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Tag Archives: Stories

Fake Elvis, the Zombie Hunter

Fake Elvis, the Zombie Hunter

I enjoy impromptu writing exercises, and when they’re part of writers meetings, they can be especially fun.

At the most recent such meeting, our prompt came from an excellent, often hilariously funny resource: The Amazing Story Generator by Jason Sacher. For about fifteen minutes of furious writing, we all composed vastly different stories, each expanding on “Forced to join the family business, an Elvis impersonator leads the charge against a zombie army.”

Two writers created funny, tight, complete stories, while the rest of us merely composed beginnings.

My offering is nowhere near the cleverest or funniest, but it might be useful for a minutes’ entertainment.

_______________________

“Aint’ nothin’ but a–”

I interrupted checking my pompadour in the glass of the turret to aim the cannon at a lone zombie lurching out of the dust. The brain-eater disintegrated into ash and bone.

I radioed to the rest of the squadron. We backed our machines into a ragged circle, cannon pointing out, and let the billowing brown-orange dust clouds blow away.

I flicked a handkerchief over the rhinestones on my fringed jacket. No white jumpsuits for battle, but black leather made one look cool and Presley-ish at once. I curled my lip at my reflection. Even though Dad had hidden all my costumes and told the event managers I lip-synced all the songs, forcing me to join the family monster-slaying enterprise, I need to stay in practice for my return to the stage.

Meantime, the gang and I needed to obliterate these mountain zombies before dark. Otherwise, they’d shuffle off to their caves and we’d be stuck here for another week, picking ’em off one at a time.

The thing about zombies, though, is they’re still aware enough to avoid charging our cannon en masse. Someone needed to volunteer as a human lure, but I wasn’t about to risk the hair.

c2016, KB

_______________________

If you’re in need of a story idea or simply a good laugh — “Longing for a simpler life, a sassy nun steals a baby” or “Vowing not to bathe for an entire year, a North Korean scientist meets the ghost of Ernest Hemingway” — grab a copy of Sacher’s book. You won’t be disappointed. 🙂

 

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Character Shapes Story

Recently finished viewing an Asian 21-ep revenge series, hoping for something more like The Count of Monte Cristo or City Hunter, but ending up with Shakespearean soap-opera. I nearly didn’t finish it. However, I wanted to see if the story would remain true to itself, and it mostly did. The fatal flaws necessary for a tragedy were present in most of the characters, and justice — of a kind — was meted out.

Shown but never stated: All the evil could have been avoided if the abusive father/husband had been in better control of his words and actions and had loved his wife.

Even though he was falsely accused of murdering an employee, the abusive character set in motion events that would boomerang thirty years later.

Below are the order of events (although not the order of revelation in the story):

1) although innocent of the alleged crimes, the husband was abusive and distrusting;
2) while she was kicked out of the house, the wife sought solace elsewhere and had a secret son she never acknowledged, but who grew up to take his revenge on her;
3) she tries to cover the truth by harming an employee, and he and his wife die;
4) the dead employee’s eldest daughter grows up in hardship and seeks revenge;
5) as adults, the secret son and the vengeful daughter meet and plot against the abusive man’s family;
6) amid their plotting, they become lovers, and yet the secret son allows the vengeful daughter to marry his innocent, unwitting half-brother — and that’s not yet the full measure of twistedness, because there’s more conning and thieving and murderousness to come.

Viewers had to suspend a great deal of reality, too, because the half-brother — thought to be killed in a fire (started by his wife) — comes back after extensive plastic surgery and sets himself up as a prosperous Korean-American businessman so he can revenge himself on her and take back the businesses and the properties she has finagled away from his family. (Oh, the soap opera!)

But what sorta saved this story is the ending: Although there was much back-and-forth one-upmanship regarding secrets and evidence of crimes, eventually the characters came to see the full measure of what their revenge and lies had wrought.

