Friday, July 10, 2009

Free-Form Fridays

Welcome to Free-Form Friday! (Henceforth known as FFF.) What is FFF you ask? Well, I have long recognized that I have issues when it comes to writing long (read novel-length) stories. Good friends are capable of cranking out pages at remarkable rates while I struggle to even produce a page or two. I've tried to figure out why, and I believe I have arrived at the reason. I am a perfectionist when it comes to my writing. I want every turn of phrase to be just right. If I type something that sounds off I will stop and try to figure out a better way of saying it. Sometimes this leads to re-writing entire paragraphs right then, only to come back and change something else a few lines farther down the page. Many books I've read about writing novels stress the need to get the story down on paper first - just pound out a first draft - and worry about editing later. This thought makes me cringe. I can't image writing 80,000 words of drivel. The urge to edit as I'm writing is so strong. And yet, that's what I think is holding me back.

FFF is my attempt to cure myself of the urge to edit mid-scene. The rules are simple:

1) Write for an hour straight with no editing. I recognize the potential for abuse with this rule. If I take several minutes to think up a sentence and how to best word it I will essentially be editing in my mind before putting it on paper. This defeats the purpose of FFF. Therefore, I institute...

2) Write at least 800 words. I can type approximately 30 words per minute. (Probably more, but this will do.) Given my 60 minute time frame that puts me at 1800 words if I type non-stop. I will obviously need time to think of what to say next, so I figure 800 words is a good compromise. I will need to try this a few times to see how workable this number is. For now, though, 800 is the goal.

3) I am allowed to go over the time frame if I'm "feeling the flow." There are times when I'm writing that the words just seem to flow out. This is especially true when I write dialogue. For some reason, I can hear the conversations in my head and they come out fairly quickly. When I have to stop and describe something, though, I tend to agonize over word choice and I really slow down. Should I get in a groove I will allow myself to continue past the hour limit, but the moment the flow stops, I have to stop.

4) I will post what I have written as is. If it stinks, it stinks. Note that this means that on Friday your reading pleasure may decrease because of the errors natural to a free form first draft. Sorry. I admit that the blog is more for my benefit than yours and I really think I need this. This also means that FFF will not be full stories. In fact, I plan on doing a continuous ongoing story for FFF, so collectively it should be good.

5) I reserve the right to do FFF on other days than Friday. My other stories often take much more than an hour to write. If I find myself running short on time some day then I may audible to FFF.

So those are the rules. Who knows how this will turn out? I certainly don't. I imagine that I'll be very uncomfortable for the first several tries. Hopefully it will get better. My goal is to be fully ready for National Novel Writing Month in November. Never heard of it? Check the link:

Anyway, that's what's in store for Fridays. Wish me luck.

Thursday, July 9, 2009


If you haven't read yesterday's story yet, read that one first, or else this one won't make since at the end. This was from a challenge requiring the use of the Clue phrase "[Person] did it with the [Weapon] in the [Room]."

"Join the Arcane Threat Division, they said. Cushiest job on the Force, they said. Bullcrap!" He had never been so scared in his life.

Officer Ryan Segal, aka "The Rookie," stood at the entry to the North stairwell in the basement of the Tribune building. He tried to appear calm, but his right hand kept flicking the safety on and off his weapon. He resorted to pacing to try to work off his nervous energy.

He tried to think about something else, anything else, but his mind couldn't let go of the image. The scene replayed itself in his mind....


"Hurry up, Rookie. Jordan said the woman would be in the copy room in the basement."

Officer Ryan Segal followed Detective Carter down the stairs. He couldn't believe they were doing this - rushing halfway across town at the suggestion of a nutcase psychic. This wasn't the standard police procedure they taught him at the academy. When he had said as much to his new partner, Carter had simply replied, "They don't teach Arcane Threat Division Procedure at the academy." Rookies didn't argue, so he played along. Now they were in the Tribune building, racing to save the life of a woman who most likely didn't need saving. At least he was getting his exercise.

It took them a few minutes to find the right room in the warren that was the basement. Segal was shocked at what they found.

"We're too late," Carter said.

The woman lay on the floor in a pool of blood. Hair, white as the driven snow, shot out from her head at strange angles. Her face was a shredded mess of tissue, caused by the fingers of her own hands. She had clawed her own eyes out.

It was horrifying. Segal couldn't help himself. He vomited in the corner. Detective Carter, who normally had a quip at such moments, was silent on the matter. He knelt to examine the body.

