Short Story: Wisdom of the Cloven Hoof

The following is a piece of flash fiction I wrote yesterday for the express purpose of writing it in permanent marker on a hydration backpack.  Thus, the story itself is neither polished nor meant to be very good.  I can’t remember what gave me the idea, but it worked and I’m happy with the result.  I hope you enjoy the story!

There was once a man who set out to test the old proverb “Never feed a camel with a knife.”  He bought a camel.  He bought a knife.  He bought a large brick of smoked Gouda.  He bought a lawn chair, in which he sat as he sliced the Gouda, laid it on the flat of the knife, and offered it to the camel.  The camel did not eat.

The experiment had failed.  The camel had not eaten, the man had not fed it, and the presence of the knife meant nothing whatsoever.  The lawn chair was the only thing that had done what it should.  So the man tried again.

The man offered.  The camel refused.  The cheese and knife began a long-term relationship.  The lawn chair bore it all.  Man and camel began starve.

On the nineteenth day, the man fainted from hunger.  When he awoke, the camel was looking down at him.  He offered the cheese in his hand, and the camel, at least, ate.

So pleased was the man that he did not notice the camel had pilfered the knife while he was senseless, and had cut his wallet from his pocket while he was feeding it, and was now galloping away at speed with his identity and credit cards, and a small fortune in mixed coin.

Moral: Nunquam pascere camelum culto.

Veritas in fabella omnia.

Note: “Nunquam pascere camelum culto” is very bad Latin for “Never feed a camel with a knife.”  The clause “with a knife” is ambiguous, presumably the reason for the above story.  “Veritas in fabella omnia” is also very bad Latin for “Truth in every story”.  It has no relevance to the story— as if the author needed a short sentence to fill up the final remaining blank space on a certain hydration backpack.  Whatever the case, it seems to imply that camel muggings at knifepoint are commonplace.  This translator cannot say for certain without risk of lawsuit by someone who had a terrible day with an ungulate.

Note to the note: These notes were not included on the original hydration backpack transcription.

Creepiness

Creepiness is a science.

Well, it’s a word that describes a feeling to be evoked.  Evoking that feeling is a science.  Some people might be born with this instinctively, inspiring it in everything and everyone he or she (usually he) encounters.  Others have to work for it, but once they can grow a mustache, he or she (again, usually he) has it down pat.

Feeling that a person, object, or place is creepy… well, it’s not something we generally seek in real life, but it’s something we actively seek in fiction.  And while some people manage to do this naturally and successfully in fiction, we mere mortals might need a bit more work to get there.

A fair amount of creepiness is generated by simple word choice, it must be said.  Just like using specific colors in a picture, you can adjust your text for a creepier punch by choosing different words to say what you want to say.  Warm and moist might paint a different picture than humid, for instance.

Similarly, choosing the details you include in your word picture could change the feel of the scene.  Describing the sensory details— and using sensory words to convey those details, rather than more cognitive verbage— could make things more visceral.  Of course, you already know all this.  These are fairly standard techniques for writing horror or just good, vivid storytelling.

A little while ago, however, I started to realize part of creepiness that doesn’t involve word choice or sensory details— in other words, the macro element of the creepy, rather than the micro.  While pretty much any scene can become creepy, it isn’t only a product of micro-editing it into submission.

Let’s look at what makes something creepy.  It’s a term we like to throw around about people in scraggly mustaches and cocked heads, or houses with broken windows and a fence that’s falling down.  Both are curious when you notice them in broad daylight, and they don’t notice you back.  But in a narrow hallway, or encased in shadow, you pick up your pace. (more…)

Beta Readers Wanted!

With the end of Spoon-Fed Camel, I have turned my attention toward editing my previous novel, The Tailor’s Song.  I almost can’t believe I didn’t post here when I finished that novel— I had a blast writing it, and personally I think it’s my best yet.  But I’m biased.

Anyway, as part of the process, I need a beta readers to help me see this thing from other angles.  And not just any beta readers will do— I want you as a beta reader.

“Oh, but I’m not a writer,” you say.  Or, “Oh, but I’m not a very good writer,” you say.  Or, “Oh, but I’m such a better writer than you are,” you say.  It doesn’t matter.  If you’re at all interested after you read the pitch below, please comment.  Beta reading requires no particular skill set besides enjoying a good story.  If what I’ve written rubs you the wrong way, I just need you to make a note and tell me which part.  You don’t have to fix it for me— let me do the hard work.  Just point at the spots I missed.

