Monday, April 30, 2012

Change sucks, except when it doesn't.

Good morning, gentle readers.  This morning, I mentally composed a wonderful post for this blog, but when I signed in I saw that Blogger had "upgraded" my dashboard to their new configuration.  And, unlike the last time they did this, this time I can't seem to change it back to the old dashboard configuration.
So, thanks to Blogger's foolishness, that wonderful post I had prepared has completely evaporated.  It has gone to the Land of Winds and Ghosts.
Change, ladies and gentlemen, is not always fun.  Changes that you didn't ask for, are even less fun. Mainly because they're annoying.  If something isn't broken, and it's working fine, why bother altering it?
You see this a lot online, especially in blogs and social networks. They are constantly upgrading their interfaces or adding new apps to make their site more  attractive.  And there are always people like me, gentle reader, who hate it when they do this.
I still haven't signed up for Facebook's Timeline, mainly because I think its ugly and awkward.  It seems to be geared more toward people who post 10,000 pictures a day.  I have posted a staggering two pictures on my Facebook page, both from a road trip I took to California a few months ago.  Timeline holds absolutely no allure for me, and I'm not going to accept it until I absolutely have to.
I'm stubborn that way.
Or crotchety, if you prefer, although that makes me sound like a gnarled old man, standing on his porch, shouting at the neighborhood children.  "You kids stay off my lawn!"
I don't think I'm that bad.  At least, not yet.
Blogger's new dashboard interface isn't winning any ribbons from me either.  It's too white and I think it's been revised to appeal to the handheld device crowd. I don't update this blog from a handheld device, but an ordinary PC.  The new look is unappealing and I just don't like it.
So, am I abandoning Blogger? Am I going to throw aside this blog for another? Am I running to WordPress or LiveJournal?
I will squat right here and seethe.  I will fire off some barbed feedback to Blogger regarding the new dashboard.  In short, ladies and gentlemen, I will spew venom for a while and then, eventually, get used to these changes.  Then, when blogger makes future changes, I'll probably work myself up into a tizzy over them and go through the whole process again.
Change sucks, ladies and gentlemen.
Except when it doesn't.
When I'm writing, my stories change all the time.  This is one of the reasons I can't write mysteries. Mysteries require, in my humble opinion, a carefully worked out plot.  A plot, gentle readers, that one must stick to, that constrains the narrative, that kills the joy of writing.
Half the time when I start writing something, by the time I finish, the story has twisted on me.  It has changed shape.  The character that started out as the protagonist, more often than not, winds up as a secondary character or, sometimes, the villain.  The story may have begun on grassy African velds that, eventually, are revealed to be nothing more than an illusion, a studio set or the product of virtual reality. 
My stories change all the time and I let them.  They are mercurial, free form beasts that I climb onto and ride like hell until we crash into a wall with 'This is the End, Stupid!' carved into its surface, in letters 50 feet high and impossible to miss.
This entry is a perfect example of good change. It started as a rant against Blogger's new dashboard and, somewhere along the way, it metamorphosed into an article on change. 
Maybe this "upgrade" isn't such a bad thing after all.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Shadows & Light

Hello again, gentle readers!  This past weekend I found myself in a peculiar mood.  A mood that led me to compose two poems and a short story, all here in this blog.

The Writer & His Critic was spawned by another poem, The Owl & The Pussycat.  The first few lines are a dead giveaway.  But the subject matter is quite different.  My poem, although a bit whimsical, is no romance.  It ends with the Writer returning to shore alone, his Critic silenced and "sunk like a stone."

Oh My Child, on the other hand, was one of those spontaneous creations.  Initially, I thought it was going to be a simple, sweet lullaby.  The image of a parent rocking their child to sleep appeared in my mind's eye.  But, as I wrote it, that sweetness turned into something darker and the sleeping child was replaced by a child who had died after an illness.  The lullaby turned into a lament.

Witness to the Feast was straight-out prose.  It was inspired by a weird stew of events: Earth Day, the recent anniversary of Bram Stoker's death, the gray, wet weather outside my window.  Those disparate elements combined into a story about a vampire killing a girl, and the girl's ghost forced to watch as rats devour her corpse.

