Weekends are tough

One of the hardest parts of the 30 Days of Flash challenge are the weekends. Things do not fail to prevent me from getting time to write. But I won’t let that stop me from completing 30 pieces of flash fiction over the coming weeks. My goal with this challenge is really to get used to writing every day, provided life doesn’t get in the way.

Life will always get in the way.

And I think that’s OK. Many times we writers can berate ourselves if we miss a single day. I don’t think that’s a healthy attitude to be honest. Realize that sometimes there are circumstances beyond your control and then move on. You can very easily fall into a spiral and stop writing because of it.

So let’s move on and get back to these stories, shall we?

Top Ten Favorite Screen Characters

I normally don’t do these kinds of things. But when Christa Wojciechowski tagged me to talk about my top ten favorite on screen characters, I couldn’t resist. So let’s do this!

1. Hoban Washburne — Firfly/Serenity

A leaf on the wind

Wash!

Alan Tudyk brought to life one of Joss Whedon’s best written characters. Who couldn’t fall in love with one of the best pilots in the verse?

2. Nathan Young — Misfits

I loved to hate him, but grew to like him as a character on TV. Had he been anyone I’d known in real life, I would have punched him in the face. Robert Sheehan did an amazing job with this character and I was sad when he left the show. Viva La Barry!

3. Maximus Decimus Meridius — Gladiator

Are you not entertained!

This was the first movie that really made me fall in love with film. And it was this character has stuck with me for years. Determined but still noble. He could have controlled Rome, but just wanted to be left alone to tend his farm. Amazing stuff.

4. Madmartigan — Willow

Brash and cocky but with the skill to back it up. Just like Willow said, “He is great!” One of Val Kilmer’s best roles in my opinion.

5. Beatrix Kiddo — Kill Bill

Good lord I can’t get enough of her awesomeness. Uma Thurman brought real depth to this character, that on the surface looks shallow. Seeing her breakdown in the aftermath of her revenge killing of Bill solidified her as one of my top characters of all time.

6. Mystery Men

Sure, I’m cheating here. But how could I choose between any of these characters? They are all incredible and need to be taken as a team to truly appreciate them as individuals. Though if I had to choose, I’d go with Mr. Furious.

7. Antonio Salieri — Amadeus

OK, I think maybe a part of me is just choosing great performances. But at the same time Salieri is so complex of a character you can’t help but be drawn in to him. His battle with God over his love/hatred for Mozart tears at you. I can’t get enough of it.

8. Bruce Wayne/Batman (1989) — Batman

This is my Batman. Keaton did what few others have been able to pull off when donning the cowl. He showed just has crazy Bruce Wayne is. That behind the mask was a man just as twisted and messed up as the people he fought against. I’d love to see someone capture that again.

9. Liz Lemon — 30 RockThere's no party like a Lemon Party

She embodies the quirkiness and oddity that I love in myself and my wife. Who couldn’t fall in love with this character?

10. Captain America — MCU

A real American Hero

People that know me well are probably surprised to see him this low on the list. But I’m a little hipstery when it comes to this character, as I loved him before he was cool (Read the Ultimates series which a lot of the movies are based on). What draws me to him is his unwavering resolve. He’s a true patriot, fighting for the rights of the people, not fighting for the rights of the government. You’ll see what I mean when Civil War hits theaters in the next year or so.

These are my top ten favorite screen characters. I supposed to tag ten more people but I don’t really have the kind of people to tag for something like this. But, if you read this and want to participate go right ahead! Link your page to my comments below and I’ll come check it out.

Mirror Memories

“Next,” I called out.

The line shuffled along, each person with a package under their arm and their face buried in a smartphone. You’d think I’d be used to it by now. But I missed interacting with the customer. Everyone had such interesting stories about where they were sending their package. These days the most I could muster would be a grunt and a swipe of their card.

“Good afternoon, sir.” I gave the man a broad smile, hoping this one would be different.

“Yeah.” He clacked away at a text message.

“What can I do for you today?” I plastered on my best smile that started quickly began to slip into a sneer.

“Yeah… just… uh… need to send this here.” He plopped the package in front of me and tapped the shipping label without looking up from his phone.

I resisted the urge to slap the black brick from his hand and send him home crying. Instead, I gave my postal shirt a quick tug and began to process his package.

Ugh, of course.

“I’m sorry, sir. But there isn’t enough postage here for this sized package.”

“Uh huh.”

“Sir. Excuse me, sir. Hello? You need more stamps for me to send this.”

