Friday, March 30, 2012

Flashfic: Her Little Helpers


June woke to the smell of coffee and an empty bed. She could hear George in the bathroom, going about his morning routine. In a few minutes, her husband would emerge in a cloud of steam, smelling of soap and aftershave. He would kiss the crown of her head, as if she were a small child, and ask what she had planned for the day.

June’s stock answer was "Shopping." Sometimes, though, she mixed it up a little and would say, "Lunch with the girls." It didn’t matter since George wasn’t really listening to her. This little exchange was just part of the routine, part of the clockwork of interactions June went through every day.

After George was on his way, June would sit at the kitchen table, finishing off the small pot of coffee that Lucy, their maid, had brewed that morning. She would read the paper, too. If she was careful and diligent, June could make the process last until about eleven. Then, she would shower and dress, picking something at random off the closet rack. All her dresses were basically the same, arranged in seasonally-appropriate clumps.

After this, the afternoon would loom before her, a barren wasteland of time that she would need to fill. Today, she actually would go shopping, not that she needed anything. Not that she would buy anything. It would just get her out of the house for a couple of hours.

When she returned, Lucy would be gone. June would switch on the stereo and play records, kick off her heels and do the twist in the hallway between the kitchen and dining room. Safe from the prying, judgmental eyes of her neighbors.

Then, she would start dinner. Here, June made an effort. She had always liked cooking and was good at it. Didn’t the potential clients George brought home for dinners always rave about the food?

It was hot today, spring feeling more like summer. She would do something with the frozen salmon in the freezer. And a soup, she decided. A chilled vegetable soup with a lovely green salad and maybe some rolls.

Then, George would come home. He would tell her about his day, as he unwound with a glass of bourbon and a cigar. She would make sympathetic noises and they would have dinner, then a couple of hours on the couch watching television. After that, upstairs to bed and another day would be over.

Sitting on the edge of the bed, June planned out the day and was overwhelmed by the sheer, crushing boredom of it all. She opened her nightstand drawer and pulled out the bottle of white pills Doctor Reynard had prescribed. Her little helpers. June dry-swallowed two of them.

By the time George appeared in a scented cloud, June could feel the pills working. Smoothing out all of her internal bumps and bruises.

George kissed the top of her head. "What’s on the agenda today, kitten?"

Lifting her face, June smiled and said, "Shopping."

Monday, March 26, 2012


Gentle reader, distractions when you write are a pain in the ass.
Forgive my bluntness, but it's the truth.
I find it impossible to write with someone else at the table, yammering at me.  How some people can manage to write in a noisy cafe is completely beyond me.   As for those people who manage to write with children underfoot?  I suspect they must have mental concentration superior to that of a venerable Kung Fu master.
I, gentle reader, need the quiet to write.  Or, if that isn't possible, some good white noise to drown out the world around me.  Nothing cuts through my concentration like the twitter of birds, the high-pitched voices of neighborhood children shrieking in pleasure during some game, the mutterings of my aged mother as she ambles around the house.
So, if silence isn't available, I slip on my headphones and listen to music.  Instrumental stuff.  Classical piano works well for me, or orchestral groups like Trans-Siberian Orchestra.  Nothing with a voice.  I can't write with someone yammering in my ear, and I don't believe I'm alone in this either.
That's why writers, gentle reader, tend to be solitary when we write.  Being able to concentrate on your work is essential. 
So, if you do get bitten by the writer's bug, or have already succumbed, I highly recommend finding somewhere quiet that you can claim as your own work space.
And, if the outside world intrudes on that space?  Invest in some good headphones and a nice selection of piano concertos.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Flashfic: What she wanted

Sex was never Andrea’s thing. She didn’t really enjoy it, but sex was the only way to have a baby and the thought of being a mother was appealing. So, she went out, met Bob, got married and had sex.

Wedded life, she decided, was okay. It was nice to have someone around to do the heavy lifting.

Ten months after the wedding, Andrea gave birth to a bouncing baby girl. Bob named her Shayna. Andrea didn’t really care.

The doctors said her apathy was most likely postpartum depression. They assured her it would pass.

It didn’t.

She saw to Shayna’s needs. Fed her, bathed her and kept her clean. But motherhood, Andrea decided, had been a mistake. A year after Shayna’s birth, Andrea packed a suitcase and left.

"How can you just abandon your family?" Andrea’s mother raged at her.

"Because they’re not what I thought I wanted."

