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Friday, 30 January 2015

Flash! Friday

FF – 30th January 2015

This week the prompt was the following picture. We had to include Man vs Man as a conflict.

Enjoy.





THUNDER AND LEAD

Thomas squinted as the wind brushed his face with dust. His revolver gained weight as the seconds passed. He adjusted his grip, steadied his aim.

Several feet away, under the shade of the last tree, his brother watched him.

“You won’t shoot,” said Jonathon.

“You underestimate how far you’ve pushed me.”

“Please. We grew up together. You’ve never been able to make the tough decisions and you’ve never been able to get your hands dirty.”

“What you did was . . . ungodly.”

“Then let Him inflict his justice upon me. Release the burden to your higher power. Maybe He’ll have the balls to follow through.”

Thomas felt his trigger finger itching to release the thunder and lead but he refused to believe his brother was truly lost.

“Tell me one thing, brother,” he said, “and answer with honesty, if you can.”

“As true as blue,” replied Jonathon.
“Why did you do it?”

“Why not?” Jonathon’s smirk became a monstrous grin, one so full of evil that it was the exclamation mark on his soul.

A tear rolled down Thomas’ cheek as he realised his brother no longer walked the earth.

The finger tightened. The thunder cracked. The lead flew.

And there was one less monster in the world.



Wednesday, 28 January 2015

(vol 2) Chapter 03: “Fiction Unboxed”


2015 WORD COUNT = 3076 words


The end of 2014 and the beginning of 2015 have been very good to me. I recently managed two wins in three weeks at Angry Hourglass. I’ve already got several Runners-Up and Honourable Mention nods gifted to several of the 50+ stories I’ve written over the last twelve months. And let’s not forget the Kindle and paperback version of a certain anthology that is, to date, my crowning glory.

Yet I still don’t think I’ve got the ‘full steam ahead’ approach that I’ve been yearning for since last February.

It’s early days yet but I think something changed in me yesterday. It’s no easy solution, no quick fix but it has opened my eyes to something I didn’t even realise was hidden from me.

Let me explain.



EPISODIC STORY TELLING


Back in November 2013 I began to write another NaNoWriMo draft. I’d come up with, what I thought at the time, was a pretty cool idea. The story was MIGHTY GRAY and the plan was to write a series of novellas that were laid out like a DVD box set.

I had spent two months creating main characters and chucking down a few plot ideas (some borrowed heavily from the stories greatest influence: Buffy). I had five ‘seasons’ laid out, each running for 10 ‘episodes’. Like all the great American television that I feast upon, I wanted each novella to contain its own story but with a larger game at play in the background that led to an epic climax.

I hit the NaNo word target with just five and a half episodes under my belt and never wrote anymore.
A few months later I came across the manuscript again and dusted it off. Before I got stuck in I decided to check the web, something I couldn’t believe I hadn’t done while working on it. It’s amazing what the writer’s ego can do sometimes and I genuinely thought for a split second that I might be a pioneer in this style of writing.

I guess that’s what writing in a cave will do to you.



SELF PUBLISHING PODCAST

Image taken from www.johnnybtruant.com

It took me less than five minutes to find a group of guys already doing it. It took another thirty minutes grazing through their website to find out that they were doing it really well. It took a final twenty minutes before I’d downloaded a couple of their books because they sounded awesome.

The guys I’m referring to are Johnny B Truant, Sean Platt and David Wright. Under the banner of Stirling & Stone (which includes several distinct imprints) these guys had taken on the world of self-publishing to become an indie juggernaut.

These guys between them write an unholy amount of words a year. More importantly, a lot of it is episodic, designed to resemble a DVD box set of a TV show.

So I was beaten. In style.

But instead of taking my ‘original idea’ of a manuscript out to the back garden and setting it on fire I instead made the better decision. I started listening to the SPP podcast, I devoured what was available on their websites and I began reading their stuff. I wasn’t giving up on the episodic idea so I might as well learn from the best.

Despite this, I moved away from episodic at the time as other ideas flooded in (you know what I’m like). But it was always there, always at the back of mind. And I never walked away from the guys at SSP. I’m glad of that because, last June, I witnessed them accomplish something kind of awesome.



FICTION UNBOXED


I won’t go into too much detail, mainly because there is a book available that will do it in much better form. Instead, I’ll give you the gist.

The guys at Stirling & Stone decided that a way to help authors who were perhaps struggling with their own works, a way to answer questions and dispel myths, was to let the world see them write a novel, from scratch, warts and all.

In just 30 days. (Spoiler: they succeeded).

