To Bend a Religion

Image via FLickr by Juan Cabanillas

Image via Flickr by Juan Cabanillas

10 minute flash fiction

Prompt: the day the devil understood religion.

The day the devil understood religion was the day we lost our way. So thought Michael, the rector of a small church in the Milwaukee suburbs, as he composed his farewell speech. After fifty two years devoted service he was being forced out by a young, Hawaiian shirt wearing, fire and brimstone withholding, hippy-priest from San Francisco.

Michael snorted and leaned a little closer to the paper. His eyes weren’t what they once were, and his garret office was softly lit by a single oil lamp. Michael didn’t have anything against electricity per se, but the smell of the oil and the cheerful warmth of firelight had always made him feel closer to G-d. Something Michael deemed absolutely necessary when composing a sermon.

There was a soft knock on the door.

“Come in.”

The door cracked open and Anthony Wheeler, a young alter boy whose father’s father had been one of Michael’s first baptisms, poked his head into the room. “They’re ready for you father.”

“Thank you, Anthony. I’ll be right down.”

Michael shuffled his notes, his sweaty hands smearing the ink he’d so carefully laid down with his fountain pen. Foolish time to be nervous, he scolded himself. Michael had given literally thousands of sermons before, but this would be his last and he wanted to get it right.

“Time to go, old man,” he said.

Michael’s knees cracked as he stood, and he grimaced. “Time to save the church.”

3 Blog Posts You Need to Stop Writing Immediately

Image via Flickr by Tanmayee Deshprabhu

Image via Flickr by Tanmayee Deshprabhu

After three years of blogging I feel I need to make a public service announcement. Because these three blog post forms are ubiquitous and pointless.

1. Apologizing After an Absence

When I first started blogging, almost every post began with “I’m sorry this is so late.” Or, I would write a separate post explaining why I wasn’t sticking with my schedule before getting down to the business of the day.

This practice was tedious, embarrassing, and unnecessary.

Unless you’re writing a serial piece with an actual reader base, no one cares if you take a week, or three, off from blogging. The only effect it will have is making your site less visible to Google because the content isn’t “fresh,” so you will get substantially fewer visitors during that time. You’re hurting yourself, not something for which you need to apologize.

The only reason to write an explanation for why you haven’t been posting is if your absence was caused by something significant or interesting. Your pet died. You got married. You were on a life-changing retreat in India. If it helps your readers connect to you, fine, but no one cares if you were just lazy.

2. Writing Without Passion

“Write about something that feels urgent to you.”

So said my personal essay professor in college and it’s still the best advice I can give.

Again, when I first started blogging, I thought that every post needed to be writing related because the site is called “The Ink Slinger Diaries.” This premise led to some pretty uninspired pieces like Young Writer’s Tools: Dialogue Tag Word Bank. The article advises young writers to replace their adverbs with more specific dialogue tags. For example, “he said menacingly” might become “he growled.”

Though the article was sincerely written, this is not actually very good advice and the only reason I haven’t taken the article down is because one of the writers I mentioned in the piece took the time to comment. His short, clear explanation of how and when to use dialogue tags is valuable enough to justify the article’s continuance.

Bottom line: write about things you care about and the quality of your work will be much higher. The diversity of your subject matter may even broaden your reader base.

3. Really Long Articles

Although I still believe this is true, I’m not going to be as strident about this one. I’ve read plenty of engaging blog articles that also happen to be long. However, keep in mind that a long article requires a lot of investment from your reader. Unless you grab them immediately, it’s likely they’ll wander off. That’s just how internet reading works.

I think this goes double for genre writers. Putting up full short stories on your blog is awesome. You’re providing high quality content, which is exactly what you’re supposed to do to attract readership. However, asking someone who just stumbled upon your writing to tackle a 2,000-3,000 word post strikes me as rather ambitious. Not only that, but many authors feel unappreciated when they spend hours working on a short story only to get one or two likes on social media.

