Archived entries for writing

Title: The Last Light
Word: Windswept

Submitted by Laurel.

200 words about the last moments of a cosmonaut:

That annoying pinging had started up again. It was the O2 sensor this time. He flicked the switch under the warning light, extinguishing it and silencing the noise.

If he was going to die, he certainly wasn’t going to go out listening to that damned racket.

His mind slipped back to Baikonur, listening to one of Korolev’s endless mission briefings. To his left, the pretty boy, Gagarin, was chatting up one of the female stenographers. He looked out the windows to his right, across the endless windswept grass of the steppe. It was an alien world compared to the evergreen forests of his home in the west.

It was the scientists on the ground, the vaunted Chief Designer and his men, they’d gotten the trajectory wrong. They’d shot him too far, and his orbit had gone elliptical. His tiny spaceship was speeding up with each pass around the globe, and soon it would slingshot into space.

He coughed, and was back in the capsule. Just in time to see the sun vanish behind the Earth. And for the first time there was doubt in his mind.

About which would be the first to give out – his oxygen, or his orbit.

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Title: The Front Lines
Word: Purity

Submitted by Laurel.

200 words about the last night together:

They had finished all of the good wine in the house, and the last scraps of the magnificent roast duck were being eyed by the cat.

For their part, they had retired to bed but had not gone to sleep. They were not yet married, but she had give her purity to him. After all, what did it matter. He would be back in the spring, they would be married and all of this war foolishness would be behind them.

The bed dressings were now more on the floor than the bed. And the two of them were intertwined in a human knot.

The closet door was slightly ajar. And they could feel the presence of the things inside. His uniform, neatly pressed and swaying on a hanger, his stuffed rucksack below, and his rifle leaning against the closet wall.

“I don’t want to go.” He said.

“I know.” She replied.

At the train station the next morning there were hundreds, thousands, of men just like him. It was raining a dull, gray, cold rain. The raindrops mixing in with the tears of every mother, wife, daughter or sister that would never see their sons, husbands, fathers or brothers again.

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Late last week, Pat reminded me about this project called 48 Hour Longshot Magazine (they got sued by the TV show, don’t ask). The concept is simple: create a magazine from start to finish in 48 hours. Post a theme, all content is due 24 hours later, and then 24 hours after that, a print on demand magazine is posted for sale.

This time around, the theme was Comeback.

Here’s what they said about it.

Interpret it how you want. After all, comebacks are morally neutral. Disgraced politicians, the Taliban, and Whooping Cough have all come back. But beautiful babies have too, their little kumquat hearts restarting just in time.

You can come back from anything, even death.  This is a hilobrow concept. Sports teams stage comebacks. Skirts stage comebacks. Ideas stage comebacks. Even Lassie. Lassie always comes back home again. It is all theater, in a way, with very specific requirements. The preconditions are forever the same: you have to lose before you can win; it has to vanish before it can return; you must have faith.

Maybe some comebacks don’t seem so serious to you. What is significant about a basketball team coming back from 16 points down in the fourth quarter to win? It reminds us to hope. What is meaingful about the fashionability of the length of a skirt? It’s in the mechanics. Inch by inch, we get to witness change. It may seem like you’re analyzing hem lines, but they are just a stripped down and convenient model for how the world happens.

And there’s another definition, too. (Your mama probably knows it.) Maybe one time, someone said something to you that was real mean, and as you stood there, stinging, the most perfect retort rose into your brain and flew out of your mouth. It landed flush, and your opponent was staggered. You walked away proud, even though you don’t like violence. There are those comebacks, too.

About the only thing that unites all these things is that the best comeback is the least statistically probable. Comebacks are a reminder that weird stuff happens in the world! Norms are made to be deviated from.

So what did I do with that?

The nerdiest fucking thing possible. I wrote about game design and video games. Specifically about fungibility. A term that refers to how easy it is in a game to jump from last place to first, or fall from first to last. A metric of flexibility, sort of. I started writing Friday night, conked out around 1 or 2, woke up and finished the bit, shipping it off to Longshot at around 11am local time.

