Fabulous Fiction Friday – “Living With the Dead”

*Please note: after this entry was posted, I received word that Josh has run into technical difficulties with Amazon because of their revamping of their digital platform, therefore “Living With the Dead” had to be re-published. It should be available soon, and I will update the links for purchase as soon as that happens. In the meantime, you can find it on the Nook or still keep up with him on his Living With the Dead blog. Thanks for your patience — it’s definitely worth the wait, I promise.*

*ADDENDUM*

Good news! All of Josh’s data has been reinstated and the links are good to go. YAY!

I have very eclectic reading tastes, and I’m quite picky. Part of this is because I’ve been reading for almost 50 years. Yes, you heard that correctly. I know I’m giving away my age here, but I’ve been reading voraciously since the age of three, and when you’ve read that many books, friends and neighbors, you become real picky about what you read.

Part of the reason I’m such a book snob is because I don’t have a whole lot of time, and although I’m a really fast reader, I have a lot of stuffs to do. When a book isn’t worth it, it really irritates me. To be frank, it pisses me off. Not to mention the economic impact, which further stokes the Irritation Fires. If I’m not happy with the story, and I don’t think I’ve spent my time or my money well, I’m really annoyed.

I downloaded “Living With the Dead” for the Kindle on a recommendation from a Very Good Friend. I resisted reading it because I wasn’t sure I was going to like it. She told me it was a “zombie” book, and although I enjoyed “World War Z” by Max Brooks and I’m totally hooked by “The Walking Dead” on AMC, I’m not really a zombie reader. Plus, it’s written in a blog format, and I have found that can be a boring way to read a book.

I was more than pleasantly surprised by Joshua Guess’s book. From the very first “entry”, I was HOOKED. Once I started, I couldn’t wait to read the next one, and the next one, and so on until it was 2am and I finished the entire thing in one sitting. It. Is. Fab.

The story starts with an ordinary geek in Kentucky watching the news and noticing reports of a disturbance in Ohio. Right away he sees the seeds of a Zombie Apocalypse, and springs into action. He starts right away preparing for the worst, trying to warn his family and friends, laying in supplies and shoring up his defenses. He blogs every day, documenting exactly what he’s doing and the important preparations he’s making — but more than that, Josh documents how he’s feeling and the emotional, physical and spiritual toll the entire experience is taking on him and everyone around him.

Most zombie fiction I’ve read (and I admit, it’s not a lot) seem to focus on the brain-eating, rotting horror that are zombies and the military or defensive actions that the characters are taking. “Living With the Dead” is unique to me in that it involves the lives and the emotions of not only dealing with the undead intent on eating the living, but with the complicated and difficult decisions the remaining survivors have to make in the wake of destruction of society as they have always known it. Since the blog was (and still continues to be) written in “real time”, you can follow the day-to-day changes in the characters and sympathize with what they’re up against. You question whether or not you could make these decisions yourself, how you would deal with the apocalypse, what you would do in their stead.

You won’t agree with everything that’s done. You won’t like everything that happens. You won’t like all the people you meet — you may not even like the narrator. But that’s what makes all of this seem so terrifyingly real. When I finished the last page of the first six months (you can either follow along in “real time” on the blog or wait for a compilation of the entire year, due out in March) I was afraid to watch the news — because the situation seemed just that real.

(On a side note, there’s some really great information on what to do to prepare for a Zombie Apocalypse. I took notes, you know, just in case.)

Another thing I’ve noticed about zombies is although the basic precepts stay the same (they die, they reanimate, can only be killed forever through some kind of brain trauma, they eat the living, they never…ever…stop) different writers add a little something different to their zombies. Guess has added some horrifying and frightening aspects to his zombies that really freaked me, and yet still made sense in his zombie-world. The suspension of disbelief is easy because Guess’s world is logical even in the midst of madness.

The price is right, and the story is worth every penny and then some. This ranks up there as one of my top reads for 2011, and I can’t wait for the next installment in March.

You can find “Living With the Dead” for the Kindle here, or you can follow along for free on the Living With the Dead blog. Joshua has a compilation planned for March with the entire year, plus extra bonuses. You can find him on Facebook and on Goodreads. He is currently at work on several projects, including a “campy vampy” novel. He has recently released his novel, Bound to Silence, also on Amazon.

While you’re on Amazon, check out Not Nice and Other Understatements – A Journal of Flash Fiction!

Share

The Hamsters Are Running Rampant

Photo courtesy of Linux Penguin Tux
First of all, I hope everyone had a nice holiday. I know I’m not the only one who is glad it’s over — it’s such a crazy time of year, isn’t it? I remember much simpler times when I was a child, but that could be simple nostalgia. However, it seems like the longer the years go by, the more the insanity increases. I mean, Christmas Eve it was snowing like a bugger here, and there were people PACKED in the mall I can see from my back window. I kept peeking out and thinking to myself, y’all are crazier than a shithouse rat.

****

I took the day completely off yesterday, due to a savage and crippling headache and a desire to just unplug. Although I hurt, it was really quite nice to just snuggle in the covers and let the day pass. I really should do that more often. Only without the stabby headache.

Today, I received the gift of a Gen2 Kindle with a load of books still on it from a fabulous lady who actually outdoes me in the Snark Department — and that’s not easy to do. George Senior is my New Best Friend, and has totally distracted me from working. I have since zipped him back up, because I really do have work to do, but we have a date later tonight. I can’t say he is the Most Fabulous Gift Ever, because her friendship is all that and more…but he ranks up there in the top five, for sure. His arrival turned a Monday of Total Suckage into A Day To Savor. A Festivus miracle!

