• Unfinished: The Wonder Pets


    If I have a superhuman ability, it is almost certainly an extremely high threshold for children’s television, particularly those shows geared toward preschool children: Franklin, Little Bear, Dora the Explorer, The Backyardigans and Wonder Pets, just to name a few. Some of these (Franklin) I merely tolerate, while others (The Backyardigans) I actually enjoy watching with my son.

    Over the past couple of years, I’ve noticed that Kyle cycles through the shows he likes. His enjoyment of Blue’s Clues remains fairly constant, but whether he likes The Backyardigans one month and Wonder Pets another is entirely a matter of whim.

    About a year ago, Kyle was on a Wonder Pets kick, and I was being exposed to a high level of guinea pig, duckling and turtle antics. Something inside me snapped; I began to consider an alternative explanation for the trio of helpful animals living in their little schoolhouse. What if, I thought, the whole thing is just the fever-dream of a guinea pig who is the test subject of a laboratory experiment?

    The notion percolated in the back of my mind for a while and at some point I realized that, one way or another, I needed to get it out. So I sat down and wrote the beginning of a Linny (or Lynny, as it turns out) the guinea pig tale. Not long after I began, the winds of change blew through the International House of Johnson and Wonder Pets gave way to something else and without the regular exposure to Linny, Tuck and Ming-Ming, too, my mind wandered elsewhere and the story was abandoned.

    I have no plans to return to the beleaguered guinea pig, but I present the incomplete tale here as a cautionary tale: this is what can happen when the adult mind comes under the assault of children’s television.

    03 MARCH, 2006

    “The phone—”

    “The phone is ringing,” Dr. Selig murmured. “I know, Walter; I can hear it. Unfortunately I’m a little occupied at the moment. As are you.” He tapped the side of the syringe a few times, then slowly depressed the plunger until a thin stream of clear liquid geysered from the tip of the hypodermic needle. “Besides, that’ll just be Nick calling to tell us they’ve decided to turn down our grant application. Again. Now, if you’ll move your finger just a little…yes, that’s excellent.”

    The needle pierced the shaved skin at the base of the guinea pig’s skull and Dr. Selig injected what he suspected would be the final dose of the serum into the little mammal’s brain stem. A moment later, Walter returned the fidgeting rodent to its cage. Returned to the familiar bed of wood shavings, the guinea pig seemed content to sit motionless, peering out at the lab. It would have looked like any of a million other such animals living in similar cages in the bedrooms and living rooms of houses all across the country, were it not for the color-coded nodes that marked the location of nearly three dozen subdermal implants in the rodent’s head, spinal column and appendages.

    Dr. Selig stripped off his latex gloves and dropped them into a nearby trash can. “Go ahead and run the connectivity check,” he said. “I’ll be back in an hour. I trust you want your usual?”

    Walter nodded. “No celery this time,” he said.

    Dr. Selig sighed. This conversation was becoming a tiresome ritual. “I’ll tell them,” he said, as he always did, “just like I’ve told them a hundred times before.”

    “How hard is it for them to understand that some people like Buffalo wings without celery?” Walter asked, just as indignant today as he was last Friday when it was Dr. Selig’s turn to pick up lunch.

    “I’ll tell them,” Dr. Selig said again. “You run the connectivity check.”

    The lab ran a predictable lunch schedule, and there was no one more predictable about lunch than Walter. On Monday, everyone brought lunch from home and Walter ate his leftover lasagna cold. On Tuesday, Josh—the lab’s other intern—would run to Happy Burger and Walter would invariably order a bacon cheeseburger with no pickles. Wednesdays meant Dr. Oxley taking orders for Mexarito’s, Walter mangling the pronunciation of “quesadilla” when he ordered. Thursdays were the only days when Walter wasn’t likely to complain about a botched order, as it was his day to venture out to the House of Ming for Chinese food, and he always made sure there was plenty of duck sauce for his eggroll and that his General Tso’s chicken contained no vegetables. Vegetables as a rule were shunned by Walter, but green peppers especially he held in high contempt.

    Later in the afternoon, when they sent someone to Dairy Queen for their weekly ice cream treats, Walter would order a turtle sundae with no pecans. Anyone daring to argue that a turtle sundae prepared without pecans was simply a caramel-and-chocolate sundae would be loudly rebuked by Walter, and everyone in the lab had long since learned that it was folly to argue with Walter where food was concerned.