At about 11:10 local time I decided what I’d written was probably just a nerd game theory wankery and went on with my weekend.

But, low and behold, about 28 hours later, guess who’s name crawled up on the list of accepted submissions.

What? No. Mine, you assholes.

And here I am on page 24 of Longshot Magazine, #1.

I’m curious to see what they’ve done with my bit, because it looks like they’ve copy edited it down by about 300 words. And that’s probably a good thing.

So, yeah. There you go. My first published work.

If you want to buy it (which all of you should, the project looks awesome, I’m probably the low point of the whole thing), you can find it here.

I know a lot of you are printheads. This is the sort of project you should be looking at. Using new media to make relevant and interesting old media.

Title: The Green Docket
Word: Juice

Submitted by Shane.

With this, I wanted to play with structural things. Dialog, bizarre formatting, etc. And I’ve been pushing hard on a bunch of new things that I needed a break from. FastFictions are perfect for that.

200 words about coming to terms with what you’ve done:

“This’ll never work, you know. Some one will catch on. It’s gotten to big, there are too many people involved. Secrets like this don’t keep.”

Here we go again.

“Oh will you shut up? You worry like a fucking fourteen year old girl. Boo-hoo, will he ever call me? Boo-hoo, will people find out what we’re doing? Of course they will! And so long as we hold our shit together – you hold your shit together – we’ll be fine, be protected, when it all comes out.”

I’m almost to my breaking point.

“We promised them free energy! Green energy! And we lied through our teeth, smiling like snake oil salesmen when we took their money.”

He never had the backbone for what we’re doing.

“So long as we keep giving them the juice, they aren’t going to give a damn where it comes from. And you know it. People are greedy. Greedy and selfish. Otherwise there wouldn’t be a Walmart in every town in America. ”

Was too much of a hero.

“I just wanted to change the world. Make it better.”

Too much of a dreamer.

“Hey. You did.”

Need to remember to make it look like an accident.

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You have men like Richards, Stark and Pym, but you haven’t cured AIDS and no one is living on Mars. That is more villainous than anything I can think of.

Working on a comic idea that centers around a reformed child genius super villain trying to make the world a better place by actively applying the talents of super villains in a way that will get them to personally invest in the betterment of mankind. Think THUNDERBOLTS, but instead of them using their powers for combat, they use their power for civic improvement. The Living Laser powers the entire eastern seaboard. Graviton closes the mouth of an oil spill. Doctor Goodwrench saves the American auto industry. Things like this, the useful application of super human power. All of it juxtaposed against a military-industrial complex that fears him, super heroes that don’t trust him, and personal skeletons that refuse to keep themselves in the closet.

Sort of an Ex Machina for the 616 Marvel Universe.

Trying something new here. I didn’t have time to get a chapter out this week, but instead of filling the space with something completely unrelated, I’m putting up a short character-centric fiction piece. Hopefully, the first in what will ultimately be a series, each focusing on a different character in the book.

In my life before this, I was the stuff of nightmares. Skulking in shadows and sewers, draining the life from innocent people. It was the only thing that made the feeling go away. It didn’t kill them, though. Oh, no, it did something worse.

Walkers are worse than death. Death only kills once. Walkers keep killing.

It is up at The Great and Secret Thing.

New week, new blinking out of crusted eyes and slapping blindly for that damned alarm, new countdown to the weekend. And with all of that comes a new MAGICTOWN.

“Noooooooo!” The high pitched wail stops David and Mary in their tracks. A crash of metal against concrete follows immediately after. A small child, in a green jumper dress sprints out from the open garage bay, barreling down the street, oblivious to the pair in her way.

Over at The Great and Secret Thing, my lovelies.

There’s this half ass pretender’s spectacle called writing, that I sometimes participate in. What I do in it is akin to a hawker trying to convince you his work is more than adequate, spectacular even, than real skill at the craft. It is a song and dance game, that I lie to most everyone most every day about.

But you can’t scam a scammer. And there is always a point of reckoning. A book that makes you throw it across the room because the bits and bobs of it are better than anything you could ever hope to put down. The ebb and flow of it, the tide of drama at the very heart of the thing is something that you could never hope to grasp in your hands, let along the feeble matter of your brain.

