Tag Archives: author blog

When You Know It’s Bad


Ira Glass from “This American Life” describes one of the biggest struggles any creative professional has to deal with. We know what makes an awesome work of art, but our beginning attempts can’t seem to reach the standards we hold ourselves to. We try and try, and we know it’s not good enough. So what do we do?

As a writer, it’s important to persevere, no matter how hard it seems. The strategies listed below are more like vital parts of a balanced writing life. When one area falls, the equilibrium of creativity falters and crumbles.

Write 

The most important thing to do as a writer is to write. That seems obvious, but many writers get lost in the editing loop, in which they limit their production by continuously editing what they have already written. Every novel you write requires time to create freely and brainstorm through prose without limitation. You might realize halfway along that you’re going to rewrite most of what you’re typing, but that’s the point. Every draft involves a rewrite in some way, big or small. Too many writers think every draft has to be a cohesive story, with everything covered from beginning to end.

Let me tell you now – that’s impossible on the first try.

Talented writing involves stacking layers of drafts and weaving threads together. The more you write, the more skill you acquire. Ira says to increase your volume of work, and I wholeheartedly agree. When I was younger, my dad told me to “practice, practice, practice.” While I always rolled my eyes, I knew he was right. Writing more, and writing often, will keep you in good shape. 

Read

Ira also talks about having taste. Most writers have a taste in prose because they have been reading for a long time. It’s essential to keep reading, to keep exploring new ideas and concepts to keep up with changing trends and standards. While increasing the volume of what you write, also increase the volume of what you read. A delicate balance between the two will keep your creative soul well fed.

Relax 

It’s important to read and write, but creating stories is mentally taxing. Take time to breathe and enjoy life. If you’re anything like me, you’ll find that while you’re relaxing, ideas start flowing in. Sometimes just letting go is all you need to work through a plot hole, character crisis or query letter. 

Create

Being creative in other ways, whether it’s painting, dancing, singing or Jazzercising, can help keep your mind in shape. Writers need to express themselves in some way, and break the barrier between thought and expression. Freeing yourself, and opening yourself up to ideas, makes it much easier to work through a draft. 

Socialize

Most people think writing is a solitary profession, but it really isn’t. After all, writers do what they do so they can connect with readers. Writers work for their audience. Writing groups and conferences are essential to professional growth and craft knowledge. As terrifying as it is to expose your craptastic first drafts to someone, conversing, critiquing and empathizing can greatly help you in your journey.

I hope you are as encouraged by Ira’s video as I was. It’s a hard journey, but it’s a worthy one. And remember, no one can write your story better than you.

– Dani Nicole

How to Reach Level FANGIRL PRO

scarfI had a Harry Potter themed Christmas. Yeah, you read that right. My mancrush categorized his gifts to me due to the obscene amount that I fangirl over Harry Potter. Such treasures of love have inspired this instructional post on how to appropriately fangirl.

  • Read the book. Don’t watch the movie until you’ve read the book. Otherwise you’re not a genuine fangirl, and societies of fangirls everywhere will cast you aside, leaving you to knit your Gryffindor scarf in solitude.
  • Write a review of the book. Log on to Goodreads and gush about how much you like this character and how much of a douche bag the villain is, and how you will never know how ___ could make a choice between those two dreamy guys.
  • Start discussions on Goodreads, conversations in elevators, and downright debates, always defending the honor of your beloved characters. Always prove that what you’re fangirling over far surpasses what everyone else is fangirling over.
  • Find your people. Casually drop your favorite book title in conversation and gauge the reaction on a scale of 1 to 10. If the reaction is 1, “What the hell is that?” then don’t befriend that person. If you get a 5 “I saw the trailer for the movie,” then you might have an ally. But it takes a true 10, “Girl where have you been all my life?” to tightly knit your new friendship.
  • Make your favorite fictional world your actual world. Fill your life with mementos of your favorite places, worlds and characters. Perhaps if you get that Harry Potter wand remote control, you’ll start to feel like you’re actually at Hogwarts. Or if you put enough Cheshire Cats on your walls, you’ll feel like you’ve fallen into Wonderland.
  • Fill your closet with obscure shirts that only true fangirls would understand.
  • Get everyone who wants to remain in your life addicted to the books you’re addicted to.

After those seven easy steps, you will officially level up to FANGIRL PRO. It’s not a journey for everyone, but for those who are called to book geekery, it’s an important task.

How do you fangirl? Or boy?

-Dani Nicole

Dani and the Mid-Draft Crisis

writing-520x359Last December Dani had a crisis. She didn’t buy a new car or get her cartilage pierced. She simply stared at her second draft, halfway complete, and panicked. Was the voice too modern? Did it fit her story world? Dani didn’t know, and she began to doubt her writing powers.

She fretted over coffee with friends, the steam of the java doing nothing to clear her writer’s sinuses. She played with ideas of rewriting the whole thing, of ditching the manifestation of many nights of insomnia, too much caffeine and bursts of creative inspiration. Though she poured her heart into her manuscript, for a weak moment she thought of throwing it all away.

That’s what doubt can do.

It destroys writers, trapping them in a constant cycle of rewriting. They have to make their manuscripts perfect. Have to. They can’t move on, or sleep, or enjoy life until their creation is absolutely flawless.

It’s so easy to listen to the panic that constantly orbits below the surface. So how did Dani beat her mid-draft crisis? She started to understand that being a writer means trusting her own intuition. She discovered that writing groups are fantastic and absolutely necessary, but staying connected with the heart of her story was vital for her writing health.

Dani realized this was her story – her masterpiece. There were no hard and fast rules. She only had her creative mind and her knowledge of the writing craft to guide her. The answer she so desperately sought for those long days was always in her own heart. Finish the manuscript.