“Yeah, that’s fine.”

My fists crumpled the edges of the manila envelope. Everything in me wanted to toss it across the room and make him fetch it like a dog. Instead I pushed it back across the counter until it bumped into his belly. “More postage,” I said.

“What?” he snapped his head up. “Oh, sorry. Yeah I’ll get that. Sorry.”

I bet you are.

“Next.”

An elderly woman approached, her tiny fingers wringing around bony knuckles. Internally I sighed with relief. For once I may have a normal conversation with someone. An ordinary interaction with another human being.

“Yes ma’am, how may I help you today?”

“I have a package waiting for me.” Her voice barely broke over the sounds of phones dinging and chirping.

“Wonderful. Something from your grandchildren?” I beamed an actual smile toward her.

“No. From my husband.”

My smiled turned to a grin. “I imagine it’s a wonderful gift then. It arrived today?” I turned to my computer, ready to take her information.

“No.” She lowered her head.

“Don’t worry. Not a problem. When should it have arrived then?”

“1954.”

My fingers paused over the keys of my keyboard. “That may be a challenge. Um, I’m not entirely certain we may still have it.” I wasn’t entirely certain this branch was open that long ago. I spread my hands out on the counter. I hadn’t noticed before, how lost she looked behind her glassy eyes. I looked into the crow to see if perhaps she’d become separated from a caretaker. Again I was met with nothing but the tops of people’s heads. “Ma’am.” I leaned down to see if I could catch her down turned gaze.  “Ma’am I don’t believe we would have kept something for that long.”

“Please, please you must have it. He said it would be here.” Her voice broke.

“I’m sure he did. But it’s been a long time. A very long time. Perhaps if you’d be so kind…”

“No!” Her hand slapped the table. That gathered the crowds attention. Several phones popped up, ready to record a crazy lady at the post office. “It’s here. It has to be here!”

“Yes, yes. I’ll go check. Just one moment.” I raised my hands to placate her and went back into the receiving area. What was I doing, giving this old woman hope? I ran my hand through my hair, wondering how long I should stand in the back and pretend to look for her package.

Glenn, one of our sorters passed me. I don’t know what caused me to speak out. Curiosity maybe? I took a hold of his arm to get his attention. “Glenn, do we have an area of stuff we’ve kept for a few years?”

“Yeah, if it’s large enough or slated to be delivered on a certain date we’ll hold onto things.”

“But, for decades.”

He whistled. “That’s a tall order, that one. Couldn’t hurt to check though.” He pointed toward the back between two racks of packages. “Head back there and through the door behind those racks. You may find what you’re looking for there.”

“Thanks.”

To this day I’m not sure why I tried looking for it. I didn’t even know her name or where it was going to or coming from. But my feet pulled me forward. A naked bulb greeted me as I entered the room. It’s crackling sound as it popped into life sound like a taunt. I ran my hand over dust covered boxes. Pulling out my reading glasses I tried my best to read the faded words in the dim light. I was close to giving up, when a brown paper covered object tied down with string caught my eye. It stood propped against the brick wall, looking nearly 5 feet tall but only several inches thick. It called to me somewhere in my gut, telling me to check it.

I lifted it off the wall, feeling its heft. I wrapped my hand around the edges of the item and pulled. My hand slipped, tearing the paper and snapping the string. The bulky item thudded back to the floor, Fearing I’d broken it, I leaned it against the wall and prepared to go get Glenn for help.

A flash of light caught my eye. Curiosity gripped me, urging me to remove more of the paper.

I obliged.

Before me stood a full length mirror; it’s golden frame intricately carved with vines and flowers. The beauty of its craftsmanship stole my breath away. But when I looked into the mirror my body froze.

In the reflection was a meadow of the greenest green. Pockets of wild flowers rolled along the tall grass. In the distance, atop a hill rested a lone willow tree. A couple sat below the tree, eating a picnic. And I felt their happiness. Their joy. Pure and boundless. It seeped into my very bones, pushing away the endless lines of sad people with their faces buried into their smartphones. Gone were the grunts of patrons and half heard remarks.

I was happy.

The woman by the tree looked toward me, and deep down I knew her. Knew that even though I could see her by the tree, she now waited at my counter. Waited for me to return this wonderful memory to her.

Tearing myself away from the images, I did my best to re-wrap the mirror. Catching Glenn, I had him haul it to the front of the store. The look on the woman’s face recalled my time in front of the mirror. She thanked me and thanked me, tears welling up in her eyes.

