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June 28, 2010 — 652 words

8 ways the RIAA could help you survive a zombie outbreak

By Finn Harcourt

So your town's got an outbreak of zombieism.  The dead have risen from the grave, glassy-eyed and stumbling around like English soccer fans after a World Cup defeat. They've started devouring your friends and neighbours, and odds are, they're coming for you next.

Now take a moment to relax, because there are important things to remember.  Most critically, never forget that zombies are dumb as all bloody hell.  Put a lampshade on your head and they'll walk right by you.  But okay, let's say you don't have any lampshades handy, and your shotgun is low on ammo.  Not to worry!  Statistics suggest the easiest way to survive a zombie outbreak is to employ the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) to help you out.

Here are eight options for you to consider:

1. Siege Mentality: As we all know, the music industry has been under attack for years now.  If there's a group of people who can give you advice on dealing with apocalyptic scenarios, it's the RIAA.  They have pages and pages of failed and possibly-workable plans to get you out of any situation.  Just substitute "molotov cocktail" for "lawsuit" and you'll be fine.

2. Popstars: The RIAA is made up of record companies, and what do record companies do best? After lawsuits, I mean.  Yes!  Creating popstars out of borderline-comatose slugs!  All you need to do is convince them the zombies at your door are the next big boy band, and you'll be safe in no time (as long as you don't watch TV or listen to the radio).

3. Copyright Infringement: If there's one thing the RIAA hates, it's copyright infringement.  Cash in on this by stringing an iPod around a zombie's neck, and yell "Look! A music pirate!"  A word of warning, though: seeing humans devour zombies is a lot more gruesome than the other way around.

4. Studies: If your home is reasonably fortified and you have a good supply of food on-hand, your biggest threat may be fear.  In that case, crack open one of the RIAA-funded market studies and take comfort in the fact that the greatest threat to civilization isn't the zombie horde outside your window, but file sharing!  Phew! That puts everything in perspective!

5. Guilt: While zombies have extremely limited brain function, certain deep-set emotions can be accessed if you try hard enough. Convince the RIAA to start a zombie-targeted anti-piracy campaign meant to guilt-trip them into submission, and it may enrage them enough that they'll begin stalking Justin Bieber instead.

6. Payola: It's not just for manipulating the Billboard charts! For a little money, music industry insiders will cover your neighbour's house with buckets of human blood and enough small animals to draw the zombies away from your front door! Bonus: for an extra $1,000, they'll give you a little platinum-selling record plaque to hang on your wall!

7. Lawyers: The only thing scarier than brain-eating corpses are, of course, lawyers.  In fact, the fear of lawyers can be so strong that even the zombies themselves will turn and run.  Even just a pair of 40-somethings in pinstripe suits and briefcases can be enough to clear your yard!

8. Cannon Fodder: If all else fails, sometimes a little buffer zone can be the difference between life and undeath.  Call the RIAA and arrange a meeting to deal with "digital rights issues".  When they arrive in their private helicopter (funded by unpaid royalties to artists!), simply refuse to open your door, and hopefully the zombies will fill themselves up with all the lawyer meat and leave you alone.

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This post is inspired by the wonderful Linkbait Generator, which may or may not be one of eight shocking causes of brain cancer in Swedish supermodels.

June 21, 2010 — 802 words

Why Print is Bad for Indie Writers

By MCM

Writing a book is a great adventure that ultimately ends with a dozen questions, none of them easy. The first and most obvious is whether to traditionally publish, or go the indie route.  But even within the indie realm, there's another mammoth fork in the road you need to overcome: to print or not to print?

To answer this question, we first need to set aside the emotional attachment to print.  Seeing the spine of your book on a bookshelf really does send a shiver down your spine, but what you're doing here is making a business decision (whether or not you are in it for the money), and you can't let shivers dictate your strategy.  You have a long, tough climb ahead of you, and you don't want to make it any harder than it needs to be.

The fact of the matter is this: print is a money and time suck. Even in the best of best-case scenarios, it costs you more to print a book than you're likely to earn back in royalties.  By contrast, sticking to ebooks will keep your costs down, your profits high, and let you focus on the two things you need to succeed: your writing, and your marketing.  But let's examine why, because I know a lot of you won't take me at my word on this.

The most obvious issue is formatting.  Print formatting is not hard, but it's not easy, either.  You can get it mostly right, but every tiny glitch in your presentation counts against you far more than your actual writing will balance out.  Pick the wrong font and you're dead.  Make an amateurish mistake in the placement or design of the headers, and you're dead.  Screw up your margins and you're dead.  In ebooks — at the moment at least — none of these things are a concern.  The best ebooks are straight blocks of text with minimal formatting.  If you do more, you're doing it wrong.  A professional reworking on your print book will cost you at least $500, but you should be able to export to Kindle without any help at all.

The next thing to consider is proofing.  Assuming you go with a reputable outfit like CreateSpace (Lulu is poison: avoid at all costs), you are looking at at least $100 to get your book made and approved, and quite possibly more (depending on where you live and how many proofs you require before you're ready to roll.  For the Typhoon print book I just finished, it took nine months and fifteen tries before I got it right.  And I know what I'm doing, too.  The ebook version was done in an hour, and it cost nothing.

