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Friday, December 31, 2010

F3 New Year

     She watched as they all scurried about in their preparations. The anniversary of the planet swinging around the star meant nothing to her, and it baffled her as to why they insisted that the event was noteworthy. A picture of an old magazine cover served as the inspiration for the festivities showing a baby in a top hat of all things. Pure foolishness.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Writing Tools: Make Capslock Useful

     There is one key that has been a perpetual bane on the modern keyboard. It's usefulness is so limited as to be laughable, and it's usefulness is really only a momentary convenience. In all of the writing I've done, and all the reading I've done, I've never really found a use for the Capslock key. It just sits there on the edge of the keyboard taking up useful space. I'm more likely to hold onto the shift key to type out capitals. Finally, though, there is a solution.
     I introduce you to Autohotkey a wonderful little scripting tool which can, among many things, remap keys on the keyboard. No, it does not take a degree in programming to use this program. In fact, I'm going to just give you the script I use to remap capslock to something useful.
     My script remaps capslock to become CTRL+I, which turns on italics in all major word processing programs, a typeface I find infinitely more useful in writing than all capital letters. Change the I to a U or a B, and it becomes underline or bold, respectively. More than that, I still have a way to enable the Capslock mode by holding down the shift key, then hitting Capslock. to turn Capslock off again, I repeat with shift and Capslock.
     To use the script, simply download the program from the link above, open up notepad, and copy the following two lines into it, and save the file as filename.ahk (the extension is important).


     And that's all there is to it. The possibilities are endless with Autohotkey, and several sites post up their own scripts for users to download and use. I've got another one that lets me put in the nice little indents to my blog paragraphs, but that's next week.
     For more information on Autohotkey, here is a nice little write up about it on Lifehacker (a favorite site of mine).

Saturday, December 25, 2010

F3 Christmas Miracle

     The bitterly cold night was calm. Down in the trench someone tried to get a small fire going in a rusted tin in an effort to keep frostbite at bay. The only good thing about the cold tonight was that the mud had frozen solid, and our boots no longer soaked. The threat of frostbitten toes replaced trench foot, but it was a welcome trade.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Writing Tools: Dropbox

     There's nothing quite so terrifying to a writer (at least to me) as the following phrase: Hard disk failure. Data death is not something that a book can realistically recover from. That 100,000 word manuscript can disappear in an instant, and even if you perform a back up, when was the last time you did that? A month, two, six? It's imperative for writers to have a fast, simple way to regularly back up their writing, else they will be wont to commit Hari Kari after ritualistically bludgeoning the remains of their computer with an aluminum baseball bat.
     For all the paranoid writers out there, I give you dropbox. Dropbox is a simple, fast, and free (up to 2gb, more than enough for even prolific writers) online file synchronization tool. What this means for writers is that, as long as you are connected online, your documents will automatically update themselves to dropbox's servers as soon as you're done working on it. Even if you're not connected, dropbox will wait until you are, and then synchronize them, without you needing to remember to tell it to do so.
     This means there's always a copy available to you online, securely backed up on Dropbox's servers. The site is secure, using encryption that rivals that of banks. Of course, the feature I like most is that I can use multiple computers and have it sync the files between all of them without eany effort. I can take my netbook out to the coffee shop, write something, bring it back, and the files were automatically updated over wi-fi on my home computer. I can open it and resume writing where I left off.
     Now, there are other services such as this, but some of them are overly technical, are not free, or simply a pain to use. A simple search for online file sync should turn up many different services you could try, but I throw my weight behind dropbox for its ease of use. I've been using it for 3 years, and it's really saved my bacon a number of times, and I have never lost a hard drive in that time.
     So, writers, I encourage you to go check out dropbox and see if it's for you. If you use the link below, you'll get an extra 250mb for free. One more tip: Complete their online tutorial and get another 250mb for free.
     One last thing. Those file folder locations from last week with the autosave? You want to make sure that those save folders point somewhere in your dropbox folder. Get out of the habit of saving everything in just the 'my documents' folder, and pipe it into some place useful, such as a documents folder inside of your dropbox folder.
     Dropbox sign-up link:
     Dropbox information:

Friday, December 17, 2010

F3 Last Dance

     Oh, God! Carol! She lay there just out of his reach. He couldn't see her face, but the position she fell in did not seem natural, did not seem as if a body could lay that way without injury.
     I'm coming, Carol. Isaac tried. He really did try, but his body did not respond, He lay on the floor as well, and willed his body to motion, but he made no real progress. His hand stretched out, grasping at carpet fibers but he lacked the strength to even pull himself along the floor.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Writing Tools: Autosave

     Writers fear losing their work. It's a given. Having a word processor freeze up or a computer crash while in the middle of a hot writing streak is a knife to the heart. We simply can't recreate what was written before. However, all is not lost as one of the best tools for writers is under their very noses.
     All word processors these days are equipped with an autosave or autorecover option (at least ones worth their salt). As I am a more mainstream word processor instead of the new options such as Scrivener or Liquid Story Binder, I'm stinking to only platforms I use: WordPerfect and Word.
     By default, the time limit on an autosave or autorecover is listed at 10 minutes. However, ten minutes, on a really good day, could mean pages of a novel between saves. Fortunately, that ten minute time limit can be brought down to 1 minute (the absolute minimum as I've tried decimals and the program pitches a fit).
     For you Word users out there---despite the awesome superiority of WordPerfect! (end soapbox)---finding the actual location of the autosave depends on which version of the program. In the more recent 2007 or 2010, it's buried in Word's options Office Button > Word Options (2007) or File tab > Word Options, and the screen looks something like this:

     Simply change the time from the default 10 minutes to the much less scary 1 minute time. And that's it. All work is automatically saved every minute.
     For the people who have older versions of Word the autosave is buried under Tools > Options.
     For my WordPerfect peeps (Represent!) it's under Tools > Settings > Files, and basically is the same process.
     Now, lastly, you'll notice in the picture that there are file locations which I've blanked out. These are important to keep in mind for next week's tip. We'll be doing something special with them.

Friday, December 10, 2010

F3 Winter Finery

     My breath came out in crystalline clouds that soon ghosted into nothingness, the only sign of movement in these trees. The only sounds belonged to me as a boot scrunched the snow down. This brought back memories.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Writing Tools

     Writing tools will be a new feature I put up here, and I'm going to do my best to make it a weekly feature, either every Monday or Wednesday. I'm something of a nerd (okay, more than something) and I realize that I have talents in areas that I have re-purposed towards writing, and I should share them with web o'sphere. So I'll post up blurbs about software, word processor configurations, lines of code, and other bits that have helped me in my writing. Hopefully some people will find this helpful to their writing.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Agents Rule

     I recently delivered a workshop to a bunch of creative writing students at the college I work for about how to get published---I still feel odd about it seeing as I have not yet been published. Yet. Yet. In this workshop I I somewhat surprised myself by devoting ~90% of it to the priority and importance of obtaining an agent.*
     Now, I don't know anyone personally who has an agent. My personal contacts in the publishing world would not impress anyone (I do hope to change this). I do, however, know people in a local writing group who are all about the self-publishing. They sit there and encourage me to do it, too. "Release your novel online via your blog. Put it up through Amazon. You'll get numbers and eventually you'll attract an agent and a publisher. Meanwhile you'll get your writing out there. Record your own audiobooks and distribute them." For some it's a siren lure. It's not for me.
     I think I know just enough about the publishing world to know I don't know nearly enough, but that's fine. Agents do. I'm a writer, and while some people think they can and should do it all, I don't. I know where my strengths and my talents lie, and I will play to those. I will work on honing my craft, coming up with new stories, characters, and worlds instead of split my efforts. I know that I'll obtain an agent some day, and get to see my books on the shelves of the Big Box Bookstores.

*I received no money by agents for this post, and no agents were harmed in the making of this blog post.

Friday, December 3, 2010

F3 Calligraphy

     Calligraphy had always been his passion. The smell of old parchment, the way it crinkled and curled. The thick feel of vellum between fingertips, but most of all was the elegant curves of the perfect fountain pen. Sharp nibs that left a fine line on the page and a skritching sound that recalled ancient writers, how writing should be done. Each stroke of the pen deliberate, quick, and irrevocable. The stroke could not be recalled, undone. The mark left on the page was indelible. The pen did more than leave ink, but dug into the page etching it permanently with the author's words and passions.

Friday, November 26, 2010

F3 Fury of the Storm

     Something about storms always called out to me. The windswept plain stood open, small, insignificant underneath the towering grey clouds that covered the entire sky. Sparse sunlight ricocheted throughout the openings in the clouds, but no hint of open sky revealed itself. At any time those clouds would burst, showering the grasslands.

Friday, November 19, 2010

F3 A Star to Guide by

     "Give me a tall ship, and a star to guide her by". I wanted that for a long time. No one ever talks about just how hard it is to pick a star. When you wake up and the Carrini star field the view outside your window in the morning—relative morning—it's all too tempting to randomly point one out and decide to see what's there.