Andrea’s mother was apoplectic. Her friends were mostly confused.

"Was Bob a bad husband?" Margie asked.

"No," said Andrea. "He was very nice. You should go out with him."

Margie thought that was funny as hell. "Are you pimping out your husband, Andrea?"

"He’s not my husband anymore."

The divorce had been quick and bitter. Bob felt used and abandoned. Andrea didn’t blame him. After all, she had used and abandoned him.

Afterwards, Andrea packed up her car and left town. She drove south and settled in Florida. There, among groves of orange trees, Andrea grew old.

One afternoon, years later, Andrea received a large envelope in the mail. There was no return address. Opening it, she found several photos. She recognized some of the faces: Bob, her parents, Margie. With them was a girl with Andrea’s eyes.

The pictures were a record of her daughter’s life. In this one, Shayna was a toddler taking her first steps. Further along, there was Shayna with her first bike. There were birthday pictures, prom pictures, a graduation photo. Near the back was a wedding photo. Shayna wore a simple white dress. The groom had a nice smile.

More pictures. A pretty little house surrounded by pink rose bushes. Shayna, hugely pregnant. Her daughter with a fat baby on her lap.

At the bottom of the photo was a note. On it, written in a clear, precise hand, were the words: See what you’ve missed? It was signed by her daughter.

Andrea gathered up the photos, the note and the envelope. She walked outside, to her barbecue, and burned them.

As the pictures burned, Andrea looked around her. Her gaze swept over her home, the fragrant orange trees surrounding it.

"See what I have," she told the flawless blue sky.

Andrea closed the lid on the barbecue, so the breeze wouldn’t scatter the ashes, and went inside the house. She remained content unto herself.

Monday, March 19, 2012


Good afternoon, gentle readers.  Can you believe that it's almost spring?  Today is the last official day of winter, which just seems odd to me.  My seasonal sense-of-time is still stuck on the setting for Alaska.  Which put me in mind of time, in general, and gave me the idea for today's post.
I can't speak for every writer out there, but I find that I am most productive if I have a set writing schedule.  When I was working nights in Alaska, my writing schedule was fractured.  Normally, I would write between noon and 2:00 PM, and wouldn't touch the keyboard again until I returned home.  Usually, I'd write between 1:00 and 3:00 in the morning, then be in bed by 4:00.
After leaving my job, my writing schedule became more free form.  Honestly, I spent the first few months hardly touching the keyboard, but when I did I wrote in long marathon sessions.  Usually, I'd start at night and stop some time around six or seven in the morning.
Eventually, I fell into a set rhythm.
Today, months later and a few thousand miles away from Alaska, I've found a new writing schedule.  When I was finishing up my first novel, I was out of bed at nine and pounding on the keys by ten.  I'd take a break for lunch, then return to the laptop until five every afternoon.
Now, with the book done, as I sit here waiting for a response from query letters, my writing schedule has changed again.  It's become much more relaxed.  These days, I normally don't get started until eleven in the morning, my break is later in the day, but I still stop at five.
I cannot, in honesty, say that every day is productive. A lot of the time is spent glaring at the screen, swearing under my breath, and, occasionally, lapsing into fantasies about winning the lottery. Some days, I'm lucky if I can manage to string a thousand words together.  Other days, the story just unfolds, as naturally and organically as a flower opening.
But, good or bad, I stick to the schedule. 
Because it works for me.
It may not work for you, but if you're a new writer, you may want to try.  Just remember that the schedule is less about structuring the day and more about disciplining yourself to write.
And if it doesn't work? Well, no harm done.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Flashfic: Dirty Job

Crewman Jab stood in the corridor outside Playroom 4, pulling on a fresh pair of gloves. Further down the corridor, the entrance to Playroom 6 opened and a trio of drunken crewmen staggered out. They reeked of booze and perspiration. One crewman had his shirt on inside out and back to front.

They staggered past Jab wearing the happy grins of the truly plastered and indecently satiated. Jab hated them all with the white-hot fury of an exploding star.

Gloves secured, Jab replaced his facemask over his nose and mouth. From a compartment on his tool belt, he drew out a fresh pair of safety goggles. They were the cheap kind that would disintegrate in a couple of hours. Something similar would happen with the plastic cap Jab slid over his hair.