Lastly, and possibly most importantly, we have the issue of distribution.  Put simply, your print book will never be sold in shops.  CreateSpace may have expanded distribution available, but even indie bookshops are openly hostile to indie authors.  There are writers who get their books on physical shelves, but it took them months and months of pavement-pounding to get any shelf space at all, and I would guess if they counted the time spent versus the money earned, it would be a major loss for a cosmetic victory.  Books get placement in bookstores because they have major marketing strength behind them, and you will never have that kind of strength. By contrast, getting on the Kindle Store involves filling out a form and uploading your book.  You can reach more stores via Smashwords with even less effort.

In the past, overcoming all these obstacles was a necessary part of the indie author game.  You couldn't play if you didn't invest in these areas, and it started you out at a loss, right out of the gate.  Sometime in the past year, everything changed.  Print has become more than optional, it's become a liability.  You can be a successful writer without digging yourself a financial hole first.  You still have an uphill battle for mindshare, and every sale will be a victory, but you can start out in a way that traditional authors can't: you can get out of the red much, much faster.

There will always be people out there that won't read ebooks, and it's true that digital publishing is still a tiny fragment of the overall market.  But the key to success for the indie author is to realize the print-only readers are no longer your audience.  They never were, really, no matter how hard you wished otherwise.  There is a growing market for ebooks, and the readers there are more likely to take chances, be blind to the indie label, and make impulse buys.  This is where you need to focus your energy.  Anything else is a waste of time and money.

Give up on print.  It's dragging you down.

June 16, 2010 — 44 words

Momentous Occasion

By MCM

I won't even explain why this exact shot matters, but let me just say that FIFTEEN PROOFS LATER, we are finally ready to release. There will be a printing/shipping/signing/shipping delay, but at least the end is in sight! Yay! And FINALLY!

June 12, 2010 — 702 words

Broken Me

By MCM

Midway through Thursday morning, I disappeared from the world for about 48 hours without any notice whatsoever.  I had stories to post, chapters to finish and edit, and lots of meetings to attend, but I did none of it.  What follows is my "dog ate my homework" post.

I have what is known as idiopathic anaphylaxis.  Anaphylaxis is a major allergic reaction, where (in my case) my body breaks out in hives, I swell up, I can't breathe, get unbearable chills, and I generally feel like crap.  Idiopathic means it's stupid. Wait, no, it means nobody knows why it happens.

Thursday started pretty much as usual, answering emails, tidying up things I'd left half-done a few hours earlier when I'd gone to sleep. I ate breakfast, started about my day, and then at around 10am, I started feeling funny. I got chills like I was suffering a very bad fever. My skin was over-sensitive, and my muscles were aching. I thought I had caught a very nasty bug somewhere, so I took some Tylenol and tried to take a nap to burn it off.  Unfortunately, it wasn't better when I woke up.  It was worse.

The dangerous part about Anaphylaxis is that it can make your windpipe swell shut, and you end up dying. For that reason, I have to carry two Epi-Pens and a boatload of Benadryl with me wherever I go.  But the trick is that I have to recognize I'm having an allergic reaction, and in this case, I had no hives, no swelling on my face, so I had no idea what I was dealing with.  When I woke up and my chest was tight, it suddenly occurred to me what was wrong. I took Benadryl, kept my Epi-Pens close, and waited.  I'm very aware I was lucky that things didn't go worse than they did.

I spent a long time that night waking up shivering like mad, despite the fact that I had several layers of all sorts of things on. But I didn't have a fever. It's a very odd feeling to have.  If it weren't for my teeth chattering and the fact that I looked two inches from death, I don't think anyone would have believed I was sick.

The Benadryl knocked me out for the better part of 24 hours, as it is wont to do, and when I woke up late Friday, I still wasn't really alert.  It's the thing about treating these attacks: you may not be in danger anymore, but your internal chemistry is so screwed up you feel like a zombie.  I basically remained zombified until this morning (Saturday) when I've been getting back on my feet and taking stock of the things I didn't do while I was out.

I know I wrote a few messages on Twitter, and probably a few emails here and there. If I made any sense, you're lucky. Benadryl kicks me in the head on the best of days, but when it's actually fighting a pitched battle like it was, it makes me positively loopy.  If you ever see me writing something horribly absurd on Twitter, that's probably why. Well, either that or I'm talking to Piers.

All of this is to say: I'm very behind on a lot of things. Tori's Row missed the first chapter of Act 3 on Friday because I was zonked, so it will come out Monday instead. I'm two days behind on Keys to the Kingdom, and I think it will be at least until tomorrow before I can resume. 1kStories will be similarly delayed. I have a ton of missed meetings and project updates I need to get done first.

I've only had this Anaphylaxis thing for a year now, and even though I thought I had it figured out, apparently I don't.  Life's never boring, I guess. Or something.

So yes. Please excuse the lack of updates over the past few days. It wasn't planned. I will file a complaint with my body's administration as soon as possible, and warn them to schedule all future attacks at least 60 days in advance.