"But not by much. This is fresh."

Segal wiped his mouth. He wanted to help, but couldn't bring himself to look at the scene. "What happened to her?"

"If I had to guess, I'd say she died of fright."

"Of fright? You're kidding me."

Carter shook his head. "The white hair is a classic sign. I'd say she saw something so scary she wrecked her face trying to get the image out of her head." He pulled a purple crown royal bag from an inside pocket. Opening the drawstrings, he dumped a large clear marble into his hand.

"What could do that?" Segal asked. "Make someone so scared they'd die?"

"Any number of things. I'm guessing either a demon or black sorcery."

"You're kidding me. You mean that stuff is real?"

Carter ignored the question. He mumbled a few unintelligible words and made a few passes over the marble with his other hand.

The sphere burst into brilliant green light.

"Holy Crap," Carter exclaimed, "The thing's still here!"

Carter turned to Segal, his face tight with fear. "Get back to the stairwell now. Make sure nothing or no one gets past. If anything looks out of the ordinary, shoot first and ask questions later. You don't move from that spot until I tell you. You see something you holler, you hear me?"

Segal could only nod. He legs shook as he ran for the stairs. His radio crackled to life as Carter made a call.

"Carter to Dispatch. We need ATD backup to the Tribune building now. Repeat, ATD backup to the Tribune building NOW...!"


That was the last he had heard from Carter. That had been five minutes ago. Now here he stood, holding the exit against a sorcerous demon running around the basement with the ability to scare people to death. No freaking way.A movement down the hall caught his eye. As he turned that way, the lights in the hall dimmed dramatically, leaving everything in a hazy shadow.

"Who's there?"

A small flame came to life in midair. It floated his direction.

"This is Officer Ryan Segal of the Chicago PD. Do not come any closer."

The light kept coming. Squinting, Segal could make out a hunched figure walking his way, holding the light out in a shrouded hand.

"I repeat, do not come any closer." Segal raised his gun. "Don't make me shoot you."

The figure was close enough now that Segal could hear a rhythmic chanting. Strange symbols flared into existence just below the flame. In response, a thick black shadow roiled forth from the figure, tendrils of deepest black lancing their way toward Segal.

The rookie raised his gun and tried to fire, but his nervous clicking had left the safety on. He thumbed at the switch as the blackness slammed into him. Fear like nothing Segal had ever experienced washed through him, robbing him of his physical control. He froze in place, riveted to the spot. The figure approached through the midst of the living shadow. It reached for its hood. Segal knew with certainty that to gaze upon the face beneath the hood was to embrace terror and insanity, but he couldn't make himself move. He screamed....

"What the #$%@ are you doing, Rookie?"

Like a cleansing tidal wave, the voice washed away the fear and darkness. Stripped of its concealing light, the figure was easily recognizable. A short man, dressed in a dark green robe stood not five feet from Segal. In his right hand he held a lit candle, the candle and stick etched with funky symbols. His left hand pulled back the hood of the robe, revealing a completely unremarkable pudgy face, with vicious expression.

That expression turned to shock as Officer Joe Spurgeon stepped past Segal to punch the man in the mouth. His eyes rolled up in his head and he collapsed on the ground in a heap.

"What kind of pansy move was that, screaming like a girl?" Spurgeon asked. "You have a %#$@$ gun. Next time just shoot the bastard."

" saved me!"

"Saved you from what, a freak in a robe?" Spurgeon reached down and picked up the candle from the floor. He blew out the flame. "What a load of $#*%. What kind of pansy wusses are they turning out at the academy these days?"

Detective Carter chose that moment to round the far corner of the passage at a full run, his gun out and ready. He stopped when he saw Spurgeon.

"Ah, I see the cavalry has arrived."

"Yeah, just it time," Spurgeon retorted. "It was almost 'Mr. Green in the Hall with the Candlestick. ' What are you teaching this kid, Carter?"

Carter smiled. "Oh, the usual. Cuff that guy, rookie. Make sure you search him and remove anything that looks - unusual."

Segal looked from Carter to Spurgeon. What had just happened? He shook his head, and then pulled his cuffs from his belt. "Cushiest job on the force, my a$$."

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


This was my response to a challenge on "Doubt."

"I'm William Muenster of Internal Affairs and I'll be taking this interview. Will you please state your name for the record?"

"Officer Joe Spurgeon, Chicago PD."

