New Short Story Available Now!

Starting today, you can pick up an electronic copy of my short story “Bad Press” for only $0.99! That is literally less than a dollar. It’s currently available (as of September 10th at noon) on iBooks and Barnes & Noble, among others, and should pop up on Amazon within the next day or two.

Here’s the brief description of the story:

Eddie Hazzard’s name is being smeared in the press, and he’s going to get to the bottom of it. To restore his honor, he’ll have to contend not just with the reporter who impugned him, but with a whole host of violent enemies who want him dead. It’s just another day in the life of Eddie Hazzard, Hard-Boiled Detective, in this speculative fiction version of a cassingle. Remember cassingles? Man, those were awesome.

Go give it a read while you wait for Book Five!

Flash Fiction: Valeria’s Song

The Giant’s Barrel, a rough-and-tumble pub in the worst part of Halftown, was exactly what you’d expect it to be.  The proprietor, Grim Harstaff, saw to it that was the case: he personally sloshed beer onto the half-rotted straw strewn across the floor.  He’d put several of the nicks and notches on the bartop himself with an old dagger from some ancient war campaign he’d fought in a lifetime ago.  The place was kept dimly-lit, smelled of stale sweat and beer, and had air the general consistency of a thin gruel.  Certain qualities were expected, he said, and he wanted to provide the right ambiance to his clientele.

Valeria liked the Giant’s Barrel.  The beer was cheap, most of the men drinking there didn’t try to ogle her, and Grim would occasionally let her play her lute on the makeshift stage Grim and Garric would erect with a few planks over a couple of barrels at one end of the bar’s great room.

Not that Valeria ever understood why anyone wanted to ogle her.  She was a barbarian from the great northern tribes, where they bred their men and women for heartiness, not loveliness.  Her chest was better described as pecs rather than breasts, and she had broader shoulders than almost all of the pub’s regulars.  And, as the Giant’s Barrel was the watering hole for mercenaries and soldiers of fortune, adventurers and treasure hunters, this was saying something significant.

She kept her hair cropped short; she usually cut it herself with her dagger, the same blade that she cut her meat and stabbed her foes with.  Valeria was not picky about her appearance.  She had no interest in attracting a mate or even a brief romantic partner.  Valeria would rather learn a new tune than bed someone.  Yes, she’d had her dalliances as a young woman; she’d taken men and women to bed, searching for that spark that so many others described when engaging in bedroom shenanigans.  But she’d never felt it, and had accepted that it just wasn’t for her and moved on to more important things.

Most important was her music.  Her instrument was meant for delicate, gently-plucked melodies, but she’d always hammered on the strings like they were slabs of metal hot from the smith’s forge.  Valeria’s maestro when she was a young woman – a small, bald old man with nearly-useless eyes and the sharpest hearing imaginable – lamented her wasted talent.  “You could play any song you set your mind to,” he said, “but you always choose these old drinking songs and tavern sing-a-longs.”  And then he’d mutter to himself for the rest of her lesson.

Valeria was also unique in her ability to turn her tunes into magic spells.  The bardic spellcasting skill was virtually unheard of among her tribe; not that there were many bards in her tribe to begin with.  She’d been destined for training as a berserker.  She was certainly built for it, and no one excelled in shield biting like Valeria.  But she loved music more, and snuck away from her martial tutors and made for the city of Melorica, where she found the best musicians she could and started learning everything possible about playing.  Within a few years, she had a reputation as a daring interpreter of existing compositions and a lyrical, innovative composer in her own right.  The fact that she liked to write drinking songs for the common man was a source of some embarrassment among the musical intelligencia, but Valeria did not care even a little.  She loved what she played, and she found a way to turn her music into supportive spells for her allies in battle.

And Valeria was finding herself drawn to battle.  Yes, she’d abandoned her studies with the tribal war master, Carrouk, years earlier, but she still had the blood of the Hoursmooth tribe flowing in her veins, and she still felt the need for glorious battle.