Friday, November 12, 2010

F3 Foggy City

     There was something about the fog. The way it hid, but still gave off light made for one of those paradoxes, and there's nothing quite like something that just can't be to bring people out. The weird ones, anyway. It was like a full moon in a month with an R in it. They came out and did their thing in the fog when the light of day revealed too much of them, and the night was too scary.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Writer's Log NaNoWriMo.0700

     Well, I've finished the first week of NaNo, and I'm sitting at 20,000 words, which is far far above where I had hoped to be. Checking over my records for last year, I'm about 2,000 ahead of my past self. I'm not entirely sure if I can keep the pace up, but I'm going to give it a shot. Projections have me ending this at just after halfway through the month, but I'll be happy if I'm done before Thanksgiving. If all goes well, I'll be crossing the 25k mark this week, which will be cause for celebration. So, hopefully by Wednesday, I will throw a little party for myself. I'll get a cupcake.
     I hope NaNo is going well for others participating, and remember to keep with it. You'll make it. Just don't think about the editing that needs to be done.

Friday, November 5, 2010

F3 The Feast

     A magnificent thing to behold, that sandwich. So wonderfully constructed, and ready to fulfill the wants of tastebuds. It was a sandwich that caused vegetarians to cringe, and the health-conscious to flee outright.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Writer's Log NaNoWriMo.106

     Writer's log NaNoWriMo.106: Did overnight writing sprint up to 2288. Would have continued, but had to face work in 4 hours. I still have to face work, but have ideas, so I plan to get more writing done. I just checked last year's results for day one, and I was at an impressive 5494. Of course, that was a weekend day, and the sprint lasted until almost 3am. So, for less than 1 1/2 hours of writing, I will take what I got, and be glad for it.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Mental Exhaustion

     Sadly, there will be (or rather was not) an F3 today due to mental exhaustion. It struck me somewhere in the middle of the week, and I knew it for what it was as I had trouble finding basic words in my brain, and putting together sentences. So, for today, and tomorrow, I have (and will) be letting my brain get as much rest as possible, which means only the bare minimum grading and lots and lots of fun, mindless entertainment and physical activities in order to mentally prepare for NaNo.
     Also as preparation, a spy movie marathon (see above, mindless entertainment). It will get me thinking spy thoughts at least, and secret organizations bent on world domination and getting women to wear bathing suits and high heels as much as possible. And go-go boots. I don't have a thing for go-go boots, but it seems part of the shtick.
     I will endeavor to revive F3 throughout NaNo by taking bizarre pictures with my camera phone, and throwing something together in that way. And, as is my habit, I will post up the first chapters of the new novel.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Purpose of The Story

     Way back in my days of (semi) innocence, I was a creative writing major, and took creative writing fiction classes to advance towards that degree. I remember vividly sitting in the class near the end of the semester, a rough semester at that where I felt a certain disposition towards my classmates and my TA (but that's another story).
     During one day, the TA asked a question which I thought there was an obvious answer, and really the only answer that had any merit. Just for reference, I maintain my stance. The question was simply, this: "Why do we write?"
     My answer, as simple as could be: "To tell stories."
     I was given a very tiny amount of lip service, but it was clear that she wanted something more. I really couldn't think of what that might be. The TA moved on, and fished for something more, to which another student answered, "To send a message," which the TA and several others echoed their approval.
     It didn't really occur to me to do that, and I really didn't think that I wanted to read a bunch of heavy handed stories where I was being lectured at by the author. I just didn't think that it would be very enjoyable. Mostly I thought that my TA and class were a bunch of crackpots who were far too concerned with conceptions of high art than storytelling, and kind of disregarded that.
     That changed when I came to begin the road to querying. I read over famous blogs and query attempts, mostly from The Janet Reid where she states more than once on the Query Shark again and again that stories that are all about the message (that is just one example out of many on the blog. Go ahead, read them all. I'll wait.) are generally not the ones agents and editors are looking for. More than that, it kind of nailed home an idea that a lot of these writers focus on is the message where they report about what themes they deal with in the book, and what messages they want to convey instead of the events of the plot, and the choices that characters face.
     Whenever I conceive of a story, I start with the characters, and then come up with some events which set the stage for the story. I don't think about any type of message in the story whatsoever. It's not my purpose. My purpose has always been to tell a story that I thought was interesting.
     Now, that is not to say that I don't think I deal with some issues and convey some kind of message, but it's far down on the list of things I do. I'm not even fully sure of what messages I'm articulating as I write these stories. I'm more about presenting issues and questions, and have my characters deal with them. I try not to be prescriptive with how the characters deal with these questions. I just show how the characters have done it. The reader is able to take away whatever they wish from it. Of course, that leads to something else, which I'll cover in another post.

Friday, October 22, 2010

F3 Sundown

     Sundown. A lot of people watch the setting sun for the glory of those last rays of light. How they seem more intense than the sun at midday, and reflect off of clouds and buildings in brilliant reds, golds, and oranges.

Monday, October 18, 2010


     "It's better to burn out than fade away." Going out with a bang may appeal to homicidal immortals via Highlander, but it's not so good for me. All weekend I'd been feeling lethargic, unable to focus on what I should be doing, and I finally realized, yes, I'm burned out. Burned out on teaching, on grading, on side projects, on query revisions, and even a bit on writing. It's a really bad time, too, as I cannot afford to burn out, but I'm stuck wondering how to stave it off. So I'll open it up to any who might glance this direction. How do you stave off burning out?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Back in the Saddle

Well, the huge hump of grading is ended (for now), and I am once again dedicating myself to writing. At first it was difficult, but I'm getting back up to speed. I'm also beginning my NaNoWriMo training regimen again, upping my totals slowly over the course of the month. I should be able to handle the NaNo load even though I have some mega grading to do in November, and some other projects that have come up. I'm still making preparations for my new series in November, and hope to have enough of a plot mapped out and characters defined to zip through the first 50k.

Friday, October 8, 2010

F3 The Smile

     Tough guys have a reputation, and for good reason. We've seen and done it all. It tends to make for hearts of stone. Every joe and jane that crosses my path has done something, and it's usually not pleasant. I know enough to cut through what the false fronts of the grifters, and I can take or leave the hot-eyed looks of the dames. There's one person that cuts through me, though, and with nothing more than a smile. When I see my niece smile, I can't help but give one of my own. Guess I am just a sap.

Friday, October 1, 2010

F3 Problem Solvers

     The ME was still giving the once over as I stared down at that hand. It had rained last night, but no more than usual. It made the ground into a muddy muck in Raleigh Park, though. It was hard to tell where the mud ended and the blood began.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Time Management

     When the semester begins, there's always a marked difference in my writing progress. Getting bogged down with lesson plans and especially grading really take its toll on me time-wise. I need to find a better way to get everything done.
     I've got a couple of ideas I'm going to try, and hopefully as the semester wears on I'll be able to reduce my grading load, as I want to keep writing the focus, and then there's NaNoWriMo in November again. I need to start bulking up for that.

Friday, September 24, 2010

F3 Chalk Art

     He walked through the streets with a grin of amusement. He always enjoyed seeing what contrivances mortal could come up with. Their machines were of particular interest as they had created some truly remarkable contraptions.

Monday, September 20, 2010

D-Day Approaches.

     D-Day approaches. By this I mean I think I've reworked my query sufficiently to send out among the sharks, er, agents. I've been working on this thing for awhile, and I think I've got it. It's much shorter than my original query, which is a plus. Hopefully I'll get some bites on this one. And I need to get this out because the semester is going to start moving into high gear, and I don't want to end up in December without having sent queries out.
     D-Day approaches, and I'm excited and terrified.

Friday, September 17, 2010

F3 Keys

     There it was. The one in the middle, below the one with the harp on the end. It blended in well with all the others under the display case, but this key was different. Antique keys were ornate, showing off the skill of the craftsman, and this was no different, but the key's purpose was not just to unlock some door or cabinet.

Friday, September 10, 2010

F3 The Couple

     They couldn't stand any closer to one another. His hand on her shoulder, her hand gently on his arm. They could not see each others' faces, but they pressed their heads together. Her hair shadowed her face, so it was impossible to see her expression, but their posture said they clung to one another.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

That Thing

     I remember watching the agent and editor panel at Desert Dreams 2010. A lot of very respected agents and editors sat up there. It was intimidating, and also very exciting. Hearing them field questions, and what their answers were seemed to plug a lot of the gaps for me as a prospective client. I remember one idea in particular.
     I don't remember the exact question, something about cross over genres. Specifically it had to do with urban fantasy (which really made me pay attention). And I remember The Janet Reid and Miriam Kriss answered this one by talking about protagonists that do some sort of investigation (cop, PI, reporter, etc.) but also has a thing. A paranormal thing that puts a twist on the rest of it. It makes sense. Anita Blake is an animator, Rachel Morgan is a witch, Harry Dresden is a wizard, Chris Knight was a vampire, and the list goes on. The thing is important, too. It's pretty much the hook for the whole book. It's what sets the character apart from others of this type. If the thing is fresh and original, it can really take off.
     I've got a thing. Rather, Matt Allen has a thing, as my scant few readers know. I think it's a pretty fantastic thing, too. But the problem is that the full impact of the thing takes a little thought. It's not immediately apparent. It's easy to get a rudimentary understanding, but the full impact is a little more subtle, and can even provoke a "that's it?" or a "so what?" response before the full weight sets in. So I'm struggling to come up with that hook which both conveys the fundamental understanding, and the full impact, all while making it interesting.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


