Thursday, November 28, 2013

Terrible Minds Flash Fiction Challenge: Part Uno

This week, and for the next several, Chuck has an experiment going where you write 200 words of a flash fiction.  Each week you will select another story and add 200 words to it, building a flash fiction in five part from (theoretically) five different authors.

Chuck's blog is here -

The Tunnel

The tunnel shook again, small cracks creeping through old masonry, and Nora grabbed onto Billy to keep her feet.  Jack was trying to urge Marie forward but he couldn't get her to stop crying.  Nora didn't blame her, the whole thing was terrifying and nobody had a clue what was going on.  They'd pushed forward through the old river tunnels after their normal entrance collapsed and now they were down to two flashlights.

"Are those bombs?" Jack asked, his voice cracking from the dust in his throat.

"Who would bomb fucking Trenton?  We have like two thousand people in the whole town." Billy snapped back.  Nora swept her light ahead, a large metal door at the end of the hallway coming into view.

"What then?  An earthquake?" Marie managed between sobs.  Nora stepped back and grabbed Marie's other hand, finding it slick with blood from the fall.

"No, honey.  We're nowhere near a fault line." she replied, doing her best to sound comforting.

"Shit, man.  This is fucked," Jack moaned, his bravado fading. "I just wanted to smoke some pot and get laid..." He fell silent as the door ahead of them suddenly creaked and began to swing open.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Seattle Visit Day #2: Caffeine A-Gogo

So, today wasn't particularly eventful.  I had intended to begin begging looking for jobs today but I was too lagged and sick from the flight.  Instead, I picked up some cold medicine and watched horrible movies all day on Netflix.  So, now seems a good time to start my coffee roundup.

Coffee Talk

The term coffee talk here is a misnomer.  I hate coffee.  If you drown it in sugar and milk I can stand it, but I don't think it even qualifies as coffee when I alter it that much.  I do, however, love tea.  Chai tea in particular.  In my search for the best chai options in Seattle, I've visited four places.  I will be using the CtS scale for measuring these places.  The Compared to Starbucks scale exists because Starbucks is where I usually pick up my chai options in Florida and therefore I can make them the baseline.  Starbucks will get 3's in all categories to make them the absolute average for comparison.


Not a coffee house, but I did try their chai tea when I grabbed a bagel the other morning.

Space: 5/5.  They have a lot of room here, a dozen tables and counter space that can accomdate a large crowd.
Amenities: 4/5. They post a puzzle every week for their customers to work on, which is a nice time waster.
Chai: 1/5. Terrible.  Practically water.  I can't fault them too much.  They are a bagel place, after all.  But man, this was god awful stuff.

Black Coffee Coop:

Space: 4/5.  Big area here.  Couches, tables and counter space to accommodate the writer crowd.  The place feels very open.  They do share a bathroom with the lounge next door, which could be a problem on a busy day.
Amenities: 5/5.  So much to do.  Shelves full of books, newspapers and board games make this an ideal hang out for a lazy Sunday.
Chai: 5/5.  Exceptional blend here.  Not too strong, but enough flavor to keep me coming back.  This is the kind of thing I would buy on a regular basis.


Space: 3/5. A few tables and small counters.  The building is small so it's not a good socializing point.
Amenities: 1/5.  Get your coffee and go, really.  If you like metal they were blasting it but if you want to focus on something else you'd be hard-pressed.
Chai: 4/5.  This is good stuff, but situational.  The blend is strong enough to feel it in the back of your throat, so a bit more than I want.  If I needed a kick-in-the-mouth morning pickup this might be the blend of choice but for most days I would probably opt for something smoother.

Analog Coffee:

Space: 3/5.  About the size of Stumptown but better layout.  More counters keep the walking area pretty clear.
Amenities: 3/5 Some books on the tables and free wifi give this an average rating.
Chai: N/A - Ok, this place doesn't actually have chai but I'm mentioning them anyways.  I was cold when I got here and I wanted a warm drink, so I went with a chocolate latte and it was really good.  On my coffee scale I'd say a 4/5.  Not too much coffee taste after a bit of honey and milk.  Honorable mention for doing well at what they do.