    Dr. Selig shrugged off his lab coat, then turned around to survey the lab. Dr. Oxley was out for the day, trying to drum up some more funding in the vain hope of keeping the lab running for another three months. Josh was multi-tasking, as usual, his phone cradled on his left shoulder while he wrote something on a yellow legal pad, pausing occasionally to run a finger over the touchpad on his laptop.

    Walter was crouched in his chair, elbows on knees, peering into the guinea pig’s enclosure. Dr. Selig wondered briefly which of the two mammals—the placid guinea pig or the wide-eyed, neurotic intern—was more intelligent, then cleared his throat. “Walter,” he said, pointing to the computer terminal that processed the data feeds from the wireless sensors implanted beneath the guinea pig’s dermis. “Run the connectivity check.”

    Walter swung the chair around and began tapping at the keyboard. Satisfied that the intern was following his directive, Dr. Selig left the laboratory, bound for Little Airplane Wings, an establishment that claimed to have “better Buffalo sauce than Buffalo!”


    An hour later, the guinea pig was munching away at one of the unwanted celery sticks from Walter’s lunch. Though there was no outward indication, the chemical cocktail Dr. Selig had injected was working its magic: simultaneously inhibiting the rodent’s ErbB4 receptors and GABAergic interneurons. The former affected her cells’ ability to process Neuregulin-1, while the latter inhibited expression of parvalbumin, the combined upshot of which was severe, chemically-induced schizophrenia.

    Her left eye twitched. An electric impulse was picked up by the sensor implanted near her left eye and a small packet of data was transmitted wirelessly to a nearby computer, where the strength and duration of the impulse were committed digitally to disc, along with thirty-three other data points that indicated other electrical impulses or lack thereof. Her left eye twitched again.


    “She’s falling asleep,” Walter said, his face so close to the enclosure that his breath fogged up the glass. “Do you think she dreams, Dr. Selig?”

    Dr. Selig wiped a dollop of barbecue sauce from the corner of his mouth with a napkin and considered the question for a moment before answering.

    “There’s sufficient evidence to suggest that she does, Walter,” he said, reaching forward to tap one of the jagged lines marching across the LCD screen. “She’ll be entering her REM cycle shortly, just as you and I do every night. Her sleep patterns are similar enough to ours—including observable alterations in brain activity—that it’s entirely reasonable to conclude that she does, indeed, dream. But you can rest assured that her dreaming, or the fact that she does dream, has nothing to do with what we’re doing here.”

    The answer seemed to satisfy Walter, who continued to stare at the guinea pig as he would do for what seemed like hours at a time if Dr. Selig didn’t find something else for him to do. This is what happens when you agree to hire your husband’s empty-headed younger brother, Dr. Selig thought, glancing ruefully over at Dr. Oxley’s empty chair and vowing for what must have been the ten-thousandth time to never again allow a colleague’s nepotism to supersede little things like talent and qualifications. Still, it was Friday, and in all likelihood they’d have to pack up the lab on Monday when Nick managed to deliver the bad news about the grant application and Dr. Oxley similarly reported her failure to find another backer, so where was the harm in letting Walter stare at a sleeping guinea pig all afternoon? It would certainly keep him out of Dr. Selig’s hair.


    The guinea pig slept, unmindful of the voyeur looming beyond the glass, and she dreamed. On the nearby screen, unwatched by anyone in the lab, the lines that provided a visual indicator of the various electrical impulses in her brain grew more jagged as new neural pathways opened to compensate for those the chemicals had closed. The rodent’s brain behaved in ways no one in the laboratory had predicted. Neurotransmitters that had been disabled by previous variants of the experimental serum were activated again, while those that had been functioning normally only an hour before suddenly went quiet.


    The alarm went off while Dr. Selig was in the restroom. Walter had no idea what it meant, nor what he should do. He looked to Josh, who was still on the phone. “I have to go,” Josh said quickly. “There’s an animal in trouble.” He fumbled the receiver onto its cradle and crossed to Walter’s workstation. “What’s going on?” he asked. “What’s the problem?”

    Josh, unlike Walter, had been hired based on those two little things Dr. Selig felt were more important than nepotism: talent and qualifications. It took him only a quick glance at the EEG readouts on the monitor to realize that something was going horribly wrong in the guinea pig’s brain. He looked over at the animal’s enclosure; she was sleeping peacefully, the rapid in-out motion of her breathing the only indication that she was alive at all.

    “This doesn’t make sense,” Josh said, frowning at the readout. “She should be wide awake and thrashing like an angry badger. When was the last time you calibrated these sensors?”

    “Yesterday,” Dr. Selig said from the doorway. He crossed the lab quickly; if either intern noticed that the fly on his trousers was open they didn’t bother to point it out to him. “I heard the alarm. What’s going on?”

