Monday, February 2, 2015

Drabble: Traffic Jam

Traffic Jam

“Right now?” Restin fumbled with his concealed holster.

“Get down-!” Joe wrenched the younger man lower. He elbowed the back of the driver’s seat twice. “That overpass up ahead, Ferise. Block the lane.” The top of her head gave a sharp nod in the rearview.

Restin was cursing. His Walther P99 finally came free. Joe watched him. The kid’s breathing was fast, but under control.

The engine growled and Joe felt the frame vibrate as Ferise downshifted. He locked his vz. 61’s wire folding stock into place.

“Stop under the span! If they have drones I want them in suspense.”

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Drabble: Picking Up the Pieces

Another drabble. Same character as before, but a different viewpoint. I've been writing about this corporate spook for some time now, trying to pin him down. These short pieces are great for experimenting with his role and backstory. I think these two snippets are part of the same incident.


Picking Up the Pieces

"Made it worse?" Joe’s hand was a claw as he pressed the smartphone against his ear. "Fuck that. The vase was falling before I arrived. It shattered. Don’t get pissed at me."

Restin watched his tirade from across the room. Ferise sidled up, dark eyes fixed on Joe while her mouth worked on a hard candy.

"What do you think?" she asked. Restin could smell orange.

"Of him?"

He watched Joe's fitful gestures.

"Weirdly pudgy," Restin said.

The call ended. Joe’s breathing was heavy.

"Bastards couldn't even die for their country," he murmured, "Ate it over a goddamn polymer patent."

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Drabble: Firearm Maintenance

I struggle to keep to any kind of writing schedule. Sometimes the best I can manage is a simple drabble of 100 words. I guess it beats the yawning emptiness of no post at all!


FIREARM CARE

Fieldstripping his weapon was simplicity. His trembling hands added a challenge.

Out came the receiver pin. The vz-61 machine pistol split like a seedpod. Spent propellant smell washed over him.

Harsh metallic rasps as he tried removing the bolt. One of the cocking points fell off and landed on the plush hotel carpeting.

"It bolted," Joe said aloud. He attempted a laugh, breathing in the chemical fragrance of his favorite weapon’s innards.

Why had the young man stood up? The others had known to stay down.

He eventually returned to the task at hand. The trembling was a little worse.

Monday, August 4, 2014

My Precious Prose

This was supposed to be the opening entry in an episodic story. I wanted to attempt a tale that unfolds according to the "pantser" style: one unplanned piece at a time.

Unfortunately, it seems the story I had intended to tell was just a bit too precious for episodic blog entries. I use the word "precious" with a bit of an eye roll. What I really mean is that the world of the story grew so important to me that perfectionism and fear of failure (those two killjoys) showed up and insisted I agonize over every aspect of my writing. I knew they'd crashed the party when it took me four days to prep a thousand words.

If your work ever grounds to a halt like this, consider some quick exercises to keep yourself writing (it beats staring at the screen or crawling forward a few letters at a time). I've found some success with WriterKata, a great site intended to foster pure practice. When my output dwindles to zero, WriterKata's "jump right in" prompts can help get me moving. At first they set the bar nice and low by challenging me to complete single sentences. Once I've found my footing, the challenges move on to paragraphs and then ramp up from there. Nice.

My apologies for not getting any prose up this week. I'll try to start my episodic story next week--only this time I'll make sure it doesn't take place in a world I've previously spent a lot of time brooding over.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Storyline Sampler

I’m still having a lot of fun over at Storyline, so I decided to post a few of my favorite entries. Each segment was written in six minutes and is basically an example of my rough draft writing.

From “Siberia” (Crime): 

Robert did not like surprises. Robert liked plans and tables and numbers all tabulated and adding up correctly. But now he had no choice. He was going to have to wing it. He took a breath, and turned to face the Russian. It discomfited him that he had to crane his neck so far back.

"My name," he said in an even tone, "is Robert."

The Russian looked at him for a moment, and then cracked a smile—half of it rendered in poor gold dental work.