A lot of people are hesitant to write about dark things.  They shy away from them, out of fear of what other people will think, or the realization that they actually have these stories churning around inside of them.  Some people may be afraid of what will happen if they listen to the whispers from the darker aspects of themselves.

Gentle readers, if you want to write, you cannot ignore the whispers from the dark.  You have to sit down and invite your monsters over for tea. 


Because they have a story to tell you.  It may be something awful.  It may be something you don't want to hear, or acknowledge, but it's there.  The monster, after all, wears your face and speaks in your voice.  Some part of you wants to tell this story.  You should listen to the monster, acknowledge that the story makes you uneasy, and then write it down. 

It may make you squirm, it may make yours palms sweat, but it may also be something wonderful. Just because you're writing about monsters, murder and mayhem doesn't make you a bad person, any more than writing about saintly virgins overcoming evil makes you a good person.

We've all got darkness and light inside us.  Our souls are a vast twilight region full of sunsets and dawns, inhabited by angels and demons and things of grayer aspect.  When they talk to you, you should listen.  You might be pleasantly surprised by what they have to say.

Contest Winners Announced

Good morning, gentle readers!  How are you? Feeling fine? Maybe a little hungover from the weekend? Are you taking a break from the tortures of work to visit me? How sweet!
I'm doing quite well, thankyouverymuch.  This morning, I discovered that I was one of the runners-up in the Invite a Friend to Bordertown contest, held over at  I can certainly think of much worse ways to start a Monday, can't you? 
And while I'm talking about the contest, allow me to offer congratulations to everyone who entered.  There are some truly talented people in the world and, gentle readers, you could do worse with your time than checking out all the contest entries.
If you're interested in reading my own entry, just scroll down the page a bit.
Happy Monday!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Fiction: Witness to the Feast

The vampire introduced himself to Lizzie as Shepherd. He was pale and wiry, with eyes like polished garnets. When Lizzie met him, she was instantly captivated. Shepherd was charming and handsome. He seemed harmless, so when he asked her to leave the party with him, she agreed. She didn’t learn the truth about him, until it was too late, until her life had ended in an explosion of blood and violence.

"Holy shit," said Lizzie, staring at her own corpse. "You’re a fucking vampire!"

Shepherd glanced up, to squint at her ghost. "Yes."

"But you weren’t sparkly at all!"

He shook his head and picked up her corpse, muttering about girls today.

"What are you doing?" demanded Lizzie.

"Covering my tracks," said the vampire.

He carried her out of the alley, into a condemned tenement. There were boards nailed over the windows, but the back door hung off its hinges. Lizzie found herself drifting behind Shepherd, pulled like a child’s balloon on a string.

"Where are we going?"

Shepherd didn’t answer. He carried her down a flight of rickety stairs that groaned in a manner that would have frightened Lizzie when she was alive. Burdened with her corpse, the vampire danced down them, nimble as a cat.

At first, it was utterly black in the building’s basement, but then Lizzie’s vision seemed to adjust to the dark. Things took on a purplish tint. Shepherd didn’t seem to have any problem at all finding his way around.

He went to a wall and pushed. The wall, apparently made of solid bricks, slid open on oiled hinges. Beyond it, a narrow tunnel led away from the basement.

"Where are you taking me?" asked Lizzie.

He didn’t answer.

They followed the tunnel until it reached a dead end that turned out to be another false wall. On the other side, lay the sewer. The smell hit Lizzie like a physical thing. She recoiled in disgust.

"You are not leaving me down here!"

"Hush," said Shepherd. "Stupid, dead girls don’t get to have opinions."

He dropped her body like a bag of wet laundry, then knelt beside it.

"What are you doing?"

Shepherd didn’t answer. He began to strip Lizzie’s corpse. His movements were methodical and practiced.

Watching him do it left Lizzie feeling unnerved. It was worse than her death, which had happened so quickly, so suddenly, she hadn’t had time to feel anything about it at all. But this? This was different, this was intimate and horrible.

Soon, her body was naked. The wounds at her throat and shoulder were raw and awful. Lizzie turned away, unable to bear the sight. Shepherd shoved her clothes into a paper bag, and stood.

