Archived entries for current projects

There are two interconnected facts about data storage and data transmission.

First: data storage is always getting cheaper, smaller and growing in capacity.

Second: it will always be faster to physically move a modern high-capacity storage device than transmit that data over the same distance.

This is can affected by the geographic and developmental context of an area, of course. For example, sending a jump drive by carrier pigeon wouldn’t cut it in Western Europe, but it would in Central Africa. In Europe, you would be sending a solid-state hard drive down the Autobahn. In both cases, the physical data would arrive faster than the local data transmission frame-work, be it wireless or wired, would allow.

If you think about it, this is one of those “water is wet” sort of observations about technology. So why am I talking about it?

Because I’m going to build a short story off of it, and it is going to work like this:

It is the near, but not too near, future. Over the past half century, urban centers metastasized into blights of concrete, steel and pollution. This was unsustainable. We were unsustainable. So the cities evolved, changed by government order and corporate policy into self-sustaining hives of clean power and reclaimed waste. The environment apocalypse stalled out and a new world was born.

It is a new world where human kind is stacked on top of itself, where your every moved is monitored by the unblinking eye of the closed-circuit security camera, and where every bit and byte of your personal data is sold to the highest bidder. Privacy and personal data are a thing of the past, the new de facto contraband.

It is a world into which a pair of enterprising young twins have carved out their niche as the best data couriers money can buy.

Their rules are simple.

They’ll come to you. You’ll have two packages for them, wrapped in matching opaque static-free bags. The packages can weigh no more than 10 kilos each and must be able to fit in a small backpack. One of those packages will be the real item, the other will be a dummy. You will not tell the couriers which is which, and the couriers must not be able to tell them apart.

If any of these rules are broken, the couriers walk away, and all deposits are non-refundable. If the rules are adhered to, each courier will take a parcel and the job is on.

The woman, Zero, always goes high. The man, One, always goes low. They stay within eyeshot of each other, leapfrogging from point to point. They know how to avoid the CCTV cameras and the biometric ID scans and the random search sweeps. They move through the holes in the security net like water, tracing a fluid path through the rigid lines of the city, always moving toward their destination.

They’ve never lost a package. They’ve never opened a package. They’ve never asked about the contents a package. They know that not knowing is what makes them the best in the business.

The name of their little operation?

Binary Transport.


“This is what you learn when you spend a year researching the crazy stuff in Memphis,” Whitten says of the research that went into Memphis Fast Fiction. “If this writing project has taught me anything, it’s that this one spot on the Mississippi has never not been kind of messed up and crazy, starting with the original settlement. Memphis was the most debauched place on the French frontier. Gambling, drinking: There was nothing else for people to do.”

You can pick it up in this week’s print version of the Flyer, or read it on their website here.

Big thanks to Leonard Gill for his support of the project.

I’ve got two million dollar ideas.

Which I’m not sure if I could ever pull off.

First is a simple, character-based set up with legs for miles: a public relations operator that works for superheroes.

Main character is a self-made woman that’s the biggest player around for superhero PR. She’s up at 5am every day, an hour at the gym, and in the office before anyone else. She’s dated a few capes in the past, but’s decided that’s bad for business these days. Another major firm is starting to press in on her business, she’s got a client that she just can’t make click. They’re working on a do-or-die rebranding effort for him now. Costume, name, attitude, patrol areas, the whole shebang.

And then there’s the big thing, potential new business that’ll make her the king of the game for all time. But, how do you help a super villain go straight…and stay on the right side of the law yourself?

The second one is less concept, more creepy kick/punch/shoot. It’s called AGAIN-MEN, and the title would be written as AGAIN-MEN.


Zombie g-men to be specific. It is the height of the Cold War and the US government has started a secret program of necromancy. They’re bringing dead spies back to life for another go. The stakes are higher than they’ve ever been before, but what’s a suicide mission to some one that’s already dead?

It’s a new year. One where the Mayans are supposedly going to kill us all from beyond the grave, or something.

Been quiet around here for a bit.