"Okay, Officer Spurgeon. You understand that this deposition interview is being recorded and that the transcription may be entered into evidence at the trial?"

"Yeah, I understand."

"Good. Now, what exactly is your complaint against the Chicago Police Department."

"They got me pigeonholed in this total joke of a job. It ain't right. They're discriminating against me."

"Let's address those points one at a time. Why don't you describe your job?"

"I work for the 'Arcane Threat Division.'"

"Excuse me?"

"Yeah, you heard that right. The Arcane Threat Division."

"Arcane? As in magic?"


"The Chicago PD has a Division devoted to magical threats."

"So they say."

"Wait, you're in this division, right? What do you mean 'so they say?'"

"I mean that they put me in this division, but I ain't ever seen no magic. Other cops in the division, they swear this stuff is real, but I ain't never seen any of it."

"What kind of 'stuff' are they talking about?"

"Crazy stuff, like magic and voodoo, evil spirits and fairy dust."

"You're kidding, right?"

"I sure as [expletive deleted] ain't! Just last week they claimed this guy was throwing fireballs at couple of our boys and called for backup. I show up and find this freak in black magician robes just standing there, flipping his hands like Spiderman, expecting something to shoot out. I walk up to him, sock him in the nose and cuff him. The other guys thanked me for saving their hides, but the guy didn't DO anything. What a bunch of [expletive deleted.]"

"And this happens often?"

"Every [expletive deleted] time. They claim they're in trouble, but when I show up there's nothing out of the ordinary going on."

"Interesting. "

"It ain't interesting, it's [expletive deleted] insane!"

"So what exactly is your role in the department? Officially, I mean."

"You're not gonna believe it. My job title is 'Paranormal Skeptic.' I am, in the words of my Lieutenant, the 'Official Doubter.'"

"The Official Doubter? So what are you supposed to do?"

"According to the Lieutenant? Doubt everything."

"That's it?"

"Yup. I'm supposed to show up and doubt."

"And what's that supposed to do?"

"Again, according to the Lieutenant, magic can't survive in the face of disbelief."

"So, if I understand this correctly, when you show up any magic is supposed to stop working."

"That's what they say."

"And you've never seen any magic."

"I ain't seen, [expletive deleted]."

"Hm. Officer Spurgeon, have you ever considered - and I can't believe I'm actually about to say this - but have you ever considered that you might actually just be very good at your job."


"Okay, I know it sounds crazy, but say, just for a minute, that magic really exists and that your division really tracks and contains magical threats. The fact that you have never seen any magic actually lends proof to the theory that you stop magic from working. Your ability to doubt would then be invaluable to your team."

"You have got to be [expletive deleted] me."

"I know it sounds far fetched, but you've got to admit it would explain what has happened to you."

"I can't believe you're feeding me this [expletive deleted]. I'm the one with the complaint here. You're supposed to be on my side."

"I'm on your side, Officer Spurgeon, but I also need to be fair. Let's say I could bring you irrefutable proof that you are actually performing the duty your job description prescribes. Would you be willing to believe it then?"

"I doubt it."

"Somehow I thought you'd say that."

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

"Last Man on Earth"

This was my response to a challenge to begin a story with the words: The last man on earth sat alone in his room. There was a knock at the door...

The last man on earth sat alone in his room. There was a knock at the door. He tried to ignore it, but it came again, then again, never insistent, but ever persistent.

"Yes, yes, come in."

The door opened slowly and a hunched form shambled in. The sharp black suit and shades were a stark contrast to the condition of the being's skin. Bits of his flesh fell to the floor in clumps as he made his way to the desk where his master sat.

The man didn't bother looking up from his writing. "What do you want, Jones?"

"Brains-s-s- s-s."

"Very funny," the man replied. He finished his entry and put down the pen. It really wasn't funny, not anymore. True, he had found it humorous the first thousand times or so, but now? The only word he had heard for months from any mouth but his own was 'brains.' He was more than a little tired of it.

He took the tray from Jones and set it on the table. Time to eat. After all, Arther Beadleman, Undisputed Ruler of the Entire World, had to keep up his health. He snorted.

What a joke.

"Brains-s-s- s?"

"Oh shut up and go away."

Jones put a decomposing hand to his collar and whispered a muffled "Brains." He didn't seem to notice as a large chunk of his cheek fell onto the eagle emblazoned on the floor as he shambled back out the door.

Arthur looked at the microwave meal on the desk in front of him. It was still frozen.