    Walter stood mute while Josh explained that the guinea pig appeared to be having some sort of neuropathic seizure. “Except she’s not,” he said, confusion clear in the tone of his voice. “She’s just…sleeping.”

    “Comatose seems more likely,” Dr. Selig replied, “though these readings certainly don’t suggest it.”

    Walter stared at the guinea pig, as concerned about her welfare as anyone in the lab but utterly incapable of doing anything to affect it. He looked at the half-eaten piece of celery, then over to the discarded remains of his lunch, the corner of the styrofoam takeout box poking out of the trash can, more convinced then ever that the vile stalk was not to be trusted. He leaned in close to the enclosure again, oblivious to the conversation going on just a few feet away. He saw the guinea pig’s left eye twitch. Rapid eye movement, he thought, recalling his earlier conversation with Dr. Selig, and again wondered if she was dreaming.

  • Coffee Shop Writing – Week 2


    I probably should have written this on Friday, but I was too busy composing my pre-Shutdown Day entry. Had I written and posted this on Saturday, I would have been in violation of Shutdown Day and the Internet police would have locked me away in a virtual prison. 1Unfortunately for Interprison, files are easy to smuggle in; no cake required, just send it via FTP. Ba-dum-ching. Sunday was…well, I’d hate to ruin a perfectly good Monday with talk of this particular Sunday.

    So, what’d I write at the coffee shop last week? Well, it was a short week.


    Chris had conflicting plans and wasn’t able to make it to the coffee shop, so I decided that my desire to sleep past 7:30 would conflict with my writing and I bailed, too.


    I started writing a script for something Chris and I are doing for The Secret Lair.

    Later, I wrote an eleven hundred word short story, complete with beginning, middle and end. This is a rarity for me, as anyone who follows this blog will be aware. I won’t lie: it left me with a sense of accomplishment. But…I didn’t write it at the coffee shop, so once again it doesn’t count.


    I have no idea what, if anything, I wrote on Wednesday. Yet I know for a fact that I was at the coffee shop, consumed 20 oz. of decaffeinated brew, and had my laptop. Or perhaps I was abducted by aliens. From outer space. And they stole my words.


    Thursday was the first of May, so I used my time at the coffee shop to compost my annual ode to Jonathan Coulton and the joys of…interfacing in the great outdoors.


    Chris wasn’t able to make it to the coffee shop so naturally I was there early, for a change. I’ve been rolling in at about 7:53 for our 7:45 session for a week and a half and the one day Chris isn’t there I show up 25 minutes early. Typical. So I fired up the iPod and wrote the aforementioned Shutdown Day post.

    This week, we’re supposed to write something that we can exchange with one another for critique, so blog posts probably won’t cut it. Which means I’ve just blown a day. So typical.

    1 Unfortunately for Interprison, files are easy to smuggle in; no cake required, just send it via FTP. Ba-dum-ching.
  • The Ultimate Pardon


    “Run through it one more time for me, Tom,” the President said, squinting slightly against the sun. The sky was clear, not even the contrail of a passing jet detracting from the pale blue firmament. This isn’t right, he thought, frowning as he watched a lone bird—a hawk by the look of it—soar quietly overhead. I’d always imagined this sort of thing to be done in the dead of night; certainly not in broad daylight…and certainly not with worldwide media coverage.

    The reporters were held at bay perhaps a hundred yards away, lined up behind the cemetery’s high, wrought iron fence. The President knew they were there, but didn’t bother to look; he knew their cameras were likely focused on him, trying to catch a glimpse through the broad-shouldered throng of Secret Service agents. He knew that even from this distance, the cameras would see every detail of his face—his furrowed brow, the hint of tears welling up in the corners of his eyes, the downturned corners of his mouth—and broadcast it all to millions, perhaps billions, of television sets across the globe.

    “Yes, sir,” Tom said. The advisor adjusted his tie—a nervous tic he hadn’t managed to overcome despite nearly four years in the public eye—and gestured to the coffin that had been exhumed several hours ago. “When you’re ready, we’ll open the casket. Secret Service will do one final security sweep, then all personnel will retreat to the ten yard perimeter. Once the perimeter is established, you will light the torch at each vertice of the pentagram…”

    The President looked at the coffin as Tom ran through the procedure for the fifth time in as many days. He nodded slowly, only half-listening to his advisor. The polished wood gleamed brightly; either the concrete vault had protected the coffin exceptionally well, or someone had spent a considerable amount of time cleaning it after the exhumation. Surely the corpse within would not have remained as untouched by the ravages of time as the vessel in which it had been interred.