Had the father not been abusive, had the mother simply told the truth, had the young victims gone to the police rather than trying to solve it themselves…

In the end, watching from a distance as his half-brother (now accepted into the family) places flowers on the grave of the vengeful daughter, her husband — no longer unwitting or innocent — muses on what would have happened if everyone had stopped striving, had stopped hitting back, and had let God handle the matter of justice.

If they had been wiser, more patient, more forgiving, kinder, stronger, there would have been no story.

At least not that story.

Instead, it might have been about how a woman and her son survive and thrive away from the abuser. It might have been how a husband and wife come to terms with their wrongdoings and make amends or learn how to live with a new normal. It could have been about a son who grows up so fearful of becoming like his father that he never stands up for himself lest be become an abuser, and must learn there is a proper time to fight back. It could have been the redemptive story of a man who hits rock-bottom, losing everyone and everything he loved because he wouldn’t control his words or his fists, but then realizing he was the maker of his own darkness and climbing back toward the light.

It could have been any kind of story but revenge.

But character shapes story.

What kind of life are you writing? What choices are you making? What motivates you? What — and whom — do you love, fear, hate? Where, ultimately, will your story end?


The television series referenced above, in case you would like to watch it despite the spoilers:

Temptation of an Angel (2009 series)

Temptation of an Angel (2009)

 

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Working, Writing: Parallel Pursuits

Working, Writing: Parallel Pursuits

Fellow writers whose royalties are not yet sufficient to pay the bills, or other folk who spend waaaaay too much time at the computer and not enough time actually moving (we’re artists, and we exercise our brains; that’s enough right? 😉 ) here’s a great way to get in shape:

1) Invest in a good pair of gloves, good shoes, and your favorite OTC pain reliever. (You’ll need less of the pain reliever as time passes.)

2) Apply to work part-time at a large store, one with lots of inventory that must be moved and stocked pronto; or work on a construction site, at a repair garage, or anyplace else that might be considered blue-collar and non-intellectual. (As kids, my brother and I worked with Dad in his construction and remodel business. I learned more good work ethics and life skills there than any job since has taught me.)

3) At first, whenever arriving home from your assigned shift, you may be too tired to write or think or even wiggle. You may curse your age, your out-of-shape-ness, your alarm clock, your creaky joints, etc. Let it all out. 😉 Your days off may be spent sleeping rather than writing. Let it happen.

4) One day, not too long after you’ve begun this new, body-pummeling endeavor, you’ll realize your brain is awake with new ideas. You’ve mingled a bit with real people. You might even have made new friends. The sunlight is your friend, not your enemy. Your food choices or cravings will change: more water, less coffee, and more meat and veggies, fewer instant noodles. Your clothes are now too big, but your posture and stamina at the writing desk have improved.* Your fingers, once so nimble on the keyboard, are thicker now due to hard work, but give them a minute or two to limber up, and they remember how to type.

For months, until finances reached a crisis, I resisted returning to ‘real’ job, because 1) it felt like selling out, 2) I didn’t want another full-time job to overwhelm my mind and my time to the point that I couldn’t write, and 3) I didn’t want to be among people. Mingling with my characters and taking the occasional trip to writers meetings were all the socializing I needed.

And I was afraid of the pain. After injuring and re-injuring the same set of muscles and joints (car accident, a fall from a step ladder, and a few other falls), I didn’t want to aggravate the site and invite more debilitating pain. However, although there have been days like today when the pain of last night’s work leaves my shoulder stiff and unwilling, the aggressive activity has been therapy, forcing muscles and joints to work at full capacity and in their proper function. Chiropractic issues are resolving themselves as muscles gain strength to keep bones in alignment.

The doctor told me once that, if I refused the physical therapy exercises, my shoulder would freeze. I’d have no mobility unless I faced the pain. I kinda sorta followed his instructions, and at home I used the chart and performed most of the necessary exercises. But with no one else to  me, to encourage me through the pain, I didn’t do the hardest ones.