It's interesting to me that all the coffee shops around here have simple syrup available at their fixins counter.  I've tried it and I think I prefer it to honey or sugar.  It definitely mixes better, given it's composition, and the sweetness isn't as shocking.

Tomorrow I will talk about my first job walk-ins and mass transit.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Seattle Visit Day #1: Slopes and Grades

It is a balmy 47 degrees in Seattle as I step out for my wanderings.  Sunday, the day of rest, and a good first day here as it will allow me to acclimate without worrying about job hunting.  My first goal is to connect where I am presently staying with the area I remember from previous visits on my mental map.  It is evident that fall is turning into winter as I wind through the narrow streets.

Those colored leaves indicate seasons.  Florida was never much for having seasons beyond Summer and Not Summer.  Back on the subject of narrow streets, my god...two cars could barely pass one another on these roads and people park on both sides to form this narrow channel that you'd have to navigate.  Seattle is not a huge driving culture, though.  I've passed more people walking here than I'd see walking in Florida in a year.  The weather is much more accommodating too it, though.  You don't die of heat stroke after ten blocks.  More on mass transit and biking in a later post, I think

 This picture shows more of the seasonal look for Seattle but it doesn't convey what I am aiming to show.  This street is at a steep grade, like many in Seattle, and hiking up that sidewalk was a chore.  If I'd known I was taking this trip earlier I would have gotten back into running to build up leg strength.  Even in my underprepared state, though, I didn't find the walking to be unbearable.

This is something you see a lot of in Seattle.  Parking is a real pain in the ass because the city isn't exactly rolling in space.  Most of the buildings are multistory for that same reason.  So this is another downside to owning a car here.  Not only do you have to pay to park in a lot of places but most residential buildings also have a monthly parking fee associated with them.  No thank you.

After about fifteen minutes of walking I came across an area that looked familiar.  Sure enough, the campus for Seattle Community College in Capitol Hill was my first landmark.  From there I followed the streets I recalled until I found Pine and spent a few minutes walking through Cal Anderson park.  A soccer field, tennis courts, a fountain.  Very relaxing stuff.  Public works is big here and it is nice to see that the parks are well maintained.  From there it was just a few blocks to my first stop of the day.  Eltana.

 Eltana serves wood-fired bagels with a variety of interesting spreads.  Sweet and savory options line their board and they change frequently.  After running through a few fruit blend options, I settled on a salt bagel with the caramelized onion hummus spread.  Excellent choice.   Too bad the chai tea didn't exactly hold up.  More on that in my first Coffee Talk later this week.  Check out that bitchin' flannel that some awesome people got me.

From there I wound my back down Pike and stopped at the QFC to pick up some groceries for my stay.  I intend to eat one interesting meal a day while I am here so that I can showcase some of the excellent restaurants around.  That said, I'm also not a millionaire so my remaining meals will be Banquet frozen dinners and cereal.

On the way back I passed the Raygun Lounge.  This is a gaming lounge set up by Gamma Ray Games, a local RPG and board game store.  They have a nice drink list and the store itself was staffed by friendly folk when I was here last.  I will have to stop in this week and check it out.

No sun in Seattle, eh?
All told I probably did three miles in my wandering today.  It didn't feel like three miles but my legs might disagree in the morning.  Sadly, I feel like I have a cold coming on from the stupid sick children I got stuck next to in the airplane.  I never seem to make it through a flight unscathed in that sense.  Southwest does have nice seats and plenty of leg room but if you get stuck in a C boarding phase you are not going to like what kind of seating options are left to you.

On the weather, it was dry all day today.  Rain is supposed to come late tomorrow afternoon, so we'll see.  Even with the temperature in the low forties I never felt cold.  A heavy sweatshirt or a light jacket kept me comfortable.  I brought gloves and a hat just in case, and the temperature is supposed to drop over the weekend so that may have been smart, but even in the colder weather on my previous trip I never felt miserable like I do in Florida heat.

Oh, to conclude.