"Still just as cold as ever, Siberia. Eh?"

"Robert."

Ignoring his response, the Russian crouched down. He was so massive that this brought him to Robert's eye level. It somehow made him more intimidating.

"My friend, Yuri would like to talk to you." He pitched it low, and it sounded like a subwoofer had kicked on somewhere in his massive frame.


Click here to go to the full story page.


From “The Plane Crash” (Adventure):

I told my concerns to Phil and he stopped again. I didn't like the look he was giving me.

"Why would you say that?"

The words came from behind me and I almost jumped. The woman. Jennifer. I had forgotten she was there. I turned to look at her, standing a little lower on the slope. The distance was out of her eyes. I saw something new in her narrowed expression. Determination. Wariness.

"Why would you say that?" She repeated.

"What?"

"About the valley. Why would you say it's a desert?"

I opened my mouth, but realized an answer wasn't forthcoming. Why did I say it? Why would I think a valley in the middle of a tropical island would be a wasteland?

"I'm ... not sure," I finally answered. "Maybe it's just shock." But I couldn't shake the image. The certainty that the valley was a terrible place.


Click here to go to the full story page.


From “Spite” (Fantasy):

The Other was not like a looking glass. Some of it was reflected in the terrain of the First World, but other pieces manifested their own strange laws. He had once tried to explain it to an initiate of the Pact by pointing to a plain table.

"Pretend the surface of the table is the First World," he had said. Then, with a flourish, he had swept a rough quilt over the top of it. He made no effort to allow it to lay smooth. Instead, he gestured to the wrinkles and folds, the confusing areas where the fabric doubled back on itself.

"That," he had continued in a grave tone, "is the landscape of the Other."

Thus, it was no surprise to Dyra when he emerged at the edge of a dank wood on top of a broad hill. He could barely make out the village as a smudge to the south. Despite the fact that he had travelled only the length of a field in the Other, he exited it some miles away.


Click here to go to the full story page.


As of right now, none of these stories have been completed. Feel free to head over to Storyline and add an entry of your own!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Short Fiction: Cops Don't Wear Capes

Another story inspired by Terribleminds. The challenge was to craft a 1000 word superhero tale crossed with another genre. Here is my take on a superhero/police procedural. It runs just under 2100 words. Oops. In my defense, world building tends to eat up a lot of prose!

COPS DON'T WEAR CAPES

The call went out towards the end of my shift. I was on foot patrol thanks to a recent community outreach initiative.
 
“Dispatch to all in vicinity.” The voice from the radio was laced with static. “Officer needs assistance. One-seven-four reports drunk and disorderly at corner of Lynn and Gage. Be advised, extraordinary individual present. I say again, extro present.”

Her tone was professionally bored, but I broke into a cold sweat at the words.

Extro present.

The address was only five blocks away. I responded that I was on en route. I took off in the standard “running cop” pose: stabilizing my heavy equipment belt with one hand. My feet were killing me, but the adrenalin hit of an extro incident made it easy to ignore.

I didn’t know of a single cop who liked the Special Deputies and their silly costumes, but at least they were trying to be part of the solution—especially right after E-day, when it seemed like every corner had an asshole who enjoyed tossing cars or encasing grandma in ice. The SDs were obnoxious, but on our side. In a similar vein, the straight-up bad ones were handled by specialists. The real danger to law enforcement was the gray area in between: morons with super powers and poor impulse control. 

I always smacked him around before, officer. How’s I supposed to know his head was gonna come off?

I was halfway there after a few minutes. Decrepit pawn shops and corner stores became long rows of track housing and playgrounds with broken swings. I barely noticed. My world was reduced to blurred sidewalk lines, the stitch in my side, and the rhythmic noise my equipment belt made as its eclectic assortment shifted to and fro.