Thank you, and good night.

Or afternoon. I can't tell anymore.

June 9, 2010 — 1,098 words

Keys to the Kingdom 2.2

By MCM

This is part 4 of Keys to the Kingdom, a new miniseries here at 1889 Labs.  Part 1 is here, if you need to get up to speed.  Every day will have two chapters, so be sure to subscribe (RSSemail) to keep on top of it all!

Louis Lepage bought a giant stack of shirts in 1996 and had them vacuum-sealed in sets of seven, because if there was one thing he knew, it was that good things don’t last.  He only had five packs left, but they would probably last the rest of his life, because he wore each shirt until it was falling off his spindly figure.  Except when he went on The National.  They refused to let him wear anything retro.

“I am not seeing the story anymore,” he said with his stubbornly-thick Outaouais accent, fidgeting with his pen between yellow-stained fingers. “The little Galloway broke the law, but the fine is paid one way or another.  What are we covering anymore?”

Deirdre kept scrolling through the Twitter streams, pausing only briefly to read things that caught her eye.  She shrugged, kept reading.

“It’s that Galloway lied in his confession,” she said. “If his  son did it, his son should have admitted to it.”

“He did not want his son in the spotlight,” said Louis, flipping his pen around again. “Any parent would do the same.”

“Not every parent is a Cabinet Minister,” she observed. “It’s not the crime, it’s the lie.  It cooked Bill Clinton, didn’t it?”

“And look how well that turned out for them,” Louis mused. “Do not get me wrong, news is news… but I don’t think this story will last a week.”

Deirdre smiled, clicking through to a Twitter post.

“It won’t,” she agreed. “And worse, we’re losing that synergy we had going earlier.  The press is obsessed with the lie, and the blogosphere is positively irate about the fact that we’ve dropped the so-called hypocrisy angle.”

“There is more meat in lying,” Louis said, getting out of the seat and stretching himself out.  He clapped her on the shoulder. “File one more story about the lie, and hand this to someone junior. You can do something better than chasing rumours.”

He started back towards his office.  She looked back to the computer, saw the Twitter search return even more hits for “#drmfail”.  Dozens added every second.  So much passion, and it was disappearing into the aether.  The newest one read “why did he have to lie in the first place?”

She got to her feet.

“Louis!” she called. “I want to drop the lying angle!”

He stopped, turned around amid the sea of low cubicles.   Her colleagues peered up over their screens, busy with their own stories, but unable to give up a new one in their midst.

Louis started back, his aging knees slowing him down more than he cared to admit.  He stopped next to her desk, kept his voice low.

“You have a better angle?” he asked.

“I do,” she said. “We stick with the hypocrisy.  Hell, we play it up more.  Never mind that he lied.  What he did was copy a movie to his computer in a totally reasonable way.  Actually, a fully legal way, but for the digital locks.  And now he’s being persecuted for it.  I say buck the trend. Make Galloway a martyr.”

“He is hardly a martyr. He has his job still.”

“For how long, though? He defied the PM’s policy, and even though she seems to have given him a free pass, I bet she’ll be hearing from the Americans soon.  They’re going to want blood.  But even if he keeps his job, he’s still had to pay a steep price for something a big part of the public thinks should be legal.”

“How big a part?” Louis said, eyes catching the light, and he looked twenty years younger. “The last polls we have are from the bill passage two years ago.”

“Nothing helps put things in perspective like a scandal.  We’ll get new polls, and go looking for other ‘victims’ of the digital lock law.  Someone must have lost their house because of the fines, or a kid getting rejected by a university… This story is bigger than Colin Galloway.  It’s about a population under siege.  It’s the Prohibition of the twenty-first century.”

Louis laughed, shook his head.

“I think you go too far with that,” he said, “but I can see the story in this.  The other papers will lead with the lie tomorrow, and we will lead with… what?”

Deirdre thought a moment, leaned back in her chair and put her hands atop her head.  The pedestrian traffic on Sparks street outside was was down to a trickle in the cool evening weather, much colder than it should have been in the middle of June.  In that moment of quiet, the cover of the paper came into her mind, and she smiled.

“Victim,” she said, “in a victimless crime.  He’s being forced to lie to protect his son from a life of ruin.  Every other paper will lead with liar, liar, liar… we’ll be the only one claiming he was wronged.”

“It is a big risk you want me to take,” Louis sighed.

“It’ll work,” she said. “We’ll tap into the groundswell of frustration that everyone else is ignoring.  We’ll be the people’s paper for a change.”

“When did we ever stop being the people’s paper?” he laughed. “I must have slept through that meeting.  But yes. Run with this, and be sure you have more punches left to pull.  I want to know everything about Galloway and copyright. This cannot be the first time he has broken this law, or at least wanted to.”

And now for the interactivity!  In the comments below, write the titles (or even full posts) of the bloggers or newsmedia covering this unfolding story.  It's a new day, and the Ottawa Times is bucking the trend and calling Galloway a victim. What's the reaction of the public? Pretend this is happening for real, and you’re part of the story.  It’s alternate reality time on 1889.ca!  I’ll integrate your feedback into the next chapter, so be quick!

