Blog About

May 21, 2010 — 403 words

1,000 Stories

By MCM

Hi there.  I'm insane.

I have a crazy goal for the summer: I want to write 1,000 short stories. That's right, one thousand.

Here's the thing: I don't write things in a vacuum.  I like to interact with my readers.  I like to take a name or an idea or a phrase or something and turn it into a unique piece of writing.  So that means I need 1,000 seeds.  And that's where YOU come in!  YOU get to give me my seeds!

How do I play?

I'll do one story per person.  All you need to do is send me an email. In the message, give me something to work with. It can be as simple as "spoon" or as complex as "Marco the yak goes to Carnaval."  Fragments of ideas are best.  The more absurd the better. Pick something uniquely you, or totally foreign. Also, tell me if the story's for kids or adults. I don't want to blood-soak a 5-year-old.

Any restrictions?

Don't try to get me to write stories with existing characters (except ones I created).  If you ask for "Harry Potter", I will have to change things around on you, and I don't want to do that.

What does it cost?

Nothing. I want to write 1,000 stories, and I bet you'd like a custom-made tale. That's a pretty fair trade.

No, but really. What's in it for you?

Well, ideally you'll love my story so much you'll check out my other works, and maybe stick around for a livewriting event or two.

How long will it take?

That's a good question. Either a few days, or a few months. It depends on the backlog. I'd predict a timeframe, but I'd end up being wrong :)

What's a short story in your world? 7 words?

I'm going to aim for 500 words.  Some stories will be shorter, and some will be longer, but that's a nice solid number to work with.  If all goes well, I will end up with a 500,000-word tome of insanity.

Great! When can I start?

Right now! Click and go!

May 21, 2010 — 871 words

Yaktastic

By MCM

The second guard crumpled his coffee cup and got out of his chair, leaving Manny alone in the small room at the side of the security area.  Over the intercom, a party of seven was paged to the boarding gate before they missed their flight.

He drummed his fingers on the table, then reached over to take his passport.  He paused, set it back down, and then checked the door.  No one around.  He picked it up, flipped through the pages, looking for something that might—

“Mr Desoto, yes?” said a man in a blue suit, state security tag hanging from his lapel.  “I’ve got the right room?”

“Yes, that’s right,” said Manny, shaking the man’s hand nervously.  He didn’t get up.  They’d told him not to.

“I’m Inspector Costa.  I’d give you my card, but I ran out this morning.”

“That’s okay,” said Manny, shifting in his seat as Costa sat down.  “Can I ask what the problem is?”

Costa flipped through some pages on a clipboard, chewing on his lower lip.  He had a depression along the right side where a cigarette used to sit, and he kept pulling at it with a long, crooked tooth.

“Your accent,” said Costa without looking up, “it’s hard to place.  You’re not from here?”

“Liverpool,” said Manny.  “But my parents were both from Brazil, so I learned the language at home.”

“Some of it, anyway,” smiled Costa.  “Let’s talk about your cargo, please.”

“Yes,” said Manny, leaning forward and interlacing his fingers in his best “getting down to business” pose.  “I was trying to find out if he’s alright.”

He,” muttered Costa, checking the papers again.  “You mean the yak.”

“Yes, yes, Marco.”

“Marco the yak.”

“So you know him,” sighed Manny, relieved.

Costa looked at him, eyelids half-closed.  “I’m afraid I don’t,” he said.

Manny nodded, reached into his jacket pocket, but Costa shot him a warning look, and he paused.

“I wouldn’t,” said Costa, perfectly calm.

“It’s a brochure,” said Manny.

“Slowly, then.”

Manny pulled a worn piece of paper out of his pocket, handed it over.  Costa unfolded it, frowned at the writing, the pictures, passed it back.

“Marco is a national treasure in Italy,” said Manny.  “His show is broadcast in, I don’t know, fifty countries around the world.  National treasure.  National treasure.”

Costa shrugged, leaned back in his chair.  The expression on his face said he found it hard to believe anyone could label a yak a national treasure, at the same time he wasn’t surprised.  It was Italy, after all.

“So why is Marco in Brazil?” asked Costa. “Getting away from it all?”

“It’s a special,” said Manny, putting the paper back in his pocket.  “We’re shooting some segments with Marco at Carnaval.  We do a lot of these international segments, to show kids other parts of the world.”

“So you fly around with your yak a lot, then?”

“I don’t, not usually.  I was the only production assistant that spoke Portuguese.”