The new guys assigned to Custodial Services always snickered when they saw Jab in his uniform. He never said anything, merely gave them the option of not wearing the protective gear. After all, it wasn’t required. Most chose to forego the gear that first day and all of them regretted it. The next day they would usually don the cap, gloves and eyeware with the thousand-yard stares of battlefield veterans who had seen and done horrible things.

Properly outfitted, Jab punched a code into Playroom 4's control panel. Immediately, the room’s systems went into diagnostic and analysis mode. Inevitably an alert was triggered. There was matter in the theater that would need to be physically removed.

Jab hoped it was just a bottle of fake-wine, but he didn’t get his hopes up. He’d been working Custodial on the Inanna too long.

He opened the theater door and, instantly, the smell hit him. Jab reeled back, and felt the facemask tighten around his mouth and nose. It released a powerful blast of lemon freshness, right into Jab’s nose and mouth. His sinuses felt like they were on fire.

Reluctantly, Jab stuck his head into the room.

What he saw, oozing on the diamond-patterned deck was not a bottle of fake-wine.

Not by a long shot.

Jab stepped out of the room and the door sealed. His facemask seemed to relax, although it kept pumping lemon-scent into his nose. He pressed the Playroom’s computer interface.


"Yes, Crewman Jab?" The voice of the Inanna’s computer always sounded vaguely grandmotherly to Jab.

"Who was the last person to use Playroom 4?"

"Commander Sykes."

"I knew it," muttered Jab.

"I did not understand that statement, Crewman Jab," fretted the computer.

"Computer, connect me with Doctor Vogel."

A moment later, the voice of the Inanna’s Chief Psychiatric Officer emerged from the intercom.

"This is Doctor Vogel."

As usual Vogel sounded calm and tranquil. Jab suspected she was heavily self-medicating. How else could the woman deal with all the lunatics on this tub?

"Doc, this is Jab. I’m at Playroom 4. Commander Sykes has been misbehaving. Again."

Vogel sighed. "Thank you for informing me, crewman. I’ll deal with it."

She severed the comm-link and Jab scowled.

Sure, she’d deal with it. Just like she had the other eleven times their resident coprophiliac went off his meds. Like cleaning up the spooge wasn’t bad enough!

Jab called it in to his supervisor, an annoying wunderkind fresh out of the Academy.

"Drury, the Brown Terror has struck again."

"Oh geez," muttered the teenager. "You let Doc Vogel know, Jab?"


"Cool. Thanks. Take your time cleaning that up. Okay?"

Sure, thought Jab. Cause I really want to linger cleaning this crap.

He put another facemask on, layering it over the one he was already wearing, then pulled his personal blazer out of his tool belt. Officially, you weren’t supposed to fire a blazer inside the ship, but there was no way Jab was cleaning that mess up with his hands. They’d never said anything the other times he used the thing to sanitize the Playrooms.

Actually, Jab sort of wished that someone would make a fuss about him using the blazer. That Lt. Commander Zara would burst in on him with a couple of her goons and drag him off to the brig.

It’d be a nice change of pace from cleaning up other people’s shit.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Gentle Reader, today has been a bad day.  Lots of false starts and, alas, a rejection letter from an agent query I sent off a few weeks ago. Ah well.  C'est la vie.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Flashfic: What Came After...

Some doors shouldn’t be opened.

The old man astride the war-horse, weighted down by armor and grief, sometimes wished that someone had told him that when he was a child. If they had, his life might have been quite different. He might not have gone through that door, so long ago. His life might have been simple and blessedly dull. Instead, it had been . . . interesting.


Turning, he saw his middle-son, Florin. Tall and thin, not even a priest’s tonsure had managed to tame the boy’s golden curls.

But no, thought the old man. Not a boy, not for many years now. Florin was a man, full grown and committed to Mother Church.

"We’ve received word from Hell’s Maw."

"How bad was it?"

Florin toyed with his devotional beads. "It was a rout."

The old man nodded. This news was not shocking. "And your brother?"

"There’s been no word."

He’s probably crow food, thought the old man. Like your younger brother, sweet Florin, and all those folk in Eastmarch.

"Do you bring me any good news?"

Florin nodded. "The Council of Patriarchs has agreed to your plan. They’ve made all the arrangements and only wait for your signal."

A goblin youth in a soiled messenger’s tunic rushed up to the duo. "Sire! Sire!"

"What, boy?"

"Movement, sire!" gasped the gob. "The Lich-Queen’s army is moving!"

"To the rear, Florin," ordered the old man. "Tell your fellow priests that the signal is given."

