Category Archives: short fiction

Flash fiction – Hare-um scare-um

Hi there folks,

Hare-um Scare-um coverI just want to make a quick post tonight to say that I’ve posted a new piece of flash fiction up on Smashwords for free download, available right now!

‘Hare-um scare-um’ is… well, here’s the blurb:

In the future, the Earth is still recovering from alien invasion, conquest and liberation; civilisation is shattered, the sky is broken and the world will never be the same.

But Nadger doesn’t understand any of that. All he knows is that it’s time to hide before the other kids find him!

I wrote this story a few months back for a flash fiction competition; it didn’t win, so I started looking around for paying flash markets to submit it to and couldn’t find any. (I’m not saying there aren’t any; just that I couldn’t find any.) Rather than give it to someone else to publish in return for exposure, I prefer to expose myself – and come on, stop that, you know exactly what I mean.

‘Hare-um scare-um’ is the first in a loose, irregular series called ‘Broken Sky Stories’ – flash pieces set in this post-apocalyptic pre-rebuilding Earth, a place where the old order is gone and a new order – maybe even a new reality – is still being put into place. That’s a concept that appeals to me; I tend to like the idea of writing about the aftermath of big events more than I do about the events themselves.

No promises as to how often I’ll write these – the only true answer is ‘as ideas come to me and I find the time and energy’. But hopefully that means at least a few times over the next 12 months or so.

Once again, ‘Hare-um scare-um’ is free at Smashwords now; it should propagate out to other ebook sites over the next few weeks. Well, except Amazon; they only like free books if they’re the ones setting the price point. So it goes.

It joins a number of other totally free/gratis/no-cost/ZOMG short stories on the site:

You could download and read those too if you like. I wouldn’t mind.

I’ll also do a slightly nicer PDF version and put it up on the Downloads page of this site too at some point. That page is increasingly out-of-date; I really need to overhaul it soon.

But not right away, because I’m going to Europe next week!

Paris!

Berlin!

Helsinki!

Townsville, which is not in Europe!

I’ll be gone for about two weeks, but the lead-up and wind-down from travel is likely to make blogging either intermittent or non-existent for close to a month. Rest assured that even if you don’t hear from me I am a) having a good time, b) working on Raven’s Blood, c) wishing more people would buy my ebooks and d) probably drunk.

Wish me luck, and I’ll catch you later in the year.

Now on sale – NINE FLASH NINE

Hiya folks.

Say, remember how whenever I’d put up a flash fiction piece over the last year or so, I said that one day I’d collect a bunch of them and put them into a cheap e-anthology called (for some bizarre reason) Nine Flash Nine?

NFN coverWell, that day is RIGHT NOW.

 

(That day was meant to be like two days ago, but I got distracted and then I left the USB behind and look never mind.)

Nine Flash Nine is a collection of nine flash fiction stories for ninety-nine cents, hence the rather odd title. Regular readers will have seen some or most of these before, but not all, and anyone discovering this for the first time will marvel at the variety of ideas, themes, swear words and abrupt endings!

The table of contents goes like this:

  • For Sale, Baby Heads, Never Worn
  • Murder, She Rocked
  • Boy
  • Dear Penthouse Forum: I Fucked Godzilla
  • Black Veil and Gloves
  • Got the Horn
  • Ghost (Moustache) Story
  • High School Methical
  • Giant Spiders Cannot Exist

There’s some silly stuff, there’s some weird stuff, there’s at least one story I find a bit emotionally confronting and there are a bunch where I say ‘fuck’ a lot. It’s a pretty fun, very cheap little collection and I hope people dig it.

Nine Flash Nine can be purchased as a 99 cent ebook from the following sites:

  • The Amazon Kindle Store has the Kindle version
  • Smashwords has ePub, Kindle, PDF, HTML and Word versions
  • Other sites (Barnes and Noble, iBooks etc) will have it eventually, and I’ll update as the links go live

All sites should have a sample of the anthology that you can read for free.

As usual, I’ve added a specific page to the site for the book, so if you want to tell your friends to check out Nine Flash Nine, link to this page here.

I’ll probably do some relentless spamming marketing and promotion for this in the upcoming weeks and months, but not too much – this is a mostly-for-fun book, and it didn’t cost me anything to publish except my ‘valuable’ time. Let’s see how well it can do.

And finally, a big thanks to Chuck Wendig, whose semi-regular Flash Fiction Challenges over at Terrible Minds were the spur that got me to write most of these stories. If you like them, that’s on him; if you hate them, well, that’s probably my fault. But fuck it, blame Chuck too. He’s a big man, he can take it.

One of the reasons I finally got Nine Flash Nine out the door is because I was starting to feel restless – I haven’t published an ebook (aside from some free short stories) since releasing The Obituarist back in May 2012. I had originally planned to have Raven’s Blood out by now, but that’s not going to happen for two reasons, and so I wanted to put out just a little something to remind all y’all that I exist.

What are those two reasons? Well, first is that it’s taking longer to write than expected, and that’s mostly because it’s become a larger, longer story than I had originally planned. I was going to write another novella (about 30k words), which I think is a form that really suits ebooks. But as I go further into Kember’s adventures, I’ve realised that this needs to be a full-length novel of 50-55k words. So it’s not just longer to write, but it also needs a rethink of the pacing and prose style.

