the 9I didn’t post fiction last week. It’s rare that I take a week off, but it was a crazy-busy week. I could have pushed myself to go ahead and write something, anything, but that’s not why or how I write fiction.

I write fiction because it’s fulfilling. Because it’s fun. Because I want to.

I think all art should come from that place.

That doesn’t mean you never have to push yourself for the sake of art. Sometimes you do. Sometimes art requires great devotion. In the learning of a new skill. In the commitment of time. In slow, methodical execution. Or even in resolve to explore emotion, meaning and purpose on a deeply personal level.

But even then, even when it feels like it’s draining you dry, it should also fill you up. If it doesn’t, why the hell are you doing it at all?

Flash FictionI’ve written several variations of this scene. Not the same characters, the same situation, or the same outcome. Just the set up.

An immortal and a human coming to some kind of arrangement in an environment of mock civility. I find it fascinating.

Sometimes the immortal has the clear upper hand. Sometimes the mortal holds his/her ground. The power dynamic isn’t the point.

Rather, it’s the tension I like. A threat delivered with courtesy.

Is anything as unnerving as a killer with manners?

I won’t claim this particular piece is polished. It’s not. It’s a rough draft, pure and simple. Go easy on me if you spot flaws.

May dawn find you…

savage

“So, what’s the deal with your friend?”

Marco raised his eyebrows. Sometimes he gets hung up on what he would call ‘the modern vernacular’.

“Him,” I said pointing to the other chair.

“Oh,” Marco relied, “he is here for your edification.”

I gave him the same look I give my cat when he noses his way to the bottom of a full food bowl and then flips out at the impending shortage.

“I’m not feeling particularly edified,” I said.

“Consider him a cautionary tale, by way of courtesy.”

I figured as much. Like I needed the warning.

I get it, Marco baby. You’re a badass. I’m shakin’ in my Docs.

“Gotcha. So, can we talk business or is there some kind of protocol? I know you’re big into tradition.”

“Under other circumstances, I would be obliged to offer you refreshment. However, any kind of sustenance, even libation, also signifies the promise of safe passage. You have no such assurance from me, pramatie.”

I smirked.

“You know I love it when you talk dirty to me.”

He did not return the smile.

“The matter at hand shan’t require more than a short negotiation. I have but one requirement.”

Oh, boy. Here it comes.

He continued. “Bring me Lucian’s head. Pledge this service and you may leave here unharmed.”

I looked at Marco’s friend.

“And if I don’t?”

Marco nodded.

“I don’t get you, Marco. You know I hate threats. I mean, look at this whole mess with your brother. He tried to force me into service, and I got his blood all over my favorite boots. Do you know what a pain in the ass that was?”

“Am I to take that as a refusal?”

I shrugged.

“Yes and no, Mister Man. Yes and no. Look, I want Lucian dead, too. But I don’t really feel like hauling his head back here to Casa de Death just so you can sit me next to another example of your wrath. I’m not scared of you. You should know that by now.”

“Ignorance is the delight of fools,” he said.

“And pride the undoing of the immortal,” I shot back.

“We seem to be at an impasse.”

Slowly, I slid a hand behind my back, my fingers slipping easily around the bone handle of my favorite silver knife. I brought it into view, making sure he perceived my intent. He did nothing to stop me.

I stood, walking behind his friend. The poor bastard was incapable of reaction. In all likelihood he didn’t even know I was there.

His arms and legs had been severed at the joints. His eyes gouged out. His tongue most likely removed. His ears torn loose. The scar tissue on the sides of his head caught the dim light of the room, each wrinkle of skin screaming testimony of unspeakable pain.

I wondered how long Marco had kept him like this. How many times he’d drained him within inches of his life, only to stop short. Only to keep him suffering.

With a quick gesture, I ended it, the blade slicing deep into his jugular. He didn’t even gurgle as he bled out.

“You’re a savage, Marco.”

“Says the woman who just gutted a pig in my parlor. Were you aware of his trespasses, you might find the punishment he suffered insufficient.”

He was probably right, there. Marco tends to keep bad company.

“I’ll take care of Lucian,” I said. “Not for you. And not you’re not getting his head. News of his death will have to be enough.”

“Very well,” Marco conceded. “Within the week, please.”

“When I’m fucking ready,” I said. “And stop playing with your food. A man your age should know better.”

He smiled just wide enough to show me his fangs.

I rolled my eyes. Seriously, do they think that shit still works on me?

“I’ll see you when I see you,” I said. “Or maybe I won’t.”

“May dusk find you,” he said.

“And dawn, you,” I replied.