I’ve had the most success writing 700-1,200 word essays about things that feel important to me and 250-300 word flash fiction for people to get a taste of my fiction writing voice. Not  only are these articles manageable for my readership, but I can write one or two per week without taking too much time away from my other writing endeavors or feeling slighted if no one reads them.

Like all other “writing rules” these are not absolute. If you can write a long blog post about something you don’t care about while apologizing for an absence and still appeal to a broad readership, more power to you. Sometimes breaking the rules yields amazing results. However, if you’re working hard and struggling to gain traction, examine your article writing strategy to see if you’re vanishing into these common pitfalls.

Human Moment

Image via Flickr by Karim Corban

Image via Flickr by Karim Corban

10 minute flash fiction

Prompt: The man was resting.

The man was resting. Or, I hoped he was resting, not dead. He lay on a park bench, waterproof hood pulled over his eyes. His arms were crossed over his chest with hands tucked into his armpits, and his navy blue parka was polka dotted with darker stains. The air smelled of spilled vodka and old vomit. This was not going to be pretty.

“Sir?” I shook the man’s shoulder. He didn’t stir, but I did catch a slight rise and fall to his chest. I let out a short breath. At least he was definitely alive.

“Sir?” I shook him again, a little harder this time.

He groaned and blinked sleep-crusted eyes. “What do you want, boy?”

“I need you to get off this bench.”

“Why?”

His voice was gravelly, but not angry. That was good. The last man I’d roused tried to stab me. He might have succeeded too, if he wasn’t so hung over that he’d vomited when he lunged to his feet.

“It’s 5:30 AM. The park is opening in half an hour.” Which meant all the homeless needed to be cleared out before young, upwardly-mobile mothers with strollers descended upon the park in droves. Getting in their morning exercise, spending some quality time with their babies, and sending a few important emails.

I would know. I used to be married to one of them.

The man grunted, pulled himself to seated, and ran a dirty hand over salt and pepper stubble. “You have a dollar?”

I smiled. “Better. It’s the end of my shift. Come on, I’ll buy you breakfast.”

The Curious Mind of Albert Eddlestein

10 minute flash fiction

Prompt: One more biological war and I’m quitting my job.

Image via Flickr by goingfar.org

Image via Flickr by goingfar.org

One more biological war and I’m quitting my job. So thought Albert Eddlestein, though he knew it wasn’t true. War was just one of those things that one needed to accept in the year 21015, especially if one happened to be a scientist. And if there was one thing Albert knew about himself, it was his love of science.

Albert’s first word had been “beaker,” his first full phrase had been, “Please buy me a bunsen burner,” and his first love had been the human genome. When Albert turned five, he synthesized his own flu vaccine. At seven, he opened a small clinic for the children in the neighborhood and all but eliminated illness within a five block radius. And at thirteen Albert accidentally invented a biological weapon so powerful that it started a series of multi-national wars to possess it.

That was the nearly thirty five years ago. Since then Albert had been the captive of one government or another, each hoping he would invent another weapon. At first Albert had refused to work, sitting for long hours alone in his cell. But then he would get an idea. Some thought would catch and he’d begin muttering to himself. By the time he started drawing on the walls, all his captors had to do was give him a lab and he’d be off, pursuing his new idea. He couldn’t help it.

Not this time though, Albert swore to himself as he looked at the chemical compound rotating slowly on his computer screen. This time I’ll leave a boon to the world…

Following Orders

10 minute flash fiction.

Prompt: All the starship crashes were her fault.

Image via Flickr by brownpau

Image via Flickr by brownpau

All the starship crashes were her fault. Lieutenant Evelyn Marsh stared at the screen, at the hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of red lights dissipating into static nothing, and felt tears prick her eyes. All those lives. All that training, and work, and dreams undone by a simple navigational hack.

Lt. Marsh clasped her sweaty hands behind her back and turned to face the cabin. “All targets neutralized.”