The second reason is… well, hey, if it’s going to be a full-length book, then why not try to get it onto bookshelves? I think this story has a good shot at finding a hardcopy publisher and I’m going to try exploring that route. I’ve no idea how at this stage, but the first step is getting more of the book done. Once I’m close to finishing a final draft, I’ll start talking to people – I don’t have many industry contacts but I do have some, and hopefully they can point me in the right direction.

And hey, maybe that way I can write some blog posts about the search for publishing fame! Come on, I gotta find something to write about here every week. You people are killing me.

I’ll keep you guys posted. For now, enjoy the book with the Godzilla-fucking.

Pension Day

Hey, remember last week when I dropped some flash fiction on you?

Well, the fiction train continues to roll out of the station this week, with the release at Smashwords of a new short story, ‘Pension Day’, which is TOTALLY FREAKIN’ FREE to download in whatever format you desire!

(As usual, the MOBI and EPUB versions on Smashwords are good, but the PDF doesn’t include the cover; I’ll do my own PDF version and put it on the Downloads page in a couple of days.)

‘Pension Day’ is… well, I pitched it as a crime story, and it is about a criminal and his enterprise, but there’s also a bit of horror and suspense in there. It’s pretty nasty stuff, in its own way, but hopefully some of you little droogies like that sort of thing. If you do, I hope this story works for you! Feel free to tell others about it, to send the file on to potential readers, to share it to your heart’s content and to spam social media with your wild, unrepressed love for my genius. (Ditto for any of my free downloadable stories, of course.)

For the curious, ‘Pension Day’ is pretty damn new, written only a couple of months ago. I wrote it as a submission for a local crime fiction project, but the editors passed on it – which is perfectly cool and not something that bothered me. So I thought I’d submit it to some other avenues, but to be honest I couldn’t think of any, and didn’t have the time (or, to be honest, the inclination) to do the research. So this piece was gathering virtual dust on the hard drive for a while, and last week I decided that it would be better to release it into the wild than just forget about it. Which is a decision that I imagine more and more short fiction authors make these days; you might not make any money from a epub story like this, but at least it’s out there and doing its job (entertaining readers), and that may be more important than getting fifty bucks for it.

Or I could just be lazy. Always a possibility.

So that’s two short stories on two consecutive Sundays. Can I make it three for three? No promises, but let me see how the next few days pan out – because there’s a short piece about a certain Kendall Barber that I’ve started writing…

In other news, my Freeplay panel was today and it was great fun! Our ‘Sex and Death’ panel looked at how those themes are treated in video games (short answer: not that well most of the time), why those themes appeal to us, whether ‘mature themes’ had to mean ‘darkness’ and how indie game developers might approach those themes in different, more creative ways. We didn’t get to cover all the ground we might have liked – it’s more difficult to discuss ways of approaching sex and sexuality in games than it is to discuss death and/or violence – but the audience seemed engaged and the Twitter chatter was primarily very positive.

So that was terrific, and the capstone of what’s been a big festival-involvement year for me. I wonder if I’ll do more next year. Time will tell.

Also in other news, the third and last part of my discussion/interview/lovefest with Hugh Grimwade is now up at his site. And this time shit gets nerdy, as we discuss games, shared worlds, comics writing and (of course) Batman.

This was such a fun interview, played out over months of back-and-forth emails. It’s also reminded me that I haven’t done an interview here in a while – so look for that to change soon. And this last part has me thinking a lot about comics writing, and whether I should try to find an artist or two and get a project together. Will mull over that some more.

In other, other news, this racking cough that I’ve had for two weeks CAN FUCK RIGHT OFF.

Flash fiction – Murder, She Rocked

The coach pulled into a rest stop so Those Assholes (they’re a band) could stretch their legs, and that’s when they discovered that Izzy, the drummer, had died at some point in the night.

‘Far fuckin’ out,’ said Tombstone Pete. ‘This is some heavy shit for Izzy to pull, y’know?’ As lead singer, Pete was prone to a) blame other people for messing up, and b) be fucked up pretty much all of the time.

‘Someone cut his head off with a sharpened cymbal,’ said Zeandra (bass and ironic tattoos), ‘so I don’t know if it’s fair to blame Izzy for being murdered.’

‘Yeah, well, you always stick up for him’, sulked Pete. ‘Maybe if you weren’t banging him you’d admit that this is totally his fault.’

‘Guys, guys, come on,’ said YOLO Tengo (keyboards and mediation). ‘Can we maybe agree just this once to focus on what’s important, which is getting to LA for this gig? Once we’re back on the road we can work out who murdered Izzy.’ After some muttering and grumbling and tequila body shots, everyone agreed that YOLO was right (sigh, like, again) and they got back onto the coach and then back onto the highway.

Lead guitarist Gar Artfunkel was the first to speak up. ‘I put it to you,’ he said, ‘that the murderer is someone on this very coach.’ Which would have been more impressive if he’d said it louder, or while facing the rest of the band, or in English, but in his defence Gar was really freakin’ drunk.

‘What did you say, Gar?’ asked Lisa-Marie Presley (rhythm guitar, real name, total coincidence).

‘Tämä hyvin valmentaja,’ muttered Gar in bad Finnish before falling asleep.

‘He’s right,’ said Zeandra. ‘Izzy was alive when we left Portland yesterday, and no-one else has been on the coach. One of us must have killed him.’

An ominous chord hung in the air. ‘Sorry,’ said Lisa-Marie, and put her guitar away.

‘I still think he just did it to fuck with us,’ Tombstone Pete said sullenly.

Zeandra held up Izzy’s severed head to face Pete. ‘Say that to his face, Pete’, she said, shoving the head at him, ‘Say it to his face!’