I wiped my blade on his curtains on the way out. It was tacky, but strategic.

Lesson one with dealing with his kind. It’s not enough to show them courage. You have to show complete disregard. They have no respect for life. Let ‘em know you’re concerned about your own and they’ll exploit your sense of self-preservation.

Dare them to kill you. Then they’ve got nothing.

I’ve been daring Marco for a while. Maybe one day he’ll try to follow through.

And maybe his former friend will save him a seat in hell.

Ready for a rant? Good.

Here goes. Language evolves. Get over it.

Too vague? Gotcha. Check out this clip from The Big Bang Theory. (The video quality isn’t great, but it’ll do.)

Sheldon makes the point that the word “nauseous” is often used in place of the word “nauseated,” which would technically be grammatically correct. But I disagree with Sheldon in two ways.

First, while “nauseous” may have originally meant “disgusting or loathsome,” dictionary.com confirms Leonard’s use of the word. Suck on that, Sheldon.

Second, the original meaning of the word doesn’t matter.

Language isn’t static. It never has been. Over time, it morphs and changes. What a word meant 50 years ago is irrelevant today. What matters is how words are used now.

There are a smattering of words out there people frequently misuse. So much so that their meaning has been adjusted in the common vernacular. As an artist, you can pick fights about those words, correcting people when they break from traditional definitions, or you can roll with evolution.

If you decide to be a grammar Nazi, that’s exactly how you’ll be seen. Even writers hate overly nitpicky grammar snobs.

Should you follow grammatical rules? Absolutely. A writer who doesn’t will come across as amateurish and lazy.

But remember that language changes over time. If you can’t change with it, you’ll quickly become irrelevant.

Flash FictionI was tempted to slip into Kinter’s voice for this one. It was one of the prompt words specifically. “Kudos” sounds like the trumped up sort of thing he would say in a casual, mildly smarmy kind of way.

But today isn’t his day. This story is not about him.

He would never utter the closing sentence of this tale. And, really, he’s not on any kind of mission. He fancies himself an artist, not a prophet.

I do like the implication of that last line, though. I’m not sure if it comes through as clearly as I’d like, but I only have 100 words. Sometimes you have to roll the dice on these super-short stories, hoping all the gruesome details you’ve only hinted at find purchase in the mind of the reader.

Geez. Now I’m talking like Kinter. Apparently, he’s trying to find his way back into the spotlight. Maybe I’ll have to weave him into next week’s tale.

The prompt for this week comes to us from the folks over at The Prediction:

100 words maximum, excluding the title, of flash fiction or poetry using all of the three words above (‘belly’, ‘kudos’, and ‘vacant’) in the genres of horror, fantasy or science fiction.

Enjoy.

on the side

The hovel is vacant now, the last occupant liberated in spectacular fashion. It was a real show. You should’ve seen it.

You didn’t, of course. They don’t splash those pictures on the evening news. If it bleeds it leads, my ass.

Still, people are talking. Talking about me. About my work. Not kudos, mind you, but at least they know.

But The Mission doesn’t put food in my belly or a roof over my head. Mine isn’t an especially lucrative Calling. Not these days.

So, I sigh and say what must be said.

“You want fries with that?”

the 9There’s a Korean man who lives in Brazil. His grandchildren are in South Korea. He misses them and wants to do something to reach out to them in a special way.

So he does something unconventional.

An amateur artist, Chan Jae, took to Instagram. He started an account called Drawings For My Grandchildren. Every day, he posts something.

They’re digital love letters, and they’re strikingly beautiful.

There’s legit aesthetic value to his work, but the beauty runs far deeper. It’s his motivation that really sucks you in. I’ve been following him for a while, and he delights me every time I look at his feed.

It speaks to the essence of the nature of art. Motivation. Why do we do what we do? If it’s for love of almost anything, it’s going to be good.

Maybe it’ll make you money, and maybe it won’t. Maybe you’ll become famous, and maybe only a handful of friends will delight in your creativity. It really doesn’t matter. What makes art powerful is connection.

And there’s no greater foundation for connection than love.

Always root your art in that fundamental truth. Don’t get sucked into trying to make a name for yourself or make bank. That stuff is great if it happens, but it’s not the core of what makes art art. Instead, know why you create, and stay true to your most basic, authentic motivation.

Said another way, do it for love.

If you want to read more about Chan Jae and his journey to becoming an Instagram artist, click here. If you want to see or follow his account, click here.

Flash FictionI’m not sure why, but three of my last four flash fiction stories have prominently featured guns.

I’m not particularly into guns. I don’t own one. I don’t even know much about them.