That book is ‘The Dream Machine’, the story of a girl name Eila Doyle who discovers a dark secret about the world she lives in, a world where dreams are stolen and ideas are made real.

The book is good and, while it won’t quite hit my all-time top ten (which one day I will release onto this blog) it is miles away from the failure its conception could have made it. It doesn’t feel written in 30 days. It doesn’t feel broken or rushed.

But, if you’re an indie author trying to work out why you can’t finish your work then the real gold is in the book about the book.


Fiction Unboxed’ details the before, during and after of the epic June event. It talks about the planning, the Kickstarter event and the reason for doing it. It goes through the writing process as Johnny and Sean write themselves into corners, lose the ending and add stuff in that will need plenty of foreshadowing. It even goes on with the process of world building, of planned sequels and creating rules for others to follow (like author gifted fan-fiction notes).

But most importantly it opened my eyes to the little things that were still holding me back. While it never expresses that it will fix your problems, it does tell you that you’re not alone. Other authors struggle. Other authors mess up. But being stuck doesn’t mean walk away, put it off or get angry. Because, no matter where these guys got lost they always seemed to find a solution, even if it was cavalry style (like the ending that I think is the best part of the novel).

And they did it in thirty days. From nothing to finished, a real life published book (cover and everything).

So what’s my excuse? Why do I get scared and jump ship to the next idea that floats past because I think it save me instead? I just don’t know.

What I do know is that I won’t let it happen again.

It’s time I finished something, anything. I have so much on the back burner I could almost cover my eyes and play lucky dip. I couldn’t be disappointed because I still want to write every idea I’ve ever come up with.

And sure, people might hate it. But so what? I wouldn’t care because at least that meant I’d taken the next step and put something out there for them to hate in the first place. Enough small talk. I’m a writer, dammit. No more excuses.

(Lets out breath). Much better.

Now, onto other things.



FLASH FICTION RESULTS

My Flash Fiction writing is going well. The ‘wall’ I encountered last week seems to have run off like a lily-livered coward (good riddance) and my ideas are once again coming to me 80% formed and ready to go.

For Micro Bookends we were given a picture of a graveyard along with the words ‘Club’ (first word) and ‘Foot’ (last word). I used the 100 word limit to concoct a story of two friends, one on medication to control his delusions, who visit a graveyard to fight zombies.




CHRIS AND MIKE vs THE WORLD


“Club,” said Chris.

Mike handed his friend the club which was actually a baseball bat with ‘extras’ stuck on. “Are you sure?”

“Of course,” said Chris. “I received a message that the dead will rise tonight. And where do dead people rise from?”

“Their graves.” Mike gazed out at the sea of gravestones and sighed. It was cold, it was dark and it was clear that the therapy and medication wasn’t helping his friend.

“Now let’s save the world.” Weapon raised, Chris marched off towards the church.

Mike went to follow but couldn’t. He looked down to find a decomposed hand holding onto his foot.




The story got an Honourable Mention in Sunday’s results and these kind words by judge Meg Kovalik.

The interplay between the characters here is priceless as Chris’s clearly long-suffering friend gets dragged into some hare-brained delusion – that just so happens to be correct this time. I can totally imagine the final sentence being read by Vincent Price. It left me wanting the story to continue.

After Thursday came Flash! Friday and the writer’s block was still in hiding, fearing my wrath. With things back to normal I followed the link, saved the picture and smiled as two ideas popped straight into my head.

The first, WAITING, received an Honourable Mention (I’m collecting them it would seem). This is what judges Carlos Orozco and Eric Martell had to say.

This story shared a similar theme with many of the others, but the open ending really sets it apart. Is Edith going crazy, is her husband really coming back after being gone so long, or is death finally coming to reunite her in the afterlife with her husband? This piece does a great job of storytelling with the negative spaces, letting the reader fill in all the blanks.

Sadly there was nothing for my second story, INTO THE WATER, but a comment by a fellow FlashDog, made me realise that I may not be done with the world in which the story is set. Watch this space.



ROUND UP

And that’s all for now. I feel recharged and I feel like this year is just going to keep getting better.
Next week I talk about a few format changes as well as updates on my Zombie short story, HUMBUG, as well as the impending release of FALLEN SWORDS.

See you in seven.



Sunday, 25 January 2015

Flash Frenzy

AH – 25th January 2015



ROPE

Rope in hand, I open the door and walk back in. The empty basement fills with the sound of gunshots as my high heels tap, tap, tap on the concrete floor. I smile a little as he struggles in the chair like he could wish his wrists free of the cuffs. With the bag over his head his senses are dulled but he turns his head, trying to work out where I’m heading.