Tombstone Pete turned away. ‘Jeez, fine, don’t have to make such a big fuckin’ deal about it, so he was murdered.’

‘But it still couldn’t have been one of us,’ said YOLO Tengo. ‘None of us would have killed him.’

‘You were always threatening to kill Izzy,’ said Lisa-Marie. ‘You said just yesterday that you hated him and wanted to see him dead!’

YOLO turned red. ‘Okay, yes, that’s true,’ he said, ‘but I couldn’t have cut his head off with a cymbal. You know I can’t bring myself to touch a drum-kit, not since… since The Incident.’

No-one said anything. The memory of YOLO’s drum-related shame was still too fresh.

‘Look, no matter who killed him, we have a gig to get to,’ said Lisa-Marie. ‘We need another drummer.’

‘And we need to do something about the body,’ said Zeandra.

There wasn’t any time to stop again before the gig, so while YOLO called ahead to the agent to arrange a replacement drummer, Tombstone Pete conducted a funeral for Izzy at the back of the coach. ‘Viking style, yeah,’ he told the group. They all bowed their heads and relived their fondest memories of Izzy – doing coke with the Stones, doing coke with the Peppers, doing coke at the Lilith Festival, trying to do coke when there wasn’t any coke and just snorting Pepsi instead until one of his eyeballs turned black.

Good times. Better times. Times when Those Assholes were more than just a band; they were a family.

Then they drenched the corpse in butane and lit it up. Izzy’s body slowly burned to ashes, along with his drum kit, his signed photo of Hulk Hogan and half the seats in the coach. The black tour bus continued to cruise down Highway 5 to Los Angeles, smoke streaming from the windows, real flames licking at the ones painted on the sides, and the last bodily remains of Isaac ‘Izzy’ Molkowicz drifting off on the Californian breeze to get recirculated into the airconditioning systems of passing SUVs.

As the fire died down and the sprinkler system kicked in, the mood of Those Assholes turned tense once again.

‘Maybe Lisa-Marie killed him,’ said YOLO.

‘That’s impossible,’ said Lisa-Marie. ‘I’m a Buddhist and a vegan.’

‘Yeah, but you killed that guy in Winnipeg,’ YOLO said, ‘and those two dudes in Chicago.’

‘Why do you always have to bring up Chicago and Winnipeg?’ Lisa-Marie sobbed. ‘That was different!’

‘I don’t know how any of us could have killed him without someone else noticing,’ said Zeandra. ‘This is some impossible locked room shit.’

‘I’ve got it!’ yelled Tombstone Pete, so loudly that everyone else screamed and the coach nearly drove into a billboard. ‘I know who killed Izzy!’

‘Who?’ said Lisa-Marie Presley.

‘Who?’ said YOLO Tengo.

‘Who?’ said Zeandra.

‘Hmm? What?’, said Gar Artfunkel, who had been woken by the noise.

‘Ghosts!’ exclaimed Pete. ‘Invisible killer Highway 5 ghosts!’

It was the only possible explanation. ‘Nice work, Miss Marple,’ said Zeandra. ‘We’ll get a press release out tomorrow and tell his family. Now let’s ROCK AND ROLL!’

And so they did.

Oh, and it was the coach driver who killed Izzy. Midnight cymbal frisbee game, total accident. He felt really bad about it afterwards. Especially once Those Assholes set fire to his fucking coach.

As usual, you can blame Chuck Wendig (see image to the right) for this one, thanks to his current Flash Fiction Challenge. This one involved picking three story aspects from lists of ten, and while it would have been fun to use a randomiser, the appeal of setting both a murder mystery and a funeral within a vehicle on the highway struck an instant chord.

(I could have had them all as separate events, but where’s the sport in that?)

As usual, this gets added to the list of stories that will become the cheapo anthology Nine Flash Nine, available once I have nine good flash stories to stick into a single EPUB file. Surely that will happen any day now.

And that’s all I have time for tonight, folks; I’m still feeling pretty lousy, and I think I’ve done well to knock out a flash story today rather than spending the day in bed coughing and watching Doctor Who reruns.

I do it for you. Always for you.

Flash fiction – High School Methical

I once saw this movie where a guy grew marijuana in public toilets. Not in the toilet itself, or out in the open, but inside the walls. He cut open the tops of the pipes and inserted seed beds, with the hydroponic plants growing up inside the wall cavities. Completely impossible, but a great idea.

Actually, I’m not sure if it was a movie. It might have been a dream. I get those mixed up sometimes.

Anyway, that’s what gave me the idea to build a meth lab inside the actual toilets of my high school.

I didn’t really want to build a meth lab, but Jordie said we had no choice. ‘We got no choice, Oliver. If I can’t scare up twenty grand in the next two months, Royale will cut off my fucking toes.’ Royale was the guy Jordie did jobs for, but the last job had gone bad and Jordie had lost all the money he’d been given. ‘There’s no way I can get the money legally. You gotta help me, kiddo!’

Of course I had to help him. He’s my big brother.

I read about methamphetamine online and it didn’t seem too hard to create. We had some Sudafed in the medicine cabinet, so I took it out to my lab in the shed and set up a still using the fuel mixer from my model rockets. The police took my rockets away when one crashed and set fire to a barn, but I made those when I was twelve and I didn’t know as much about chemistry. Now I was fourteen and, apart from one time when a pocket of gas caught fire and burned off all the hair on my left arm, making the drug was pretty easy.

