Friday, January 31, 2014

Office Random

Found in the kitchen at work this morning.  I asked a co-worker who was standing nearby what it was and she gave me the palms up shoulder shrug.  I checked & it smells like red.

Rumpel Redux

This is more Flash Fiction based on another challenge at In this one we were to retell a fairy tale with a random sub-genre twist. The telling wasn't an issue. The 1,000 words was; I used the exercise to practice hitting a word count target and working on being more concise (I cut over 1,600 words!) Not entirely convinced that the end result is better, but it achieved a goal. Hope you enjoy.  

M y name is Peter.  I’m a private dick.  I used to work for the King’s brigade, the best of the best, but the damn bottle was my undoing.  Too much of the juice they said.  So now I freelance.

One day this blonde with legs up to her neck sidles in.  I just about choke on my drink when I realize it’s the Queen.  Sure enough, the King ambles in next.  I’m flustered, making with the bowing and such but he tells me to stand up.  

“I’ve heard you’re the best but have a fondness for the cups.”  A statement of fact I think.  He continues, “Can you stay out of the whiskey long enough to solve a case?”  Definitely a question.

“Word is I'm the best, so it would seem so.”  The Queen is watching me like a cat after a canary.

“I have a job for you.  A man has threatened to kidnap our son unless my wife can guess his name.”

“So you just need his name?”

“Oh no.  I shall have his tongue cut out and his head removed from his shoulders.”  Thus spaketh the Queen.  Apparently the cat had claws.

“My wife and I come from different worlds.  Her father is a Miller whom I met over a business transaction.  He told me of his beautiful daughter and though I knew many lovely women something he said caught my attention.  He claimed she could spin gold from straw.”

I look at the Queen.  “That’s some talent.”

She plays it cool, says nothing.

“When I saw her I was smitten.  She was dressed in ill-fitting, tattered rags, but was unmatched in beauty.  Still, I needed to know about the gold so I closed her in a room full of straw.  For three nights I left her and each morning I awoke to find myself in possession of a new spool of freshly spun gold.”

“Looks and skill,” I say. “What about this mug?  Where does he fit?"

“She first saw him lurking about when she came out after spinning.  She remembers specifically because he was short and odd-looking but also because she had felt sorry for him and given him some of her jewellery.  She's always so generous."  The King looks adoringly at his wife who favours him with a small smile and modest, downcast eyes.  “She didn't see him again until this morning when he made the threat."

“Surely you have people to deal with this sort of thing.  Why me?”

“I considered having an archer put an arrow in his ear the moment he appeared, but that's the rub.  He won't appear until his name is spoken aloud.  If we don’t say his name within three days he will someday return for my son."

"I shall bring you my findings tomorrow."

In the Queen’s childhood village I speak to the Blacksmith, the Tailor, the Baker and finally the Innkeeper who also runs the tavern.  Well, mostly I negotiate with him over my tab.  

I learn that the lass was the prettiest maid around and sharp besides.  The Miller is a proud grandfather who wonders aloud at the idea of someday being grandfather to the King, yearning for that time and the changes to come.  I also inquire about the little man, hoping for some thread of information.

The next day I call at the castle and am led into the throne room where the royal couple sits, raised on a dais above the room.

"Greetings.  I hope this day finds you well."

"Cut with the pleasantries.”  The Queen is impatient.

"His name is Magnus." I reply.  Presently, a small man walks into the room.

“Magnus Rumpel Stiltskin, at your service my King."  His path is blocked by two large guards.

"Seize him!  Cut out his tongue!" The Queen is up from her seat, pointing at the diminutive man.

“Easy, my Lady,” I respond, "Before you stands Magnus Rumpel Stiltskin, Tailor in the village where the Queen was raised and unwitting conspirator in a devious plot against the Crown.”

"This is preposterous," screams the Queen, who pounces off the dais like a wildcat.  With a nod from the King, a guard intercedes, holding the Queen lightly but firmly.

"Silence my love.  Continue sir."