One block out I slowed to a walk. No other chatter had come over the radio and I needed to be alert—and not gasping so much. The late afternoon sun was just shading over into early evening. Made it easy to spot the faint red/blue shift of police cruiser lights on the faded paint of surrounding homes. One-seven-four’s car was just up ahead, hidden by the high wall of a community basketball court. I rested my palm lightly on the handle of my firearm and peered around the corner.

It was just another neighborhood street, but I’d walked the beat long enough to spot the warning signs. A couple of kids’ bikes were lying a little too far into the road. Means they’d been dropped and the owners had scattered. Then I saw the thin column of black smoke rising up from behind a hedge.

The cruiser was close, parked along my side of the street next to the sidewalk. I was relieved to see Officer Perry Marsh taking cover behind the open driver-side door. Perry was black, trim, and in his early twenties. He was a bit inexperienced, but professional as they came. A good cop. I called his name to warn him as I approached and dropped into a crouch.

“Orville! Glad to finally have some backup.” He was playing it cool, but his body practically hummed with tension.

“Just wish I had a cruiser.” I glanced around. “Can’t believe no one else is here.”

He shook his head. “Believe it. Some extro gangbangers decided tonight was the night they weren’t taking shit from some other extro gangbangers. Everyone’s hauling ass to a fight downtown. Including SWAT and SRT.”

I muttered the most vulgar epitaph I could think of. The Special Response Team was our answer to the Special Deputies. An in-house extro squad for situations just like this. Usually worked great—unless they were on another call.

“Okay.” I nodded. “Then we’ll just handle this.” I nodded again. My head probably looked a little wobbly. “We’ll just deal with it. Right?”

He gave me a dubious stare.

 “What do we have?” I asked, my tone perfectly neutral. Had to be careful. Nerves were contagious, and nervous cops make bad choices.

He licked his lips and nodded. “Okay. Responded to a neighbor’s complaint twenty minutes ago. Noise disturbance from the sky blue house across the way. I knocked and a man answered.”

“Description?”

“Caucasian. Fifties. Wife beater and boxers. Unshaven.” He paused. “Ugly as sin, drunk as hell.”

I nodded.

“Told the man to turn his music down,” Perry continued, “because maybe not everyone in the neighborhood wants to listen to Pink Floyd. He says ‘no problem,’ but his eyes tell me different. Still, he goes in and turns it off. I say ‘have a nice day.’ Go to leave, but I back down the steps because the vibe feels off.”

“Sounds like you made the right call,” I said.

Perry nodded. “Yeah, ‘cause then he’s at the door again—all calm like—and asks who made the complaint. I don’t say. He goes ‘I know who it was,’ and then—Jesus—then he points at a moped parked in the neighbor’s yard, and it just ... boom!” He mimed a starburst with one hand.

My breath seemed short all of a sudden. Heat beams? That was at least a Class 3. I risked a quick peek over the door. Street was still empty. I ducked back down.

“First time you ever see something like that in person?” I said.

“First time.”

“Yeah.” I swallowed. “It’s always freaky right in front of your face.” I jerked a thumb across the street. “That smoke the moped?”

He nodded.

“Damn. Do we have a name?”

“Dispatch says Lucas Hurrin.” He gave me a pointed look. “No EI jacket.”

An unregistered extro. Delightful.

We both jumped as a subdued crackling sound started up across the way. I gave Perry a reassuring clap on the shoulder and decided we shouldn’t be clustered together. I duck walked around the cruiser and stopped next to the right front wheel. After a moment, I eased up to peer over the hood.

The suspect—Hurrin— was standing on the stoop of his house. A mostly empty bottle of vodka was in his left hand, but no other weapons were evident.

Apart from the man himself.

Hurrin’s right arm was raised up with his hand limply extended. Reminded me of Adam reaching out to God in that Michelangelo painting. Instead of communing with the Almighty, he had set the neighbor’s hedge on fire. I could see a wall of sickly flames flickering across the top. It was healthy greenery, so apparently he was having to keep feeding the blaze. Visible waves of heat were radiating away from his fingers.

