Tag Archives: writing

Sweat Man (the worst superhero ever) [flash fiction]

I wrote this after seeing a prompt on a writing community. Prompt: “You have THE most useless superpower. Write about a day in your failed / hilarious / successful / ludicrous attempts at heroism.” Here is the result.

# # #

“So, you’re telling me you woke up yesterday morning with a new superhuman ability, and your power is that you get sweaty?”

“Yep, but there’s more to it than that. I can do it regardless of my physical state. Lounging in bed, riding in the elevator, standing in line at the grocer, I can sweat during the most mundane tasks you can imagine, even ones requiring no physical effort. I can stand in a walk-in freezer and sweat as if I just completed a triathlon.”

“That is so dumb,” my friend Keith replied, shaking his head and rolling his eyes. “What’s the point?”

“The point? Watch this,” I said. I closed my eyes and felt the perspiration manifest on my forehead. I wiped my hand across the expanse of skin, gathering a handful of my salty excretion, and slapped Keith in the face.

“OW!” Keith exclaimed. He wiped his face with the sleeve of his button-up shirt. “Dude, what the fuck?”

I smirked. “That’s right, bitch. Don’t diss the Sweat Nap.”

I was surprised by the volume of Keith’s laughter. After he stopped laughing he said, “Sweat Nap? Is that your superhero name? Wow, man.”

“Yeah, it’s like wet nap, but with swea–”

“No, I get it,” he interrupted. “Still stupid.”

“Look, it’s still a work in progress. Think you can come up with anything better?” I demanded.

Keith looked up at the ceiling, rubbing his chin with his hand. “Hmmm,” he said. “Sweat is salty, right? Like sodium chloride? How about ‘The Psycho Sochlo’? Or maybe ‘Lean Mean Saline’?”

“Jesus, Keith,” I said, pounding the countertop of the bar. “I want villains to be scared of me, not seek me out when they need to clean their contacts. Come the fuck on, dude.”

Keith opened his mouth to reply, but before he could speak there was a slam from the front of the bar. Both of us turned to see the door resting against the wall, open. In the entryway stood two men dressed entirely in black, wearing balaclavas and long jackets. “Shit,” Keith whispered. “Anarchists.”

“Oy mate, we’re the black blocheads,” the taller of the two said. He swung his arm out from under his coat. He held a sawed off shotgun in his hand. “And we’re here to free you from the bonds of your capitalist oppression.” The shorter man standing next to him grinned lecherously and brandished a knife.

“Uhhh,” I said, unsure of how to respond. “We’re both unemployed, guys, so we’ve pretty much already been freed from our capitalist fat cat overlords.”

Keith laughed. “Yeah, what he said. Plus, we already spent most of our money at the bar.” He motioned across the wood platform that separated us from the rows of bottles. We all looked, but the bartender who’d been standing there was nowhere to be seen.

The taller man stomped over to Keith and slammed the barrel of the shotgun against the back of his head. “Shut the fuck up, cunt, and give us your wallets!” he yelled.

Keith rubbed the back of his head. He glanced at me pleadingly. It was then that I knew I had to make an attempt to save us with my new-found power. I closed my eyes and began to summon the sweat. I could feel it gathering on my forehead, on my upper lip, even under my eyes. It began to run down my face, but I knew I’d have to do something more drastic if Keith and I would make it through this night alive. Focusing all my concentration on the liquid that was sliding toward my chin, I began to imagine it as a stream–no, a mighty river–springing from my forehead.

I opened my eyes and felt my head forcefully jerk back as a stream of sweat with the diameter of my forearm burst from face. It washed over the two men, drenching them with liquid. Thinking quickly, I aimed the stream at the eyes of the taller man, then those of his shorter companion. The two men started screaming and rubbing at their faces.

“It burns!” squealed the shorter man. He dropped his knife with a clatter and hopped around, rubbing his eyes with both hands.

The taller anarchist grunted and started shaking his head wildly. I stood up and smacked the shotgun from his hands, then bent over and grabbed it. The two men rubbed at their faces for another minute, and when they opened their eyes they were staring down the short barrel of the shotgun. They looked at me with shock and I said, “You two are all washed up.”