    The President waited until Tom finished, then took a deep breath. “Let’s get this over with,” he said, shrugging off his suit jacket and handing it to an aide—Camryn, he reminded himself for no particular reason. He loosened his tie and watched as the sexton—the only person on the cemetery grounds who wasn’t part of the White House staff—opened the heavy coffin lid.

    There was a brief, heavy moment as the sexton looked into the casket, his face ash-white, before the Secret Service descended upon the open coffin, visually inspecting the vessel and the remains it contained while two German Shepherds sniffed for explosives and hazardous chemicals.

    This isn’t right, the President thought again, this is a desecration. He wondered if his predecessor, the first United States President to grant the ultimate pardon before leaving office, had felt the same way. No, he didn’t expect she had. He didn’t expect she had felt much of anything at all.

    “All Clear!”

    In seconds, he was alone. The Secret Service and the K-9 unit had retreated to the perimeter, along with Tom and Camryn and the rest of the President’s staff. He took another deep breath and hefted his old Bic lighter—a present from his father, of all people; his father who could not abide smokers. He ran a thumb over the worn emblem on front of the stainless steel, an American eagle whose color had been rubbed away years ago, and thought that this, too, was wrong. Surely he was not going to begin the sacred rite by flipping his Bic.

    But he did just that, and the flame was as strong as it had ever been, barely guttering in the afternoon breeze. The President lit the first torch, nearly burning his knuckles as whatever concoction soaked the tip came ablaze with a soft whump. He crossed from the northern point of the star to the southwest, then to the northeast, then northwest and finally southeast, deliberately not looking at the coffin that lay in the center of the pentagram.

    All five torches lit, the President snapped the lid of his lighter shut and dropped it into his right pocket, the weight a familiar reassurance. He took another deep breath and stepped to the side of the coffin, finally looking down at the body within. Time, as he suspected had not been kind. The face was drawn and desiccated, lips pulled back to form a grotesque grin around teeth that seemed too large for the sunken features. He was suddenly very glad of the arcane rules that governed this macabre proceeding: to be eligible for raising, the individual must have died while the President raising him or her held office. Four years had not been gentle to the corpse; he shuddered to think of how cruel forty would have been.

    The President lifted a trembling hand and rested it on the wrinkled forehead. The skin was dry beneath his palm and felt so much unlike human flesh that he had to fight back the urge to vomit. My approval rating is bad enough, he thought hysterically, I can’t imagine how low it would plunge if I puked on national television in the course of performing my last official act as President. He almost looked up at the cameras he knew were there, at the members of his staff he knew were watching, but instead he blinked away fresh tears and took another deep breath.

    I don’t want to do this. Oh, God, I do not want to do this.

    But he had taken an oath, and whether he wanted to perform the ritual or not didn’t matter; only that he believed the ritual would work. And he believed. Oh, yes, he believed. On his inauguration day he had watched his outgoing predecessor perform the ritual herself. Had watched a dead man rise from a coffin much like this one. Oh, yes, he believed.

    His voice cracked as he spoke. “By the power vested in me by the citizens of the United States of America, I release you from death. I welcome you to a new life.”

    Again the President nearly vomited as warmth blossomed in the forehead beneath his hand. His breath caught in his chest and he staggered back, his fingers cramping and twisting, his palm burning with a cold fire that spread up his arm. The President fell to his knees, unable to breathe, staring as manicured fingers gripped the edge of the coffin and the figure within rose.


    Tom didn’t look at the body on the ground as he stepped forward. “Madam President,” he said, smiling and extending his right hand.  “Welcome back.”

    The preceding story was inspired by Mur Lafferty‘s new project, The News From Poughkeepsie, wherein she plans to post a story idea each day for a year. Today’s writing prompt asks what would happen if the President had the power to raise people from the dead at the end of his term.

    This is pretty much a first draft, though I did do some on-the-fly editing.

  • Coffee Shop Writing: Week 1 Summary


    I’ll let Mr. Miller summarize his own efforts; not because I don’t know what he wrote all week, but because I can’t bring myself to admit that he wrote more than I did.


    I started a new short(?) story tentatively titled “The Long December” and discovered that immortality is simply a matter of who’s in charge. Word count: 299


    I continued “The Long December” after a late arrival at the coffee shop. Word count: 285.


    Faced with the uncomfortable fact that “The Long December” was turning into a parable, I wrote a blog entry: Coffee Shop Writing: Day 3. Three days into this experiment and the meta-writing has already begun. Word count: 650ish.