But it wasn’t enough. ‘This isn’t enough, Oliver,’ Jordie said when I showed him the clump of crystals. ‘This is like a hundred bucks worth, tops. We gotta make more and we gotta make it fast.’

That’s when I thought of making it in the unfinished toilet block at my school. They started building it a couple of years ago but then ran out of money, so it just sat at the edge of the school, locked up and covered in graffiti, while the lines to get into the working toilets got longer every day and most of the older boys just pissed up the side of the wall. No-one went there and it had working pipes and drains, so we snuck in one night to check it out. Jordie thought I could pick the padlocks, but I don’t know how to do that. Instead I just dissolved them with some acid and we brought new ones to replace them.

The toilet block smelled bad and didn’t have any electricity, but I used car battery to power some hooded lamps and then built stills inside the toilet bowls. Jordie got a bunch of Sudafed from Royale and stole some fertilizer and lye, and after a couple of nights of work we got everything percolating.

Jordie gave me a hug. ‘This is some supervillain shit right here, Oliver. You’re an evil genius! Next you’ll be making fembots or something.’ I blushed when he said that, because I thought he must have found out about my fembot research, but he was just making a joke.

Fembots are really hard to make.

So everything went really well for a month or so. We cooked a lot of meth for Royale, the janitors never found the lab and we only had a couple of small explosions. If I’d stopped to think about what we were doing I would probably have felt bad, so I didn’t do that. I just focused on the chemistry, which was much more fun. I didn’t go to many classes that month, but the teachers didn’t notice. I was always pretty quiet.

I was working one night when Jordie came in. I noticed that he’d been shot. ‘Ollie, I’ve been shot,’ he said. I treated the wound in his arm with some iodine while he told me that the police had raided Royale’s place and there’d been a shootout. ‘We gotta clean this place up before they come for us!’

That was a shame, because the lab was really good. I’d been hoping to build a hovercraft here once we were finished with the meth. But these things happen, so we started flushing all the chemicals away. It got pretty messy, and Jordie soon passed out from the fumes and blood loss. So I dragged him outside and then set fire to the toilet block.

It made a pretty awesome explosion when it went up. I made sure to record it on my camera to watch again later. Anyway, the explosion woke Jordie up, and he got pretty angry when he realised I’d left the meth in the lab. ‘You left the meth in the lab? You fuckin’ idiot freak!’

That made me really upset. Jordie never called me things like that normally. But I figured that the meth he’d been taking had made him irritable and paranoid, which is why I’d burned it all up. To make him feel better, I took the fall when the police arrived. I told them I’d been making fireworks, and after all the times they’d confiscated my chemistry stuff over the years I guess they believed me.

Anyway, juvie is actually pretty good. I get time to read and study without school or Dad getting in the way, and the other kids have been really nice to me since I built the vodka still in the laundry. Once I get out in a few months and Jordie’s finished with rehab, I think we should try making another secret laboratory and making something different. Like ecstasy, or maybe nitro-glycerine. Or Kryptonite.

I like the idea of being a supervillain. I think that’s definitely next on my to-do list. Once I finally work out how to make fembots.

 

Once again, a little prod from Chuck Wendig was enough to get me moving on an idea I’d had but never worked on. Well, to be honest all I’d had was the opening lines and the terrible play on words in the title, but sometimes that’s all you need.

Also, 1000 words is hard sometimes. It meant I had to drop the idea of having the police raid during the final night of the school’s musical and the subsequent car chase through the auditorium. But it’s all about killing your darlings, a phrase that writers love and homicide police don’t accept as a defence in a court of law.

This gets added to the set of stories that will eventually come out in Nine Flash Nine. Back in January I said that would be ready around April, which just goes to show that I am entirely full of shit about my work schedule. But it’s coming along – just a couple more stories and it should be good to go. I just need to write those in and around working on Raven’s Blood and Arcadia.

Easy fucking peasy.

Flash fiction – Boy

For lunch most days, Hatetooth the Ogre demanded a sandwich, and today was no exception.

‘BOY!’, he thundered in a voice that could (and did) crack stone, ‘MAKE ME A SANDWICH!’

Boy (he had had a proper name once, but it was long since forgotten) crawled out from his tiny pen inside the ogre’s throne of skulls. ‘Yes, master’, he said, voice soft, eyes cast down. ‘What would you like on it?’

‘WOLF MEAT! POISON IVY! FINGERNAILS! BLOOD JELLY! FEED ME, I’M HUNGRY!’

‘At once, master,’ said Boy, and backed out of Hatetooth’s terrible throne room, littered with bones and the rusty weapons of dead adventurers.

The throne room was at one end of a grisly corridor – called, in fact, the Grisly Corridor – and Boy scurried past the dead gaze of heads lined on spikes along either side. The rusty grating of the floor left stains on his dirty feet, and oily water frothed beneath as he carefully hopped and jumped across the frequent gaps torn open by Hatetooth’s gnarled hooves. All was silent except for the gurgle of the water, the hiss of hand-sized spiders as they watched Boy from their vast webs overhead, and somewhere, far away in the caverns below Hatetooth’s dreadful castle, the quiet sob of a child who would never go home again.

The sobbing used to be the worst part. But Boy got used to it, just as he got used to a lot of terrible things.

Red light oozed through portcullis bars as Boy made his way through the castle, passing through the Perilous Gorge, the Cave of Stakes, the Blood-Red Tunnels and all the oubliettes, torture chambers and stinking middens that Hatetooth had installed in his fortress. There were dangers aplenty there, and many little horrors and sad adventures to be found along the way, but Boy had been doing this for a long time, so it took only a little pain and a little terror before he arrived at last at the ogre’s Grim Larder.