Just finish.

Flash Fiction Friday

In Polite Company, by Hannakin and Mr--Jack, deviantART

In Polite Company, by Hannakin and Mr–Jack, deviantART

Obsolete

by Paige Duke

“You know Mom and Dad are going to toss her out and get a new one, right? I mean, I won’t need her, but you will of course,” Tabi said in that new haughty tone she’d been trying out on her sister.

“Toss her out? What do you mean?” Evi squeaked, sounding shaky.

Lonnie stood at the door to the playroom, just out of sight where she’d stopped at the sound of her name.

“You’re so dumb, Evi. She’s old. She can barely do anything anymore without breaking. Her bug eyes are creepy. And she smells—she’s so rusty it’s all flaking off and stinking up the house.”

Blinking her big “bug eyes”, Lonnie looked down at her joints, where her once-shiny green paint was turning orange. She’d noticed her rusty bits, but she hadn’t thought they were that bad, and she wouldn’t know about it smelling, of course.

Evi’s sniffles drifted out from the playroom.

“Well, it’s nothing to cry about!” said Tabi. “A new one will be so much better. You’ve only ever had Lonnie, so you don’t know. The newest NannyBots have all kinds of built-in games, ones you’ve never heard of before, they do sports and music with you, you’ll see.”

Lonnie waited only long enough to be sure Tabi wasn’t picking a fight with her sister before she backed away. She went the long way around to the girls’ room so they wouldn’t know she’d heard.

Not that it matters.

Because she would get tossed out, she knew. She had a purpose, she’d served it, and soon they wouldn’t need her.

The girls’ room was tidy, just as she’d left it. Their beds on either side of the room were made—Evi’s draped in a pink, lace coverlet, Tabi’s in a new pale grey comforter. She was too old for all that baby stuff, she’d told her mother. The shelves were tidied and dusted. And now for the laundry.

Lonnie clunked to the dresser and dropped the basket. The girls’ mother would be pleased; she was always kind to say that Lonnie was doing good work, though she could see the woman was impatient—she had a taste for novelty. And Tabi was right about that. Lonnie was old. And she did break easily now. So she would be more careful.

Not that it matters.

It was only prolonging the inevitable.

Sometimes she thought of the days when she was new, when her programming was nimble and quick and self-correcting. She could fix anything then, solve the family’s problems before anyone even realized them, could impress the girls with her jokes and the tea parties she set for them and the stories she pulled from her internal library.

There was a feeling there. Her generation had such little capacity for feeling … she searched to identify it. I miss it, she thought. Yes, that was it. She couldn’t go back, only forward, and it saddened her. Now she understood why that phrase kept coming to her: Not that it matters. But then why did she still feel it did?

Lonnie grew comfortable in the motions of putting away the girls’ small folded things, trying to make sense of the words and feelings that came to her.

Then she heard one of the girls crying from across the house. She stopped to listen, decide if she should intervene. After so many years with those two, it was nearly instinctual. How she loved them.

Could she call it love?

Of all her feelings, it was the strongest, the most she could feel.

She decided she could call it love.

The cries grew louder, closer, and Lonnie was surprised when she realized it was Tabi crying, coming to find her. The child burst into the room, tears stained her face, and blood dripped down her outstretched finger.

“Lonnie!” she cried, coming close. “I stabbed my finger on my ruler, it’s bleeeeding,” she wailed.

Lonnie took the girl’s finger in her hand. She had always noticed how soft their skin was, how warm it felt against her own stiff and cold metal. Tabi looked up at her, she was still such a child.

Effortlessly, Lonnie flipped her med panel over and pressed the girl’s tiny injury to the glass. With a swipe of light, the wound was clean and sealed, as if it had never happened.

“Good as new,” she said.

But Tabi didn’t hear, she was already bounding back out the door.

The Trade-In

By Dani Nicole

It’s been a year since we got our Dadbot. It was Isabelle’s idea. She’s younger, going through that pre-teen phase where Dad just seemed like an annoying resident of our household, hell-bent on destroying her social life and fashion choices.

She saw a commercial for the new line of Dadbots and came running down the hallway, catapulting into my bed.

“Personal space,” I said, flipping the page of my Cosmo magazine.

“Kiera, look. Look.” She slapped a paper ad into my hands that she’d printed from the Internet. “The new Dadbots are on sale, and they have upgrades. Upgrades Kiera. Do you understand what this means?”

“Come on Izzy, dad’s not that bad.”

“Last week he set my crop tops on fire… in the kitchen. That’s not even legal.”

I roll my eyes. “Well what were you thinking showing off your skin? You knew he’d lose it.”

“They’re in style Kiera. Don’t you ever get out?” She slaps the ad back into my hand. “Think about it.”

After months of Izzy’s persisting, I finally gave in. After all, my friends were all upgrading to Dadbots and they got away with all kinds of stuff. Sneaking out at night. Riding in cars with guys who were a lot older. Maybe having a Dadbot wouldn’t be so bad. Though I couldn’t think of a single guy who’d want to ride in a car with me.

When they delivered our Dadbot, they took our real dad to a vacation home in Hawaii. They sent us pictures of him sipping from an umbrella straw on some sunny beach. He’d be okay. And when we booted up our Dadbot and he gave us each $50, I decided Izzy and I would be okay too.

Dadbot was great. We didn’t have a curfew. Izzy wore whatever she wanted. She could be hormonal and yell and scream and the only person who had a problem with it was me. I’m sure she wished they’d developed Sisterbots.

Things were looking up. I enjoyed my freedom as well, mostly using it to stay at the library all night, which worked out in my favor. There was a hot librarian assistant who took to me and showed me around the library I had so long ago already memorized.

