Flash Fiction Fridays An Ocean Without Rails

Flash Fiction Friday: An Ocean Without Rails

Wow, three weeks in a row of Flash Fiction Friday. This is actually turning into a regular thing. This week, the Story Dice gave me a ship, a stag, and a train. As is my wont, I wrote up a bit of steam-inspired flash, which I have shared below.

Fair bit of warning, though: I’m super crunched for time this week, so I have not had any time to edit or proof this week’s story before posting it. As is the case with all first drafts, errors are likely to abound, misspellings litter the landscape like discarded Taco Bell wrappers on a frat house floor, and you may find your first look at one of my first drafts terrifying.

But take heart, gentle reader. Know that no matter how much suffering may be wrought by this unpolished prose, J and I will be seeing Nightwish in concert and celebrating our seventeenth anniversary. It’s going to be awesome.

Onward, into the wild frontier of the first draft!

An Ocean Without Rails

It had been often said that only the bravest or most foolhardy of men would dare attempt to cross the great salt sea. Once upon a time, Captain Shu Xi had been one of those men, bursting with tales of the wonders and dangers lurking among and beneath those waves. That was a time when men sailed by the stars, risked death each time he set out into the blue, and then came home filthy, half-starved, and barely able to remember what a woman looked like.

Then someone invented the damned steamship and ruined everyone’s fun.

It had taken two years of poverty and the threat of losing his ship before he’d finally given in and had it retooled with a steam engine that took up most of the cargo bay and a massive propeller so he could keep up with all the fancy new cargo ships his competitors had taken to using. Of course, the lack of cargo space meant he had to improvise how to actually drag his goods from port to port.

Shu scaled the ladder to the crow’s nest to survey the long line of barges stretching nearly a quarter mile behind. Each one connected to the next through a series of steel cables, rigging, and half a hundred different clamps, pulleys, and good old-fashioned knots. From so high, his crew looked like little more than distant ants, scurrying to and fro as they tightened and adjusted the myriad of webbing needed to keep the waves from tearing his aquatic locomotive to pieces.

The corners of his lips pulled downward as he spied a cluster of men two barges away. It looked as if they were in a brawl or some other struggle. He pulled a spyglass from his vest pocket and swung it around to face the disturbance. What he saw made him swear under his breath and slide down the ladder, already calling out to the first mate to watch the bridge before leaping into the wiring connecting the ship with the first barge.

A litany of curses rampaged through his consciousness. Someone on that barge didn’t do his job, and now the entire voyage was at risk. If somehow they lived to see shore again, Shu would make his displeasure obvious in the most physical manner. But before that, they needed to get it locked back up.

He dropped to the deck of the first barge and barreled his way toward the second, weaving in and out to dodge the crew and shouting, “Out of the way!” to warn them aside.

First, he heard the shouting. Must have been a dozen men trying to subdue the beast, and it didn’t sound like they were having much success. He almost stopped cold when he heard the monster’s cry, a bellow of frustration and rage that shook his bones made his heart stutter. A deep breath steeled his resolve, and he redoubled his efforts, fists clenched at his sides as he charged ahead.

When he reached the aft railing, he leapt again, fingers stretched toward the mess of cables leading to his destination. Rough, corded steel slipped along his fingers before he found purchase, but then gave way as the cable snapped and he dropped face-first into the churning saline waves.

The impact blew the air from his lungs and allowed seawater to rush in to fill the void. Shu coughed, sputtered and heaved, desperately working to clear his airways he bounced along between the barges, dragged along by nothing more than his iron grip on the snapped cable.

“Man overboard!” someone called out from above.

The edges of his vision blurred and began to darken. No help would be coming. The first barge’s first concern would be to ensure that the rest of the cables remained intact and the train did not come apart, and the second barge had much bigger problems, the sounds of which still reached him, even as the waves rolled over him again and again.

After coughing up enough salt water to allow a breath, Shu shook his head to no avail, trying to cast off the creeping darkness that both worked to limit his vision and weaken his body. He was a man of the sea, and he would not allow a bit of water to be his end.

He began to climb.