"What happens now?" asked Lizzie.

"Recycling," said Shepherd, blandly.

She wondered what he meant until she saw the first rats emerge from the shadows. They were huge creatures, the size of cats, with mad red eyes and naked pink tales.

"Oh God, no. . . ."

The huge rats descended upon her corpse, attacking the pale flesh with their sharp yellow teeth. More of the creatures spilled out of the dark. The tunnel filled with the sound of their feasting.

Shepherd turned his back on the rats’ buffet, and started walking deeper into the sewer. Lizzie, appalled by what was happening to her remains, hurried after him.

She got about a dozen feet before she was stopped. Then, try as she might, she could go no further.

"Shepherd!" she screamed. "Shepherd!"

He did not acknowledge her frantic calls, just walked away, leaving Lizzie trapped in the dark with her corpse and the rats devouring it.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Poem: Oh Child of Mine

Still your thoughts,
oh child of mine.
Rest your head,
upon my breast.

Hear the angels,
sing your name.
But always know
I love you best.

Close your eyes,
oh child of mine.
Let no worries,
crease your brow.

The sun has sunk,
the moon climbs high.
And I will love you,
‘till I die.

Weep no more,
oh child of mine.
Your fever’s broke,
your hand is cold.

You are forever
my little love,
and now you never
will grow old.

Poem: The Writer & His Critic

The Writer and his Critic,
went to sea in a pea-green boat.
The Writer banged on a laptop,
while his Critic had a smoke.

The Writer’s finished story,
was passed to his Critic’s hand.
The Critic read the story,
then declared it "Banal and bland."

The Writer went to work again,
banging on the keys.
The Critic sat and watched the sky,
pondering the birds and bees.

The Writer’s second story,
was passed over for review.
His Critic read it and sighed.
"Can’t you come up with anything new?"

The Writer bent to his task again,
a frown upon his face.
His Critic sat and filed his nails,
the picture of indolent grace.

The Writer’s third story,
was handed over with aplomb.
His Critic read through it twice,
before declaring it ‘a bomb.’

Incensed, the Writer stood,
and grabbed a pea-green oar,
"I’ve had it with your analyses!
You’re a dullard and a bore!"

The Writer returned to shore that night,
happy and alone.
His Critic finally silenced,
and sunken like a stone.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Good morning, gentle readers.  Today, I'm going to natter on about community.
This past weekend, I drove to Florida and met an old friend and a fellow writer.  We spent two days sitting around, sipping cool drinks, watching the world and talking about writing. 
It may not sound like Mardi Gras to some of you, but it was definitely fun for us.
As writers, we tend to isolate ourselves.  We live in our heads a lot.  Sometimes too much.  As the saying goes, "Don't worry about talking to yourself. Worry when you start answering yourself and the answers surprise you!"
I think this is very sound advice.
In a previous post, I expressed my dislike of writing groups.  That still holds true, but I also believe its important to have other writers to talk with. 
What we do can be lonely, and nonwriters often don't get it.  I tried once to explain a problem I was having with a story to a nonwriter friend.  As I rambled on about the frustration of keeping the plot moving without compromising the protagonist, I saw my friend get a glazed look in her eyes. 
"I'm boring you to death, aren't I?" I said.
"No!" she protested.  "Not at all!"
"Oh. Really?  Good! You see. . . ."
Then there was a friend-shaped hole left in the air, as my friend ran away from me.
To avoid experiences like this, it's a good idea to find a writing community.  You can jabber on about writing and truth, plot arcs and second-person narrative with people who will totally get you.  It will give you an outlet, to vent or commiserate, and your nonwriter friends will probably stop cringing every time they see you.
If you live in the middle of nowhere, and there aren't any writer-types in the vicinity, don't worry.  There's always the Internet.  Find a blog or a message board populated by writers.  Join a forum.  Trust me when I tell you that aspiring writers are as common on the Internet as dirt.
So look around, fellow writers, and build that community!
You'll be glad that you did.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Invitation to Bordertown

Dear April,

I hope this letter finds you. I hope it makes its way to the World with as little difficulty as possible. I hope that it finds its way to your hands quickly.