I stop right behind him.

“Who are you?” he calls out. “What do you want?”

“I want to hear you say two words,” I reply. “Two words for your freedom.”

“I don’t understand.”

I yank the hood from his head and let his eyes struggle with the rush of light. I stay behind him but throw the length of rope down at his feet.

“Do you know what that is?” I ask.

“It’s . . . it’s rope.”

“Ten points to you, pendejo. Now try to cast your mind back and think if you’ve seen it before.”
“What? Are you crazy? It’s rope. How would I know one piece from another?”

“It upsets me that you don’t remember that specific piece of rope. That rope is different to any other piece in the world.”

“You’re loco!”

I ignore him. “That piece of rope was used to tie my brother up for interrogation. It held him in place while he was beaten to death because he dared to speak out against a corrupt government! Ring any bells, hombre?”

“You . . . you won’t get away with this, bitch! They’ll catch you and torture you and rape you and bury you out in the desert. You can’t kidnap a member of the palace guard and expect-.”

The rest of his sentence becomes a poem of choking and gurgling. As I make my way across the basement I look back to see a waterfall of blood soaking his chest.

Knife in hand, I open the door and walk out. 



Friday, 23 January 2015

Flash! Friday

FF – 23rd January 2015

This week the prompt was the following picture. We had to include a beach as the setting

Enjoy.





WAITING
Edith pulled the collar of her coat tighter around her neck as the cold sea breeze threatened to infiltrate her layers. She was trying to keep her eyes on the horizon and resented the wind for forcing her to blink.

It wouldn’t be long now. She normally hated waiting for anything but for Harold she brewed patience. She could wait an eternity just to see his smile. He was her everything.
So many perfect nights they had shared over the years but that first night, that was the keystone on which their love had been built.

How fitting that his ship would return him today to the very beach where they first met. It had been hard while he’d been gone but she’d gotten through it. She was grateful that his absences were rare.

“Mum?”

Edith looked around to see her eldest son running across the sand towards her.

“Mum, we’ve been worried sick. What are you doing out here?”

“I’m waiting for your father.”

“Mum, please, for the last time, father died at sea seventeen years ago.”

Her heart skipped a beat as the sound of a ships horn brushed over her ears. She smiled.



INTO THE WATER

Jacob picked up an odd looking stone and brushed the sand off. He looked up at his grandma and wondered how she was being so brave.

“What’s on your mind?” she asked him without taking her eyes off the horizon.

“It’s not fair,” he replied.

“Life isn’t fair, dear boy. Why should death be any different?”

“But you’re not sick.”

“No,” she said. “No I’m not. But I have outlived my usefulness to the state. I can no longer help Britannia so she can no longer help me.”

Jacob turned to his father who was stood a few feet behind them. “Will daddy have to take the walk in the waters when he gets old?”

His grandma nodded.

Jacob watched the deep blue sea. He saw things moving beneath the surface and felt the goose bumps spread up his arms. “Will I?”

Holding Jacob’s shoulder for support she slowly knelt down next to him. “We all have a limited time in this world,” she said. “Just make sure you do something amazing with it before you have to leave.”

As his grandma embraced him, Jacob watched further down the beach as other families waited with their elders. 



Wednesday, 21 January 2015

(vol 2) Chapter 02: “Writers Block”

2015 WORD COUNT = 2248 words


TWO OUT OF THREE AIN’T BAD

original image from www.theangryhourglass.wordpress.com

If you discount the Flash Fiction stories and book reports (what happened to them?) then that makes today's post my 50th since starting last February.

And how do I celebrate this? By announcing that I have once again won the weekends Flash Frenzy over at The Angry Hourglass. I’m over the moon at this result. One of my goals for this year was to finally get a win at some point across the 52 weeks available. The resolution has now doubled in just three weeks’ worth of entries. And there was some really tough competition this week too.
Anyway, with that out of the way let’s get onto to more pressing matters.



HITTING A WALL



My biggest problem with writing isn’t a lack of ideas (see here) but getting a story completed.

Flash Fiction solved this. I may pick and choose on a couple of the contests I take part in but, since starting Flash! Friday back on 30th May 2014, I have managed to produce at least one story each week without fail. Coupled with my weekly Wednesday blog posts and I seem to have finally discovered the ability to work to deadlines and produce something whether I’m in the mood to sit down and write or not.

Now I’m not saying that everything I produce is golden (trust me, it’s not), but I’d rather spend my time writing a story that doesn’t work and being able to learn from it instead of just shutting down the laptop and walking away.

But last week was different.