****

I’m really pressed for time this Monday, so a more involved post will have to wait for later on in the week. But since you’re here, and probably wondering just what flavor of hamsters I’m entertaining inside the strange planet of my brain, I’ll clue you in on a few thoughts I’ve been chewing over:

1. As the options for writers to publish their work increase, so does the potential for being taken advantage of by unscrupulous sharks in the water just waiting to take a bite. They’re hungry. They don’t give a rat’s ass about you, the writer. They just want to chomp and eat, at your expense. You can credit my skepticism to years of working in freelance and seeing these phucktards in action more than once. We will certainly revisit this subject.

2. As writers, we all suffer from…well, I guess I will call it a Crisis of Career. Especially if we’re changing direction, considering a move, or just plain agonizing over what we’ve just written. It’s not fun, it’s frightening to question yourself and your choices, but this career is a process. As we change and evolve as people, we’re going to change and evolve as writers. Don’t give up! There are more options now than ever before.

3. Marketing. OYE. Besides the Crisis of Career, is there a more difficult mountain to climb? No, I don’t think so. What might help is an actual Marketing Plan. Although every time I hew out a plan, the Universe cackles in glee and rubs its bony knuckles while it calculates just how it can eff it all up. Can Our Heroine outsmart the Universe? Stay tuned.

4. I can totally see why the Kindle has taken the world by storm. I’m struggling not to unzip George Senior and crawl into bed even as we speak.

5. I lost fifteen pounds in the six weeks leading to Christmas. I have since put every single one of the motherheifers back on. My elbows have dimples. I’ma have to fix this ASAP.

6. I have some very favorite people with some very fabulous fiction I intend on sharing with you.

Running, running, running. You’d think those little hamsters would be nothing but bloody stumps by now, but alas. They take a licking and keep on ticking.

Share

Link Heaven and an Update on Self-Publishing

First of all, I’m so excited to announce my volume of flash fiction, “Not Nice and Other Understatements” will soon be available for purchase. I am waiting by the mailbox for the proof to arrive, and once that’s received and approved, it’s off to the races! Did I mention I’M SO EXCITED???? Heh.

PUBLISHING NEWS

I have come across a multitude of interesting, entertaining, and informative links that I’d love to share with you.

In this post about small presses Kristine Kathryn Rusch gives quite a comprehensive look at how Big and Little publishing works. Her entire blog is excellent, with tons of information about the changing face of the book business, and I highly recommend you read and take notes.

Bob Mayer also pontificates on the future of publishing, or as he says, “Lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way.”

FOR SHIZ AND GIGGLES

If you own a dog, you will really appreciate this post about the reactions of a stalwart dog owner’s dogs and the experience of moving. I literally laughed until I cried.

And for people who are involved with Facebook, this video about the Queen of England and her #Facebook Fail is just too funny to miss.

Some days suck. There’s just no two ways about it. When you are feeling low, sometimes a smile can help you get over the hump. That’s what videos like this are for.

NON-FIC NEWS

I will admit this post needs a good edit, but the list of available writing opportunities is quite comprehensive. I warn you again, my poppets, to do your own due diligence when considering places to submit your work. Investigate and choose carefully.

FREE FICTION

Who doesn’t like free fiction? Here is a simple contest with a free giveaway and all you have to do is comment on which rock-and-roll band is your favorite. That’s it! I can vouch that the fiction offered as a prize is Most Excellent, and Susan is very generously offering three books in her series in the contest. Go on, one comment about your favorite band and you can score big. WIN!

While you’re out and about in the fiction world, take a look at Eric J. Krause’s Writing Spot for some excellent suggestions about the writing process.

For another look at the writing process, bestselling author Peter V. Brett also gives us a peek into a process that works very well for him.

MISCELLANEOUS

This is so disgusting I don’t even have words for it. It makes me despair for the human race.

Then I run across simple opportunities to make a difference and I feel better.

The whole issue about TSA screening, especially during the heavy traveling season has garnered a lot of attention, but it seems there is a way, and Florida is in the lead.

Last but not least, politics and popular reality TV meet and it’s not pretty. I’m keeping my mouth shut on this one. *sigh*

These links ought to keep you busy for a bit. I hope you find them as useful, entertaining and distracting as I did. Heh!

Share

Fabulous Fiction Friday – An Interview With MeiLin Miranda

As you can see, I’ve been re-vamping the site due to a server move. It’s still a work in process, and it’s eaten up my time this week like I eat Peanut M&Ms when I’m stressed. Still, I was fortunate enough to catch up with MeiLin and ask her some interesting questions about her experiences as an indie writer and publisher. Take notes, my poppets, because this woman is a dynamo. Not only talented and smart as a whip (heh!), she’s got a handle on this indie publishing monster and you would do very well to study what she’s done and emulate it. Lovers and Beloveds is a ripping good tale, and is not only available in serial form, updated twice a week, but also as an e-book in several formats and hardcopy due mid-October.

1. What was the inspiration for “An Intimate History of the Greater Kingdom” and how did you get started?

It started as a serial daydream I’d tell myself—the story of Warin and Emmae. I read a Neil Gaiman quote to the effect that daydreams were perfectly good story ideas, which astounded me. Foolish writer, I’d never considered such a thought. So I started with that.