"Mr. Stiltskin was here when you met your wife and accepted her jewellery.  I have here Mr. Stiltskin's business accounts which show the purchase of three large spools of gold yarn in exchange for a ring and necklace.  Mr. Stiltskin, may I have the ring please?  This signet ring bears the emblem of the Millers guild to which your father-in-law belongs.  My Lord, for you, such things are baubles but these were likely their most valuable possessions.  One would not part with them lightly.  Though she has spun quite the yarn, I do not think the Lady knows of what she speaks.  She spoke of a sewing machine.  A spinning wheel is used to to spin yarn, not a sewing machine.  You also indicated when you met, she was clothed in “ill-fitting rags”.  Surely a young woman with skill in spinning yarn would have tailored her clothes to fit properly.  That clue led me to Mr. Stiltskin.”

“But why?” he pleads.

“Power. My inquiries proved that the Queen’s father looked forward to the day his grandson took the throne quite eagerly.  I anticipated as much.  Mr. Stiltskin corroborated, explaining that he was asked to deliver the golden yarn to the palace.  The Miller and his daughter felt that if you believed she could create gold you would quickly marry her.  The natural progression would be an heir.  Further, the Queen’s insistence that Mr. Stiltskin’s tongue be cut out led me to believe that she felt he was a loose end.”

“But what of his threat to kidnap our son?” asks the King.

“There was no threat.  They needed you kill the one man who could undo their conspiracy.  Then they would kill you and rule through your son.”

The King nods and the guard drags the Queen away, snapping and spitting oaths at everyone in the room.

“I believe I owe you gentlemen a drink,” sighs the King.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


This story is for a writing class that I just started.  It was based on an exercise we did in class that used two prompts supplied by classmates.  We were given about half an hour to come up with a story and then share those tales with small groups.  The prompts I received were "Your friends will find you" and "A friend borrows your lawnmower".  We weren't strictly held to using the topics - they merely provided a jumping off point.  As you'll see if you read it, I took some liberties with the idea of friends and borrowing both.  I hope you enjoy it and please feel free to critique the piece in the Comments section.


It really was a great lawnmower.  He hoped they would let him cut the front yard.  It really did need it.

* * * * * * * * 

He had always admired the men on the street as a boy.  He’d watched them pull into their driveways in their sparkling Buicks and Cadillacs, their suits well pressed, ties straight.  They would stride into their fine homes, briefcases in hand, where their wives and children would be waiting for them, dinner on the table.  It was on Saturday when the magic would begin.  The morning would break with birdsong and the occasional barking dog but soon the silence would be punctured by the drone of small motors up and down the block as the men of Cherry Lane began the weekend ritual of trimming, raking, tidying.

As a boy he'd had no particular brand preference.  In fact, as a boy he hadn’t known anything about makes or models - only colour.  There were black and red, several hues of green, orange.  He had loved the colours.  Later, when he had grown older and inherited the responsibility for the yard work after his father had dropped dead in the driveway from a heart attack, he had come to appreciate the finer points of lawn care equipment.  Things like baggers, mulching and separate tanks for oil and gas rather than the hassle of mixed fuel had become important.

But through the years the novelty had faded.  He had tried to to find inspiration by carving profanity on the lawn as he cut, but the joy in that had passed quickly too.  He had continued to push the envelope, striving for the pleasure he remembered from childhood.  He modified his mower, adding knobby tires, strips of purple lights that glowed beneath the deck, hydraulics that raised and lowered the rig with the flip of a switch.  He had it painted an iridescent gold with metallic flake and blazing red flames.  The euphoria lasted a single season.  He upgraded, buying a mower with more levers, switches and wires.  No love.

So he began venturing out.  It started with the boulevard.  One Saturday after he finished his own lawn he pushed his mower out into the street and cut the centre strip of grass that divided the two lanes.  When the people in the oranges vests from Public Works came by on Monday they seemed puzzled by the freshly shorn grass.  The next week he decided to raise the stakes.  On Friday when his neighbours climbed into their cars and headed off to work he phoned in sick.  And then he began to cut.

