Archive for July, 2011

Why I #HumpDayChallenge

Anyone who reads this blog can tell you I tend to be wordy.  Anyone who has been a beta reader for my fiction can tell you that’s doubly true.  And you know what?  I’m not going to apologize for that.

But then a new challenge came along, the Hump Day Challenge, run on Tracy Hansen’s blog Will Write For Food.  The challenge?  Take 5 provided words, combine them with no more than 95 of your own words, and try to make the best damn story you can out of them, all genres and all writers welcome.  That’s not a lot of space, but that’s the power of the challenge.  Through practice, trial, and error the forced economy of words that comes out of the challenge is starting to bleed over into my fiction.

Clearly not everything should be written with such restriction in place.  100 words isn’t a lot of room for plot, nor does it allow for scene setting, characterization, or any of the other necessities of good fiction, but it is enough words to really set a strong scene, and with a few cheats and short cuts can be just enough words to assemble a full thought.  Even for someone as wordy as myself.

So if the idea of writing just 100 words of fiction terrifies the hell out of you, it might be just the right challenge for you to undertake.  Don’t expect to be able to tell a full story, but do expect to set a scene, tell a joke, make a point, and if you keep going, learn how best to use words economically both within the challenge and then within your longer stories.  The lessons are surprisingly transmutable.

Come on and join the fun this Wednesday!

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Fortnightcap: Simple Man

Simple Man

A Fortnightcap by DL Thurston

Creative Commons License

They were wrong.

They were ever so wrong.

McKinley was dead, his insides torn up by an assassin’s bullet.  So shocking of a violent act against a president so clearly loved by his people.  Killed by this man who sat before them, defiant.

The two Buffalo police officers paced the dingy room, poorly lit, but he didn’t much care about the light.  They were ever so wrong, and that amused him greatly.

“You might make things easier for everyone if you just talk.”

The assassin shook his head.  His voice that bubbled up out of his throat, an unrecognizable accent that turned every word into a gasp for breath.  “I don’t care about your ease.  Your people are slow and weak.  Your leaders are paltry figureheads.  A new order will come.  Your president’s blood will slake no thirsts, it is only a taste.  It will embolden my people to rise up in greater and greater numbers.  This world of yours is over.”

“God damn it.  You know what we have here?” asked one of the men in uniform to the other.

“We have ourselves a god damned anarchist,” the other responded, spitting.

They were wrong.  He was not an anarchist.  Though he sought the downfall of the political structures built around the planet, he wished them replaced by order.  A new order.  A horrible order.  His order.

“Why’d you do it?”

His smile was broad, his teeth black.  “I did it for her.  So she would love me.”

“You think he means that Goldman bitch?”

“Get someone to bring her in as an accessory.  Been wanting to nail something on her for years.”

They were wrong.  He didn’t care about the love of this “Goldman.”  He wouldn’t have know her from any of the other women on this planet.  They all disgusted him.  They were maggots, whelps, god damn things.  He cared only about the love of his mother.  His horrible mother and queen.

The men asking him questions were scared.  He could taste it, like a fine sauce that made his mouth water for more.  They tried to mask it with their anger, but that only added spice to the air.  He let them hold him only because he wished to be held.  A meal is that much better when prepared fresh.  By hand.  He knew a fine feast awaited him, and that excited him.  He opened his mouth to get a full taste of the air.

“Want to say something else?  C’mon, give me someone else I can pull in.  Give me all your little anarchist buddies.”

Yes.  Yes, that was it.  The salty machismo that brought everything else together.  They were nearly done.  This whole world was nearly done.  From the south his kind would come, hundreds, thousands, millions.  They would savor their first full meal in eons.

He closed his mouth and the men tasted disappointed.

“You’re going to fry, you twerp.  You hear me?  Czolgosz is going to fry.”

They were wrong.  So magnificently wrong, and they wouldn’t know it until far too late.  He’d given his name to the woman, but she didn’t understand it.  She was thin, but she tasted fatty.  She would be his dessert.  He’d told her very clearly, his name was not Czolgosz.

His name was Shoggoth.

Fortnightcaps are biweekly experimentation into short form fiction. All Fortnightcaps are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. So if you like the story, please feel free to link people back here. And if you didn’t, maybe the one in two weeks will be better.  Title inspiration comes from The Ballad of Czolgosz, written by Stephen Sondheim for his musical Assassins.  Check it out, sung by Neil Patrick Harris.