It was bad, but there was cause for hope. For one thing, Hurrin was sweating. He also seemed to be leaning forward a bit when he renewed the flames at the far end of the hedge. That meant his ability wasn’t effortless, and the range of the power looked to be about ten meters max.

“Perry, you seeing this?” I kept my voice low.

“Oh yeah,” came the reply from the other side of the car.

 “Okay, look ... I’m going to try and talk him down.”

Great, Orville. Real winner of a plan. 

“Seems like a bad move.”

“Yeah, maybe. But I have a little experience with extros.” I took a breath. “I’m going to have to get close. So keep your weapon holstered, okay? Even if he tries to flash-fry me. Worst case, close the distance and use your tranq. I don’t think he’s got much reach with that heat beam.”

I moved before Perry could protest, sliding my shoulder along the hood of the car until I ran out of vehicle. Then I straightened and moved toward the perp at a brisk walk. I unsnapped the carrier of my tranq, but didn’t draw it. Figured there was a chance I might actually be able to talk him down.

Hurrin spotted me almost immediately, but that was the idea. He dropped his arm. The hedge continued to smolder, snapping softly. He watched as I reached the middle of the street.

“Sir,” I raised my voice to just below a shout, “I’d like to speak with you, okay?”

He took a swig of vodka, but said nothing. 

I stepped onto the curb next to his little slice of yard. The potential danger amplified every detail of my surroundings. Heat roiling off the hedge. Behind it, the greasy, burning smell marking the moped’s final resting place. The way the cruiser lights glinted off the bottle.

“I have not drawn a weapon.” I was past the sidewalk now. “So this situation should remain calm.”

Twenty feet away. Fifteen. Ten. I stopped.

“Could you answer me, sir?” I said in my best soothing tone.

He smiled, and that’s when my instincts belatedly made the leap: Lucas Hurrin hadn’t actually swallowed the vodka.

The man leaned back like a circus performer and then heaved his upper body forward, spitting out the alcohol in a spray. Vodka’s not normally flammable—it has to be superheated. So of course it ignited into an expanding fireball almost instantly.

I could see it unfold in slow motion, feel the heat before the flames themselves began to wash over me. I twisted my body as it ballooned outward, and my exposed left arm and shoulder were completely engulfed. It wasn’t ordinary fire. It’s like Hurrin had transmuted the alcohol into a kind of plasma. I actually felt my uniform shirt disintegrate, the synthetic fibers melting against my skin and spiking the pain.

Training is a hell of a thing. My arm—burned or not—started grabbing for the tranq. As the wall of flame began to break apart, I cracked my eyes against the dissipating heat and took a look at Hurrin. The surprise on his face brought grim satisfaction. I pulled the small metal cylinder free from my belt and thumbed off the safety cap.

These days pretty much every police department had something like the tranq. It was a necessary countermeasure. If we had to detain an extro suspect, it’s not like handcuffs would always fit the bill—not like the tranq would either, but a slim hope is better than none. These things were designed to be fired up to ten feet away. Screw that. I went for what the manual termed “direct administration.”

Growling like a madman, I brandished the tranq above my shoulder like a horror movie psycho. By the time Hurrin realized I wasn’t going down he was only two feet away.

“Wait—” Hurrin said.

I slammed the tranq into his right thigh. Might have scraped a bone, but the industrial needle met no resistance I could detect. The mechanism inside whirred as it injected a vicious cocktail of chemical sleep. 

Hurrin bent down, grabbing at my bare shoulder. He tried to pour on the heat, but the drugs were already taking hold. I gasped as all his weight came crashing down on top of me. By the time I awkwardly dropped him into the uncut grass, he was out. Thank God. I knew those tranq chemicals would cause him all sorts of pain upon awakening.

I considered it karma. 

My shoulder was the next priority. It took a moment to work up the courage to look. I let out a breath, opened my eyes, and saw skin. Pale, seemingly unharmed skin. It felt irritated—like I’d forgotten to wear sunscreen while mowing the lawn—but that was it. I staggered under the feeling of relief that washed over me.