I hope you don’t hate me.

It was never my intention to leave. After the fight, I just meant to go for a walk, to give us both some time to cool down. Do you remember that night? It was bitter cold and the air smelt like rain.

I was only going to go for a walk around the block, but somewhere between Sycamore Street and Johnson Avenue, Bordertown swallowed me. To this day, I have no idea why Bordertown came for me, why I was spirited away to this place.

Of course, I heard the stories about the Border. But I never wanted to go there. It held no fascination for me. Bordertown was meaningless to me. It was a town for runaway kids looking for second chances and fairy tale endings.

I didn’t need a second chance and never wanted a fairy tale life. All I wanted to do was walk the block, then come home and make peace with you. I just wanted to hold you in my arms, kiss your head and tell you that everything was going to be okay.

But that didn’t happen. Bordertown shanghaied me, and try as I might, I couldn’t leave. The town wouldn’t let me. Here, all the streets and alleys twist and turn like living things. And those times I did get beyond the city, into the Nevernever, I would always find myself back at the city.

It’s ironic. Thousands of kids all over the world are dying to get to Bordertown, and here I am, trying like hell to get out. No one can figure out why I’m here and why I can’t leave. I’ve consulted the best magicians in town and they’ve all drawn a blank. Some have suggested that I’m here because Bordertown wants me here.

I don’t care. I want to come home. I’ve wanted to come home since I arrived.

Last week, the Way between the Border and the World closed for a while. When it reopened, we discovered thirteen years had passed in the World. Thirteen years!

I don’t want to believe this is true, but the evidence is irrefutable. You’re as old as I am now, April. This place has robbed me of you. For that alone, I should burn it to the ground.

If you get this letter, I want you to know what happened. I didn’t abandon you. I pray to God that you’re safe and sound, that everything worked out with the baby.

When you get this letter, I want you to know I love you. You’re still my darling daughter, even if thirteen years has passed. And, if I can’t come to you, perhaps you can come to me? The Way is open, April, and I’m here, waiting for you with open arms and all my love.

Please, come.

Your loving father,

Saturday, April 14, 2012

A Poem: Melog

I sit here,
flesh and blood,
and moldering soul.
What happened to my fire?
The secret fire,
burning at the heart of the world,
that once burned in me?
When did it die?
When did I become gray clay?

Monday, April 9, 2012

Writing Groups

Good afternoon, gentle readers!  It's another Monday, which means it's time for another post from yours truly about the writing experience.
Today, we're going to talk about writing groups.
I loathe writing groups.  Honestly, I can't think of anyone who actually likes taking part in them.  At best, people tend to view them as a necessary evil.
Depending on the members, a writing group can be more evil than necessary, at least in my experience.  I've been a member of two groups in my life and both were extremely unsatisfactory experiences.  Mainly because the idea of constructive criticism in these groups was, "You should write more mainstream stuff that people will actually buy."
Um. Excuse me? I didn't come here for a market analysis, thankyouverymuch.  I came here to see if my writing was clear.  Does the story flow?  Are the characters fleshed out?  Did you spot any plot holes?  Does the narrative need to be tighter?
But I didn't get that kind of feedback from the writers groups I belonged to.  It was more like market research, if the demographic I was going for was angst-ridden poets, holier-than-thou church ladies and little tin dictators.
If the above doesn't reveal it clearly, let me say right now that I remain biased against writing groups.  I believe that most of them do more harm than good. That they foster a writer's insecurities instead of strengthening his craft.
Still, I think aspiring writers should join at least one writers group during their life. Firstly, because once you've joined one such group, you'll probably never want to join another.  And, secondly, because the people who make up these groups can provide a hell of a lot of inspiration for horror stories.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Flashfic: Welcome to Spaceforce

Commander Sykes was dead.

Crewman Jab and the rest of the Custodial Service’s team didn’t bother attending the memorial service. It was being piped over the Inanna’s internal comm-circuits anyway.

"Why are we watching this crap?" asked Church. He was new, recruited from some dull as dishwater farm-world, fresh out of Basic.

