WARNING: May contain naughty language.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Chuck Wendig's Latest Challenge (April 30th, 2016)

A couple of weeks ago, one of my favorite writers, Chuck Wendig, posted a challenge at his popular blog site "Terribleminds."

He asked for submissions of the title of reader's current WIP (works in progress) so I decided to play along.

I shared the name of my current work - "Malwhere" - and lo and behold! It was selected as one of the Top 10.

The followup challenge was to create a < 1,000 word piece of fiction. So here it is.  ; )



The ominous tones of Darth Vader’s theme music erupted from Lucretia’s laptop and echoed throughout her corner office. The Director was Instant Messaging her. She squinted at the message box. All she could make out was the sender’s name in bold red font, followed by lines of strange symbols.
“Oh, for Pete’s sake,” she muttered and responded back to the instant message.
HIGGINS, L:  My Aramaic is a bit rusty. English, please.
DIRECTOR, THE: Ms. Higgins, the Board requires assistance from you. They need information on estimated effects of a locust swarm in Madagascar, cross-referenced with the profits and losses in commodity quinoa trading markets, aggregated by potential impact of a global dengue fever pandemic. By COB today, please.
She glared at the message on her screen. This was an impossible task, especially given the recent budget cuts. 
DIRECTOR, THE: The Board is concerned about certain activities from The Competition. This represents an existential threat to AsurasTek.
Lucretia closed her eyes and counted to five before typing her response.
HIGGINS, L: It will be challenging. Our systems are maxed out. To model something like this will take more resources. If I could re-bind some of our other daemons-
Her screen flashed an angry red and the stench of brimstone filled her office. A peal of thunder rattled the windows.
DIRECTOR, THE: Unacceptable. The Board is adamant. The earthquakes in South America, the drought in Europe and never-ending sequels to “Fifty Shades of Grey” are the only initiatives generating enough MPP to keep us solvent.
HIGGINS, L: I understand Misery Product per Person is what keeps us out of the red but if we don’t have enough daemons for the incantation, what am I to do?
She mashed the Return key with enough force to break the nail on her index finger. She gasped at the sudden pain and stuck her finger in her mouth, but not before a single scarlet drop of blood splashed onto the keyboard. It hissed briefly and vanished in a curl of copper-scented smoke.
DIRECTOR, THE: Precisely, Ms. Higgins. It will likely take blood. Our soothsayers agree that you’ll think of something. I suggest you do so. Need I remind you that, as per your contract, should the company go under, your soul comes with us? Good day.
Lucretia leaned back in her chair and exhaled slowly. Her mind was racing, awash with desperate plan after plan. For the next few hours she lost herself in the pages of musty tomes, tattered grimoires and scraps of Gnostic incantations written on cocktail napkins. Even Google couldn’t provide any answers. Filing an SRO - Soul Requisition Order - would take days to complete. Days she didn’t have.
Shortly before noon, Lucretia slumped into her chair. She was fresh out of ideas. Conjuring a daemon powerful enough to run the computation wasn’t the problem. That was the easy part. The hard part was binding the infernal creature to one’s will, forcing it into a computer server and making it do what needed to be done. That was the challenge.  Well, that and keeping one’s soul where it belonged. Daemons did not enjoy being summoned and could get fussy from time to time.
Lucretia started as her phone beeped. She stabbed the TALK button.
“Karen? Didn’t I tell you to hold all my calls?” she snapped.
“Ma’am, your 12 o’clock is here. Mr. Riordan?” answered Karen, her assistant.
She’d completely forgotten about the interview. Had meant to cancel it, in fact. Riordan had a bad reputation in an already rotten industry. While a talented infernal technology professional, he was regarded as self-serving, conniving, homicidal and ambitious. The last thing she needed was some backstabbing -
Lucretia smiled as the last gear fell into place.
“Sorry, Karen. I forgot. It’s been hectic today. Why don’t you send him…” She looked around her office. Piles of books were strewn across the floor and the stench of sulphur was still in the air.
“Karen, could you please send him to the data center? Summoning pentagram number four, I think.”  she asked.
“Yes, ma’am.”
“Thank you.” Lucretia hung up and rummaged through her desk.
“Where did I…” she muttered.
Her fingers finally found the ice-cold steel of her sacrificial athame, a gift from the Director to mark her 30th anniversary of employment. She examined it with a critical eye and pursed her lips. The edges were still plenty sharp, but it could use a little polish.
Hours later, back in her office, Lucretia stared at the IM window on the cracked screen of her laptop with glazed eyes. She was exhausted; her right foot ached, her back was sore and her left knee was swollen. Riordan had been a lot tougher than she figured.
DIRECTOR, THE: The Board is pleased, Ms. Higgins. The models are working out perfectly and the daemon you procured to work the incantation seems uncommonly zealous. We surmise the Competition will be too tied up unraveling our latest project to even consider a counter-offensive of their own. Well done.
HIGGINS, L: Thank you, sir. Glad I could help.
DIRECTOR, THE: Furthermore the Board, in their infinite generosity, has decided to award you with a spot bonus, pursuant to your contract and terms of employment. Five years, Ms. Higgins. I personally believe it too much, but was outvoted. Thank you again.
     The chat window vanished and Lucretia leaned back in her chair, staring at the pad of Post It notes on her desk. She removed the note with the number “23” on it and tossed it in the wastebasket. With a black Sharpie she wrote the number “18” on the fresh note.
Less than two short decades before she could reclaim her soul and be free of AsurasTek forever. But until that day, if it ever came, Lucretia had no choice but to keep working; conjuring infernal beings, binding them to her will and exporting despair around the globe.