First was bread, or what Hatetooth called bread, which was a block of bone meal mixed with sawdust and bull’s blood. Boy hacked off two pieces with a broken sword and laid them flat upon a stone. Then wolf meat, and Boy was just glad that he didn’t have to carve the flesh off the old, diseased wolf that Hatetooth kept penned up in the Larder. The ogre had done that himself, and the beast’s leg lay rotting on a plate while the maimed animal growled and whined in its cage.

‘I’m sorry, Wolf,’ Boy said, ‘but we’re all maimed in here.’ And he carved off some slices from the gamey leg and slapped them onto the bread.

The fingernails were the worst part, because they were still attached to the fingers, all severed and dumped in a hessian sack. The ogre liked fingers boiled slowly, so that the skin went soft and jelly dribbled out, and he would suck on them while watching crows fight over scraps on the killing floor of the castle. But he also liked the fingernails, and Boy started pulling them off and chopping them into little bits.

And then a quiet voice said ‘Hey,’ and Boy turned from the Grim Larder to see Scott from his class looking through the kitchen window.

‘Oh. Hey,’ Boy said, and closed the fridge door.

‘I was wondering if… some of us are going down to the football field to play some soccer for a while. Did you want to come?’

‘I, um. That, that sounds like fun.’ It did. It really did.

‘BOY!’ yelled a rough voice from the back of the house, cracked at the end by a smoker’s cough. ‘WHERE’S MY FUCKING LUNCH?’

Boy turned back to the window. ‘But I can’t, sorry. My dad, he…’

Scott nodded. ‘Yeah, okay. I just thought… okay. Another day, then.’

‘Yeah. Maybe. That’d be good.’

Scott looked off into any direction except at Boy’s black eye. ‘Everyone knows about your dad. Everyone in town knows what he’s like.’

‘I know. But they don’t do anything about it.’

‘That sucks.’

‘Uh-huh. Look, you better go.’ Or you could do something and help me, Boy thought.

But Scott just nodded and said ‘Okay’, and then he was gone.

‘BOY! HURRY THE FUCK UP!’

‘Coming, dad,’ Boy called, and got back to the ogre’s ham sandwich while the three-legged dog whimpered at his feet. He finished chopping up the onions and then found some brownish lettuce in a bag. But he wasn’t done yet.

On the shelf next to the fridge was a shallow bowl full of loose change. Boy reached behind the bowl to find the bottle of sleeping pills that his father took on the infrequent nights he didn’t pass out at the table.

He took a pill – no, it was nightshade, deadly nightshade, that was better – and crushed it into powder between two spoons. Masked by a couple of squirts of Tabasco sauce and mixed into the relish, the poison would get into Hatetooth’s stomach and join the other doses that Boy kept slipping into his food.

And one day the ogre would keel over dead or unconscious and Boy would fly out the door, onto his bike or maybe a horse, and he would ride into the night and freedom and everything would be better and stories would have happy endings.

Maybe next week. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe today.

Maybe today.

But probably not.

 

Once again you have Chuck Wendig and his regular Flash Fiction Challenge to thank for this story. A few weeks ago he asked readers to come up with a story that was just about making a sandwich but that was nonetheless filled with drama and conflict. As usual, I didn’t have time to get something done during the challenge period, but I liked the idea and wanted to get something done when I had the chance. And here it is. It doesn’t have much conflict, to tell the truth, but I think it has a fair amount of drama.

Originally this was just going to be a fantasy story about an ogre and a boy, but then the shocking twist suggested itself to me and it became a lot more interesting to write (and hopefully to read). And, to be honest, a bit more emotionally challenging to write; there are parts of this story that, while not exactly autobiographical, are still drawn from personal experience. But pretty much every story draws from personal experience in some way, so no need to make a big deal about it.

This story also gets added to my in-progress anthology Nine Flash Nine, which will have nine flash fiction stories for 99 cents. I’m past the halfway mark on that, and should be able to finalise it by… oh, let’s say a month or so after The Obituarist is published. Which will probably be early April, about a month after I had originally planned to get it out, but that’s what happens when you spend all of February writing giant fucking posts about book costings.

But anyway, that’s in the future, and ‘Boy’ is today. If you liked it, great! If you didn’t, blame Chuck.

Hearts of Ice

You know, the day after I posted that last blog post, I kinda regretted it – it was a half-baked mess of ideas that didn’t really get across any point I was trying to make.

And yet it’s getting more comments and discussion than any other post I’ve made on this blog. Go figure. Anyway, I’m going to come back to that topic on Sunday and try to say something more coherent.

Tonight, though, something completely different – free short fiction!

Once again I’ve taken one of the stories I’ve written over the last few years and uploaded it to the internets for free download. This time it’s ‘Hearts of Ice’, a story about you – yes, you, you reading now, you right there!

More precisely, it’s a story written in second person that makes you the subject whether you like it or not; a story about need, addiction, choices, loss, love and the way white smoke pools like liquid in the bowl of a glass pipe, pools in a way you could watch for hours because it’s so much more engrossing than the rest of your life. You know, stuff like that.

If you enjoyed Hotel Flamingo or Godheads, this is, well, completely different. But it’s a cool story nonetheless and I hope people will dig it.

Like my other free stories (details on the Downloads page), ‘Hearts of Ice’ is available in a number of formats. Smashwords can give it to you as a MOBI or EPUB file, or as a pretty crappy PDF. Alternatively, you can download it right here as a PDF with better formatting.