“Allegedly,” smiled Costa.  Manny rolled his eyes.  He pressed his hands together as if pleading, while Costa loosened his tie and scratched his neck.

“Listen,” said Manny.  “Our lawyers were supposed to clear this with your government before we left.  I’m sure if you do some checking, you’ll see we have all the required permits to—”

“Excuse me,” said a younger security guard, peeking in the door.  He slid next to Costa, handing him a bundle of papers, and whispered in his ear.  Costa looked through the papers, then up at Manny, face white.

“I’m so sorry, Mr Desoto,” he said, getting to his feet.  Manny took the hint, got up too.  “I just got the paperwork from… and… I’m deeply, deeply sorry that we didn’t know about this before now.”

“Oh, don’t worry about it,” said Manny, scooping up his passport.  “An hour or two here and there won’t kill us.  We don’t film the segment with the President until this evening.”

Costa winced, ran a hand through his thinning hair.

“That’s the other thing,” he said.  “We… uh… we have a procedure for dealing with animals we believe may be used as drug mules.”

Manny laughed at the thought.

“Marco?  A drug mule?”

Costa laughed too, but it was a nervous laugh.

“We’ve seen stranger things,” he said, and the laughing stopped.

“So what are you saying?” asked Manny.  “You… you what, you x-rayed him?  What?”

“To start, yes,” said Costa, voice low.  “Then we give him a sedative so he was nice and calm—”

“Oh my god, he can’t be sleepy!  He’s seeing the President tonight!”

“I think you should look at this as a blessing, Mr Desoto,” said Costa, patting him on the back.  “Because after what we did to Marco today, I don’t think he’ll have control of his bowels for any state dinners this week.”

This topic tag was done for Nancy based on the suggestion: "Marco the yak goes to Carnaval." You people.  Sheesh.

May 12, 2010 — 849 words

Concessions

By MCM

When his legs cramped, all he could do was shift them to the side, hope to feel the blood rush through, a brief warm sensation, his feet coming back to life.  Half an hour later he’d repeat the process in the other direction, bound inside his tiny invisible box, out of sight from the world, alive for thirty minutes more.

He checked his watch compulsively, kept count of the hours with his fingers, up one hand, down the other. He hadn’t missed one, hadn’t slept the whole time. Thirty-five, thirty-six, thirty-seven…

The sounds over this wall, this crumbled wall of his, they kept him awake, kept the red in his eyes more than the dust and the dirt ever could.  Tanks crunching brick and bodies, feet shuffling, marching, running, stepping through a courtyard he only vaguely remembered anymore.  From the fountain, you could see his wall, but not him.  Not if he stayed in his box.

The voices, foreign and haunting, traded intel and orders, jokes and curses, but none of them made sense to him.  As much as he prayed for them to move on, he knew this was the perfect shelter, the best place for a camp. Their voices kept him up at night even more than the smell of their food.

By daylight, he could see the body at the other side of the room, staring at him with empty eyes. The blood on the ground was dried, caked and brown and stopping just short of the wall, wrapping around his boots, sticking him down.  He didn’t remember the man’s name, but he knew he had a wife, two kids. His job was to carry the ammo, the box at the doorway, tipped over, unreachable.

Thirty-eight.

A pair of rough voices sidled up to the wall, low and hushed at first, then halting, contemplative.  The click of a lighter, the sweet smell of tobacco, and then the conversation began in earnest.  He made up meanings to the words he heard, and none of them were good.  “No prisoners.”

He shifted his legs towards the wall, and his left boot came unstuck from the blood.  It made the sound of moving sand, louder than he ever would have guessed.

The voices stopped, and so did he. His finger rested on the trigger to his rifle, and he dared to flex it, see if it still moved.  The sounds had been imposing, but the silence was horrible.  He tried to look up, but his helmet blocked his view.  The only shadows he saw were cast by the damned wall, the only sounds were the echoes of his boot in the blood.

He closed his eyes and tried to think of a prayer, of a song, of something to fill his head other than the nothing.  All that came to him was a childhood tune, and the more he repeated it, the more panicked he became: he wanted back there, back before the guns and the helmets and the boots and the shots from a blackened window.  He was that boy, not this.  That boy didn’t deserve this.  That boy ran free in the fields, singing harmless songs and loving the blue sky even when it rained.

And it rained now, too.  The first mortar hit out of nowhere, blowing debris and blood over his wall.  He was showered in brick and bone, and he covered his face with his hands before the second round struck, sending the courtyard into a deranged panic. Screaming, crying, shouting, pleading… he heard the guns roll away, boots racing this way and that, trying to take cover.