He slid his helmet over his head. As he did, a curious thought came to him. What would Aunt Lou say, if she could see him now?

He couldn’t imagine, and it didn’t matter. Aunt Lou was part of his other life. The life he had chosen to leave. This was his life now.

"Trumpeters, call the lines to order!"

Clear brass notes cut through the fading light. Around the old man, his loyal knights and barons gathered. Behind them, a chorus of sonorous voices rose in supplication to heaven.

The wind shifted, bringing the stink of the enemy to them. They smelt of rotted flesh, of death and the foul potions used to reanimate them. Ten thousand strong, the army of the dead lurched toward the living.

Overhead, the gray clouds writhed and twisted apart. Shafts of golden light fell upon the old man, as he drew his blade.

The final battle of the Lich-Queen’s War began.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Write what you like

Hello, gentle reader.  I hope that you're having a nice weekend.  Maybe sitting at home in the easy chair, reading this on your laptop.  I'm going to imagine you sitting there with a frosty beverage close to hand, because you deserve one.  I think it's been that kind of week, hasn't it?
Earlier, someone asked me, "Why do you write that weird stuff? Why don't you write something normal?"
My answer?  "I write what I like."
Which, I think, is one of the most important things that a writer can do.  Mainly, because if you don't write what you like, I think you'll rapidly lose interest in it.  Also because when we write what we like, I believe the quality of the work will be better than if you're writing something you don't honestly care about.
That said, maintaining interest in a long term project, like say a novel, can sometimes be a challenge. Which is why I'm one of those writers who tends to keep a couple of projects going at one time.
Creative fatigue is quite normal for people, so I think it can help a lot to shift gears. 
If, in that mystery you're writing, you've reached a point where the idea of massacring all your characters is suddenly very appealing because you just can't take it anymore, then it's probably a good idea to switch to something else for a day or so.  Maybe that Regency romance you've had tucked away in your desk, or the latest chapter in the epic fantasy you've been working on since middle school. Then, when your murderous impulse has subsided, you can return to your mystery and not have to worry about impaling your detective on a falling cast-iron weathercock.
Or, if you have to, write that scene.  Massacre the cast.  Have the enormous wrought-iron and crystal chandelier collapse on them at the dinner table.  Have the cook poison them. 
Who knows? Maybe you'll like what you write even better and your mystery could turn into something else?  Perhaps the first chapter in a zombie apocalypse story?  Murder on the Orient Express meets Night of the Living Dead.  Who knows?  It might even be a smash hit and make you millions.
But you'll never know, gentle reader, if you don't write what you like.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Flashfic: Cory's Choice

The door wasn’t supposed to go anywhere. Uncle Lowell said it was someone’s idea of a joke.

"Not a very good one," said Aunt Lou. Aunt Lou didn’t approve of jokes or humor. Her spirit was all vinegar and ice-water.

The door had been built into the far end of the basement wall, past the big freezer full of tinfoil bundles, past the old furnace Uncle Lowell was always threatening to replace.

The door wasn’t supposed to go anywhere, but Cory noticed light seeping underneath its frame one night as he was fetching something from the freezer. Curious, he went to the door and touched the black knob. It seemed to twitch under his fingertips, like a living thing. When Cory slid his hand around it, the doorknob was warm and soft, more like living flesh than inanimate metal.

"Cory! What’s taking you so long?"

Aunt Lou’s voice careened down the stairs, into the basement. Cory jerked and spun around, hollered back up the stairs.

"Coming, Aunt Lou!"

He turned and rushed up the stairs with the tinfoiled meat. His palm itched where he had gripped the doorknob.

"Land’s sake, child!" Aunt Lou glowered at him, from her place at the stove. "What took you so long?"

"I. . . ."

She shook her head, impatient as ever, and snatched the package from him. "Go on now. I don’t want you underfoot while I’m cooking."

He obliged, turning and slipping back down the steps, into the basement. Aunt Lou never noticed.

Back in the basement, in the cool, dusty dark, Cory edged toward the door. Light gleamed from beneath the door, thick and golden as honey. Heart pounding, Cory reached for the doorknob. It was warmer than before. And, was it his imagination, or did it feel like it was trembling?

He tightened his grip and turned. The bolt clicked and Cory pulled. Silently, the door swung open, spilling warm sunlight into the dark basement.

Through the door, Cory saw a field of lush, green grass. The sun rising above the horizon looked golden and young.