At least it paid the bills.

Friday, January 24, 2014

New Year - 2014

Epic fail on keeping the blog updated. More than 12 months since the last update?


This year I've got a handful of goals for the next 12 months and will be more successful than the last. Don't get me wrong; I was writing like a madman. Only my finished products were technical specifications, legal Statements of Work, Hiring Plans and various documents for my customers.

Not much fun for an entertaining read.

So, I'll try to keep it simple this year;

GOALS (trumpets, please)

1. Continue to write 1-2 short stories per month.
2. Actually submit the aforementioned short stories.
3. Read less overall. I need to explain that one. I'm a voracious reader. In 2013 I was averaging 2-3 novels per week. I fooled myself into thinking that it was "almost as good" as the act of writing. I realized that is similar to stating that watching a football game is "almost as good" as actually playing in the game.
4. Finally get around to reading some of Dante's work. Long overdue on my part.
5. Read 5-7 books on screenwriting. This seems to be consistent advice from writers I enjoy reading.
6. Complete a novel-length manuscript.

C'est tout.

Oh, yeah. Since this is my blog I hereby declare I can drop whatever the hell I want in it. If you don't like it, tough beanardos!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Alien Perspectives and Canis Domesticus

I'm a dog owner and proud of it...most of the time. Juno is a 3 year old black lab / German shepherd mix. Maybe I'm getting too parental about her, but she is a gorgeous animal; sleek with jet black fur and grey "racing stripes" on her sides. My family and I love her dearly. But she is very un-doglike. When we come home she'll occasionally lift her head to see who just entered the house. She rebuffs all attempts to play, unless she feels like it. 90% of the time she sits like a Sphinx, staring at us with a faint air of disdain. We sometimes call her the "Cat Dog" for obvious reasons.

 I've always been curious about how dogs view us, themselves and the world around them. I just finished reading "Inside of a Dog" by Alexandra Horowitz and my thoughts are on Goodreads.

But the book got me thinking. Like any other writer of science-fiction & fantasy one of my biggest challenges is introducing non-human characters and making them "real". Orson Scott Card has written a couple of books on science fiction writing which touch on the topic, but I never quite understood it until I read Horowitz's work.

She describes in detail how dogs, with their hyper-acute sense of smell and excellent hearing, must experience daily events we take for granted. I found it mesmerizing. The world is an exciting amalgam of fascinating smells which speak volumes to dogs. The nose always knows. What about an alien species from a plant without a sun? No eyes required, thank you. Communication, society and everything else sans eyes, perhaps focusing on hearing instead. Or lithovores without any external sensory organs who experience the universe via touch?

The possibilities are endless. I imagine to do it correctly would require significant thought and imagination but that's why we write anyway.

So the next time an alien lands on Earth or a subterranean race appears at the castle, take a moment to see the world through their eyes. Or nose. Or ears.

