Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Standoff

‘I didn’t do it.’ Zac shook his head.

‘You did!’

‘I didn’t, and you can’t prove otherwise.’

‘But I saw you do it, Zac!’

‘But you can’t prove it.’ He smiled.

Jenny frowned. ‘That doesn’t make it OK, Zac.’

‘I know. But you still can’t prove it. And that makes me OK. And that’s what matters to me.’

Jenny whirled around. The floor shook as she stormed off. Zac’s head shook as he watched her.

Vanessa's voice trembled behind him. ‘Zac, why’d you let her go?’

He turned, facing her in the darkness. Her shape was concealed. Only her breathing gave away her location. ‘I had no choice. What could I do?’

‘You should’ve hurt her, too.’

‘I don’t want to hurt her.’ He caught himself. ‘I don’t want to hurt anyone. And I didn’t hurt anyone—you did.’

Vanessa ignored that remark. ‘If she talks, it’s over. You know that, right?’

Zac nodded. ‘But she won’t tell anyone. They won’t believe her. She knows that.’

About this piece

As with Intruder, the goal of this piece was short sentences, but this time I tried to stick mostly to dialogue.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Sure

After the storm blew over, in the lull that followed, when the wind died down and the night came alive and the sky was star-bright, they followed the moonlit path, hand-in-hand, back down to the white sand beach at the water’s edge, murmuring that maybe they were actually at the edge of the sky—the lake was a field of diamonds, mirroring the sky, cut only by the path that continued ahead of them, a bright white reflection of the moonshine—and if they were to follow that path they might end up in the heavens; but in that way that only lovers know, they knew it was only a flight of fancy and that soon they would be made to fall back to earth, back to the gritty sand beneath their feet and the gritty reality of days spent working and nights spent on chores and money spent on feeding mouths of small children with no time to dream; knowing this, they determined to make the most of the moment, to create memories that would linger longer when they woke; it was with this thought in mind that Michael stepped away and smoothed a large, almost-square patch in the sand, revealing the dry sand beneath, and then piled up a long, low mound along one edge, and gently laid the blanket over the top to create a bed for the two of them, and came back to stand by his lover’s side, hand-in-hand once more; with their senses amplified by the expectation of what was to come and an unwillingness to lose that tension or rush the night away, they admired the view once more, breathing in the fresh wet smell of the forest and the clear, cool smell of the night; then, unable to bear the heat of the hand in his own, or the heat rising within him, Michael turned and raised that hand to press the palm of it against his lips; the movement drew his lover closer to face him, so Michael could lean in and press his hot forehead against Daniel’s cool one, and press his other hand into Daniel’s lower back and draw him in still closer so their toes touched and their bodies pressed tightly together and—at last!—they kissed.

About this piece

I hope it's evident: the goal of this piece was to write a long, single-sentence narrative. It's effectively the opposite of Intruder. I picked the title because the characters are sure of what they want as they stand on the shore—yes, a homophone!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Intruder

Heather stopped in the doorway. She stared, mouth agape, silent. Frozen in place, she watched. A man hovered by the bed. He bent down over its occupant. It was her son, Aidan. The boy was only five. Inwardly, she prayed for his safety. Outwardly, she did nothing. The man bent still closer. Aidan stirred. He must have felt the man’s breath. Maybe he could smell it. Heather choked on it from a distance. It stank of death and decay. The man stretched out one gnarled finger. He laid it gently on Aidan’s cheek. Aidan’s eyes shot open, searching the darkness. That gnarled finger was ready. It moved just as Aidan cried out. It pressed down hard on his lips. His cry was cut off. Only a short, sharp bark escaped. A gasp simultaneously escaped Heather. Terrified, she sprung into action. She rocketed across the room, wailing.

About this piece

In this piece I aimed to write a paragraph of tense narrative in sentences of fewer than seven words. Sentence fragments were off limits, and I tried to vary word lengths and sentence structures.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Navigation, part two

Angela turned the map around and frowned, then turned it around again. She then handed it to Sylvie, who did pretty much the same thing, only to give up in the pretty much the same way. Then they both flung their hands up in exasperation and the map went flying through the rain.

So Grace caught it in one hand as she brushed her wet hair back with the other. She gave the map a good go but tore off the marginal information by mistake. She scrunched it into her pocket, figuring she would not need to know where the dams and the damn fences were.