    Kate: Advanced Text Editor
    Zombie Day. Due to issues with Puppy Linux, I abandoned it in favor of Kubuntu, which I didn’t *quite* manage to get configured Wednesday night. Goodbye (for now) Geany, hello Kate! I didn’t get any writing done at all today; I need more than four hours of sleep before I can write. If I can’t get more than four hours of sleep, I need four hours to wake up so I can write. Later in the day I wrote another blog entry, Tomorrow is Arbor Day. Celebrate with The Secret Lair. It’s about 375 words, but I didn’t write it in the coffee shop, so it doesn’t count. Word count: 0.


    Instead of sitting down to write, I distracted Chris 1To be fair, he had a 200+ word head start by the time I arrived, thanks to a writing prompt at Plotstorming.com. by talking about Kubuntu’s apparent lack of an e-mail client, 2The default client is Kmail, which is—according to the Adept Package Manager—installed, but which nobody thought to provide a link to. Is this what I get for downloading a release candidate? … Continue reading the audio quality issues we’re having with episodes of The Secret Lair, and pretty much anything that wasn’t writing. It worked. I should be ashamed of myself.

    Then I decided to fire up Kate and write this summary. I announced that I was writing just as Chris was packing up his things and heading back to his home office. “What are you writing?” he asked.

    I told him.

    “Good God!,” he exclaimed. “I’ve never met anyone who could write so much about doing so little!”

    So true. Word count: 401. 3Total for the week: about 1,600.

    1 To be fair, he had a 200+ word head start by the time I arrived, thanks to a writing prompt at Plotstorming.com.
    2 The default client is Kmail, which is—according to the Adept Package Manager—installed, but which nobody thought to provide a link to. Is this what I get for downloading a release candidate? EDIT: Kmail is the e-mail component of Kontact, which has a handy shortcut on the Kubuntu taskbar, but which I mistook for an address book. This is because I am an idiot.
    3 Total for the week: about 1,600.
  • Coffee Shop Writing: Day 3


    Treo 650 Palm-powered smartphone
    One of the tricky things about blogging for me is that I almost always compose blog entries in WordPress’ editor. This means that I have to have an Internet connection in order to write. Only one time in recent memory have I begun writing a blog entry offline: my love letter to giant crocodilians was born on my Treo 650 while I was in a restaurant waiting to meet Laura and Kyle for dinner after work one day. Writing on the Treo isn’t anything approaching fun. Granted, it has a “full” keyboard, which I prefer when sending text messages, but anything beyond the 140-character bursts of text that comprise SMS messages is a bit of a chore.

    I used to carry a small notepad and pen in my back pocket, intending to write blog entries (and story ideas and anything else I needed to capture when I was away from a computer) longhand and then transcribe them to WordPress at my leisure. It was a great theory, and if you can’t see where this is going you haven’t been listening to me whine about not being able to write long enough.

    This week, Chris Miller and I began meeting at a local coffee shop for an hour before work to write. I started working on a short story that had been rattling around in my head for all of fifteen minutes before I sat down at the coffee shop; Chris wrote a blog entry. I couldn’t get on the coffee shop’s wi-fi network until this morning, when I finally realized that I needed a WEP key. Now I have access to the dread Internets and all of the distractions they bring; I could, were I so inclined, fire up WordPress and bang out a blog entry—writing is writing. 1It feels like a cop out to be meta-blogging on this, the third day of coffee shop writing, but the fiction I’m writing has turned into a parable, for crying out loud, and all of a sudden I need … Continue reading

    Geany - A GTK2 Text Editor
    Instead, I’m writing this in Geany, the Puppy Linux equivalent to Microsoft’s Notepad. It’s an experiment of sorts: focus on the content and worry about the formatting later. Because when I write in WordPress, I’m constantly previewing the entries to see how they flow on the page (especially if I’m including any kind of graphic) instead of just writing until I feel like I’m done and then going back to tweak and nudge things or, in other words, edit. It’s bad enough that I constantly edit the content while I’m writing (something I’ve never really been able to completely abandon, despite four years of NaNoWriMo), but when I’m in a WYSIWYG editor I constantly mess with the formatting, as well. I just have a hard time dealing with the concept of a draft; everything has to be as finished as I can possibly make it before I move on to the next page, paragraph, sentence or word.

