Thursday, August 25, 2011

Flash Fiction Challenge: The Sub-Genre Tango

It's a new week, which means a new Terribleminds Flash Fiction Challenge. This week we were to choose from a list of genres provided by The Bearded One and mash em up into a story, 1000 words or less . There were some pretty out-there genres on the list (I'm looking at you Femslash), so I picked the two that I didn't need to google and just went for it. Here is my entry @ 998 words, a Sword & Sorcery Black Comedy (I hope).

To Slay A Dragon 

“We are forever in your debt.” The fat little village elder pumped Shadaar's hand vigorously.

“Nonsense,” Shadaar produced his warmest smile. “It is our solemn duty to rid good folk such as yourselves of a scourge like that dragon.” Shadaar extricated his hand from the elder's grip. “And as much as my companion and I have enjoyed our stay in your wonderful village, I am afraid it is time for us to move on.”

“'Tis unfortunate,” the elder leaned forward in a conspiratorial whisper. “Gretchen has taken quite a shine to ye.”

Shadaar looked past the little man to where his wart-faced troll of a daughter stood watching them talk. She twisted her face into what Shadaar could only assume was meant to be a seductive smile and twiddled her fingers at him.

“A rare beauty she is,” he said repressing a shudder. “Alas, the life of a dragon slayer does not allow for romance.” Gretchen's tongue slid out of her mouth like a slug and ran along her hairy upper lip. Shadaar felt his gorge rise and said, “Although at times like these one does feel some regret.”

“I suppose yer right,” the elder said, reaching beneath his cloak. “Still, here is something I can give ye.” He produced a leather purse and handed it to Shadaar.

“Thank you,” Shadaar said, taking the purse and making it disappear within the folds of his robes. “Your generous donation will allow us to make it to the next village that needs our help. Farewell.” Making a slight bow to the elder, Shadaar turned on his heel and strode to the edge of the village where Gareth stood, leaning on his battleaxe.

“Got it,” Shadaar said as he passed.

Gareth smiled behind his great red beard, shouldered his axe, and fell into step beside his partner.


“Fifty lousy sovereigns!” Shadaar smacked the wooden tabletop, the sound of his palm striking the wood was flat in the noisy inn. “We slay a dragon for them and the best they can do is fifty sovereigns?”

“It's not like that's all they offered,” Gareth grinned over his tankard of ale.

Shadaar glared at him.

“She would have made a fine wife,” he said, his grin splitting his bushy beard in two. “Just think, you could have settled down and started a farm. At night she could warm your bed, and in the morning you could hitch her up to the plow.” Gareth laughed heartily at his own jest, and then raised the tankard to his lips for a drink. Shadaar twitched his index finger and the tankard twisted in Gareth's grasp spilling ale into his beard and down the front of his leather breastplate.

“Hey!” Gareth said, setting the tankard down and grabbing a handful of beard to wring it out. “So what if we only got fifty sovereigns? It's not like the dragon was real, we were in no danger.”

“Do know you what it costs to conjure a golem that size?” Shadaar gestured with his right hand and all of the spilled ale drew itself from Gareth's beard, gathered into a foaming sphere above the table, and fell back into the tankard with a splash. “Just the herbs alone are worth more than that. Not to mention the time and effort we put into making the villagers believe the dragon was real in the first place.”

Gareth picked up the tankard, glanced inside, shrugged, and took a drink.

“Besides,” Shadaar continued. “We get caught doing this and sooner or later a lord is going to have our heads. I don't know about you, but I value my neck at a lot more than fifty sovereigns.”

“Bah, I fear no lord.” Gareth said, setting his tankard down and shifting in his seat. “Besides, no one will ever figure it out. This scheme is foolproof.”

“Excuse me.”

Shadaar and Gareth both looked up to see a young man with a bowl cut, wearing yellow and black livery, standing at their table.

“My lord seeks an audience with the men responsible for slaying the dragon at Ashkleford.”

Shadaar turned a sober look on Gareth, “Must you always tempt fate so?”

Returning his gaze to the liveried young man Shadaar said, “Please tell your lord that we are very weary from battle—“

Gareth let out an exaggerated yawn. “Very weary,” he said, earning him a pointed look from his partner.

“And must humbly decline his invitation.” Shadaar finished.

The young man's smile was accompanied by the sound of scraping steel as swords were bared behind them. “Oh,” he said. “This isn't a request.”

They looked around to see a dozen soldiers, all in yellow and black cloaks, pointing a dozen swords at them. Shadaar turned back to the young man and clapped his hands together. “I'm suddenly feeling invigorated. What say you? Shall we meet with your lord now?”