He offered to drive me home one night so I wouldn’t have to take the bus. We hesitated in the driveway as the moon shone down on us. Wes, the hot librarian assistant, reached for my hand, and when I gave it to him he grabbed my knee instead.

“Whoa,” I said, thinly hiding my nervousness.

He slid his hand further up my thigh and I reached out to stop it.

“What are you doing?”

“Just showing you a good time,” he said, smiling.

I heard the front door open, and Dadbot wheeled out to the driveway, pausing near our open window.

“Is everything okay Kiera?” he asked in his robotic voice.

“It’s okay Dadbot.”

That should have shooed him away, but he stood still. Wes smiled and kissed my bare knee.

“I think something is the matter,” Dadbot said.

“We’re fine,” Wes said. “Go reboot somewhere.”

“I cannot do that.”

We both looked up. Dadbots always did what we told them.

“You can go reboot,” I said, thinking he needed it to hear it from me.

“I must protect Kiera.”

“Get lost Short Circuit.” Wes’ kisses rose higher up my leg. I squirmed.

“Get the hell off her, dirtbag,” Dadbot said.

Before I could register what was happening, a fist punched through the open window and wrapped around Wes’ throat. The bare fist was coming from beneath Dadbot’s exterior, which was now ripped.

“What the heck?” I asked.

Dadbot released Wes’ throat, and Wes scrambled out of the car and ran away. Dadbot returned his fist to his broken exterior, and began to pull it away. There underneath the façade of a robot, was my actual dad.

“You okay, Kerbear?”

Tears escaped and I couldn’t slow my racing heart. I was furious, furious that they’d given us our real dad instead of our Dadbot. But I was also kind of grateful that he’d saved me from Wes’ wondering lips.

“I’m okay, Dad.”

He opened the door and helped me out of the car. We lingered on the doorstep.

“Izzy is going to be so pissed,” I said.

“Should I keep hiding out as Dadbot?”

“Just for a day or so, then scare the crap out of her at the right moment. She’s getting annoying these days with all that freedom.”

Dad chuckled.

“It’s good to have you back,” I said. “Sorry about trading you in.”

“Then I would have missed the look on that guy’s face when I started choking him.”

We laughed together as he wrapped his arms around me. And in that moment I realized a real dad hug was so much better than a Dadbot hug.

Flash Fiction Friday

Apocalypto by 88grzes, deviantART

Apocalypto by 88grzes, deviantART

Rookie Move

by Paige Duke

I set my feet like he taught me, tighten my grip, and nod. All too fast, the ball is flying at my face and I’m swinging with all my might. At nothing. Again. This was fun the first six times, but the novelty is wearing off.

“Okay, rookie.” Mateo says, walking toward me, doing his best to hide that smug smile. “I’ll show you one more time.”

“Nuh-uh, I don’t want your pity coaching. Throw it again.” I play tough girl to show I’m not mad, pretend I don’t mind looking ridiculous.
Three more failed attempts and I can’t keep up the act anymore. My back is burning, and the adrenaline rushing through my tensed muscles is screaming for release, willing me to take flight.

I drop the bat and walk in a little circle to calm myself. I’ve mastered my impulses. I’ve learned to suppress my powers day after day, and this is the thing that’s going to unhinge me? That I can’t hit a baseball. Pathetic. Mateo walks to me across the dirt field and with each of his steps, my frenzy loses ground.

He picks up the bat and holds it out to me, “Come on, let me show you one more time, I think you’re getting there.”

I roll my eyes, “Right.”

But I take the bat anyway and walk to stand in front of him. Maybe I’m missing on purpose, I realize. Because when he puts his hands on me to fix my grip on the bat, to guide my arms in the swing, to hold me against him a second too long—I can forget myself. Forget myself utterly. Inside his arms, I’m not a creature who slipped through the Veil, this forever caged and crippled halfling, I’m just a girl falling for a boy.

But it’s dangerous to forget. Selfish to let my guard down. And yet, I don’t know any other way. I can’t go back to those friendless, terrifying early days. Mateo is my only light in this gray and foreign world. I can’t give him up, but it’s not fair to hold him back either.

“Like this?” I say, swinging one more time, letting his arms guide me.

“Mhmm, all the mechanics are there, just gotta keep your eye on the ball.”

“Yeah, it’s that easy,” I say, ready to pull away, but he’s still got hold of me and his breath is hot on my neck.

He’s kissing the curve of my jaw and I’m just letting him, drifting into that fog of oblivion.

“Pax, you suck at baseball, but you are a goddess. Anyone ever tell you that?”

My eyes snap open, “Not in so many words.” I pull away, but his fingers are insistent against my elbows.

He turns me gently to face him. “Why are you fighting me?”

The world is chirping crickets and cool wind all around and the electricity of Mateo’s fingers against my skin. And there’s that absurd thought again, Just tell him. You can trust him.

Right, because a girlfriend who suddenly sprouts wings won’t be a problem. Love conquers all . . . all you need is love . . . all that human optimism will break down in the face of the Other.

But his eyes are so insistent, so pure, and then he’s kissing me, and I’ve lost myself. And against my will, I’m kissing him back. His fingers are restless, at my cheek, my back, my waist.

Alarm bells go off.

I tear myself away. I am aching and guilty and selfish. The hurt on his face is unbearable.

“Pax—”

I take two steps back, ignoring my better judgment, willing myself to do the right thing, to cut this off before I can hurt him any more. “I have to tell you something—show you, I mean. I’m sorry I’ve hurt you. But we can’t—I’m not—you won’t . . . ugh.” I don’t have the words to do this. So I turn and run, lightning fast, unleashing my power for the first time in so many months. I pull my jacket off and feel the wind at the open back of my shirt, soothing the fire that’s raging there at the unfurling of my cramped wings.