CALL OF THE DRAGON

original image from www.flashfriday.wordpress.com

Every Friday morning I wake up around 6:30am and head downstairs to get my son’s breakfast ready. While the kettle boils and the radiation box heats the milk, I switch my phone on knowing that my inbox will contain a link to that week’s Flash! Friday prompt.

I take a quick screenshot (in case I end up somewhere later with no signal) and then, as I drown a pair of Weetabix in a bowl of warm milk, I let my mind wander. It never takes long for an idea or two to start forming.

The rest of my morning will be spent in two worlds. 90% of me will get my son ready, get myself ready, go to work and fit in with society. But the remaining 10%, that little piece of my mind hidden right at the back? That’s working those ideas into something that resembles a story.

My lunch break contains the music of Hans Zimmer and a couple of peanut butter sandwiches while I get these ideas down and then, later at home, I type it all up and let my wife do her checks.

That’s what’s supposed to happen.



LAST FRIDAY



The 16th was different.

As the microwave hummed and the milk waltzed inside it, I stared at the prompt like it was a magic eye picture and no matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t see that boat (schooner!).

I got on with my morning hoping that something would come up later. I tried chucking a few of my safe words at it (time travel, demons, spaceships) but nothing felt right. My imagination was as barren as the Gobi.

I figured that, like a man with erectile dysfunction, I was making the problem worse by stressing about it and all I had to do was relax and let it all drift away.

Sure enough it seemed to work as an idea floated from the ether and into the forefront of my mind. I grabbed a piece of notepaper at my desk and wrote down what I had.




IDEA 1
A man works as a janitor at the Colosseum. It’s the end of the day and his son is helping him clean up the mess left behind by the spectators.
I liked the father and son working together. I liked the everyday aspect of a man doing the small, unnoticed job behind the scenes of the big event. But there was no story, no conflict, no nothing. I’d opened with the son finding a gladiators arm up in the stands but I couldn’t get it to go anywhere. It was clearly not a self-contained story. So I scrapped it.


IDEA 2
A hitman called ‘The Janitor’ (He cleans up people’s messes) meets with a prospective client in the empty Colosseum.
I struggle not to include twists in my writing. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. The initial meeting with all the description was okay but nothing happened. So I thought “wouldn’t it be cool if the hitman had agreed to kill the man’s wife but, when seeing her, she offered more money to reverse the hit”. Then there was time travel because the client is having the meeting for the first time but the hitman has travelled back after accepting the wife’s higher payment. I love time travel but I hate unnecessary paradoxes. This story had a big one and I don’t think it even needed time travel. So I scrapped it.


IDEA 3
Colosseum is an ancient spaceship that is about to leave.
I had this story being told from the point of view of the ships janitor. Nothing happened and even my awesome imagination couldn’t work out why or how a ship could be buried beneath this ancient structure. So I scrapped it.


IDEA 4
It’s ancient Rome (again) and the Colosseum’s janitor is caught stealing while cleaning up and ends up thrown in with the criminals; fresh meat for the following days competition.
I thought this might be the one but I couldn’t get it to work. I wrote three drastically different versions of this before hitting the delete button. Nothing seemed to have an ending. It was all snapshot writing. So I scrapped it.


IDEA 5
The Colosseum is just a small part of a large machine buried deep beneath Rome. The alien ‘janitor’ is ordered to use the machine to clean up Earth by wiping out the pestilence that is mankind.
For a second I thought I had broken through and come up with an entry. But after completing it I didn’t think it was great. I spent a while cutting chunks out and rewriting. I gave it a better voice and, despite how weak it was, WIPED CLEAN was as good as it could get. It would be my entry for the week. It was getting late and dinner was nearly cooked. I should have scrapped it.



BREAKING POINT



My wife could see that I was getting stressed. It was at this point that she suggested maybe I skip a week. I snapped at her, telling her that she offered terrible advice.

But I wasn’t angry at her, I was angry with myself. I’d managed an unbroken run of more than six months’ worth of Flash! Fridays and I didn’t want to ruin that. And also, it would be turning away from the deadline and the prompt, the things that I loved about the contest, the things that had got me writing again.

I had a (poor) story to post and I could have walked away. My unbroken run would have been intact. And, as I mentioned to my wife, I’ve had stories I thought were amazing that didn’t even get mentioned and then I’ve had stories that I thought people would hate that have done brilliantly (ROLL BACK, I’m looking at you). So who was I to prevent my peers from taking a gander?
And then it happened. The idea machine woke up.