I was all set to upload this story, along with my other free short stories, to the Kindle Store tonight, but was brought up short when I realised that you can’t upload a free file to the Kindle Store. The lowest you can go there is 99 cents; the free ebooks they offer are either special promotions or (I think) public domain works specifically published by Amazon themselves.

I can get where they’re coming from, I suppose; Amazon’s Whispernet delivery service for Kindle book is free to customers but still racks up costs, and there’s not much return in them spending money to help authors give their stuff away. And setting a 99 cent minimum has some benefits to writers too – specifically, by setting some kind of lower limit on the race to the bottom on ebook pricing. Bad enough that so many consumers demand a 99 cent price point; I don’t really feel like competing with a 49 cent or 10 cent price point.

That said, it’s still annoying that I can’t put these stories up on the Kindle Store; there’s no way I can get sales at 99 cents for a single story when I’m also selling a novella and an anthology at that price. Giving them away is the only practical option – and hey, not something I struggle with or grumble about – but I can’t do so in the biggest ebook market, and nor can anyone else.

Ah well, such is life.

Speaking of cheap 99 cent ebooks, the change in price for Flamingo and Godheads is paying off, at least in terms of sales numbers. Sales returns… meh, not worrying about that so much. Let’s be honest here, I still haven’t received any payments from Amazon (who pay by cheque), and I’ve asked Smashwords to hold off on payment until I get a US tax number sorted out. So no matter how many books I sell, I’m not seeing any cash any time soon, so I may as well not stress about it.

Anyway, hope you like the story. Going to put some more up in the next couple of months.

Come back Sunday for some more focused and (hopefully) useful thoughts about extrapolation versus invention. And maybe some swearing.

Black Veil and Gloves

Every boxer in the county came to pay their respects when Mickey Duggan died of a broken heart. Whether bleeders who went the distance or mooks who led with their chin every damn time, they were all there. The line went down the block from where Mickey’s body lay in state in O’Malley’s Gym, dressed in his Sunday best jacket and his trademark purple trunks.

One by one the boxers filed in to view the body. And then, after saying goodbye, each took a seat around the ring to watch his widow and his mistress beat the hell outta each other.

Lettie Duggan sat in the black corner, face covered by the widow’s veil, hands in the widow’s boxing gloves. She had eschewed the widow’s mouthguard; it made her lose the disapproving expression she had perfected over two decades of infidelitous marriage. She glared implacably at her opponent, Miss Charlene Piscoperra, late of the saloon at 9th and Overeasy, late of the Zoidfield Follies, late of Mickey Duggan’s bed. The bed where he drank himself to death after Lettie tossed him out for the last time and screamed I never loved you, you worthless palooka! loud enough for the whole borough to hear.

Charlene had matched her low-cut dress with a pair of shiny red boots. This was a chance to show off her curves and curls, after all, and she missed Mickey and all but hell, mister, a girl’s gotta eat.

Widow’s matches were traditionally for the wife’s right to keep her husband’s belt and medals, but Mickey had never been a contender. He rarely won fights; he just lost them hard. He had all the chin in the world, and no-one qualified for a title shot until they could say they’d lasted twenty or thirty rounds with Mickey.

These women were fighting for something more important – the right for the widow’s seat by Mickey’s coffin, the right to hear the boxers mumble something sad and pointless on the way out. The right to say that they were Mickey’s one true love, to the end.

The boxers stood as the referee entered, formal in his striped shirt and dog collar, ready to lead Mickey’s service as soon as he judged the winner. He rattled off the rules and conditions, by the powers invested in me by God and the Boxing Commission and so on. Lettie’s brother Claude checked the ties on her gloves, while Charlene blew kisses to the crowd.

Round one! Lettie laid into Charlene with a hard right to the bodice. She followed up with a left and another right, sledging the bargirl around the ribs. Charlene stumbled back, fists flailing. The widow pushed the hussy back to the ropes, pounding away until the bell rang and the ref yelled at them to get back to their corners.

Round two! Lettie came out hard again but this time Charlene was ready, blocking low and tight, protecting her assets from the widow’s fury. Punch after punch connected but did little damage. A mutter swept the crowd as it became obvious that Lettie had passion but not enough power. Charlene went back to her corner with a smile; Lettie went back with aching wrists.

Round three! Now the balance swung to Charlene. Her looping crosses lacked finesse but were backed up by five years of tap and three of pulling beers. It was all Lettie could do to block the blows. Charlene snarled at her: You maybe think you made a mistake, old lady? When the bell rang Lettie thundered back to her corner in outrage.

Round four! The two women punched back and forth, back and forth, until Lettie put too much into a cross and left herself open.

And from nowhere Charlene came back with a left hook that crunched into Lettie’s nose and threw her eggs over breakfast down to the mat.

The ref ran in for the count.

One!

Two!

Lettie flopped on the canvas like a drunk marionette, strings tangled up, hand in the sky all broken.

Three!

Four!

Charlene paraded around the ring, screaming at Lettie. Stay down, consarnit it! You didn’t love him! You told everyone you didn’t love him! Stay down!

Five!

Six!

Seven!

Lettie lurched to her shaking knees like a newborn fawn. Charlene screeched as the ref stopped the count and pouted back into her corner while Lettie crawled back to Claude, barely conscious.

You want me to throw in the towel, sis? Lettie fixed Claude with a look that coulda boiled an egg.

Like hell.