I’m airborne, I am free. I’m gaining height, soaring over the empty fields. Just get out of sight, far enough not to see him. I won’t have to face him again, he won’t come knocking at my door after this.

A whooshing fills my ears, and suddenly I’m spinning out of control, my arms pinned to my side. The sky is tumbling.

I’m falling. Plunging. But I can’t get at my wings. And the ground is too close—

The impact never comes. I’m floating, right side up again, set down gently onto my feet, looking impossibly upon another winged creature.

“Is that all?” He says, grinning.

“How—?”

“What, Pax? You thought you were the only one who ever wandered through the Veil?” Mateo laughs, “And here I was thinking I smelled bad or something.”

He is a thing of beauty, his bare skin in the fading light, the gloss of his wings jet black. But the sight of him is blurring through my tears. It’s all catching up to me: I’m not alone, I don’t have to hide, I won’t have to hold Mateo off.

His arms are around me again, his laugh is soft at my ear, “Aw, Pax, you’re such a rookie.”

Once Before

By Dani Nicole

Sunlight.

That’s all I see when I open my eyes. When I blink away the veil of my previous life and inhale the breath of a new one. I scan my memory, searching for clues. 

How did I die? Who am I now?

But as I think of my life so far, it answers me in haze of darkness. Nothingness.

I am nothing except what I am now. I stand up in a field of grass, hills rising up all around me. I’m in a valley, where the setting sun casts shadows that dance across the green.

One foot in front of the other. One exhale after each inhale. This life smells like fire. In the distance, smoke swirls up toward the sky, consuming a falling building.

Did I die in a fire?

I try to remember the sensation of burning. Of my skin consumed with flame. Did I choke, or scream, or try to put myself out? Did I die instantly, or did it take millions of seconds impossibly compressed in the span of minutes?

More steps toward the smoke, away from the place I was reborn.

Cold air frosts my bare arms. The tank top I wear does nothing to shield me from the ruthless wind. I wrap my arms across my chest and duck my head as I walk into the gust, away from comfort and warm and… knowing things.

As I walk, a song comes to mind. One that I’m sure I wasn’t supposed to keep.

In the sun,
In the sun she fades
Gone is the girl, the angel brave

She rides toward the earth
And rests upon her grave
Gone is the girl, the angel brave

And yet, there is a familiarity around me that shouldn’t be there either. The electric feeling in the air, the looming presence of danger.

I’ve been here before.

Impossible, but surety ripples through me. Assurance. I know these hills. I know that fire, that smoke and when I look at it, that desire. That desire to burn, to watch whatever’s inside crumble to the ground.

It was me.

I set the fire.

Memories prickle in my head like goosebumps on my skin. Flashes of ash and light and heat and sorrow and screams of death. The sun shifts in the sky and out of my peripheral vision I catch my shadow. Two eloquent, long wings extend from my shoulder blades, the feathers waving in the wind.

But when I reach behind me, I am greeted with only flesh and bone.

Flash Fiction Friday

br, deviantART by DelilahWoolf

br, deviantART by DelilahWoolf

Counting

by Paige Duke

Ten cherry red fingernails.
Two bruised knees.
Twelve succulents in a crate.

My finger halts its counting, resting above the prickly bunch . . . succulent. That’s a word used somewhere else, isn’t it? A succulent roast, maybe. The two ideas stand together in my mind, totally incongruous. So absurd—the roast and tiny cactus sprouting stick-figure arms and clasping hands in my mind—that I can’t stop giggling.
I bury my face in my elbows until it passes, I don’t want anyone to find me and spoil the whole thing, my five minutes of privacy, this glorious and rare distraction.

Four pristine white walls (painted last week).
Six tall windows.
Eight zigzag boot prints (Mom’s rain boots) across the slat wood floor.
Mom . . . in my mind I see her out in the rain yesterday, drenched, but still insisting on the boots. She can’t have kept an inch dry, the way it was coming down. I count to cope; Mom plants. Despite the fact that everything she puts in the ground dies shortly thereafter. It’s something of a joke—has to be, I suppose, otherwise it’s just too sad. Too ironic.

Three orphaned shoes no one ever bothers to toss out.
Two towering stacks of books, Dad’s overflow.
I squeeze back tears—for the first time today, that has to be a record. It’s just that overflow . . . it’s so opposite of everything DAD right now. I count; Mom plants; Dad stares. Sits and stares, where he used to sit and read. Where can a mind go for so many hours? Nowhere good. To blame or darkness or self-loathing, surely. Wherever it is, it’s not here.

Two identical frog umbrellas for two identical boys.
The twins, a godsend of noise and busyness, the forgivable interruption to our collective grief. They force us to be normal again in a million everyday ways. And break our hearts in the same breath because they can’t understand, will never know who they’ve lost.

I search the room—this mudroom, the time capsule of our house—for anything else. But I’ve counted everything already, everything but one.

One growth chart, its six penciled names glaring, conspicuous for the truth that we are now only five without Michael.
Michael. Our light, our miracle. The boy who was supposed to die but who lived seven years, seven years of borrowed time.

But death forgives no debts.

Flash Fiction Friday

Charles Bukowski, theimpossiblecool.tumblr.com

Charles Bukowski, theimpossiblecool.tumblr.com

“Find what you love and let it kill you.”

Charles Bukowski, Los Angeles, 1982

Note: We tried something new for this edition of Flash Fiction Friday, we asked someone else to pick our prompt. Thanks to Jeremy Duke for the inspiration for our stories this week! We want to make this a regular thing, so if you’d like to pick our prompt for a future Flash Fiction Friday, leave a comment. We’ll feature you on the post and link back to your blog or website! Now, on to the stories.