The part-time job as a stocker has solved that issue. Sure, I’m typing this in pain, but I’m typing. The pain is merely at a discomfort threshold, far from the Oh-God-make-it-stop level it was after the car accident and the fall from the ladder. Both left me breathless, staring out the windshield or at the wall and wondering if I’d damaged myself this time to the point of no recovery.

We writers, our dream may be to shut out the world and tell our tales, but we need pain, I think, in order to write pain. We need troubles in order to write troubles. Those we write may not be the same as those we experience, but we know the emotions: the worry, the fear, the grief, the despair, the agony, the recovery, the planning for a new future, the hope.

I won’t be a stocker forever. I know this. Just as in nature, life has seasons, and this is merely one of them. For now, though, as strange as it may seem, keeping the shelves stocked with canned veggies, with dog food, with hairspray, with toilet paper, is also keeping me fit for writing.

Working or writing: We don’t have to choose one or the other. There are times when the writing lags, or when the day job must be abandoned, but those are mere seasons, and the two pursuits need not be anathema to one another. Just as winter’s snows feed summer’s streams, and sping’s buds lead to autumn’s leaves, so too does work inform writing and writing lighten work.


* Bought a new, smaller pair of jeans for work, washed ’em, wore a few days later, and they were already too big. Working in the stock room is better than going to the gym — and I get paid! 😉


Just for kicks, April 29-May 6, 2016, there’s a Countdown deal for the Kindle version of Dragon’s Rook. Today it’s .99, but the price will increase incrementally until it returns to it’s usual $4.99.

 

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Poetry Giveaway

poetry-anthology-coversalt-flats-and-moon

It’s a short volume — less than seventy pages — but it spans two or three decades’ worth of poems inspired by the author’s life, relationships, troubles, daydreams, and family.

And she’s giving away signed paperback copies to five winners of a Goodreads giveaway:

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Laughing at the Moon by Elizabeth Easter

Laughing at the Moon

by Elizabeth Easter

Giveaway ends March 31, 2016.

 

 

UPDATE (April 5, 2016):
The giveaway is ended, and the winners are chosen! They are from Italy, Ireland, England, and the United States. Congratulations to all!

 

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In Progress

In Progress

In the past, I’ve shared incomplete poems or scenes, or pieces that have been worked and re-worked, to show fellow writers that perfection is 1) often relative, and 2) not a one-step process. Writing is the practice of perseverance.

In the wee hours of morning, when my head hurt and I couldn’t sleep, I pondered the beginning of Dragon’s Bane, the second half of an epic fantasy yarn. Scenes need re-arranging. (Anyone who knows me knows I play “52-card pick-up” with chapters and scenes, mixing up parts of the story until I settle on a progression that feels right.) Emotion needs to be established. (Always tricky.) Mystery and atmosphere must be heightened. (Always fun.)

And I need to write more poetry and fragments of the story world’s history. I used almost all of them for the first half of the story (Dragon’s Rook), so the well is almost dry. Time to dig deeper.

As I lay awake, this gap-filled poem arrived, employing phrases and concepts from the first book, obliquely summarizing the entire story:

in the high mountains
beyond Craydaegs’ gate
behind Brona’s Veil
the people await

past the curtain of night
on the path of the moon
in the land of the horse-kings
_______________-oon

hear the horn of the Woodsman
heed his ____ tread
his fell axe is trimming
the leaves of the dead

the warrior, the flame,
a sword in the west
away, all ye Dragons
let enmity rest

c2016, KB

Once finished, it’ll be the opening poem before the story begins.

lake at Myriad Botanical Gardens, Oklahoma City (c2014, KB)

lake at Myriad Botanical Gardens, Oklahoma City (c2014, KB)

 

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Simple Work

Simple Work

At work Thursday night, listening to two young men debate the meaning of a word and why meanings change as people misuse/misapply words, I revealed that I’m an editor.

