Monthly Archives: April 2010

Friday Flash: An Offer You Can’t Refuse

An Offer You Can’t Refuse

Guido didn’t like wearing a suit.  He thought it made him look too intimidating and told his mother so.
 
His mother, the little dumpling that she was, shook her head. "Guido, mein Sohn, you’re supposed to look intimidating.  Think about what these people are hiring you to do!"

"About that, Ma…" But she cut him off with a quick string of German that Guido couldn’t keep up with.  It was usually for best to go along with her when she got like that.  So, Guido found himself, in the bar at 10am.
 
Nothing good goes on in a bar at 10am.  He had learned that very young when his father would take him to meet "family."  Going to meet this uncle or that was fine until one afternoon three men with guns burst in.  Within five seconds, Guido, at the ripe old age seven, saw three men die.  Guido imagined his father had died in some similar manner.  Mother wouldn’t tell him.

The bar was everything Guido expected.  Long, wood; stools and top wiped immaculately clean. A few tables had their chairs turned seats down on their tops.  They interrupted the light filtering through the frosted windows with dead-spider shadows.  The back office would be cramped.  Every boyhood uncle had had one, complete with an old metal teacher’s desk.  Among the papers on an uncle’s desk one was likely to find a stack of non-consecutive hundred dollar bills.

Two men in jeans and flannel shirts had let Guido in.  They smirked at his suit.

"Wait here," one said.

Guido nodded dumbly.
 
The other went behind the bar and fished a beer from a chest cooler. "What do you think you are?  Mafioso?"
 
Guido shrugged.  "No, but my mother does."

The guy behind the bar twisted off the cap of his beer and took a swig. "That’s pathetic."

Guido couldn’t disagree.

Ma insisted that Mr. Drest was an old friend of Father’s.  She was always trying to find Guido work.  She had ruined the last legitimate job Guido had at the comic store by telling some wise guys it would be okay to use the place as a front for a few drug deals.  Guido had nearly wound up in jail.  His mother’s involvement never entered the picture.  Why she couldn’t leave him alone and let him go to art school?  Every time he brought it up, she claimed he was ungrateful for not wanting to take care of her in her waning years.  Guido kept hoping she’d get tired of trying to place him in his father’s footsteps.

The back room wasn’t like Guido imagined.  It was shadowy and as cool as a late spring slush puddle.  The furnishings were all made of dark wood, old wood, that didn’t let light reflect from it.  The desktop was as neat as Ma’s dining room table.

It was the man behind the desk made Guido’s breath stick in the back of his throat.

He was small.  The lush chair nearly swallowed him up.  His large head was precariously set atop a neck smaller than a five-year-old’s forearm. He wore a purple vest over a billowy white shirt.  And Guido was almost certain in this light that Mr. Drest had a pair of leathery wings on his back.  He’s older than the wood desk, Guido thought.

Mr. Drest smiled. "Guido Delamisso.  Carmine’s boy! Don’t you look fine in your suit?"
 
His voice was young, girlish.

Guido swallowed his questions.  Terror was sour in his throat.  The two men in jeans and flannels stood flanking him.

"Why don’t you boys ever dress up more?" Drest asked.  "Lend a little class to our operation.  How’s your mother, Guido?"
 
Guido still couldn’t find the breath to speak.
"Don’t be bashful."

"My…"  Guido coughed.  "My mother’s fine, sir."

"Good to hear."  His voice had a thick velvety brogue.  "I remember her being a very lovely woman.  Everyone could understand why Carmine married her, even if she was a Protestant girl."  Mr. Drest’s bloodless lips offered Guido a thin smile.  Guido was staring hard at the man’s face.  Anything to keep from staring at the wings.  Bat’s wings, or gargoyle’s.

"Your mother loved your father a great deal," Drest was saying.  "She also loved the life itself, despite your father’s unfortunate end.  Which is why she contacted me about a job for you, yes?"

"Yes, I suppose so," said Guido.

He must have sounded tentative because Drest continued.  "It happens sometimes, especially to wives.  They get a taste for someone they love being in danger.  A strange thing."

Guido nearly yelped a laugh at the small winged man calling his mother strange.  Instead, he just agreed. "Yes."

"I have a proposition for you, Guido," Drest said.  "Maybe I will get what I want, and you will get what you want.  Wouldn’t that be nice?"

"Yes," Guido said.
 
"You do this one job for me, and we’ll tell your mother that you’re permanently my employee.  But really, you go and do what you want.  I’ll cover for you, ad infinitum."

It sounded to go too be true.  Guido couldn’t stop what he said next.  "Who do you want me kill?"