Loud Man

by Paige Duke

Loud Man stood in line, silently waiting his turn. This was the only moment all week he was silent. They called him Loud Man for a reason. At the bars. They called him this at the bars, for where else would anyone call him anything? He was the kind of man a bar was made for, the kind of man the Elephant was made for, which was why he was waiting in line. Waiting silently for his turn, restless hands in pockets to keep the rest of him still. Silent so that he could think how best to speak to the Elephant. You’d think coming every week to the Elephant would accustom a man to how to speak to it, but then you’d be the wrong kind of person.

The Elephant. Loud Man had laughed loudest when he’d first heard of the ridiculous notion, of standing in line to speak to an elephant—a rusted, faded, cutout discarded by some passing circus maybe. But that was before he’d tried it. Before he’d stood silent long enough to gather the words together that rattled around inside him. Constantly. Louder than a rumbling train. Meticulously, silently gathered the words, lovingly calmed them like some shaking rabbit, tentatively offered the right ones like a prayer. Before he’d seen the Elephant’s kind eye watching him as he spoke his carefully, silently crafted thoughts.
The line shortened one transgressor at a time, bent beneath the woes or hopes or fears they’d been collecting all week; no one knew what another said to the Elephant. That was the point, wasn’t it? Loud Man was nearly there, his words lined up in a neat row, his now-silent tongue occupied with their repetition. Whispered, a fledgling in the mouth of this man with the busy jaw. And there now, he felt the calming that grew with every shuffled step.

His turn came at last. He stepped forward, realizing suddenly why he came. He brought the Elephant his words, as he brought the bartender his coin. Payment all the same, but the difference is in their eyes, he thought. The Elephant’s eyes were kind. Oh, and the mouth of rusted tin, it said nothing back to Loud Man.

He leaned in and whispered his confession to the Elephant’s wide, welcoming ear.

A Concise List of Things That Don’t Kill Me

by Dani Nicole

There’s a rule, you know, that if you find something you love it will kill you. Because that’s the only way to be in love. To die a little, in some way.

Sounds poetic right?

Bullshit. I hate rules. I love ice cream, but it doesn’t kill me. At least not immediately. I love my dog Chauncy but he hasn’t tried to attack me in my sleep like a Nylabone.

I’m not exactly counting the seconds until he plots his revenge for being locked in a kennel. In fact, I’m so fired up against this rule, I made a list.

1)   The stars. What kind of motives do the stars have to kill a seventeen-year-old dude? I mean I let them exist, I ogle at them when they come out, say poetic shit to impress my girlfriend. I draw maps of constellations and sometimes make up my own. One time I found a penis in the sky. Seriously, a penis. I dubbed it the Great Penisarium. I’m a genius, really. But I’ve been looking at the stars and planets and cool space shit since I was like three. And at three you don’t really get to pick what you love.

It just kind of picks you.

I stare at the sky everyday waiting for it to kill me, but it doesn’t and it probably thinks I’m an idiot kid who suspects the Great Penisarium is somehow phallically lethal.

2)   Naked women. As much as my health teacher wants me to think touching a bare breast will lead me to my imminent death, I’m not buying it. I’ve touched Rose’s breasts before, and if that’s dying, I’d do it a million times over. They are like natural pillows. No, like travel pillows. Always there to lean your head against when you’ve had a hard day or your pet snake died or you had to flush your cigarettes in front of the principal. Whatever. Boobs are worth dying for.

3)    Freaking Harpists. I’m not sissy enough to actually play the harp, but I swear to the God that might be up there it’s an instrument of the angels. Just do me a favor, have a girl play the harp for you and try not to look at the way her fingers pluck the chords and wonder what it would feel like if they traveled elsewhere.

Listen to those notes and try not to fall into a trance where you think the world is made of pizza and you can only play football as a profession. Rose plays the harp, but mostly she just plays me. I’m like putty in her hands, as malleable as harp strings. I have this fantasy of walking up to her while she’s playing and leaning her back in her little stool and… I digress. Harps are the shit.

So take that messed up, screwed up society in which we’re all brainwashed to think that love is like Liam Neeson, that it will find you and that it will kill you, because I’m here to tell you I love many things. I love stars, breasts, harpists. Hell, I might even love Rose. What can I say? I’m complex. Maybe even the exception to the love rule. I guess you could say in some way, invincible.

 

 

How a Victorian Engineer Inspired My Protagonist

I should have known by his name that this man would be the larger-than-life figure I needed as inspiration for my protagonist. Isambard Kingdom Brunel. You’re destined for greatness with a name like that. And I needed some real-world greatness to help me lay a foundation for my protagonist. In my previous post, “Research: An Antidote for Writers Block,” I wrote about using research to solve some of the structural problems in the world of my fantasy novel. I scoured the Internet for notable figures from the Victorian Era and stumbled onto Brunel. I had found my man: an influential engineer whose name, work, and character lived far beyond the reach of his natural lifetime. Not only did he create some of the most innovative and memorable structures of the Victorian Industrial Age, but he stood out among his contemporaries as a person of tireless vision and ambition, even from a young age.

Twenty-one years old. I was still in college . . . changing my major, how about you? What were you doing at twenty-one? This man, I.K. Brunel, was already working as resident engineer on the construction of the Thames Tunnel. Can you imagine?

Thames Tunnel, Lithograph by Taulman after Bonisch (public domain)

Thames Tunnel, Lithograph by Taulman after Bonisch (public domain)

He was working alongside his father, Marc Brunel, a prominent engineer of the time, who had invented a tunneling shield that made building the underwater tunnel possible. It was the first of its kind and, at its opening in 1843, it was named the Eighth Wonder of the World. But the road to success wasn’t always glorious—the tunnel flooded during the third year of construction, and six of the crew were killed; Brunel barely survived when his assistant pulled his unconscious body from the water. It wouldn’t be the last time Brunel found himself in a tough spot.