Later I gave it to a good friend to read who’s a sociologist, and she started asking me all these questions! What was the society like around them, who were these people, what languages did they speak, what was the relationship between their two countries, and on and on! I found I enjoyed answering her questions, and the next thing I knew, there were Temmin, Teacher and the Greater Kingdom of Tremont and Litta. (She’s still asking pesky questions, by the way, and I’m still enjoying answering them.)

2. What would you say is the most difficult aspect of writing a serial for the web?

There’s the obvious answer: You’re meeting a weekly, or usually more-than-weekly, deadline. At its height I was writing a 2,000 word update three times a week.

But for me, what’s been hardest is figuring out when you’ve got a serial and when you’ve got a novel. Halfway through what I thought was book three of the History I realized I did not have a serial; I could not sustain the story through ten years of this young man’s life at the pace we were going. I had to start over, and I lost a substantial chunk of audience in the process. They’re coming back as the word is spreading that I’m back, but I think a lot of those who aren’t coming back may not realize that this is a very different story; they think it’s a line edit of the original and they’re not going to come back until I get to what they think is the end of book three. By the time I’m on the real book three, we’re going to be years past the end of what I thought was book three. They’ll miss a lot of story.

But I digress.

The other hard thing is that a lot of the time you’re writing first draft/last draft. Right now, the History is serializing in its final form. It’s the best I could do with that story. But my current serial “Scryer’s Gulch,” a work that can be sustained long term and open ended, is first draft/last draft; sometimes it really shows, embarrassingly so. I usually finish it, give it a quick polish, and post it within an hour or less of finishing it. It’s stated at the top that in the grand tradition of the soap opera it’s fd/ld and any plot holes will be explained away—no do-overs. So you gets what you get with the Gulch.

3. What makes your site unique among the other serial webfic sites on the Internet?

Oh gods, I don’t know. Probably the community that’s formed around it. I have amazing readers, really an erudite, funny, charming, wonderful group of people. Very little in the way of flames, supportive of me and each other, but not fawning.

A bunch went to Webcomics Weekend, I think it was last year, as a group and handed out fliers for me; I was told later by some artists that I have an extremely good-looking fan base. So there’s that, too.

4. What is the one thing that has surprised you the most about your audience?

That I have one.

5. Name the most important thing an aspiring writer should invest in regarding their work.

Time with the keyboard and/or pen, and editing. Accept constructive criticism with grace, not defensiveness. Where you’re defensive, you’re very probably wrong. That doesn’t mean the criticism’s always going to be right; I ignored some things my editor said as well as my beta group. I was right and they were wrong on those points. But they were more right than wrong on the whole—far more so.

6. Where do you see the direction of publishing as a whole headed?

I see the Big Six continuing to insist that they’re selling paper, not books. I see them continue to overprice ebooks. This opens up huge opportunities for independent writers, and for midlist authors to take their pulped-and-forgotten back catalog and make some dough. JA Konrath is not that unusual; he’s no more a fluke than any successful traditionally published writer is. This is a tough business, always has been.

7. What is the most valuable writing advice you’ve ever received?

Read, and when you read something you love, pick it to shreds and figure out how the writer did it. That, and write what you love: if you love mysteries, write mysteries. If you love literary fiction, write that. I love fantasy and Victoriana, so that’s what I write.

8. Tells us about your future plans for IHGK and Scryer’s Gulch.

Oh gods. Well, I’ve begun book two of IHGK, which is tentatively titled “Mothers and Fathers.” I have it outlined, and longtime fans will have their little minds blown, I’ll tell you that much. If you think you know what happens, oh boy, you so do not.

Over at the Gulch, my plans are to keep the goings-on good and soapy. I’m working on a piece about genial Deputy and hapless werecritter Rabbit Runnels for an anthology. Just got a handle on it this morning.

9. If there was one thing you could do over again in this process, what would it be and why?

I would have taken myself more seriously earlier. It would have saved me, I think, from conceiving the History as a serial.

10. I know this is like choosing a favorite child, but who is your favorite character of all your written works?

Oh boy. I have to say Temmin. He’s such a goon. He’s handsome, intelligent, and can be quite charming when he feels like it–and he’s a complete dope. Because he’s eighteen and that’s how teenagers roll.

I’m also very fond of Maleen Polls, a madam from IHGK, and the resident Gulch madam, the demon Mamzelle. Apparently I have a thing for madams. But that’s three, not one! I love them all, really, even the super bad guys like Hildin.

Many thanks to MeiLin for answering my nosy questions! The hardcover is available for pre-order here, and if you prefer your books in an ebook format, MeiLin has made options available to you at this link. Of course, you can always visit her site every Monday and Friday for the latest chapter.

Share

WoooHooo! 3Words is Back!

I will be the first one to tell you I’m too busy to write. Yes, I write for a living, but I write non-fiction for a paycheck and fiction has, unfortunately (for me, anyway) taken a back seat to that. I did finish Chapter 22, finally, and am in the home stretch as far as Athena’s Promise goes, but to eke out any time for writing strictly for fun is a major challenge. I knew I needed a push.

For those of you who don’t know, 3Words is the brain-child of one Dave Burton. Brilliant concept, actually, especially for those who are pressed to find time to play with fiction. Every day for a month, Dave would post three prompt words, and participants would write 100 words of an ongoing story around those words. The concept is to have a complete story at the end of 30 days. Simple, right? And who can’t spit out 100 words in a day?