“You’re so bad at this,” Keith groaned from behind me. “But, uh, thanks for saving me.”

I turned to him and replied, “Of course, man . . . don’t sweat it.”

 

Stay tuned for the next episode of Sweat Man, wherein our intrepid hero is trapped in a box of silica gel by his newfound arch-enemy.

Five lessons I learned while self-publishing my first novel

I released my first novel about three weeks ago (as if any of you who know me don’t already know that).  Holy cow. I feel as though I’ve given birth.  There’s a weakness in the core of my being, a memory of exhaustion that has seeped into every moment of the past eight months since I first began the book with, “First days were always the worst.”

Turns out the days after aren’t much easier.  It’s funny, I actually wrote that line because I was dreading beginning a novel.  What if I failed to finish?  This was an especially embarrassing thought since I told almost everyone I knew of my plan to write a novel in a month’s time for NaNoWriMo.  Even worse, what if I succeeded and everyone hated the finished product?  But I had already committed:  Updates posted and discussed on Facebook and Twitter, the news already shared with family and coworkers.  I could not back down.  I had to write a book, even if it was terrible.  For inspiration, I purchased No Plot? No Problem!, a book by NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty.  Even though I had a (semblance of a) plot, I figured it couldn’t hurt to see what wisdom I could glean from the guy who came up with the idea of knocking out 50k words in 30 days.  Imagine my surprise when I found this quote near the beginning of the book:

“Even if you’re the worst writer in the world, at least you’ll have the evidence.” —Padgett Powell

Inspiration?  Hell, I had found my mantra!  I set out to write a book, and now had discovered a short phrase to repeat to myself when I was hating the words on the screen, to drive myself to continue even as I wanted to throw my work-in-progress–maybe even the whole computer–into the trash.  Am I the worst writer in the world?  I don’t think so.  I’m not the best either.  But I have a finished book, and that’s an accomplishment in itself.  Now I’ve had to switch gears from author to salesman.  I’ve never been a fan of sales.  Too political, too amoral.  To make matters worse, there’s a lot of conflicting data out there about how best to proceed as a newly self-published author, such as whether or not KDP select is worth giving Amazon exclusive rights to your ebook for 90 days, where and how to advertise your book, even arguments about different methods of ebook formatting.  I’m far from an expert on any of this stuff, and I’m still figuring out more each day, but here are 5 lessons I’ve learned the hard way while finishing my first novel.

  1. Finish the book!  Absolutely none of these tips matters if you don’t actually finish the book.  Don’t let yourself get hung up on the details.  Need to research something?  Put in a placeholder.  Stay consistent for easy searching at a later date.  I use brackets, so I would leave notes such as “[research how often the subways run in NYC]”.  One of the biggest challenges is completing the first draft.
  2. Edit.  Then edit some more.  Done editing?  No, you’re not.  Edit it again, slacker!  One of the biggest criticisms of self-published works is that they tend to be poorly edited.  This goes beyond simply checking for typos.  While a small number of typos and errors will be overlooked by many readers, especially if you have a compelling story, you need to make sure your finished manuscript is as error-free as possible.  If you’re a first-time author, your readers are much less likely to buy your future works if your first release is lackluster.
  3. Put your best foot forward.  You know the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover”?  It’s a saying because people judge books by their covers.  Whether it’s on a bookstore shelf or in search results on a website, the book cover is the first impression many people will get of you and your book.  It’s not necessarily a matter of cost, either.  I’ve seen $1000 book covers that look terrible, and some of the budget covers I’ve seen have been anywhere between acceptable and amazing.  For decent budget covers, check out Fiverr.  There are other options out there as well, which leads to the next point.  Mine was done by MW Messina.
  4. Google, as always, is your friend.  I know research can be overwhelming, especially in subjects such as these where there is so much data out there to consider.  That said, a LOT of smart people have done this before.  Some of them have even written about what worked for them.  Don’t reinvent the wheel; use their success (and their failure) as a blueprint for your own method.  Try to take the best parts of what has worked for other people and make their tactics yours.  There is nothing wrong with standing on the shoulders of giants (or even people who are just slightly taller than you).  There are a number of author forums on the internet that are full of people willing to help.  Find one you like.  I try to spend some time each day reading posts on the kboards writer forum.  William Hertling’s Indie & Small Press Book Marketing is a great primer and contains a lot of useful information.
  5. Don’t rely too much on friends.  I love my friends.  They’re wonderful folks.  I’m honored to know many people with a variety of talents.  The thing about talented people is that they’re often busy with their own projects.  Talented people are also not known for their consistent follow-through.  I’m a musician.  I’ve been the flaky artist-type person before, so I can’t fault people too much for this.  Even if money is involved, there’s a chance your friend may not give your project the priority you feel it deserves.  If you have a good working history with your friend this may not apply, but ultimately you may find it less frustrating to go with a stranger whose portfolio includes work that speaks to your vision.  It’s also easier to be demanding of a stranger than a friend, at least for me.