As the door closed behind them I turned back to the line, with the boundless joy still in my heart.

“Next.”

#30DaysofFlash

The Priest and the Angels

**Disclaimer: This may be offensive to some readers, as it will come across as blasphemous to certain religions. This is not a commentary, but rather a work of fiction, aimed at playing with different religious mythos’. Thank you**

My bullet proof vest pinched beneath my rented tuxedo. Hooking a finger into my collar I gave it quick tug, trying to alleviate the feeling of being strangled. I knew I didn’t fit in with the other guests. They knew it, too. It’s hard to blend in when you’re at least a decade-and-a-half older than everyone, with a crooked nose from too many breaks, and numerous white scars scattered across your neck and head.

I scanned the crowd, catching their stares before pretending to be looking somewhere else. Most probably assumed I was some type of security. A few looked disgusted by my presence between their sips of champagne. Oh, I’m sorry. Is the old-man an eye-sore to your spotless religious ceremony?

The massive, golden three barred cross that hung on the wall behind the head table kept drawing my attention. My heart still ached for my younger days. How many benedictions had I given over the years in front of a similar cross? How many mouths had I fed wafers of bread, or set a golden cup to lips to sip the blood of Christ? How many had I unwittingly delivered to the arms of Barachiel?

A young waiter lifted a golden gong and struck it three times with a small mallet. The idle chattered among the crowd ceased. As if mind controlled they all slid to their seats around white linen covered tables and turned their attention to the front of the room. I took the opportunity to slink behind a large column in the back.

Barachiel had arrived.

He strode into the room from a side door, clad in an expensive black suit that matched his short cropped hair. He beamed a white smile at them as he took his place at he head table. Seven gold chalices, each with a thing blade set next to it, had been lined up in front of him, each gleaming in the soft orange light of the room. I knew that to the people in the room they would see him as a handsome man of an indistinguishable age. All sharp features and a towering presence — despite his average height — that would make the most hardened of criminals weep at his feet.

But my Sight showed me the real being behind the illusion. He stood closer to eight feet, a naked form of solid muscle that could have been chiseled from marble. Two pairs of white feathered wings protruded from his back. One set stretched outward to a twenty foot wing span, while the others remained folded in front of him, covering his feet. His very form glowed white, making me feel as if I was staring into the sun.

He lifted his hands in front of him and smiled. To they poor people in that room they would see a benevolent leader, but for me, I saw the wolf-hungry eyes of an Angel staring at a flock. Six more of his brothers flowed into the room, taking their place in front of a chalice. Their combined angelic presence set a palpable vibration through the room.

I moved deeper into the shadows cast by the column, fighting the instant urge to praise them. Many in the crowd began to weep silently.

“My brothers and sisters,” Barachiel’s hypnotic voice filled the room. “You have all proven yourself to be the most faithful to our Lord. For that you have been chosen by the Most High to participate in a Holy Communion few have seen. You are all Christ’s children, and such, His blood flows through your veins. Such a blessing must be shared, just as Christ shared it with His disciples. Come forth my brothers and sisters. For you are the chosen of His children.” Barachiel motioned to the table in front of him in a wide arc.

Seven lines quickly formed in front of the main table. One by one the flock ran a blade across their palm and squeezed their blood into a chalice.

My rage frothed. This is what I had done to my congregation. Sent them to the arms of this Angel who bastardized our ancient rituals for his own gain. When I had discovered the truth, Barachiel had only laughed at me. Telling me that it was we humans who had twisted the Holy Communion, that without human blood they could not fight against the Dark Prince and his demons.

His words did nothing to ease my doubts. No, I could not accept that. We were not the Lord’s playthings. We could not be so easily drained and tossed aside by these… these vampires.

One of Barachiel’s brothers lifted his chalice high in a salute and said, “Aeternum esse Dei servos suos.” As he brought it to his lips I stepped out from my hiding place, drawing upon the power of Angels, stealing their presence to fuel my own power.

“Verum Lumen!” I shouted, pushing the force of my humanity outward. An unseen force smashed through the tables, chairs, and crowds of people. Blood filled chalices flew from the table, splattering the seven with their contents. On the wall the three bared cross split in two. All seven beings’ illusion was shattered, showing the people who they truly were. The crowd dropped to their knees and shielded their eyes. Barachiel’s brothers lifted their wings to cover themselves against my power, while their leader’s eyes burned with rage against me.

