Category Archives: Writing

No Context For You – September 16th

While I know where and when the picture was taken, I don’t know what it is, what it does, or whose sneaker that is.

I’m pretty sure it’s not mine.

In other not-so-riveting news, you may noticed that after two weeks of writing for Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction prompts (here and here, and I liked them a lot), this is the third week in a row where there hasn’t been one.

The first reason is simple – Chuck’s been busier than god (he might have been at Worldcon or Dragoncon or both) and we haven’t gotten new prompts for the last three weeks. Not that I’m in any way blaming, it’s a volunteer space that Chuck provides to begin with, so I’m more than happy with whatever we can get. But if he doesn’t do the prompt…

Secondly, given what my schedule has been like for the past month between deadlines at work (which we met – I do sincerely LOVE being on one of those “highly functioning teams” that they taught us about in the Pepperdine MBA program!) and the trip to Chicago for Worldcon, I don’t see any way that I could have squeezed in time to write in those three weeks. So I guess it all worked out.

Finally, are there other “Flash Fiction” prompts out there that are open to whoever wants to jump in? If you know of any, please point me to the sites in the comments. I want and need to be writing, it’s time to open up my options!

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Flash Fiction: Doors

This week Chuck Wendig gave us a Flash Fiction Challenge composed of five AI produced images with a theme of “doorways.” I put a picture of all five of them up and let it simmer. This afternoon during a Zoom call, my muse politely gave me the scene and the story. Despite being exhausted and my first thought being that there was no way I had the energy or time to write this tonight, adrenaline and the first paragraph kicked in, the muse went to the whip (“Hurt me, hurt me, make me write bad fiction!”) and it’s at least presentable.

The biggest problem from that point on is that she kept spewing details while I was typing. Not so much of a “1,000 word short story” as “the opening scene of the opening chapter of a 120,000 word novel that’s the first of a series,” from here I can see who’s doing what, what the questions are, who the other folks are, the quest to figure out what’s happened, the big “why” it’s happened, who caused it, their motivation and desparation, the fight to overthrow the powers that be, the big decision at the end questioning everything that we know so far…

Somehow I figured out a way to stick an actual ending that I like onto this scene and wrestle it into a somewhat story-shaped entity. Maybe later it can be the next great science fiction series of our time. For now, here’s my picture and slightly bloated story. I hope it leaves you wanting to know more.


DOORS

What did they teach us the first day of journalism school? The five Ws. Every story has to answer all five in order to be complete. It’s drilled into you from Day One.

Then the Universe does a hard right turn into “WTF just happened?” and you can’t answer a single one. You just hope to survive. I don’t know how many people couldn’t, didn’t, or just weren’t quick enough on their feet to even try.

The Door in front of me this time is already partially open, carved wooden panels on either side cracked apart, folding in the middle like an accordion. Through the crack I could see nothing but a black void, as always. A white mist was seeping around the edge, a streamer of fog falling down from the arch overhead. No sound or smell came from beyond that portal, although I could hear my heartbeat pounding in my ears and smell my sudden sweat despite the cold.

Let’s hope there was someplace to take a shower on the other side.

Without any other options and the air getting stale, I pushed the door panels aside and stepped through.

I came out in a hallway, cramped and filled with boxes, some on wooden shelving, some just stacked floor to ceiling. It was hot, steamy, and muggy so I immediately took off the coat I had been wearing. It looked like I wasn’t going to be needing it any time soon, but I sure wasn’t giving it up either. As of about two seconds ago it was all I had in the world.

To my right came the sounds of activity, voices and clattering, metallic. A kitchen, perhaps? I went to the left instead where there was a bit more light, emerging into what was obviously a restaurant. To get my bearings I stepped to the side, my back against the wall.