All the while, Jayne looked on in frustration, making whining noises about how ‘you guys always get us lost’ and ‘I can not believe we have ended up in this situation again’ and ‘I should not have even entered this race’, at which point she huffed off into the trees and vanished behind a heavy sheet of rain.

Sylvie did not take kindly to that and wished her a happy snake bite but, knowing the power of her words, she immediately regretted it. So she quickly corrected herself and asked for the map back. She wished them all back to the hash house instead, where she would enjoy a fire and some good nosh with her friends.

But something got mixed up in the transmission.

When they arrived back, Angela was in the fire, and Grace was in the stew. That was not at all what Sylvie had intended! Or so she had thought until Jayne walked in with half a snake in her left hand and the other half in her right, blood dripping down both sides of her mouth as she chewed on its tasty middle.

About this piece

This is a punctuated version of Navigation, part one. My goal was to add structure that would help the piece flow. I tried to keep the same feel to the piece and clear up lingering confusion in the section about Sylvie's misdirected wishes.

Navigation, part one

Angela turned the map around and frowned and turned it around again and then handed it to Sylvie who did pretty much the same thing only to give up in the pretty much the same way and then they both flung their hands up in exasperation and the map went flying through the rain so Grace caught it in one hand as she brushed her wet hair back with the other she gave the map a good go but tore off the marginal information by mistake and scrunched it into her pocket figuring she would not need to know where the dams and the damn fences were while Jayne looked on in frustration making whining noises about how you guys always get us lost and I can not believe we have ended up in this situation again and I should not have even entered this race at which point she huffed off into the trees and vanished behind a heavy sheet of rain and Sylvie did not take kindly to that and wished her a happy snake bite but immediately regretted it knowing the power of her words so she quickly corrected herself and asked for the map back and wished them all back to the hash house instead where there would be a fire and some good nosh but something got mixed up in the transmission and when they arrived back Angela was in the fire and Grace was in the stew and that was not at all what Sylvie intended or so she had thought until Jayne walked in with half a snake in her left hand and the other half in her right hand and blood dripping down both sides of her mouth as she chewed on its tasty middle

About this piece

The goal of this piece was to write a narrative paragraph with no punctuation and no devices for controlling flow, other than the words themselves. I deliberately constructed some sections to cause confusion, such as the line about Grace's other hand: did it give the map a good go, or did it brush her hair back? Other lines were confusing in their jolting absurdity, such as the effects of Sylvie's failure to articulate her wish, which I address in a follow-up punctuated version.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

What train wreck?

The first article I read this morning was a blog post by Derek Haines: The Self Publishing Train Wreck Is Upon Us. I clicked through and regretted it. (Don't even get me started on his use of clickbait-title case.) I've followed Haines on Twitter for a while, because he generally publishes interesting and useful blog articles. This one was just a bit…uncharacteristic.

Now I'm not going to pretend I know a lot about self-publishing. I don't. For a start, I've never done it. That's one of the reasons I read his blog, and I'm not going to come right out and disagree with his premise. He's probably onto something; I'm just not sure he made his case well.

Let's apply some critical thought to his analysis. He claims that one of the dangerous signals of the decline in self-publishing is the decline in people searching for 'self publishing' on Google. Are these things actually correlated? I'm not sure. But he illustrates the decline with a chart from Google Trends. It looks legitimate, but it's not telling the whole story. What happens when we look at the search term 'publishing' over recent years?



Wow! That's declining, too! And if you click through and look at the geographical distribution, you'll notice something remarkable: publishing interest was concentrated in the same regions as self-publishing! (But I'm not including this chart, because it didn't embed well.)

Lies, damned lies and statistics! (Or poorly constructed experiments.)

Haines builds an argument against Kindle Unlimited by comparing book-reading to burger-eating. He believes that, just as he pays for the whole burger and fries whether he eats one bite or the lot, readers should pay for the whole book, regardless of how many pages they read. An interesting theory, even if it has its roots in the idea of a book as a physical object. Only, if I order and pay for a fresh, delicious burger, and unwrap it to find something rotten and fetid inside, I can take the burger back to the counter and they'll give me a new one at no extra cost. McDonald's won't expect to get paid again when they've failed to meet a minimum quality standard.