A boy scrambled over the wall and landed atop him.  This kid, this crying, sobbing kid, was covered in blood from himself and others, and his eyes were wide in a panic that seemed surreal.  He shoved the boy off him, into the room, and pushed himself against the wall a little tighter.

Opposite uniforms, identical impulse.  But there was only one chunk of wall.

They stared at each other, unblinking as another mortar hit, unblinking as the black rock rained down around them.  Guns fired in the distance, but they stayed dead still, waiting for the other to make his move.  The boy’s pistol was on his belt, but it was a long way to reach.

The wristwatch, ignorant to the world, ticked past another half-hour.  Like clockwork, his legs begged him to move, to run, to use them even just one last time.

And so he did.  Slowly, carefully, he pulled them in, up to his chest.  He turned his head away from the boy, looked at the space he’d made.  Half the wall, at the end of the trail of blood.  A tiny slice of shelter. Half of a tiny slice of shelter, but it was all he could spare.

And then, with the shells exploding all around, he closed his eyes, and he went to sleep.

This Topic Tag is for Cranmer, inspired by the request "small piece of wall."

May 11, 2010 — 1,593 words

hiroshima iv

By MCM

Dustin was trying to write with his right hand while his left picked up his grande dark cherry non-fat soy latte from the table. It was a tricky feat. His pen slipped the line, and when he moved to recover, he spilled the cup over the table.  He snatched the notebook away in time, but the coffee dripped onto his knee, burning and making him yelp.

“Here you go,” said a woman at the table next to him, handing over a napkin.

“Thanks,” he smiled.  He stopped the flow and righted the cup, pushing the lid inside uselessly.  His little round table was like a mirror of caffeine, painting a dark and mournful glimpse of the world above.  He looked absolutely wretched, he thought.

A barista came by with a heavy cloth and wiped up the rest of the mess.  He passed her his customer card, apologized, and asked for another of the same.  She disappeared behind the counter as he waited for the table to dry.

“Student?” asked the woman, leaning over the back of her chair, her dirty blond hair weaving about in the air conditioned wind.

“Sorry?” he asked, meeting her blue eyes.

“You’re busy writing,” she said. “Are you a student?”

“Oh,” he smiled.  “Oh, no.  Not a student.  Not for a while now.  I’m a poet.”

Poet,” she said. “You don’t hear that often. Most poets are songwriters these days, aren’t they?”

“Can’t play a guitar,” he shrugged, holding up his hands.  “Butterfingers.”

She laughed, turned her chair around until it touched his, rested her chin on her palm and looked him over.

“What kind of poetry do you write?”

“Not too sure yet,” he said. “I’m just starting out.  Trying to find my voice.”

“Broken heart?” she asked, taking a sip of her coffee and leaving a smudge of pink on the rim.

“Nothing like that,” he muttered. “Been a bad year, and I thought back to my college days and figured… I dunno, maybe I can sort it out like this.”

“Cheaper than a shrink,” she smiled.

“Exactly my point,” he nodded, then glanced over at the day planner on her table.  “What do you do?”

“Event planning,” she said, under her breath. “I know, not too sexy.”

That word made him pause. He was about to speak when a coffee cup was placed on his table, and a heavy-set figure sat down across from him.  He turned to see a man in a black leather jacket, a toothpick sticking out of his mouth.

“Good evenin’,” said the man cordially.

A second man appeared next to the woman, arms crossed over his massive chest.  He kicked her legs uncrossed, motioned with his chin.

“Beat it, girlie,” said the first man.  “Go on, scram.”

She looked from Dustin to the two men, and then gathered up her things and bustled out of the cafe.  The second man took her seat, turning it around and leaning in close.

“So I hears you’re a poet,” said the first man.

“Th-that’s right,” said Dustin. “And who are you?”

“Vinnie Two-Beat,” he said. “And this here is my associate, ee comeback.”

“E.E.… Come—”

“It’s un-capital-like,” said Vinnie.

“Oh, I uh—”

“Let’s see what we got,” said Vinnie, snatching the notebook and flipping to the start.

“No, wait,” said Dustin. “I’m not very—”

Vinnie leaned back in his seat, settling on the second page.  He licked his lips as he read down the page, then looked up at Dustin.  The scar along his right cheek reshaped into sideways “v” when he smiled.

“That’s a nice poem you got there,” he said. “It’d be a shame if something were to happen to it.”

Dustin looked over at ee, who was grinning a golden grin.

“Sorry, what?”