"We got no choice," said Jab, pulling the tab on a fake-beer and taking a sip. It tasted like recycled cat piss, but boozing it up on-duty was the one rule kept hard-and-fast all over the ship.

"It’s on every comm-circuit," Ensign Drury explained.

Most of the custodial crew was gathered in Drury’s office. Everyone had been encouraged to watch the memorial service, unless you were working essential services. It was a tight fit, but nobody minded.

Any excuse to slack off, thought Jab.

On the monitor, the captain was reading the standard memorial speech as prescribed by Spaceforce Command. It was the usual nonsense and Jab was pretty sure Quid could have skipped it and just fired the coffin-torpedo into the void. That was the only reason anybody was in the shuttle bay in the first place, to make sure Sykes was dead and gone.

"How’d the commander die anyway?" asked Church.

Glances were exchanged among the custodial crew.

"There was an accident in one of the playrooms," said Ensign Drury.

Jab was sure Drury believed Sykes’ death was really an accident. If the kid thought someone had killed the commander, Jab was pretty sure Drury’s head would have exploded from shock.

"Beer’s gone," Crewman Tora announced. "Who wants to make a run to the duplicator?"

"I’ll go," said Jab. "Church, gimme a hand."

Church slouched out of the tiny office, following Jab. The corridors were quiet and still, down here on Z-Deck.

Jab glanced at the younger man. "You really want to know how Sykes died?"

"Sure," said Church.

"He was killed by a faulty robo-whore."

Church gaped. "Really?"

"That’s the official story," said Jab.

"What’s the unofficial story?"

"Somebody rewired the robo-whore to kill him."

"Holy crap! Who?"

Jab shrugged. "Most people think it was Lt. Commander Mahendra."

Church frowned. "Which one is he?"

"The chief engineer," said Jab.

"The guy with the artificial ears?"

"That’s him."

"Why would he kill the commander?"

Jab snorted. "If you met Sykes, you wouldn’t be asking that. That guy was seriously fucked up. Half the crew would have shoved him in an airlock while the other half fought to press the purge button."

"He was that bad?"


"But, if he was killed, why isn’t there an investigation?"

"Because, everybody’s glad Sykes is dead," said Jab, bluntly. "Especially the senior officers. They had to work with him every day. Poor bastards. We’re all pretty sure they’re covering for Mahendra."

Church stared at Jab. "But that’s . . . "

"Standard operating procedure," said Jab.

"Are you serious?"

"Serious As an attack of space-crabs."

"Holy crap!"

Jab patted Church’s shoulder. "Welcome to Spaceforce."

Monday, April 2, 2012


Good morning, gentle readers.Today, I'm going to talk about frustration.  We've all experienced it.  That sense of profound irritation with the world because something isn't going the way that we want.
Writing is a frustrating enterprise.
Don't believe me?  Sit down and write something.  Maybe a short 500 word piece of fiction.
Done?  Great!
Now, show your work to ten people and ask them what they think.
Some of the responses will be completely expected, others will surprise you and one or two will have you pulling your hair out.  Why?  Because those last two just didn't get what the story was about.  Or they totally misinterpreted what you were writing in the first place.
Genre writers probably get more of the last than most other writers.  Regardless of what you write, having your readers totally miss the point you're trying to convey, can drive you nuts.
I am not immune to frustration.  One of the authors who generally frustrates me is Agatha Christie.  Why? You ask.   
Because I think she cheats.  She never gives you all the clues to help you solve the mystery.  Dame Agatha is particularly guilty of this in her Miss Marple books.
So, what do you do when a reaction to your writing leaves you fretting and frustrated?  Well, gentle reader, I hate to say this, but there isn't much you can do.  Writing is open to interpretation.  Sometimes that cool vampire story you wrote is going to be read as a deliberate parody of the genre.  Occasionally your readers will look at your characters' actions and motivations and get them completely wrong.
Whatever you do, don't argue with the readers.  There's no point.  It's probably best to just make a statement, declaring your actual intent, and then go away.  Let the readers and critics debate among themselves while you have a nice cup of tea or a soothing massage.
Then, you put aside your frustration and start writing something else.