And this is where I stand. I seek to assure that by sheer volume of production, I am something to be worth counting, but I am not. One would almost assuredly guess that there is jealousy in the genesis of these statements, but there is not. For how could one be jealous of the thing that inspires you to aspire to such chicanery.

The truth is, I am not a writer. They are made of the stuff that I am not. They are smarter and defter and ephemeral beyond what I am. They traffic in the stuff of dreams, and I am not a party to their convocations.

Yet…I am. I feel small and insignificant in their wake, but not silenced or stilled. I have still much to tell, buy maybe not say well.

I may never be a writer. But I will always be a storyteller.

2 weeks in a row. Still rusty, but producing again is good.

Up at The Great and Secret Thing.

“I know. But that’s why you have to.” He holds her hand and brings her along side of him. David looks her in the eyes for a moment before speaking. “You need to know the value of a thing if you’re going to take it away from some one. Or rather, in this case, three some ones.”

A few years ago I started writing something called THE PINEAPPLE PRIMARY. It was going to be a one and done graphic novella about the most violent election in United States history. There was an artist lined up, my research was done, and I was making great progress. I sent the first 18 pages off to the artist and wrapped up the rest of the book in a week.

It was about this time the artist disappeared into some kind of alternate dimension I’m going to call “New York Theatre”. I think I’ve mentioned my trouble keeping artists. They mainly get eaten by wild boars and I have to shelve whatever project I was working on. *cough* *cough*

But, I guess the stars weren’t right because a dying hard drive took the first complete draft along with it. The sad part is I didn’t even realize it for close to 6 months because I didn’t think about the project. Then, for whatever reason, I went looking for it and realized that it was literally the only thing I didn’t have backed up. Luckily, I had the first 18 pages I’d sent out, plus my script notes for the whole thing, which were essentially all of the words, but without the paneling. I shrugged, left it there and figured that if I ever needed it, I could come back and rewrite it.

Well, that moment of need came around about two weeks ago. I was talking to an artist friend of mine, asked him if he wanted to draw something, he said sure, and I said I’ll send you a script on Tuesday. The girlfriend went with some friends down to NOLA, and I went to work (re)finishing THE PINEAPPLE PRIMARY.

At this point, the script is in what I’m referring to as a “production draft” state. I haven’t gone through with a fine toothed comb and picked out all the typos and confused grammatical bits. I haven’t even gone through and checked my pages to see which is a facing page and which isn’t. The bottom line is that I’ve got something that is good enough for the artist to start working from, but not the finished product.

Here’s where you come in, Internet. A common intermediary step in writing is the workshop. I give something to you, you tell me what you thought of it. The more feedback I get, the better I can edit.

And there’s absolutely no one I trust more than the fervid, raving mass that is the Internet superconsciousness. Which really says a lot about me, doesn’t it?

So, here is the production draft of THE PINEAPPLE PRIMARY, in .rtf form.

Read it, and let me know what you think. You can post your thoughts in the comments, or you can email me at brainreleasevalve [at] gmail [dot] com.

Thanks in advance to anyone who reads it.

You have no idea how good it feels to be back in the saddle.

David turns around to look at Mary. Her eyes are on the far shore of the river – the Magictown docks. She’d changed out of her overalls and tank top, and washed up a bit before they left. Now she wore a leather vest, matching boots, a loose linen blouse and a pair of patched jeans. With the grime gone, and in the first light of morning, David can see bits of the girl he once loved.

…..

The boat banks hard, and the engine cuts out, David has to work to keep from falling out of the boat all together. Before he’s even fully settled, she’s on him. Her hand stops barely an inch from his face. The heat rolls off of it, evaporating the water in David’s eyes, forcing him to blink repeatedly. She curls her outstretched fingers toward his face and he can feel his skin tighten, tanning like leather from the heat.

Oh, lover’s spat. New chapters will be on The Great and Secret Thing, like always. Ok, not always, but now that I’m done moving and have finally settled back in, they should be regular again.

Title: Nature’s Only Son
Word: Embrace

Submission by Laurel.