The site’s been just a numbers station, really. Humming along through the dark of the night, waiting for something to happen, waiting to screech back to life, commanding the sleeper agents to throw off their sham lives and but a bullet in the neck of every apparatchik they can find.

Time to fill the dead air, I think.

You see, my book’s done. Memphis Fast Fiction is dead and in a bag, waiting for the taxidermy of the editing knife to come and pretty it up before I turn it out for publishers to reject. I wrote 365 stories about Memphis in 2011, and I sure as hell thought it was going to drive me mad, but, by God, I did it. Now to see if anyone wants to pay to put the thing to paper.

I heard dead trees are expensive these days.

(Hah, “my book’s done” – now that’s something I never thought I’d get to say.)

And now I’m turning my attention back here. Time to start writing about things that aren’t the city I live in.

There’s a whole big world out there, with mad, wondrous things in it. Time to go exploring.

This is the Brain Release Valve, welcome to the Mayan Death Year.

Spending all my time writing Memphis Fast Fiction right now. Nearly to 275 stories this year. Should hit it before the week is out.

But, once that project is over, I’m eager to get back to doing whatever it was I did around these parts.

See you after the New Year.

The Capitalists and the Communists are locked in the tangle of an arms race and mutually assured destruction.

The Soviets are building doomsday-triggers, the Americans are propping up puppet governments in third world countries.

Men wear suits and drink heavily, women stay at home and drink even more heavily.

The whole of first world society is straining to the point of breaking, and breaking could end the whole world.

And then there’s the one wild card.

A post-human being of immense power that hasn’t quite figured out where he wants to be, or who he wants to be there with.

There is a sculpture in front of the CIA headquarters called KRYPTOS. It’s a little taller than a grown man, looks like a giant scroll unfurling and is covered Roman alphanumeric characters and the occasional question mark. The whole thing is a code. Four codes, to be exact. With each code providing a key to the code after it. The whole point of the piece is an homage to the cryptanalysis work done by the CIA and other government agencies. KRYPTOS was unveiled in 1990, and in the 21 years since, only three of the four codes have been broken.

The last code is still being furiously worked on, but each code is a level of magnitude more complex than the previous one, and the last one has been confounding people for years.

Which made me wonder why no one ever thought to go about finding the solution in a more abstract manner.

See, there’s a point where code breaking is hitting something hard until it breaks. Using super-computers to try trillions of permutations until you get something resembling a translated message, for example. But this takes time, and is somewhat akin to hacking your way through a mountain with a pick axe.

But, every code has to be made by some one. And that some one has to hold the key to their code.

Why not go after that person? People are soft after all, and you get a lot more results hitting soft bits than hitting hard bits.

In my head, there’s some young code-breaker who’s realized this. A Captain Kirk-esque figure that’s decided to solve KRYPTOS, not by cracking the code, but rather by stealing the key through social engineering.

Long ago, hackers realized the most vulnerable point in a system is the human element. If you can find a person to talk to, you can probably get them to unwittingly let you into their system. This is the basis of social engineering, tricking people into doing what you need them to do.

Our young code-breaker would apply these ideas to the creator of KRYPTOS. He’d find a way to get into the sculptor’s studio and find the key, or he’d convince the sculptor to give up the information he needed to solve the cypher.

And then, when he presented the completed translation of the KRYPTOS and the questions sprung up about how he managed it, he’d just say…

“I hit the soft bits.”

A while back I had a line pop into my head while I was taking a shower:

Give me an army and I can conquer nations. Give me one man with a purpose, and I can change the world.

There was nothing attached to it, no direction meant to come from it. Just a rather interesting, and probably factually true statement.

I scribbled it down, then went on my way.

In the weeks since, I’ve been watching a lot of Wuxia movies. And thinking that, hey, these crazy people that are flipping around in the air, taking down whole armies with a flip of their hair, focusing their chi into crazy shockwaves…they’re basically just Asian superheroes. Minus the costumes and the bad social commentary, of course.