June 9, 2010 — 1,081 words

Keys to the Kingdom 2.1

By MCM

This is part 3 of Keys to the Kingdom, a new miniseries here at 1889 Labs.  Part 1 is here, if you need to get up to speed.  Every day will have two chapters, so be sure to subscribe (RSSemail) to keep on top of it all!

Peter’s original “two hours” with Deirdre were well over by the time he was let into a quiet room at the Prime Minister’s residence, watched by security who stood so perfectly still they looked like awkward statues.  A few seconds later, the far doors opened and the Prime Minister entered, unbuttoning her jacket and dropping it on a chair.

“Peter,” she said, pouring herself a scotch, “I thought you retired.”

“I did, Madam Prime Minister,” he said, keeping a straight posture and as much professionalism as he could manage.

“‘Madam Prime Minister’?” she smiled, taking a sip. “I thought your pet name for me was ‘that bitch’.”

“That rumour was never confirmed,” he said with a glint in his eye. “And regardless, you won the leadership race. And the election.”

“Handily, too,” she said, lounging on a chair while he stood, eyeing him keenly.  “How is private life treating you?  Micromanaging little league? Man-handling the PTA?”

“I’m not married, ma’am,” he said.

“Shocking,” she said dryly. “So what are you here for? If it’s a job you’re after, I do think we have a position for a junior staffer to fetch coffee for the—”

“Pardon me, ma’am, but there isn’t much time.  In about five minutes, Colin Galloway is going to be making a statement to the press, admitting to violating the copyright bill your government passed last year.”

That stopped her.  She brought the glass to her lips, then lowered it again.

“What are you saying? He’s pirating music or—”

“No, a blogger has video of him watching a video on his iPad.  A movie he couldn’t have accessed without breaking the digital locks on the DVD.”

She took another sip.  A long sip.

“This movie,” she said, after some contemplation. “He owns the DVD?”

“He does, but breaking the locks trumps his rights to personal use. There’s no way he could have put it on the iPad without breaking the law.”

“I’ve heard this one before,” she smiled, swishing her glass.  “Straight out of the opposition’s talking points.”

“Turns out they were on to something,” Peter said, concealing a smile. “Colin’s going to admit to the crime, and he’s already paid the maximum fine.”

“You wrote the speech?”

“I did, ma’am.”

“Good,” she said, staring into her glass. “I trust you have him well under control, Peter. So I can only imagine you’re here because you want to get me under control as well.  You think I’m going to kick him out of Cabinet.”

He does, ma’am.  I don’t think you will.”

She smiled, set down the glass and folded her arms.

“So what do you think I will do, then?”

“Kicking him out of Cabinet is going to make more ink out of this than you need. Any punishment is going to bring the spotlight back onto copyright in a much bigger way than before. Severe punishments for something three quarters of Canadians admit to doing themselves? It’s one thing when it’s some kid in Mississauga. This is going to hit home with people.  Make them worry about themselves. And it’s going to kick off a firestorm, and a battle you can’t win.”

“We have a majority, Peter,” she said. “There won’t be an election for three years.”

“Plenty of time for a wronged MP to make his comeback,” Peter said.  There was a long break of silence where the two of them stared at each other, expressions full of confidence despite the reality of their situations.

“I thought you got out of politics,” said the Prime Minister.

“It’s like I told Colin, ma’am… the only job I’m interested in is to be the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff.”

“I like my team as it is,” she said.

“I know,” he replied.

She laughed, picked up her glass and made her way back to the side table.  She poured herself another inch, then held out an empty glass for Peter.  He shook his head, and she closed the scotch, took a sip.

“What do I say, then?” she asked. “Support him? Tear him a new one? What?”

“Don’t say a word,” Peter said. “This is a case of a grown man making a mistake and dealing with the consequences. You want to make it clear that anyone can make this mistake, but they’re going to have to pay the fine. It’s never been about social or moral deterrents, it’s all about the law. Colin’s doing his bit, and the rest has nothing to do with you.”

She smiled over her glass.

“You’re very good,” she said. “I almost wish I didn’t hate your guts.”

“Likewise, Madam Prime Minister.”

Peter’s phone buzzed on his belt, and he pulled it out without thinking.  The Prime Minister nodded, waved him off while she settled back on the chair.  He scrolled through the newest email, then another, and another.  He looked up, expression blank.

“What?” she asked. “The speech is done?”

“It is,” Peter said quietly. “Went off without a hitch.”

“So why that face?” she asked.

“Tony Guitterez just told the CBC the movie was copied by Colin’s son, Adam. He just said Colin lied in his sworn confession.”

And now for the interactivity!  In the comments below, write the titles (or even full posts) of the bloggers or newsmedia covering this unfolding story.  Galloway has just made his speech, the press have all been invited, and now Guitterez has dropped a bombshell.  What's the reaction?  What does the opposition say?  Are there any snap polls being done?  Pretend this is happening for real, and you’re part of the story.  It’s alternate reality time on 1889.ca!  I’ll integrate your feedback into the next chapter, so be quick!