The reasons this was so good for me as a writer is it taught me how to incorporate chosen words in my text — and that’s great training for those of us who have to work with keywords. I can’t tell you how much this has helped me in my freelancing endeavors. Second, it’s a good way to develop discipline to write every day. Another benefit, for me, was it taught me to loosen up and have fun with words. I have a tendency to take writing way too seriously, and although I haven’t lost that trait completely and suspect I never will, 3Words gave me the opportunity to just say, “To hell with it! Let’s rock!”

I’ve mentioned here before about my past participation in 3Words, and I’ve even posted some material written during that time. To my astonishment, when I took those pieces out of the trunk and dusted them off, they didn’t totally suck. The first one was a total goof-fest and the other one seriously has potential for a clean-up. :) Then I remembered how much fun it was to check for new words and come up with a mere 100 to go with them — to take my fiction into new and fun directions. It’s a chance to experiment and just take words and run with them.

It was a blast. I loved reading other people’s interpretations and just had so much FUN. And if writing isn’t fun, then what am I doing it for, right?

Anyway, Dave has decided to re-start 3Words again, and you can find the forum here. You need to sign up to register, but that’s free and all work posted is protected under a password, so no worries there. Who knows? You might come up with a concept worth more serious contemplation — I actually banged out a continuing story that may make it to book form — or worst case scenario, you may just have a ball.

Everyone is welcome. You don’t have to have publishing credits, hell, all you have to do is write 100 words a day. You’ll meet other writers or lovers of the written word, stretch your fiction muscles, and generally have a wonderful time. Guaranteed or your money back!

Come on! Let’s PLAY!!

Share

Fabulous Fiction Friday – The Last One Standing

I am neck deep in non-fic work, plus a tutoring gig teaching conversational English. It has been a long and very busy week. This is Good For Me, because it seems the busier I am the more productive. I have edited up to Chapter 10 of “Athena’s Promise” (working title) and I’m happy about that. However, the hard part of plot tweaking is about to come up. Wish me luck.

Anyway, I was poking around in my 3 Words file, and found this story. To refresh your memory, this story is a result of a group of writers who thought it would be fun to write 100 words a day around three prompt words. We all took turns posting the words, and this is one of the results. Here it is raw and unedited, written one day at a time, and I’m actually pleased with how it turned out — I think by this time, I was getting the hang of it. I don’t have a listing of the prompt words, so you’ll have to guess. Enjoy :)

The Last One Standing

Her pearls are in my jewelry box.

They lay in their velvet prison, reminding me of other days, better days. Lost days.

I’ll light a candle, I’ll open the box, taking the cool pearls and running them through my hands. They’ll warm from my own body heat. They feel like tears.

Comfort? There’s none. She’s moved on and left me behind, waiting and wondering.

#

Her name is Sunny. I loved her from the moment I saw her.

#

It’s like something from an old movie. I was in a video store, looking for something to watch on a lonely Friday night. It’s a small video store, a faded dream in the age of corporate owned places, but very customer service oriented. I like that they call me by name, recognize me.

I said hi to Ray, walking over to the rack featuring movies from the forties and fifties. Not looking at what I was doing, I bumped into this girl.

“Whoops!” she exclaimed, as she dropped a load of video cases on the floor.

A flash of deja-vu swept over me as I stammered my apology. I bent to help her gather up the videos.

I never knew what hit me.

“Oh, it’s okay,” she said, “My fault, really.” I rose and so did she, and we got our first good look at each other.

I can’t tell you what she saw, but I can tell what I did. Short, with long brown hair in a braid. Hazel eyes, cat’s eyes, my mother would’ve said. It wasn’t that she’s beautiful in a conventional sense; it’s something about the configuration of her features that make her seem beautiful.

She literally took my breath away.

The red sweater she wore against the snow of this morning hugged her in all the right places, and although she would tell me later of her battle with her weight, she seemed perfect to me.

“My name’s Sunny,” she smiled, and the world pulsed with her song.

“I’m Jake,” and I offered my hand. I felt my spirits and heartbeat rise when I felt her small hand nestle inside of mine as if it belonged there, as if it had always belonged there. From the widening of her eyes, I was certain she felt it too.

Was I mistaken? Even today, I don’t know the definitive answer to that question.

Her pearls are in my jewelry box.

I had no idea what to say next, so I helped her gather up the videos, too upset with myself to even think straight. I’d spend the next two days arguing with myself, but that was for later. For now, I was tongue-tied and feeling nothing but stupid.

“This is really sweet of you, Jake.”

“Uh, s’ok. My fault.”

“Don’t be silly. It was an accident. Anyway, it was nice to meet you.” She flashed me a funny grin saying, “I’ll see you around, right?”

“I’m in here all the time – I’m sure we’ll bump into each other.”

She giggled.

Even I had to grin at that one. After a final good-bye, she went to check out and I resumed perusing the videos, my mind in a maelstrom. What just happened to me? I felt as breathless as if I had climbed a stairway all the way to heaven. I watched her out of the corner of my eye, not wanting to seem needy or desperate. I stood behind the comedy section (normally I wouldn’t be caught dead in the comedy section, but it gave great cover) and watched her economical movements, her gentle banter with Ray, her graceful exit.

I’m a fool. I can admit to that much.

Once she had gone, I waited a while, moving on to the mystery section. I was trying to be cool, but I wasn’t even fooling myself. I certainly wasn’t fooling Ray. Anyone who thinks they’re going to catch Ray sleeping on the job has a big surprise coming.

I picked a movie at random and headed to the check-out counter where Ray was waiting.