She flopped onto the stool, spat a glob of blood and adrenaline drool into a bucket, a lost tooth clanking as it hit metal. Claude quietly plucked it out and stuck it in his pocket. Win or lose, it’d be worth a couple of bucks from a collector or something.

Right then, muttered Lettie. Enough of this.

Round five! Lettie did the stick-and-move, showering Charlene with long punches while dancing to the side, staying away from that terrible left hook. She snapped off a jab into Charlene’s face, enough to rattle her, then came in for a clench. In the seconds before the ref split them up, she put her lips to Charlene’s ear and slurred I said I didn’t love him, but maybe I lied.

Another jab. In for the clench again.

And maybe I didn’t.

Jab. Jab. Clench. A last hiss. I’m the only one who gets to know.

And with that Lettie put everything she had into a roundhouse haymaker that started at the small of her back and swung out through Timbuktu before coming back smack dab onto Charlene’s chin.

Charlene, as it happened, did not have all the chin in the world. She kissed canvas hard and didn’t move again.

Lettie slumped against the ref as he proclaimed her Winner and marital champion! With his help she staggered out of the ring and collapsed in a chair next to Mickey. Blood dripped from her nose, her veil glued to her battered face like a mask of red.

But she was a boxer’s widow. And that was the makeup you wore to anything worth fighting for.

Lettie smiled sweetly through torn lips and waited for the service to start.

 

Happy Christmas, PODcommers!

No, I know this isn’t what you’d call a Christmas story, but it’s my flash fiction gift from me to you.

Like a lot of my flash fiction, this one’s a response to one of Chuck Wendig’s flash challenges, this time to create a story based on one of these 50 Unexplainable Black & White Photos. Visual stimulus is a tricky thing, and images either speak to me or they don’t – but when they do, they speak loudly. 49 pictures on that site did nothing for me – when I saw the one above, the entire story popped into my head. Then it was just a matter of trimming my 1300-word draft down into 1000 words, which was terrible hard work, but it’s done now and the results are yours.

Don’t say I never do nothing for youse.

Free stuff, and some thoughts thereon

Let’s kick off tonight’s post with CRAZY CASH GIVEAWAYS!

Well, okay, that’s a lie.

However, I am giving away free stuff!

Specifically, I’m giving away a free short story for download, with the deliberately unwieldy title of ‘The Recent 86 Tram Disaster as Outlined in a Series of Ten Character Studies’. It’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like, and also a bit of metatextual musing on what a character study is and does – yes, I’m once again trying to be Italo Calvino, and as usual not doing a very good job of it. But what the heck – it’s free, right!

You can download the story at Smashwords if you’re after a Kindle or e-book version; I’m not 100% pleased with the way the Kindle version came out, because it’s indenting the first line of every paragraph for some reason, but I’m tinkering with it and it remains perfectly readable. If you prefer a PDF version, you can download a fine-tuned version directly from the Downloads page here at PODcom, which is better than the one SW produces. If you’re after a HTML, Word or text version, then it’s really time you started rethinking the way you read ebooks.

(And while you’re downloading this story, you of course can also grab ‘Watching the Fireworks’ and ‘The Descent’ for the same low price of nothing at all, if you haven’t already.)

This isn’t a new story, mind you. I wrote it about a year ago, put it up on my LJ to some praise and some criticism, and then left it gathering electron-dust on my hard drive until earlier this week. When I decided to add something to the free download portion of my portfolio, I had a look at this piece and decided it would be a good choice. It has some intricacies of voice, some reasonably good jokes and I don’t think there are any Oxford commas in it.

But like I said, not every reader was positive about it when I first posted it – a few thought the concept just didn’t work, while some others felt it needed polishing. (Don’t get me wrong, though – most of ’em dug it, or else I wouldn’t be trying to disseminate it further now.) When I pulled it out, I thought about whether to give it another redraft to make it really click – and then I didn’t do that. Because I like the immediacy of a finished piece, and don’t much like tinkering with multiple drafts of a story, especially a short story. In, out, done.

Plus, of course, it’s free.

And a lot of ebooks are free, and a lot of them are crap. And it’s hard not to wonder whether these two things are connected. The bar is set very low in the current market, both in terms of quality and of price. Is it any wonder that many writers don’t give their work the time and effort it needs, knowing that they’ll be selling it for 99 cents or even giving it away?

The new world of e-publishing gives everyone an opportunity to be heard – even those who don’t want to put any effort into being heard. That’s a strange situation, and hopefully an untenable one, because that ease of access doesn’t just let in the dreadful unwashed masses who want to press their grubbly little texts upon us worded gentry; there’s a lazy gravity to that ease that drags at a writer’s heels, tempting all of us down towards that low-set bar. Any lower and snakes would lose limbo dancing contests under it.

None of this incoherent rambling is meant to suggest that you shouldn’t download ’86 Tram’ and read it. OF COURSE YOU SHOULD. But it makes me realise that I get into a different mindset when writing for eventual sale – even if the work is only going for a dollar or two – and writing for free dissemination. And it’d be better for me – and you, and the great wide world of letters as a whole – if I stayed in that first mindset as much as possible. Even for the free stuff.

After all, you pay for those stories with time. And attention. And your sweet, sweet love.

Kind of an unfocused post tonight, I know. I’ve been distracted. Will try to lift my game next weekend.

Flash fiction – Got the Horn

Shelby puts his hands on his stomach, and with a satisfied smirk says ‘Unicorns. Bitches love unicorns.’