That’s not our sun, thought Cory.

At the edge of the green field, were tall, majestic trees, with leaves like green fire. Something moved between their umber trunks, an indistinct white shape that soon resolved into the figure of a unicorn. Upon its back rode a young woman in richly colored robes.

As they drew nearer, Cory realized the young woman was singing. It was a bittersweet song, a kind of lament that left a tender ache in the boy’s chest.


Compared to the woman’s voice, Aunt Lou’s was like a rain of hailstones.


There was a snap to Aunt Lou’s voice now. There’d be hell to pay if he kept her waiting, Cory knew. He drew a breath, inhaling the dusty smells of the basement, the scent of boiled beans drifting down the stairs.

I hate it here, realized Cory.

Without hesitation, he stepped across the threshold and pulled the door closed behind him.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


I just got an e-mail from letting me know that they've accepted my latest flashfic, "Snap Decisions."  It will appear on the site some time in the future, so keep your eyes peeled!
What a great way to end the day! :D

Monday, March 5, 2012

Gentle reader, this gives me hope...

From a letter from J.R.R. Tolkien to his publishers, February 1950:
My work has escaped my control, and I have produced a monster; an immensely long, complex, rather bitter, and rather terrifying romance, quite unfit for children (if fit for anybody); and it is not really a sequel to The Hobbit, but to The Silmarillion. Ridiculous and tiresome as you may think me, I want to publish them both — The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings. That is what I should like. Or I will let it all be. I cannot contemplate any drastic rewriting or compression. But I shall not have any just grievance (nor shall I be dreadfully surprised) if you decline so obviously unprofitable a proposition.
At 150 million copies, The Lord of the Rings is now the third best-selling novel of all time.

Writer's Block

Hello, gentle reader! How are you? Fine? Healthy? Happy as a pig in a wallow? Good to know!
I, alas, am not so good.
You see, gentle reader, I have a terrible affliction. A malady that makes me want to bang my head against a wall, or, if it gets really bad, bang the head of others against that same wall.
I, gentle reader, am suffering from writer's block.
Sure. Laugh if you like, but don't do it around someone suffering from this particular problem.  Even if you don't wind up combing plaster out of your hair, you might get an angry earful from the afflicted.  Or, at the very least, some seriously dirty looks.
Fortunately, writer's block isn't a fatal condition.  Or, at least I've never heard of anyone dying from it.  Rather, it is incredibly frustrating.  Think of it as a psychic equivalent of constipation.  You want to go, you need to go, but you just can't.
So, what do you do?  You go eat some dried fruit or a greasy hamburger.  Something to lubricate the works, so to speak.
With writer's block, I've discovered the best way to overcome it is to either write about the block itself or, and this works fairly well for me, go off and do math.
Yes, you haven't misread, gentle reader.  When I'm stuck, I find a nice quite corner and do math problems.  I'm not sure why it works for me, but it does, and I'm one of those people who normally abhors math.  I do not have a mathematical bone in my body.  But when the words are stuck, I turn to the numbers for a little while, and, after a while, the words start to flow again.
Other people tackle the problem in their own ways.  Some listen to music.  Others exercise.  I've even heard of some people sitting down with a good book and a nice cup of tea.
The cures for writer's block are as varied as the people who get it.
And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to do some math.

Thursday, March 1, 2012


Hello, gentle reader!  Welcome to inaugural post of my new blog.  You'll forgive me if I just leap right in.  Won't you?  Of course you will!  The fact that you're reading this suggests that you are a person of good breeding, refined taste and (Dare we say it?) panache.
If you want to know who I am, just look to your right.  That's pretty much the bare bone facts about me.  More insight can be gained about yours truly by visiting here.  You can also find me on Twitter, if you're so inclined.
I use the phrase 'aspiring writer' to describe myself, but I do have a couple of things available on the Internet.  I'll add links to my published works some time in the future, but if you just can't wait, point your browser at and just search my last name.  I have four short stories on that site: Suckheads, Heading Home, Prayer and Moving With the Times.
I've also got a couple of things up on Amazon Kindle.  Hellbound on the Sugar Train is just an odd little story, even by my standards.  The Finishers is my obligatory zombie story.  If your tastes run more to the conventional, try The Death of Faith.
And now, gentle reader, I think that's enough for an introduction.  After all, we wouldn't want to get tired of each other.  Would we?
Until next time!