The Five Ws. Where was I? When was it? What was going on? Who had summoned me? Not an answer in sight and I knew how dangerous it could be to not have answers ASAP to at least those four questions. As for the fifth question, “WHY does this keep happening?” I knew better than to start screaming that one out loud. I didn’t have the time or energy to face those consequences a second time.

Standing quietly and listening, I could hear several voices, but I didn’t yet recognize the language. The room was filled with booths along the walls and open tables in the middle, maybe a dozen people in sight. All appeared human. In the oppressive heat, most were wearing robes of some sort. The light in the room came from the bright sun outside but I could see some fixtures hanging down from the ceiling that might be electric. Or not. Fans turned slowly under the ceiling, moving the air a bit, each powered by a belt attached to the next, the final belt heading outside. No help there in judging the local technological level.

Looking out through the open windows I could see a town plaza in front and a narrow alley running along the side of the building. A few folks walked along, mostly slowly, but given the heat that wasn’t surprising. No sign of any cars or trucks, not even a bicycle, but no grazing sheep or other livestock either. That was promising.

I breathed in deeply, listening to the voices in the room. Slowly, their conversation started to make sense. Bit by bit I began to understand, the lettering on a menu board suddenly snapping into focus in my brain. I could read and understand the local language now.

How? Well, that was the sixth W, wasn’t it? I didn’t have an answer to that either.

There was the ultimate “W.” It simply Was.

I headed for the door, hoping that no one would stop me to pay the bill for a meal I hadn’t eaten or start to ask embarrassing questions about my attire. The first fifteen minutes were always the most exciting.

“Hey, stranger. Over here, please.”

From experience my feet knew to keep walking and not look toward the speaker. Act like I hadn’t heard. Pretend I wasn’t paying attention. Maybe I was wearing headphones. Maybe I was deaf. Maybe I could make it to the door. Be quick, but don’t hurry as Coach used to say.

“Okay, but you’ll regret it.”

Wait, that was English!

I might not have left skid marks on the floor, but I did stop and turn. In a booth along the wall with a view out onto the alley sat a woman in a light blue robe. She was smiling, and as I turned, she gestured to the chair opposite her. I hesitated and looked back to the door, judging the distance to escape, while she calmly picked up a pitcher on the table and filled an empty mug. Setting the pitcher back down, she gestured again at the chair.

It had been more than ten extremely hectic, chaotic, and guanopsychotic years since I had heard a word of English. Almost endless days of confusion and danger, lost, adrift, cut off from my past, and not sure of my sanity from one day to the next. Years since I had been taken, kidnapped, from my comfortable life and firm grip on reality, forced through Door after Door, clueless, just trying to survive on the other side of each one, waiting to be trapped again sooner or later with no way out but to open the Door in front of me.

Where would I end up on the other side? No way of knowing except to step through.

What was the purpose or meaning to any of it? No clues had ever been given, no pattern or plan to be deduced.

When was it ever going to end? That one I thought about a lot, without any data to go on. Would I end up back at home and then stay there? Would I just someday find myself to be old and simply to have never been trapped by another Door, having spent the rest of my life in whatever world I happened to have been in at that moment? Or would one of these Doors just lead me to oblivion or a quick death on the other side? Had I merely been lucky so far and one day my luck would run out?

Who had done this to me? Was it bigger than me? Was I the only one or were there others? Dozens? Thousands? Millions? Did this happen to everyone back on Earth and scatter us throughout some unimaginably huge and bizarre multiverse?

From all of these thoughts came madness. I had learned over that surreal ten years to not think, not questions just keep going and survive. Rather than figure it out, it was far easier to just assume that I had gone insane and all of this was just a psychotic delusion in my rotting and defective brain as I lay strapped into a straightjacket in a rubber room in Poughkeepsie.

“So many questions, I’m sure. I have answers,” she said, rudely interrupting my nervous breakdown.

She still had her arm out, offering the empty chair and full mug to me. Her eyes were locked on me, but there was no madness or threat in them.

Like a drowning man desperate for a life preserver, I walked over and sat down with her.