Every muscle howled in protest, and the burning of that effort spread quickly, through his arms and down his torso and into his legs. It would have been easy, so seductively easy, to just let go and give himself to the sea. It would claim him eventually, he had no doubt, but not today. Not while he had a cargo to deliver and men under his protection.

One hand over the other, he made his way up. Legs wrapped around the cable and held on tight each time the slippery steel threatened to elude his grasp. More than once, the cable slipped through his fingers and he had to scramble to regain his grip. Below, the waves beckoned, promising a long sleep. Gods, he was tired. With every meter’s progress, sleep sounded better and better, but not now. He had a job to do, and he’d be damned if he let it go undone.

It felt like a year had passed by the time Shy stumbled over the railing. The blackness threatened to overwhelm him now. Through the haze, he saw his crew struggling with the beast, a four-legged brute covered in course fur and crowned with a nest of shimmering silver antlers. Silver flashed as it thrashed, barely held by a dozen ropes as it lashed out with hoof and great swings of its head. For the most part, the crew appeared to have avoided injury, but they would lose the battle before long.

Shu coughed again, spattering the deck with another mouthful of salt water before hooking an arm over the railing and hauling himself to his feet. His gaze locked with the massive stag as he shambled forward. Fury raged within those eyes, and now it fixed squarely on him.

He grimaced as he stepped forward. While he kept the beast’s attention two more ropes hooked around its neck, holding it more securely, but still not enough. It snorted and bellowed and tried to rear up, but somehow the crew fast.

When he reached the creature, Shu turned back, then spun toward it, fist outstretched as he threw his entire body into the swing. Bones snapped upon impact, and a surge of pain shot through his arm that nearly took him off his feet. With a roar that sounded tinged with surprise, the stag fell, unconscious.

Shu couldn’t see anything now beyond a hazy mess of fur on the deck surrounded by blackness. He knew he was about to pass out. The body could only take so much, and a broken hand combined with his previous lack of oxygen seemed to be his limit. He gave the order to have the beast taken back down below, and then he slept.

So, what did you think? What sort of story would you put together based on this week’s dice roll? Let me know in the comments below, and remember to Like and Share. Thanks for reading!

Flash Fiction Fridays: A Gentle Breeze I Swear

Flash Fiction Fridays: A Gentle Breeze, I Swear

Last week, I challenged myself to write a new piece of original flash fiction every Friday based on a roll of the Story Dice. The idea behind this was to get my butt in the chair and actually get back to writing, as opposed to my original authorial plan for the past year, which has been to read books on writing and think about how oh-so-nice it would be to have a dozen books under my belt and legions of fans all clambering for another. Believe me, it was awesome.

And you know what the best part of that plan was? It didn’t require any actual effort. Just a dream, a little imagination, a liter of unacknowledged self-doubt, and a great mountain of laziness that just begs you to say, Eh, I’ll do it tomorrow.

To be completely honest, I wasn’t sure I’d actually make it to a second week, but, surprisingly, here it is, fresh and steaming from the bread oven where I keep my brain. For the second week in a row, for your reading…let’s say pleasure…is this week’s installment of Flash Fiction Fridays.

Strap yourselves in. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

A Gentle Breeze, I Swear

Risti bent over the wheel and braced herself against the wind. All around, the crew struggled to secure the airship, tightening and rearranging the massive spiderweb of cabling that connected the hull to the great balloon above, lest one of them snap and they all make a real quick descent. Through the rain, she saw their mouths move as they called out to each other, but the storm stole the sound of their voices before any could reach her.

She would kill him if they lived through this. Really ain’t gonna be more than a little wind and a few drops of rain, he’d cajoled. Come on now, Risti. There’s money to be made on this cargo, and you well on know that there ain’t no ship here that don’t want the job.

The wheel jerked, and a gust of wind tossed the ship sideways. For a moment, she was airborne, dragged along with the ship by nothing more than a white-knuckled grip on the wheel and the rope that tied her to the steering console. The rope dug into her frame, and any gratitude for its presence was lost in the irrational thought that it might cut her in two. But as soon as she lifted off the ground, was was forcefully reacquainted with the deck in a face-first sort of manner.