“I’m sayin’ it would be a tragedy if your poem were to befall an accident or some other—”

“No, I understand that,” said Dustin. “But it’s a poem.  What could you do to it that would—”

Vinnie reached into his inside jacket pocket and in a swift motion, pulled out a black ballpoint pen.  He licked the tip and started marking up the page.  Dustin reached for it, but ee grabbed his arms, slammed them onto the table, squeezing wedge-like fingers into his muscles.

Vinnie finished writing, then laid the book down across Dustin’s arms, nudging it forward.

“There,” he said darkly. “Consider it a warning.”

Dustin read over the page.  He’d expected the text to be scribbled over, horribly mangled, disfigured and ruined. Instead, it looked pretty much the way it had started.

“What… what did you do?” he asked.

Vinnie smirked, pointed to a line with his pen.

“Added a comma,” he said.  “And right here, semicolon.”

“But…”

“For someone writin’ in the freeform style like yourself, a semicolon’s just embarrassin’.”

“I don’t know,” said Dustin, reading it over. “It actually improves the flow of the—”

“Hey!” snapped Vinnie. “You want me to get iambic pentameter on your ass? That last line ‘bout the fallin’ rain’d get real hokey as a rhyming couplet, doncha think?”

“I guess, but I still don’t—”

Vinnie popped the lid off the drink and guzzled it.  When he finished, his mouth was dripping brown, quivering.  He took the notebook back, scratched a few more markings, and turned it over to Dustin.  ee squeezed the arms a bit harder.

“I don’t see what you did,” said Dustin.

“Right here. Added a period. Makes it look like you’re a queer.”

“I’m sorry, what?”

“A homosexual,” hissed Vinnie under his breath. “Yer talkin’ about a girl, but with the period, it changes the subject of the phrasin’ to imply yer talkin’ bout a guy. Which makes you a homosexual.

“Oh,” said Dustin. “But I am gay.”

ee let go of the arms.

“You’re… you’re a fag?” stammered Vinnie.

“Yeah,” said Dustin. “Is that a problem?”

Vinnie wiped his mouth, pushed the drink closer to Dustin. He closed the book, pushed it across the table and stood up, phone to his ear before he kicked open the door and walked into the street.

ee looked over at Dustin nervously, up and down.

“What’s the problem?” asked Dustin. “I don’t have cooties, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

ee looked over at Vinnie, then back to Dustin.

“it’s not

that

at all,” he said in a quiet, lowercase voice.

“it’s just that

the gay

gay

gay mafia

is bigger and

stronger and

(quite frankly)

scarier

than we

are.”

Dustin shook his head to undo the odd line breaks in his mind.

“So wait, you’re saying there’s a gay mafia?  A real gay mafia?”

ee nodded solemnly.

“And you two are—”

“the poetry

mafia.”

“Right,” said Dustin.

“Hey, ee!” yelled Vinnie from the door. “We gotta go!”

ee gave Dustin a surprisingly apologetic look and darted for the door.  It closed with a bang, and within seconds the cafe was back to normal.  Dustin asked for yet another drink, and then opened his book to write again.  He had just uncapped his pen when a well-manicured hand turned his notebook around and started flipping through the pages.

Dustin looked up to see a young man with expertly-coiffed hair and a hint of eyeshadow reading his poetry.  He decided to drink his coffee in silence.  Finally, the visitor looked up.

“Oh, darling,” said the man. “This is awful.”

“Sorry, who are you?” asked Dustin, bristling.

“I am Jean-Paul Simmons, head of the Gay Mafia’s Poetry Branch.  And you, darling, are not leaving this cafe with your so-called poetry intact.  It is an abomination.”

Dustin reached for his book, tried to pull it back, but it wouldn’t budge.  “Thanks for the input,” he grumbled. Jean-Paul glared at him with intense eyes.

“You write about love, but leave so much ambiguity in your phrasing that I can’t tell if you’re straight or queer. We have special exemptions for hidden subtext with closeted poets, but according to our file on you, that doesn’t apply.  Honestly, I haven’t been this offended since Ricky Martin was popular.”

“I don’t see how this is any of your business,” said Dustin. “I can write whatever I want, can’t I?”

Jean-Paul took Dustin’s hand in his, caressing it gently.

“Oh, poor dear Dustin,” he purred. “No, no you can’t.”

Dustin rolled his eyes.

“Or else what?” he scoffed. “You’ll switch all my pronouns?”

Jean-Paul smiled sweetly, then broke Dustin’s index finger.