Perry closed the distance seconds later, dashing across the street with his weapon drawn. Couldn’t blame him for that, the fireball must have looked fatal from his vantage point. I slumped down onto the porch and held up a hand.

“You can holster it. He’s out.”

Perry slowed to a halt, mouth falling open. He wasn’t even looking at Hurrin. His eyes were latched onto the white flesh of my shoulder, its starkness amplified by the singed bits of surrounding shirt. I could see him put it together in less than a second. Perry was quick. Probably make detective some day.

He holstered his weapon and stood there. I waited for his gaze to make its way up to my eyes.

“You’re an extro,” he murmured. 

I looked at his face. Saw the bemusement and surprise, and the touch of fear. I decided to tell him the truth.

“I’m a cop,” I said.

THE END

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Storyline: Writing's Version of Speed Chess

I was recently introduced to a great way to practice: Storyline.io. This collaborative writing site is a blast for those times you just want to put down some prose. Here’s a few reasons why it rocks:


  • Collaboration. Relay storytelling is the site's goal, and the way it's implemented is surprisingly enjoyable. It’s fun to try and continue a plot based on someone else’s writing. You have to stay within the established tone of previous entries while simultaneously bringing your own ideas to the mix. Then you get to watch other authors do the same thing with your prose. It’s neato.
  • Time Limits. A built-in timer only permits six minutes to craft an entry (five to compose, one to revise). This brilliant set-up doesn’t allow you to agonize over your word choices: one way or another, your prose will go live in six minutes. Some might consider that terrifying, but it puts me in a “rough draft” mode that short-circuits my perfectionism and lets me enjoy myself.
  • Quick Feedback. Writing is often a lonely business, and sometimes it’s nice to type some words and know that others will read and (hopefully) appreciate them. It’s a great confidence booster to get upvoted (hearted?), and that confidence can provide an impetus to keep plugging away on your private work. Likewise, it feels good to upvote heart the hard work of others.



Of course, there are a few limitations to the current set-up. While I love the core idea and growing community, a few additional features would be handy. As it exists now, Storyline is great for beginning a story, but without additional tools I suspect those tales will eventually trail off without a satisfying conclusion.

Here’s what I hope to see as the site expands:



1. Story Discussion Threads. 

I would love to press a button at the top of a story and have a second column appear that contains a single discussion thread about that story. Basically this would be for collaborative notes, world-building, and discussion about directions the story could take. For clarity, each comment could be pegged to the fiction entry that was current when the comment was submitted.

2. Story Moderators. 

It would be grand if the creator of a story gained the option (not the requirement) to be designated the moderator for that story. The level of moderation could vary from minimal to full editor.

At the lowest setting, the moderator would gain a special symbol next to their name in the story discussion thread. They would also be able to edit a permanent entry next to the story titled “The Story So Far” (or something similar). This would be used to summarize story progress for interested parties who aren’t sure if they want to join in on some of the longer entries. It could also be used to guide the flow (i.e. “Let’s try to finish up the current scene in the next five entries!”). Finally, the moderator would be able to “end” the story after any entry (with the option of a final post), or pass on the “moderator” title to another user. 

At the highest level, the moderator effectively becomes an editor, with the ability to delete posts, insert linking material, etc. This shouldn't be the recommended setting, of course, as it would tend to overshadow the collaborative nature of the site—but some story groups may want this option. 

3. Single Author Stories


I know collaborative storytelling is the point of Storyline (that’s why I love it), but as the community grows it would be nice to occasionally write an individual story that you could share with your fellow authors. I would even prefer it to be in the same format: one entry at a time in six-minute installments. Readers could heart their favorite entries and use the story discussion thread to offer encouragement or suggestions (solo stories would also be a good candidate for the “sparks” virtual currency the creator recently introduced).


Whew! This was a lengthy (non-fiction) post, but I guess that just shows how much I’ve been enjoying Storyline. If this sounds like something you’d like, go have a look (I’m there under the user name FlynnFlam). You might just find it as addictive as I have!