The rest of the day was spent getting settled in at the apartment.  Having realized on my walk home that In the Bowl was only 3 minutes from where I was staying, I couldn't resist.  Below, I present you with my dinner for the evening.  Pumpkin curry, melting culture and a thai iced tea.  And yes, I made my wife watch me eat it over the computer because I am just that kind of a jerk.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Terrible Minds Flash Fiction Challenge: The Devil's Doorstep

This week's challenge is to create fiction in a -punk genre, preferably one that hasn't been done before.  I give you hellpunk, a world of stolen energy and malicious invaders.

Chuck's blog is here -

The Devil's Doorstep

"The most important thing to remember here is that lunch is from 12 to 12:45, no earlier and no later.  You follow, rook?"  Rory paused his brisk pace to glance back over his shoulder.  The new guy was right on his heels, nodding and tugging uneasily at his loaner uniform.

"12 to 12:45.  I got it," he replied as Rory started moving again.  "But my name is Greg."  Rory waved a meaty hand at that.

"You're rook until you get through the probationary period.  I've seen too many fresh-faced kids wash out to learn names any earlier than that." They stopped next to a facility map mounted above a water fountain.  Rory tapped the display and it zoomed in to follow his motions.  "Main entrance is here, where you came in.  We came this way through the locker room." Greg tapped a large room in the center of the image.

"Is that..." he began, only to have Rory cut him off.

"Central siphon and storage.  That's where it all happens, and where it sometimes goes wrong."  Rory took a moment to look the kid over.  No more than 23, probably fresh out of vo-tec.  "You understand your job?"

"Maintenance and containment.  Fix what's broken, trap what gets through." Greg said, his face lighting up and then falling in response to Rory's stone faced stare.  "Right?"

"That's a textbook answer, rook."  Rory said, stepping away from the map and moving down the corridor.  "We're dealing with dimensional exchange.  We're sucking power straight from the devil's own doorway.  So yeah, we fix what breaks and we trap what gets through but that doesn't cover it.  We deal with demons.  Not those branded reformed types they let roam the streets.  I'm talking genuine, hell-on-wheels, free-willed demons."

"Well..." Greg swallowed hard as he formed the words.  "I've seen orientation sims."  Rory grunted and ran a hand through salt and pepper hair.

"Sims don't bleed acid.  They don't belch fire and they sure as hell don't smother you with their skin.  You've seen movies, rook.  Things out here are real."  Greg straightened up, the oversized uniform falling limp around his shoulders.

"I've been fully trained.  I scored 273 on my licensure exam."  A chirp from Rory's radio ended the conversation.  He tapped the button and one of the surveillance tech's began to speak.

"Hey, we've got a rank one blip in the east siphon chamber.  Looks like an imp came through on the last pulse.  You free to check it out?"  Rory shot Greg a glance and shrugged.

"Looks like we'll see that training in action.  We're on it."  A second tap on the radio killed the connection and Rory began the trek towards the east wing.  He didn't pause, just jumped right into the next speech.  "Imps are cake.  Small, quick but pretty harmless.  Irritants more than anything.  Pulse spikes tend to frazzle the safeguards and imps are already weak enough to slip through on bad days."

"So is this a standard incap and deport?" Greg asked, trying to keep pace.

"As standard as it gets when you deal with other-dimensionals.  But yeah, we'll shriek it and toss it.  Your shrieker is your best friend here.  Harmless to humans, hellish to demons.  Even works on devils if they aren't leeched."  A flight of stairs and two left turns brought them to a pair of reinforced metal doors.  Two men in black and grey security uniforms stood at either side, rifles slung over their shoulders.  One nodded and worked the locks, pulling the door open.

"Don't let the guns fool you.  They're here to scare away angry protestors and terrorists.  A gun won't slow down a devil, andeven  demons can laugh them off for a few shots."  Tapping the radio, Rory cleared his throat.  "We are headed in to the east siphon now."

"Anything I should expect?"  Greg asked, his confidence clearly suffering now.

"The secondary siphon chambers aren't too bad but you can expect to feel some changes.  Pressure behind your eyes, a cold hollow in your chest, nosebleeds...all common.  If you start to feel numb head back to the hallway.  Don't wanna risk a seizure in there." Rory said as he pulled the shrieker from its holster.

"Got it."  Greg said, peering into the ochre glow.  A push from Rory got his feet moving and they both stepped through the door.  The door closed behind them with an echoing *thud*.  Rory tapped his finger against the shrieker in his hand.  It always reminded him of an electric razor, the kind they had before laser shavers became the rage.