At first everyone seemed to take it in stride.  They were all neighbours, friends even, sharing laughs and Coronas over the barbecue in summer and swapping cards at Christmas, so the initial reaction was to receive his work as a gift.  But as the weeks tumbled on, and the cutting continued, people began acting strangely towards him.  Women would pull their children tight to their sides and hustle the other way when they saw him on the sidewalk.  Men began to cross the street to avoid him on their way to the mailbox.

And then one day his mower was gone.  In it’s place was a note.


The note wasn't signed and there was no indication of just how long it would be gone.  He thought of calling the police but the note had said it had been borrowed.  Surely whomever had borrowed it would return it soon.  Saturday came and went and the lawnmower had still not been returned nor had he seen anyone using it as he had stalked the street looking for it.  

He waited another three days and then decided he would need to go find it.  When the sun set he began prowling through the backyards and sheds of the neighbourhood.  It was in the Tomlinson’s shed where he finally found it, tucked into the back corner and covered with an old sheet.  He knew the outline immediately when the beam from his flashlight washed over it.  He uncovered it and quickly checked for signs of abuse.  Under the glow of his flashlight all seemed to be in good order but he would need to give it a more thorough inspection upon returning home.  As he wheeled it out of the shed the strong spring on the door swung it shut with a bang that echoed like a gunshot in the still night.

A light came on in the Tomlinson house and as he made his way through the gate from the backyard to the driveway another light came on across the street.  Soon he was running down the street, mower in front of him, moving as quickly as he could.  He pulled up short in front of his house where a group of men from the block waited in his yard, standing on the much too long grass.  He heard the pounding of feet on asphalt and looked back in the direction from which he had just come.  Men were running down the sidewalk and the street, quickly closing on him.

He squatted beside his mower and pushed the rubber orb that primed the motor.  Push and hold.  Push and hold.  Push and hold.  Three times.  It started on the second pull of the cord.  He would need to change the spark plug soon.  The hum of the motor eased the tightness he was feeling in his chest.

“There’s nowhere to go.  We’ll find you,” came a voice over the whirr of the motor.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Cartographer's Fear

The below story was written as part of a challenge over at Chuck Wendig's blog for his website, Terrible Minds.  The challenge was to compose a work of Flash Fiction (a really short story) based on a randomly generated title.  As you can see above, my assignment was based on the title, Cartographer's Fear.  I hope you enjoy it.


Damario Aiza cursed his father’s name.  The waves lapped against the small rowboat as the waters churned about him on all sides.  He hated the sea.  Hated it.  He longed for dry land, the warm embrace of one of the young fishwives from the docks and bread that wasn’t hard as stone and riddled with mold.  One good night’s sleep, undisturbed by the sound of rats slinking about his bed would also be lovely.  But he had been at sea for many weeks now and such was his life.  The others on the ship didn’t seem to understand.  Most were ne’er do wells with limited choices and the idea of adventure on the high seas seemed more attractive than the back-breaking labour of a farmer or blacksmith.  And so they would sign on with the ships that arrived in Vigo, keen for this exciting new career path.  Explore new worlds!  Meet exotic foreigners!  Secure your fortune!  The reality was that the average day onboard a galleon was little better than forced labour while fighting a constant battle against roiling waves, bitter winds and the vast unknown of the open sea.  Besides, nobody every drowned while planting turnips.

This was not Damario’s first choice.  He was an artist at heart.  He loved to work with stone, pulling the beauty from within the depths of the rock.  Oftentimes he could see the finished piece immediately upon laying eyes upon a large slab of granite.  But there was no money in art; not in Vigo at any rate.  And so his father had pushed him into the family business as it were.  Tavio Aiza had earned his living on the seas, working his way up from a simple deck hand to captaining a ship for the Spanish King.  At the first opportunity he had found work in the fleet for Damario who had turned his artistic abilities toward a more practical trade - cartography.