Mr. Drest smiled, but didn’t say anything to disavow Guido of his notion.  He sat for a moment.  Guido could swear the wings twitched.  It occurred to him just then that maybe the wings were fake.  Maybe this old man was as crazy as Guido’s mother and his way of instilling fear in his rivals was to parade around as some sort of Satan.  They were so real though.
 
Mr. Drest opened a desk drawer.  He took out a thin manila folder and slid it to Guido.

—###—

This is another piece from my scrap bin. The file is dated February 21, 2002. I don’t remember writing it. The challenge with it was cutting down from 1360 to less than 1000. I thought the writing was lean, but I manage to take a sentence here, a clause there. Final count was 952. I also didn’t have a title. I decided to go with the old cliche instead of my other front runner: Fairy Godfather. 

I think I’ll plan on writing something new for next week. Or trying to finish one of the beginnings I have.

Book #12 – Good Book

Plug: I’m serializing my novel Pas de Chat. Basically, a chapter-a-week, free! I posted the second part of chapter three yesterday. It’s contemporary set crime/horror. No cannibalism. 😉

—###—

Book #12 – Good Book by David Plotz

Subtitled: The Bizarre, Hilarious, Disturbing, Marvelous, and Inspiring Things I Learned When I Read Every Single Word of the Bible
Which should include a disclaimer: Every Single Word of the *Hebrew* Bible, aka The Old Testament

And now I’ll include *my* disclaimer: I’m going to talk about Good Book and the Good Book in relation to my experience of them. I’m not intending this to be a dialog about religious beliefs. My friends and family run the gamut. In any case, and as with most serious things, I tend to address religion with a good dollop of humor. No disrespect intended.

I have found the Bible fascinating since my mother gave me an edition as confirmation gift that included the Apocrypha. Here were whole books that were left out of my education. What else had I been missing? And my education hadn’t been small up to that point. From kindergarten through sixth grade, I attended a Lutheran school. We had religion class in the morning, chapel on Wednesdays. Music class was choir and handbells. That was in addition to church and Sunday school–every other week (none of my family are morning people)–and Vaction Bible School in the summer. I was also confirmed Lutheran which meant class once a week throughout seventh grade (and maybe eighth, I don’t remember). In all, I’ve read a good deal of the Bible. I’m also somewhat cynical and somewhat morbid. There’s a good deal in the Old Testament for the horror fan. Not only plagues and the smiting of first-born sons, but gems like Jael taking care of an enemy general by lulling him to sleep and then driving a tent peg through his head. I know most of the popular stories *and* their dark codas. (Take Daniel and the lions’ den, for instance. King Darius is convinced to pass a law stating that prayer should only be addressed to him. Daniel, an adviser to Darius but also a God-fearing man, won’t do it. He’s ratted out for disobeying the law. The king realizes that the law was bone-headed, but has to punish Daniel. Daniel is thrown into the lions den, but emerges unscathed. …And then the king arrests the tattle-tales and has them *and their families* thrown to the lions. Even though they were working to enforce the king’s bone-headed law.)

So, I had that over Plotz.  A lapsed Jew, he started this literary adventure after randomly encounter the story of Dinah. He too had a "What else am I missing?" moment. It’s somewhat interesting to relive that innocent shock at some of these tales, but that would get old if that were Plotz’ only commentary. Instead, I’m rather impressed with how much of the Bible is a history of a people and an instruction book for their continued survival. The angry Old Testament God serves a specific purpose. He’s toughening His people up. This is somewhat Jewish reading. As Plotz points out, Christian’s argue the OT is simply a set up for the redemptive New Testament. While I’ve always known that Judaism doesn’t include "the other half," I’ve never stopped to think about what that leaves behind. The OT is messy and sometimes ambiguous in its message, and that’s a good thing. That encourages dialogue.

Another thing that Plotz points out, and I’ve noticed this too, is how ubiquitous many Bible stories are. They pervade our culture. We’re are expected to catch references to Jonah and Whale or Noah and the Ark. (Without good ol’ Noah, the comedy of Bill Cosby and Eddie Izzard (NFWS) would be lacking.) I can’t imagine not knowing these stories.

David Plotz’ writing style is light and easy. Good Book started as a blog project and the style has some of that immediacy. He treats the Bible with respect, but isn’t afraid to question what’s going on. My only criticism is that sometimes the references made to popular culture or current politics are too trivial. They’re going to be outdated and might cause this book to age poorly. That’s probably the biggest danger of blog-to-books. We expect blogs to be up-to-date, but eventually out-of-date. We expect books to remain relevant.