So she’d taken up with the dwarf, Garric, and started adventuring.  And it fulfilled a need she’d forgotten she had, sated a desire that she’d thought she’d buried years ago.  That she got to combine her desire for battle and her love of music to become the world’s only barbarian bard was just icing on the proverbial cake.

Occasionally, though, Valeria felt the need to just play music for the sake of playing music.  On those occasions, she would head to the Giant’s Barrel, have Garric and Grim assemble the makeshift stage, and sit on the stage for hours at a time strumming and plucking the strings of her lute.  She played familiar folk tunes, drinking songs passed down for generations that everyone knew the words to, and original compositions of her own.  The crowds were always appreciative, clapping and hooting and singing drunkenly along.

There was one song, though, that Valeria never played at the pub.  One song that she kept to herself, only played when she was alone.  It was a sad song, a song full of longing and nostalgia and sentiment.  Anyone who knew Valeria would have been surprised she had an ounce of sentimentality in her soul; barbarians were not well-known for their pathos.  It was a song about home, about growing apart from everything you knew, about loneliness and the desire for amiable companionship.  Not about love, not exactly, but about something akin to it, like friendship only deeper.  Someone to share things with.  Garric came close, Valeria would admit, but he wasn’t quite it.

So the song was for herself, and no one else.  Maybe someday, someone else would get to hear it.  Maybe she’d even share it with Garric, if the time was right.  But for now, it was hers alone, and she would sit and play it for herself on quiet nights when no one was around.

 

Tuesdays

Another short vignette from a few years ago that I thought you all might enjoy.

“God, today fucking sucks,” Walter said, collapsing into his chair at the cafeteria table like the fall of empires.

Molly sat silently for a moment, expecting Walter to elaborate.  Clearly, he wanted to say more.  You could see it in his face.  And though she was curious, she would not give him the satisfaction of asking why.

“Why?” she finally said, despite herself.

“It’s Tuesday, Molly,” Walter replied, as though the answer were self-evident.

Molly pondered this for a moment, probing the statement’s depths and finding them unfathomable.

“Okay, I’ll bite.  Is it this particular Tuesday that sucks, or Tuesdays in general?” she asked.

“Tuesday,” Walter said, with the air of someone about to impart great wisdom, “is the worst day of the week.”

“That seems…well, that just doesn’t make any sense,” Molly said, frowning.

“It’s quite simple,” Walter replied, wagging a finger at her.  “Mondays, for all of their horror and frustration, are really not to be feared.  Most folks are still too hung over from the weekend to really notice Monday is even happening.  We have the afterglow of the weekend to keep us warm on a dreary Monday.”

“I’m not entirely sure I agree with that, but I’ll give it to you for the sake of argument,” Molly said doubtfully.  “What about Wednesday?”

“Wednesday is New Comic Day,” Walter replied bluntly, as though no one could possibly not know that.  “Thursday, of course, is the day before Friday.  There’s anticipation.  There’s light at the end of the tunnel.  There’s hope.”

“And Friday, of course, is Friday,” Molly finished for him.

“Of course,” Walter said.  “Which leaves only Tuesday, that poor, misbegotten naïf with nothing to recommend it.  Think of it.  Every other day has at least something happening.  Tuesday is the week’s equivalent of an hour spent in a doctor’s waiting room.”

Molly considered Walter’s assertion.  “I still maintain Monday is pretty horrible,” she said tentatively.

“Oh, I’m so sick of everyone going on about Monday!” Walter cried, rising to his feet and startling people around them.  Molly scrabbled at his arm, trying to drag him back down into his chair and mentally willing everyone in the cafeteria to look the other way.  Walter returned to his seat without appearing to notice.  “Monday is a much-maligned day, I tell you, a day with much to be joyful about!  Why, it gives you the opportunity to reconnect with comrades, to discuss the events of the weekend and dissect them with excruciating detail among friends and confidants.  Monday is the chance to strut back into your place of work or what-have-you and proclaim, loudly, ‘I got laid on Saturday, even with this haircut!’  Monday is the weekend’s not-quite-sober victory lap.”