200 words about squaring things before the end:

Alphonse smelled worse in death than he did in life. Which made the stink coming off of his corpse the stuff of pungent legends.

In hindsight, Dale knew that should’ve thought about his companion’s lack of personal hygiene before he shot the man in the head. But the moment between them was heated and there wasn’t a whole lot of time to think. Coughing, he straightened up a bit. There was the taste of blood at the back of his tongue.

“Lookit all them stars, Alphonse. Sure are pretty.” Dale lingered for a moment longer before he brought his eyes down to Alphonse’s body. He had trouble focusing.

“Now look, I know things were said that neither you or I can take back. Can’t take them back, nor the bullets that came after them. You shot me, I shot you. Let’s leave it at that. End of story. When we get to where ever we’re goin’, up above, or more likely, down below, you and I embrace and call it evens. No sense draggin’ this crap into the hereafter, is there?

I’m gonna take your silence as a polite acceptance of my offer, Alphonse.”

Overhead, the stars continued to wheel.

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From Warren Ellis:

Someone just wrote to me with the following question:

The problem I encounter every single time I try to write something is that I have a brilliant idea, but I have absolutely no clue as to how to make a proper story out of it. Bits and pieces will come to mind, but finding the whole story is typically a feat… do you know of a way to overcome this issue?

And this was my very quick response, which it occurs to me might be worth sharing, as one avenue (of many) that can be taken to solve this:

Identify a character in your idea.

1) What does that character WANT?

2) What does that character need to do to GET what they want?

3) What are they prepared to DO to get what they want?

Superman wants to save the world, will go through a quest to save the world, and will, if need be, sacrifice himself to save the world. (Crap example, but you see where I’m going.)

Hannibal Lector wants to be free to live in the way he wants, needs to arrange people and incidents in such a way that he can escape his current circumstances, and will kill and eat anybody he feels like in order to be free. (The difference between a “hero” and a “villain” is often the ruthlessness and extremity they’re prepared to go to in order to achieve what they want.)

(Also, the villain is rarely the villain in their own mind. Norman Osborn from THUNDERBOLTS/SIEGE is a good example of a villain who is plainly the hero of his own story. Another good example is one of my favourite villains, the deluded, vicious Janetty from Steven Grant & Vince Giarrano’s BADLANDS)

It’s a really simple way to discover a rough one-two-three structure that you can start to build on. You build on it by asking yourself what you can do to make 2) as difficult as possible for the characters.

Hope that helps someone.

Sticking this here so I don’t lose it.

Have I ever told you that the story of the Pied Piper scares the crap out of me? It does. It’s a combination of things that does it. Children being used as collateral for their parent’s busted deals, a force that controls people, and the fact that you never know what the hell happens to the kids.

Oh, and then there’s that nagging little bit of fact to the story. The Hamelin town record begins with the line “10 years after the children left.”

Title: Rampaging Rodents of Fear
Word: Innocence

Submission by Rikki.

200 words about a return of a sinister force:

In the deepest parts of the Hollow Under the Hill, his were the only footfalls. The halls were empty without his children. They’d been sent up and out into the world of Men, starting the cycle over again.

Settling down at his sewing table, he watched the fire in the great stone hearth cast dancing shadows around the chamber. The shadows reminded of how the children had danced all those years ago. Danced behind as he’d played, danced out of the small hamlet, danced down into the Hollow Under the Hill, never ceasing, even when the hill closed shut behind him.

Each child bought him a year of life as it had danced away its innocence.Their feet changing from things used to walk to things used to scurry. The final one of that last batch only succumbing to his magic a few weeks ago.

He turned his attention back to his sewing. Fashions had changed since he’d last walked the world. And it would not do for him to not look his best.

After all, it had been such a very, very long time since he’d played his pipes for the children. And oh how Hamelin town had grown.

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I once told my girlfriend that my love for her was perfect like a book.

She scrunched up her face in a way that said without words that I’d better explain fast or expect to be kicked off the couch.

So, I’m going to explain why a book is perfect.