All around the planning meeting table, the guys sit up and take notice. I unbotton my jacket and lean forward, making notes on my iPad.

‘And these are not just your regular fancypants pure-lily-white horsies. These unicorns turn into hot guys. Hot shirtless leg-openers with waxed chests and perfect sideburns and pouty  fucking lips.

‘And they sparkle.’

At which point the collective brains-trust pretty much creams their jeans as one.

Although someone has to pipe up with inconvenient facts. This time it’s Harris from Accounts. ‘Sir, we can’t have them sparkle, it’d be a IP infringement –

‘Shut the fuck up! You asswhore! You dickslut! You pussy vagina girlparts little bitch!’ Shelby always insults men by implying they’re women. To be fair, he also insults women the same way. ‘I’m not fucking being literal here, pissflaps! I don’t care if they sparkle or glow or shine searchlights out of their dickholes! But they’re perfect, and hot, and they stand out in a crowd and make every chick around them wetter than Venice. Maybe their horns appear and they’re made of solid chocolate and smell like cum. Fuck if I know! You geeks can work that out. Screw details, this is The Idea Business!’

You can hear the caps when he says that phrase. It’s trademarked that way.

‘They’re white stallions and unattainable boyfriends in one. This is going to be the new Twilight, the new True Blood, the new… shit, I dunno, whatever bimbos like now. Unicorns are gonna be the new vampires and werewolves and sex machines, the shit the virgins hump their pillows and cut themselves for, and we are going to the ones standing under the money fountain jerking off onto hundred dollar bills. This is a window of opportunity for this studio, and we are gonna bust right through it!’

All of us guys start laughing and high-fiving each other. Shelby’s knocked it out of the park again, come up with something that we all know women will fall over themselves to reach for.

He starts assigning roles, pretty much at random – he’s in The Idea Business, not The Checking Position Descriptions Business.

To Feinberg on my right: ‘You! I want novels! Three to start with, with room for a fourth. No word with more than two syllables, no sentence with more than six words, no personality for the teenage female protagonist. The unicorn boy completes her and she has to give up everything before he finally prongs her with his horn. Lots of making out, no sex until the end, and a villain that’s hotter than the hero. Five percent royalty and a gender-neutral author name. GO!’

To O’Cassidy on my left: ‘You! Movie! Same plot as the book, different writer. Get a chick to direct it. Lots of skin, lots of blood, lots of hot gazing out of the screen. No fatties, no old people, no ethnics. Need at least six major bands for the soundtrack, so sign ’em up before shooting starts. Get the scandal in early! And make sure the girl’s hot but weird, but in a bland way. No freaks!’

He looks at me and says ‘Now, you… wait, who the fuck are you again?’

I clear my throat. ‘Tom Volcheck, sir. I joined last month. Hired from Paramount.’

He shrugs, already bored. ‘Whatever. You’re on transmedia and merchandising! I want webisodes! ARCs! Apps! I want… I dunno, action figures and sexy Halloween costumes and happy meals! Tie-ins and spin-offs! Robots that turn into unicorns and give cars a deep dicking! All that kind of shit!’

Shelby rubs his hands together in anticipation of fat third-quarter profits. ‘Hot fucking unicorn boys. It’s a license to print money that stinks like poontang. Am I right, guys? I’m right!’

We all nod and laugh and congratulate him on his vision, and agree that women will be gagging to dive into stories of unattainable men with deep souls and hard stomachs who are so much better than the lumpy, fallible, human jerks they have to put up with in real life.

I keep taking notes as the meeting continues, and after it wraps we go off to brainstorm ideas. After-work beers are mandatory, and we tell each other how great this is, and we avoid eye contact. And I give as good as I get, and I agree that the bitches will love it, and I wait.

Wait until I get home, when I finally pull this itchy false moustache off, unbind my chest, unstrap the strap-on from my thigh and shower the misogyny off me yet again. Then I dump the contents of the iPad onto the Sisterhood’s secret servers and start disseminating the news to our discussion forums so we can start making plans to stop this before it starts.

The shit of it is, they’re right. I like unicorns. Lots of us do. And part of me would really like to see that movie or read that book, if it was good, if it didn’t just exist to harvest our money while making us feel like shit.

Ah well. Maybe the next company and Ideas Business I infiltrate won’t be such a pile of shitheads. Maybe it’ll be run by women and men with vision and heart who want to share that with an audience that wants something worth caring about.

Or maybe everyone in that scenario is mythical. Like a unicorn.

Still won’t stop me wanting to believe in them, though.

But that’s a thought for another night. Now it’s time for smashing the Patriarchy. Maybe with gin and comic books for dessert.

Not subtle, I know, but flash fiction is not the place for subtlety. Not my flash fiction, anyway.

This is another Chuck Wendig flash challenge response. He called for stories involving unicorns, which reminded me of Gail Simone’s comments on Twitter this month about female comics readers being seen as myths, like unicorns, despite being a real and growing market. Add to that a lot of recent RPG forum talk about sexism, and this kind of came into my head this afternoon.

It’s not big or clever, but it gave me a chance to say dickslut and make a little fun of Twilight, so there’s good and bad.

Now, I know there was supposed to be a post on character on Sunday night, but it wasn’t coming together, and I didn’t want to make a half-arsed post. Well, an even more half-arsed post – I’d be down to a sixteenth of a buttock and three pubes. So I was going to post that tonight, but then this idea came up, and I thought I’d get it down first.

Now that that’s there, character on Sunday. With digressions about Batman and feline frottage.