“Dude, you can get picked up for stalking, then you’d be stuck with Bubba as a cellmate.”

I didn’t even pretend to not know what he meant.

“You’re a funny guy, Ray. You should take that act on the road.” I wondered how cooperative he would be if I got the nerve to ask….

As if he could read my mind, he shook his head, long hair flying. “No, buddy, you know I can’t do it.” Ray might look like a dumb, hairy monkey but he’s a sharp guy. He guarded his member’s privacy as if it were his own.

I sighed. “Yeah, I know.”

“Hakunamatata, dude.”

I hated that expression. He considered this phrase the wellspring of wisdom — all it did was piss me off.

Ray grinned. “Don’t look so glum, man. I can tell you she’s applied for a job here.”

My heart jumped like a kite on the breeze. Although I tried to keep my expression neutral, I knew Ray saw right through the façade. It’s like he can feel the same tingle I feel. I think the word is “empathetic.” He’s like that. Can’t hide a damned thing from the guy.

He’s peculiar, but in a good way. At least, most of the time. I don’t think I’d ever want to get on his bad side – but, I’m getting ahead of myself.

“You going to hire her?” Nonchalance was thrown to the wind. What the fuck, I thought.

Ray scooped up a pile of DVD cases from the counter and stacked them on a cart. “Well,” he said, “I do need somebody dependable, and the winter season is fairly busy.” He pulled “Lost Horizon” and “The Green Mile” from the stack. “You ever see either of these movies?”

I watched his reflection in the bank of windows behind him. That’s Ray. He bounces from one subject to another and sometimes it’s hard to keep track of where he’s going. I still try.

“I’ve seen ‘The Green Mile,’” I replied.

He handed me “Lost Horizon.”

“Give me that drivel you have in your hand.” I didn’t even know what movie I had picked up. I was surprised to see “Bring It On,” with a picture of vapid cheerleaders gracing the cover in my hand. Yuck.

“You need to relax, dude. Take it slow. Watch this movie, think about it. Then, if you’re still inclined, when you run into her again, ask her out for a cup of coffee. Take it from there.” Ray bagged up the movie for me, no charge. “Let me know what you think, grasshopper.” He snickered.

I just nodded, took the bag and wandered home. Sure, I’d been hurt before and there was no sense trying to hide it, at least not from Ray. He sees everything, and he’d call me out on it if he thought it was getting out of hand. He’s a strange guy, I think I mentioned that. Hanging with him for any length of time is like standing in the shade for a bit, then stepping out into the sun. It’s a lot to take all at once; somehow, you feel blinded and disoriented until the world settles back to normal.

That’s how I felt, walking back to my place with my free movie and head filled with the sound of Sunny’s voice, her cool scent, the image of the red sweater baked into my memory. What the hell just happened to me?

The cold November breeze picked up and I shivered. It was a good day to stay inside, pop in the movie and chill out. Of course, I didn’t know at the time it would be the last day of peace I would have for quite a while.

Life is funny that way. One day you’re good – the next….

Again, ahead of myself.

I let myself into my dank, basement apartment. It was a mess, but I had a better idea of how to spend my day off than cleaning it. I work six days a week at a major home improvement store, and I have no interest in improving anything on my day off.

Since it was past lunch time and I was starving, I cut a slice of stale cherry pie for my noon meal, and sat down to watch Ray’s pick.

First of all, it was mis-labeled. The movie was actually titled, “Shangri-La,” not “Lost Horizon.”

The reason this struck me is because Ray is quite anal about labeling his movies. He never makes a mistake, at least not in my experience, so this had to be deliberate. He knows how much I hate seeing dead people in a movie, I thought, so I wonder what this is all about. There’s a message here, I knew it. I also knew if I tried to pin Ray down the next time I saw him, I’d have better luck holding a cup of water in my bare hands. I’d have to figure it out all on my own.

#

It was a typical old Hollywood type of movie, meaning I loved the atmosphere. No special effects, you know, all that hype stuff that’s in movies these days. They take all the imagination out of it. Still, the title thing kept bugging me, until I heard the wails and screams from my neighbors. The slamming door finally drove me over the edge.

I pounded on the thin wall – “Hey! What the fuck over there!”

I heard nothing but muffled sobs. So ended my hard-earned peace. Did I have to go over there? Yes and no. My mama raised me right.

I sighed and walked out my door and knocked on the next one. This was not a new drama, but I wouldn’t feel right if I ignored what was going on over there. I knew someday I would see that asshole Brian’s mug shot on the wall at the post office.

The door opened and Danielle stuck her head out, mascara running from red-rimmed eyes.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

She sniffled, and opened the door a little wider. “Yes. Wanna come in?”

“Sure.” Not sure this was a good idea, I took her cold hand in my warm one.

Danielle looked old and tired to me, and she was only six months older. Exotic dancing can do that to a girl, I’ve seen. She’s told me she feels like she’s dancing for vampires; all they want is to suck the blood out of her. It showed in her face today.

As she ushered me inside, darting nervous looks out to the hallway, I noticed she’d dropped weight, and she never had it to lose. Her blond hair seemed brittle, her face gaunt. She had the most marvelous ass, but it was lost in the baggy sweats she was wearing.

She seemed lost all over.

She plucked some Kleenex from the box on the coffee table, blowing her nose. The cupboards in her kitchen were standing ajar; the end table from beside the recliner in the living room — knocked over. Danielle stood wiping her wet eyes as I surveyed the wreckage.