And thinking along that line, I realized something else. In most Wuxia stories, the protagonist is some one who is ALREADY capable, but instead is forced by destiny to take on this enormous task. That differs from Western superhero stories where in nearly every case, the protagonist has the capabilities thrust upon them. (IE: Spider-Man is bitten to become the hero. Li Mu Bai just trained his whole life.)

It also adds this interesting spin where the hero in the Wuxia genre is READY for what’s coming at them. Sure, it’s going to be a challenge, but this is the road they chose. It gives it a maturity of purpose that Western superheroes just can’t touch.

So what does Wuxia have to do with the quote?

Well, isn’t the essence of a martial arts hero a man with a purpose fighting back armies?

-Western in this case means “Not Asian”. This has nothing to do with cowboys.
-Wuxia (pronounced woo-ja), is a traditional Asian martial action movie genre. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is probably the one you are most familiar with. They’re basically even more over the top kung-fu movies where people use weapons and do crazy wire stunts.

The first hundred days are done. More than done, actually. I think I’m about to be into the hundred-teens of it.

While I’ve got you, I’ll let you in on a little secret. I barely remember writing any of them. Like, if you talk to me and mention a key point, I’ll be able to tell you what it was about and what I was thinking, but I’ll be damned if I can name the story I wrote last night or what it was about.

And that’s probably the weirdest thing about the project. I’m learning tons about Memphis, especially the weird in-the-crack bits that fascinate me so much, and I’m learning to be a better writer , BUT, I’m not remembering the stories that I’m learning for and from. They’re like sketches in an artist’s notebook.

Oh, I did hear that the project came up at some kind of official Memphis cultural/business meeting thing. They talked about it as an example of how Memphis isn’t a standard city/market, and we find our own ways to do things.

Yes, I think I would agree that me absolutely losing my mind is my own way of doing things.

Today marks the completion of one month’s worth of Fast Fictions over at

The project’s been more or less what I’ve expected, so far. I can feel the edges of my brain starting to fray, but I don’t feel completely overwhelmed, which was a real concern of mine. I think I’ll actually be able to pull this off.

I was originally writing in chunks, where I’d sit down for four or five hours and bang out a half dozen pieces. I’d leave the final review for the day they were supposed to go up, so I felt like I was sticking to the “One-Story-A-Day” bit. But now I am doing the one-a-day from scratch method. Which is a lot riskier, but I feel more rewarding. This is all about me becoming a better writer, and cramming it all into one day then faffing about for the rest of the week wasn’t doing me any good.

So, what’ve I written about?

Well, there’s a good bit of historical stuff in there. Specific period references to people and places. The rest is stuff that takes places in the present, usually referencing things that I’ve experienced, or know about. Bizarrely for me, though, I’ve only written one piece set in the future. I have had a giant robot stomping on downtown, though.

I did get a letter from my Grandmother last week. She wanted to let me know that she was following the project, and that the stories overall were fairly dark. “You and you friends must not all be made out of rainbows and puppy dog tails,” she said.

I’ve tried to lighten things up since then.

Title: A Way to Die

Word: Frozen

Prompt by Kerry Crawford

200 words about the thing that really matters in life – booze.:

Baba-Yaga’s frozen tit it was cold.

He could feel his testicles pushing up ever farther into his gut – searching for any signs of warmth. He laughed at the foolishness of his balls.

For this was winter and they were in a Russian’s sac. There was no warmth anywhere to be found.

Passing by the church, he noted the orange light in the windows, curling smoke from the chimney, and hymns from the crack in the door.

He took a lantern from the church steps and continued down the road.

Trees rose up around him, blotting out the sky,

He felt the wolves before he saw their eyes. Dirty yellow asterisms, moving back and forth amongst the trees.

“Back, you pack of mongrels!”

He flung the lantern at them, sinking it into the snow.

“My mother was more a bitch than any of yours! She squatted me out on a night twice as cold as this! I am Russian! A bear fears no pack of wolves!”

They scattered into the night.

He recovered the lantern from the snow, relighting it.