    Writing doesn’t work that way in the real world, and I’m very well aware of that. Of course, there’s a big difference between recognizing your weakness and overcoming it. But this is the first step in a new experiment: content first, formatting last. I’ll finish writing this draft in Geany, then copy and paste it into what passes for a Write Post interface in WordPress these days 2Bitter much? and make any edits before posting. Or maybe I’ll just delete the whole damn whiny, introspective, woe-is-me mess and move on and no one (except Chris, who knows I’m meta-blogging right now) will be any the wiser.

    1 It feels like a cop out to be meta-blogging on this, the third day of coffee shop writing, but the fiction I’m writing has turned into a parable, for crying out loud, and all of a sudden I need to have a moral for the story; I, who can never see the end of a story when I begin writing it, need to be able to wrap the whole thing up and say this is the lesson we’ve learned, children. Yikes.
    2 Bitter much?
  • Writing: PlotStorming.com


    After learning about PlotStorming.com at Con on the Cob, I decided to give the creative writing community a shot and signed up for a free account.

    PlotStorming is, at its heart, a Simple Machines Forum (much like the one installed here at KJToo.com) where users can talk about various aspects of creative writing, bounce ideas off one another, submit works for critique, and even have special, private forums created for the purpose of collaborating on writing projects.

    One of the cool things the moderators do is post a short creative writing prompt every day. The site generally leans toward the fantasy genre, so the prompts tend to involve a variety of fantasy elements. They’re short (usually just a few sentences) snippets designed to give the imagination a little kick-start and PlotStormers can post the results of that creative boost.

    Here’s the prompt from 13 November 2007:

    The first tongues of lightning lashed out from the front of the roiling cloud bank and the shields glowed indigo-azure in response. Brahm smiled. “It’ll hold.”

    Cain couldn’t move his gaze from the artificial twilight as it spread with the storm until it engulfed the whole city. “I’d hold my tongue, Brahm. We haven’t seen the brunt of his wrath yet – we are dealing with a god.”

    The prompt worked exactly as intended, and yesterday I sat down for about 30 minutes and wrote this:

    Brahm looked at his younger brother. “Aye,” he acknowledged, nodding, “a god, indeed. But just the one this time.”

    “The prophecy-” Cain began, but his brother interrupted.

    “The prophecy was written ten thousand years ago,” Brahm said, “in a long-dead language. It’s been translated and re-translated so many times that its original meaning is as dead as the prophet who wrote it.”

    Brahm started across the square, the cobblestones beneath his boots glowing faintly purple in the light of the shield high above. “Besides,” he continued, “you and I both know that prophecy is less about divination than it is about interpretation.”

    Cain frowned, falling into step beside his elder sibling. “That’s no excuse for over-confidence,” he said. “It’s been nearly a hundred years since the Siege of the Ancients; the shield-weavers are-”

    Brahm interrupted again. “-old men, yes. I know, I know.”

    The brothers paused as they came to the monument at the center of the square, both men dropping to one knee in reverence to the Mother. Cain pressed his palms together and touched the sides of his index fingers to his forehead, nose and chin; a warmth radiated outward from the center of his chest as the Mother heard his silent prayer. For the space of three breaths he knelt in silence, his eyes closed, the feeling of apprehension banished–at least for the moment–by the Mother’s blessing.

    Brahm and Cain rose as one, then continued across the square. The Mother’s calming influence receded as the men moved away from the monument, though the soothing warmth remained, as it would for at least an hour. Cain looked up again as a bolt of lightning cut a brilliant, jagged scar across the darkened sky and the shield glowed brighter. The thunder that followed should have been nearly deafening, but it was barely audible, most of its energy absorbed by the magical shield and channelled to the twelve shield-weavers. The more the storm raged, the stronger the shield became, but Cain was only too aware of the terrible price the weavers paid, their bodies ravaged by the mystical forces. If even one of them should die…

    “They’ll be fine,” Brahm said, breaking the silence and seeming to read Cain’s thoughts. He reached his destination and pounded three times on the heavy wooden door.

    Cain suddenly realized where they were. “This is-” he started.

    “Yes,” Brahm said grimly. “I am confident that Alden and the other weavers can maintain the shield, but never mistake confidence for ill-preparedness, little brother. Should the shield fail, should the god breach our defenses, we will have no recourse but to fight.”

    The heavy door swung inward, opening to a dimly lit room and a towering, bearded man whose naked, broad chest was criss-crossed with pale scars and whose left arm ended in a smooth stump just above the elbow. Recognition shone in his dark eyes and a cruel smile played across his lips.

    “And if we must fight,” Brahm continued, “we would be foolish not to have a god-slayer fighting beside us.”