The world swam, spinning far more than seemed reasonable. And not just the world. The wheel spun back and forth as the ship twisted out of control, thrown to and fro by the swirling gale. Lightning flashed, and everything seemed to slow down as the ship was flung sideways once more. The wet grain of the wooden deck slipped against her fingers as she slid away, struggling for purchase.

In the distance, one of the crew was launched into the air as the knot tying the rope around his waist came undone. Limbs flailed in every direction as he streaked past. She’d already given him up for gone when he collided with one of the overhead cables and somehow managed to hold on. His body whipped around like a flag, but somehow he managed to maintain his grip long enough for to slide back down to the deck.

Lucky bastard, Risti thought as she crawled back toward the wheel, clawing for any purchase she could find against the soaked deck and finding little more than the bare seams between planks and the occasional loose nail. He’ll be more careful with his knots from now on.

By the time she hauled herself back to her feet and regained control of the wheel, her arms burned, the metallic tang of blood filled her mouth, and loose strands of hair plastered across her goggles, obscuring what little visibility she had. The ship couldn’t last much longer in this storm. She had to get under the worst of it if they were going to have any chance at making it to breakfast.

She wrapped an arm around the wheel and waved at the kharren first mate. When she had his attention, she jabbed her hand repeatedly downward toward the deck. He nodded in understanding, and then began relaying her order to the rest of the crew.

Once everyone understood, she pulled the levers on either side of the console to vent the fore and aft air bladders. Her stomach lurched as the ship dropped, losing altitude at a disconcerting rate. Swirling masses of cloud rushed up all around as the ship plummeted toward a desert floor still invisible through the storm.

And then she saw it, the normally pristine sand awash with the only rain it would likely see for the next year, and far too close for comfort. Risti slammed the bladder vents shut and pulled another lever to signal the engine room to stoke the boiler to full. If they didn’t regain some lift right quick, they were in for a landing the likes of which they were unlikely to walk away from.

The ground swept up toward them. They were too close. Not enough time to build the lift she needed to pull out of the dive. She cried out, ordering everyone to hold on, and then she spun the wheel all the way to the left, nearly turning the ship sideways as it spun into a wild corkscrew. While it did the trick of slowing the actual descent, it had quite the opposite effect on the meager contents of her stomach. She just hoped they wouldn’t make an appearance before all was said and done.

Closer. Closer. Windblown sand stung the exposed portions of her face and coated her teeth. She spat and sputtered, but did not loosen her grip. Still, the combination of wet wood and the force of their spin were too much to overcome. The wheel slipped free, and she tumbled to the ground. With a deep breath and a silent prayer, Risti closed her eyes and waited for the end.

Only the impact never came.

Every muscle groaned with protest as Risti pushed herself up enough to see the desert around her. Sand still bit into her skin, carried by the swirling masses of wind, but at least the ship was stable, even if it was only a dozen meters off the ground. She turned away from the wind and heaved a slow, measured breath before calling out for a damage report.

She wouldn’t kill him. Of course she wouldn’t…but imagining all the different ways she might do so would certainly be entertaining.

So, what did you think of this week’s story? Let me know in the comments below, and be sure to Like and Share this post with your friends. Thanks for reading!

Flash Fiction Fridays By Ram Or By Sea

Flash Fiction Fridays: By Ram Or By Sea

One of the problems that I constantly run into in my writing journey is looking down the long road of novel writing and thinking, Eh, I’ll start tomorrow. It’s going to take forever to finish, so one more day won’t hurt. One day leads to another, then another, and before long, an entire year’s gone by and I have nothing to show for it other than blank pages and stacks of empty taco wrappers. (What, you mean you throw out your taco wrappers more than once a year? Now that’s ambitious.) One of the tools I’ve found to get the creative blood pumping and remind the muse that there’s more to life than tacos and anime marathons (those are awesome) is flash fiction.

And do you know what the best part of flash fiction is? It doesn’t take long to write and you’re done in a flash! (Get it? A flash? Eh, never mind.)

So, my plan is to periodically (every Friday if I’m industrious; less often if not) write and post a bit of flash fiction here for you to endure enjoy. And where will I find the constant stream of ideas necessary for such a monumentous (it’s a word now) undertaking of unpolished prose? The app Story Dice. Each time I sit down to write flash fiction, I’m going to pull up the app and write based on whatever dice come up. For this week’s piece, it gave me the image you see above. Sometimes the best way to get things done is Under Pressure.