     This weekend brought a lot of query revisions, and it got me thinking about a classic fairy tail. I know that a lot of getting an agent to jump at a query is a measure of being "just right", which is more a question of knowing it when you see it, but what about on the writing side of queries? As the writer, it's up to me to try and figure out that fit from my end. I got a lot of questions from various forum people regarding my query, usually questions asking for more and more detail, yet that seems to fly in the face of what queries are supposed to be. This leaves me with several questions.
     How much detail is necessary? How much is the right amount to know, and how much is too much? An even better question, though is the detail being asked for still necessary if the answer is uninteresting? Is it better to have that bit of mystery in a query, that unanswered question, than to give the answer that falls flat? Lastly, at what level do I write at for an agent. It's my understanding that agents representing certain works are more or less experts in their genres. Should I expect them to get certain conventions of the genre? If I spell out every last thing am I insulting their intelligence? Do I ignore what many other writers (most not in my genre) have said about my query and go with my gut?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Pioneers

     A lot of agents pass along the advice for writers to read the genre that they write. Go out to bookstore and libraries, see what's on the shelves, and read them. Very sound advice, and there's no earthly reason not take that advice. I will, however, add to it.
     Go read the pioneers of the genre. Read the authors who wrote and made that genre viable. By and large, everything on the shelves today is derived from those original pioneers. You can't look at a mystery, the classic whodunit, without looking at Sherlock Holmes. Science fiction? Shelley, Verne, Wells. Too old fashioned, not enough "real" science? Asimov, Bradbury, and Heinlein. Vampires? Bram Stoker. Fantasy? Look at the sci fi guys. They did a lot of both. Epic fantasy? Tolkien. Romance? Austen. Hard-boiled detectives? Hammett and Chandler.
     I think it's important to read these more original works to see what they did that was so different. What did they do that started off a craze, even launched an entirely new genre in some cases? Take them, analyze them, compare them to today. Compare them to what you write, and look ahead to what might be the next turn.
     For my money, don't stop there. Need to know how to write funny? Tragic? Shakespeare. The Greek playwrights. Epic? Homer, Milton, Virgil. Fantastic? Ovid. Sexy or bawdy? Shakespeare, Ovid.
     Okay, I'll be honest. Shakespeare is the man for nearly all of this. There's not much he didn't do, and he managed to pull it off brilliantly, even the legal comedy (Merchant of Venice, anyone?). The point is, a lot can be learned from the people who were there first. I'm not downplaying authors today, but don't limit yourself to what's just what's been published in the last few years. Go explore, and find the ones who came first.

Friday, September 3, 2010

F3 The Lighthouse Cat

     I didn't like this corner. That old wall along Lighthouse gave me the creeps. It had that cat up on the corner. Not like a house cat. It was bigger, scarier. Most people never even looked at it, even though it was ready to pounce.
     I usually tried to ignore it as I went by, and made sure I was on the other side of the street. But today I found myself at the corner before realizing. Stupid text message distracted me.
     I'm waiting for the light to let me cross the street, and I hear this low growl. No one else seems to hear it but me. I look back at the cat, and see its tail slowly curl.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

August 2010 Wrap-up

     August was a peculiar month. With the main project out of the way, I puttered around on others. One project which I've been toying with, only dubbed Supervillain for now, seems to go in erratic spurts. I'm not sure if it will ever amount to a full-fledged novel, or if it would even be marketable if it did. So I worked bits on it, and on other, weirder things. Dusted a few things off, and saw that blowing away the dust meant a lot of work with cutting and re-writing. I had days where I couldn't write for the start up of the new semester interfered, as well as my own bizarre sleep schedule (a constant problem, I know). By month's end, though, I had come up with a concept and an outline for the next Matt Allen, and it was so insidious I had to start writing right away. Which explains the recent new first chapter.
     I also let my record-keeping go somewhat astray. I did the writing and editing, but I also didn't record those numbers until much later, and there are . . . gaps. So I'm going to make an effort to do better at that.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

July 2010 Wrap-up

     Okay, so I'm late with this. It's been hanging around waiting to be done, but I've put it off. I need to make sure I remember to do these more regularly, like immediately. July was a good month, where I finished off the rough draft for The Missing Succubus which is a cracking good read if I say so myself.

Friday, August 27, 2010

f3 Coffee Seduction

     I didn't have the usual vices. Smoking wasn't my ting, I could put the bottle away easy enough, and the only drink I had an on-and-off fling with was Scotch, preferably one older than me. I appreciated a nice pair of legs, a set of curves, and luscious lips, but knew how fickle the whole thing was. I'd seen joes go for a tumble, then give up the bank account. Saps, the lot of them. Dames made things . . . complicated, especially when it came to the job, and they didn't like it when I put the job first.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Fight scenes

     As Cary Elwes said in Robin Hood: Men in Tights, "Prepare for the fight scene." I think something is missing in fight scenes nowadays, at least in movies. The endlessly choreographed 30+ minute fight scenes just get tired. And gimmicky. There's always an outrageous condition behind the fighting, such as fighting in a water wheel.
     Not only that, but nearly everyone seems to know advanced martial arts. Now, don't get me wrong. I love a good martial arts sequence. I love classic Kung Fu movies (Bruce Lee!) and I love a great Jackie Chan flick. I don't have a problem with them as they match the type of story it's trying to tell, but other films seem to just keep going endlessly as a way to show off the choreography and advanced special effects, and that just grates at me because while I'm often looking for an escape and can accept the fantastic, I draw the line at the ridiculous.
     But there's hope. After watching The Hunted again, I see the type of fight scene that is perfect to alleviate the monotony. I won't spoil it, but it involves more desperate moves by a hero imminently unqualified to vanquish the villain, but the villain has already been weakened by another, so the unlikely hero does have a chance. It's a very raw, visceral scene where the nature of fighting changes a few times, and by the end, both hero and villain have sustained grievous wounds.
     I think I really enjoy it because I can apply it to my writing. In urban fantasy where there are very disparate levels of skill, ability, and power, there are no level playing fields, and the fight should reflect that level of desperation.
     Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go write a fight scene.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


     It's unpredictable. It's spontaneous. It's unreachable. It's around the corner. It's on the tip of my tongue. I'm always amazed when a flash of inspiration strikes me. Sometimes I'm really working on something, and then it clicks. More times I can count it just suddenly pops up, and I'm off to the races trying to write it down before the inspiration fades. Whatever it's called, whatever it's source. I love it.
     The really cool thing? It happens more often the more I write. Creativity seems to beget more creativity, and it gets easier each time. I can't make inspiration happen, but I learn tricks to encourage it to make an appearance.
     Do any writers out there have tricks they use to encourage inspiration?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Forbidden topics

     As a teacher, I've seen my fair share of essays on topics that I don't want to deal with any longer. I've even known teachers to create a list of banned topics such as abortion and capital punishment. I think it's mostly because students all say the same thing over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. Without a new take, a new, fresh perspective, I'm tired of it. Yet I haven't created a banned list yet. Emphasis on yet. I find myself leaning in that direction, though, as I will groan after just a few lines because I can already tell that there's nothing new to read.
     I've seen a few agents post about how they're tired of certain stories. Vampires readily come to mind as I've seen agents post on those a time or two, and I understand that agent inboxes are clogged to the RAM with queries for them. I'm sure there are others, so I wonder, and ask (politely of course) what topics make agents groan even within the genres they accept? Also, would it be possible for a fresh, new perspective on such a topic to grab an agent, or is it too late by the second line of the query?

Sunday, August 22, 2010


     This one just seemed to pop up all at once for me. There's a lot of people asking me to go and self-publish. "It's the wave of the future" and it would get me out there and making money on my books instead of wasting time trying to get an agent. The artistic integrity of my book would be maintained that way as well, allowing me complete control over the whole thing, right down to the cover.
     Yes, it is a siren song. Complete control, and seeing my words out there among the people ready to be snapped up by a ready populace. And of course that would just be the beginning! Agents and publishers would realize how awesome my abilities are after sales go through the roof, and they would clamor to me, and I would make them fight in a gladiatorial arena, presiding over them like Caesar, until only the survivor remained. My money is on The Janet Reid (AKA The Query Shark). I would then reign as Supreme Emperor Author over the NYT bestselling list, putting to shame the likes of King and Patterson.
     Hey, if I'm going to dream, I'm going to dream big. I am a writer, after all.
     But that's all that is, or at least the odds of it happenning are approximately the same as winning three lotteries simultaneously while surviving several lightning strikes.
     More than that, there's a reason why agents and publishers exist. Aside from the editorial input, they know what sells. They know the market as well as anyone can know the market, which is pretty darned impressive. And that's just the tip of the iceberg! Agents do things the likes of which I cannot fathom! Nor do I want to (my comment is in there somewhere. Keep looking!). I have enough headaches being a writer, and I can only imagine it will become more intense when there are writing deadlines to balance along with my mundane existence. The hassles of trying to do the work of an agent while self-publishing a book and writing others is just insane. At least for me. Others who have the knack, have at it!
     More than that, I know my writing skills, and I know my ego (Pause for those comments regarding my massive ego) and I know that my writing isn't perfect. It's just not. I know it's not. I think I'm a really good writer, but even the likes of Thomas Jefferson needed people to read over his stuff and edit! I need agents and editors to take a look at my stuff and help me make it even better, and yes, it can always be better.
     More than that, know that the gatekeepers are there for a reason, and that if I move to self-publishing, I may not have the chops to handle agents, editors, and publishers. It's a hard, unforgiving business, and if I don't have the patience and determination to make sure my book is the best I can possibly be, and to navigate those treacherous waters (ooo, another shark reference), then what agent or publisher would want to pick me up? I've read the blogs of several agents regarding self-publishing, and they all cite these just a few of the reasons to avoid self-publishing. I could go on, but I'm not writing this to slam self-publishing, merely to say, it's not for me.
     Sure, I'm going to rack up a log of battle scars and shark bites before this is done, but I'm going to make it. I'm going to see my books sitting on shelves, and I'll be able to tell the war stories of what I went through to make it.
     Greatly exaggerated, of course. I'm a writer.