“Very good, Lieutenant,” Commander Thurston Bracks said, leaning back in his Captains chair. “And the damage to the planet’s surface?”

“Seems to be negligible, sir.”

“Excellent.” The commander paused. “You seem upset Lt. Do you regret what we’ve done?”

Lt. Marsh squared her shoulders and drew herself up to her full height. “It had to be done, sir. The attack ordered by the council was entirely unjustifiable, and our actions today have stopped, or at least delayed, a genocide.”

Thurston nodded and turned his attention back to the blue and green ball that filled the central screen.

“Still,” Lt. Marsh said, undeterred by her commander’s inattention. “I regret the loss of life. I knew many of the men and women on those ships personally. They were good people.”

“The worst atrocities in history of been committed by good men and women who were only following orders,” the commander said without looking around.

Evelyn Marsh’s nails bit into her palms as she turned back to her own, now blank, terminal screen.

“Yes, sir,” she whispered. “I suppose that’s true.”

The Incubator

10 minute flash fiction

Prompt: I never wanted to be a super villain, but I owned an apartment.

Image via Flickr by 5of7

Image via Flickr by 5of7

I never wanted to be a super villain, but I owned an apartment. I mean, what else was I supposed to do? A single family home was definitely out of my price range and I needed a place to put all my loot. Building a lair was the only logical option.

Okay, so I may have gone a little overboard with the moat and the sharks with lasers on their heads, but I got a tip that they were the last word in home security. You know what I always say, “nothing is more important than peace of mind.”

That’s kind of my catch phrase actually. During my first job I was robbing this bank and I read it right off a teller’s window. It seemed to make people feel better. That’s what it means when people stop screaming and go all white, right? I never could get body language down. Still, I enjoy the appropriateness of stealing a catch phrase.

Now I’m just living the life. Running red lights, popping balloons whenever I see them, and planning to take over the world. The usual.

But on late nights, when I’m all alone, my bath of $100 bills softly lit by the warm glow of a lava trap overhead, I wonder how I started down this road. Did I ever really have a choice, or was it all because I owned an apartment?

Books not Worms

10 minute middle grade flash fiction

Prompt: That girl, with her odd mirrors and her books.

Struck by lightning

Image via Flickr by Foto Moto

That girl, with her odd mirrors and her books. What is she looking for? So wondered Ramie Jefferson, studying his classmate, Alicia.

Alicia had long black curls that tended more towards frizz than ringlets and made her look like she was struck by lightening much of the time, particularly when she grew passionate about something. And, Alicia was passionate about a lot of things.

Bugs? Disgusting.

Boys? Even worse.

Playgrounds? A waste of daylight.

Books? Wondrous objects that should be worth their weight in gold.

Mirrors? The most useful and reliable tools God created for men (and little girls).

Because of her proficiency with dental hand mirrors, Alicia rarely saw the need to look up from her book. If she had to walk to class, she held the mirror in the groove between the pages of her book, the gutter Ramie remembered, and used it to avoid bumping into people while she read.

What is she looking for in those pages? 

Ramie took a breath and crossed the lunch room. “Hi,” he managed.

Alicia turned the page.

Ramie cocked his head to one side and read the title of Alicia’s book.

“The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma.”

A Shield Against the Darkness

10 minute YA flash fiction.

Prompt: The attention of a Prince is easily won, but notoriously hard to keep.

The Warder

Image via Flickr by Zuhair A. Al-Traifi

“The attention of a Prince is easily won, but notoriously hard to keep, Aveline. Aveline, are you listening to me?”

Aveline Thendral, fourth princess of the royal house of Pren, brushed long bangs from her eyes and shook her head. “Not really, Mother.”

“Well, you should, you know. Besides the fact that I’m your mother, I would think that my example would be enough to motivate you to some effort.” Her tone was sharp and bitter for Marion had once been a great beauty. She could have had any man she chose, and she picked the best. King Raymond Thendral was quite the catch…while she had him, but his eye was prone to wander.