“Art has no rules,” hissed Jean-Paul as Dustin held back a shriek, “but we do.  If I don’t see more flamboyancy in this notebook by Friday, the only poetry the world will ever associate with you will be on your gravestone.  Do I make myself clear?”

Dustin nodded, wiped tears from his eyes with his free hand.  Jean-Paul let him go, patted him on the cheek.

“Very good, darling,” he smiled. “Now do order me that drink you’ve got there. It looks absolutely scrumptious!”

This Topic Tag was created for the fabulous Gabriel Gadfly when he asked for "Poetry Mafia." I got a bit sidetracked at the end, sorry.

May 10, 2010 — 274 words

Tori’s Row, Act Two

By MCM

Today marks the start of Act 2 of Tori's Row, the ghost story by Nancy Brauer and myself. Things for Tori are going from bad to worse, now that her boyfriend Brian has been ruthlessly attacked and left for dead. You can hop over to the books site and catch up, and stay tuned for new chapters every Monday and Friday (enhanced schedule! woo!).  Tori's Row has been a blast to write, and I hope you enjoy the emotional gutting Tori is going through. There are some scenes in this new set of chapters that I think are some of my favourite writing in recent memory. So Nancy probably wrote 'em. I dunno, my brain is mush today.

I also want to take this opportunity (beware!) to remind you about the staggering importance of reviews to weblit authors. We don't ask for money, and we don't want to seem like we're begging for praise... but ultimately, reviews help us stay afloat by demonstrating to the world that we exist. Big-publisher books already drown us out, but this is one area where we can compete.  So if you have a few minutes free this week, why not write a quick review of one of your favourite series and put it up on Web Fiction Guide, Smashwords or Amazon. You don't need to give out five stars. Just help us show people that we're actually read, that we're not just blathering in the wind.

May 10, 2010 — 1,605 words

The Collector

By MCM

Dougley was the picture of madness.  He’d dumped out his drawers, flipped up the mattress, and was running his fingers along the tops of door frames, muttering to himself the whole way.

It was at roughly this moment that Effie came in, knocking the stool out from under him.  His head hit the floor with a crack.

“Oh dear,” said Effie, scrambling to help Dougley up.  “Oh dear oh dear, are you hurt?”

Dougley put a hand to his head while his eyes settled themselves in his skull.  He was ashen, utterly pale beneath his brown fur.  But it wasn’t because of the fall.

“I’ve no more tacks!” he said, getting to his feet and falling back over again.  “There’s a shipment today, and I’ve nothing to fasten them with!”

Effie looked around the room.  There were socks stuck to every piece of furniture, socks hanging from the ceiling, and so many socks along the walls that the place almost seemed a big, soft explosion of colour and texture.  There were no echoes in here.  It was maddeningly buffeted.

“I should find something for your head,” Effie said, bustling over to the ice box.  “And you should lay down.”

“Can’t today,” he said, wobbling up to his feet, clutching a socked table for support.  “Shipment coming in.”

“You mentioned,” Effie said, wrapping a chunk of ice in a sock and shuffling over, pushing it against the back of his head.  He made no move to help her, just kept wobbling along.  “I can take the shipment today, if you like,” she said.

He stopped, looked at her seriously, black eyes piercing.

“You can’t tell the difference,” he said, and continued on his way to get his hat.

“I can so!” she said, keeping the ice against his head, and catching the drips of water as they fell.  “I’ve been at this a long time, Dougley!  I can tell!”

He put on his hat, swatting her away, and wrapped his sun glasses around his head, pinching the middle to his pointed nose.  He motioned to the pile of laundry by the window.  Socks, socks, and more socks.

“Tell me,” he said.  “And be quick about it.”

Effie put the ice down carefully, and raced over to the window, sorting through the pile, carefully considering each piece on its own merits.  She settled for three: two with red toes, one with a red heel, and two of them a faded shade of lavender.

“Left,” she said, holding up one.  “Right, and right.”

“Wrong,” said Dougley, swinging on his jacket.  “Wrong, and certainly more wrong.  You see?  Even in all that time, you get it wrong.  And what’s to be done about that?”

Effie was staring at the socks in her hands, trying to sort them out.  She dropped them back into the basket as Dougley reached the door.

“If you want to help,” he said, “find me some more tacks.  We can’t hang them out with glue, you know.  Now quickly!  The shipment is due any moment now!”

He was about to open the door when it opened for him, knocking him backwards and into his sorting table. This time, it made an impression on him, because he said “Goodness,” softly, and fell asleep.