Now I hear David Bowie and Freddy Mercury singing. Great song, Under Pressure, and talking about it lets me put off the actual writing for a few moments.

*bobs head and listens*

Oh, fine. Here we go:

By Ram Or By Sea

Menel spread his arms to better feel the caress of the winds against his skin. From his perch, he could see the entire valley spread below him. The distant village, tucked in the shadow of the opposite ridge, appeared as little more than a circle of toadstools rung clustered around a central pond.

His memory swam with stories of that pond and the homes surrounding it, stories of misspent youth, lazy afternoons that stretched into infinity, of lost loves and half-forgotten relations, of old friends long-gone. No one lived there now. The toadstools stood empty, silent guardians of a history that existed only within him, and he would carry them wherever the winds deemed to carry him.

The river of thought broke upon the rocks as the bleating of his companion dragged Menel back into the present. A reflexive smile that did not quite touch his heart stretched his lips, and he pulled his gaze away for the last time to focus on his friend.

“There, now,” he cooed to the battle ram as he scratched deep within the wool behind a black ear. “I did not go far.”

The ram bleated again, a long, low rumble as he turned his head into Menel’s hand. That cold smile warmed at the sound. Such a simple pleasure, a moment between friends who had seen more than either wished and still had so many miles to go. That his steed could still take joy in such a simple thing as a scratch, despite the long road in front of them, Menel could not help but share some small piece of it.

Animals are not so dumb as people think. There is always a lesson, if we take the time to listen.

He touched his forehead to the ram’s and raised a hand so he might scratch behind both ears at once. He shut his eyes and tried to lose himself in the scent of oiled armor mixed with the natural odor of wool, the prickling of the short black hairs of the ram’s face against his, and the sound of pleasure at the scratching, but he could still hear feel the village pulling at him.

It begged him to stay with words that had no sound. It did not want to be left behind, lost to new growth and, perhaps in time, new stories of new people who did not know the other had ever existed. He could see it as clearly in his mind, a portrait of the past that held so many years of joy, tears, and a thousand other emotions with and without names.

But it would only be a portrait, a single frame that did not reflect the decay, the loss, everything that had been left behind. A portrait he could take with him. He could close his eyes and gaze upon the past whenever he chose, but if they were to survive, he had to keep moving forward.

He would have another name, another life, and when those who knew it passed on at the end of their short years, he would do it all over again. They both would, as they had done since the first light of the first dawn kissed the earth and gave it life. And they would continue to do so until the final sunset, when they would finally be allowed to rest.

The portrait faded as Menel drew back and opened his eyes, meeting the doe-eyed gaze of his oldest friend. He did not glance back to the village. He tucked it away in his heart among the countless others he had known in his long years.

The ram bleated again, and no nodded. “Yes, old friend. It is time we moved on.”

He swung up onto the saddle and urged the ram forward. He picked his way along the mountainside, leaving that valley and its ring of toadstools behind them. Across the next horizon, they would find another home. New memories. Stories he had heard before, but were always new. Finally, he smiled. He always did love a new story.

So, what did you think? Please comment below and share with your friends. Thanks for reading!

Book Review: Take Off Your Pants! By Libbie Hawker

Book Review: Take Off Your Pants! by Libbie Hawker

Like many authors, I’ve worked my way through all manner of craft books in an attempt to streamline my process and make it easier to convince a reluctant muse to give up the story for whatever project I happen to be working on. From Million Dollar Outlines to On Writing to Writing the Breakout Novel and beyond, every one of them offered valuable insights on how to proceed, but none of them helped me convince that stubborn muse to loosen her grip. As I discuss in today’s book review, Take Off Your Pants! By Libbie Hawker may have done just that.

By The Power Of Greysk…Tone!

Like On Writing, Take Off Your Pants! speaks to the reader in a conversational tone that lets the education you’re receiving sneak up on you and lodge itself in your grey matter while you feel that you’re receiving an entertaining lecture from a favorite teacher. In fact, by the time you’ve learned about the three-legged outline and the importance of your character’s flaw, you feel ready to launch yourself into the sky, leaving a trail of rainbows and brilliant prose in your wake.