They followed the liveried young man outside the inn, the soldiers filing out behind them, to find a coach waiting. It was a magnificent white egg the size of a small boulder. Its surface was covered in intricate carvings depicting scenes of battle, landscapes, and castles. The egg rested on a base of highly polished wood supported by wheels made of what looked to be ivory. Hitched to the front were four enormous stallions. The inside was just as ornate as the outside; a nest of velvet cushions the color of blood. Shadaar and Gareth climbed inside the padded luxury of the coach and the young man closed the door.

Shadaar leaned out the window before the young man could walk away and asked, “Boy, what does your lord want with us anyway?”

The young man turned back and said, “Why, to slay a dragon of course.”

Saturday, August 20, 2011

200 Word Writing Challenge: The Muse

I am part of a writers group that hosts a monthly writing challenge. This month the challenge is to write about your muse. More specifically: "Write - in 200 words or less - a description of your literary muse, real or imagined. What is your relationship? What does your muse look like?" Here was my entry:

 “The page is still blank.”

“Thank you for that observation, I was wondering why there weren't words there.”

“Someone is in a mood today.”

“You're late.”

“I am not bound by your mortal schedule. I arrive when I arrive.”

“Tell me about it. I've been staring at this blank page for over an hour waiting for you to show up.”

“Did it ever occur to you that maybe I can't arrive until you are ready to receive me?”

“Oh, so it's my fault now? You know, I never have this kind of trouble with Inspiration.”

Inspiration, pfah. He is fickle. All style and no substance. Don't be so easily seduced by his charms, he never finishes what he starts.”

“Do you think it would be possible for us to get started? Unlike you, I've been here for a while.”

“You test my patience child. Still, despite your attitude, I am inclined to indulge you. What are we writing about?”

“Our relationship, coincidentally.”

“Really? Well then, I have just the thing. Take this down, 'The page is still blank'.”

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Flash Fiction: Must Love Guns

As I have mentioned before, Chuck Wendig has a must-read blog over at and hosts a flash fiction challenge every Friday (Friday, Friday, gotta get down on Friiiday). This week, the subject is guns. I decided to throw my revolver into the ring, and knocked a story out today. It's a bit over the 1000 word limit, but I just couldn't shave any more off and still be satisfied with the story. So, while I'm out of the running for the prize, I am still going to submit it since I would like to get some feedback from the regulars who read Chuck's blog. Now, without further ado, here is my submission:

Grace Under Fire

Devereaux's men came at night. Grace was in the kitchen chopping vegetables when her husband, Phillip, went to answer the knock at the door. She had just finished the onions and was halfway through a bunch of carrots when she felt a presence behind her; an almost imperceptible displacement of air picked up by the hairs on the back of her neck that immediately sent her flesh crawling across her shoulders and down her arms.
Grace turned to find a man, wearing an ill fitting suit and a shark’s grin, eyeing her up and down the way one might admire a fine sports car they couldn’t afford. Covetous, the thought flashed across her mind, unbidden. That’s the perfect word to describe the look on his face, covetous. But as she turned, his expression changed into something more sinister and dangerous, deadly even.
“Now, now,” he said, opening the jacket of his suit to show the gun beneath. “I don’t think you’re gonna need that.”
Grace looked down and saw that she was still clutching the butcher knife, holding it out in an unconscious warding off gesture. She didn’t put it down.
“Put the knife down,” he said, drawing the gun and leveling it at her. “Or I’ll have to put a bullet in that sweet ass of yours.”
Grace met the killer’s gaze, and after a moment turned and set the knife on the counter next to the beginnings of the meal she now knew would never be eaten.  He used his gun to motion toward the door and followed her into the living room.
Two other suited goons—one with dark hair and a goatee, the other his exact opposite; blond and baby-faced—were holding Phillip at gunpoint. He was sitting on the couch, his hands duct taped in front of him, eyes wide with terror.
“Grace,” he started to get up, but Baby-face backhanded him with his gun sending Phillip sprawling back onto the couch clutching his bleeding cheek.
Goatee pressed the muzzle of his gun to Phillip's head. “I told you not to fucking move. Next time, I empty this thing into your skull, understand?”  
Phillip nodded his assent.
“Good,” Goatee said. “Now, let’s talk about where the money is.”
“I don’t know anything about any money,” Phillip said, still clutching his bleeding face. “I don’t even know who you people are!” He was practically sobbing.
Goatee slapped Phillip on the uninjured side of his face, hard. “Don’t fuck with me asshole! Four of Mr. Devereaux’s couriers have been hit in the past month, all dead, all missing their bags. After the second hit we started marking the bills, I’ll give you one guess where that lead us. Now tell me, where’s the fucking money!”
Phillip recoiled from that last outburst as if he had been slapped again. “I told you, I don’t know anything about any money,” he squealed, tears welling up and rolling down his cheeks. The sight of those tears seemed to increase goatee’s rage by an order of magnitude.
He leaned in, pressed the muzzle of his gun to Phillip’s head again, and said, “Listen to me you little shit, I don’t know how a sniveling worm like you offed one, much less four, of Mr. Deveraux’s couriers, but I’m going to give you to the count of three to tell me where the money is, or I’m going to make that hot little piece of ass over there a widow right before me and the boys run a train on her. I swear to fucking God. One!”
“I don’t know anything about your money!”
“Please, I’m not lying. I don’t even know who this Devereaux is!”
“No don’t! I’m telling you, you’ve got the wro—“
Goatee’s gun coughed once and the contents of Phillip’s head sprayed out, splatter-painting the couch and walls with brains and bits of skull.
Grace stood and watched this scene unfold, Shark-grin’s gun pressed into the small of her back, without moving or saying a word. Goatee turned to Baby-face, “Toss the house. Find out where he stashed the money.”
Baby-face nodded and walked out. A second later, Grace heard the crash of their—My, she thought, My is the right word now that Phillip is dead—possessions  being tossed about as Baby-face began searching for his boss’ stolen money.
Goatee turned to Shark-grin, “Warm her up for us, I’m gonna go call Mr. Devereaux.” He produced a cell phone from one of his pockets and left the room.
Shark-grin shoved Grace face-first into the wall of the living room and pressed his gun to her temple. She could feel his erection as he rubbed against her. He reached around and squeezed her breast. “You’re a real sweet piece of meat,” he whispered in her ear. “I’m gonna make you bleed.” He started to take his pants off, and Grace sensed his attention waver while he fumbled with his belt.
She moved, fast.
Grace rammed her hips back at the same time she reached up and grabbed the gun against her head, twisting it out of his grasp. She spun around with the ease of a dancer, or expert martial-artist, used one hand to grab Shark-grin’s wrist, twisted it up behind his back, and slammed him up against the wall. Their positions reversed, she pressed the gun under the shelf of his jaw and said, “I think you’ll be the one bleeding today asshole,” and pulled the trigger. His brains erupted from the top of his head and fell in a warm rain.
Baby-face came running from the other room, gun in hand, and Grace put two into his heart. He was dead before he hit the ground. Grace crossed the room and pressed herself against the wall next to the living room doorway.
“What the fuck is going on in there!” Goatee ran into the room and stopped when he saw the bodies of his partners. Grace put a bullet into the back of his head.
Grace stood over Phillip’s body. She had given him the money, of course. A stupid mistake, it never occurred to her that the bills had been marked. He had wanted a new set of golf clubs, and she could never deny him anything. He was dead because of her.
She went to the kitchen and pulled up the floorboards in the pantry, removing the bags of money she had stashed there. Then she lit a candle, set it on the kitchen table, and turned all the knobs for the stove on high without lighting them.
She was half a mile away when the fireball lit up the night sky. She watched it in her rear-view mirror and said a soft prayer for Phillip. She drove into the night, her thoughts dominated by a single word.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Bitchfest: How three sentences ruined my day

I've been back and forth about this about a thousand times, but after half a bottle of port my inhibitions have been lowered sufficiently for me to do something I will most definitely regret later.

I'm going to whine like a bitch.

Here's the deal. Chuck Wendig has a wonderfully profane blog——and I lurk over there regularly. He occasionally hosts a writing contest, giving out copies of his ebooks as prizes, but I've always been too much of a pussy to enter. Today I figured I would give it a try.

The rules were simple: Write a story with a beginning, middle, and end in only three sentences. The only catch, it must be a story. No vignettes.

Determined to take a shot at this contest, I rolled up my sleeves and busted out what I thought was a decent entry. It wasn't terribly original, but it adhered to the rules, and I was happy with it. I posted it into the comments section and waited patiently for Mr. Wendig to make a decision.

Here is what I submitted:
Jake drove like a maniac, taking corners too fast and weaving in and out of traffic, desperate to get to the wedding before it was too late. He burst through the doors of the chapel to find it empty; rose petals and rice covering the floor, the echoes of his entrance fading as he stared at the deserted pews. Jake turned and trudged back to his car as hot tears fell, destined to forever hold his peace.