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Flash Fiction: Mine Flowers

A couple of weeks ago, the most wonderful Chuck Wendig (maybe I’ll get a chance to finally meet him and thank him in person at Worldcon? Dare I hope?) said he was thinking of reviving his Flash Fiction Challenge prompts. This was tremendously tremendous news. I dearly loved writing those stories.

Well, he’s done it. Last week I was swamped and buried and having nervous breakdowns and all of those good things, so I didn’t write the story that’s in my head, but I’m going to still try. Because the story has revealed itself to me and embedded itself in my cranium.

THIS week I swore that I would carve time out of my schedule even if it meant giving up sleep or eating or cellular mitosis. (Why didn’t I give up time at the freakin’ dentist??!!)

Chuck is generating story prompts in the form of images from the Midjourney AI art robot app. This week we were given five prompts. I picked this one, printed it, glanced at it every now and then, let it simmer in my brain, and yesterday I knew the story that it was telling me. So now I’m going to share that story (imperfect as it might be) with you!


MINE FLOWERS

A thin covering of snow had fallen overnight, but with the morning’s sun most of it had melted, draining into the puddles and tank tracks embossed into the frozen mud. The exhausted world tried to squeeze all color out of existence, reality hoping to save some bandwidth by becoming monochrome. So far it was succeeding.

As I led my team approaching the test site, a slash of color could be seen battling back, stark against the patches of white snow and black mud. I could hear the hum of drones in the distance, lost in the fog beyond the leafless trees, some gathering data, some scattering yet more test seedlings across the next patch of barren, deadly ground.

Here, where we had deposited our first precious samples last week, the ground was again blood red, an echo of the years of waste and rage, but now with the potential promise of a better future. The bizarre, mutant, bioengineered flowers didn’t have the delicacy of roses or the delicate fragrance of violets, but they had something better.

They had a purpose.

The edge of the first fields beyond the road were littered with multiple warning signs. Some were the battered remnants of desperate battle communications, spray painted in scraps of plywood. Others reeked of their more bureaucratic origins, red, yellow, and black hazard signs of a government trying to get back on its feet after decades of conflict. A few more recent, less deteriorated signs had the colorful logo of our agency with boastful credits for our project along with additional safety warnings, only a few sporting bullet holes.

Perched atop a line of tall utility poles, lights were aimed at the fields, cameras scanned in short arcs from side to side, and solar panels were warming up to give life for another day. In the distance, a kilometer or so away, were the first housing tract ruins. Lumber, bricks, and other debris filled the roadway leading into the village outskirts. The red flowers were more scattered there, but a handful could be seen on most of the overgrown, weed covered lawns.

Between the security towers and the town there were pockets of trees and some winding walkways. A few planters and benches dotted the area. Sand pit playgrounds were betrayed by the rusting remains of swings, jungle gyms, and slides sticking up from the sand. Covering almost everything were the red flowers.

I moved behind one of the protective barriers we had erected, steel and concrete, with sheets of thick, clear polycarbonate to look through. Others of my team followed and spread out, plugging in laptops and monitoring equipment, activating cameras, and preparing for what could be a long day out in the open.

Safe there, I stood motionless, cold, staring at the playground for an eternity. The breeze moving through the trees separating the fields, the sound of the wind moving through the burnt-out houses, all could have been the distant sound of children laughing and playing. The clinking of chains from the swing sets tried to imitate the high-pitched laughter of running toddlers playing tag.

It was all lies and we knew it.

When I dried my eyes on my sleeve and refocused, the bizarre red flowers swayed in the wind across the field, but nothing else moved. The flowers started a few feet from the road, spread throughout the park, then faded again going into town. I noticed one or two flowers on the far side of the road behind us. The team had cordoned them off with safety tape so that everyone would give them a wide berth.