Friday, August 20, 2010

F3 Rain Cafe

     The cafe nearly closed for the day. Its patrons had long since deserted the all outdoor seating, except me. Usually, the rain in this city came down gently, but steadily. Now, though, I watched drops come down hard enough to bounce off the glass top table in front of me.

Monday, August 16, 2010

A Peace of Luck (Short Story)

A Peace of Luck

     "Thank you for coming . . . to see me, Mr. Allen," Jeff Spietzel wheezed to me. The man, in his nineties, was confined to a wheel chair with a blanket over his lap. A tube ran up to his nose and around his head from a large, green tank of oxygen, complete with its own wheeled cart to move it around. The old man's didn't look ninety, though. His skin seemed bright, as were his eyes, and he had on a neat polo shirt. His beard and hair, all white, were trimmed. His hands trembled whenever he moved them, such as when he extended it to shake mine.
     I took his hand, and his strength surprised me even if it did continue to tremble. "Parkinson's," he wheezed, "and a lot of other things, so my doctors tell me. Please, sit down."
     I took the padded chair across from the old man. The room was pretty simple. A couple of more chairs completed the sitting furniture, and small tables next to each of the chairs rounded out the rest. Old quilts decorated the walls, giving the place a homey feel. A large window looked out over th backyard where some kids played in the afternoon drizzle. It rained in Belport almost as often as Seattle, so the rain was second nature. Besides, grade school kids never got tired of the rain. I had taken off my leather jacket and hat and left them on the coat tree upon entering.
     "My great grand-children," Jeff wheezed. "Quite a different world than what I remember."
     I nodded. With almost a century under his belt, he had seen a lot. More than I could even think of, though I'd wager I had seen some odder things.
     "You're a lucky guy. So, Mr. Spietzel, what can I do for you?"
     "I'm dying, Mr. Allen."
     "Not much I can do for that. Everybody dies."
     He wheezed a laugh, which required a long pull on his oxygen to recover. "No. That's not it at all. I accept that I'm dying, but I need something answered. After a long life, there's something I finally need to know, and I think you're the only one that can answer me. Have you ever seen anything like this before?" He pointed to a faded, metal four-leaf clover pin hanging on his shirt that looked as old as he.
     "Sorry, no. What is it?"
     His shoulder slumped at my answer. "I thought–thought it might be a good luck charm. I thought it was the reason I was still alive."
     "Why do you think that?"
     "Well, My father told me it was, and I thought it saved my life, too."
     "Tell me about it."
     "But surely you would recognize it if it had some sort of power. Your ad said that you dealt with the supernatural, and I assumed you would know."
     "I do deal with the supernatural, but there aren't books that catalog these things, despite what TV and movies say. So it doesn't mean anything that I don't know what your pin is. Tell me about it, and I might be able to tell you if it's on the level."
     He seemed relieved to hear this. "Should I start from the beginning?"
     "That's generally best. As far back as you know. Sometimes how these things came into being are important."
     "All the way back, then. I'll tell you the story my father told me. He told it to me often while growing up."
     I settled in, ready to hear the story.
     "My father was German, as you probably know from my last name, and living in Germany when the Great War broke out. Not the second war, but the first one. The actual Great War. My father was part of it, and he was stationed along the front. The fighting was fierce. He told me all about what happened. Soldiers died hung up on wire, or triggering mines, or shot of course. He told me of the cold and wet, and how the trenches would always be muddy, and inches of water down in the low parts. Now matter how they tried, they couldn't seem to get warm or stay dry. Many got trench foot, and lost toes or even their entire feet. Through it all they had to fight. Day and night they had to be ready for the order to charge over No Man's Land or how the enemy would do the same for a few feet of dirt.
     "It went on and on, until, one night, Christmas Eve. My father and his countrymen, missing home, began to sing." Jeff broke into verse, and he didn't wheeze at all. His voice rose to a great rich, baritone.

"O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
wie treu sind deine Blätter!
Du grünst nicht nur zur Sommerzeit,
Nein auch im Winter, wenn es schneit.
O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
wie treu sind deine Blätter!"

      He neared the end of the first verse, and then his voice began to falter, but he made it to the end of the verse. Not knowing German, I didn't finish up his rendition, but, softly, I began singing the second verse.

"O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
You fill all hearts with gaiety.
O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
You fill all hearts with gaiety.
On Christmas Day you stand so tall,
Affording joy to one and all.
O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
You fill all hearts with gaiety."