June 8, 2010 — 1,360 words

Keys to the Kingdom 1.2

By MCM

This is part 2 of Keys to the Kingdom, a new miniseries here at 1889 Labs.  Part 1 is here, if you need to get up to speed.  Every day will have two chapters, so be sure to subscribe (RSSemail) to keep on top of it all!

Peter had the cab loop around the block a second time before letting him out right at the base of the driveway.  He passed a fifty to the driver and sprinted up the walk, straight through the front door that opened as he approached.

“Pete, thanks for coming,” said Tony, a portly man with a misshapen goatee and a keen eye. “He’s on the phone — no, nothing related, relax.  Listen, chances are this is a non-event, but we want to be really careful before anything—”

Peter held out a hand, trying to contain his frustration.  The foyer was filled with staffers, all of whom were trying not to seem like they were looking, and doing a bad job of it.

“Can we talk someplace private?” Peter asked.

“Oh, sure,” nodded Tony, and they slipped into the dining room, closed the doors behind them.  “What’s up?”

“Have you said that to anyone else?”

“Said what?”

“That it’s a non-event?  Treated it with anything less than full seriousness?”

Tony blinked, put on his best defiant face. He was ready to fight now, and fight dirty.  He put out his hands as if to convey innocence, and laughed.

“What? You think I’m screwing this up?  Is that it?”

“I didn’t say that, Tony,” said Peter, under his breath.

“You know what, Mr ‘Early Retirement’?  Don’t go acting all sour grapes because you got canned and I got your job.  We’re on the same team here, and that’s what counts.”

Peter half-smiled, put his hands in his pockets to conceal his fists.

“You’re right,” he said pleasantly. “We’re on the same team.”

“Good,” nodded Tony.

“But Tony,” Peter said, leaning in, “the only reason you have that job is because I was done with it.”

He pushed through the doors to the kitchen, meeting Colin Galloway as he was hanging up the phone.  The MP’s face was paler than it should have been this close to a two-week vacation in Bermuda.  He pulled his tie completely off and sat down at the table, ran his hand through his thinning hair.  Peter didn’t sit.

“Can we have some privacy?” he asked, and Tony motioned for the aides to leave the room.  Peter turned the blinds, and then leaned against the counter.  “Tell me everything you know,” he said calmly.

Galloway looked up, shook his head as if his life was blowing away in the wind before him.

“I was flying back from Vancouver,” he said, voice a whisper. “I had my iPad with me, and I was watching a movie, and I didn’t even hear the camera going off, and when I landed… well…”

“You were watching Fragment Man,” said Peter. “How did you get it?”

“We bought the DVD last week,” said Galloway. “I didn’t have a chance to see it before the trip, so we put it on the iPad for me, so I could—”

“We could claim the photo is doctored,” interrupted Tony, stepping forward. “It’s just a blogger.  Say they faked it.”

“It’s not just a photo, Tony,” said Peter over his shoulder, “it’s video.  You’d know that if you actually read the post.”

“Same deal.  You can fake anything if you—”

“Nobody can fake a video like that ten minutes after getting off a plane,” snapped Peter. “Denying this is only going to make it worse.”

“So what do we do?” Galloway asked, pleading with his eyes.

“Wait for it to blow over,” said Tony, sitting across the table from his boss, arms crossed, leaning back in the chair.  Exuding confidence he didn’t deserve.  “It’s a non-story.  Nobody’s going to care.”

“Jesus, Tony, did you take stupid pills this morning?” said Peter. “The Minister of Industry was caught breaking his own copyright law!  You know how many bloggers you pissed off by coming out in support of that legislation?  They’re not going to let it go!  You’re already a trending topic on Twitter, and you know what the other key word is?  Impeach!”

“You can’t impeach an MP—”

“Then educate them,” said Peter, “but it won’t stop them.  You’re turning into a punchline, but I don’t think anyone’s really laughing.”

“Are we sure there’s no legal way to have it on my iPad?” Galloway asked desperately. “Plausible deniability?  Something?”

“No dice,” said Peter. “The movie’s out on DVD only for another two weeks. The distributor is windowing the release in Canada.  I did some checking.  iTunes won’t have it until the start of July.  There’s no way you could have got that movie on your iPad without cracking the digital locks on the DVD.”

Galloway put his head in his hands, sighed deeply.  Peter hadn’t seen him this worn in years.  He looked defeated.

“You have to admit to the crime,” Peter said finally. “And you have to be prepared to take a hell of a lot of flak for it.  From all sides.  You need to volunteer to pay the maximum fine.  You have five thousand available, right?  Tony hasn’t blown it all?”

Tony bristled, but stopped as Galloway looked up.

“They’ll kick me out of Cabinet,” he said. “It was all hands on deck for this bill.  It didn’t matter what you thought, you had to tow the line.  The PM isn’t going to let this slide.”

“Leave her to me,” Peter said. “I want you to arrange to pay the fine tonight, and I’ll have a speech for you in half an hour.”

“Saying what, exactly?” laughed Tony. “That he broke the law but he’s really sorry?”