A book is a vessel for ideas. It holds onto those ideas so that we might transfer them into us. But because a book is perfect, you can transfer those ideas an unlimited number of times. There is no limit, no half-life, no draining battery. So long as you can see the marks on the pages, the book can give over its held treasure. A treasure that holds the greatest power in the world – the power to change a mind.

A book is unpretentious in its shape and form, but not without craft and presentation. The choice of paper and font accentuate the sensation and mood. The art on the cover catches your eye and gives you a first impression. But, as the old adage goes, you can’t judge a book by its cover. And soon enough, all of the dressings and finery are smeared away and become inconsequential to the ideas held within.

A book also changes with you. It comes to you as an unremarkable copy. But then something amazing happens: it slowly becomes yours. The pages absorb the smell of orange spice from packet of tea in your bag or the smell of clove cigarettes from the porch of your favorite coffee shop. The pages yellow from being left out in the sun from that time you fell asleep in the park. The very act of reading that book, of turning the pages and pressing the oils from your hand onto those virgin pages, makes it unique to you. It is these changes that endear it to you, and makes something that was mass produced into something to be treasured.

A book is perfect because it is simple, and in its simplicity it holds beauty and power and ideas.

My love for her is like a book.

I’m trying to figure out how to make a person forgettable.

Really, and truly forgettable. I know that may seem like the opposite of something that you’d want to do for a character you’re creating, but it is the crux of this one.

You see, we’ve got a guy who the entirety of creation has forgotten. Even Death has forgotten him, making him ageless and immortal.

I hear him in my head describing it to some one:

It is like trying to leave tracks in a blizzard. Every indention made in the snow, proof that you’d been there, is filled up and covered over. The universe is actively working to unmake any record of you.

But the horrible irony of that conversation is that they’ll just forget it the second he’s out of sight.

It is easy to just wave your hand and say something like “Everything has forgotten him”, but something completely different to give hard rules to something like that.

The situations and iterations are maddening

What if he writes something down and hands it to some one? Can they then remember what he’s written? If so, then that’s them remembering him, and therefor against the core of this idea.

So, solve that by saying that the writing fades once it is away from him, and then the memory fades from the person who read the writing. That works, but it then raises the question of if we’re not just talking memory here, but a physical record, a physical record that can be erased, what else could that affect?

If he beats a man to death, do that man’s injuries stitch themselves back together after the character wanders off?

I guess you could go that route, but any tension that could be built would be gossamer thin. You’ve got a guy who can’t die and who can’t actually make an impact on the world.

But what if he was helped in his actions? Like, say he saved a drowning child with the help of some one else. Sure, they’d both forget him, but what would happen if there hadn’t been anyone else to help him? Would that child spontaneously drown the second he walked away?

It gets awkward and convoluted very fast, you see.

The idea is very simple and I think has legs for days, but the minutia, the continuity shit, that’s where this falls apart.

Of course, the entire idea behind this character is the ret-conning in comic books. Some crazy force ret-cons an entire comic universe, but since they can’t remember our character, they rec-con everything but them. The character is the only person who remembers the previous world, but all record of them has been erased in this new one.

Wiping out a physical record that way and allowing a new one to be rebuilt is the easiest solution, but it just feels cheap in a way that I can’t put my finger on. Like I might be asking too much of what I need this character to do.

You’ve been reading the COMMONPLACE – where I talk shit that no one understands and’ll never see the light of day.

Continuing with this whole “writing outside of what I’m comfortable with” thing, I did this one sexier than I’ve written anything before.

This time, it’s all about the senses.

Title: Her Green Necklace
Word: Fragility

200 words about the true pleasures in life:

The air had a taste that night. Even here in The Bund, where street vendors were forbidden, it proudly trespassed. The city’s flavors – British, French, Indian, Nipponese, Russian, Jewish and Chinese – conspired with the humid nighttime air to spread across all of Shanghai.

He relished in it, and in the plunging neckline of his companion’s silk evening gown.

“It’s jade.”

She gestured to the string of small green pearl-like stones that wrapped around her slender neck and slipped down, stopping just short of the rise of her breasts.

“I must confess, that was not what was holding my attention.”