After all, the church might be near, and the road dangerous. But tavern is far, so he will walk carefully.

Just a note about this one – That last line? That’s basically a paraphrasing of a real Russian proverb:

The church is near but the road is icy; the bar is far away but I will walk carefully.

Follow this link to offer up more suggestions.

Title: Devil on My Side

Word: Hunkered

200 words about the seductive power of feeling:

The room was quiet. They looked to him. He rolled a half-finished cigar between his index finger and thumb, feeling the tobacco crackle under the pressure of his digits. After a moment he looked up at them, cleared his throat and spoke.

“It’s just a storm, boys. An’ we’re gonna do the same thing you do with any storm. We’re gonna get hunkered down some place safe and ride it out. Wait for it to pass.

“Ya see, secret is that we sell somethin’ special. A feelin’. Now, I know that you might think we’re in the booze or gamblin’ or dope or cooze business, but we ain’t. From the second they walk through the doorways of this establishment, any of our establishments, they’re feelin’ something. Feelin’ dangerous, feelin’ risky, feelin’ horny, feelin’ drunk, feelin’ all’a it.

“An’, yes, every few years, some folks get their hackles up ‘bout it. Go all spittin’ an’ yellin’ an’ get all red in the face. Convince the rest of the folk they don’t need none of what we got. But all they’s doin’ is selling their own kind of feelin’.

“Their kind’a feelin’? Ain’t got shit on ours. Just wait an’ see.“

Follow this link to offer up more suggestions.

I, as I am w0nt to do, have had a terrible idea.

You see, I’ve obligated myself to write a 200 word piece of short fiction every day, for all of 2011.

I call it Memphis Fast Fiction, and you can read more about it at the site:

And while you’re there, mind dropping a prompt submission into the form?

I’d appreciate it.

So, LT‘s posted this interesting writer’s prompt challenge called “Opening Lines“. She gives you an opening line, and then you run with it. The lines are all nice and loose things that can lead you in every possible direction. With my FastFiction reserves running dangerously low, this is a great way to keep my writing short, stark little bits.

I’m going to put an extra stipulation on this: each piece must be 300 words. Half again as long as my normal FastFictions, which makes these completely different gremlins to work with.

Anyway, here’s my first one.

(Fair warning – might be considered Not Safe For Work if you’ve got a place that’s really strict about text subject matter.)

The Routine

When she finally took her hands off his neck, he still wasn’t dead. Which was always a slight disappointment to her when they did things like this.

She had gone through all of the motions. Dress up in the leather. Put on the heels. Don zipper-lipped mask. Choke him ’til he cums – she didn’t even have to touch him – he’d pop on his own. And the whole while, blithely wish this would be the time that she’d hang on just a bit longer or press just a bit harder and wouldn’t have to do this ever again.

It’s not that she didn’t like it, didn’t love him. She just found all of it so boring now, so routine.

It didn’t used to be like this. It was wild and salacious at first. Dressing up in outlandish costumes, sticking things in places they’d never been before, doing it in places they shouldn’t be doing it. Fucking like they wanted to send every prude in the world screaming back into their holes. And while it lasted, it was absolutely magnificent.

But now look at them. They’d turned themselves into some kind of sexual freakshow. Hell, she couldn’t even come with out a half-frozen glass butt plug in her ass, Tom Waits’ “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up” blaring through the speaker and her husband wrist deep in her.

What she wouldn’t give for that awkward, clumsy sex she knew all those couples in places like Kansas and Ohio were having. Sex under Walmart bought sheets in flannel nightgowns. Sex where the only thing coming near her genitals were his. Simple, uncomplicated coupling. Was that really too much to ask for?

She sighed, rolled off of him, and wandered off into the kitchen to get the butt plug out of the freezer.

Title: Into The Wilds

Word: Acidic

200 words about the taste of freedom:

The arcology loomed, casting a long shadow across the veldt, the edges dithering over the lush, waving vegetation. The bottom of the setting sun is obscured by that impossibly large weave of glass, steel and concrete.