“You don’t have to say it. I won’t make excuses. We weren’t playing tag, and it wasn’t an artist’s tantrum. He’s an asshole. I know it.”

I sighed. What’s the point? It’s a rough life, we’re both aware. I don’t judge. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t pissed as hell.

What I wanted to do was grab Brian by the head, punch him until he screamed like a little girl, then crumple him up, tossing him out with the trash. What I did do was straighten the end table, close the cabinets and kept my mouth shut. I’ve seen Danielle go through guys like this before. There used to be a core of strength inside her, but I see it diminish a little bit with each Brian.

“You gonna be okay?”

“Sure,” she sniffled. “He’ll be back, and he’ll behave. If he doesn’t, there’s plenty more where he came from.”

I grinned at that. It’s such quintessential Danielle at her best.

She brushed her hair back from her face, and asked, “How about a cup of tea?” Not waiting for my response, she went into her tiny kitchen, putting the kettle on. “Thanks for … well, you know.”

I sat on the worn sofa. All her furniture looked blurred around the edges. “Yeah, that’s what neighbors are for.”

“You need a good girl, Jake. You deserve a good girl. Not someone like me, someone with class.” She reached for the kettle and gave a little yelp at the hot handle. “What a day,” she sighed. “When it rains, it pours.”

I just nodded. My head was still in the video store. Sunny’s voice was still in my ears, and it was keeping the regular darkness at bay.

Danielle brought two tea cups and a bowl of sugar cubes over to the coffee table. She picked up her cup, and blowing gently across the hot liquid she studied my face. She smiled as I put two lumps in my cup, stirred, and raised the impossibly fragile and feminine piece of china to my lips. She knew right away something was up.

“Something’s happened to you, Jake,” she said. “You look like you just won first prize in a contest.”

I said nothing. I just sipped my tea.

“All right, I won’t push.” Danielle settled back into her chair. “I guess it’s putting the cart in front of the horse, anyway. You wanna know what I’m gonna to do about this Brian thing.”

I shrugged, my mind a million miles away. What was Sunny doing right now? Could she be thinking about me? Would she say yes, if I were to ask her out? Did I have the balls to do it?

I missed what Danielle said next, until she attracted my attention by punching me in the arm, a typical Danielle move when she felt neglected.

“Ouch! Are you insane? That HURT.”

“Pay attention, then. If you won’t tell me what you’re all in knots about, the least you can do is pretend you’re interested in what I’m saying.”

I blew her a kiss for an apology. “I’m not telling anything. There’s nothing to tell.”

“You’re gunning for a black eye, my friend,” she sniffed. “Fuck’re you doin’ here, anyway, if you’re not gonna listen to me?”

I had to laugh. The woman’s a nut case, this is true, but we’d been neighbors for over a year, and we looked out for each other.

“Okay. Sorry. What were you saying?”

“I said I’m sick of working, paying all the bills just so Brian can go out and play, having a good time.”

“And?”

“And what?” she retorted. She shifted in her chair and crossed her magnificent legs. Although she was my friend, I could still appreciate a good set of gams.

“What are you going to do about it?” I picked up the teacup and took another sip of tepid tea. Gah, I hated the stuff. The things you do for friendship.

“You know, Jake, when we first started seeing each other, sparks flew. He didn’t mind me dancing for a living, and I didn’t mind he seemed to be the comforter for other girls. But now, well, it’s different.” She nibbled on her forefinger, a nervous habit she’d had ever since I’d known her. “It’s like real life slaps you right upside the head, and you never know what hit you.”

Is that how it would be with Sunny? I thought. Fine at first, then a slow decline? What’s worse? Living through the death of something fine, or being alone with your dreams?

“Look,” I said, “I can’t make a decision for you. Here it is, straight up — either you’re going to put up with this fruit loop or you’re not. I think you’re better than this, but if you don’t, I’m just wasting my breath.”

Some balm for the soul I am, but I confess I was getting irritated.

Danielle blinked her great blue eyes, becoming all teary again. “You do? Think I’m better?”

“It doesn’t matter what I think. What do you think?” I sighed and stood. “Dani, I love you, but you need to get your head out of your ass and face your gorgons. Small things turn into big things, and next thing you know your heart’s turned to stone.” I knew she had no idea what I was talking about, but I could feel a sense of purpose forming. I reached out, stroked her creamy skin, and she smiled. She’d be all right.

“There’s a girl, isn’t there?”

“Not yet, but I think…I think it’s a possibility.”

“I’m glad. She’s a lucky girl.” Danielle stood and took my hand, walking me to the door.

#

I walked back to my apartment, thinking about Danielle and Sunny. Thinking about how life sometimes kicks you in the balls. About how sometimes when you meet someone special, you can almost hear an audible “pop’ and your heart feels as warm as a southern breeze. Thinking how sometimes it seems only the stars in the sky understand how you feel.

When I walked in the door, the phone was ringing. Its shrill peal sent goosebumps up my spine. The last thing I wanted to do was pick it up. It refused to stop, so I picked up the receiver.

“Hello?”

“Jake?”

“Yes.” I knew it was Ray immediately, even though he had never called me before. The skin on my skull suddenly felt too tight.

“I thought you’d want to hear it from me, dude. Sunny came in just after you left. She wanted your phone number, but you know me.”

Yeah, I know Ray.

“Still, I gave it to her. I don’t know why I did, I normally don’t do that, you know.” His voice was shaking, and I knew I didn’t want to hear what was coming next. My legs felt heavy and there was a metallic taste in my mouth.