From there, he worked on the Bristol Clifton Suspension Bridge. Like the Thames Tunnel, it was a record breaker—the longest bridge in the world at the time it was built. Brunel, then twenty-three years old, submitted one design after another and found himself battling the design put up by Thomas Telford, a well-known engineer in his seventies and the chair of the Clifton committee. But in the end Brunel won the commission. As if that David-and-Goliath-scale victory weren’t enough, he gained more notoriety with his next stunt. During construction, someone had the brilliant idea to string up a 1,000-foot iron bar that would carry a basket back and forth to bring supplies across the chasm. And guess who volunteered to test it? Yep, Brunel—he climbed into the basket and set off across the gorge, and it was going well . . . until the rope snagged. So he climbed out and freed it so he could get across. He was stranded, what else could he do, right? Needless to say, people took notice.

Clifton Suspension Bridge, illustration (public domain)

Clifton Suspension Bridge, illustration (public domain)

So you can imagine by now what kind of man we’re talking about. Now think bigger, much bigger. As in Titanic. Before the infamous steamship was a twinkle in Thomas Andrews’ eye, I.K. Brunel was dreaming of The Great Western. He was convinced he could carry a passenger across the Atlantic by steam power—not so remarkable to a twenty-first century mind, but at the time it had never been done and . . . Brunel had never before designed a ship. Though he was opposed, ridiculed, and badly burned during construction, he saw the ship completed and arriving in New York from London in 1838. Oh and, by the way, it was the longest ship in the world.

SS Great Western (public domain)

SS Great Western (public domain)

The rest of Brunel’s life followed a similar trajectory of one innovative project after another. And it was this more than anything that drew me to him as a character of history: he was a man with astounding imagination, who broke through the boundaries of the known world, and the challenges of his own life, to pioneer a way into the future as we know it. I relied on details from Brunel’s life—engineering competitions, the setup of a drafting office, techniques of shipbuilding—to help construct my protagonist’s life and work, though the challenges he faces are of a more fantastical nature. Still, he has the heartbeat of men like Brunel: ambitious, visionary, groundbreaking. After all, it’s what makes us love them and root for them no matter where we find them.

Brunel with the launching chains of the SS Great Eastern, his later and most famous ship (public domain)

Brunel with the launching chains of the SS Great Eastern, his later and most famous ship (public domain)

How about you? Where did the ideas for your characters or other narrative elements come from? Did you look into history to find inspiration or another place entirely?

 

– Paige Duke

Flash Fiction Friday

magical lamp, deviantART by MaithaNeyadi

magical lamp, deviantART by MaithaNeyadi

The Perfect Gift

by Paige Duke

Under cover of darkness, a girl ran to the dumpster behind the beat-up Shell station. She looked around to be sure she was alone, but she needn’t have worried. There was no one out yet at 3 a.m., and the gas station clerk was snoozing. No one watching to see her bruises, the tear in her hoodie, or the curious thing she pulled from her bag to toss in with the other garbage. And after she was free of the thing, still no one to see her sprinting away, away, away.


 

Today was the day, Ted could feel it. Today he would find the perfect Christmas gift for Alison. As he walked down toward the strip of boutiques on Main Street, stuffing his hands in the pockets of his puff coat against the November chill, he saw how it would be. Christmas morning, she’d wake beside him, after a night at his place of course—she’d be staying over by then, definitely—and pester him about her present, the twelfth one, the perfect one. He had the other eleven picked out and wrapped already, sitting in a cheery pile beneath his Charlie Brown Christmas tree they’d put up together after Thanksgiving. So Christmas morning, wearing her vintage kimono robe (Day Four’s present), Alison would lean into him and beg him for her perfect gift with that way she pouted at him.

Ooh, he shivered just thinking about it. That’s where the vision stopped, though, because of course he didn’t have the perfect present yet. But he would. Today was the day; he could feel it. Something about his hair. It was the first good hair day he’d had in more than a month. The static electricity just messed with it at this time of the winter. He’d brush it, not brush it, wash it, not wash it; nothing he tried made a difference—not even his Brooklyn pomade—it would stick straight up like he’d rubbed a balloon over it. But not today. Today when he’d put the brush to it, it lay down perfectly and stayed that way.

So, his unshakable optimism led him through one store after another. He first tried the boutiques, because he’d heard Alison and her girlfriends talking about them over their long lunches. He hated how those things just dragged on, but there was usually a pretty intense make-out session at her place after, so he just powered through. But what the girls failed to mention was how damn expensive everything was in those shops. He couldn’t afford more than a comb or a nail file after all the other eleven presents. No, that was not perfect present material.

Ted tried the antique shops next, his spirits still holding. Alison loved antiques. Nothing in her apartment was from Target, except maybe a basket or something. She had a thing about baskets—organizing in general. He’d tried to start picking up his own place more, hoping that might encourage her to come over more. To stay over.

But the antique places were a bust too. They weren’t as expensive, but everything was just . . . old. Right, but not the right kind of old. Like cracked plates and dusty magazines and shit. No. That wasn’t right for the perfect present. So Ted kept walking and looking in windows, feeling his hopes draining with every step. Then it was sleeting and he felt his hair frizzing and he was about to call it quits. He must have misread the perfect-hair-day sign.