—###—

Look at that! Twelve books in four months. I’m right on track. I was behind a bit, but the readathon got me back to where I wanted to be.
Also read:
"Four Horsemen, at Their Leisure" by Richard Parks
"Bridesicle" by Will McIntosh

Goodbye, Spring League 2010

AccuWeather tells me that it’s 91 degrees. You’d think that after ten years, I’d be resigned to "summer" beginning sometime in mid-April. The nights are still very nice and we’re still getting dips in temperature, but the trend is upward, both in temperature and amount of sunlight. Decrease in rain. We were supposed to get showers last Thursday and it didn’t happen. I should start thinking now about how to remain on an even keel through the next few months. (If I can call my current keel even…)

Spring league is over. My back is happy about that. My Monday nights are free again as well, and that’s good. Otherwise, phooey.

Cat and Tyler hosted a team dinner Friday night. Cat made tasty, spicy spaghetti sauce. For desert, we had a selection of gluten-free cheesecake, tiramisu, and chocolate chip cookies.  I tried four new kinds of beers: Sam Adam’s Summer Ale (not bad, but nothing special), Trader Joe’s Heffeweisen (the winner, I’d say), Turbodog English Ale (fairly decent), and Bard’s sorghum malt beer (interesting, reminded me of Kaliber). Plus, lots of good conversation and injury-free bare-handed beer-bottle breaking!

Played two games Saturday. Both were against Wednesday night teams we hadn’t seen before. Both had only two women, but boy, what women! I felt I did pretty well against InTentCity’s Kaetlynn, mainly because we played a good amount of zone and it was first game. I was completely schooled by Black Smoke Monster’s Kaysi. My back wasn’t happy and I was just terribly flat-footed. Bah. My handling was okay and I had a nice long catch in the second game, but otherwise…bah. Despite my achy back, we stuck around to watch the semis and finals games. Good games. The semi we watch ended 11-10, and the score to finals was 15-13. Just lots of good spirited play.

Yesterday was a bit of hell. My back  and legs ached. I couldn’t get my sinuses uncongested, so my face hurt. I napped a lot. So, it’s not a bad thing for me to go down to one game of disc a week. I figure I’ll start running a few days a week again and working on core strength. Otherwise, it’s time to heal.

Friday Flash: Falling Stars

Falling Stars

It was the perfect night for charting.  Not a cloud passed between Celia’s eyes and the heavens above.  There was a new moon, often an ominous portent, but the positioning of the hawk within the leviathan made the sky only celebratory.  The stars would bless the child born tonight, surely.

Celia had made the guards put out their torches so their light wouldn’t ruin her view.  The big gruff men always made noise about how such darkness would harm their defenses, but they always did as she asked eventually.  She could see the gleam of happiness and excitement in their eyes.  Tonight, their lord would have a son, if what the midwives said was correct.  A son long after two daughters.  Men do go on about sons.

Celia had climbed nimbly to the roof of the family’s residence with her blank charts beneath her arm.  The old man couldn’t do this part of the job any longer.  Celia couldn’t imagine him ever doing it.  Had he ever felt the same joy of looking at the stars while below new life was entering the world?  For Celia there was nothing more glorious.  With the tip of one finger, she drew an invisible symbol in the air.  The Sun would forgive her for loving the dark.

She had already filled in the preliminary information, the stations of celestial bodies, the stars and the planets.  It had been an hour’s work, begun shortly after the labor pains began for Jocelyn Dudevant.  Now it was just a matter of updating the minute movements of the stars as time passed.  For Madame Dudevant, Celia hoped that labor wouldn’t last too much longer.  For herself, Celia could have remained on the roof all night.

"Ho there!  Mistress!" 

The shout came from below and Celia smiled at the heavens before scrabbling to the edge of the roof.

"Yes?" she called down.

Several men in the bailey below stared up at her.  She put a hand up to shield her eyes from the pinpoint of bright, white torch light they carried with them.
 
"The babe is born," one answered.  He didn’t sound happy.  Maybe he never did, an old warrior like him, but he didn’t give the impression of a man celebrating the birth of his lord’s son.

"Is there anything the matter?" Celia asked.  She would be surprised if the baby wasn’t healthy.  Hawk in leviathan promised a strong body and a keen mind.

"No. Nothing."

Celia didn’t have time to question further. She had the boy’s chart to finish. 

She checked her lenses and the sextant to make sure that their calibrations were correct and double-checked the work she had done earlier in the night.

As she sketched in the last of the peripheral bodies, ones that might influence the boy’s later life, a light streaked across the sky. 