Molly’s brow furrowed, her left eyebrow arching in barely-sustained suspension of disbelief.  “Okay, so let’s say Tuesdays are as bad as you say,” she began.  “For the sake of argument, we’ll go with that.  If your big problem with Tuesday is that it’s got nothing to it, why not give Tuesday some deeper personal meaning?  Why does it have to be the ennui of the work week?”

Walter gave Molly a look of mixed sadness and condescension.  “Molly, my dear, dear Molly, it does not work that way,” he said pityingly.  “One cannot simply ascribe any old meaning to a day and expect it to stick.  Reality is not so easily convinced.

“Let us say I were to, as you put it, ‘give Tuesday a deeper personal meaning.’  What then?  Will everyone else take up the change?  Will Tuesday become a personal day for the whole world?  And if it does, how do we benefit?  No, Tuesday must remain as it is, unloved and unfulfilling.  It provides the context for the rest of the week, and nothing more.”  He sighed as a Byronic poet might, gazing off longingly into the middle distance.  Or possibly he was staring at the pudding, Molly couldn’t be sure.

“Whatever,” Molly replied, giving up on the conversation and gathering her empty lunch things onto her tray.  “I’m off for Physics.  You coming?”

“What’s the point?” Walter asked somberly.  “It’s Tuesday.”

“Well, we’ve got that test today…” Molly said.

“Oh, right,” Walter said, his eyes suddenly refocusing.  “Off we go, then.”

My Story

While I attempt to dig myself out of my depressive funk, enjoy this thing I wrote years ago that I re-read the other day and didn’t hate.

When I write my story, there will be no hero.  There will be no happy ending.

There will be an infinite sadness, a streak of pain painted across the night sky, an arc of red against a field of black.

There will be blood, and a wailing, and a gnashing of teeth.

And ponies.  There will probably be ponies.

* * *

My main character will not be a white male.  No, my protagonist won’t even be human, or sentient, or recognizable as a character.  It’ll be a bacterium, or a fugus, perhaps a particularly plucky protozoa.

There won’t be a determined, independent woman in the story, either.  No humans at all, except maybe as the setting.  Or the antagonist.  We’re pretty antagonistic towards every other living thing in existence, it seems, so we’d make pretty damn convincing antagonists.

* * *

I don’t really think I’ll have a theme, or follow much in the way of writing conventions.  Everyone’s done pretty much everything you can with stories that make sense, that follow narrative structure.  Hell, everything’s been done with stories that don’t follow narrative structure.  I’ve read Joyce and Bely, I know all about that whole stream of consciousness nonsense.

My story will be told through pheromones and suggestive twitches of flagella.

* * *

It won’t be a long story.  There’s no need to go on for thousands and thousands of pages, hundreds of thousands of words stacking up like bricks in a wall or CDs on a club kid’s nightstand.  There may only be a single word to my magnum opus.  It’ll be a word that rolls over the tongue, one that lolls about in the mouth, coating everything in a thin film.  Something like “lugubrious,” or “gibbous,” or possibly “sumptuous.”

Or maybe it will just be a description of some hardcore bestiality for a thousand pages.  I’m not set on anything just yet.

* * *

Ultimately, no one will read my story.  It will exist only in my head, if even there, and only for a short while if at all.  I’m not entirely certain the world is ready for my work of speculative flash fiction featuring an unknowable protagonist and us as the antagonist.  It’s a bit of a stretch, really.

Also, I haven’t found a publisher, and I’m sure as hell not gonna self-publish this mess.

Flash-Fiction Friday #1: Snake Handlers

 

There are basically two types of tent revivals.

First, there’s the hoopin’ an’ hollerin’, hallelujah-callin’ jumped up revivals, where everyone is dancin’ in the aisles and throwin’ their hands up in the air and shoutin’ praises.  There’s lots of singin’ – some of it is even on-key – and folks sharin’ their stories and their joys and their lives.