But few things deliver savage violence like a bullet. Especially one to the head – another commonality.

This one was difficult to cap at 100 words. I can see the scene vividly. There are a ton of details I left out of the final draft. I may have to go back and add some meat and bones to this skeleton.

The prompt is (betcha can’t guess…) from The Prediction:

100 words maximum, excluding the title, of flash fiction or poetry using all of the three words above (‘emulate’, ‘spaghetti’, and ‘weak’) in the genres of horror, fantasy or science fiction.

xoxoxo

“It means imitate,” I said.

Carlos had a toothpick in his mouth, a gun in his waistband, and a lot of stupid shit in his head.

“I ain’t emulating no one.”

Music drifted into the alley.

“You should be emulating a man who pays his debts.”

He shrugged. “Why? Ricky ain’t got nothin’ but weak bitches. Do I look worried?”

See what I mean? Stupid.

I moved faster than he could think, whipping the Desert Eagle out of my coat and kissing him three times. Hard. In the face.

Pop, pop, pop.

“No,” I said. “You look like spaghetti.”

the 9If you feel like giving your ego a nice, solid punch in the gut, check out the following article.

15 Words You Need to Eliminate From Your Vocabulary to Sound Smarter
Jennie Haskamp  |  The Muse

Newsprint is on life support, emojis are multiplying faster than hungry Gremlins, and 300 million people worldwide strive to make their point in 140 or fewer characters.

People don’t have the time or the attention span to read any more words than necessary. You want your readers to hear you out, understand your message, and perhaps be entertained, right? Here’s a list of words to eliminate to help you write more succinctly.

Read more…

I included the link, but I’d actually encourage you not to “read more,” and I’ll tell you why. Any advice aimed at artists that begins with “never” or “always” should be regarded with extreme suspicion from the onset.

Sure, there are some solid “most of the time” rules that are good to know. Grammar is a key example if you’re a writer. You should almost always follow standard grammatical rules. But there are times when it makes sense to break them.

Like with fragment sentences. You know, for punch.

Forgive the trite phrase, but artists should be outside the box thinkers. The moment you start paying attention to rules, you’re limited. Held back. Enslaved.

Don’t do that to yourself.

Standards are good. Yes, yes, yes. There are best practices worth adopting. But never push back from an artistic impulse because someone (even one of your heroes) said to “never” or “always” do something.

Fuck that.

Find your own way and let your art shine through.

Flash FictionIt’s time to (very briefly) revisit the nameless assassin. I haven’t written a story about him in a while, and this week’s prompt was a good match for his verbose nature.

He does so like the sound of his own voice.

Sadly, this story doesn’t really get at his overall character. If you’d like to know him better, check out the full series. It’s kind of fun.

As has been the trend lately, the prompt is from The Prediction:

100 words maximum, excluding the title, of flash fiction or poetry using all of the three words above (‘fine’, ‘jargon’, and ‘pecuniary’) in the genres of horror, fantasy or science fiction.

customer service

Ideally, I’m a ghost. In and out without a trace of evidence. That’s my preference. But the client was adamant. She wanted him to know.

Fine. It’s not my style, but fine. Customer service and all.

Of course, he had questions. I suppose that’s fair. I’d feel similarly inquisitive were I in his shoes. So I tried to be respectfully, chiefly by being frank.

“Candice hired me. In the parlance of my profession, you’re the mark.”

“But why?!” he pleaded.

I shrugged. “Pecuniary needs.”

I’m not sure what confused him more. The gun at his head or my jargon.

the 9This week, I’d like to point you to another article. I do that from time to time, and not always because I’m being lazy. Today, it’s purely because I like the cadence and content of this interview.

If this article is any indication, Detroit artist Sydney G. James is a dynamic individual. The way she describes and deals with the tension between financial success and artistic fulfillment, for example, is both inspiring and practical.

Give it a read. Even if you don’t agree with everything she says, I think you’ll find it informative, interesting, and maybe even enlightening.

‘Be dope every day’ declares renowned artist Sydney G. James
Porsha Monique  |  Rolling Out

Chances are, if you drive down any given street in Detroit, it’s very likely that you may see the amazingly beautiful, larger-than-life artwork of Sydney James. Perhaps you may see her work in mural form on several buildings in the city’s historic Eastern Market area, or maybe at an intersection while driving through the city, or maybe in what appears to have been a vacant lot, turned into a field of dreams and beauty with the help of James’ magic touch. One thing is for sure, once you spot a James masterpiece, you’ll be in awe of her remarkable gifts.

Read more…