Not too shabby. Like I said, not terribly original, but it had a nice arc, and it incorporated a nifty play on the last part of a traditional marriage ceremony. I didn't expect it to win—I had already read a bunch of the entries and I knew mine wasn't going to be in the running for the prize. As a matter of fact, the two that were my favorites ended up being the winner and one of the top four.

So whats the problem,” you ask? Sit down, dear friend, and let me crybaby all over that question.

Prior to announcing the winner, Mr. Wendig berated everyone for making his job so difficult and posted a list of entries that he “really loved”. Nestled in the middle of the list was this entry:
The bad men came and took Pa away. They said they’d bring him right back. They didn’t, so now I’m man of the house.

Really? Really?!

Look, I know this is entirely subjective, and Mr. Wendig is entitled to love any damn thing his bearded heart desires, but I just can't wrap my head around this one. No disrespect to the author, but that shit ain't a story. It's something the retarded son of a ranch hand might say when the Sheriff came 'round to find out what happened to Curly Slim, but a story? I don't think so.

At first I thought what bothered me was that Chuck singled out an entry as exceptional, while to me it didn't even meet the criteria. But after awhile I realized what my problem really was: What if I don't know good writing when I see it?! I mean, I think I know good writing, but I fully admit to being a foal—still slick from birth and barely able to stand on my own wobbly legs—while Mr. Wendig is a goddamn racing stallion. Who the fuck am I to question one who has achieved so much with their writing when I haven't finished more than a short story?

So, I read it again.

And again.

And again.

I turned my monitor upside down, squinted one eye, and slaughtered a lamb in a desperate attempt to see what I was missing. No dice. I still don't get it.

I have come to the conclusion that maybe I just don't know enough to be able to appreciate it. Like a beer drinker swishing around a mouthful of late bottled vintage and declaring, “Tastes like wine,” perhaps I just haven't developed the palate necessary to discern why this entry rated so high on Mr. Wendig's literary scale.

Or maybe I just need to douche the sand out of my vag.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Movie Think: Cowboys and Aliens

The same rules apply to my movie "reviews" as do my book "reviews". These are merely an articulation of the thoughts and feelings elicited by the movie and still require an economy sized salt shaker handy when reading.

Hollywood, an ever-expanding vortex of suck, has not backed down in their assault on originality and continues to remake, reboot, and rehash the same six movies in an endless loop of insults to our intelligence. It has gotten to the point where I predict—with the confidence of one blessed with the gift of cynical clairvoyance—that I will be sitting in a darkened theater in the very near future, watching a trailer for the gritty reboot of the movie I just paid to see.

This frightening vision woke me from my vodka induced coma—which we will heretofore refer to as “sleep”—curled in my sweat-soaked sheets, with only the words of my mother to give me comfort. “The future is not written. There is no fate but what we make for ourselves.” And as I lay there, terror-sweat drying on my brow, I thought to myself, “Sarah Connor is my mom?!”

Which should explain why, ever since I heard about the movie Cowboys and Aliens I’ve wanted to see it. I was excited because we were going to get something new, something that had potential and wasn’t a re-remake or a sequel-equel. It had Daniel Craig, who kicked ass as James Bond, it had Harrison Ford, who kicked ass as Han Solo and the motherfucking president, it was backed by Stephen Spielberg, who is directly responsible for some of the best movies of all time, and it had cowboys fighting fucking aliens.

My excitement was tempered however, because Mr. Ford and Mr. Spielberg are also partially responsible for the recent late term abortion known as “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”. They get a pass though, because I lay most of the blame for that steaming shitpile on George Lucas since, at that time, he was the only one who had shown a propensity for ruining every awesome story he came in contact with. He's like King Midas if everything King Midas touched turned into an inept screenplay carved into a dog turd.

So, blinders firmly in place, I marched off to see Cowboys and Aliens at my local Muvico—which is a pretty badass theater, and if there isn't one in your town you have my pity—with a grim determination to like this movie resting on my shoulders like a sacred mantle of nerd denial. It wasn't enough.

Overall the movie suffers because the writer or director wanted us to care about the characters. I know that might sound odd, but without proper development you can want me to care about the characters until they make an Arrested Development movie and I still won't give a fuck about them. You need to give me a reason to give a shit beyond “she made googly eyes at the protagonist” if you want me to care when something bad happens.