Again, I have barely scratched the surface of the self-publishing world, but these are the five most important lessons I’ve learned after releasing my first book.  It’s not gospel, just things that worked for me.  I hope they work for you, too.  Another great resource is Reddit.  Here’s a bookmark I use for several different writing related subreddits.  If you have other suggestions you’ve picked up along the way, please leave a comment!

Free books!

It has been a crazy couple of weeks. I’ve been going non-stop since I released The Lightcap, but that’s a good thing. It’s taken a lot of work, but I’ve got my book on the shelves at four bookstores in Portland, one in Vancouver, and at my local library. I’ve got three book readings scheduled for July and hope to record an audiobook version within the next month or two. In addition to all this, I’m still rocking the full time job and a couple other side projects.

One of those side projects is a book review site. It’s interesting . . . I spent $12 to register the domain, slapped the page together in about a day, and now I’m getting free books! I have so many free books to read that I’ve been forced to turn a few people down. I started the review site because I’ve had a lot of difficulty finding places that are willing to even consider reviewing self-published books, and many of the reviewers who list themselves as willing to accept solicitations from independent authors never wrote me back. I don’t fault them for it–after less than a week I’m already swamped with submissions from self-published authors–but it’s still a bit of a bruise to the ego.

So as an homage to my hometown (Columbus, OH . . . 614 area code represent!) I’m offering the ebook version of The Lightcap for free all day today. I’m also kicking off a month-long giveaway on Goodreads. I’ll be giving away three paperback copies of the book. The giveaway ends on July 13. If you wish to enter, you can use the form below.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Lightcap by Dan  Marshall

The Lightcap

by Dan Marshall

Giveaway ends July 13, 2013.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Punk rock story

I subscribe to /r/WritingPrompts. I don’t usually write anything based on the prompts, but I really liked the one today so I decided to write a short story. Warning: It’s a little dark.

The prompt:

Write a short piece using delusion to accelerate something very every day until it breaks down to absurdity. Use illness, or drugs, or sleep deprivation as your device, any stress that will degrade your narrator’s sanity until ordinary events assume profound weight and drama. Enter the story quickly like a punk rock song. Establish your authority by keeping every detail specific. Keep your secondary characters vague-make them serve their purpose and make their exit. Build to the absurd, quickly, and get out fast. -Writing prompt from Chuck Palahniuk.

The story:

The sixth hit of acid punches more intensely than the five before. I remember placing it in my mouth, bittersweet tang mixed with the taste of chlorine after it has sat out for several days. Is this shit mixed with something? I wondered. The half dozenth hit rests against my tongue, soaking in saliva, as my hand pulls away. Is this my hand, or is someone dosing me, plying me with drugs to reach some nefarious end?

Fuck it, I think. At least I’ve got entertainment. My wall, usually stippled and off-white stucco, becomes a movie screen, The Big Lebowski playing where a blank canvas normally lives. The Dude is drinking a white Russian. The Dude always drinks white Russians, and it puts me at ease as I shrink into the warm embrace of my easy chair. The padded arms provide support as I sink into the crease where the back cushion meets the seat.