“Exactly,” said Peter, leaning down and putting a hand on Galloway’s shoulder. “You do what I say, and this is done by tomorrow. Give the press enough to be satisfied, and the bloggers will be left screaming into the void.”  He squeezed Galloway’s arm, and nodded to him seriously. “Trust me.”

“I do,” said Galloway. “That’s why you’re here.”

Peter stood up, fixed his jacket and slipped his phone off his belt.  He dialled Deirdre as he waited for his cab to loop back around to the house, but the call went to voicemail.

“Hey, D, it’s me.  I’m really sorry, but I’m going to be late.  How do you feel about meeting at the Milestone’s on Sussex at eight?  I will make it up to you, I promise.”

He hung up and dashed to the cab, and they drove off down the street, past the nondescript blue sedan parked across the way.  Deirdre tapped the photographer on the shoulder, phone to her ear.

“You got it?” she asked.

“Roger,” said the cameraman. “Who’s the guy?”

“Peter McCaffrey,” she said, then into the phone: “Louis? We got him.  No, we definitely can’t wait for morning.  We can run it on the site?  Okay, lead with: ‘Former Tory strategist coaching Cabinet Minister on copyright scandal.’  Let’s see the blogosphere keep up with me.”

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And now for the interactivity!  In the comments below, write the titles (or even full posts) of the bloggers covering this unfolding story.  Remember, details are sketchy right now, so rumours will be in full swing, while journalists will be scrambling for verifiable facts. Pretend this is happening for real, and you’re part of the story.  It’s alternate reality time on 1889.ca!  I’ll integrate your feedback into the next chapter, so be quick!

June 8, 2010 — 1,063 words

Keys to the Kingdom: Day 1, Part 1

By MCM

The following is a new miniseries at 1889.ca. It's called Keys to the Kingdom, about a scandal in the Canadian government unleashed when the Minister for Industry is caught breaking the copyright law he helped put into place. His former Chief of Staff, Peter McCaffrey, comes out of retirement to try and stem the bleeding, but things quickly go from bad to worse. By the end of this week-long ride, allegiances will be broken, friendships will be ruined, and lives will be lost. Every day will have two chapters, so be sure to subscribe (RSS, email) to keep on top of it all!

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They stood at opposite sides of the elevator, eyes glued to their watches like they were waiting for the world to end.  Peter loosened his tie, trying not to look at her, while she fidgeted with the knobs on the side of her Rolex.

“No cheating,” he said, watching the second hand creep towards the top.  “Forty seconds.”

“Thirty on mine,” she shrugged.

He met her smile, then rolled his eyes.  The elevator doors opened and outside, a pair of women paused, mid-step.  Neither Peter nor Deirdre moved at all.  The women let the doors close.

“Ten,” Peter said, cricking his neck.

Deirdre said nothing, kept her back pressed against the wall, watching her watch with a single-minded focus.

“Three,” she said, and he joined in as they counted down, “two, one!” She took two steps across the elevator, wrapped her arms around him and they kissed a long, drawn kiss, like a bead of sweat making its way down the small of a back.

“Happy retirement,” she whispered, and he kissed her chin lightly.  “How does it feel?”

“I’ll tell you in two hours,” he smiled, and punched number six on the floor listing.  They kissed again as the elevator crept upwards.

“Two hours?” she smiled. “Awfully sure of yourself, aren’t you?”

“It’s been a long eighteen months,” he said. “I’ve got to make up for lost time.  You have something else scheduled this afternoon?”

She laughed, pressed up against him, and whispered in his ear: “Not on your life.”

Just before the doors opened, his Blackberry buzzed on his belt.  She slipped it off for him and passed it to his hand, daring him to look with a kiss to his neck.  He laughed, drew in a breath, and just when she thought she'd got him, she heard the sound of him scrolling through an email. His hand kept sliding up and down her back, pushing her closer, closer...

And then, very suddenly, he stopped.  She put a hand against the wall, wincing at the sudden break in the moment.  The phone dialled a number, and though he held her close with a hand on her waist, he wasn’t there anymore.

“Tony? Peter,” he said. “Where are you?  Home?  Okay.  Yeah, about thirty.  Stay put.”

He slid the phone back onto his belt as she stood back, trying to compose herself.  The doors to the elevator slid open.

“Who was that?” she asked, fixing her blouse.  “Tony Guitterez?”

“Can’t say,” Peter said, fixing his tie, not looking her in the eye.  “Something came up.  I’ll be back in an hour.  Two, tops.”

“Those were our two hours.”

“I know,” he sighed. “And I’m sorry.”

“I thought you were done with this,” she said, and he finally met her eyes, put a hand to her cheek.

“I am,” he said. “This is a little favour for a friend.  I’ll be back in two hours, and we can get back to celebrating.”

She stepped out into the hall and held the elevator door open with her hand.  He was already lost in his own world.  She snapped her fingers, and he looked up, like he was mid-dream.

“Hey,” she said, “I’m not waiting another eighteen months.  You know that, right?”