Effie leapt down next to him, putting the ice back on his head and slapping his cheek lightly.  His eyes half-opened, and he murmured something soft and irrelevant, and then went back to sleep.

“Yuh-oh,” said Archie from the door, carrying a giant basket of socks.  “That don’t usually happen.”

Effie looked from the basket to Dougley, and then back again, her eyes filling with tears.  She took a sharp breath in, clenched her fists, nodded, stood up.

“On the sorting table,” she said decisively.

“‘s usually on the ground beside—”

“Sorting table!” she said, and rolled up her sleeves.

Archie watched as she pulled the first heap out of the basket and laid them out on the table.  There were five black ones, one dark blue, a pair of pinks, and an assortment of white ones nearly turned brown with mud.  Each one had a tiny tag on it, a seven-digit number scrawled in messy handwriting, stapled through the fabric. She made sure none were touching each other, tweaking their positions a bit too meticulously, so that it betrayed her unease.

“You sure about this?” asked Archie, watching her nervously.  “I could find the Doc and he could—”

“It’s fine,” she said, then picked up one of the black socks.  “This one.  And this, and this.  And this one.  And… and these two as well.”

She clenched the chosen socks in her fist, and then swept the rest off the table, into a second basket on the floor.  Then she stopped, swallowed slowly, and handed the chosen ones over to Archie.

“These are the right ones,” she said.

“How do you—”

“I just do, Archie! I do! Now stop questioning me and find some tacks!”

Archie started to comply, but paused, scratching his chin.

“It’s just…” he said, “I’ve gotta start gassing the truck for the trip back. Time’s short as it is.”

“Don’t pull that crap with me, Archie!” she snapped, sorting through another pile. “I know how you spend your breaks! Now find some tacks! Dougley’s depending on you!”

She set back to work, making her way through the basket with jittery efficiency, finishing up with a pair of unworn red socks held together with a pin and folded cardboard.  After some deliberation, she put one in the return basket, and carted the pile of right socks over to where Archie stooped, shoulders hanging low.

“Ain’t none around,” he said.  “I looked everywhere, and there ain’t none here.”

“Fine,” she said, checking the clock.  The workday was wrapping up. Two o’clock — one hour until government workers headed home.  They had to move fast.

“Come on,” she said, and dragged Archie and his sock pile to the panel with the green paper above it.  She jumped to reach the paper, missing each time.  Archie stretched, pulled it down, handing it to her.  She read the date.

“Seventy-five days,” she muttered.

“I thought t’was supposed to be seventy-six—”

“Well we’re out of tacks, so this is what we’ve got,” she said, and started unpinning the socks on the board.  Archie snatched the return basket, watched each entry as it came down.  When she was done, Effie had a handful of tacks rattling in her hand.

“Black ones up top,” she said, and started fishing the white ones out of the pile.  “Their worries weigh more.  They need the space to fall.  You do those, if you don’t mind.”

“Roger,” said Archie, and stretched over, pinning the black socks up near the ceiling.  After he finished a row, he cleared his throat, trying to be casual as Effie’s head knocked against his thigh.  “You’re a nat’ral at this, Effie,” he said.

“I really hope so,” she sighed. “If we get any of these wrong, we’re going to be in a lot of trouble. You and me both.”

“How’d anyone know if—”

“They won’t, but they’ll come by anyway,” she said. “Last time there was a suicide in our sector, the inspectors were here for a month reviewing our records.  Accused Dougley of mixing up a left and right.”

“Dougley?” gasped Archie, “The man’s been at this for longer than you an’ I’ve been alive, put together!”

Effie pinned an Argle sock to the wall, its tag curling out.  She exhaled slowly, letting the breath squeak through her pursed lips.

“He always sings as he works,” she said.  “How’s the rhyme go?  ‘Right socks are the worries; left, the hopes and dreams; hang the bad ones till they’re dry; see how bright the world now seems’.  It always seemed childish to me.”  She pinned the last of her pile, ran her hand down the fabric slowly.  “Not so childish anymore.”

“Tell me about it,” said Archie, standing away from the wall.  “You sure you don’t want to wait for him to wake up?”

Effie looked at one of the socks before her, its toe facing left, curling away from the wall.  She nodded to herself.

“It’s good,” she said.  “We’re good.  You’d better get the returns back.  A sock or two missing, that’s one thing. People’d notice if their laundry bins went empty.”

Archie laughed, scooped the return basket under his arm.  “Some of these places, I don’t think they would,” he chortled, and squeezed out the door.

