 2013 from writers at all levels who would like to contribute to a community-written novel. Signing up with your email address will add you to the queue of authors planning to help write the novel, and Grammarly will notify you when it is your turn to contribute up to 800 words to your assigned chapter.
The link to participate is right here. I'm not sure how a book written by 60+ authors will read, but it's a new take on the exquisite corpse. For the buzzwordy among you, it's cloud-based! It's distributed!

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Changing course, relighting the fire

I was going to devote this blog post to a depressed, stressed-out, mewling self-examination of where I am on my personal writing journey. Then I remembered that nothing drives people out of the room in a hurried, awkward silence like mewling self-examination of personal writing journeys.

Instead, I'll simply note that I'll be doing NaNoWriMo this year. You can find me here: http://nanowrimo.org/participants/tony-noland. My intent is to kick-start my next book by knocking out the first draft of 50K. November is always a difficult month for me, but I suddenly find that an entire week has opened up.

My schedule for the last part of November was full of fun, social travel stuff that would have absolutely precluded writing. To do NaNoWriMo would have meant a rigid 2K per day (or more), with an early finish by Nov 25. Now, my schedule is packed with long, lonely stretches in airplanes, airports and hotels. I'll be like George Clooney in "Up in the Air", but without the good looks or complicated girlfriend.

But at the end of it, I'll have the draft for my next book.

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9 Reasons You Should Give Up On Your Dream

1. Your dream is stupid. Or at least, that's the message you've heard so much that you believe it.

2. Your dream will never make you rich. Because making money is all that matters, right?

3. Your dream isn't appropriate for someone of your gender. Drop your pants and do a genital check, OK? Some things are for you, some aren't. Don't be a troublemaker.

4. Your dream will take too long. Anything that can't show an immediate return isn't worth pursuing.

5. Your dream requires a degree. You didn't go to the right school and it's too late to do anything about that.

6. Your dream will offend your father and/or mother. Honor thy father and mother, kid. That's a message straight from God. You don't want to piss off God, do you?

7. Your dream is dangerous. What if you get hurt? What if you go bankrupt? Have you thought about that? I mean really thought about that?

8. Your dream isn't "you". We all know who you are. You're the same person you've always been. We know what you're capable of. Believe me, you won't make it.

9. Your dream is threatening to me. And when I say "me", I mean that it's threatening to every one of the little bits of status quo that form the world around you. People, jobs, house, bills, religions, political affiliations... everything. You don't want to risk all of that do you? Well, do you?

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"Fun, hurty brained meta-weirdness" - a new review of Verbosity's Vengeance

In her blog review of "Verbosity's Vengeance", Kate Sherrod describes my book on Goodreads (4 stars) as "A fun, if hurty brained, read." I'm going to parse that to mean that it doesn't read like your standard, easily-digested superhero story. Her blog review is more expansive in discussing what she liked (and what she didn't):
It's quite a challenge, taking a trope as concrete and action-oriented as superheroes and setting them to work in an intellectual, abstract, intangible arena like language and usage. It takes a brave writer to try.
Tony Noland is nothing if not brave.

Verbosity's Vengeance, in other words, winds up being a fun read (with a bit of an entertaining twist toward the end that really made me smile) once the reader's brain powers through the meta-weirdness.
Kate's review is detailed and thoughtful, so go give it a read. Once you've done that, you can buy "Verbosity's Vengeance" at Amazon for Kindle, and buy it directly from me in EPUB and other formats suitable for Nook, PC, Mac and other e.reader formats.

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Words + Words = Novel

I'm over at FridayFlash.org today talking about how I turned a 1000-word superhero story into a full blown novel. The most important part of the process was deciding what kind of book I wanted it to be and what kinds of characters to inhabit it:
I did it by thinking about my hero, the Grammarian. I gave him a backstory, along with some old enemies and even older friends. I thought about work/life balance when your day job and your “second job” both take up so much time. If you’re out saving the city every night and don’t even have time to deal with normal wear and tear on your costumes, how would you find time for relationships, either friendly or romantic? That led to the introduction of a love interest: Dr. Kate Hunter, scientist and entrepreneur.
This post gives an overview of the whole novel writing process, from trees to forest. If you've ever wanted a tour of the factory floor, now's your chance.

Bonus: what's the difference between my writing style and Stephen King's? Read on to find out.


"Verbosity's Vengeance" is available at Amazon for Kindle, and for Nook and other e.reader formats directly from me.

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The science of werewolves

I'm pleased to welcome my pal Cecilia Dominic (@RandomOenophile) to Landless today. She and I have a great many things in common, not least of which is an adventuresome spirit when it comes to food and drink. We get together over a bowl of crunchy frog or a steaming platter of curried goat entrails whenever her travels bring her to Philadelphia. I'm looking forward to visiting Atlanta and comparing its local delicacies with those found here in the city of brotherly love.