Most of his group stared up at it, slack-jawed. The inside of the arcology had been all they’d known of the world, and their grandparent’s grandparents had known of the world.

Instead, he focused on the opposite horizon. Green, endless green, spreading out in all directions.

He scratched at the bandage on his wrist. The coyotes had taken out his personal wireless transmitter. It had been a part of him since birth.

The coyotes packed their gear and started to head back to the ventilation feeder tube they used to ferry people out of the arcology.

One of them stopped and tossed him a small, round thing.

He eyed it warily.

“It’s called an apple. You eat it.” said the coyote.

He bit into it. It was sweet and slightly acidic, it crunched between his teeth, and the juices ran down over his chin. It was unlike anything he’d ever tasted.

“The trees are full of them.”

He looked up, and they were.

Follow this link to offer up more suggestions.

The Curio.

One of my better ideas, if I have to be honest.

Here’s what I said about it almost two years ago when I first started poking at it:

It’s the story of a college kid who inherits this building. But it’s wrong, you see. The building is wrong. The inside is way too big to fit in that squat gray building. There’s a ballroom, a whole library and the dozens of bedrooms. It probably doesn’t help that the building was willed to the kid by crazy uncle Franz, who no one had seen in years, and no one could ever remember having the financial where with all to own any sort of property, let alone a freestanding building in a fashionable college part of town.

It turns out that mad old Uncle Franz wasn’t so crazy after all. He was an Esoteric. A member of the Community of Esoteric Scientists. Or in layman’s terms – he was a mage. A practitioner of the arts and sciences that the rest of the world chose to forget about. And the Curio was his responsibility to the Community. One that he chose to shirk. And with his death, the Curio has passed on to his chosen heir, our college kid. To the Esoterics, the Curio is place of sanctuary. Here they can gather safely, research their experiments, restock their supplies and rest their heads after a long journey.

So now the main character has had all sorts of bizarre responsibility thrust upon him, in addition to his student work and other relationships. He finds himself straddling two worlds, and the only people who know what’s going on are his girlfriend and football player best friend. Both of whom came with him that first night he visited the Curio.

I’d even lined up the amazingly talented Christian Schmitt to draw the thing (I think you can still see a few of his preliminary sketches for The Curio there) . But then we thought about it, and decided that maybe an open-ended comic was a bit much to take on. So, we shifted over to The Pineapple Primary. Then he moved off to the frozen North and vanished into an all-consuming work schedule. And my harddrive went boom shortly after, taking the finished script for the piece with it.

Time passed, I’d run into Christian every now and then when he was back in town, we’d laugh about the whole thing, have a few drinks and that would be that.

This Saturday was another one of those times, but something was different. He’s moved back to somewhere in one of those “I” states where he’s helping with his father’s carpentry business. So, I asked him if he thought he might have the time to work on anything. And he said he did. I asked him if he wanted to revisit The Curio idea. And he said he did.

Just like that, here we are again. Me dusting off old files full of half-thought through notes, him disappearing back to another frozen North.

Except this time we’ve done things a bit differently. Instead of me giving out all the content, we’re going to build it up together. We’re going to talk about the place, the people, the world for a very long time before we start into the writing proper.

I’ve never done anything this way before, and I’m excited to see where it goes.

Title: White Sister of the Alleyway

Word: Immaculate

200 words about the new religion for the sinners on the street:

The wicked, the lost, the suffering. They all come to me. Those that God has turned His back on, who make their wage dealing in sins. These are my children, clutching at my robes, looking for protection.

Saying their private prayers to the Saint of Death.

My shrine is a secret place, hidden in the alley between the florist and the butcher. From here, I keep watch over those that have fallen through the cracks.

A cartel soldier asking me to bless his guns so he might come home safe. A prostitute praying that this abortion will be her last. A drug dealer pleading that his son will never know what his father does. An addict overdosing at my feet, begging me for comfort. A group of runaways stealing the apples and sugar skulls from my altar, gifts freely given so they might see another day.