Or what?

Friday, November 16, 2012

Quick Update for October & November

I finished my stay at Martha's Vineyard (no big damage from Sandy, thank God) with VP alums in the second week of October and feel as though I've not stopped moving since that time.

ORD--> SFO (x3)
ORD--> DEN (x2)
ORD--> MSP (x2)

Big changes (of the positive variety) at work on the near horizon, gearing up for the holidays with family and a myriad of other "First World problems" have kept my writing to a minimum lately.

But I think I see a break in the forest up ahead.

I did get a sneak peek at the cover for "Dead Seas" a new anthology from Cruentus Libri Press which features one of my short stories. Gotta say the cover art is FANTASTIC! Can't wait for a copy to go in my bookshelf.

I'll be sure to update my blog when its available.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Nanowrimo: Where it All Started For Me

November is approaching and with it comes the gauntlet of National Write A Novel Month ("Nanowrimo"); a keyboard-pounding, hair-pulling, teeth-gnashing exercise in willpower, wherein participants are challenged to write a complete novel in 30 days.

I succeeded in 2010 and have no plans to EVER do it again. But had I not participated 2 years ago, I doubt I would be writing today.

I'd always had a interest in writing, from the time I was in high school and even through college, going so far as to take a couple of creative writing classes. I'd crank out shorts left and right, giving them to friends and local publications as "filler" material. Nothing serious, just something to occupy time between classes, studying and drinking.  When I moved on to "the real world" I stopped writing. Period.

For 15 years I didn't even try to create anything. I was too busy working, getting married, raising kids and so on.

But in 2010 a friend of mine suggested giving Nanowrimo a shot. I figured I'd accept the dare and give it a try. Much to my surprise I really enjoyed the experience and finished close to 90k words with 11 days left in the month of November.

I really haven't stopped writing since then.

I "punished" my friend (sorry, Steve!) by asking him to read the work I produced. I think it took him most of the summer to struggle through the piece. When finished my manuscript looked like every page had contracted a terminal case of chicken pox.

In the words of Edward Gorey it was "Dreadful. Dreadful! DREADFUL!"

I'm still buying him rounds of beer for that extraordinary act of valor.

But it did jump start my long idling creative engine and I can't thank Steve or Nanowrimo enough.

I'm still never, ever going to try it again. Once was enough.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Viable Paradise XVI

Last week I attended Viable Paradise, an intense, week long workshop for writers of speculative fiction. I've had a number of friends and family ask how it was.
Viable Paradise: A Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers' Workshop

I don't have an answer yet. My mind is still sweeping up the pieces, trying to make sense of the lessons provided. I'm told that will come in time.

Here is what I do know;

- within the first 24 hours of the experience I realized just how much I have to learn.
- everybody in the "Tribe" suffers from Imposter Syndrome at some time.
- there can be no external locus of motivation for a writer.
- in the 3 month period preceding VP I read over 40 "suggested" books; I now have 37 more...
- I have permission to suck, as long as I improve a little bit each time.
- the staff & instructors worked twice as hard as we did.
- "However tough the peasant in his heart, every writer needs people who believe in him, give him a shoulder to cry on, and value what he values. If the writer doesn't get it, he might try changing friends." (John Gardner, On Becoming A Novelist) [Okay, so now I have 36 books to read.]

I have found my friends and we choose to WRITE.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Most Disturbing Halloween Decoration - EVER!

[For the full story please refer to my previous posts prior to reading this]

Bold Possums
Cars 1: Possums 0

Even though Halloween is still more than 3 weeks away, my neighborhood has gone ALL OUT in the decorations department and I'm just as guilty as any of them.

Yesterday I braved some serious gusts of wind and a nasty damp drizzle to finally get the rest of our Halloween crap out of the basement and into the light of day. So now skeletons are dangling from tree limbs, a petite graveyard (complete with a giant rubber rat) dominates the front yard and numerous ghosts hang from the shutters. Not too bad.

My wife took the kids to see some new cartoon movie so I was on my own for the evening. Just me and the dog.


I microwaved a pizza, tossed down a couple of Miller Lights and caught up on some recorded shows. The dog started whining at around 8pm for her nightly constitutional. Or the "shit walk" as I call it.