I’d really appreciate your help!  I’ll take as many beta readers as are willing— just say the word.  Without further ado, here’s the pitch.

Tessa thought nude magicians were the worst of her problems.

For the last nine months, Tessa has run her parents’ clothing shop.  Her powerful, entitled customers appreciate her ability to take their nonsense in stride.  Her senile, penniless tenant appreciates her ability to pretend that yes, the rent was up-to-date, not almost a year overdue.  Tessa, in turn, appreciates her punching bag’s ability to absorb her frustration; it dies a thousand deaths after close of business each day.  Life is manageable.

It doesn’t last.  Tessa soon learns her city business license will expire in a month if she can’t renew it.  Her father’s lack of records makes mundane paperwork a scavenger hunt as she searches the city for people who knew her parents well.  Her punching bag lacks power against the mounting stress— however, a young magician, entitled as they come, quickly becomes the focus of her pent-up rage.

As Tessa struggles along, one of her customers falls dead at her feet— rather, hanging upside-down in the air by magic no one understands.  The police, with few options, pinpoint Tessa’s shop as one of their only leads.  Tessa must close down.  Faced with an expiring license, unhappy customers, and a murder investigation side-eyeing her, she can give up and accept the consequences, or fight to stay afloat, innocent, and sane.

If that appeals to you, let me know!  I’d love your help.  Thanks.

Stuff To Which I Am Up

Fun fact: when you arrange “Stuff I’m Up To” in order to remove the preposition at the end, you still end with a preposition.

Anyway, I told you I was going to fill you all in on my productivity plans, and here I am.  I don’t usually do this, because sometimes I can’t be as productive as I’d like to be and I never get to the things I say I will.  But that’s human, and I hope you all understand that I, too, fall into that category.

So let’s jump in.  Here, in no particular order, is the Stuff To Which I Am Up. (more…)

Novel #8

I just finished a novel.  My eighth.

I call it Spoon-Fed Camel.  My progress bar on the right of this blog doesn’t let me update the wordcount anymore, but it is complete at 93,836 words.

It contains no camels, no spoons, and very little food.

A short pitch: When virtual reality magic gets out of control, it sucks two patrons into its chaotic world, forcing them to face and fix parts of it they had never imagined possible.

It’s an adventure story, I think, at its heart.  (I just listened to a bunch of Writing Excuses podcasts that seemed to describe my book pretty well, so I’m calling it adventure.)  Even though the world sucks them in at first, it’s because they chose to be there and chose to have that adventure.  But I also tried (and failed) to put several more layers into the story.  The successful parts were the ones I didn’t expect.

This was a fun story to write.  I always enjoy creating a lot of strange creatures for my characters to meet, and a lot of different environments— think of Star Wars or Star Trek— but this time I took it to a new level.  The virtual reality could become anything it wanted.  I ended up with some pretty interesting stuff to write.  Giant birds, giant snakes, giant monsters made of rock.  Swarms of bugs, swarms of gophers, swarms of pieces of my protagonist.  Rabid zebras, rabid buffalo, rabid cat people.

If it helps, I can list more things in threes. (more…)

Cheats for Writing

I’m going to tell you how to cheat.

That’s right.  There are ways to hack your way to an emotional response.  You can bypass the usual systems of good characters, solid plot, and vivid setting— you can even get away without a very good writing style— and still evoke a positive reaction from readers.  Yes indeed!  You don’t have to go through the misery of learning how to actually write.  I’ll give you a couple examples and tell you exactly how to use them for MAXIMUM EFFECT.

In short, don’t.

Imagine you’re writing the next Star Wars movie.  The franchise has millions of fans.  No matter if you write a good story or not, people are going to come, spend money, and watch your movie.  You could write anything you want and they’ll still watch it.  Why?  Because the story is that big.  It doesn’t matter how well you write; it just matters that it’s Star Wars.

You have a cheat. (more…)

Short Story: Ash

Allow me to present this year’s 24-hour short story.  I started it at 11:57 last night, barely staying within the rules.  I have to say, it turned out differently than I expected.  Check out the other short stories written last night, which will be collected soon on the host blog.  Enjoy.