One wide-eyed kid stared at me and demanded, “If you can do that, why are you here?”

I laughed. “Because this pays the bills.”

He nodded, and went back to stacking boxes.

This is pure speculation, but I think he asked because he’d learned earlier in the shift that someone else received a promotion for which he’d also been a candidate.

I hope, though, he can see stacking boxes as a stepping stone and not as a dead end.

For me, it’s exercise I might not get as a writer, and it’s a means to an unrelated goal. The job has nothing to do with the career, if that makes any sense.

Stacking boxes, stocking shelves, climbing ladders, walking untold steps every day — those may seem mundane activities taking me away from editing and writing. Sometimes they are. Sometimes they leave me too exhausted to do what I want to do.

But after four years of literary employment, the romance of a royalty check is diminished, and the steadiness of a regular paycheck is desirable.

Some of those royalty checks are very nice — don’t get me wrong! — but some are so small the publisher rolls the money into the next month’s check. That means I have to dive into savings to pay the bills.

At forty-something, I’ve seen enough life to realize the joys of a simple job. I used to hate physical labor when my dad made my brother and me haul and stack wood or do other chores. Then, in my thirties, I experienced injuries that could have crippled me. Now, at last, I’m able to move without pain. I express gratitude by working.

I hope that young man can view his job with a wide lens, one that sees past the slights and disappointments — even the monotony — of the moment; a lens that prevents him from transposing a job over a life, but uses work to give himself a life.

I hope he knows the joy of good work done well. There’s no better rest than a deep sleep after a day of good work.

And, of course, it wouldn’t hurt if he, too, became a writer. 😉

 

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Finding the End

Finding the End

After waking in a strange funk, likely caused by falling asleep while watching a Scottish crime series and hearing shouts and gunshots in my sleep, I have the rough outline for the unwritten remainder of Thieves Honor.*

This novel was supposed to be completed in December 2015, but life has its own plans and stories take their own time.

I wanted to advance, but a voice nagged at the back of my mind, so I returned to the beginning of the story and revised or cut passages that had never quite satisfied. Something was missing, too. Like the forgotten spice for the soup, a minor plot element had been left out — and its absence, while not making the story unpalatable, certainly made it less interesting.

When Ray Gun Revival magazine went into hiatus, I wasn’t sure how to proceed. I’d planned for three “seasons” of the Thieves Honor serial; for the novel, however, time and material had to be condensed, and the story itself needed to change.

As of this morning, about three years or so later, I know roughly how to do that.**

There’s much to be said for outlines, but I don’t think or create in linear fashion. My mind needs time to hike over wide wide tracts of unconnected wildernesses and brings back ideas I would never have considered but for the wandering. And if I don’t start writing something, a story may never actually be written before it is forgotten.

I plod when I’d rather soar, although some of my best short story work has occurred under a looming deadline. That’s usually after I already know the characters and story goal well enough to fit the puzzle together at the last minute.

It’s good business to produce books quickly so one can build a paying audience and solid readership. There are exceptions to that, of course; a certain famous fantasy writer is known for his slow production rate, but he hasn’t lost his audience.

I wish I wrote faster. My mind is teeming with untold stories.

 

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* If this is the result, maybe I should fall asleep to noisy Scottish crime dramas every night. 😉 After all, in the novel, there’s a dead character with a Scottish burr who “haunts” Finney, the ship’s pilot.

** For readers in the know, Carson Quinn, son of a famous pirate, and Rebeka Bat’Alon, the rebellious daughter of a port governor, are making a comeback in the story, turning their bit parts into pivotal roles. The mystery of the ghost ship Elsinore will be solved, and there’ll be another visit to the outcast colony living in the abandoned mines of the Devil’s Eye.

Readers were first introduced to the colony in “Shooting the Devil’s Eye”, a short story in Raygun Chronicles, a space opera anthology.