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Google+, Pseudonyms, and Writers

I’m on Google+ now.  Isn’t that exciting?  This is me, for anyone who doesn’t yet know.  I’m still trying to figure out the best use for it.  Right now it’s turning into the home for thoughts that are a little too long for Twitter, but not fully formed enough to be a blog post.

You’ll note my name over there.  I’m DL Thurston, just like I am over here, just like I am on Unleaded, just like I am when I enter my weekly writing contests, and just like I am when I submit to anthologies.  That isn’t strictly my name.  Pull out my drivers license and it says David Thurston.  But when I was starting out as a writer I found there were too many David Thurstons in the world, and I was worried it would be harder to get my name associated with myself.  Yeah, apparently I’ve been concerned about branding since the very beginning.  So I chose to go by my first two initials, unpunctuated, instead.  DL Thurston.  It’s fantastic.  With the exception of Twitter, where I found DLThurston already taken, it’s allowed me to directly control who DL Thurston is in the world.

It is who I am.

Now there’s Google+.  Yes, I’m DL Thurston there too, but if you read their terms of service very careful, it’s hard to tell whether or not I’m in violation of them, but the answer is probably yes.  And this has become an important issue the last few days as Google has started going after accounts registered to pseudonyms.  This likely isn’t news if you’ve been in and around blogs the last week.  People have lost not only access to Google+, but also to their gmail accounts, their Google Docs, their backups, their calendars, to any of the number of services that Google has implemented to make the company indispensable to modern life.

There are plenty of valid concerns from people who operate online under pseudonyms because of their job, or because they have a safety need to divorce their opinions from their actual name.  These have been discussed, and I’m not looking to minimize those concerns, but as this is a writing blog, I’m going to approach this from a writer’s perspective.  We live and operate in a world of pseudonyms.  We publish under identities that are not quite our own, whether they be variations of our name other than our direct given and legal first and last names (what Google potentially wants based on some readings) or complete fabrications.

That’s who we, as writers, are.  That’s who people will look for.  People want to find Joe Hill, not Joe King.  They want to find J. K. Rowling, not Joanne Rowling.  While neither is on Google+ yet, if they were then the names they write under would both be a technical violation of the first name, last name policy that is in the Google terms of service.  And if Google is going to implement a policy so strict as to not allow any pseudonyms on the service?  Then it’s going to likely end up largely rejected by the writing community.  And if Google tries to use some sort of fame-and-influence metric when determining to allow something like J. K. Rowling but not something like DL Thurston, then they’ll probably have a bigger PR issue on their hands.

Now, I’ve not had any direct problems with my account, I want to be very clear.  Google is apparently only looking for things that are overtly pseudonyms.  For now, at least.  But to me this is a very real concern.  It’s part of why I’m glad I have a separate account for my Google+ profile and for every other Google product.  And if they’re shutting down access to all Google products for flagged pseudonym accounts, that might not be a bad approach going forward.  Lot of people use Google for backing up their stuff, hell, I’ve even recommended that in old blog post here.  Lot of people use Google for working copies of documents, because it makes them mobile.  Lot of people use Google for a lot of things, because that’s how they’ve set themselves up, and always with that motto of Do No Harm.

This?  This is going to harm.  This is going to harm people, this is going to harm the reputation of the company, and this is going to harm adoption of the new Google+ service.

For now?  I’m using it.  I’m liking it.  But I’m also wary of how I’m using it, and I’m not putting anything up that I don’t mind losing if they shut off my access.  And it’s an issue that anyone who doesn’t write entirely under their legally given first and last name should be aware of, and should keep an eye on.  Branding is important to the modern writer trying to (no pun intended) make a name for him or herself, and if it’s a choice of being on Google+ under a name other than what I publish as, or not being on at all?  I’ll probably pick the latter.  I just hope that’s not a decision I have to make.

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Still moving forward on Fornightcap collection

It’s still several months early, but I still also need to find little projects to squeeze into the gaps between two bigger affairs.  So my next step towards putting together a Fortnightcap collection has been to bring together all my entries for 5 Minute Fiction and Humpday Challenge into the same Scrivener file.  This isn’t to say I’m going to include all of them.  Oh no no no.  I may not even include most of them.  But I’m going to at least look at the finalists and winners I’ve had in each contest and determine whether they have a place in the collection, pending an okay from the organizers of the contests.