"Ahhhhhgg! What was I thinking? It sounded like such a good idea at the time."

The fact that most evil geniuses failed to think their plans through held little consolation for him. Most evil geniuses were foiled before their plans ever came to fruition. Many failed multiple times, or were stopped just moments after achieving their goal. At least that's what the "Evil Geniusing for Dummies" book had said. Leave it to him, Arthur Beadle, to succeed his first time out.

How was he supposed to know his zombie virus would work so well? How could he have predicted the speed with which the world would succumb? Who knew that all life would be affected - animals and plants - leaving him as the world's only living occupant? How could anyone have guessed he would be stuck eating processed food that his "servants" could never remember to cook, use candles for light because no one had enough brains left to run the power plants, and be stuck forever in the freaking White House because going outside put him at risk of catching the MUTATED virus that he had no antibodies for?

He adjusted his position at the Resolute desk. Who knew that the President's chair was so freaking uncomfortable?

Arthur Beadle tore the top off the meal and munched on a frozen french fry.

Being the Undisputed Ruler of the Entire World sucked big time. He picked up his pencil and went back to work. When he published the updated version of "Evil Geniusing for Dummies" he would make certain he included that fact.

Monday, July 6, 2009

"Fish Story"

I wrote this one on the fly today with very little editing. Don't know why, but it popped into my head.

What a beautiful evening. Moments like this were rare, when my wife and kids were otherwise occupied, and I found myself with a couple of hours of free time. Only one thing to do: hit the lake.

I drove down to the local park and made my way down to the pond; fishing pole in one hand, tackle box in the other. I usually fished with worms, contenting myself with catching the small panfish that hung around the dock area, but I was itching to try out a new lure. The professional angler on TV swore by it, and I had watched him pull largemouth after largemouth out of the water with the thing. The tagline had been enticing: "The lure that makes wishes come true." Surely the big bass that allegedly swam in this pond would be as incapable of resisting its advertised charms as the ones on television? One could always hope.

Since I had never had luck catching anything but fingerling bass near the dock, I opted to try the far side of the lake. There was a concrete spillway there that carried rainwater runoff down into the pond, and I'd been told by the friend of a friend that the larger bass liked to hang out in the area.

The sun dropped closer to the horizon as I made my way down the worn path from the top of the spillway to the water's edge. I estimated I'd have an hour or so before the light went completely. That should be plenty of time to catch the limit. I smiled. I'd never caught the limit in my life. Well, there was always a first time, and this time I had the tool to do it.

I put my pole together and pulled the new lure out of my pocket. I tore open the package and held the thing up before my eyes. I'd never seen a more impressive looking lure. The paint job was exquisite. The silver spinners, designed to "flash like a wounded baitfish," had that shiny new metal look. There was even a chartreuse "grass skirt." I had no idea what the skirt was supposed to do, but the pro angler seemed happy with it, so I was, too. I couldn't wait.

I slipped open the swivel snap and attached the lure to my line. I had to admit, it looked fine. I took a second to survey the area, picked a spot, and gave it a cast.

The lure flew out like a dream, landing exactly where I had aimed. I began reeling it in. I felt the slight tug that always accompanies spinner baits. I was ready for that first strike.

The lure was back at the shore before I knew it. No problem. How often does someone get a strike on the first cast, regardless of the lure? I tossed the lure back out. Steady retrieval. No bite. No biggie, I just had to find the spot where the fish were. A fish jumped from the water about twenty feet down the bank. Aha! I moved closer to the spot and cast out past the location of the fish. Oh yeah. Here it comes.

No strike.

The fish jumped again, in the same patch of water I had just cleared.

I tossed the lure out again, this time right on top of the fish.

No strike.

I was starting to get annoyed. The pro on TV would have caught three fish by now. What was going on? Undaunted I cast again, then again. I fished up and down the bank, next to fallen trees, through the grass, around rocks. No strike.

The sun was falling rapidly toward the horizon. I had maybe five minutes left of light before the park would close. This was ridiculous. I was starting to doubt the pro angler's words.

"I thought this lure was supposed to make wishes come true," I said, though no one was there to hear me. "Where are my wishes?!"

I shouted that last part loud enough to startle a nearby duck into flight. Stupid TV advertisers. I should have known better than to trust the claims made by some TV commercial. It's just - the fish this guy had been pulling out.

I had time for one more cast. I had given up on trying to pick the right spot. I just wound up and snapped the lure out there. I retrieved the lure slowly this time, half-consciously deciding that since this was the last cast I was going to make it last. I looked at my watch.