“You turn your might against me? An act against the Most High himself, blasphemer!” Baracheil seethed. “Kill him!” The brothers recovered themselves, lifting themselves up into the air. From the light of their presence they each drew forth a firey blade, set to cut me down.

My old bones ached from my show of force. Already my knees begged me to sit down. This was no job for someone like me. I shrugged off the pain. From my waistband I pulled out my pistol, and from beneath my coat jacket I retrieved my short sword. Angelic and Demonic scriptures a like had been worked into the blade. With a word I put more humanity into the markings, powering its demonic nature.

“So Piotr,” Barachiel chuckled. “You have sided with the enemy. You aim to fight for the Strong Man.”

“No.” My voiced sounded rough to my ears. “I fight for Humanity.”

#30DaysofFlash

30 Days of Flash

*Blows the dust off his blog*

A couple of years ago I set out to write one piece of flash fiction, every day for thirty days. These were to be a minimum of 1000 words. Another rule was that I couldn’t prewrite or preplan any of the stories. They had to be fresh that day. Forcing myself to write down whatever popped into my head. It was challenging but very rewarding.

Admittedly I didn’t finish out the 30 days.  I believe I only made it to day 13 or 14. And some of the days ended up being Part 2s of various stories that I wanted to finish. That brought me to around 9 or 10 shorts in all. But what I got out of them was incredible. Out of one of them came my novel and series, “Wil and The Weird.” So even if I didn’t finish the run, I still came away with a great gem of an idea.

And that’s the ultimate point. Playing around with ideas. Testing out the waters and seeing what flows or what excites you. I treat these as my Toy Trucks that Stephen King talks about. I get to play around and during the play find out what works and what doesn’t.

I encourage anyone to join in! Some days will be fun. Others will be maddening. But over all, you’ll be thankful that you did it.

So, starting tomorrow. 30 days of Flash begins.

Quick addendum. If you participate, please tweet or tumblr your work with the hashtag #30DaysofFlash. I’d love to read what every one is doing.

Absolutes in writing aren’t so absolute.

Yesterday I brought up something I’ve begun to notice when attending writing panels at conventions. Many aspiring writers attend because they want to ask the panelist specific questions concerning their own work. Generally they are looking for a couple of things — reassurance that they are on the right path and guidance on how to be a better writer. And I’m sure there is a bit of hope that the author will find their idea intriguing.

More often than not I hear a variation on, what I’m going to call, The Response from these writers. “Well, that’s not really a good idea. It’s not what’s done in the industry. Yes, Author X has gotten away with it. But that’s because they are Author X and you are not.” I used to nod my head in agreement. But as time passed by, and I started to give some critical thought to The Response, the more I realized how bad of an answer it is. I’ll break down why I think that is.

Author X broke the norms before they were Author X.

Convention stifles creativity. And many of the famous authors we love broke convention and tread their own way, blazing through norms. To me, this is how you establish your voice as an author. Let’s use George R. R. Martin as an example. To my knowledge he’s done something unique (or is the first to really become famous for it). He has a massive amount of viewpoints that change from chapter to chapter and jump continents. I’ve heard established authors tell aspiring ones that they can’t do that. Sure, Martin can get away with it because he’s Martin, but you can’t.

Why can’t that aspiring author get away with it? Before Martin did it, it wasn’t normal. And have you read their manuscript? There is no way of knowing their ability to handle multiple viewpoints until we read something of theirs. Here, that answer has crushed someone before they have even had a chance to try. Which leads me to how…

That response tears down, instead of builds up, aspiring writers.

It’s my belief that established authors have a responsibility to be honest about writing, but also to help build up aspiring writers. But The Response kills. You were once like them, looking for help and trying to find your way through the sticky woods of writing. How much more would an encouraging response have meant to you? It would have nurtured your creativity and sent you out with renewed vigor to keep plugging away.

Instead The Response cuts that person off at the heels. As writers we already suffer from enough self-doubt. Now we get to add on-top of that being told we can’t do something because it’s just not done that way. Congratulations on heaping more anxiety on top of the mountain.

The absolutes tend to not be so absolute.

So many panels speak in absolutes. You can’t do X, Y, or Z. Even though we can find plenty of examples of X, Y, and Z being done in successful books. I’d like to see a panelist be clear. There are no absolutes in writing. We can advise against some choices. They may not be the best ideas and we want to caution that the choice will make things difficult. But ultimately, it can’t be said if something will work or not. It’s all up in the air. There will always be an author that will break the mold and make something truly unique. And they may be that author.