What’s more likely to happen is that I’ll use some of them as launching off points.  Especially in the case of 5 Minute, I’ve had a few stories that I really liked the concepts that I came up with on the fly but that feel like…well, stories that were conceived, plotted, and written all in a five minute window.  I’ve already given one such story, That was the Problem, a second life as a Fortnightcap, and there are a few others that I reread while assembling and felt could be stronger, and longer, stories.  This is all moving towards trying to provide some content other than content I’ve already made available for free online.

At the very least, it’s fun to revisit some stories that I really had just left behind.  Though in some cases that was well deserved.

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Mental Health Days

I’m shocked how many people at my day job hadn’t heard of the idea of a mental health day.  In case you haven’t either, here’s the general gist.  One day you look at the calendar at work, realize that it’s a hell of a long time until the company is going to give you a day off, realize you’re going insane, and realize you have plenty of leave.  Then you just…take a damn day off.  Not to do anything, just to not be at work.

Though in my case I’m also turning this into a Write Like It’s Your Day Job day.  Those are slightly harder.  Especially for me.  I know there are people out there that have all the discipline in the world.  They can stay at home for an entire day and still carve out eight hours to actually not act like they’re at home.  Me?  Never was very good at it.  I don’t tend to do a lot of telecommuting not just because of the nature of my job but because I know I’m just no damn good at it.

But it’s kind of nice, being able to sit down in the middle of a weekday, not be at work, but instead focusing on something you actually want to do.  It’s let me already do one rather painful editing pass of a story that was in rough shape, and should give me time this afternoon to either do another editing pass, or to actually focus some attention on the planned Fortnightcap collection.

In short, don’t be afraid to take some time off from your job to do some writing.  Time off exists for a reason, and there are often so many fewer demands out of a random Monday taken off than a weekend.  Just make sure you treat it like a day at work.  Don’t postpone weekend chores to that day.  Try to have a hard clock in and clock out time.  Remove any distractions that take away from your writing process.  And then…get to work.

And dream of a day that it IS your day job.

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The Ctrouble with Cthulhus

My name is DL, and I have a problem.

I’ve been aware of this problem for awhile.  Which is good, because I’ve had the problem much longer than I’ve been aware of it.  My problem is that I like to attempt Lovecraftian stories, but when I start down on them I enter into a miasma of filtering and distancing that I try to struggle out of.  But each time I think I’ve gotten my voice into the story, the temptations of the Lovecraft style pull me back down and leave me shouting from the bottom of a well, watching stories shoot by where people seem, and feel, and find, and appear, or appear to seem to feel to find out something that really they should have just found out.

This used to be my writing style for everything.  Bad characters drabbling along through a story that happened around them, all the while writing the equivalent of a making-of documentary, with my camera not focused on the actual action, but on someone else watching the action.  It’s no way to tell a story.

I’ve gotten better.  I’ve learned how to have active characters (force them to be active).  I’ve learned how to create details.  I’ve learned how to get into a story, tell a story in the first or third person, the present or the past tense.  Then I come up with a story that’s vaguely Lovecraftian and BOOM!  Everyone seems to feel things all over again.  And I end up with a story that I frustratingly know there’s a problem with, but not what that actual problem is.

Part of me wants to give up.  To walk away.  To just say I’m never going to have Nyaralathotep slinking his way through stories, have the Mi-Go dissecting my characters brains, or to have unspeakable horrors drive my hero slowly insane until the only options become living with what he has learned or reaching for the cold embrace of the grave.  But I don’t want to give up.  In a way I almost can’t give up.  I have these ideas, I want to write these ideas.  And in the end, its something I have to teach myself to do because all of that filtering is holding captive one of my favorite novels in progress: Conqueror Worm.  My main character seems the CRAP through that book, and it all has to be fixed if I even have any hopes of selling it.

Ah.

I’ve heard of these groups, but I never thought it would feel so good to get this all off my chest.  I’d always heard the first step towards recovery is admitting you have a problem.  I just never expected this group to be here.  But why do you call yourselves the Esoteric Order?