Our testing data said that today would be the day. Years of research and development born of desperation and sorrow had led to this first full scale field test. The seeds had been sown, the flowers had been allowed to seek their required nutrient source, attach themselves and sprout. Growing quickly to fulfill their fate and reproduce, their strong roots gripped their targets and would be slowly tightening their grip.

We had designed them with some simple needs and a touch of mobility. Not entirely plants, they had genetic material from animals that allowed them to sense or smell, to seek. Not quite animals, they sprouted roots, grew flowers, and took nourishment from the sun and soil. Designed to be unique, they always sought and required their elixir, their life-giving spark – the chemical compounds which made up deadly high explosives.

BOOM!

Far off in the frigid field, a shower of dirt was settling back down to earth while a plume of black smoke rose.

Everyone had instinctively ducked at the sound, but now they quickly recovered and peered out toward the field. A smattering of cheers and applause rose, but quickly died.

With the first detonation done it was only a few moments before the second. Then a third and a fourth. Like a slowly growing chain reaction, each of the tall, red flowers in turn matured, slowly squeezed their prey, and triggered the land mines and cluster bombs which had been scattered far and wide across the civilian countryside to maim and murder.

Occasionally a bit of mud or ice would be thrown high into an arch, far enough to reach the small group behind the barriers, but not energetic enough to cause serious harm. More concerning were the bits of shrapnel which pinged off of the glass, only to ricochet off to the side. The crackle of walkie-talkies kept up a constant background hum as team members checked in to verify their continued safety.

Slowly the large field cratered itself, a humongous, self-popping piece of bubble wrap. With each explosion, the eruption of debris and cloud of smoke spread downwind, carrying with it a confetti spray of red flowers, stems, and seeds, an unnatural servent unleashed to  look for its next deadly prey. With each gust of wind, we moved a bit closer to recovering our land, our home, from the evil that had tried to take it from us.

As the explosions finally became more infrequent and the noise began to abate, I again heard children calling on the wind. I looked out through the smoke and fog and thought I saw a familiar, small shape, hooded, silent, about the size of a six-year old named Becca, standing still, looking at me. Then a final explosion scattered the illusion into the sky.

For the thousandth time I asked myself, “What sort of monster would mine a children’s playground?” Neither Becca nor the wind had an answer.

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Flash Fiction Revival?

Those of you who are new-ish around here might not be aware that, way back in 2013 when this site got started, one of the key features was a more-or-less weekly post centered around Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction challenge.

For my part, I was out of work for the first time in my life, the job market sucked, I was over 50, and I had worked at the same company for over 27 years. That’s four strikes in the job hunting game. In order to keep active and somewhat sane, as well as “networking” and keeping my skillset sharp, I took on two critical tasks. First, I became the Finance Office for the CAF SoCal Wing, giving me continuing hands-on accounting experience. Secondly, I started this site to be writing and creative every day.

Chuck Wendig was in the early stages of his now brilliant writing career (his “Wanderers” from two years ago was amazing, and the sequel “Wayward” comes out November 15th, so get “Wanderers” now, read it, you can thank me later, and you’ll be ready to get “Wayward” in November – you’re welcome!) and had a great website talking about writing and Pennsyltucky heirloom apples and horror and stuff (it’s still there!) and once a week he would give us a prompt and an assignment. No prizes, no “winning,” no real contest, no professional editing or advice from Chuck, just something you could try to do for your own practice, honing your writing skills, publishing on your own site and then posting a link in the thread on his site. Folks there would read and comment on other folks’ stories, some folks there would read your story on your site and make comments. I remember the whole process very fondly.

The whole thing fell by the wayside as Chuck’s career took off spectacularly and he needed to spend time, you know, writing for a living and paying the bills. But in today’s post Chuck mentioned in passing that he’s musing about restarting that Flash Fiction challenge. Would anyone be interested?

Well, DUH!!

If it happens, it happens. I’ll be more than willing to dive back into that practice writing on Day One of its revival should that come to pass.

