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: 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 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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