It startled her. 

The falling star was followed by another and another.

They made her heart race. 

Stars were meant to move slowly, to sweep across the sky in a grand, predictable manner. Many more glints of light shot across the sky. 

And then she remembered that the child was already born.  These things had no bearing on him.  She still eyed the sky wearily, but in her heart she was relieved.

She heard a ruckus below and, out of the noise, one of the men called her.

"Miss?"

She was ready to come down from the roof and she took her chart and tools with her.  When the guardsmen saw her at the edge, he waved his torch. 

"Set out your pens again, girl!  There’s been another baby born!"

"What?"  Celia felt blood rush to her head, and became dizzy.

"Another child!  We’ll need another chart.  We’ll pay your master double, it’s already decided."  She could see a smile glinting in his eyes.

She stared at the heavens, aghast.  The falling stars were fewer now, but could not be denied.

Celia went back to the peak of the roof and began another chart.

*****

She found the old man standing near a door on the second floor.

"You.  Where have you been?"

The thought of running entered Celia’s mind.  Her master had never addressed her so.

"Here is the extra chart."  She held both out to him and he yanked them from her hand with enough force to tear the corner of the bottom one.

The old man examined one and then the other, frowning at both.

"This one was second…"  Celia reached out to show her master the order in which she had drawn the charts.  He slapped her hand out of the way.

"I know which is which, girl."  He brushed past her and was down the stairs before she could say anything.

Celia was about to follow her master when the door opened, by a small woman with a lined face and russet colored hair.

She glanced at Celia as if expecting someone else.

"Oh, you must be the astrologer."  She had a kind smile.

"His assistant, ma’am."  Celia resisted the urge to give this woman a bow.

"Yes, of course.  Would you like to see the babies?"

"Very much, ma’am."

The room was lit by one hooded lamp and the thin light of dawn that was beginning to peek through the curtains.  The crib stood well away from any draft.

The two babies were outfitted identically in white swaddling clothes.  Both slept peacefully, making only the small movements that babies did.  The one was smaller than the other and his coloration was gray.  His little face clenched as he dreamed.

"This is Marie," Noella said smoothing the faint hair of the bigger baby.  "And this is her little brother Michael.  May the stars have blessed him."

Celia feared that the stars had done just the opposite.

—###—

This is the opening chapter of a novel I started for NaNoWriMo 2006 — diced and sliced down to less than 1000 words.   Falling Star was meant to be the background history of Marie Dudevant, a character in Divine Fire, the second Weordan novel. It is also the retelling of my second novel ever (aka. Big Sprawling Fantasy Novel I), transposing it to Weordan. (Just as Divine Fire is the transposition of Big Sprawling Fantasy Novel II.) My history of re-purposing story ideas is nearly as long as my writing career.

A Day of Questionable Quality

I’ve been going back and forth on what I should write, and honestly, all the subjects seem too mundane for the work it would take to post them. Instead, my day thus far.  And it hasn’t even been a particularly good one.

Broken morning sleep. I dreamed I bought an orange dress and shoes and jewelry to match for $6000.

For a day that was predicted to have thunderstorms, it’s been disappointingly sunny.

Bloglines is down. No news for me.  That’s okay; I have books. Been reading Good Book by David Plotz. Entertaining in that God-smiting-things kind of way.

Filed stuff and cleaned out the file cabinet. Realized that I *did* have a folder set up for Model Species rejection letters.

Ate leftover blue corn nachos and too many M&M cookies. Have generally had X-Men Evolution on in the background.

Good thing I have that folder for Model Species because the mail carrier brought me a shiny new rejection letter for it. While I was doing rejection letter bookkeeping, I realized that I should have heard back from one agency. (They said response time was a week. It’s been nearly four months.) I sent a follow-up query.

While updating my submission spreadsheet, the ether ate it. I’d try to save it; Excel kept saying "Document not saved." I closed without saving and then the file was gone. I search for it. I checked the Recycle Bin. Nothing. I settled for retrieving the March backup copy.

I also got a diaper sample in the mail.

The weather has become cloudier and cooler. Which means my joint aren’t happy.

Considering my rejection letter and impending frisbee league playoffs, Michael Stackpole’s post on victories in soccer and writing rang a bell with me.

Needed to mail a PaperBackSwap book. Left my credit card at the counter at the post office. Luckily, I am not fast on-foot and was easily tracked down.

I’m considering a nap or reading random fiction. As for writer-type work on my Task list: I have a #fridayflash to spiff up as well as a Pas de Chat entry to proof. I should probably have Eric read the latest Zeta Iota changes as well.