“I know,” he said, and leaned out, kissed her again. “I’m lucky enough as is.  I’m not screwing it up.”  He ducked back into the elevator and hit the lobby button, and she let the door go.  “Two hours tops!” he called before they closed, leaving her in the hall, alone, ready to go, but nobody to go with.

“Right,” she muttered, and paced down the hall, slipping her phone out of her bag, dialling fast.  “Marcy, I need you to Google Tony Guitterez for me.  No, not news. Blogs. Something recent.”

She grabbed a light jacket from her closet, snatched her press pass from her purse, and filled her pockets with the essentials and nothing more.  She put the phone on speaker and set it on the bathroom counter as she began stripping off the unnecessary make-up.

“Tony Guitterez,” read Marcy on the phone, “Lots of stuff about the speech in Washington last week.  Photo-op in that Vancouver high tech factory. Doughboy of Death. Heh, that’s funny.  Angry posts and a few cartoons, but—”

“It’s not that,” said Deirdre, drying her face. “Something newer.  Last half hour, tops.”

“Last thirty minutes…” said Marcy, scrolling furiously.  “All I see is something about Colin Galloway watching Fragment Man on his iPad, and—”

“Oh damn, that’s it,” Deirdre smiled, picking her phone up and switching it off speaker.  “Email me the post, then call Louis and tell him I’m on my way to Galloway’s place.  I need someone with a good telephoto lens.  And tell him he needs to call me right away.”

“Why?” gasped Marcy, typing quickly. “What’s going on?”

“I think we’re about to see a Cabinet Minister get caught in his own bear trap,” smiled Deirdre, closing the door behind her.

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And now for the interactivity!  In the comments below, write the titles (or even full posts) of the bloggers covering this unfolding story.  Remember, details are sketchy right now, so rumours will be in full swing, while journalists will be scrambling for verifiable facts. Pretend this is happening for real, and you're part of the story.  It's alternate reality time on 1889.ca!  I'll integrate your feedback into the next chapter, so be quick!

June 4, 2010 — 849 words

The Dead Zone

By

The stout woman in the plaid jacket was not taking no for an answer, and it seemed as if her grandchildren were about to burst into tears.  Gunther put on his most apologetic face and tried to be delicate, but there was just no escaping reality:

“Ma’am,” he said, and doubled up his efforts at reconciliation, “there really aren’t any lion tamers.”

The woman snorted, puffed out her chest.

“Nonsense!” she snapped. “This is a circus, is it not? All circuses have lion tamers!’

“No, ma’am,” said Gunther politely, “but this isn’t a regular circus.  This is a hacker circus.”

The woman looked at the sign behind him, which declared in loud golden letters: “GUNTHER & HOBBINS HACKER CIRCUS.”  She seemed to read it for the first time.

“I don’t know what that means,” she said, as if her ignorance were illuminating a crime against humanity.  “What are hackers, and how do they fit into a circus?”

“Well, ma’am,” said Gunther, smiling particularly at the children, who seemed put off by the whole ordeal, “hackers are computer experts who can do marvellous things with all things electronical.  And our travelling circus is the world’s finest collection of hacker freaks!”

“Seems to me you’re all freaks,” grunted the woman.

“Yes ma’am,” said Gunther. “Would you like to buy tickets to tonight’s show?”

The woman sneered at him, but before she could speak, he felt a tug at his jacket, and turned to find Feeble staring up at him with desperate eyes.

“Excuse me a moment, please,” he smiled, and followed Feeble to the Big Top.  The little man’s bug eyes were bugging out even more than usual, and his bottom lip was trembling something fierce. “Feeble, I told you no more Coke until after the show.”

“It’s not that, boss,” said Feeble. “It’s the wi-fi.”

“What about it?”

“There isn’t any!”

Gunther took Feeble by the arm and dragged him inside.  The tent was empty, while all the performers got their code into place for the evening’s festivities.  The large antenna in the middle of the centre ring stood tall, proudly proclaiming their unique brand of entertainment.

“Have you checked all the cables?” Gunther asked, refusing to give in to hysteria.  “It’s definitely plugged in?  Not like Omaha?”

“It’s plugged in, sir, it really is,” whined Feeble. “We’ve been all over town with the signal monitors, and there doesn’t seem to be ANY wi-fi in this place at all!”

Gunther frowned, pulled his phone from his pocket and checked his reception.  Nothing.  He turned around, trying to prove Feeble wrong, but nothing worked.

“Master Yoyo told me to tell you his SQL Injection of Doom is doomed if we don’t get this sorted out, and… and the Great Poulinis are complaining their Magic Rootkit requires a patch before showtime, and Ajax the Amazing has taken to the bottle again and is saying something about asynchronous calls as they relate to male genitalia, I think.”

“Gods,” sighed Gunther, “What kind of town has no wi-fi hotspots? We need to go to plan B.  Hook up the adapter and we’ll have to tether off my phone.”

Feeble winced, stared at his shoes.

“We can’t tether anymore, sir,” he muttered. “Our data plan was cut off.”  Gunther was having a hard time coming up with the words to say.  “I meant to tell you, sir… we had an issue with billing after our March overage.”

“We almost never use that plan,” Gunther said, pushing Feeble against a heavy wooden pole.  “How much was the bill?”