The Caution

With all that said, there is also the responsibility to caution the aspiring writer. Send them forth to try new things, but let them know that it could fail. And fail miserably. Encourage them to try their hand at a book with thirteen viewpoints, but let them know it’s going to take a lot of work, that it’s going to be hard, they will need to do it well, and if they don’t do it well it will fall flat on its face. But failure is good. Failure is the greatest teacher. How can an aspiring author find their voice if they don’t try different things?

With permission and a caution, us aspiring authors can go out and try some really radical things, that may fall flat on their face. But we will learn and hone our voice.

And ultimately, don’t we want other authors to try different things? If we continue to put limitations and absolutes onto each other, we will continue to churn out the same types of books over and over. What a terrible world that would be.

So I say go and try out any idea you have, with the caveat that it has to be done well. And if done well, it will rock the world.

JordanCon VI 2014 wrapup

This past weekend I attended JordanCon for the first time. Talk about an interesting experience. Right now I should come clean about something, I’m not a fan of the series. Believe me, I know, at that convention I probably would have been murdered if I had said something. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the talent behind the books, it’s that I couldn’t get into them. I’ve tried several times but just couldn’t do it.

It made for a very awkward opening ceremony, as my friend and I had no clue what all the jokes were about. Especially considering the fact that everyone there seemed to know one another.

Aside from that the rest of the weekend was an enjoyable experience. I’ll hit the highlights.

Flawed Worlds in Fantasy — Patrick Rothfuss and Deliah S. Dawson

After attending many writing panels over the years you begin to hear the same things over and over. However, some really funny stuff came out of this one. During the Q&A someone asked Patrick Rothfuss if he’d grown up with musically inclined parents because of the beginning of “The Name of the Wind.” Patrick’s response was very simple, “I make shit up for a living.” It pretty much set the room to laughing, though I did have to feel bad for the guy asking the question. Ultimately what Rothfuss was trying to get across is that not everything is from a writers personal experience. A lot of the times we just dream and consider what it would be like in those situations and make good guesses.

Kaffeeklatsch with Patrick Rothfuss

I was very excited that I made it in time to sign up for this. There were only ten slots and his filled up quickly, with me coming in at #8. This is my favorite thing with these writing cons, having the chance to sit in a more intimate situation with a writer you respect and getting to ask some more pointed questions. For this one I had a singular goal. Get him to sign my copy of the anthology I’m in — my first paid publication — that he wrote the foreward to. It was a huge honor to have that connection with him.

Whether or not he actually read my short is up in the air, but I’d like to keep that knowledge a secret. Ha!

30 Second Pitch — Brandon Sanderson, Harriet McDougal, Paul Stevens, and another gentlemen who’s name I don’t remember.

Apparently this is something they do every year. You bring your thirty second pitch and give it to the panel. They’ll tear it a part and give you some good feedback. When we got there, the panel mentioned a good pitch should be about a minute.

Wait a minute, I only have 30 seconds. I’ve been practicing 30 seconds.

Not being prepared to give anything longer, I went with what I had, fearing that if I kept going I’d start to ramble. The large consensus was that I didn’t have enough details, it was too generic. I felt it came across that way because of the time limit. I wanted to hit some general big points to grab interest.  But I can see where I could drop in some good details.

My one suggestion for next year is that they speak briefly on what makes good pitch. Half of the time was taken up with explaining pitches, rather than taking them. I felt that if we had a chance to hear more pitches and critiques of them, we would have gotten a bit more out of it.

While my pitch was only, OK, what happened during the panel critique of it was much more important. I was able to let them know that I have an agent and it’s already being shopped around, and in fact, is currently at the slush pile at TOR where one of the panelists is an editor. From their comment, I gathered that another TOR agent is currently looking for YA with a male protagonist. Well look there, I have a male protagonist! After the panel was over I approached them to get that name and talk a bit more about the book. After a brief conversation I was able to make a good contact and get my book that much further into the system.

I know you’re wondering why I’m not using their name. Call me overly cautious, but I feel like they may appreciate a bit of anonymity.

Overall I felt the convention was a great one. Even if you’re not necessarily a fan of the book series, there is plenty of geekdom floating around. If you’re a SciFi/Fantasy writer, it’s another great place to meet with like minded people and talk shop. What more could a little writer ask for?

For my next blog I’m going to talk about writer’s responses on panels like above, and their (and hopefully one day our) responsibility to encourage new writers to take chances, rather than tearing them down.

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