"You go around the left side, I'll go right.  Keep your shrieker ready."  Rory said through gritted teeth.  They split, each going their own way around the large central collection tank.  Standard issue work boots came down loud on the metallic flooring.  Greg disappeared behind the collector and Rory turned his eyes up towards the vent pipes.  He spotted the torn grating easily, a perfect fit for an imp.  The collector shook as another pulse rippled through it and Rory strained to listen past it.  Was that a grunt?  A gasp?  He picked up speed, darting towards the other side of the tank.  A shriek cut through the air and he circled around in time to see Greg standing over the writhing form of an imp.

"Well, well.  Nice catch, rook," he said as he stepped up to them.  The imp was small, a runt even by their standards.  It clawed at the air as the shrieker assaulted it's heightened senses.  "Keep it centered for a few more seconds."  Moments later the imp gave up, collapsing into an unconscious heap.  Rory took the feet and they carried it over to the deportation port.  A swipe of his badge opened the eye, a shimmering oval of blue energy rippling behind it.

"One...two..."  The duo heaved the body into the pool, watching it vanish in a crackle of sparks and a puff of ozone.  Wiping his hands on his pants, Rory spared the new kid a smile.  "Not a bad first day."  Greg holstered his shrieker and started towards the door.

"It wasn't as bad as I expected." he replied.  As they moved toward the door something caught Rory's eye.  A breach in the separation tank, large enough to fit a human if they hadn't eaten in two weeks.  The possibilities flipped through his mind and his eyes narrowed.  Tapping the radio again, Rory let Greg gain some distance before whispering into the receiver.

"Central, do we have any rank 3 blips in the east siphon chamber?"  A moment passed before the tech came back with a negative response.  Stepping up to Greg, Rory put a hand on his shoulder.

"Looks like it's 11:20.  Lunch?" he asked.  Greg smiled, that same proud grin as before.

"Great.  I'm starved."  he replied.  Rory exhaled in a sigh before smacking the wrench at the base of Greg's spine.  The kid went down with a startled howl and Rory was on him in a flash, pinning both arms with his knees.

"I know you're in there kid, so hear what I'm saying.  When a devil gets through it's bad business.  Fortunately they can't really grasp sorting short term memory when they first leech."  A flicker of violet in Greg's eyes revealed the presence of a rider.  "Unfortunately, once they leech there's no getting them out."  The rookie's eyes alternated between violet rage and sky blue terror.

"No...stop...wait..." It was all Greg could manage in his struggle with the monster inside him.

"I'm sorry, rook," Rory said, his voice soft as he lifted the wrench above his head.  "Today just wasn't your best day."  The wrench came down with a wet crunch and the screams of a thousand damned souls.  Rory pushed himself to his feet, letting the wrench fall next to the twitching corpse.  He wiped the back of his hand across his forehead, smears of blood tracking his skin.

"Not my best day either."

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Tuesday Reviewsday: World War Z (Film)

I admit to going into this film with a distinct bias.  I've read WWZ a few times, being that zombies have been something of a hobby of mine since I watched Night of the Living Dead when I was ten.  Those years were very formative for me and created some strong opinions that remain with me to this day.  In a similar vein to how my first games of D&D cemented first edition as tops among the available options, NotLD showed me how zombies were meant to be portrayed.  Plodding, mindless and dangerous in large numbers.  I've adapted a bit on this in the years since, as I've found plenty to enjoy in the variety of zombies presented to us in the modern era, but WWZ as presented in the trailer seemed like too much of a jump from the source material.  I imagined a series of smaller films detailing individual's experiences during the outbreak.  Something similar to the interviews that made up the chapters of the book.

I can honestly say that I walked out of the theater surprised at how my tune had changed.  Yes, it isn't exactly WWZ as Max Brooks presents it to us.  The film follows one man as he travels the globe in search of a way to combat the outbreak and return to his family.  The zombies aren't what the book gave us, and the film doesn't cover the entirety of the war, but that doesn't make it bad.  It does give us the fall of New York, the Israeli quarantine and the UN presence.  It isn't a perfect WWZ adaptation but it does do a number of things really well.