     Jeff smiled at me, and I could see tears filling his eyes. "Yes. Yes, that's the one, and that's exactly what happened. My father and the men with him, they sung in German, and the English sang back in their words. That–that was the beginning."
     "The Christmas Truce," I said.
     "You know of it?"
     "I know tidbits of things where history takes an odd turn. In the middle of the greatest conflict the world had ever known, opposing sides put down their weapons and celebrated Christmas."
     "Yes. That's it exactly." He coughed heavily, doubling over and clutching his side in pain. It went on long enough that I got out of my chair to go get someone, but he held up a hand, and the fit seemed to pass. "I'm all right, Mr. Allen. As all right as the dying can be. Let a dying man go out the way he wishes. I need to know."
     I nodded. "I need more to go off of."
     "Yes . . . yes. All through the night, they sang carols and told stories to one another, until a few brave men climbed out of the trenches, and went across No Man's Land, not to kill one another, but to shake hands."
     I couldn't help but smile at that. The image was too good not to.
     "They made a feast on Christmas morning, everyone bringing out the food they had, and pooling it together. Many had treats sent from home just for Christmas, and all together it made for quite a meal. There was one man on the British side, an Irish man, Liam Mallory, who befriended my father. They traded stories back and forth all Christmas day, and even exchanged gifts. All of the soldiers exchanged gifts, but there was one gift at the end of the day that he gave to my father. He had a tin, the tin that he contributed to the meal, of smoked kippers. The army tins were plain, but this he had gotten from his family, and it was decorated with a leprechaun and a four leaf clover. Liam cut the clover out of the tin, put in a couple of holes, and used a sewing needle to make it into a pin." Jeff caressed the pin reverently.
     "That is the story of where it came from, Mr. Allen. Can you tell me about the pin?" The anxiousness came through clearly in that wheeze.
     "Not yet. I need a little more information. Why do you think it might have power?"
     "My father. I guess I need to go back some more. The truce didn't last. A few days of playing ball and telling stories, and then the fighting came back again. A lot of men were transferred out to different places, to fight the French. Isn't that funny? My father told me that at several places along the trenches the truce broke out, but only between the Germans and the British. The French kept on fighting.
     "My father was one of those transferred. He volunteered. He couldn't bear the thought of storming the trench of men he had shared Christmas with, and had exchanged gifts with. For every day of the war, he wore the pin Liam had given him. He never took it off. He even found a piece of cord to hang it around his neck when he bathed."
     "My father continued to fight, but his heart wasn't in it. He wanted to return home, and he no longer saw the other side as the enemy. The war wasn't the idea of the people fighting it; they were just people like him, and that made it tougher to kill people. My father tried not to kill anyone, and even gave help to the wounded.
     "More than once he should have died. Once the enemy came upon him, and the man's gun jammed. That happened another time, and one of my father's friends promptly killed the man, and declared my father to be lucky. This trend of luck continued. A machine gunner didn't see him despite my father being twelve feet away while he tended a wounded man. The gunner kept strafing targets, but did not fire in the direction of my father. My father attributed it all to this pin." Jeff reached a shaking hand up to caress the pin again.
     "After the war, my father had enough of Germany. He thought that they had been wrong to be fighting, and he did not want any part of that. He decided to emigrate to America, and he wrote Liam to persuade him to do the same. Unfortunately," heavy emotion thickened his words, "Liam had not survived the Great War, and his family bitterly resented my father and all Germans. Liam had been married, and had a son when he died. My father felt guilty about that, and promised to make it up to Liam's family, somehow.
     My father emigrated, and moved to America along with so many others. My father was one who came through Ellis Island." Jeff's voice took on a note of pride. "He met a girl in New York, a Polish woman, and married. Not long after they had me, the first generation of American born.
     "My father worked hard, and helped build the city with its skyscrapers. We never had much money, but my father would send a small amount of his pay every week in a letter to Liam's family, to help them. I remember walking with him from the bank to the post office every Monday. After every jaunt to the post office, he would by me a pastry and ruffle my hair with his calloused hand." Shaking fingers caressed the side of his scalp.
     I rubbed a finger on my chin, cataloging what he told me. I had some ideas, and certainly his idea that the pin affected luck had some merit, but I thought it was something else. I needed a little more before I could say for sure.
     "I grew, as children do, and I still remember my father wearing the pin all the time until the second war. After Pearl Harbor, I got my draft notice. On the day I left home, he took off the pin, and put it on my shirt, and told me to wear it every day, that it had been lucky for him, and that it would be lucky for me.
     "I knew he believed, but I was skeptical, especially after I left. I didn't feel very lucky as I received my training and had KP almost every night. I was pretty bad as a soldier. I couldn't hit anything I aimed at, and I always seemed to leave myself exposed. The only thing I seemed to excel at was running and digging foxholes.
     "When shipped out, I paired up with a Texan, Alex Laredo, whom everyone just called Laredo. He seemed to do well at all the things I couldn't, and the same was true for him. We made a deal that I would do the running and digging while he did the shooting. We'd watch out for one another. Laredo liked to talk about how he would pick off armadillos on his father's ranch. 'I'd sit there on my horse' " he affected a Texas accent that forgot all about the wheezing. " 'and them doggies would just walk across the desert, and I'd take up aim, and jes pick that varmint off. Sometimes it'd spook a cow, but most of the time they'd just keep on a'chewin' ". He laughed, then, the wheeze coming back at the end.
     I smiled, readily picturing a Texan like that. Texans had a fondness for guns. I counted myself lucky that I haven't had to deal with a Texan in my career.
     "Laredo and I had a good arrangement that way. We deployed in Italy. Everyone always talks about France and Germany, but Italy was a hard nut to crack. Gerry was in really deep there, and we had some really tough scrapes, but I noticed something. I seemed to have a bit of luck just like my dad. Since I wasn't much of a shot, I became the radio man, and would carry a first aid kit. Kind of the corpsman for the unit. I was fast, too, and good at dodging around. Sometimes I'd be sent in to draw a little fire so Laredo could get a bead on a machine gun nest.
     "I had my own share of luck like my father. I was in a fox hole treating a couple of guys who had been hit by a machine gun when a German stick grenade landed in the middle of the hole. Without thinking I threw myself on it to protect my buddies.
     "After about five seconds I realized I was still alive, and I looked at my buddies, only moving my eyes and scared to breathe.
     " 'Is it a dud?' Benny asked. I began to move my arms, but then Anderson yelled out. 'Don't move, it might go off!' I froze. We all froze. We stayed like that for several minutes, only daring to breathe.
     " 'I need to piss,' Anderson said.
     " 'Need to? I already did!' Benny yelled.
     "I couldn't help it. I started laughing like crazy. I just kept laughing. Then the others did it, too. We laughed until another of the guys crawled over to see what was wrong with us. When we finally explained what happened, I rolled off the grenade, and passed it to him. He made a throw towards the enemy, and the thing exploded as soon as it landed.
     "Now I gotta ask you, Mr. Allen, knowing how well the Gerrys made things, what do you think were the odds of a dud that decided to explode afterward?"
     "Very slim," I agreed.
     "I've got more stories, Mr. Allen, all like that, but here's the thing, this string of luck didn't seem to work after the war. I've been wearing this thing ever since my dad gave it to me, and I've these illnesses. I'm about to die. Doctors and morticians are swarming about me even though everything is taken care of, so where's the luck in it?"
     I smiled to him. "Let me ask you, why do you think it's luck?"
     "I thought it'd be obvious. The four leaf clover, and it was given by an Irishman."
     "Yeah, I can see that, but it's wrong. See, luck would happen no matter what, but it didn't. More than that, a tin clover given by an Irishman is nothing. No, it's definitely not luck. I've got an idea, though, but it's a little out there."
     "Mr. Allen, quite a number of my family question my wearing this 'tin clover' as you called it, and think my stories are exaggerations. They were even more skeptical about my hiring you, but let an old man have his way. Now, tell me what it is."
     "Yeah, I get looked at sideways a lot. Now, the pin really does have a power, but it's not luck. It never was. What you have is something entirely different. See, the key goes back to your dad and Liam, and when. How much religion do you believe in?"
     "What? Well, I guess I've always kind of believed, moreso in recent years since my condition. I like to believe there's something more now."
     "And your dad?"
     "For as long as I can remember, we didn't go to church much, but we always went to services on Christmas. Christmas was really special to him. I always figured it was because of the story. Are you saying it's something else?"
     "In part. I think ever since that Christmas, he believed in the power of it. I won't go into too much about it because it's an odd concept, but belief has power, and your dad and Liam were present on a day unlike any other in history. On that day, war stopped. And the reason it stopped was because of Christmas. Everything that Christmas stands for was realized by those people. They set aside their differences, and they had a lot of them, sang some carols, shared a meal, and exchange gifts among not just perfect strangers, but enemies."
     "That makes a difference? I guess I just don't understand."
     "It's the difference. It used to be that people wouldn't even fight on Christmas. It was considered wrong to fight on Christmas because it was such a sacred day, and devoted to the ideas of peace. When you really start looking at it, what Christ taught, what Christ's birth represents, is all about peace. The pin is a symbol of that. A gift from a man who was once your father's enemy, and then came to realize that he was more like a brother. It's all about that peace.
     "All of the 'lucky' instances weren't luck at all. Your father and you were engaged in peaceful things. Even though you were deep in the middle of wars, you were doing peaceful things. Your father couldn't stomach the idea of fighting any more, and gave people aid. It probably went even farther in your case. You couldn't shoot things that you aimed at, and you did well at being a corpsman, and with the grenade, you tried to protect your buddies. Those were all peaceful actions, and so you were invoking the spirit of the Christmas Truce each time. That pin isn't luck, it's peaceful. Heck, maybe the spirit of Liam Mallory or your father is actually helping it along, but I know that the Christmas Truce is at work there.
     "See, just like on sacred or holy days like Christmas, All Hallow's Eve, or any number of others, little miracles are possible. The Christmas Truce wasn't a little miracle, it was a big full-scale one, and for lack of a better term, there's fallout. Things kind of are imbued with a power of the miracles that occur, and it persists. So long as you and yours keep upholding what the day was about, it'll keep working."
     I stood up, and put on my hat. "You've got your answer, Mr. Spietzel. I'm sure it wasn't what you were expecting, but there it is. Oh, and don't worry about my fee. You paid up just by telling the stories."
     I moved towards the door, but he let out a last gasp of "Wait! Wait, Mr. Allen. I have one more question." I stopped and looked at him. "What should I do with the pin?"
     "My advice? You've got a lot of children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I'm sure some of them are thinking of joining up. It's a popular thing to do nowadays. You take one of them aside, and tell them what the pin does, and give it to him, and have him pass it along to the next one that joins up, making sure that everyone who joins gets the pin if they need it. It seems like it only works in combat, so if someone is going in, he or she should have first call to it. It's worthless to just hold onto since it's not lucky, just peaceful."
     I turned again, opened the door, and walked out, almost running into a twenty-something young man who looked like he had played high school football. I excused myself as I slipped passed him, but Jeff called out to him from the room.
     "Robert! Robert come in here. I have something for you, and you have to make me a promise. . . ." the rest trailed out of hearing as I left the house.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Cause of Death (Short Story)