 

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And Now I Wait

My query, sent a few moments ago to Intergalactic Medicine Show:

Greetings!

Attached is “The Dragon and the Firefly”, a short story (approx. 8,000 words) set in a fantasy version of Japan in the era of samurai and shoguns. In this world, serpent-fruit trees can heal or kill, and children left at their base are said to grow up blessed. A warlord, Minoru, battles the emperor for control of the One Tree, the only such tree able to bring life to the dead. Long after the war, though, why is Minoru still unwell, and why is a dead man roaming the streets?

I hope you enjoy this tale, and thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,
Keanan Brand

Now the dreaded three-month wait for a response. 😉

I believe “The Dragon and the Firefly” has more than a fighting chance. In case of rejection, I may publish the story on Kindle, but it’d be encouraging if the editors select it for publication.

Just in case I decide to publish it on Kindle (c2016, KB)

(c2016, KB)

 

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Gotcha Covered

Last night’s writer’s meeting was ill-attended; only three of us showed up. However, that allowed me to seek advice from the librarian who leads the group, and ask her how the exteriors of books affect 1) inclusion in the library’s collection, and 2) reader choice.

Concerned about my preference for simplicity in artwork or design, I was surprised — and yet not — by her responses. Sure, if the artwork is cheesy and/or seems at odds with the subject matter, the staff might have a laugh, but what’s most annoying to them are book covers so minimalistic they reveal nothing about the content. She mentioned one publisher that tends toward such spareness there’s no artwork or even a description of the plot. Just the title and the author’s name.

So simplicity of decoration is fine, but tell readers about the story. Give ’em some reason to choose your book.

“If the reader flips to the back to read the blurb, you’re almost guaranteed they’ll check out the book.”

Then she looked at my rough draft for the cover of Thieves Honor. It looked like a thriller, not science fiction, but the fix was easy: She suggested I flip the background image, so the front became the back, and vice versa. The color gradiant and the angle of the light changed, giving the illusion of outer space rather than what the photo actually portrays — a table, a wooden chair, and the light from my computer screen all running together into a tie-dye abstraction of formless color.

The current draft of the front cover:

in-progress cover (c2016, KB)

in-progress cover (c2016, KB)

So, can I get away with no focal image on the cover, or is some artwork still needed? And is the look too “homemade” to be taken seriously?

For reference, the original image in its original orientation:

Abstraction (c2016, KB)

Abstraction (c2016, KB)

 

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Granite

Granite

Ideas from unexpected places? Happens all the time.

This week, while writing story notes in a spiral-bound notebook, I was listening to episodes of “Ancient Impossible” on the History Channel.* When I’d hear a historical detail I wanted to remember, I’d jot it on a separate page from the story notes.

In Dragon’s Rook, I wrote about a mountain city carved from granite.** However, I didn’t reveal how it was carved. Granite is serious stone. It doesn’t like to be cut.

However, there are examples of granite cut in ancient times, and they were the subject of a couple segments on “Ancient Impossible”: How did the ancients cut a large core of granite — a cylinder with evenly-spaced narrow grooves spiraling down its length — and how did they cut a slab that is marked as if by a circular saw, a piece of technology that no one expected to have existed then?

And that reminded me of something that should be incorporated into the next book, Dragon’s Bane: How was the city of Elycia carved into a mountainside composed mainly of granite?

Not gonna tell you. Yet. 😉

But it makes sense inside the story, and it explains one detail mentioned in Dragon’s Rook — the grooves left in the stone cliffs.

I want to go write that material right now, but I’m still finishing Thieves’ Honor, a space opera novel, which I hope to have complete by the end of the month. And then it’s back to Dragon’s Bane. And, after that, The Unmakers, a novel of paranormal suspense.

Anyone else listen to TV rather than watch it? Must come from all my years of having a radio but no television — listening is now a habit.

** The Mount Rushmore carvings are granite.

 
 

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