There was a pull on the line.

I was so surprised I almost dropped the pole. That would have been disastrous, but my reflexes saved me. I jerked hard to set the hook...

...And realized that I was hung up on the bottom. I tugged a few times to confirm it. Yup, I was hung up good. I walked back and forth along the bank, tugging sharply at multiple angles trying to free the line, all to no avail. Great, just great. No fish, and now I was going to lose the lure.

The sun dipped lower. The park was closed now, and I needed to leave. There was nothing for it. I pulled my knife from my pocket and prepared to cut the line.

That was when the line moved.

It wasn't fast, but the line was definitely moving to the right. It hit me then what was happening. I hadn't snagged the bottom after all. I had hooked a fish. A very BIG fish.

I dropped the knife and took the pole firmly in both hands. I had to be very careful. I was only using 10 lb test and this fish was definitely bigger than that.

I looked again at the sun. I could get fined if they caught me here after dark. It was a chance I had to take.

For the next hour I fought that fish. I gained inches, I lost inches, but I gradually worked it to shore. The sun going down left me in the dark. Fortunately the moon came out, and it was full, allowing me to see enough to continue the struggle.

By the time I hauled the fish onto the bank we were both exhausted. It was worth it; the fish was a behemoth. I'd left my measuring tape at home, but it was clearly more than four feet long. Its girth was such that I doubted I could wrap my arms all the way around it. I had no clue what it weighed.

I was also unsure about the species. I had expected a bass, or possibly a giant catfish. This one looked like a strange mix between the two. It had the shape of a catfish, but its silver scales fairly twinkled in the moonlight. And its eyes; its green eyes glowed with a light of their own. It stared at me with such intensity the fish looked almost intelligent. I squatted down to get a closer look.

"Are you going to stare at me all night or are you going to take this hook out and throw me back?"

The fish talked. I was so shocked I fell backward onto my rear end.

"You talked!"

"You're an observant one," the fish said.

"You talked!"

"Yes, so you've said. Look, this hook is very uncomfortable. It's obvious you aren't going to let me go without getting your wish. Let's have it so we can be done with this, and we can both get some rest."

"Wait, what? Wish?" I was so articulate when I was stunned.

"Let's cut to the chase. The lure guys promised this lure would make wishes come true. Obviously they couldn’t do that on their own, so they contracted with us to make it happen. You invoked the terms of the contract and here I am. So wish your wish and let's get this over with."

My mind was finally starting to make some sense of the situation, if sense could be made from a talking fish spouting on about granting wishes. "You're a wish granting fish?"

"Congratulations, Captain Obvious."

"And you're granting wishes due to a contract with a company that manufactures fishing lures?"

"Wish. Singular. You only get one wish. It's there in the fine print. Hurry it up; I am a fish out of water, you know."

Perhaps it was my time spent roleplaying where tricky, malevolent genies did their best to turn your wishes against you, but I wanted more information.

"Are there any limitations to this wish?"

The fish sighed. "Don't make it easy, then. Limitations. One, no wishing for more wishes. Don't sigh like that, it's standard procedure and I'm sure you knew it. Two, no making people fall in love. Three, no bringing people back from the dead. That's pretty much it."

"That's sounds very familiar. Aren't those the limitations they used in that movie, Aladdin?"

"Those writers did their homework. Look, are you going to make a wish or not, I'm running out of air here."

This fish was highly annoying, and frankly, so was the situation. I'd just caught the biggest fish of my life and in exchange for setting it free I was getting one wish. What I really wanted was a trophy - something that could prove to everyone I had actually caught a fish this big. I suppose I could wish for one, but that wouldn't be real - it wouldn't be the fish I had caught. Unless....

"One more question, fish. How long does this wish last? Let's say tomorrow you swallow a bad worm and kick the bucket. Is my wish going away?"

"Wishes are permanent. Once granted they are independent of the grantor."

I smiled.

"I take it you're satisfied?" the fish said. "You're ready to make your wish."

"Oh yeah."


That was five years ago. I suppose my life could have been a lot different had I wished for money or fame, but I never really wanted those things. What I got was a lot more satisfying. What I got was proof of the biggest fish story I'll ever be able to tell. And if people don't believe me, I just point to that big old catfish shaped, silver scaled monster mounted to my wall.

And for the record - the magic fish weighed seventy-eight pounds.