This time of year it's not so bad. All the Halloween decorations are out in full-force with each neighbor trying to out do each other. Plenty of good stuff to see.

Man, some folks have got way too much time (and $$$) on their hands!

One house was completely covered with that fake spider silk and no less than nine giant arachnids clung to the exterior. Another neighbor had an inflatable tombstone, at least eighteen feet tall, towering in the front yard.

Of course, Joe MacGregor had nothing going on in his yard. He was the kind of guy who turned off the lights every Halloween and refused to answer the door when the ghosts and goblins came by.  A real pillar of the community. As I walked past his house I noticed the front door was wide open and a gust of wind had blown the screen door right off its hinges. Being the good neighbor I am, and perhaps, feeling a little guilty about the injury he got yesterday while disposing of the "possum pancake", I walked across the yard to shut the open door. My dog, Juno, refused to get anywhere close and pulled hard against the leash. A couple of seconds later I figured out why. The odor wafting out of the modest home was absolutely vomit-inducing! Stale cigarettes, rotting food, raw sewage and other less discernible aromas assaulted me. I held my breath and quickly slammed the door closed.

Maybe Joe should spend a little more time cleaning the inside of his house instead of the landscaping!

A few blocks away an army of life-sized skeletons was stationed around another home, guarding it like a phalanx of soldiers. Next door an animatronic Freddy Krueger leered from inside a bay window and scratched the window with plastic knife blades.

Each year it seems somebody has to go one step too far. And this year was no exception.

Juno and I were headed home when I heard the screams.

I took off running with the dog in tow. As I turned the corner, I stopped short and cursed under my breath.

The Nelson's house was decked out like nothing I'd ever seen before.

Orange and yellow spotlights illuminated the yard. At least a dozen tombstones dotted the front yard. A fog machine was going full blast, spilling a thick grey cloud across the entire plot. Giant bats and spiders dangled from every tree branch and full-size statues of ghosts and ghouls glowered at onlookers. Blood-chilling screams and moans, rattling chains and eerie howls pulsed out forth from expensive outdoor speakers. The whole setup had to have cost at least a couple of grand, probably more.

But the masterpiece of Halloween decorations writhed and struggled on the driveway. A still figure lay prone on the blacktop and crouched over it was a fully articulated, animatronic zombie, tearing its hapless victim to pieces. I watched as one hand dug greedily into the corpse and pulled away sticky pink tendrils of tissue and shoved the morsel into its mouth. A spreading pool of black liquid covered the spot and slowly crept towards the street like a dark tide. Tom Nelson was definitely winning the decoration contest this year. The zombie robot plunged its entire face into the abdominal cavity and started chewing.

I was starting to get a little pissed off. I'm just glad I didn't take the kids on the walk with me. This was just over the top. But then I started to laugh.

Tom Nelson had a helluva good sense of humor.

The headlights of a passing car illuminated the scene long enough to make out more details. The "victim" was wearing one of those realistic self-mold masks and I could clearly see Tom's own face on the decoration, mouth open in a frozen scream of agony and eyes glazed over.  And the "zombie" was clad in the infamous red flannel pajama bottoms of my own neighbor, Joe MacGregor! The only thing missing were his equally notorious slippers. The zombie sniffed the air and turned its head towards me. The face was a ruined parody of my neighbor, Joe. An eyeball dangled by the optic nerve and was stuck to a grey-fleshed cheek. His tufts of white hair were streaked with blood and chunky bits of meat, probably hamburger or something. A low moan issued from animatronic decoration before it turned back to the simulacrum of Tom Nelson and dove in for sloppy seconds.

I don't know how anybody could possibly beat Nelson for best decorations this year!

Juno started straining at her leash and her entire back was covered in hackles of raised black fur. She whined piteously and wanted nothing more than to go home. Right. Now.

I chuckled once more and headed back. Trish and the kids were still gone so I figured I'd kill a half hour by writing this down before I forgot all about it.

Geez, like a dozen cop cars just screamed by with full sirens and lights!

I hope Mabel's kitchen didn't catch fire again. She's a great lady, but when you're over ninety-five years old, you sometimes forget about the stew you're making and take a nap instead.

God, I love the suburbs...