And, let's not kid ourselves—there is no minimum quality standard in self-publishing. Anyone can do it. There's some guy on Amazon called Stephen King, with unprofessional book covers and (according to the reviews) matching storytelling prowess. He just happens to share a name (or pseudonym) with a famous, talented and successful writer. Dodgy-King doesn't provide sample content—there's no free first chapter or 'try before you buy'. So some readers (perhaps those with poor eyesight or small screens) purchase his books. Then they whinge that they've been misled. Under the old Kindle Unlimited payment scheme, Dodgy-King would get paid for that. Under the new scheme, he gets paid just a few cents before readers realise they didn't buy what they thought they bought.

Haines also argues that he's read his copy of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy 'more than twenty times' and that he shouldn't have to pay every time he's read it. But he doesn't pay every time he reads it, and under Kindle Unlimited, he still wouldn't. But a self-published Douglas Adams would get a few extra dollars every time Haines re-reads his book. And when Haines doesn't hand his own print copy to his best friend, and his best friend reads it on Kindle Unlimited instead, Adams would get a few more dollars.

Wait…is Kindle Unlimited rewarding writers for publishing books that keep readers turning the pages? Is it further rewarding authors who write so well that readers go back and read their books over and over again?

Mmm, sounds terrible to me. Oh, wait—no, it doesn't.

Would Haines rather Amazon continues to encourage shoddy authors (like Dodgy-King) that use underhanded tactics to lure you into borrowing their books?

From my understanding, the thing that worried authors most about the new Kindle Unlimited payment scheme wasn't that the pool of money would be distributed by page views. It was that no one would know how big the pool of money was until funds were distributed. That's a valid concern: how are you meant to plan your writing business if you have no way of estimating your income, at least for the first few months of the scheme?

But writers can adapt to make the most of the system. I recently attended a workshop by a writer successfully living off his income from writing erotic fiction under several pseudonyms (he claimed). He pointed out that the strategies for self-publishing on Amazon would now change: instead of splitting books into multiple parts to encourage readers to download more books, writers would bundle their books into a set to increase their page views per book read. Once the reader has the giant book on their device, they are more likely to turn those pages than to find another book to download and read. That's the theory, anyway.

From his perspective, there were still ways to game the system, and I suspect he's right. But from my perspective, anything that helps remove Dodgy-King and his buddies from Amazon is a positive step.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Flight

She ran down the footpath, her feet bludgeoning the concrete with a solid clump-clump, clump-clump that drowned out her pounding heart and added a good forty pounds to her actual weight. But she felt as light as air with her hair streaming behind her in the wind and many winding miles stretching out before her.

She stretched out her legs and ran harder, sucking in deep breaths, willing her lungs to engorge themselves as she pushed harder now, faster, farther. The edge of her vision blurred, and with it the sound; tall trees and low shrubs and freshly cut grass and heady jasmine flowers and singing birds and buzzing bees and charming houses and even that old man gardening in just shorts and sandals all slipped out of focus and into a blur of colour and white silence. Her tunnel of focus became a void in which only she existed.

Maybe if I run fast enough, she thought, I’ll pop out of existence, and then pop up somewhere else entirely. Like the mall. Or China. Or the Chinatown Mall. China certainly sounded more exotic than Salisbury, at least to her mind’s ear. But perhaps not to those who had fled here from the far off places she’d consider exotic. For them, the mundane mediocrity of Salisbury offered delights and freedoms she could never comprehend; she valued the flight, while they only hoped for a safe landing.

About this piece

The goal of this piece was to use techniques other than rhyme or meter to create a work that should be read aloud. 

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Back on track

I haven't posted for a very long time, as I'm sure my loyal followers (all eleven of them) have noticed.

My reason excuse is that I've been working on a book project, and before that I was working on some content that hasn't yet made it onto my business website.

But now that I'm working through Steering the Craft, by Ursula K. Le Guin, I have some creative content to post…

…next week.

Sorry, but even though I'm doing one writing exercise every day, I'm not going to rush to post it like I did with the old series of prompts. I'm going to be strict. I'll put the draft down for a week, to 'rest' like a nice slab of meat, and then I'll edit it. And then you'll get it.