    Now, I have no idea where this story is going. The whole exercise sprang from the last few words of the prompt: “we are dealing with a god.” My first reaction was “just one?” and I ran with that.

    From there, my approach was simple: have the two men walk across the square and introduce a couple of interesting things along the way (the Mother, the power of prayer, the shield-weavers and finally, the god-slayer). I wasn’t thinking about backstory, I was thinking about cool; I figured if I got really interested in the story I could come up with the history later.

    I’ve never really written fantasy, but I can see where it might be cool to continue. On the other hand, I’ve gotten in trouble with the “make it up as you go along” approach in the past (the very recent past).

    I think I’ll do another couple of prompts over the next few days, because I can definitely see how the doors to creativity could be opened. Will anything come of it? I don’t know. I do have a bit of a penchant for not completing stories.

  • Today has thrown me for a bit of a loop. I was supposed to be working off-site all week: that has changed. I was supposed to have lunch with my soon-to-be-ex-boss: that didn’t happen. Things that were fine when I left the office in the middle of last week (I took two days off for Con on the Cob) are all sorts of not fine now. Needless to say, I didn’t get any writing done while I was scarfing down the two double cheeseburgers I picked up on the way back to the office from where I thought I’d be working all week.

    Now I need to dash off to record this week’s Volcanicast at the PlanetRetcon remote studio, also known as Bob’s house. Speaking of upheaval, Wesley is out this week and possibly the following week and when we record on the 25th it’ll be at the new PlanetRetcon studio, also known as Wesley’s new apartment.

    Given the status of things at work, I doubt very much I’ll be writing tomorrow at lunch time unless I find a dark corner and write longhand. There’s another write-in tomorrow at Morley Library, but will Laura kill me if I go out again? She might. She just might.

    Gotta get this boat underway again somehow. Trouble is, the thing feels like an oil tanker and I’m standing on the poop deck with a broken paddle.

  • NaNoWriMo 2007: Day 11 – Where are all the words?


    How Not To Grow A Beard: Day 11
    Hey, wasn’t I writing a novel or something? What happened to that, anyway?

    Yeah, I took a few days off to attend Con on the Cob 2007 in lovely Akron, Ohio. I had a lot of fun, got to do some gaming, purchased some dice (nerd!) and a piece of artwork and pre-ordered a fantasy novel. I also interviewed some very interesting people, including legendary fantasy illustrator Larry Elmore.

    But I didn’t write. Well, not my novel. I wrote about 1,800 words about a game of The Savage World of Solomon Kane one day and blogged at length about the convention, but unfortunately not a word of it counts toward the 50,000 I need to have written in just over two weeks.

    This should be interesting.

  • I attended the first official Lake County NaNoWriMo Write-In last night at the Morley Library in Painesville, Ohio. There were seven people there, including myself, and everyone seemed to be having a good time and at least making an effort to get some writing done. And there were snacks: pretzels and tortilla chips and those rectangular wafer cookies with the frosting…yum.

    Every year, I see at least one person writing their novel longhand with pen and paper, and sure enough two of the people at the write-in were busy writing in their notebooks when I arrived. On one hand, if they’re planning to upload their novel for official verification at the end of the month, this means they’ve essentially got to write it twice: once on paper and then a second time when they transcribe it to electronic format. That’s a lot of work. On the other hand, I’ve never seen a pad of paper run out of battery power after only about an hour of writing, and I doubt very much that anyone has ever spent twenty fruitless minutes (or more) trying to get their spiral-bound notebook to connect to a library’s wifi. The pen and paper may not be the most high-tech of noveling tools, but it’s very reliable and far more portable than even my laptop.

    I did manage a meager 442 words before my laptop battery died (and me without a power supply), and would likely have gotten a lot more done had I not written myself into a bit of a sticky spot.

    Chief Inspector Timothy Remington, Sergeant Michael Shaughnessey, Bannister Proulx and Emma Caldwell are all at the house on Ridgebury Lane. Emma, whose knowledge of human anatomy far surpasses that of Bannister Proulx, has finished her preliminary examination of the two murdered women. In reporting her findings to the Chief Inspector, Emma makes a fairly obvious observation: if the women were killed elsewhere in the house, the killer must have been strong enough to carry them to the bedroom. Chief Inspector Remington notes that it would be a simple matter for a strong man to do so and an even simpler matter for multiple men, at which point Bannister Proulx states that the murders are the work of a single person, acting alone. Remington, quite naturally, asks Proulx how he could possibly know this, especially since the detective had earlier suggested that the killings were done as ritual sacrifices, and rituals are often performed by groups of people.