He was headed back to the car when he saw it—the old Shell station. He couldn’t believe the place was still open, it looked in such bad shape. Back in his freegan days, Ted and his buddies from the Meetup.com group would dumpster dive there for the overflow from the vegan place next door. They’d come across some good stuff there sometimes, Huck had even found an old Lomo camera once that was in perfect condition. People didn’t know what they had, just chunked that stuff. Plus, he’d met Alison at the Shell. He’d stood in line behind her, overheard her trying to buy a pack of American Spirits, but she’d left her card at home. He saw again how he’d stepped up beside her and said to the clerk, “I’ll take two packs,” as he laid a bill on the counter. She’d smiled up at him, blonde, pretty, and those full lips.

Ted found himself walking toward the dumpster. He felt stupid, sure. Dumpster diving for the perfect gift? But this was the day and he’d tried every place else, after all. He looked around to be sure no one was watching him, slipped inside the rickety fence, and peered in at the trash heap. There were boxes turning soft with the sleet, mounds of takeout wrappers, food scraps. He stretched on tiptoe to see if he could catch sight of anything else. And he did see something. A glint of metallic light, glistening with a sheen of wetness. As he strained to see further, he saw its curved shape. It looked promising. He reached in and hooked a finger around the thing, it had a kind of loop.

Ted pulled it out, feeling by its weight that it was right. The thing lying in his hand made his chest grow warm. It looked like an antique! Like a gravy boat, only fancier and with a spout on it. Its copper-colored lid had scrollwork-type decorations and foreign script on the sides. He tried to pry the top off, but it was stuck. Even when he brushed the sleet off with his flannel shirt, he couldn’t make it budge. But that didn’t matter. He felt it. He grinned and turned to go home, clutching the thing in the crook of his arm, oblivious to the unnatural heat of it against his puff coat.

It was perfect. Alison was going to love it.

Genie Not Included

by Dani Nicole

Ten years and the lamp hasn’t moved. I watch it, polish it, and leave it just like I’m supposed to. Just like the king told me to.

I still look at the entrance to the cave like some gorgeous, beautiful, breathtaking woman is going to walk through it. I would ask her on a date, but she would probably say no considering I don’t really shower anymore. The lake water in the cave is all I can use. But after I asked her on a date and she said no, I might ask her if she could watch the damn lamp and give me a break. Maybe she would feel sorry for me and say yes.

This is what my mind resorts to in the dark hours of the dark cave of the dark life of being the dark lamp watcher.

All the king’s orders are because of some stupid myth that one day, maybe, just possibly, there is a slight chance that the lamp will shiver and a big ass-genie will come popping out of it.

Holy hell, I would love to see that. I kind of wish he’d wait until the hot girl shows up and surprise the crap out of both of us, just before we were about to kiss. Then when he asked me what my three wishes were, the first one would be just another damn minute so I could finish the job. It’d be pretty awesome to show off my wooing of the ladies in front of an all-powerful genie.

But I have a feeling genies aren’t the type to cater to your every need. After all, they only give you three wishes. They’re not going to sit around until you make up your mind. So I’d have to have all three wishes ready. But I’ve only thought of one wish so far.

Ah, to hell with it. It’s not real anyways. And I’m just some stupid kid sitting on the floor of a cave covered in mold. I’m not sure if I smell like mold, or if I’ve been here so long the mold smells like me.

What I need to focus on is dinner. A rat skitters across my feet and I stab it with my blade. I used to flinch at the sight of blood, at the sound of bones crushing. Now it’s an everyday feat, and a necessity to staying alive in a cave full of rodents and fish.

I reach in my sack for the box of matches. When I pick it up I know I’m in trouble. It’s entirely too light. I slide the box open. Yep. Empty. Fantastic. Now I’ll just have to wait for the king’s lackeys to deliver more supplies in the morning.

Maybe Archibald will come. I like that guy. He always sticks around to chat. Kind of gets that whole isolation thing and how it makes you batshit crazy and whatnot.

I inhale, holding the rat carcass in my hands, letting the blood run to the ground. I really don’t like rat sushi. But I really don’t have a choice. I inhale, bring the rat to my lips, and swallow bile. I hold my breath and bite down.

Disgusting.

Revolting.

I never–

What was that?

I suspend the rat carcass in mid air. It hangs in limbo as I stare at the small golden lamp, sitting beneath the light on its stone sanctuary. Nothing about the lamp looks different. It hasn’t moved. Pivoted. Broken. That means that my ass is still covered, and also that I’m seeing things.

Great just more proof that I’m batshit cra–

There it is again.

I throw the rat on the ground. Stand up. Walk to the lamp. After ten years I’ve never touched it. I’ve never dared to break the king’s rules. But suddenly I am filled with an overwhelming urge to pick up the lamp. I want to hold it. I want to trace the intricate scrolling with my fingertips.

I stop inches from it, squatting so I’m at eye level.

“Hello,” I say to it, because when you’ve been in a cave for ten years, sometimes you talk to inanimate objects.

The lamp sits there mockingly, glimmering under the light.

“To hell with this,” I say.

But just as I turn to walk away, the ancient lamp starts to shake.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flash Fiction Friday

Nevermore, angelarizza  DeviantART

Nevermore, angelarizza DeviantART

 

 

Battle of Names

by Paige Duke

“You live up to your name, Dage,” Amarjaa shouted toward the fallen warrior, “you stood firm. Admirable. But even your might cannot alter the Vision. I have foreseen the end. If it’s to be a battle of names, yours is no match for mine.”

The priestess was closing in on the piled bodies, her armor scraping, catching on the refuse of battle. Her sword hung sheathed by her side, its case still wet with blood. In the predawn light, she saw Dage smirking at her with what little strength he had left to hold up his head. The insolent fool! “You wear the grimace of death, old man, can you not feel it?”

“Death, aye. He draws near. I smile not at death, but at your fate.”