     The cold, sterile, stainless steel environment of an autopsy room was quiet save for the sounds of a pen scritching on paper. The word morgue had gone out of style and euphemistically been replaced by something more scientific sounding, but its function had not changed at all. I didn't care. Morgue was fine, it didn't change my job, and frustration rose as I tried to come to terms with the autopsy just performed. The body still lay on the table, all trace evidence had been collected, serology and toxicology reports were pending, but for all that the body had not been opened in the usual way, and an obvious explanation for the death apparent, I couldn't make sense of things.
     "Chief Medical Examiner's report continues," I said into the voice memo. Transcription was so much easier than trying to write my thoughts down as they came. "There's still no reason for why certain internal organs appear, well, desiccated. They are nowhere near the size they should be, but that's not the only odd thing."
     I scrubbed a hand through thinning hair, hair that certainly wouldn't get any thicker if I pulled it all out by the roots in frustration.
     "Okay, let's try this from the top. Victim is male, 5'10", and weighs 190 pounds. Aside from the trauma, he appears in excellent physical condition. Age appears to be late twenties to early thirties. No identification was found to give an exact DOB. A normal Y incision was not possible as the chest cavity had already been opened up by the killer. It appears that severe blunt trauma was used to break the ribs. There's no way to know how many blows it took to shatter the ribs. The sternum and attached ribs were then removed. It appears that a rib on the left side may have been the point at which the process began. The killer evidently grabbed a protruding rib, and tore the flesh open, using the rib like a sardine key. The sternum cartilage shows signs of tearing, but held together while the flesh and musculature were torn off of the body. God only knows how much pain the victim felt.
     "From there it appears that the heart was forcibly extracted, simply torn out from all appearances, but there's only minimal blood within the chest cavity, which should show signs of arterial spray when the heart was removed. Instead, at the scene, there was only a little blood found in the chest cavity, and none of it sprayed.
     "Closer examination revealed that the aorta, as well as the superior and inferior vena cava, had thicker walls than normal. The sample taken for the microscope slide was much more difficult to cut than a normal blood vessel.
     "Microscopic examination revealed that the blood vessel walls were now lined with smooth muscle, which, needless to say, is really weird. I can only guess that this muscle squeezes the blood along the vessels and through the body, instead of relying on the heart to pump it through. If that's the case, it leaves me wondering what the function of the heart had been relegated to."
     I nearly scrubbed a hand through hair again, but stopped, and instead pushed out of the rolling chair, it's ancient, metal casters giving a squeak as I got up.
     "Examination continued as normal to discover the previously mentioned desiccated internal organs. Wait, I didn't mention which ones. The gall bladder and pancreas were much smaller than expected, and seem to be desiccated, whereas the liver was of normal size, but was much heavier than expected. I have no explanation for this. Not even a hypothesis, except what I come to later.
     "When finished with the organs, I proceeded to do examinations of the muscle tissue exposed from the trauma, and from having to finish opening up the body to remove the internal organs. Muscle tissue seemed to be tougher to cut through. Again, I viewed a sample under a slid, and have never seen anything like this. There are at least three times the normal number of muscle fibers as found in normal human muscle tissue, all appearing to be normal sized, but tightly compacted and grouped together with some kind of unidentified tissue web.
     "At this point I began to take seriously the idea that the department's consultant, Matt Allen, might not have been joking or psychotic when it came to his claim that the victim was a vampire.
     To that end, I performed a thorough examination of the victim's mouth, but did not discover anything. No fangs, or anything. On the idea that the canine teeth might actually extend down, something I couldn't test as rigor had already set in, I X-rayed the victim's head."
     I leaned on the desk. None of this made sense. I've studied medical books and human bodies for over twenty years, and none of this makes sense. I snuck a couple of quick glances around, making sure no one was around. Of course no one was around. The late shift had already begun, and Anton was busy in the other lab. Still, I could be called in for a consult. I should call Anton in to consult for me. Wait. Finish the report. Get all my thoughts down first, and then talk to him about it. I want it all documented on my end, first.
     I hit the pause button on the memo recorder, then pulled open a desk drawer, and took a swig from the bottle of Jack I kept in there. I only used it for the really bad cases. Vicious beatings, rape with gratuitous violence, and kids. This was bad in a different way, and the burn of the whiskey felt good. I'd like to down the rest of the bottle, but I carried on.
     "I took the X-ray twice, thinking that the first had caught some kind of weird echo of a tooth on it, ro had some other flaw, but the second one turned out to look the same as the first. The first thing I noticed was that there were no fillings. The man had perfect teeth. I wouldn't have noticed that except for all of the other oddities. The next thing I noticed was that recessed up into the hard palate looked like thin teeth."
     I took another swig of Jack.
     "I used a scalpel to cut away at the palate and reveal the teeth, and discovered muscle tissue as well that would push these teeth down into the mouth."
     I grabbed the bottle of Jack and took a deep pull. "Up until this point," my voice scratched and breathy after the liquor, "I had never considered the possibility of what that detective had said. Clearly, this was something outside of what I've ever experienced. None of my medical experience has ever run into something quite like this. And I've seen quite a bit as a medical examiner. God! I mean, I've seen some pretty fucked up shit in this job. I . . . okay, keep it together. Edit that out later.
     "I continued my exploration of the palate and the sinuses, and found a small bundle of what looked like nerve endings in the same cavity where the recessed teeth were. To track them back to the source would have meant completely cutting open the sinuses or borrowing a nasal speculum, but I did noticed that there was something familiar about the nerves, so I consulted my medical books. I was right. The nerves resemble the olfactory nerves of the sinuses.
     I can only speculate, but I believe that these nerves are indeed the same kind of nerves, and provide exceptional smell capability given its proximity to the mouth. This means that this person would smell food inside the mouth as well as anything outside. There aren't as many nerves, so the smells in the mouth wouldn't override the primary olfactory nerves, but would provide an additional source of scent, possibly for the identification of . . . well, if this is a vampire, food . . . meaning blood."
     I shut the recorder off, and drank the jack so quickly it spilled over my mouth. I didn't even pay attention to the burn, just gave a gasp afterward, and leaned on the counter to catch my breath.
     "Shit. This is insane. I can't believe I'm saying all this. Maybe I should just wipe it out and come back in the morning." I can't. I know what I'm seeing. I know what's there. I've spent hours going over this corpse. It's purely impossible, but here it is, anyway.
     "I can't believe I ever wanted something different to happen in this job. I wanted a puzzle, not a Goddamn impossibility. Maybe I should call that detective. He said he wanted to hear from me. Maybe he knows something about this. He seemed to. Wait a damn minute!"
     I stood up, and ran over to my desk, rummaging through the stack of loose papers, looking for the bound report. This was the report the task force had put out regarding all the recent serial killings.
     I found it, and began flipping through pages. Something in there sparked a memory. Something about the detective and a piece of evidence from one of the bodies. I paged through, skimming as I went, hoping that the right words would pop out at me, and there it was, in the Crime Unit's notes of the fourth body found in an alley south of Meridian St. It was also the first body that the PI had been brought in on.
     "The consultant took the arm of the victim found in the dumpster, still in its evidence bag, and held it outstretched. Shortly thereafter, the extreme tip of the bag began to smoulder, as if on fire, and left a fine, grey ash or dust on the ground. It didn't look like the consultant had applied anything to the bag, and the bag had been sealed with no traces of anything that might be combustible found on it at the scene, so it's unclear what really happened."
     Bodies do not just spontaneously combust at room temperature. Either the PI had to do something to the body within the bag, something to the bag itself, or . . . "Or the body wasn't a normal body."
     There didn't seem to be any reason why this detective would put something on the body or bag, unless he wanted to make business for himself. Was it all just a sham? But the body on my table is not a sham. It's real, and it's bizarre. There's no way he would be able to completely engineer a human body like this. So was it really a vampire? I read on.
     "The consulting detective stated that he had applied only sunlight to the body, and that is what caused the reaction. I find this implausible since we used alternative light sources throughout the known spectrum to no effect on the body, previously."
     Sunlight. "Son of a bitch, sunlight! He warned me at the scene that I had to wrap the bodies up to prevent the sun from hitting them. Why the hell didn't I think of using sunlight on it? If I'm right, I don't need much. I can just take a small sample of skin or bone, and test it out. I can do it right . . . no, it's the middle of the night. I'll do it in the morning. I'll get someone else to verify the experiment, too, just to make sure I'm not losing it. Need to provide documentation.
     "Dammit! Where is my head at. I'm so intent on writing this up and figuring it out I should be taking pictures of it all. I can use the camera on the microscope to get the slides, but I should definitely take pictures of the fangs and nerve endings. Maybe I can use a camera and snake it into his sinuses to see what's going on up there. First things first. The camera. Take pictures of the fangs. I need the macro lens for this, and the light ring."
     I pulled out the digital SLR camera, and rummaged around for the right attachments. I found the macro lens, great for close up shots, and the ring flash which would go onto the lens itself, providing all around light up close. I looked into the lens, but something was wrong. I couldn't seem to focus it in correctly. It wasn't just the fangs and the palate, but the entire body didn't seem to focus. I focused on other things, and snapped a few quick pictures, and they turned out fine. I tried again with the body, but with the same result. I snapped the pictures, anyway, hoping to clean them up with the computer. That was odd.
     I took the lens off and peered into the camera itself to see if there were any dirt smudges or anything to explain it, and then I saw the mirror. SLR. Single lens reflex. The mirror pivoted to shoot light into the camera's sensor or the viewfinder, but not both at the same time. A mirror. Vampires weren't supposed to cast reflections. Could that be it? But weren't they supposed to be invisible in the mirror instead of fuzzy?
     I needed another test. Did I have a small mirror around here? I rummaged around, but couldn't find one. The offices. Surely there would be a small mirror in there somewhere. I ran out of the autopsy room, and into the offices shared by all the medical examiners. They were full desks instead of cubicles, but at the cost of having to share the space. Each of the examiners had drawers on one side of the desk.