“She was acting a little funny, like she knew something was going to happen.”

“What happened, Ray? Stop fucking around and tell me.” I had to sit down, my legs wouldn’t support me any more.

“I’m trying to, man,” and I realized with some horror Ray was crying. He was crying.

“She took your number and left a box for you. She called them her ‘precious memories’ and said you would understand. Then she…she…left to catch the bus. You know the stop is right across the street.” Ray was practically blubbering by now, and I could see her as if she were standing right across from me, curls escaping the tight braid and that smile. My heart clenched and I was sure it was going to stop beating.

“Go on, Ray. Just spill it,” I said, my voice unwavering.

“It…it was a truck, Jake. A young kid, just got his CDL. I’m so sorry, man.”

I hung up the phone. What else was there to say, after that?

#

After I picked up the package Sunny had left for me, I didn’t go to Ray’s much. Actually, I’ve not been back. It’s not Ray’s fault, but it is hard for me to take.

Inside Sunny’s package were her pearls. I hold them in my hands, feel them warm against my skin and sometimes I can feel her close. Time ticks by and I’m left behind, wondering what could have been, what should have been, and what will never be.

It’s hard to be the last one standing.

Share

Fiction Friday – Take a "Vacation"

Once in awhile, I am lucky enough to run across a piece of work that not only touches my heart, but makes me think, and think hard. “Vacation” by Jeremy C. Shipp is one such book.

It’s marketed as horror, but trust me when I tell you that you’ve never read a horror book like this. It’s so much more than that. It’s layered with meaning and thought-provoking social themes, wrapped up in a kind of twisted love story, delicate like a baklava pastry with substantial walnuts of thought with a drizzle of honey to make it all very tasty.

Bernard Johnson is an English professor, and embarks on a once-in-a-lifetime Vacation subsidized by the government. What he learns about himself and his environment has far-reaching effects. Nothing is what it seems; the fabric of his unreality is re-woven into a new reality and the journey is fascinating.

Every chapter opens up a different line of thought, a unique perspective on the world as a whole and society in general. Shipp’s unusual vision of what makes this fictional civilization tick bears a striking resemblance to the world in which we live – and it isn’t pretty. It isn’t pretty, but every word shines with a truth that’s hard to ignore.

Shipp’s outlook and message might be difficult to stomach, but then, most hard truths are. His creative prose and singular subject matter combines horror, humor, and insight in a way that is most unusual from anything else I’ve read. Johnson is a sympathetic hero without being anything close to perfect, but who loves a perfect hero? His growth as a person is reflected in the choices he makes toward the end of the story, and while not all the loose ends are tied up in a pretty bow, it makes the story resonate that much more.

“Vacation” is not an easy read. It’s not a comfortable read. It’s a challenging read, and will stay with you long after you read the last page – much like baklava stays on your hips long after it’s eaten. This is one story that will make you think long and hard about your place in the world, the consequences of your choices, and how society and government plays a part in your life whether you realize it or not.

Jeremy C. Shipp has written an evocative and exciting literary adventure. Take a trip with him – you will never have a more unusual, mind-blowing, and illuminating vacation.

Stay tuned for an interview with the talented, wild, and crazy Jeremy C. Shipp. You can find his novel, “Vacation”, for sale on Amazon on the widget to the right.

If you’ve enjoyed this review or it has been helpful to you, consider making a donation. Thanks!





Share

Friday Fiction: Review of "The Warded Man" by Peter V. Brett

In recent years, I have wandered from my first love in choosing books to read – the fantasy genre, or as it’s known in certain circles now, “speculative fiction”. The reasons for this are many. Pacing is one; as time has grown shorter, I have less time to devote to reading (very sad, that) and when I do read, I want to be hooked right now; I don’t want to wait until book two or three or four to figure out the point of the series. As a matter of fact, it’s difficult to invest a great deal of time into a series anymore.

Another reason is the “same old, same old” that is found in many fantasy series. I can only read so many stories about vampires, elves, or dwarves before all the species start to run together in my head and I forget what it is I’m reading once I put the book down. And it’s easy to put the book down.

Not so with Peter V. Brett’s The Warded Man.

Corelings, or demons, rise up from the Earth’s core every night to ravage and destroy. Humankind is forced to hide in fear when night falls, with no other protection than wards; ancient symbols that keep the demons from invading homes and barns and consuming all life within. This limits travel between towns and cities to within a day’s journey; only the hardy brave the night to carry messages, trade, and entertainment. Isolation is a way of life – so is fear.

Mankind, for the most part, has ceded the night to the corelings.

This is about to change.

We follow three children who endure great losses at the hands of the corelings, transforming their lives and the lives of all who know them forever. We meet Arlen; bitter at the cowardice of his own father and determined to take back the night. Leesha; beautiful and an apprentice healer, wounded by the actions of those professing to love her but still dedicated to her “children”. Rojer; suffering a major loss at a young age, eventually finding his purpose and talent in the strings of a fiddle. All three are united in one dedicated resolve, although they don’t meet up until the last fourth of the book.

Brett’s characterization of all three major players is excellent. But, he doesn’t stop there. Even the “bit players” are colorful and interesting. He seduces us into caring what happens to Arlen, Leesha, and Rojer. In fact, we are seduced into caring what happens to humanity in their world, and he makes it so believable you’ll start to fear the night yourself.