Effie updated the green paper, climbed the stepladder and pinned it above her very first assignment.  She stood back, noting the odd gap in the middle of the board.  In time, she’d learn to it better, but for her first try, it was a respectable presentation.

When Dougley awoke that evening, he was on the bench, covered with a rough blanket, head on a pillow.  He was alone.  By the smell of lemon in the air, he could tell Effie had cleaned the place thoroughly, and recently.  His eyes shot to the return basket, but found it missing.

“Goodness!” he gasped, and sat up quickly, recoiling when the cold floor froze his bare right foot.

This Topic Tag is from JanOda's request at the end of January for "Right Socks, because they are neglected."  I apologize for the tardiness.

May 5, 2010 — 294 words

The Most Mainstream Movie Ever

By Nancy Brauer

A few weeks ago MCM and I chatted about what makes a movie mainstream. That conversation evolved into a proposal for the most mainstream plot to hit celluloid, or digital video, or whatever. Ooh, IMAX! 3D!

Waitaminnit. I'm getting ahead of myself. For now, please enjoy our brilliant movie concept. We're working on getting the talent attached to the imaginary script now. ;)

Tiger by the Tail

Golf pro Tiger Forest (The Rock) is a confirmed bachelor. He's surprised when he falls for pro shop employee Michelle (Sandra Bullock), a single mother with an adorable but sassy little girl. A whirlwind romance results in a glamorous, high-profile engagement.

As the wedding date nears, Tiger's mother Hillary (Sharon Stone) is diagnosed with Graves' disease. Fortunately the drug company PharmAvarice, helmed by dashing CEO Elmer VanScuddle* (Tom Hanks) made a breakthrough in Graves disease treatment. VanScuddle demands an exorbitant price for the drug, which even millionaire Forest can't afford. Forest must humble himself and ally with the common folk to take down the pharmaceutical kingpin to save his mother, his tender new relationship, and Western values.

Tiger by the Tail features:

  • a car chase through San Francisco, complete with sports cars flying over hills, driving through huge panes of glass, and overturning fruit carts

  • Forest bonding with Michelle's daughter and learning that he really does want to be a father
  • a musical montage by an American Idol contestant. The singer performs a concert in the movie itself.
  • Forest making an impassioned speech to win back Michelle, or lose her forever

I'd plunk down $10 to see that!

* Hat tip to Lyn Thorne-Alder for the name suggestion.

April 26, 2010 — 1,088 words

Thoughts on Blast Radius

By MCM

It was an eventful weekend, and an exhausting one, but the end result is that The New Real: Blast Radius is complete!  47,000 words in 57 hours, with only a few hours of sleeping between days.  I think everyone enjoyed it (even if they are cranky about the twist ending), so I will call it a success.

But even a success has some things to learn, and rather than just internalize it all, I thought I would discuss them here.

Over-thinking outlines is a bad idea. Writing an outline is very important to livewriting, so you know what the hell you're doing from moment to moment.  In previous events like Typhoon, I had somewhat sketchy outlines that were a lot of fun to work with, but caused me problems when I realized I'd forgotten to reference some key fact twelve chapters ago, and it was going to be relevant now.  For TNR2, I tried to compensate for this by writing out as much of the important stuff as I could, so I would really just be fleshing out my earlier thoughts on the fly.

Unfortunately, this ended up making me write some truly boring scenes.  They were infodumps masked as conversations, and while you CAN do that kind of thing well, once you have a page and a half of "must do" outline written, you're severely limited in what you can cram in to natural dialogue.  Next time, I need to remember to plan to include no more than two essential tips per chapter, so I can let the rest flow naturally.

Remember to let the characters drive. I always have trouble with this.  In a lot of my stories, the characters are in over their heads (or playing catch up) so they don't power the plot so much as get a clue and chase it.  You can do that, to a certain extent, but you can't have multiple chapters in a row where it happens.  Darvey and Kaps spent too many chapters getting leads to find the bomber, but only really started taking their own initiative after they learned Damascus was involved.  And really, the main character is Darvey, so Kaps have this epiphany wasn't really as satisfying as it could have been.  In the future, I need to make sure the main character makes decisions (productive or not) so they're not just playing along.