But today, prompted by that, I was curious how eight to nine years of distance would color those snippets. So I went back and read a half dozen…

I realy and truly enjoyed reading every one of them. Several I didn’t remember writing at all, but they’re pretty good. None of them are going to win any Pulitzers, but they were coherent, well structured, escaped from being too trite or cliched, and the words flowed well. One where I had deliberately written a real sexist asshole as the first person character (the prompt for the week was a shirtless man with a pair of automotive jumper cables on his nipples) was still (in my opinion) humorous and didn’t suck at all. In fact, of the six that I sampled at random, none of them was a real stinker. (This one was also really intriguing.)

A lot of it was stuff that I normally wouldn’t have ever have tried. Write a story in ten short chapters. Write a story in the voice of a religous devotee. Write a story from the point of view of someone who doesn’t speak the language. And so on.

My favorite, which we did three or four times? Week one (W1) write 200 words, not 1,000. Week two, everyone take a W1 story from someone else and add 200 words to it. Someone may or may not take yours, you take anyone’s you want, so some may not get taken, some may get taken by multiple other folks. Week 3 we do this again, adding another 200 words to someone’s W1+W2 story fragment. Ditto W4, and W5, ending up with 1,000 words or so in five segments done by five different authors, to tell one story, but without any active collaboration. It’s additive, not collaborative.

Challenging. Fun!

I’ll wait and hope. In the meantime, if you’re interested and missed any of my stories the first time around, they were all published here. Just do a search for “Flash Fiction.”

Enjoy!

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Happy 9th Birthday, WLTSTF!

9 years.

3,288 days.

3,380 posts.

7,917 images. (90%+ are taken by me. The rest are images from the news, from cell phone screen captures, and so on.)

67 videos.

9 audio clips.

2,670 total comments.

67,800 total views.

43,044 total visitors to the site.

10,727 total likes.

1,609 followers (694 from WordPress, 613 from Twitter, 280 from FaceBook, 10 from Tumblr, and 12 via email)

7,049 shares (1,982 from Twitter, 1,643 from FaceBook, 1,454 from LinkedIn, and 1,970 from Tumblr)

God alone knows how many words.

The last time I either was too busy or, more likely, simply forgot to post anything was April 10, 2020. Since they I’ve posted 749 days in a row.

In total there have only been fourteen days of those 3,288 days when I didn’t post anything at all.

I hope that at least a few of the 1,609 folks who get notified every day that I’ve posted something take a minute to look and/or read and get a moment of zen or pleasure from it. I enjoy creating it.

I hope that in the next year there are many more occasions to share a pretty picture, a goofy story, or something clever.

I hope that in the next year there will be many fewer occasions to descend into a venting rant about something stupid, annoying, or depressing.

As do we all, I’m sure.

And finally – I have a Tumblr account??!!

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Venice And Sapsucker Woods

This finish line crossed

The race won for the moment

Time to relax, to read, to breathe – tonight

00:43:29 at the pond’s edge, no birds to be found at the feeder

But small critters occasionally scurry by for theft

Snow falling heavily

In Venice it’s foggy at 06:43:29, traffic slow and sparse

Across the canal someone’s television has flickered all night

Odd shapes flashing, occasionally recognizable, always foreign

As sea birds and gulls flash by in the mist like specters.

Los Angeles at 21:43:29 is cool and calm, another day entirely

Longing for travel and adventures, settling for far less again, taking what’s available

Tomorrow we begin again.

 

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No Context For You – October 26th

Wow, it’s been 25 days since I’ve had to default to one of these at about 23:30 in order to come up with a post for the day. That new iPhone has made a huge difference in this month’s posts!

I note that NaNoWriMo starts next Monday, and it is a measure of the poor state of my sanity and lack of common sense that I’ve been pondering whether to try another one. (Search this site for NaNoWriMo – I think I tried it three times and posted the daily output here every day.) It’s been a few years and I actually miss doing it.