Book #11 – Horus Rising

Book #11 – Horus Rising by Dan Abnett

I’m always a little wary of tie-in books. Like many of the trendy 80’s TV series movie remakes, tie-in books are often commissioned to take advantage of a brand. They aren’t necessarily of good quality. I’ve read enough Star Trek and Star Wars novels to know this to be true. There is also some pretty good tie-in fiction out there. Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy probably did more to reinvigorate the Star Wars franchise than he’s given credit for, due in part to the solid nature of his work. But don’t think I encountered a tie-in that could stand alone until now.

I know a bit about the Warhammer 40K universe, but not much. I’ve read some of the gaming materials and I’ve previously read a 40k novel. That novel was pretty disappointing. Still in my search for palatable military SF, I figured I’d give 40K a second try with a series recommended by Chris Morgan. The Horus Heresy novels are set 10 millennium before Warhammer 40K (the 40K here referring to the human race in the year 40,000) and sets up some of the conflict that pervades that universe. Abnett does a wonderful job in doing that, even though this novel (the first in the series) only really sets up that setup.

I enjoyed this novel a great deal. It has great writing, solid characters who don’t do stupid things, and lots of ambiguity. Abnett questions the concept of the righteous war against the backdrop of 40K’s nature vs chaos themes. He also presents the value of historians and journalists in such actions; an aspect of the story which I hadn’t expected. In many ways, this is a great war novel, but not such a great sci-fi novel. Much of that is due to the 40K setting. I question some of the lack of technical advancement in such a  far-future setting. Only so much of that can be accounted for by technological dark ages. On the whole, I can overlook those things when the narrative is compelling enough.

Writing-wise, Abnett doesn’t go out of his way to explain technology, and I don’t feel that lack. The battle scenes are something to study.  They are fluid and clear. He also plays with the chronology of narrative and does so effortlessly. These things can be done. You just have to do them well.

I’ll probably get around to the second in the series eventually.

Friday Flash: The Moth Chatter Lily

Like last week’s Friday Flash, this is an older piece that I took a new look at. I think I wrote it for an anthology of imaginary plants. It does have connection to Weordan, though the concept has been transposed to "the real world." Try as I might, I couldn’t find a way to wrap a plot around it.

—###—

The Moth Chatter Lily

Liliopsida, Liliates
Liliacea, Mordre zea 

In the light of day, the Moth Chatter Lily appears, in form, similar to other species of lily, with pale pink, sinuous petals that are nearly transparent.  The sepals are noticeably smaller, darker in color and fibrous with a nearly thorn-like quality.

At night, the petals and sepals of the lily glow substantially due to luminescent chloroplasts.  The magnitude of a large bed of Moth Chatter Lilies can approach the brightness of a 60-watt lightbulb.

Originally found in the rocky isles and bluffs of the Greek Islands, the Moth Chatter Lilies have been recorded further south than many species.  Lately, the lilies can still be counted in the wild in remote areas of Greece and Italy.

The Moth Chatter Lily differentiates from most species due to its extensive and specialized rhizome.    The underground horizontal stem often forms bulbs midseason.  This is due primarily to the attraction moths have for the lily.

In the past, the Moth Chatter Lily was seen as a ‘pest’ species.  In addition to their unsettlingly bright quality, Mordre zea has two qualities that make them attractive to moths of every type.  The first quality is their luminescence.  The second is the form of vegetable alcohol that is fermented in the petals and sepals of the lily.  The moths greatly enjoy feeding on the petals and seem to derive a manner of drunkenness from them.  The moths then begin their own stridulations, common in many forms.  The subsequent ‘chatter’ can be very intrusive. 

Lately, the Moth Chatter Lily has come into favor.  While the light and alcohol attract moths that often eat too much of the plant and kill it, many of the moths also intake too much of the substance and in effect overdose on its effect.  If one takes into account population ratios, the lilies often kill off far more moths than the moth kill lilies.  Many farmers are now closely guarding their beds of lilies as they are used as an organic pesticide.

Still, many are wary of the ghostly glow of the lilies and the accompanying chatter of the moths.  Some have postulated that these lilies tricked Greek sailors into inadvertently damaging their ships on rocky shoals when the lily’s lights and the sound of the moths were mistaken for civilization.  Other tie their presence to the ruins of Babylon, siting the plant as part of the hanging gardens; their luminescence and  winged cohabitants part of the reputation of  "unclean birds" and evil spirits in the area. Regardless of superstition, the Moth Chatter Lily is banned by most homeowners associations.