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Death of a Giant

There’s nothing graceful about watching a company go out of business.  It’s awkward, it’s drawn out, and in the end they’re not the stores they once were.  That’s what I felt walking through the Tysons Borders for the last time a few months ago.  The upstairs was closed except for fixtures sales, the fiction section was consolidated onto just a few shelves, everything was just not right.  I’d gone in a way to pay final respects to a store that was my bookstore for three years when I lived less than a mile up Route 7 from it.  It’s sitting empty now in an awkward little building that was never easy to get to and had been half empty for years already since losing first its Best Buy then its Filenes Basement.

Now, the rest of them are going away.

I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise.  The first round of cuts really did stink of desperation, and the company has been struggling to hold on even with the lower overhead.

So that means losing the Borders now closest to me in Bailey’s Crossroads.  It always was the jewel location for Northern Virginia, and even when I had issues with how the company was starting to run other locations (consolidation of genres, bad pricing practices) it was a location I was always happy to go to because they were doing things just a little bit better.  It’s where I got to meet Alton Brown at a signing.  People were sitting around cross legged listening to him as he signed, waiting for their numbers to be called.  I commented that he was like the Buddha, and his publicist suggested he feed us all with loaves and fishes.  He pointed out “that’s the other guy” and he really would like to avoid how things ended for him.

That means losing the Borders in Springfield.  I was surprised it survived the first round of cuts.  It moved into the area around the mall, one of the first salvos in a box store takeover that would leave Springfield Mall a shell of its former self.  It drove out the Super Crown, which had been my first big box book store, but it was so much nicer.  So much bigger.  So much better.  I would go there just to go there on the weekends, even if I wasn’t shopping for something.  I never was much of a mall rat, but I was a Borders rat, finding new things to read and just enjoying the presence of so many books.  It was a magic place.

That means losing the Borders downtown.  The one that my wife and I would always go to when running early to an event downtown.  We’ve killed any amount of time there waiting for a movie at the E Street, or just getting in from the oppressive DC heat on a summer day.  It was always a little cramped, but it was a box store trying to be downtown, so that was allowed.  It wasn’t something I’d ever go downtown to do, but it’s something I did so often downtown.

I’ve read any number of articles about why Borders failed.  They insisted on their own inventory system that required relabeling every book with those Borders bar code stickers.  They didn’t see the power of the internet when it launched, and when they did finally understand they let Amazon be their online presence, which is much like going out into the ocean with a shark lifeguard.  It never felt like they understood that Amazon was their competition, not Crown, not Barnes and Nobles, not Books-a-Million.  This was most evident in their DVD section, which used to be rather decent, and it was okay it was a little overpriced because there were things I could only find at Borders.  But then I started being able to find them at Amazon.  For cheaper.  It’s the same thing that really took down Tower Records.

There’s any number of reasons Borders failed.  And I hope that they don’t spread to Barnes and Nobles.  I love the convenience of online book buying, but I also love being able to go into a store still and being surrounded by books.  And these are what has survived.  A lot of smaller book stores were gobbled up or driven out by these two behemoths, and if they fail there’s going to be a massive hole in the retail market that is going to be damned hard to fill.  The only company that probably has the resources to start a national chain of booksellers right now would be Amazon itself, but they would really have no reason to do so.

So there it is.  That’s my eulogy to a store and a company that I loved.  If you’re looking for me, you’ll probably find me in the stacks, picking over the bones of the giant trying to find a few pieces of meat, one last time shopping at a store that isn’t itself anymore.  In the end there’ll probably be a book written about the rise and fall of the company, because it does embody the growth of the box store and the failure of brick and mortar stores to adapt to the new online economy.

And I’m sure it’ll be available from Amazon and on the Kindle.

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Project Limbo

I find myself in a place I’ve not been for awhile: complete project limbo.  I’ve got stories out to anthologies, another out to my writers group, but I don’t really want to get back to Capsule until I’ve got all five straightened up so I can single focus.  I’m not sure how much that’s a problem, feeling some sort of need to single focus while working on my novel.  I’ll probably find out the first time I get a rejection letter after getting back to Capsule and need to figure out where that short story will go next.