The other kind is all fire and brimstone, hell and damnation and suffering eternal.  You’re a sinful creature and you rightly belong in the deepest pit of hell for all of eternity.  The preacher wants you to know you’ve done wrong, and there ain’t nothin’ you can do to overcome your depravity.

But they’ve both got the same message, the Good News, capital letters an’ all.  In the good times tent revivals, it’s all about celebrating that fact, reveling in the joy of salvation.  In the darker sort of revivals, it’s the spark of hope, the single lifeline to grab hold of an’ cling like the Devil his-own-self was tryin’ to drag you under into darkness.  But you can only get there if you repent, if you accept your depraved nature and strive to earn that hope you can’t ever possibly earn.

When I was a kid, we had more of the latter kind of revivals than the former.  My daddy wasn’t much for softness, either physically or emotionally.  He’d hide us good when we did wrong – and my daddy could always find things you did wrong, even things you weren’t aware you’d done – and drive us hard even when we were doin’ the right thing.  He drove himself even harder, though, preachin’ as though there was a fire in his belly eatin’ him from the inside out.  He’d shout and holler and accuse, hurl invective and judgment from the pulpit like he was God sittin’ in judgment from His throne.  My daddy’d sweat and spit and near as like to catch fire; he’d work himself up into a frothing lather, foamin’ at the mouth like a rabid dog, screaming at the depraved congregation.

And they’d take it, accept his judgments as God’s own truth.  And they’d strive to be better folks.  They believed every word my daddy told ’em, all evidence to the contrary.

When I was 16, daddy decided to try snake handling.  He’d seen another preacher do it down in Okemah in early June, and he liked how it grabbed everyone’s attention.  So daddy found a snake wrangler and bought a whole mess’a snakes and put them all in a glass case and brought them to the next revival.

Daddy was a good preacher, full of fury and fire and passion, but he weren’t the smartest guy around.  He didn’t pay real close attention to the snake handler he’d seen, didn’t notice that the guy had only used harmless, non-poisonous snakes for his bit.  Daddy missed that part, and ended up with a whole bunch of poisonous snakes.  I dunno if the snake wrangler he used was stupid, too, or just didn’t care much for daddy’s preachin’, but he loaded daddy up with a couple dozen cottonmouths and a copperhead or two.

The night daddy tried out the snake handling, the tent was packed.  Every makeshift pew – usually made with a couple of boards and a few barrels – was stuffed so full the boards sagged and groaned.  People stomped and clapped and hollered along to the hymns, and the heat in the tent was so great that a couple of folks in the back passed out.  Daddy said it was just the Holy Spirit takin’ hold of ’em, but of course he’d say somethin’ like that.

It was gettin’ towards the end of daddy’s sermon, and he was tellin’ everyone their faith weren’t strong enough.  “But if you believe with all your heart and soul, the power of our Lord Jesus will descend upon you, and you can do wonders!”  And he reached into that glass case and pulled out a handful of angry snakes.  I remember watchin’ ’em writhe in his hands, coiling and hissing and lookin’ none-too-happy about the whole situation.

Of course, when a snake ain’t happy, it’s only got one way of lettin’ you know.  An’ these snakes sure let daddy know.  They sank their teeth into the flushed flesh of his hands and forearms, pumpin’ venom into him faster than the dickens.  Daddy yelped and tried to rip them snakes off his arms, but it weren’t no use.  They weren’t gonna let him go.

Daddy collapsed beside his pulpit and went into convulsions, shakin’ and shiverin’ like a body possessed.  Folks cried out in fear and surprise; some figured it was the rapture, others thought it was demon possession, and some folks with a bit of know-how recognized it as the venom killin’ daddy.  No one wanted to get near him, not with all those damn snakes sittin’ there, so we all just watched in fear and anguish as my daddy died.