This is the main problem I have with movies like this. There is no buildup of tension. I have noticed that, for some reason (most likely the steady declination of the average moviegoer's IQ), a lot of modern movies have achieved such a level of ADD that they can't foreshadow anything beyond a microsecond. So you end up with scenes like this 90 minutes into the movie:

Heroine: “Where did you get that scar?”

Protagonist: “I got it defeating a band of rabid flamingos. It wasn't pretty, and I don't like to talk abou—“

*Someone bursts into the room*

Someone: “A band of rabid flamingos is attacking the town!”

Also, it's time to do away with the obvious jump-scare. This shit is rampant. It's equivalent to those emails you couldn't escape a few years ago that had you concentrate on some bullshit maze only to have a picture of Regan in full-on pea soup mode pop up when you “least expect it”. By the fiftieth time I was pretty hip to what was coming, and it's the same with these jump-scares.

The protagonist hides from the monster while it searches around, the violins building to a crescendo. But the monster, unable to find the protagonist, leaves the room. There is a moment of stillness. The violins stop. The protagonist lets out the breath they've been holding, and THE MONSTER JAMS ITS SCREAMING FACE INTO THE CAMERA! Preferably with spittle flying from its teeth (betcha didn't see that one coming did ya?).

In Cowboys and Aliens it happens twice to the same character!

In an attempt to inject something positive into this “review”, I will say that I was pleased with Harrison Ford's performance. His character had a miniscule but discernible arc, and I think he did the absolute best he could with the material he was given. He is still a great actor and I hope to see him working with a better script in the near future.

I give Cowboys and Aliens, starring Han Solo, James Bond, Captain Hadley, Guy Fleegman, and Eli Sunday, two Deus Ex Machinas and half an inexplicable romance.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Book Think: Ghost Story

I have decided to try doing some book “reviews” here. I use the term “review” loosely as these posts will mainly deal with my thoughts and feelings about the book/author, and are more of an articulation of my state of mind rather than a breakdown of plot, style, or technique. Therefore, these "reviews" should be taken with a boulder-sized grain of sodium (try your local Costco!).

Ghost Story
By Jim Butcher
Allow me to shower Jim Butcher with some totally-not-gay-yet-potentially-inappropriate author love. Jim has written two really great series of books. The Codex Alera, which has concluded, and The Dresden Files, which he continues to write—as well as infuse with some kind of addictive substance before sending them to my local book store. This substance is so powerful, it will compel me to stand in front of a Barnes & Noble, chewing my nails and shifting from foot to foot, waiting for it to open so I can get the book, run home, and mainline that shit straight into my eye-holes.

So, if you're wondering why the pleasure centers of my brain are lit up like the glowing embers of a post-coital cigarette, it's because I have just finished one of the few things I look forward to every year with the giddy elation of an eight year old school girl. A new Dresden novel.

Ghost Story is the thirteenth book in a series that has consistently ratcheted up the tension with every volume up to Changes (book twelve). I say this, not to imply that Ghost Story isn't up to the standard of the previous books, but to illustrate how very different a book it is from Changes (or any other book in the series with the exception of Storm Front).

You see, Ghost Story is a beginning.

The storyline for The Dresden Files is deceptively complex. Jim has a knack for taking bit players or previously defeated foes, and weaving them into future stories. The result is a lot of foreshadowing, loose ends, and converging story lines between novels. Changes acted as a climax, wrapping up some pretty major plot points and advancing the ones it didn't.

I equate Changes to a bit of writing advice Jim has postulated called The Big Middle. His technique is to plan up to a major event that ends the middle of the book. A pre-climax, if you will, that punts the story down the home stretch to the true, toe-curling, eyes-rolled-back-in-your-head-like-a-stroke-victim climax that ends the book. I believe Changes acted as The Big Middle for the overall series.

Which brings us to Ghost Story.

Ghost Story is less exciting than Changes, and that’s OK, because it gives Harry a chance to ruminate about all of the events in the previous book and deal with the consequences of his actions. It also continues building on all of the plot points that weren’t wrapped up in Changes, setting up a lot of dominoes that I fully expect Jim to knock down with all the enthusiasm of a drunken Godzilla looking for a good time in downtown Tokyo.

I really enjoyed Ghost Story, and it was great fun hanging out with all of the wonderful characters that populate Harry’s world. There were lots of hilarious moments, witty dialogue, and plenty Star Wars and Star Trek references (my favorite being the image of Molly’s psyche as the bridge of the original Enterprise, the different aspects of her personality manifesting as characters from the show).

I give Ghost Story by Jim Butcher three Blasting Rods and a bullet riddled Black Duster.