The film feels like one man's story, like it could fit in the novel as one of the interviews even though we see it unfold first hand.  It was able to maintain that personal feel by tying the main character to his goal of returning to his family even as he flies halfway across the world.  The opening scenes where he and his family try to flee the outbreak work well to cement that.  The fact that he does so much globe trotting helps to show us what I always felt was the most important part of the novel; the global pandemic.  We are shown how various areas of the world have fared against the onslaught and the often drastic steps they have taken to defend themselves.

Brad Pitt's performance is standard for him, so if you're a fan you're likely to enjoy it.  I found the side characters that accompany him during his trip to be more compelling.  A cocky virologist seeking clues, a hardened military commander who does his job, a tough but young Israeli soldier.  I was interested in the varied personalities as they entered and exited the story, keeping a fresh perspective available.  The movie keeps moving at a pretty decent clip, pausing only a couple of times to let the tension build again.  Pacing, acting and direction are all handled quite well here.

World War Z is not a great adaptation of the source material, but it's a solid example of how one man might have experienced an outbreak.  It takes liberties and I can imagine Max Brooks might have some legitimate reasons to dislike it, but it does manage to maintain that mix of personal and globe-spanning that I found compelling about his book.  As far as it being a zombie film, it's among the better ones we've been given in recent years.  It presents the intensity of an assault by endless waves of rabid undead more acutely than most and as a fan of the genre, I can safely recommend it.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Clarion Write-A-Thon Voting

Clarion is officially upon us, and that means I need to start putting in work.  This week will be largely devoted to putting the finishing touches on a few things and getting my blog posts up consistently, so that gives us all time to do the voting I previously mentioned.  To recap, here are three projects that I've done prep work on.

A sci fi/western/dystopia (think Alien meets Firefly meets Blade Runner...and they fight crime) tale about siblings who seek justice after they lose their father and their land to a corporate robber baron. This one has it all; cybernetics, alien technology, a giant pterodactyl.  I am clear on where I want this story to go, but I'm sure where I want it to sit in terms of readership yet.  I do feel like there is a lack of space-based Middle Grade and Young Adult fiction out there, so I might shoot for that demographic.

A crime thriller noir erotica (noirotica) about a crime family courier trying to clear her name after someone frames her for theft.  This one is more along the lines of Sin City meets Red Shoe Diaries.  It has everything you could want; dark streets, a cynical protagonist, steamy sex in the snow.

A southern gothic horror story about two generations of a tainted bloodline returning to their ancestral estate just in time for terrible things to occur (and some monsters, cause that's always cool).  I've wanted to delve into southern gothic for awhile but I didn't have an idea that seemed to fit.  You want it, you got it; ancient curses, deep south blood feuds, a drunk cousin with a gun.

So, anyone got an opinion?  Drop a note in the comments with your thoughts and I will get started on the most popular option.

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Grand Experiment

I have been wrestling with how seriously to take writing for awhile now.  I go through fits and starts, long stretches of creativity and equal gaps of suckage.  People write through mind numbing, sixty hour a week day jobs and my hat goes off to them but I've never been able to manage it.  I can't keep my brain rolling forward with ideas when I have a desk full of paperwork and half a dozen sites to visit.  The decision on whether or not to take more time away from a paying gig in hopes of turning writing into an equally paying gig is a difficult one.  I'm in a situation now where I would be able to reduce my hours and still cover my bills with my present job but I wouldn't have much else.

So, I will be using the Clarion Write-A-Thon this year as a measure of how viable it might be.  Not from a monetary perspective, but rather as a productivity factor.  If I can consistently produce creative work at the stated minimum of 1,000 words a day, five days a week while maintaining my current workload it stands to reason that I can put out twice as much with less work on my plate.  I would need to approach writing as a job, which would mean I couldn't work exclusively on creative stuff.  I'd need to supplement my finances with article writing via a work-for-hire system like TextBroker or Elance.  If I can get myself into a position where I write every day and make money consistently (no matter how little), I think I can put myself on a track to something better.  Something that I'd genuinely enjoy doing.

Feel free to stick around and follow my progress.