Shut the fuck up, Donny! No, wait, Donny’s dead. Shit. I watch as The Dude and Walter tip over the coffee can. A fucking coffee can, Jesus Christ. What an end. A god damn roasted human coffee bean ground up and tossed to the wind. The breeze turns and carries Donny across my face and into my already dry mouth. His acrid taste sticks in the back of my throat, making me sputter and choke.

My roommate appears to my right, seemingly from nowhere. “You aight, bruh?” he asks.

Frat boy piece of shit. “I’m fine,” I groan in response. It comes out as a throaty warble that would convince no one. I’m still shrinking, ever smaller against the fluffy folds of the chair. I know that this is somehow my roommate’s fault. He gave me bad drugs, that fuck. I try to escape through the dark crevice where the back cushion meets the seat as the roommate’s eyes are carving through my skull.

He knows.

I flick my eyes back to the wall. No more Lebowski, no more Walter, Donny’s still dead. In their place I see the woodchipper scene from Fargo and I know that this is my judgment. There’s a feeling of free-fall, a sickening moment when my stomach starts its ascent into my throat, and then the crease of the chair pulls me in. It has become my death, and I feel the blades of the woodchipper cutting and whirring at my back. Flesh ripped from bone, sinew exposed.

As I explode against the wall behind the chair, a gory sneeze of blood and guts spread evenly in a fine mist, there comes a loud pounding from the front door. My roommate bounds across the room and throws the door violently against the adjacent wall. He pulls out a wad of cash and hands it to a dark man standing in shadows, trading it for a mysterious box. The roommate closes the door and places the box on the seat of my comfy chair. I feel an incredible heat where my legs had been just moments before. From my vantage point as a stain on the wall I see steam begin to rise, and I know that this box is melting through my lap. How is this happening? I wonder. I don’t even have a lap. I’m nothing more than a stain on the wall.

The pizza–ordered decades before, maybe even in another life–is finally here. What the hell am I supposed to do with this?

10ve (a short story)

One of the projects I’ve got on the burner is Singular Sensation, a collection of short stories about life after the advent of a Kurzwellian type technological singularity. One of the stories, “10ve”, follows a married couple and their struggle to honor the marital oath of ’til death do us part now that they live forever as simulated brains, neurons mapped as a series of ones and zeroes in a server cluster. In honor of Valentine’s Day, here’s an excerpt. Please keep in mind that it is still very much a work in progress.

———-

Year 117

I died early this morning.  I’m not quite sure what to think, as it’s affecting me in much the same way the death of any other public figure affects me: a detached sort of longing and a brief pang of sadness that ebbed almost immediately.

I’ve thought about this day for years, always expecting to feel a deep sense of remorse, like something of untold value is now lost and gone forever.  Several of the networks gave moving tributes, and I watched the kind words spoken by strangers in an attempt to stir some long forgotten feeling I’m sure remains hidden in the fringes of my mind.  My emotion code is active but still nothing comes, not even a lump in my throat.

My corporeal form was 159 years old at the time of her death, a near record even in this modern age.  Though brain digitization has existed for over 130 years, progress in medical science still marches on–a stopgap measure to assuage the bitterness felt by the vassals who can’t afford the Upload, and a peace offering to the luddites and their inherent distrust of all things technological.  The skins that remain now live longer and longer, though some choose physical death after Upload, while others choose to remain until their days come to a natural end.  In my past life, I made my name as a fitness guru, and the clean living and hard work gained my skin an extra decade or two beyond the average before she reached the same inevitable demise.

For nearly 120 years I’ve lived as an image, a small but ever growing group of people who choose immortality through technology.  I was 42 years old when I initiated the Upload, my last memory of true flesh being the cold leather and poorly padded arms of the machine that would make me live forever, followed by a flash of white, blinding light and the appearance of the most idyllic view I’d ever seen, a house set into rolling green hills and snow-capped mountains far off in the distance.  It reminded me of a scene from The Sound Of Music.  This marked the beginning of my new life as a series of ones and zeroes, flesh and blood traded for exabytes of data in some far off holocube.