Cecilia is visiting in connection with the release of her new werewolf book, The Mountain's Shadow, available for preorder now at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. For this guest post, I asked her to talk about her combination of science with the traditional horror/fantasy element of the werewolf. What is attractive about the idea of having science in a supernatural story? As you can see below, she gave a terrific answer!


Thanks, Tony, for inviting me to guest post on your blog!

When someone asks what my novel The Mountain'sShadow is about, I often give the short answer of "werewolves with a scientific twist." The genre is urban fantasy (or paranormal depending on who's classifying it), and the main character is a behavioral epidemiologist, or someone who researches the spread of disease. She's close to discovering the cause of Chronic Lycanthropy Syndrome, the hot new behavioral disorder in kids, when a series of strange circumstances makes her lose her job. In spite of a sudden shift from researcher to heiress, she never stops approaching challenges as a scientist.

A lot of urban fantasy and paranormal romance seems to emphasize the fantasy without any scientific explanation for the origin or process of what's happening, particularly when a character is transformed from human to something else. Adding the science makes it more enjoyable for me. For example, in Anne Rice's The Wolf Gift, she talks about the hormonal changes that happen in preparation for the shift and the chemicals that make the werewolf saliva different from a man's or dog's. These elements give the story a deeper dimension and anchor it to our modern world. That added to Ms. Rice's lyrical writing style and interestingly tortured characters made the book hard for me to put down.

In addition to the entertainment value, I wanted to have science as a part of the story because I've always been fascinated by the origins and reasons behind legends and myths. Ancient cultures came up with interesting explanations for certain phenomena before they had the benefit of scientific knowledge, particularly on the cellular level. Although there is a physical disorder called congenital hypertrichosis, which causes people to grow hair all over their face and body and which may have contributed to some of the legends, there are also fascinating behavioral aspects.

The How Stuff Works blog pointed out something I'd never thought of before:  how werewolf origin myths often include the change as punishment for some sort of excess, often sexual. Perhaps the people who came up with werewolves thought extreme sexual or murderous behavior must come from an overabundance of animal drive, and therefore the perpetrators must be part animal or possessed. Yeah, they didn't know much about psychiatric problems, either.

When I wrote The Mountain's Shadow, I was doing my predoctoral internship in clinical psychology at the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System, and I was also writing my dissertation proposal. A lot of people don't know that those of us with PhD's in clinical psychology have strong research backgrounds. So at the time, I was very much in scientist mode, and I enjoyed digging around in werewolf legends and other areas to put the framework in place.

The science in The Mountain's Shadow is primarily in the conceptualization of Chronic Lycanthropy Syndrome, or CLS, itself. Some people have asked if CLS is a real behavioral disorder. Not according to the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, which doesn't even mention it. At one point, clinicians must have considered it diagnostically, and I've included references that point to case studies below.

Lycanthropy is a type of delusion in which a person thinks they have been transformed into an animal, or seems to think they have, which would make it a delusional disorder. Although the root Lycan refers to a character in Greek mythology who was changed into a wolf when he pissed off Zeus by serving him human flesh – okay, the guy probably deserved it – someone with lycanthropy can think they're any kind of animal.

In my book, I changed the nature of the disorder so that it presents as extreme adolescent behaviors, and it's classified as a disorder of impulsivity like ADHD. Of course the most interesting cases in the novel are extreme, and the sufferers actually do change. Seeing real werewolves confuses my poor researcher – there's nothing in the literature to describe that! – but then draws her back in, particularly since she's starting to realize CLS might have something to do with her "family curse."

Does urban fantasy need science to be convincing? Not necessarily, and in some books, the magic system is so well developed it borders on scientific. I would argue that since we are so bound to science in our modern world, incorporating elements of genetics, chemistry, physiology, or other fields of scientific inquiry can make a story more real, and therefore more enjoyable, for the reader.

What do you think? Does including scientific elements in a fantasy plot enhance it for you, or could you take it or leave it? Why?

References [n.b. You can tell Cecilia's a PhD because she adds references to her blog posts. - Tony]:


Author Bio: Cecilia Dominic wrote her first story when she was two years old and has always had a much more interesting life inside her head than outside of it. She became a clinical psychologist because she's fascinated by people and their stories, but she couldn't stop writing fiction. The first draft of her dissertation, while not fiction, was still criticized by her major professor for being written in too entertaining a style. She made it through graduate school and got her PhD, started her own practice, and by day, she helps people cure their insomnia without using medication. By night, she blogs about wine and writes fiction she hopes will keep her readers turning the pages all night. Yes, she recognizes the conflict of interest between her two careers, so she writes and blogs under a pen name.  She lives in Atlanta, Georgia with one husband and two cats, which, she's been told, is a good number of each.

You can find her at:

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