Amarjaa’s laughter rang over the smoking ruins, rebounding off the cliffs that had trapped her enemies through the night, and rolled back to her in a wave of clanging mirth. “What do you know of my fate, Dage? Let me tell you what I have seen, lend me your dying ear. Let me tell of you how from your birth you were meant to die at my hand. Let me show you the futility of your life.”

“The Vision shows my frame rising gloriously forever, the victor over my enemies, drenched in their blood, the smoke of their defeat rising to greet the day. The world is mine. Who remains to parry my blow?”

She smiled her cruelty down upon Dage, the last and greatest of her foes. “Look about you, if you have sight left in those eyes. Is it not as I have foreseen? When you pass into death, it will come to be. Amarjaa, Forever.”

Now it was Dage who laughed. Long and ragged. The sound chilled Amarjaa and she resolved to hasten his end. But his words halted her,

“Pity you know not my true name. Then you would not have misread what you saw.”

“Fool. I know you. I have known you for all these ages past.” Her voice was unyielding as iron.

“Nay, you are the fool, Eternal One, you shall live forever, indeed, but mine is the name that triumphs. Turn your eyes upon me, gaze the rest of your days upon the Stone who has conquered you in his final hour—for it is I, Chimwala Dage!”

With the swift uncurling of his clenched fingers, Dage revealed a stone. It was smooth and white as milk, pulsing at the sound of its namesake. The laugh that was perched on Amarjaa’s tongue turned to a scream and she tried to flee, but her feet were already turning to rock, her knees were stiff and gray, the shining breastplate hardened, and her lips trembled as they whispered “the Stone.”

Then they too were cold stone and spake no more. Dage indeed wore the smile of death now, as he looked upon his final conquest for one glorious moment. His head dropped and the stone fell from his lifeless grasp. The sun peaked over the horizon, gilding the battlefield. A fearsome figure stood gazing out over the carnage. The statue of Amarjaa, the Eternal One.

And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
– Edgar Allen Poe, The Raven

Prowl

by Dani Nicole

She perches on a branch, just below the moonlight, scanning passers by. Some midnight visitors are drunk with moonshine, others drunk with sorrow. They rest flowers on tombstones and take away memories in the form of tears.

Her helm is heavy on her head; her neck tires of the burden. But still she perches, waiting for the one to end the curse.

“Is he coming tonight?” she asks No One.

“Indeed, he shall,” No One answers.

“And the curse will be forgotten?”

Nothing.

She can only wait. For people to pass by. For leaves to fall. For the sun to rise and end her reign.

Banished to the night,
delight in collected souls,
until you find the thread that binds,
to free you from your plight.

“Is it you?” She whispers in the direction of a man with stained pants and a ripped shirt. He sways when he walks and belches loudly. “I’ll take that as a no.” She scratches behind her ears as the raven rests upon her shoulder.

“I wish you would just tell me,” she says to No One.

“Better for you to see.”

She waits for hours as the dawn threatens to break. The graveyard is still and empty until, faintly, she hears the sound of gravel beneath shoes. She stands alert, leaning as far over the branch as possible without losing her balance.

A man stops at a marble stone, falls to the ground, and weeps.

She lands softly on the ground beside him, as gracefully as if she had wings. He doesn’t hear her approach.

“Tears do not resurrect the fallen,” she says.

The man jumps up and withdraws a knife from his pocket, wiping his tears with the back of his other hand.

“Who are you?” he asks.

She can hear panic in his voice. “They call me Raven Girl.”

His eyes widen. “That’s impossible.”

She twirls her blonde hair around her finger. “Not a fan of stories?”

“Those are fairy tales. The soul collector. The girl with a raven upon her shoulder that searches through souls.”

“And yet here I am, a girl, with a raven upon my shoulder,” she says.

“A cruel joke to a grieving man.”

She takes a step toward him and reaches for his hand. “On the contrary, I am here to comfort you. I watch many pass through these stones, and I have never seen a man weep as you. Tell me, who is the one you’ve lost?”

He retracts his hand so she cannot touch it. “My daughter, Avalyn.”

“Would you like to see her again?”

This does not seem to be the answer he expects. “Excuse me?”

“I can bring you back to her.”

“You’re insane.”

“Perhaps. Or perhaps I am telling the truth.”

He looks into her eyes, searching for sincerity. She can tell he does not trust her, but may be miserable enough to try anything.

“How can you do that?” he asks.

“Give me a drop of your blood. And I will carry your soul to the next world.”

“Next world?”

“The beyond… where Avalyn rests. I am the only hope you have to find your daughter again.”

“And you know this will work?” he asks.

She hates that question. “I was supposed to meet the one who breaks my curse tonight. If the raven scans your soul and finds that you complete the thread of the curse, your soul will pass on to the next world.”

“And if I’m not?” he asks.

“Your soul will rest with the others until it is released.”

He stares, waits, thinks. She is patient. He is skeptical, but desperate. He will come to her in time.

“For your Avalyn, do this,” she says.

At last he takes his knife and opens a cut on his forearm. The raven on her shoulder begins to squawk.

“Never mind him, he doesn’t like the smell of blood. Come press your wound to my marking,” she says. She extends her arm tattooed by the dark silhouette of a raven.

He presses it against the ink, and is bound to her. He is immobile. As is she.

The world spins around them. A thin, golden thread appears before them, knotting itself into a braid. The raven on her shoulder begins to speak.

“The bond created never severed, for all the pain you both have weathered, a gift of the world beyond is given, for your soul the curse has striven,” says No One.

The man disappears, as does the raven tattoo.

“Where is he?” she asks No One.

“The world beyond,” he says. He flies from her shoulder for the first time in twenty years.