“What about my attention mother?” Aveline stood and straightened the front of her dress with two brisk strokes. “Am I not a princess? Why should it be my job to woo, rather than to be wooed?”

“Because you have sisters,” Marion said, her eyes narrowing. “Anyone with an eye to the throne will marry one of them. No one would marry the fourth sister for political power, thus, you must develop a personality.”

Aveline colored. “Who says I don’t have a personality now?”

Marion laughed. “You do, darling. Quite a little firebrand. But everyone knows children don’t really have personalities, or at least, they don’t really count.”

“That’s stupid,” Aveline said, crossing her arms. “Perhaps I won’t marry at all. It seems like an awful lot of work for something not much worth having.”

“Yes, well,” Marion sighed.  “There’s precious little else a woman of rank is allowed to do in Pren, darling. Besides, what would you want to be?”

“A Warder,” Aveline said immediately. “A Shield Against the Darkness!”

The Family Business

10 minute YA flash fiction.

Prompt: That girl, always breathing, always the business partner of wisdom and the antagonist of madness.

Demon Skull

Image via Flickr by Stiller Beobachter

“That girl! Always breathing, always the business partner of wisdom and the antagonist of madness. What is wrong with her?” Brazule, the seventh Lord of the Third ring of Hades ran a distracted hand along one of his spiral rams horns. “Doesn’t she know that madness is the family business?”

“Of course she knows,” Verlock replied. “That’s why she does it. To get a rise out of you.”

Brazule’s growl rattled the chains that lined the walls of his dungeon meeting room. “Well, she needs to stop now before she does serious damage to our family’s reputation. I don’t need to tell you that the position of Entropy In Chief is quite coveted, nor do I need to say how our family came into that position.”

“You do not.” Verlock looked at the charred demon skull that still adorned his father’s desk. A stark reminder to anyone who might doubt the intensity of Brazule’s flame breath, or his resolve. “I’ll talk to her.”

“See that you do. The last thing we need is for her to Rise. Can you imagine the embarrassment? If Tysha leaves the circle for the mortal world, we’ll be lucky to end up on someone’s desk.”

“I said, I’ll talk to her.”

Brazule snorted smoke rings, but Verlock was already walking away.

“Verlock,” Brazule called, and the young demon looked over one shoulder. “If she won’t come round. Make sure she never comes round again. You understand?”

Verlock frowned, nodded, and walked out of the room.

A CCN (Current Creature News) Report

10 minute middle grade flash fiction.

Prompt: Militant Leprechauns have seized control of the Pabst Brewery in order to demand a higher quality of alcohol.

Pabst Brewery Milwaukee

Image via Flickr by Joseph

“This just in, Militant Leprechauns have seized control of the Pabst Brewery in order to demand a higher quality of alcohol. We’re told there are no casualties yet, but there are hostages inside and the Leprechauns are stone cold sober. Now, let’s go to our centaur on the scene, Fetterlock. Fet, how are things looking down there?”

“The mood on the ground is really grim, Manti. Despite the quality of their alcohol, the brewery itself was built to last. It’s basically a modern fortress, and the Leprechauns are using that to their advantage.”

“We’ve heard they want better alcohol, Fet. Were there any more specific demands? And, who delivered their message?”

“The message was delivered by a second grader from a local, Milwaukee, elementary school. They let him go as a show of good will, though apparently anymore wise-cracks about Pabst being ‘magically delicious’ from the students and they’ve promised violence. As for demands, the Leprechauns claim that Pabst is an embarrassment and should do more than add yeast to water. Until that happens, they claim they won’t release the building.”

“Scary stuff. Thank you for your update, Fetterlock, we’ll be checking back to you as the scene unfolds.

“In other news, can an abominable snowman make a viable candidate for president, or are Crump supporters just blowing cold air? All that and more after the break.”