“Tell her she smells like your mom,” said the imp from John’s jacket. “That always works for me.”

John smoothed his lapel. The imp squeaked as John’s hand squashed it.

“Is that him?” John’s date leaned forward. The imp had interrupted while she introduced herself, and he was too embarrassed to ask her name a second time. “The elf?”

“Imp,” said John automatically. “And no. I left it at home. It doesn’t like this jacket.”

“If you’re expecting to keep this woman, I suggest you prevent her from smelling it,” said the imp, poking his head above John’s collar. “Great long johns, fresh air is sweet unto my nostrils!” He snorted noisily. John cleared his throat to cover the sound, but his date wouldn’t hear the imp anyway.

“Is it really that fickle?” she asked, cocking her head. “I thought it went everywhere you did.”

“Everywhere I want it to,” said John with a dead smile. The tips of her red hair brushed her shoulders. John shivered, imagining flames smoldering and burning her skin. “How did traveling treat you? Did you enjoy your first time navigating New York City?”

She deflected the change of subject with a smile. “I’m curious about the terms of your agreement with him. I mean, with it. Is he— it— bound to doing whatever you say, or is it his choice? Can he do anything, or is he limited? I keep saying he, but you know what I mean.” She laughed, touching his arm across the table as if they shared this hilarious joke. Her hand was scorching.

John didn’t like her much. (more…)

Short Story: Klepto-Mobile

I wrote this short story way back in June for a competition.  The competition required a fantasy story exploring a new world, in under a thousand words.  This version, the first one I wrote, is nearing two thousand words.  While I did cut it down for the contest, I prefer the longer version.  There’s a sentimental value to any short story you write at midnight in pink pen.  Enjoy.  If you’d like to read the shortened, polished version, you can find it here: http://writetheworld.com/groups/1/shared/2767/version/5257


Stealing cars was more fun when they weren’t magical.

Stu leapt into the third one, pressing the ignition button and the brake at the same time. The cars were all new, meaning his hotwiring techniques set off more alarms than Stu actually ever tripped. They were all magical, meaning at least two of them had tried to melt his eyebrows in creative ways. Stu had never seen such an angry llama.

Stu held the key fob close to the dashboard and tried the button again, with nothing but a beep in response. He had found the key in a tray by the door— it had to fit one of these. He couldn’t survive many more hotwire attempts.

Definitely not this car. The speedometer had a rooster stenciled into its face, and after the acid-spitting llama…

Stu kicked open the door and dove into the next car. He had little time. He could thank his stars, though, that none of these “alarms” had alarmed anyone but him. He was—

The silver convertible screamed. (more…)

Rules

I am a fan of the TV show Castle.  I can spoil almost every episode for you right now.

I’m not going to, because I’m a nice person, but I thought I’d put that out there.  I can also spoil Elementary, Fringe, the three NCIS generations, JAG (although I’ve only watched a couple episodes), and all six of the Star Wars movies.

To be fair, though, I know Star Wars backwards and forwards, and the spoilers are already plastered over everyone’s eyeballs, so there’s not much surprising there.  The point remains that I can spoil a crime show, almost any crime show, almost any episode, with a little thought and the first eight minutes of the episode.

I’m not going to tell you how— this knowledge cost me enjoyment of all recent Sherlock Holmes adaptations— but I can tell you why.  Why can a mild-mannered student of writing quickly tell the who did it of any whodunit?

Because most fiction, especially serialized on-a-deadline fiction like a TV show, has rules. (more…)

Another Tag

Here’s another tag post, filled with fun, whimsy, and questionable interpretations.  I mean, interpreting questions.  Because I can’t answer anything straight.

This is the Would You Rather book tag, given once again by Katie.  Full disclosure from the beginning, I can’t stand either/or questions, because there is never a situation in which you won’t change your mind.  Would you rather have pizza or rocks?  Well, I’d probably pick pizza at first, but if I just spent the last eight months eating nothing but pizza while travelling around the magical and pizza-filled Pizzazia, I think I’d have to go with rocks.  All I’m saying is there’s always a possibility.  Thus, I’m not going to like any of my own answers, so definitely don’t read too much into them.  So, would I rather… (more…)