“Um… eight thousand dollars,” said the little man.  “Give or take a thousand.”

“Eight thousand dollars?” shrieked Gunther. “That’s more than we earn in half a year! How in the hell did that happen?”

“I… I was downloading some things.”

“Oh, Feeble, no…”

“I’m a Guild addict, sir, I can’t help it!  Felicia Day is my goddess!”

Feeble!

“I want to date her avatar!”

“Oh dear god, Feeble, what are we going to do?”

“The general consensus is that we pack up quickly and run away before anyone notices, sir. With your permission.  No refunds. AT&T wants their money.”

Gunther stared at his Big Top, his big, wonderful Big Top.  And he looked at the rows upon rows of empty seats, and his fists clenched.

“No,” he said firmly. “No, I’m not going down without a fight.  They want entertainment, they’re getting entertainment.  I want you, Fitcher and Dumblin to take the pickup and drive to Minneapolis.”

“Minneapolis?” squeaked Feeble. “But why, sir?”

“You’re going to steal a lion from the zoo,” said Gunther, the spark back in his eye. “And we’re going to find out how asynchronous Ajax can be with a whip.”

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This #1kStory is for brttrx ("A traveling circus of hackers reacts to a town with no wi-fi hotspots").

June 4, 2010 — 732 words

Mirroring

By

Young and foolish, she did what she liked  Except for when they were very young, Marge and her sister almost never shared anything.  Sibling rivalry had nothing on them.  It was only a telegram, just a simple telegram, but it had more power than a thousand bombs.

Green dress, black shoes and a hair change or two later, she ended up on her sister’s immaculately-maintained doorstep, trying to decide how to ring the doorbell.  Everything had to be right, had to be perfect and precise, or this would end badly. This was not the moment to be fooling around.

Instead of ringing the bell, she knocked, perhaps hoping that she wouldn’t be heard, could go home and claim she tried, failed, and moved on.  The door opened almost immediately, and Norah greeted her with a radiant smile, pink blouse screaming “home maker” in ways that grated on Marge’s nerves.

“Hello, darling,” said Norah.  “I wasn’t expecting company.”

“Do you want me to come back another time or—”

“Don’t be silly, dear, come in! Entertaining family is one of my favourite things to do!”

No trace of sarcasm. Marge was immediately ill-at-ease.

Entering the kitchen, she was stunned by the transformation her sister had undergone in the year since their last meeting. Something had changed, shifted into a kind of alternate-reality version of Norah. Simple things seemed to please her now, rather than the rough-and-tumble rebelliousness of her teenage tears.

“A cup of tea, perhaps?” asked Norah, smiling warmly.

“Green, if you have it,” replied Marge, taking a cushioned seat at the table. Everything was so tidy, so arranged, from the massive row of spices to the stack of doilies, arranged so their patterns matched exactly.

“So what brings you to my humble abode?” smiled Norah, wiping drops of water from the counter.  “Aaron is away on business until Friday, but I’m sure he’d send his regards.”

“Right,” muttered Marge, fingering the telegram. “Everything okay around here, Norah?”

“Fine, oh just fine,” nodded her sister, listening to the kettle boil. “Unbelievably fine, I must say.  Nothing has been better, I think.”

“Nothing, eh?” sighed Marge.

Uncomfortable silence.  Fingers picking at the edge of the table cloth, trying to work up the courage. Everything held still until the kettle whistled, and Norah poured them their tea.

“Remember last summer, when you said Sharon would die a spinster?” asked Marge, and caught a momentary flicker of shock in Norah’s eyes.

“A long time ago, darling,” said her sister. “Some things are best forgotten.”

“Everyone thought you were right, honestly,” Marge said quietly.

“Goodness, I certainly hope I’m not!” said Norah, sipping at her cup.

“Aaron’s out of town,” said Marge carefully. “Since when, exactly?”

“Saturday the fifteenth,” smiled Norah. “Ecuador, I think. Major conference for his company, and he’s expected to attend the full three weeks because he’s very important now and very, very busy.”

“Norah, do you happen to have any hard liquor around the house?”

Eyes locked, mouth pursed. Don’t give in now. Don’t chicken out.

“I think I need to know why you’re here, Marge,” said Norah, her old tone creeping back. “Have you heard from Sharon or something?”

“That’s part of it,” sighed Marge, holding out the telegram, but not letting go. “I don’t know how to tell you this, Norah, but… but I think Sharon stole your husband.”

There are a long moment of absolute silence, and Marge swore she could hear the straps and braces that held her poor sister together come snapping apart in agonizing fury. Even her hair seemed to suddenly fall out of the perfect bun at the top of her head.

“Grandma Weiss was right, she is a trollop,” she snapped, getting to her feet and storming across the room. “I don’t want to read it. She can have the cheating bastard and his balding head and limp dick for all I care, because when all is said and done, I still have access to our very ample bank account!”

Everything had been leading up to this moment.

“You might want to sit down, honey,” said Marge.

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This #1kStory is for Emiel ("Marge lets norah see sharons telegram")... check out the first letter to every sentence for an added bonus.