But… LET’S GET REAL!!

Still lots and Lots and LOTS of deadlines at work, “challenges” popping up like whack-a-moles, trying to wrap things up as Finance Office at the hangar so that I can hand that gig over to someone else, dealing with all of the little joys of still being in a pandemic and at least partially locked down and working from home…

On what planet… In what timeline… In which version of “life” would tackling NaNoWriMo on top of all of that make ANY sense at all?


So, should I do a comedy or something serious? Science fiction of something more mundane? Third person or first person POV?

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The Power Of Meaningless Stickers

In kindergarten and early grades, there’s a lot of motivation to be found in a cheap, meaningless sticker. Do well and get a green one – need some improvement and get a red one. Get a whole sheet of green ones for Parent’s Day and you’ll never be more upset in your life than when you get your first blue, yellow, or, god forbid, red one.

As much as we might think we outgrow that, there’s a reason that almost every charity out there gives out SWAG. Give blood and you get a T-shirt. (I’ve got dozens.) Donate $10 and get a wristband or baseball cap. The WWF will send you a calendar for free with pictures of cute endangered animals, and if that inspires you to send them $25 or $50, well…

For WordPress, which I use to host this site, a few years back they started sending motivational posts to my comments if I posted something every day. I was already a little bit motivated (aka, “anal,” aka “OCD”) to post EVERY FREAKIN’ DAY! When I started getting e-stickers in my comment, I was five years old all over again.

I was doing pretty well. This was from June 4th.

But there are rules, apparently. And an atomic clock with no soul, no slack, no understanding of the need some of have to have something in our lives we can count on & control, no matter how miniscule that “atta boy!” might be.

So on June 5th, like many, many other days, I was running late, on a deadline, trying to get something quick posted, and trying to make the pictures look nice. And I probably took one more pass through Photoshop to eliminate some dust on the sensor in one of the pictures – and I posted this at about 00:00:06 AM. And I did not get an e-sticker that night. Or on the next. Or the next.

The string was broken.

But finally on June 10th, I was congratulated for posting 5 days in a row. And back at it, last night I got:

There but for a few tardy seconds, tonight would be day #524 in a row. But it’s not.

Fight on!

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Happy 8th Birthday, WLTSTF!

8 years.

2,921 days.

3,014 posts.

7,111 images. (About 90% are taken by me. The rest are images from the news, from cell phone screen captures, and so on.)

62 videos.

7 audio clips.

2.6K comments.

And despite the pandemic and lockdown and quarantine (or possibly because of it) I’m now getting these “You’re on a 384-day streak on We Love The Stars Too Fondly!” notices every day on the app.

No pressure…

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A Curiosity Question

WordPress tells me that there are over 500 folks who have “subscribed” to this site, who get a notice whenever I publish anything. Which is pretty much every day. And depending on what drivel I’m spouting, I’ll get one or two, or very rarely eight or ten, “likes” via WordPress or Twitter or FaceBook. So I’m thinking that 500-plus number might not mean what I think it means.

Anyway, one of the things I’ve always done with my pages is to put in internal links, like this, which point off to some relevant previous post.

Maybe something about critters, birds, or lizards. (Actually, I consider the birds and lizards to be “critters,” but let’s not split hairs. Or feathers. Or scales.)

Or a friend who’s no longer with us, who I think of pretty much every day.

Or a trip – where I really should finish posting pictures, were’ barely halfway through! (Didn’t I say that at the beginning of this year? What happened?! Oh, yeah…2020. SHAZZBATT!)

So the questions are:

  1. Do these links work for everyone? I assume they do because they work for ME when I look at my posts, but I’m also looking at it with my file permissions and publishing rights, so maybe it’s not working for everyone else? And…
  2. Do you use them, or is it a complete waste of my time?

Thanks, have a safe Halloween tomorrow!

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