Of course, like any undertrained superhero who doesn’t actually know how to fly, you’re more likely to splat against a wall like Wile E. Coyote than you are to suddenly discover your inner Shakespeare. (Little-known fact: Shakespeare moonlighted as a superhero called The Tempest. No, really, look it up). But if you can keep reading and not rush off to fight crime write your masterpiece, that powerful sense of…um…empowerment…will help get you over that total lack of confidence responsible for word-paralysis among author-kind.

Something Old, Something New, Something Something, Something With Words

As I said a few inches above, I’ve gone through a lot of craft books over the years. If you’ve also read through the entire shelf on writing in the bookstore, there is going to be a lot of familiar ground that you will recognize as you make your way across the landscape of Hawker’s book. But you’ll also come across quite a bit of new snippets of information, golden acorns of writerly goodness that might make you shout, “Eureka!” if you were inclined to do such a thing.

Even though there is quite a bit of similar material as other books, the way Hawker breaks it down and presents it to the reader shaves off the intimidating edges and leaves with you plush, friendly instructions that you can snuggle with while you make up stories of mayhem and destruction. The presentation is excellent, and it brings everything together in a way that’s easy to understand and apply.

You Can Keep Your Pants On (Or Not)

I’m going to risk a brief sojourn into the DMZ between the Republic of Pantsers and the Plotter Kingdom to explain how Hawker addresses the never-ending battle between writers that has raged since two cavemen disagreed about how to tell the others about how they caught that totally awesome caribou they’re dragging back to the cave until they were both eaten by prehistoric wolves. At the risk of betraying my own allegiance to the Plotters, I have to say that Hawker bridged the divide with as much diplomacy as is possible.

While she does focus on a few aspects that she deems critical to a cohesive, successful story (a major flaw, a character arc trying to overcome it, seventeen bottles of wine, etc), she there is no absolute insistence that every little thing needs to be plotted to death ahead of time. Plenty of room is left for writers to enjoy their pants as much as they want. On the other hand, if you prefer to write sans-trousers, she outlines (get it?) a method to get everything down ahead of time so you can breeze through your first draft with all due speed.

Triangles. Lots of Triangles

This method is primarily based on the concept of plot being structured like an inverted triangle, with individual chapters and scenes broken down into smaller triangles that you stuff into the bigger ones like so many slices of literary pie. This is a great way of describing the theory of limiting options and driving the character towards the goal, but I don’t feel that enough time was spent on how to actually accomplish this.

While this doesn’t prevent it from still being an excellent book, it does mean that it’s not the One Outlining Book to rule them all, and you will still need to supplement with other books to get a good grasp on three-act structure, different plot shapes, and how best to lay out your actual plot once you have the story down. It’s not a huge criticism, but it bears noting.

Please, Miss, May I Have Some More?

At just about every step of the way, Hawker provides examples of the device she is describing. Most of these examples focus on Lolita, Charlotte’s Web, and her own book, Tidewater. These examples go a long way toward helping you understand how to apply what she’s talking about, but including a few more would have been very helpful, especially toward the end of the book when she gets into plotting and pacing.

Take Off Your Pants! is by no means the perfect outlining book. It takes a number of familiar concepts and presents them in a friendly, actionable way that empowers the writer and makes you feel like this whole writing thing is easy. While it could use some additional examples and an expanded section on the actual plotting portion, there is something in it for everyone, and it has become by far my favorite book on outlining. Now, if you’ll excuse me, the muse is smiling at me and playing with a cootie catcher. I think she wants to tell me a story.

We Are Go For Launch!

After several revisions, a bucket of elbow grease, and a particularly difficult delve into the dungeon of design, the new and improved TRGoodman.net is finally ready for prime time. I’m quite happy with how it turned out, and I hope to fill it with all sorts of interesting and entertaining content, from flash fiction to musings on the true meaning of peanut butter to all the new books and stories I hope to release.

So, what do you think of the new design compared to the old one? Better? Worse? Is there anything you’re looking forward to seeing on these pages in the future? Let me know in the comments below.