Swap focus every chapter. I know this.  I know it, and I'm usually pretty good at it, I think.  But in this story, especially on the second and third days, I noticed I was sticking with Darvey for 3 chapters at a time, and then going to Jyi for three chapters... and as such, momentum disappeared.  It's an easy trick when you structure a book: end a chapter with a "WTF?" and then make the next chapter about somebody else.  It draws out resolutions, and if each thread is ending dramatically, the reader feels like there's always something left to know.  By sticking with Darvey across a bunch of chapters (going to the bar, going to the shipyards, going back to the bar), I undercut my momentum, and I think bored some people.  Maybe not bored to tears, but the electricity died.  I knew it was happening, but because the questions for the next chapter were always one step ahead of me, I couldn't swap things around.  So in the future: switch focus frequently.

Make simpler mysteries? This is an odd one for me... I think I over-think my mysteries.  Looking at it, the majority of murder mysteries out there are pretty straightforward: someone kills someone, and the police investigate a bunch of other people before landing on the killer.  In mine, I try and construct something to shift the killer a few steps away from the police, so even if you happen to guess, it's a very convoluted process to get to the truth.  I think maybe I need to simplify, do it the conventional way: the victim had a lot of enemies, and we work our way through them one at a time.  It doesn't need to be complicated, because the drama is in hoping and failing.  I had some of that in this one (I think most people thought Caffo was the bad guy for a while, and then that Fel was Papa Damascus in disguise), but next time, I'll be even more straightforward.

Write more flowetry. I made up a word.  Flowetry is that kind of prose that I did in the Jyi flashback (and factors into The Vector a lot) where it's not as clinical as I usually do, and I give insights into the characters' thoughts, but by skipping a lot of details.  I love writing in third person, and never getting inside people's heads, but I also really enjoy trending towards poetry, and doing stuff that flows.  I don't think I could sustain it for a whole book, but it would be nice to do it again sometime.  That chapter really helped me remember.

What I thought worked. I think the emerging love triangle is being sold well.  Darvey's shift to "team player" may seem a bit abrupt, and I appreciate that, but it was nice to have him not be an obstacle for a change.  And I think Jyi's backstory is coming into focus now.  What I really liked was that the entire mystery made sense at the end.  When Darvey is laying it out in those last chapters, I was afraid I was going to have a situation like in Fission Chips where even I didn't understand how it all fit together.  But when I was writing out the dialogue, I was like: "Oh wow, I think this is going to work!"  That was the best feeling of all.  Next to the reactions to the last lines of the book.  Those were pretty great too :)

The next TNR will probably come in a few months.  I have a bunch of stories I need to do before then, and now that the Darvey/Aphid plot is further developed, I can finally concentrate again.  If you have any questions about the process of writing this one, or you generally want to abuse me, give it a shot in the comments below.

April 23, 2010 — 97 words

Livewriting is, well, live!

By Nancy Brauer

At this very moment MCM is tip-tapping away on his computer writing The New Real: Blast Radius. His goal: write a novel--in this case a sci-fi/comedy--in three days. Why? Because he can, and has a screw or four loose.

A new chapter is posted every hour, with a few exceptions to allow for sleeping and eating. You can affect the story by answering MadLib-style questions, too. All is explained here. The insanity continues until 6 p.m. PDT Sunday, so please join us!

April 20, 2010 — 394 words

Why I Like A Story Before Bed

By MCM

We're doing press releases for big announcements now, but I wanted to write a little something extra about A Story Before Bed, because it's not just a great business opportunity for us, it's also really, truly, fundamentally cool.

My kids have lived pretty much their entire lives away from their grandparents on both sides.  It's one of the features of the modern world, where mobility isn't just possible, it's almost expected.  My younger daughter hasn't seen her aunt in over five years, to the point where my sister is more of a myth or abstract concept to her, rather than a real person.  Sometimes, we do video chats with relatives, but video chats have their limits.

A Story Before Bed isn't going to solve the problem, but it WILL help to solve at least one of the bigger obstacles we've faced over the years: lettings kids hear their physically-distant relatives read them a story.  It's hard to appreciate how much kids love that short moment of time, especially when it's a rare event.  It's easy to dismiss it, but to kids, it's a staggeringly important part of their lives.  I've come home from trips, and the first thing I'm asked to do is read a story.  I really hope families like ours will like this service.

I want to mention the other reason this is great: ever since I wrote The Pig and the Box, I've had a lot of emails from great men and women stationed in Afghanistan and Iraq who haven't seen their kids in months or years.  They told me they appreciated how easily they could send home my PDFs... it was like being involved in their home life, if only a bit.  A Story Before Bed has a feature for U.S. Armed Forces members that gives them a book for free, so I hope that some of you out there, really far from home, get the chance to connect a little more.

Our entire picture book library is up on A Story Before Bed, so take a look, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!