I get up and turn off the wall screen, interrupting the immaculate announcer mid-sentence during yet another eulogy for my recently deceased skin.  Instead of grief and pain, each additional piece of news coverage makes me increasingly annoyed and uneasy, until I can’t stand it for another moment.  In death, only my good deeds are remembered. The problem is that I still carry the memories of my ill acts.  The death of my skin does nothing to atone for past mistakes.

A still silence settles over the room as I look past the window into the woods beyond the terrace.  My husband and I live in a faithful replica of Fallingwater, the famous Frank Lloyd Wright home.  I’ve loved the architecture of Wright since my youth, this home in particular.  My husband completed The Upload seven years before me, and paid an absurd amount of credits to have Fallingwater recreated as a way of convincing me to join him.  It worked, and I joined him without reservation, ready to turn our vows of ’til death do us part into an eternity of marital bliss.

Even as I examine the landscape I feel no joy granted from the scenery, no sense of connection with nature or an overwhelming sense of awe and wonder.  The waterfall and trees–even the blinding sun in the sky–are, like me, nothing more than a complex combination of fired electrons in the ThinkTank, a climate controlled server room located along the equator.  I close my eyes and try to imagine that the heat I feel from this digital sun emanates from Sol, whose angry rays must surely be beating down upon the solar panels dotting the equatorial line, unbroken like a belt around the planet Earth, but the warmth vanishes as soon as I close my eyes.

My eyelids flutter open, bringing me face to face with my own pale reflection, a ghost in the glass floor-to-ceiling window separating me from the virtual wilderness.  Even after more than a century as an image, I’m still sometimes surprised to see the smooth face of my twenty-year-old self looking back in the mirror.  I expect to see the early forties version of myself, as I was on the day I Uploaded, the beginnings of crow’s feet drawn against the corners of my eyes and laugh lines extending parenthetically beside my mouth.  Instead I see a blemish free, perfectly symmetrical reproduction of my youth, long before the world left its mark upon my countenance.  Immediately prior to the Upload, I helped design my image.  Most went with a near-perfect version of their youthful bodies, removing all asymmetry and imperfection.  I was no exception.

There were rules, of course, many of which had been lifted from reality.  Most of the laws of physics still applied to those who lived in the Tank, for instance.  Up was always up, down was always down, the speed of light remained c, and gravity was still 9.8m/s2.  There were, however, some intrinsic differences to account for the immortal nature of the images.  You could leap from the tallest building in the Tank were you so inclined, but upon landing you would find that all your bones remained intact, the ground unbroken, the greatest danger being the moment of panic you may cause among unsuspecting bystanders.  One could stab or shoot oneself, but there would be no pain and the wound would heal immediately.

In earlier iterations of the Tank, upgrades were available for things like magic and flight, but this caused tension among the images.  It turns out living forever isn’t enough, at least not when your neighbor is also immortal and can afford to purchase the ability to fly or shoot lightning.  To reduce envy and discord, these options were discontinued, the current Tank rules were put in place, and the VirtualNet was created to give interested parties an outlet for their more fantastic bouts of fancy.  In the VNet, the laws of physics were mere suggestions, malleable and even nonexistent depending on which server you used.

I know my husband, Trevin, is at work in his office on the top floor of the ThinkTank headquarters overlooking Puget Sound in downtown Seattle.  He grew up in the Pacific Northwest, so instead of situating the recreation of Fallingwater in Pennsylvania, where it existed in reality, he had it built into a secluded hillside near the digital recreation of Redmond, WA.  As my thoughts turn to him, I’m struck with a sense of loneliness and a desire to hear his voice.  I message him.  He answers after one ring, his face appearing on the wall screen in front of me.

“Hello, dear.”

“Hello, Trevin. Do you have a minute?”

“For you?  Always.”  His smile is identical to the day we met.

“I died this morning.”

“I heard.  Are you all right?  Do you need me to come home?”

“No, oddly I’m fine.  I expected to be more . . . sad?  I don’t know,” I say with a sigh.