     I finally found it in the center drawer of Connor's and Ramirez's shared desk. It had to be Connor's. He was the pretty boy of the group, and the only reason he wanted to get on day shift was so that he had nights free to go clubbing.
     I rushed the mirror back to autopsy, and checked the body's reflection. It looked blurry. I didn't know why I could look at it normally, but that it's reflection was distorted, somehow. It was another small piece of evidence on the road to a conclusion that shouldn't be.
     Nervously, I went back to the voice memo. "In attempting to document the body, I've run across the problem of trying to photograph it. All photographs taken come back blurry and out of focus despite all efforts to prevent this. Combined with the irregularities in the anatomy: the internal organs, musculature, and dentition, this leads me to believe that this person is what is popularly known as a vampire."
     There, I said it. And openly, too.
     "I remember the stomach contents revealed a large amount of blood, but I cannot verify as to whether or not this person has, in the past, ingested blood without further analysis, but I have no problem in declaring that this . . . I don't even know what to call this, person . . . is a different species altogether. There are just too many physical differences to say that this is human. I suppose it's possible that these are all a set of mutations, but genetics is not my background. It seems unlikely that such an evolution would happen all at once."
     I paused the recorder again. What to do now? I finally had enough proof to convince me that this was a vampire, but what of it? Should I call that detective now? What do I do, just tell him I believe? Vampires are real! I should get Anton over here. The fangs, the musculature, and the mirror, that should be enough to convince him. Or would it? I could see it, but I couldn't explain it. There had to be more changes. Samples. I should take tissue samples. Skin, muscle, bone, and organs. I should look at them all. I already had the sample of blood vessel wall with its smooth muscle. I need to look at more of them, and get verification. After that I could bring Anton in. And what about the serology and toxicology reports? Maybe they were done. Belport was a big enough city that those labs were constantly going.
     I went to my desk, and picked up the phone, and dialed the extension.
     "Tox, this is Renaldo."
     "Renaldo, this is Dr. Martin in Autopsy. Have you got the reports for my John Doe yet?"
     "Martin, hold on and let me check. Yyyeah, got it right here. It's already in the system. Soemthing wrong, and you can't access it?"
     "No no." I didn't think of checking for it in the computer. The department had recently gone paperless, and it took getting used to not having a paper copy. I liked reading off a paper copy, but everyone had to go green sometime. "I just didn't look. Thanks."
     "Sure thing, Doc."
     I went over to my computer, and pulled up the department network, quickly zipping through the pages to access the Tox reports. Blood type appeared to be O. Blood alcohol: Negligible. No common toxins found in the blood. Under Miscellaneous it read: "While no toxins were found in the blood stream, there was an abnormality in the red blood cells. It appeared to be a cellular organelle, but none are supposed to be found in red blood cells. It's unknown what this organelle is doing there, but it seems not to have any function. We believe it to be a random mutation. Addendum: The pictures we took are all out of focus. We believe it to be equipment failure. For now we have routed the sample back to the ME, so that he may use his own equipment."
     "Equipment failure and random mutation my ass," I muttered. If the sample had been routed back to me, someone should be making rounds soon to get it back to me. I could go over and get it and save the wait. I was about to go, when I remembered the stomach contents. When I had emptied the stomach, I remembered seeing blood. Not a great deal, but some. From what I remembered of the report at the scene, it was believed that a woman had fled. No one had been able to find her, yet.
     "Stomach Contents: There are far less of the usual stomach digestive fluids than anticipated. No food was found in the stomach, but a measure of blood, 475 ml, was found in the stomach."
     Blood in the stomach. Another notch in the belt for vampire. I left the computer, and began taking samples, and preparing slides. I gathered from all of the organs available, making sure to include skin. I wished I had a retinal camera like optometrists and opthamologists had, curious to see what a vampire's retina was like.
     I had my array of slides, and started where I left off, with the blood vessels. I gathered from both vein and artery in a few different places just to make sure what I saw wasn't just in the Aorta and Superior Vena Cava. I took a section from the cephalic vein and the radial collateral artery near the elbow, sure that they qualified as far enough away, but the same smooth muscle striations I saw in the aorta and Superior Vena Cava were present there as well. I didn't know why, though. It didn't make sense. There was no need for smooth muscle in either the arteries or the veins. The heart was much more efficient at pumping blood than smooth muscle would be. The powerful, even violent contractions of the heart would send blood throughout the cardiovascular system much more quickly, too.
     "Okay, think it out. Talk it out. If there are—wait, wait a second." I turned the recorder back on. "Have examined cephalic vein and radial collateral artery of the right arm. As in the aorta and superior vena cava, I have discovered striations of smooth muscle. As smooth muscle is used in the esophagus and in other areas of the digestive tract to move food, nutrients and waste throughout the body, I can only surmise that the blood vessels do similarly, now. A peristaltic motion in the blood vessels would continuously propel blood through the circulatory system. But why? Surely with the heart there is no need for such a system. Perhaps it is a holdover, a useless system like those found in various species.
     "Maybe, just maybe, it is a redundancy. While the heart would be more efficient, the smooth muscle would allow for redundancy in case something happened to the heart, which, in this case, something clearly did. While it couldn't possibly cope with the heart being ripped out, it might be a way for the body to cope with a heart attack, or similar event.
     "But that's only a guess. What if it's not a redundancy. Why smooth muscle to propel the blood, what is the benefit to that instead of the heart? What would be the effects, first of all? Well, the blood would move more slowly through the body, but not at a rate that would be sufficiently slow enough to matter, and without a way to test there's no way to know just how fast the muscle can move the blood through the body, but what else? If smooth muscle is moving the blood, then the heart remains at rest. No heartbeat, no pulse. For all purposes, the vampire appears dead."
     "Body temp! When I logged this guy in, he was room temperature, but what if they don't regulate body temperature? The blood found was all fresh. Blood would have congealed over the hours it would take for a body to get down to room temperature. But why? It can't be just to appear dead. There's not much of a benefit to appearing dead. If they don't regulate body temperature, then they must be cold-blooded, so what's the upside?"
     I didn't know. I didn't spend much time examining other species, and my general biology days were a long, long time ago. Fortunately, I had the internet, and access to science journals. I didn't need extremely detailed information, though, so I settled on whatever the search engine popped up first, not bothering with the journals. If there was a particular point I wanted to know more about, I'd look into it.
     I skimmed a few web pages, and even went to refining my search terms one or twice to get more specific results. The biggest difference between warm and cold-blooded seemed to be the energy. Warm blooded creatures needed a lot more food and energy in order to maintain a higher consistent body temperature. Immune response benefitted from a higher body temperature, and a few other processes seemed better suited to a warmer body such as motor activity and muscle response, but the cold-blooded metabolism was more efficient. They didn't need to feed as much, sometimes going several days between feedings. In most cases the cold-blooded species was a response to the environment, where the species had access to warmth. That was why snakes and reptiles topped the cold-blooded list. Fish, too, but I wanted to focus on land-based species.
     Okay, so it looks like primarily this is for the metabolism, which makes sense. They wouldn't need to feed as often by having a cold-blooded metabolism. That would allow them to blend in much more easily, and not raise suspicion. Still, if their muscles require warmth, that's a big disadvantage. Unless there's something to compensate. There's already been plenty of oddness in this subject, what if they have some kind of enzyme, or maybe their muscles use different chemical reactions to function. What is it that they get from blood, anyway? Are there even enough nutrients in someone else's blood stream to feed somebody?
     "And why blood?"
     "Blood is the source of life in the body. This goes beyond regular food. There is an energy in it which feeds and sustains us." I didn't recognize the voice behind me, but I jumped, whirled around, and brandished the recorder like it was some kind of weapon. I saw a man of average height and blonde hair down past his ears. He also had the start of a beard, it looked a few days old. He wore a navy polo shirt and black jeans.
     "Who are you?" My voice and hand shook at the same frequency. "This are is off-limits except to authorized personnel."
     "That," he pointed to the slab, "is my master. I want to know what happened to him." I felt hot, almost feverish, and the air seemed oppressive, tight, actually. I felt wrapped tight in a thick blanket, but I could move all right.
     "Well," I set the recorder down behind me on the desk, and walked over to the table, and began walking him through what happened. It was the least I could do for a relative. The boys outside must've buzzed him in, so it had to be okay to walk him through everything.
     I told him about the blunt force trauma and how the sternum and heart were removed, and that no trace of the heart could be found.
     "The heart. Whoever did this knew what he was doing." He said.
     "The private detective said something about that, too."
     "What private detective?"
     "The one consulting on the case. Matt Allen. I've got his number around here, somewhere. He asked me to call him when I finished."
     "Hmmm. Maybe I can use you to reckon the account between us. He has stepped across the line, now."
     I didn't know what he was talking about, but I would be happy to help out. "Anything I can do." I agreed.
     "No. There is still the problem of his protector. I am not ready to move against her, and I might have a better way to strike out at him. What happened to his mouth? Is that part of the same injury?"
     "No. That was me. I discovered those fangs in an X-ray, and excised the teeth. This is so exciting. The science behind this is miraculous. An entirely different, yet outwardly human, species. I can't wait to bring in Anton and write a paper on this."
     "Except, your colleagues will not believe you. They will think you manufactured all of the evidence. Best to just erase it all and move on. Declare nothing unusual with the body, and just go on. Telling people about what you find would cost you your career."
     "Yeah. Yeah, you're right. Thanks for being a good friend."
     "Of course. Why don't you write up a new report while I pay my respects to my master."
     "That makes sense."
     I went over to the desk, and pulled up the form on the computer for the autopsy, and just went with the standard explanation. Blunt-force trauma caused shattered ribs. The ribs and sternum were removed, and then the heart forcibly extracted. I made notations on how the inconsistencies noted by toxicology could be explained by a harmless mutation, and that the failure to document was a result of equipment failure, but as it posed no bearing on the case, it didn't matter.