And so it was that he found himself alone in a small boat, pulling at the oars, fighting the swells, preparing to capture the lines of this jagged outcropping of rock and sand that loomed up out of the waters before him.  The waters here were too shallow and treacherous for the ship to come in closer so the artist often used one of the small rowboats for his work.  He was usually accompanied by another sailor who would pilot the boat, allowing Damario the freedom to sketch at his leisure, but on this day everyone seemed otherwise occupied and so the captain had sent him out alone.  The Captain had insisted that they could not delay; Damario would need to chart this stretch of small, coarse spits of land as they were deemed ship killers.  The vessel that sailed into this area unawares would end it’s voyage as little more than kindling.

 The small joy he did find in his work was discovering and revealing the truth.  His job consisted of mapping the uncharted and undefined zones on the fleet’s maps.  Though an artist, he also had a penchant for critical thinking and reason and so felt strongly that the fuzzy areas at the edges of the maps merely represented limits of travel and documentation.  The same could not be said of the sailors that surrounded him on each trip.  They typically eschewed reason, instead clinging to superstition, mythology and ignorance.  This often lead to differences of opinion with his fellow crewmen.  Though self-educated, Damario considered himself scholarly nonetheless and certainly far removed from the circles that the cretins he found himself sharing quarters with occupied.

He was surprised to learn that on this particular vessel the Captain was little better than the crew.  Most of the vessels he had sailed on had been commanded by educated men, or at least, men whom through experience and proximity to people of class and power had developed a level of refinement equal to their roles as leaders.  However, this Captain was boorish and crude; Damario had tried to engage him in conversations about current politics, the arts, and philosophy but had been met by sneers and barbs.  It had reached a head a few days earlier and Damario had let the Captain know just how little respect he had for the man, indicating that if not for his ability to follow a compass the Captain’s intellect would see him best suited for cleaning up dung below the gallows.  Damario smiled slightly to himself, thinking about how he had left the Captain looking stunned and bewildered.  It had felt good to speak his mind and put the idiot in his place.

The cartographer saw that the ship had turned away from him, pointed back in the direction from which they had come.  These mariners were still a mystery to him, constantly adjusting their bearing and course based on the whims of water and air.  He let go the oars and drifted, reaching for the tube that held the rough copy of the map he would be working on.  The details he captured here would then be transferred to the originals back on the ship; that is where her would perform his real artistry.  As he unfurled the map all superiority drained from him.    There would be no need to sketch these shores.  He looked towards the ship.


“Cap’n, what’ll we do about the unfinished chart?” asked the First Mate.

The Captain grinned at his First Mate.  “Advise the crew to raise the anchor and set sail.  Mind those rocks and bear wide around this place.”  Then he pulled his quill from the cup where it sat, unstoppered an inkwell and dipped the quill.  He leaned over the map laid on the table before them and in a fluid script scrawled something across the expanse of water where they were currently positioned.  The First Mate glanced at the chart quickly as he headed out to relay the Captain’s commands.  In fresh red ink, were three words: “HERE BE DRAGONS”.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain

The Postman Always Rings TwiceThe Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Postman Always Rings Twice is a classic crime novel from 1934. It revolves around, and is told from the perspective of Frank Chambers, a homeless tramp who stops in at a diner for a meal and makes a connection with the owner, Nick Papadakis, who puts him to work. Frank quickly falls for Nick's wife Cora who is also attracted to Frank.

It soon becomes clear that Cora is unhappy in her life in the diner and dreams of a different life filled with adventure; Frank, she thinks, can provide that life for her. They soon begin to scheme for Nick's murder. The characters are a bit two-dimensional but that is part of the fun of the book. Having said that, Frank was well-formed enough that I questioned his motivations throughout as he shifted dependant on circumstances just as a person might be expected to in those same situations.

It is a short book that moves quickly and is flavoured by the language of the time and genre. It was a fun read that had me wondering where these characters would end up and pleased with the finale.

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Snow White Must Die by Nele Neuhaus

Snow White Must Die (Bodenstein & Kirchhoff, #4)Snow White Must Die by Nele Neuhaus
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I chose to read this book because of a review I read by Oline H. Cogdill that ran in a local paper. The reviewer highlighted the "engrossing plot, intriguing characters and unpredictable twists" and spoke of a "large cast of characters with depth and compassion". The review ended with the sentence "It is storytelling at its best."