IDEA 6
The Colosseum janitor is cleaning up the gladiator bodies that litter the arena. He is surprised to find the last body to collect isn’t dead, only faking. The ‘body’ asks to be taken to the pits as a way to escape the city.
Not willing to give up just yet, I quickly Googled a few things and discovered that, back in the olden days, the bodies of dead combatants were carted out to pits on the outskirts of town. My brain suddenly connected this to the end of Toy Story 3 where the gangs only hope of escape is through the garbage chute. While it wasn’t Shakespeare, I finally had a story I was happy with. The ending took a little while longer as I originally had the happy ending of freedom for the slave. But then I thought “No!”. If you haven’t read ONLY WAY OUT you can find out what happens here.



IT HAPPENED BEFORE

Original image from news.bbc.co.uk

I’ve never experienced what people would call ‘Writers Block’ before. I’m not bragging. It’s just as a side effect of an overactive imagination and a lack of writing discipline over several years, I have a huge backlog of stories to be getting on with. I’m never without an idea or two. But this was forced writing, something I had enjoyed until Friday 16th January (a date that will live in infamy).

My worry is that it could happen again.

I couldn’t believe the frustration I had from finding a wall between myself and the story I wanted so desperately to get to. I wish I’d found a magical solution and that’s what had got me through but I didn’t. I just kept going and going and going, scrapping one idea when I could see it was broken and getting on with the next. I guess that’s all you can do.

At the end of the day, if there is a wall in front of you and you want to be on the other side then you have to smash through. Walking away just means that the wall will be there next time you come back.

See you in seven. 



Monday, 19 January 2015

Flash Frenzy

AH – 18th January 2015



THE CLIMB

With seven steps to go I stop. I can see across the landing, I can see him standing there. Scruffy boots, faded jeans and that tacky leather jacket. They must have let him out and now the bastard has come back. It takes every ounce of courage to move my right foot and carry on up.

Six steps to go and I catch a whiff of that cheap aftershave. My stomach heaves at the memory; him pressed against me, sweating, breathing, grunting.

Five steps to go and my legs tremble a little, legs that he forced apart even when I shouted no. The bruises are still there but, unlike the memories, they’ll fade eventually.

Four steps to go. I think about turning around and running but where would I go? Because of him I have no friends, no family. I’m alone in this city.

Three steps to go and the butterflies suddenly begin to fade. I have a new feeling taking over now. The fear drains away and rage floods in to fill the void. I won’t let him ruin me.

Two steps to go and I let out a little cough to get his attention. He turns around with that charming smile that I once fell for. Never again though, not now that I know the monster that lurks behind that mask.

“There’s my darling wife,” he says.

One step to go and I clench my fist inside my pocket, three keys poking out between fingers like claws.

And when he screams no, I won’t stop.



Friday, 16 January 2015

Flash! Friday

FF – 9th January 2015

This week the prompt was the following picture. We had to include a Janitor as a character

Enjoy.




ONLY WAY OUT

Just one body left and that was me done for the evening. At least it should have been but nothing ever goes smooth. I guess the Gods find it amusing.

Anyway, one body left, right in the centre of the Arena. As I hauled my corpse cart over to it something looked off. I’ve seen enough Gladiators get torn to scraps in this place and this one didn’t look right.

I stood over the body and wondered where all the blood was. There was a little, sure but not like when most guys go down. These butchers don’t do anything by half.

And that’s when his eyes opened.

“Are you going to throw me on the wagon or what?”

Well, once I’d stopped pissing myself and remembered how to breathe I asked the corpse what the Hell was going on.

“I need your help to flee the city. Just chuck me in with the rest and I can make my own way from the pits. Please.”

I lent closer to him. “No can do.”

His eyes widened as my knife went in between his ribs.

Cheeky bastard. When I’m asked to clean up fifteen bodies from the Colosseum fifteen bodies is what I clean up.





WIPED CLEAN

I stand at the centre of The Colosseum.

Of course that is not the structures true name, only one you humans gave it. This structure you barbarians once used as an arena of violence is merely the tip of the iceberg.

Buried deep beneath Rome is a titanic machine of great power. Constructed just before the dawn of mankind it was put in place as a safe guard for the planet, a restart button if you will.

Do not feel persecuted for Earth is not alone in housing such a device. Each planet that we nurture and populate has this failsafe in place.

I will be sad to see you go. You were my own creation and had the potential to be so much more. But it seems that I miscalculated and you grew dangerously out of control. Now I must clean up the mess you have left behind.

I hold my hand out flat and the gem in the centre of my palm glows. The ground beneath shifts mechanically aside to reveal a large, rising cone of rainbow colours. When it stops rising I will activate the machine and this world will be wiped clean.