She laughed and pulled him closer to her. “I know,” she whispered in his ear. Her breath was far sweeter than the savory that hung in the air.

Slowing as they passed the North China Daily News Building. The sound of working presses was audible from the street. A banner, proclaiming WAR, shouted out from the window.

“Don’t.”

She pulled at his sleeve.

“The fragility of the world is inescapable. Worrying just makes you bitter. All that should worry you is how my dress looks on your floor.”

Now he pulled at her.

“Keep the necklace on.”

And she did.

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So, the last one got me in trouble. A fair bit of trouble, too. I think someone even went so far as to call it “soul crushing”. And since I was supposed to be making happy instead of sad…well…let’s just say that why I’m taking a new approach to the same prompt this week.

Submitted for your, hopefully happy, approval.

Title: Bright as the Sun
Word: Unabashed

200 words about the simple joys of childhood:

The sugar from the cotton candy had formed a thin film on his teeth. He ran his tongue over them, stopping at the recently loosed incisor to wiggle it – not quite ready. Soon enough he’d slip it under his pillow, and awaken to find  several shiny coins waiting for him. Enough for more cotton candy.

Stomping the midway dust off his half-way new, half-way dingy sneakers, he caught up to his parents. His father reached down and the tousled sandy brown hair of his son with thick, strong hands. The wind rippled through his mother’s gingham skirt. The slight smell of lavender and baking bread drifted out from it, up into his nose, and finally twisted around his brain. He smiled, gave an unabashed laugh and buried his face in the folds of the checkered fabric.

The yellow incandescence of the fairground lights dropped off as they joined the rest of revelers on the hillside that sloped down, toward the edge of a glassy lake. The last hints of day faded as his parents adjusted their blanket and told him to sit.

Moments later the sky snapped and boomed, the sparkles of the fireworks glinting in his eyes.

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The last from Laurel, and admittedly not happy. But, I’ve had an obsession with Hiroshima lover imagery for a while, and this let my play with it.

Title: Bright as the Sun
Word: Unabashed

200 words about a tragic, but timeless love:

It was our wedding day.

The ceremony was over, and I slipped my uchikake on over my white kimono. The ornate gown was my grandmother’s. Its survival through the fire bombings was a small miracle.

In the courtyard he waited for me. His traditional obi vest traded for a modern suit. A new cane, purchased for the wedding, supported him. Quickly and gracefully, I descended the steps and took my place at my new husband’s side. From here on I would be his support. I would keep him standing in place of the leg lost in the war.

He pressed his head into mine and inhaled deeply.

“Boku no sakura.”

My cherry blossom.

As we stepped out from under the red painted gate of the temple a second sun erupted in the sky. For a moment I thought that the heavens must be so jealous of our unabashed love they had sent another sun, hoping to outshine us. My husband pulled me close, and my skin felt warm from the blinding light and the heat of his body.

When the light faded, we were as shadows. Eternally embracing in the scorch marks left on a shattered concrete wall. Hiroshima lovers.

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Another from Laurel. The second in her attempts to get me to write “happy” fast fiction. She rejected the last one as unsatisfactorily dark, so I’m back at it again with another one.

Title: A Promise Kept
Word: Vivacious

200 words about secret passion :

There was a culvert under the fence. Big enough to slip thought without mussing your clothes.

The MPs knew about it, the GIs knew about it, and so long as everyone showed up where they were supposed to the next morning, no one else would know about it.

A mutually agreed upon bending of the rules to keep the peace. Too band the Japs and the Krauts weren’t as reasonable.

Stealing into town, he heard the music blocks before he saw the gathered crowd, a vivacious throng waiting for the doors to swing open. There she was, on the edge. A smoke in her hand and red ribbon twisted in her hair. Just like last time.

He slid up to her.

“I could die tomorrow. And I’d be fine with that, except for one thing.”

“And what’s that?”

“Not without a dance. A dance and a shot at a kiss.”

“Just a kiss is it, soldier boy?” She leaned in close. He could feel her warm breath over the hairs on his neck.

“Like I said, I could die tomorrow. Who knows, I might get ambitious.”

With a wink he scooped up her hand and pulled her into the dancehall.

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