“Don’t worry about it.  I barely paused when my skin died.  It’s not a big deal, it’s just a copy of you, not actually you,” he says dismissively.

“Aren’t we the copies?” I ask.  “The original, actual me died today, and you don’t even care.  I am just a reproduction.”

“No,” he replies, a hint of annoyance edging through his metered tone, “you are the perfected version.  Even though she was the original, she was imperfect, flawed.  You are the ideal specimen of everything that Cara Thacker had the potential to be.”

“Thanks.  So sweet of you to say,” I say flatly.  I can tell by his expression my sarcasm is lost on him.

“No problem, babe.”  His smile beams.  “I’ll see you tonight when I get home and we can talk about it more if you’d like.  Have to run, time for a meeting.”

With that, he’s gone.  I turn again to look at the rolling hills beyond my window.  I’ve never felt this alone, helpless, and empty.  Not even Trevin stirs in me the emotions I hoped to feel.  For the first time in over a century, I feel nothing but despair and heartache, and know that there is only one solution, one way to find true peace and solitude.

I must find a way to erase an image.

I must find a way to die.

Great Moments in American Business: Truck Nutz

Originally written for and posted on my friend Steven’s blog, Carl Sagan’s Dance Party.

INT. SKYSCRAPER – BOARD ROOM – CLOUDY LATE AFTERNOON

The room is full of executive-types wearing suits. JENKINS stands before them, giving a presentation, artist rendering laid against a whiteboard along the wall. All eyes are on him.

     JENKINS
(nervously)

So, it’s like a ballsack, but for your truck!

Some of the suited men murmur. A few look at each other and slightly nod their heads.

     JENKINS  (CONT’D)
(with more confidence)

I call them ‘Testicars.’ The idea is that you can hang them from the front of your car to intimidate people when they look in the mirror and see you behind them.

SULLY, a man with an immaculately cut suit, stands and looks at Jenkins with narrowed eyes.

     SULLY
(angry, slightly raised voice)

Jenkins, this is a terrible idea, even for you. Worse than the Bike Boobs. No one wants tits on their bike, just like no one wants balls on their car. You’re such a fucking moron.

Jenkins hangs his head, a defeated look on his face. His partner, JEFFRIES, stands and points at Sully.

     JEFFRIES
(loudly)

Now wait just a minute, Sully. As usual, you run your mouth before you know all the facts! These aren’t just some crudely made scrota, these are cast in a mold made from a Brahma bull. Two men died getting the bull’s imprint.

One man in the room gasps. Another laughs and makes a poor attempt to act like it’s a cough.

     JEFFRIES  (CONT’D)
(with pride)

Not only that, but this product performed strongly in several focus groups, particularly among the 24-39 rural male demographic. We think the product will perform well on the market.

Sully looks cross, like he’s been told he’s been signed up to volunteer at a soup kitchen or adopt a stray animal.

     SULLY
(sarcastic)

Yes, I’m sure high school dropouts will be lining up to buy something called ‘Testicars.’ I still say it’s a stupid idea. You could at least give it a better name.

COLLINS interrupts.

     COLLINS
(enthusiastic)

How about ‘Truck Nuts?’ It’s vulgar and also plays up the idea that trucks are masculine.Truck Nutz

     SULLY
(reserved)

That could actually work… But what if we put a ‘Z’ on the end? Makes it more edgy. And they should hang off the back, maybe from the trailer hitch.

Heads nod in agreement. Excited whispers echo across the table. Several of them look toward the head of the table, where THE BOSS sits.

     JEFFRIES
(hopeful)

Well, what do you think, sir?

     THE BOSS
(with vigor)

Billings, give Jenkins and Jeffries a quarter million dollar advance to split for their brilliant idea! Give a million to Sully for being a hardass and giving the product a name that’s not total shit.

Collins opens his mouth as if to protest, but thinks better of it when he notices the glares from half of the men seated around the table.

     THE BOSS  (CONT’D)

Notify the rubber casters in Malaysia that we’ll need an initial run of eighteen million, enough to cover the Dixie states. Those rednecks are gonna go… nuts.