Friday, August 26, 2011

Orange or Pink

What I'm looking forward to reading: The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson

Not long ago I started my first epic fantasy: Mistborn. I found it to be hugely satisfying. I've read a scant number of fantasy novels so it was a real treat to read this series.

There's always a bit of a let down when you finish a series, more so than a single novel. You get to know the characters and the lines between your world and theirs start to blur. Then it's over. Done. There's not even a Facebook page to catch up once in awhile. Brandon Sanderson, however, is attempting to ease my melancholy with a new book, based on the world of Mistborn. 

From Publishers Weekly
Sanderson gives the world of Scadrial the Wild West treatment in this rollicking adventure tale set 300 years after the popular Mistborn epic fantasy trilogy. This “side deviation” gives up swords for guns, and while the three-part magic system of Allomancy, Feruchemy, and Hemalurgy continues to play a crucial role in the story, Scadrial itself is on the cusp of modernity. Wax, a lawkeeper gifted with both Allomantic and Feruchemical powers, has returned to the circular city of Elendel to take his uncle’s place as Lord Ladrian. When a gang of thieves known as the Vanishers begins stealing from railcars and kidnapping ladies, Wax, his miscreant buddy Wayne, and the intelligent and pretty Marasi decide they are honor-bound to uncover the perpetrators and save the victims. Part Sherlock Holmes, part X-Men, this exciting stand-alone adventure is full of close shaves, shootouts, and witty banter.

I pre-ordered my signed and numbered copy today. You can too, just click on his name at the top of this page. Click here to read the first few chapters for free at

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Orange or Pink

Orange or Pink is the title to a piece of flash fiction I wrote for the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2011. Check out my previous post for more information on the contest and a bit of the genesis of this story. I'm posting it here now. This is my first entry in the first round. Comments and feedback are appreciated.

Orange or Pink

A man is caught stealing smart phones that he's been selling to help pay for his sister's chemotherapy.

             I stood on the center line of the store, one foot in pink the other in orange.

            “Orange or pink?” I said aloud, trying to determine which brand of phones to push. T-Mobile occupied the west side of the store, AT&T the east. A classic turf war. 

            Nobody responded. The store didn’t open for another half-hour  so the only people around were my manager and my coworkers. As the senior sales rep on the floor, they all knew to defer to me. My manager, Tilly Scott, had yet to emerge from his office. Tilly was a bear of a man, but his temperament was as soft as his name was girly.

            “I’m feeling awfully pink today,” I said. 

            Vanessa laughed. “No comment.” 

            I turned to her with a friendly scowl. “Better not be, missy. You’re only six weeks out of training. When you’ve earned a couple of stripes, come talk to me. I was pushing phones back before phones were smart.”

            “Just wait,” Vanessa said. “You’ll be eating your words when we start selling the iPhone. I’m the app-queen.”

            I pointed to my face, void of emotion. “This is my panic face. I’m so worried.”

            I moved over to the pink side to prepare the displays. Not only was I feeling pink, but the manufacturer’s promos were better than what the orange side was offering—which makes them more attractive to customers. A couple more big sale days and I’d beat my quota by twenty-five percent, which meant a bonus. 

            By the time Tilly emerged from the back office, I’d made two sales and was due for a break
            “Pete, can I see you for a minute?”

            “Sure boss,” I said. “What’s up?”

            “Not here. Let’s go to my office.” 

            I shrugged and followed him back. He opened the office door, and I’d have to say I was a bit surprised by the chicken. Tilly lumbered to his chair. He didn’t so much as sit in his chair as he did smother it. 

            “Close the door.”

            I shut the door then propped myself on a red vinyl straight-back with cracks on the seat and looked across the desk at him. The chicken sat over his left shoulder on a shelf behind him.  

            “Boss?” I asked.


            “Why is there a caged chicken in your office?”

            He looked back at the bird as if he’d yet to notice it.

            “Oh, that’s one of our hens. We raise chickens—best eggs you’ll ever eat. The rooster can get a bit cocky though.”

            He chuckled at his own joke, and I laughed too, because I wasn’t sure what else to do.

            “My wife had her checked out by the vet first thing this morning and then dropped her here for me take home, while she does some errands.”

            “How many do you have?” I asked.

             “Half a dozen or so.” Tilly leaned forward placing his forearms on the edge of the desk. “How’re you, doing Pete?”

            I nodded. “Pretty good.”

            “Did I hear that you recently took on a second job?”

            “Yeah, I’m working evenings at Musician’s Friend. I take inbound orders and do a little  customer support. Plus, I still work weekends at the baseball park whenever the team’s in town.”

            Tilly whistled. “That’s tough.”

            I smiled. “Hey, we do what we gotta do, right?”

            “Right, right.” 

            He paused as if unsure what to say next. 

            The chicken clucked softly, seemingly unfazed by its surroundings.

            Tilly sighed. “I’ve just finished going through our inventory and for the third month in a row we’ve come up short.”

            My stomach started to flitter, and I’m sure my pupils dilated. Crap, I thought. I should’ve been more careful. Should’ve spread it out over more months. My chair felt terribly uncomfortable. I gave him my panic face.

            “Can you think of anyone who might be stealing merchandise?”

            Whew. Thank you, I thought. Someone is looking out for me. 