     "Well, that's all taken care of. What else do I need to do to wrap up this case? Oh, I should probably get rid of the other stuff. If anyone would find it, they'd just think I made it up, anyway."
     "That is a good idea," my friend added.
     I started with all the slides I had prepared, my curiosity saying I should go ahead and look at them , but he was right. No sense in wasting time. I knew what to look for if it ever happened again, and then I might go ahead and come out with what I knew, or I could find someone else who had found this, and collaborate. But for now I needed to just forget about it. I couldn't risk my career on it, after all.
     I finished gathering the slides and other tissues samples, and then went and signed for the blood that Tox had waiting for me. I gathered up everything physical, and put it in a pile on the desk. I added the voice recorder, too. The video of the actual autopsy was pretty normal, procedure wise, so I didn't add it. Some of the organs just had odd weights and appearance, but I didn't have to really provide an explanation for why a guy's gall bladder and pancreas were withered, especially when they wouldn't believe me.
     "Don't forget the computers."
     "Right." I double-checked to make sure that nothing I had discovered appeared in any file. It would be awful if someone found just a little bit, and came to talk to me about it. Much better if I don't have anyone looking over my shoulder and asking weird questions of me.
     "Well, I think that's pretty much all of it. I can't think of anything I missed."
     "Very good. Would you sign this? With the autopsy complete, there's no reason you can't release the body for burial."
     "Sure. That makes sense. The family will want to put this behind them. There you go," I finished signing the release form.
     "Thank you. You know, you seem tired."
     Now that he mentioned it, I was tired. My jaw cracked and I brought the back of my hand to cover my mouth. "Yeah. The night shift is murder."
     "Quite so. And you have trouble sleeping, do you not?"
     "Sometimes, yeah. The job gets to me. You know how it is."
     "Then perhaps you should take a couple of sleeping pills to help you get some rest." He shook out a couple of pills from a bottle into his palm.
     "That's not a bad idea. Thanks. I'll grab some water." I went to the personal fridge and grabbed a bottle of water. I didn't think it a good idea to fill a glass from the sink what with the possibility of contamination. Besides, I liked good, cold water. I came back, and took the pills from his hand, and downed them with a gulp of water.
     "You are going to take the pills, right?" he asked, and I looked down to see the two sleeping pills. Taking them was a good idea. They'd help me sleep through the night.
     "Yeah, of course. Thanks for the pills. Can't hurt, right?" I knocked the pills back, and swallowed some water, downing them.
     "You going to stare at these pills all night?" he said, and I looked down at the pills, a little confused. I could swear I had taken them, but there they were on his palm, and he'd never give me too many, not a stand-up guy like him.
     "Right. Guess I'm just daydreaming right now." I grabbed the pills, placed them in my mouth, and took a long pull at the bottle, the cool water feeling good in my throat.
     "You should really stop daydreaming. My hand is getting tired of holding these for you."
     "Sorry. I appreciate it. I must be more tired than I thought if I'm spacing out like this." I swallowed the two pills, and sipped at the half-full bottle. When had I opened that? It was cold, so it must be pretty fresh from the fridge."
     "You know, these are pretty light pills, maybe you should take a couple more just to make sure they knock you out." He shook out two more pills. Four pills. I don't know. That could be a lot. They didn't look prescription, though, so they'd be pretty week, really.
     "That's over-the-counter stuff, right?"
     "Yep. Pretty harmless, isn't it?"
     "Yeah, for the most part. Four would be okay, especially since I don't have to come in until tomorrow evening." I placed the pills on my tongue, tasting the familiar gelatin coating again before swallowing them down with the water.
     "So, four is okay, you said? Here you go," and he shook two pills out of the bottle.
     "Yeah. Four will be just fine." I swallowed these back, thinking I must have let the first two stay on my tongue a little too long; the gelatin taste was strong.
     "Are you sure you want four? It won't hurt, will it?" He popped two pills into his palm.
     "Four won't do anything. I might be slow or groggy in waking up, but it's fine." I took them and tossed them all the way to the back of my throat to avoid the heavy gelatin taste of the first two.
     "Well, these are my last two, but you're a friend, so I don't mind giving them to you to make sure you get a good night's sleep." He rattled the bottle and passed it over to me. I upended and shook the bottle until the last two pills fell out, then knocked the pills back with the last bit of water in my bottle.
     "You can just toss the bottle for me." He said.
     "Sure thing. I can get rid of my water bottle, too." I tossed both into the blue recycle bin.
     I yawned heavily as I walked back to him. "Man, I'm tired. Maybe I should call a cab or ask someone for a ride home. I don't want to fall asleep at the wheel."
     "No, you don't, but then you don't want to leave your car here. You should take a short nap, then you can leave. Just close your eyes long enough to feel refreshed."
     "Yeah, that sounds good."
     "Here," he pulled out an empty drawer for a body from the fridge. "This should be good for you."
     "Yeah. Hell, we used to pull pranks by laying on these things. Good way to scare a new guy by popping out of a drawer. Just had to make sure that no one sealed the door completely." I climbed onto t cold, sterile metal, and lay down, closing my eyes. My arms felt leaden. I guess the sleeping pills were taking effect already. That was fast. Usually it took half an hour or so, and I had only just taken them. Maybe it was because I had four.
     I felt like I was moving, but I really didn't want to open my eyes. Just too tired. It sounded like the drawer sliding back in, and then the door closing. A moment of panic came through me as I heard the door close, but I couldn't move. The pills were kicking in. I had to open up the door. These vaults were air tight. I didn't want to suffocate, but sleep sounded so good. Just a short nap is what he said, and he was right outside, so he would open up the door for me. He was a good guy, after all.
     I opened the morning paper while my coffee, my wonderful, aromatic, ambrosia coffee percolated in my Benvenuto coffee maker. Toaster waffles warmed themselves in the toaster, and maple syrup and butter stood at attention awaiting my pleasure.
     November first. One of my favorite days of the year. Nothing happened on the first to make me mark it down as special. It was special simply because Halloween was over. This Halloween had been especially bad with what William Thornton had done, but those killings were over, at least. He had already confessed, and I knew a deal was in the works, but I didn't know the specifics yet. I had disposed of his medallion already, and on my end, everything was taken care of. I could enjoy my Friday in relative peace. Go into the office, sift through the pranks, and just enjoy a day when I didn't have to worry about a serial killer. I was sure that something else would catch my attention soon enough.
     My phone rang. Never a good sign at this time of the morning. My stomach sank when I saw Collins listed on the ID. I was tempted to let it go to voice mail.
     "What is it, Collins? I just want to enjoy my coffee and paper in peace before something else crazy happens."
     "There's a problem."
     "Not on my end."
     "Dr. Roy Leonard."
     "The ME for the Fairhaven precinct that picked up the body."
     "Which body?"
     "The one in the alley. William's last one. The one you said was a vampire."
     "That grisly one, with the guy's chest—" I felt my stomach lurch. I didn't like remembering the scene of a guy having his chest ripped apart and heart yanked.
     "That's the one. The ME was found dead. It looks like suicide, but it just doesn't make any sense."
     "What's this got to do with me?"
     "He was the one you asked to do the autopsy on the vampire, wanted him to call you."
     "Yeah. Guess that's not going to happen."
     "These things . . . they can't come back up, can they?"
     I had to think about it. The heart had been removed. I didn't have any first-hand evidence, but from what I knew the heart and head were the vulnerable spots. "Not that I know, not from that kind of injury."
     "Well, the body is gone."
     "What do you mean 'gone'?"
     "I mean there's no trace of it. There's nothing left. No tissue samples, no physical evidence of any kind. There's an autopsy report filled out, but nothing strange noted. There's also a video of the autopsy. The video shows the body as a blur, but that's it."
     I was hoping that after they died, the whole blurriness thing would disappear, but evidently not. "That's normal," I muttered. "You said something was off about the suicide. What?"
     "Well, they found him on a slab in the fridge. They did a quick autopsy and found he had taken somewhere between 15-20 sleeping pills. He had vomited on himself, but looked to be sleeping, otherwise. No note, no nothing, but he did clean up the place, which is consistent with suicide mentality. Problem is, no one could say that Dr. Leonard ever seemed the type. Everything points to suicide, but with the body gone, and what you said the victim was. . . ."
     "You wondered if the vampire did something to him."
     "Yeah," the word came out maple sap slow.
     "Not how you think. Anyone go through there ast night?"
     "Yeah, a John Smith signed in and out, and took a gurney with a body bag on it. Mr. Smith was blurry, so I thought it might be our vic. Guard said he had a signed release form for the body, and Dr. Leonard's signature was on it."
     "Damn," I whispered. My waffles were getting cold, but I had lost my appetite, anyway.
     "What the hell's going on, Allen?"
     "Off the record?"
     "You're always off the record, Allen. Your stuff doesn't play well on the record."
     "The victim has a love or a master or an apprentice. Someone interested in getting him back and keeping vampires a secret."
     "You mean there's some kind of conspiracy going to keep them quiet?"
     "Not a conspiracy, just a general understanding that public knowledge is bad for vampires, so they try and keep it quiet. That's why you don't hear about them, really."
     "And this one waltzed in, set up the doctor's suicide, and then waltzed out with the body and all samples?"
     "I don't think the suicide was a set up, but yeah, that's about it."
     "What do you mean?"
     "You ever watch a vampire movie?"
     "Not recently, but sure."
     "There's a reason why vampires always are portrayed with an ability to charm or control people. They have a way of doing that. He got the doc to commit suicide himself."
     Collins swore. "So, how do we find this guy?"
     "We don't. Let it go."
     "Fuck that, Allen. He waltzed in and killed a doctor, a medical examiner, one of the department. He just doesn't get away with that."
     "There's no way to find him, Collins. The Yellow Pages doesn't have a directory for the supernatural. This one got away. I'll keep an ear out, though, and if I hear anything, I'll let you know. My word."
     "You God-d—"
     "Hey!" I cut him off, "I told you not to say that around me."
     "Fuck Y—"
     I hung up before he could finish the curse.
     My good mood had disappeared. I looked at the waffles sticking out of the toaster, and frowned. Even the coffee didn't sound good, now. A vampire had disposed of a body. No big deal, except my name was associated with this case, and I wondered if I had a bullseye on my back. I still had Nikki's protection, but I didn't want to think about that, either.
     I glanced at the headline on the paper.

Serial Killer Suspect in Custody: Citizens Celebrate with Record Halloween Parties throughout City.

     "Yeah, we can all breathe easier because the threat is gone," the sarcasm was lost on the syrup and butter.
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