The pacing is spot-on. Brett doesn’t hurry the events that shape the lives of these three people; rather, he lets the characters and their choices drive the story, and at the same time keeping the pace dynamic. There are no “dead spots” where descriptions or convoluted action makes you skip ahead; in The Warded Man you don’t want to miss one word.

One thing I really enjoyed about this book is the fact Brett doesn’t insult the reader’s intelligence. He doesn’t hold your hand and describe to you every single tiny little thing. You are free to use your imagination in conjunction with his – one of the greatest gifts an author can give a reader.

In The Warded Man, Brett uses the subtext to provoke thought about the roles a society imposes on people. He invites you to ponder the role of religion and political expediency, but he does it in such a way you are totally entertained while doing so.

It remains to be seen if the characters in The Warded Man are heroes, ordinary people who have just had enough and decided to take a stand, or people pushed into the changing social climate of a world under siege. What is worse? The destruction of humans at the hands of terrifying demons, or destruction by their own hands? It’s not just a war between demon and humankind; it a story of people fighting more than that. It’s a story of people fighting against each other; people fighting their own internal demons.

It remains to be seen if legends are real, or just bent to accommodate the yearnings of a people. It remains to be seen if the human nature can win out over both external and internal demons, and retain their essential humanity.

I can’t wait to find out when The Desert Spear hits the shelves.

Next week, stay tuned for an interview with Peter V. Brett.

978-0-345-50380-0

Share

Wednesday Link Love

It’s been a couple of weeks since I did a link round-up. I’ve run across a bunch of sites and links lately, so for your pleasure (and to free up some of my bookmark space!) here are the best of the best.

Free Online Fiction

The Lifting of the Veil ~ By Chris Tejeda. Immediate disclaimer: Yes, I am indeed editing this novel of the apocalypse. And I’m loving every minute of it. It’s a great story, and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.

The Tale of Two Kingdoms ~ By MeiLin Miranda. See above disclaimer. This history of the Kingdom of Tremont is provocative and a fun read. Beware – it’s addicting.

Not free, but definitely worth the investment, West of Mars is the home of a fictional rock band whose adventures can be followed in ShapeShifter: The Demo Tapes. I’ve picked up a copy and have enjoyed it immensely, and I recommend you do yourself a favor and pick up a copy, too. I have plans to corner Susan for an interview and a review to be posted in a future edition of WordWebbing.

This isn’t free fiction, but in less than a week your universe is going to be ROCKED, and rocked hard, by the release of The Warded Man (released in 2008 in the UK as “The Painted Man) by Peter V. Brett. I am so excited, as I’ve known Peat for a few years, and couldn’t be happier at his success. I’ll have a complete review and interview with Peat in a coming post.

Music for the Muse

Blip.fm is a site in which you can program your own internet radio station, searching for songs from a global database. There’s interaction with other “DJs” and an option to give “props” to a favorite DJ and their choices. You also have an option of “blipping” your own favorites directly to a Twitter feed.

Pandora is a music genome project. Plugging in a favorite artist matches their sound with other bands and artists with which you may or may not be familiar. There’s even a widget you can download to a desktop; however, with Windows Vista this caused some kind of bugaroo and I uninstalled it.

At JamsBio, you can write a memory corresponding to some of your most unforgettable music. It’s a really neat way to match memories to music; fascinating to compare to other people. There’s always something cracking over at JamsBio – it’s quite an innovative site. They have a lot going on right now – free music, lists, games, and news.

Writing Related

Unsent Letters – have you ever written one? Here’s a place for them. A paying gig.

The Hong Konger – the actual experiences of a young editor on the loose in Hong Kong. He’s funny, he’s crazy, and he has a problem with French squirrels. He has a video camera and is not afraid to use it.

Elizabeth Gilbert – an excellent lecture on creativity and a whole new way to look at genius. I’ve watched this over and over. It really struck home.

This Time article explores the question: Is genius learned behavior? Very interesting read.

What? I have to write another blog post? Here is some great information about how to keep coming up with fresh, innovative blog posts without pulling out your hair.

Freedom Freelance is a fabulous resource administered by one of the most fabulous people in freelancing I’ve met. Helpful, friendly, and sharp as a tack, Angie Haggstrom is all that AND a bag of chips. Keep your eye out for this rising star.

Timewasters

I know, who needs these, right? Well, we all have to blow off steam at some point. Set a timer so you don’t get sucked in to the time/space continuum and you be a’ight.

Oh, Boomshine! How you task me. But you’re so soothing, at the same time.

Who knew falling sand could be so mesmerizing? You can even leave it for a while and come back later. Very nice.

That’s the round-up for this edition. Hope you find somthing here that moves you, inspires you, or helps you waste a couple of hours with bubbles and sand. Heh.

Share

Flash Fiction Friday VI

Example of spandex
Image via Wikipedia

I can’t believe it’s been so long since I posted a flash fiction prompt. Why didn’t somebody poke me?

It’s a good way to stoke the fire; take a break from other projects; warm up your writing muscles; stretch your imagination. Give it a whirl, even if your main focus is non-fiction, blog writing, or poetry.

Keep in mind that every word counts toward advancing your story. It’s like wearing spandex — you can’t hide a thing.

This week’s prompt is:

When you feel you have to criticize Sam’s meat, something is definitely wrong.

Use this as a jumping off point. You may include the sentence in your piece, but you don’t have to.

Try to stay within 500 words. The POV is up to you.

I’ll post mine on Monday. Post yours on your site, and leave a link in the comments and I will read, read, read.

Have fun!



Reblog this post [with Zemanta]
Share