I’m filling the time by taking the first few steps towards the Fortnightcap collection I talked about on Friday.  I’m pulling the stories together and putting them into a single Scrivener file to give me a centralized location for polishing and editing.  Might even do some cleaning on one or two this week if the evenings give me no other obvious writing activities.   It’s odd seeing them all together in one place, especially when looking at the word count and realizing that they come to a total of just over 6000 words.  That’s not so odd since they’re all firmly in the flash fiction range, but it does have me wanting to bulk some of them up, especially so more of what I take to calling the “tone pieces” like They Came.

I went into the Fortnightcap project thinking of the stories as “disposable” bits of fiction, which really was a horrible thing to call them.  It’ll be fun giving them some more life, and approaching the second half of the 2011 Fortnightcaps with that slight bit more determination in mind.  Still would love to know what people might want out of the Fortnightcap collection, currently all the ideas are purely my own.

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Future of Fortnightcaps

Yesterday’s Fortnightcap marked #14 in what I’m anticipating to be a series of 27 stories this year.  It’s all going far better than I anticipated, so I’m already starting to think what I want to do with them at the end of the year.  I’ve always been playing around with the idea of releasing them in some form or another, likely in the form of a digital chapbook through Smashwords so its available on all platforms.  I’d probably approach it like a DVD, so there would be:

  • “Directors Commentary” on some stories.
  • “Directors Cuts” which would be just me polishing the stories, and maybe lengthening a few.
  • “Deleted Scenes” new stories written for the collection.

I’d probably be charging a small amount, either $0.99 or $1.99, but I do feel the need to add something to the collection other than just collecting together 26 stories that I otherwise made available for free and asking people to now pay for them.  I’m hoping the ideas above will give people some value for their money.

So here’s where I open it up.  Would anyone be at all interested in this?  Is there something else you’d want to see to justify dropping even a small amount on this?  Leave me a comment, let me know.

Also starting to think about what to do in 2012, whether to keep the project going, scale back, or possibly even accelerate forward into a weekly project.  I’ve crashed and burned with weekly stories before, but something about the success of Fortnightcaps has me feeling differently.

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Fortnightcap: The New God

The New God

A Fortnightcap by DL Thurston

Creative Commons License

They came to this place in the time before to worship.  They came to this place at the awakening to flee.  That is what our stories tell us, and our stories are all we have.

That was so long ago.  Generations now.  Our new god protects us, even as he slumbers with eyes that never close.  He protects us and watches over us, as he has for generations.

We do not go to the east anymore.  There is the old city, where many of our ancestors came from when they fled.  The stories speak of buildings constructed in the time before, and of great metal birds that flew the sky.  I don’t believe in those birds.  The only things that fly the skies in the day are the eagles.  At night the sinewy gaunts take to the sky and call to us in languages I cannot understand.  Thankfully, they don’t dare land where our god has sway.

There are stories of people still living there, thirsting for blood, calling for death, with brains so damaged by the gods that came that they are little more than animals.  They wait for us there, keeping us hemmed in, picking us off one by one if we leave the protection of our great protector god.  And so we go west.  We track the buffalo, we track the deer, we till the soil.

And we try not to see the things that are out there to see.

When we come across an animal touched by the hands of the horrible gods, we kill it.  That is called compassion.  For they are horrible beasts with mouths that hang open and drool blood, eyes that roll in lidless sockets, limbs with no bones that pull these poor creatures slowly and painfully over the land.  We do not eat them, but we do bring them back to burn them, sacrificing the creatures created by the enemy gods to our protector.

We knows he sees the sacrifices because his eyes, his eight glorious eyes, are always open.  And we know he gets the sacrifices because he continues to protect us.

We do not know where our god came from, or how he came to be.  We just know he came from the before time, the good time.  Some say he was thrust up from the earth, some that he fell from the sky.  Some say he was crafted by men.  That is called heresy, for how could men create a god?  But there is some hope in that thought.  If a god could be crafted once, could not one be crafted again?  That too is heresy, sadly.

So here is the land where my father raised me, and where I am raising my children.  I will teach them of our god.  I will show them the forests to the west, and warn them of the lands to the east.  Soon my oldest will be ready to hunt, to kill, and to sacrifice.  And I will tell them of this history of this place.  How their ancestors came to Dakota to be protected from the gods that rose.  And how they found our new god, our Rushmore.

Fortnightcaps are biweekly experimentation into short form fiction. All Fortnightcaps are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. So if you like the story, please feel free to link people back here. And if you didn’t, maybe the one in two weeks will be better.

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