In retrospect that seems like somewhat high praise, but it was a good book with good description and an interesting story. The fact that it was translated to English from German is impressive as there is little that would indicate it is anything but an original work in English.

It is a story of the lingering effects of the murder of a pair of girls on a small German village. It explores issues of community, power and influence, trust, friendship and duty. It moves along at a steady pace, never really dragging or bogging down. There are enough gaps to keep you guessing as to just what is going on and how it will resolve itself and the conclusion is satisfying.

It is definitely worth the read.

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Monday, January 6, 2014

Early to Rise - by Andy Traub

Early To Rise: Learn To Rise Early in 30 DaysEarly To Rise: Learn To Rise Early in 30 Days by Andy Traub
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this a few months ago so I might be a little rusty on details so here are the two things that stuck with me. First, I recall that it could have used a touch more editing. By way of context, I work in publishing, have an English degree and have taken part in more than one snooty conversation about what books are worth bothering to read. But I've begun to realize that as long as people are actually reading and getting value out of what they are reading, a particular book's place in the canon of great literature doesn't matter much. So while I struggled a bit with some of the things that may have been tightened up had it seen further editing, the value of the content wasn't diminished for me.

Second, it changed my habits. I now get up an hour and a half to two hours earlier than I used to and I get all sorts of good things done that I wouldn't have otherwise. So it absolutely achieved what it set out to do - it helped me develop the pattern of rising early to make better use of my time.

It was any easy read and it is laid out such that you can read the whole thing cover to cover in a few sittings (possibly one) or you can do as I did; you can read one entry each morning when you get up early and reflect on the day's reading thereby helping you to create the habit.

A worthwhile read.

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Miriam Black series - #1 - #3 by Chuck Wendig

Blackbirds (Miriam Black, #1)Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

OK, so I've gotta give Chuck a little love. A little love Chuck.

Now I feel icky.

Anyhoo. Miriam Black. So good. Terrible person. Sort of. But also a little bit "Everyman". If "Everyman" was a whiskey-guzzling, knife-wielding, curse-spitting, loner with Mommy issues and a penchant for trouble.

There are lots of good reviews about Blackbirds, Mockingbird and The Cormorant (the three titles that currently make up the Miriam Black series) that will give you a little nutshell synopses about the stories. I'm not really interested in that. Go read those reviews if you want storyline details.

Here is what I can say. It's January 6, 2014 as I write this. A month ago I had never heard of this cat. I've now plowed (ploughed? - what's with the squiggly red line? is this website British?)… Great, now I've completely lost my train of thought. Where was I? Miriam Black. Angry protagonist. Mid-December Chuckles hits my radar. Right. So, I'm not an overly quick reader. Usually I have multiple books on the go and I flit back and forth from one to another like a squirrel searching the yard for the stash of nuts he's sure he buried somewhere around here if he couLD JUST REMEMBER WHERE!

Sorry. I'm a little excitable too. 3 books in about 2 weeks. It's safe to say that these books pulled me in. I wanted to know what was going to happen next with Miriam Black. I was INVESTED in this character.

Here's what you need to know about this little series. 1) If you're easily offended, keep moving. Nothing to see here. Lots of F-bombs. And various other verbal dynamite. 2) Easy read. But not Sandra Boynton easy. I mean, the stories flow quickly, the characters are easy to picture but there are no hippos. That I recall anyway. I did burn through them pretty quickly. 3) This is the thing that has me all worked up - to the point in fact that I'm writing a book review on GoodReads. Check it out - this is the first review I've written. Remember up above; you know, the excitable thing? It's the descriptions, the metaphors, the juxtaposition of language that Chuck employs that made these books stand out for me. These aren't just stories that go from point A to point B. The writing here grabbed me like nothing has in a long time. It's quick and punchy but colourful and thoughtful. He knows how to turn a phrase and he delivers over and over and over (do I dare repeat it one more time?).

Bottom line - very good stories & the language is lively and satisfying. I look forward to tucking into more of Wendig's stuff. Keep it up, Chuck. See what I did right there?

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