Across the favela market sits another idol. That immaculate whore, cursing me and my children to her Father, whispering to her partitioners that my children are worshipping the Devil.

And maybe they are right. Maybe I am a devil. But better a devil than a Father who will not comfort His crying, suffering children.

Follow this link to offer up more suggestions.

I’m cheating a bit with this one. My submission well has run a bit dry, so I’m just making up titles and picking interesting words out of my iTunes track list to use with those titles.

Title: Intravenous Electric Fire

Word: Metastatic

200 words the dark side of the bright and shining future:

Sitting in the hospital bed, looking up at the neon lights, she felt horrible.

How could she have been so stupid? They’d been warning her against experimenting since she was a child. “This is your I/O port. This is your I/O port fried.” the old ads used to say.

Too late for her now, though. She’d Buzzed, and was the one in a thousand that couldn’t take it. Her friends told her it would be cool, to jack up the gain on her implant, to really feel the pulse of the signal. And while it lasted, it was.

It also caused a metastatic feedback loop in her autonomic nervous system. Hard locking it like a computer. Slowly, but surely, it would spread up her brain, destroying the parts that made her, her.

They could always take her chip out, save her life. But could you really even call that life? She’d be separated from the social neural networks, her friends would completely forget about her. If she couldn’t let her consciousness auto respond to emails while she slept, no company would hire her. She’d be socially and professionally isolated.

A technological cripple in this bright and shining future.

Follow this link to offer up more suggestions.

Pat and I are working on this Noir/Fantasy idea, which I think we’ve named Concrete Arcanum. And while Pat is horribly busy climbing to the heights of the video game industry, I am left to stew on ideas for said magical book of concrete.

I’m toying with the idea of working on a collection of short stories for the world using our protagonists, Thomas and Niat. I’ve also resolved to spend the first 15 minutes of each day doing some creative writing/brain storming. Conveniently, the two fit together perfectly.

And what does that mean for you? It means that you get to see my commonplace notes for Concrete Arcanum.

You lucky dog, you.

  • Rust monsters, etc used to dispose of trash at a dump site. Something goes wrong?
  • Vampires in schools. Mother is pimping her vampire child to keep other children/moms eternally young.
  • Dealing with the paperwork aftermath of a bunch of adventurers destroying a building. Play off of Die Hard. They are the classic D&D adventuring group. The “bad guys” are a legally recognized corporation of undead. Dungeon crawling in a sky scraper where the treasure legally belongs to some one else.
  • Illithid showing up sick in emergency rooms. Realize it is coming from them eating drug addicts, which leads them to a new kind of drug.
  • Bard using his skills to knock an audience out/charm one of them backstage to rob them.
  • The Trees in the city park go on strike. Their marching is understandably destructive.
  • Dragon attack. Straight up old school dragon attack. Except this time it’s doing strafing runs down the Avenue of the Americas (or our equivalent). Very 9/11 rescue worker vibe to this. Your life being hurt by something beyond your control.
  • Werewolf pack moves into suburban town. Pets start to go missing, people start to get pissed. Parallel to African American families moving into all-white neighborhoods, but also mix in the current aspect of Mexican families moving into depressed housing markets. Turns out the whole thing is actually a group of local teenagers experimenting with the Dark Arts.
  • Trans-species sex scandal. Options for this are near limitless. Orc + Halfling. Elf + Troll. Human Male + Human Male. Oh, wait…

I’m putting MAGICTOWN on hold for a bit. Which probably isn’t surprising anyone who’s noticed that my output of chapters has once again crawled to a halt.

But, that’s not to say that I’m not doing anything with it. In fact, I’m working on it more than I have in maybe the last two months. I’m just not publishing any of it.

The plan is to finish the damn thing, package it for serialization, and put up a seamless run from where we are now to the end. Hopefully, kicking off around the start of the new year.

October is MAGICTOWN month, November is National Novel Writing Month. Between the two of them, if I can’t finish the last half of this book, I don’t deserve to ever call myself a writer.

Not that I do now, mind you.

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