            “It’s hard to say. I might think Vanessa, because she’s new. I can’t imagine anyone else.” I tried to maintain eye contact and not look away. A tell-tale sign of liars, I’d learned from watching cop shows.

            Tilly leaned back in his chair, the hinges squeaked in protest to his bulk, and rubbed his goatee. “I thought the same thing, but I ruled her out. After going over everything—shift rosters, who’d have the best access, and such—I’ve come to only one conclusion. How long have you been stealing from me?”

            “Wha-wait. Me? You think I did this?”

            “Come on Pete. Stop messing around. We’ve known each other too long.”

            This time I did look away. “All right. I admit it. Crap. I didn’t want to, if that makes you feel any better.”

            “Not really. Does it you?”

            “No. I know it’s wrong, but it does make my sister feel better.”

            “How’s your sister involved in this?”

            “My sister’s fourteen.” I felt a catch in my throat. “She’s got breast cancer, at fourteen.”

            Tilly leaned forward again. “That sucks. I’m sorry.”

            “I stole the phones and sold them to help pay for her chemotherapy. Which is also why I work at the ball park and took the job at Musician’s Friend.”

            Tilly rubbed his goatee for a long minute. He looked up at the chicken, then back at me. “I’ll tell you what.” He held out a piece of paper. “You see that?” 

            It was an itemized expense report. “Yeah.”

            “See the bottom where it says three percent?”

            I nodded.

            “That’s an expense that the company has built into the budget. Three percent to cover lost or stolen merchandise. You keep your after-hour activities within three percent, and this conversation never happened. You understand?”

            I nodded. My eyes started to water and I tried not to cry. “Thank you.  I will.” I got up to leave.


            I turned around.

            “Why don’t you take the chicken? Best eggs she’ll ever eat.”

            “Thank you. I will.”



Sunday, August 21, 2011

Flash Fiction Challenge 2011

What I'm reading right now: Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

WICKED above her hipbone, GIRL across her heart
Words are like a road map to reporter Camille Preaker's troubled past.

NASTY on her kneecap, BABYDOLL on her leg
Since she left town eight years ago, Camille has hardly spoken to her neurotic, hypochondriac mother or to the half-sister she barely knows: a beautiful thirteen-year-old with an eerie grip on the town. 

HARMFUL on her wrist, ~censored~ on her ankle
As Camille works to uncover the truth about two violent crimes, she finds herself identifying with the young victims--a bit too strongly. Dogged by her own demons, Camille will have to confront what happened to her years before if she wants to survive this homecoming.

Description above pulled from here.
Ms. Flynn has written a dark tale that moves like wild honey on a summer's day--slowly, dripping, crawling. At times awkwardly sticky and other times sweet to the tongue. For most of the novel, it feels like this is more about Camille Preaker's demons (she's a cutter unlike any I've ever heard of) than the search for the killer of two young girls, but by the end Ms. Flynn ties it all together satisfactorily. She looks like such a nice person and I'm sure she is. You'd never guess how connected to Dark Places she is.

It took some time to get through this, but it left some indelible images.

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Flash Fiction Challenge 2011

On Friday, Aug. 19th, I noticed a Facebook ad for the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge. The early deadline to register for this event was July 14th. The final deadline was Aug. 17th. The final extended deadline was Aug. 19th. I found the deadline just hours before the last possible moment. I read the webpage and immediately signed up. I couldn't resist.

The Flash Fiction Challenge 2011 is an international creative writing competition, now in it's 4th year, that challenges participants to create original stories (1,000 words max.) based on genre, location, and object assignments.  The competition was named the Creative Writing Championships in the 2008 and 2009 competitions.

The event is organized by NYC Midnight Movie Making Madness, an organization that has been holding unique creative competitions since 2002 and is dedicated to discovering and promoting a new wave of talented storytellers.  NYC Midnight aims to provide the prizes and exposure necessary for writers to take their next big step towards writing professionally.

Once the challenge began, I was emailed my group number, my genre, a location that must be the predominant locale of the story, and an object that must be included. You have 48 hours to write and submit your story. A point system is used to judge each story and the winners of each round progress through three additional writing challenges until a winner is crowned. Check out the full details here.

For me, I got: Drama, Cell Phone store, a chicken.

Saturday was a busy day for me. The next day, Sunday, was my wife's 40th birthday and I had much to do to get ready. During my errands, yard work, and French instruction, I came up with an idea. Saturday night I wrote it out. It had some awesome descriptions which helped define a creepy character and it ended with a bit of a surprise. And I hated it. The descriptions were great, but it slowed the story. The inner conflict was not engaging so it felt boring and I didn't like the protag--why would the judges?

Sunday. Prepared a Sunday School lesson, went to church, came up with a new idea, hosted the party, entertained guests and finally locked myself in the den to write the story. This one, I like. I like it for all of the reasons I didn't like the first one. Flash fiction is no more than 1000 words but it still has to have a beginning, a middle, and an end (and you can't take long to get there).

My first story took too long. The second story brought conflict in right away. I wrote it. Let it sit. Read it aloud a couple of times. Trimmed it and submitted it with a little over an hour to spare.

This contest has four writing activities spread over four months.

That's a long time to wait, but you know what? I'm pretty excited.

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