    That’s all well and good. Bannister is certainly correct: there is only one killer. The problem is that I don’t know how he knows. I’m sure he has some terribly logical explanation based on observations he has made since entering the house, but I don’t know what that explanation is.

    So I finished typing the question, closed the quote, pressed Enter twice, opened a new quote…and stopped. I haven’t the faintest clue how Bannister knows what he knows, but I’m pretty sure he does. If he doesn’t…well, I’m not in editing mode, so there are no takebacks right now. Perhaps if I decide he doesn’t, I’ll have him explain his reasoning and then have Remington or Caldwell or, worse, Shaughnessey, point out the flaw in his logic. Wouldn’t that just get his goat?

    But Bannister cannot know just because I know. I mean, I’m pretty sure he’s not writing the story…yet.

  • I wrote about 2,400 words yesterday, which would be fantastic were it not for the fact that the first 1,667 of them were supposed to have been written on Saturday. The allure of Arkham Horror was too much to resist, and so I spent several hours Saturday evening battling nameless horrors from realms beyond mankind’s understanding in a futile attempt to prevent the Ancient One from awakening and destroying Arkham, Massachusetts. Chris, Gus and I played two games. The first, against Shub-Niggurath, was a dismal failure; when the Great Old One awakened, we soon discovered that were were entirely unable to deal it any damage. The second game, against Yig, was much more successful, and I found that Sister Mary the nun kicked far more beastly ass than the gangster I was playing in the first game. Power of the Almighty, indeed.

    Enough of that, let’s get to the meat of today’s post: the plot of my novel-in-progress, which involves neither nuns nor gangsters, nor slumbering horrors that will rip your sanity from you like so much plastic film off the top of a microwave dinner when they awaken. Well, not yet, anyway.

    Cleveland, Ohio. January of 1938. The city has a new mayor, elected to the office under dubious circumstances, and a killer roams the streets, able to slay young women with apparent impunity. Chief Inspector Timothy Remington enlists the aid of Bannister Proulx, a detective whose consultations have proven quite valuable to the constabulary in the past two years.

    Unfortunately for Remington, the new mayor sees Proulx as a threat to the department of police and the city of Cleveland. The mayor demands that Remington turn over and and all police files pertaining to Bannister Proulx and suggests that some very influential people are concerned that Proulx’s involvement with high-profile murder investigations paints the constabulary in a poor light.

    On the heels of this news comes another slaying, apparently the work of the elusive killer who has haunted the streets of the city for some four months. But it’s worse than Remington suspects; the killer he has been pursuing since autumn of the previous year is merely an imitator of the true menace, and the gruesome new slaying is more horrific and more puzzling than anything the Chief Inspector has ever seen.

    Despite the mayor’s admonitions, Remington again calls upon the aid of Bannister Proulx and his partner, the young, attractive, and exceptionally intelligent Emma Caldwell. Proulx quickly confirms Remington’s darkest fears. The murder of a mother and her grown daughter on Ridgebury Lane is not the work of the same individual who has been terrorizing Cleveland since the previous September.

    Proulx determines that this new killer is far more meticulous and exacting than his imitator and reveals a supernatural element at work. The mysterious symbols and diagrams written on the walls of the murder scene are familiar to the detective, who is no stranger to the arcane and the occult. While Proulx attempts to determine the exact nature and intent of the symbols, he encourages Remington to continue his pursuit of the copycat killer in hopes that catching the imitator might gain them valuable insight into the identity of the true menace.

    During the course of his investigation, Proulx learns that the grisly murder on Ridgebury Lane is not unique to Cleveland. Similar incidents have occurred in the cities of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and even Pittsburgh. Not only are the murders practically identical, they all took place on the same street in their respective cities: Ridgebury Lane.

    While Remington races to find the copycat killer before he strikes again, Proulx and Emma Caldwell travel to New York City, where their investigation leads them to a secret society that has existed for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. This powerful group has influenced the architecture and infrastructure of every major city of the United States and western Europe, ensuring that certain elements—all but invisible to those who don’t what to look for—were included in the cities’ designs. Bannister learns that the presence of these elements, combined with the appropriate arcane knowledge, will allow near instantaneous transportation between any of these cities, and the thoroughfare connecting them all is Ridgebury Lane.

    But who is using this arcane secret to commit gruesome murders from Cleveland to London, and why? The key to the mystery lies in finding the elusive copycat killer, but can Remington and Proulx find him before he, too, falls victim to the true terror of Ridgebury Lane?