A Breakthrough Over Lunch

photo of a lightbulb with soft focus lights in background

They call breakthroughs “lightbulb moments” for a reason, don’t they? (Photo by Alex Iby on Unsplash)

I had lunch recently with a friend of mine, Karen. In addition to mutual appreciation of many things (wine is high up on the list), we also have a deep and abiding love of pasta, grilled cheese sandwiches of infinite variety, and pizza. So, as we caught up over a plate of spaghetti and a margherita pizza, she also asked me, “So what happened to the sequel to The Unwanted?”

[It occurs to me that perhaps I should insert a spoiler alert right here, in case you haven’t read The Unwanted (And you can solve that by buying the book! This is a subtle hint, right?), but also a spoiler alert for this unnamed, set-aside sequel that likely never will see the light of day. If you’d rather not, just skip down to the part that says “[end spoiler alert]”. So…


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Friday Flash Fiction: An Unlikely Suspect

Again, this week’s Friday Flash Fiction entry is a continuation of last week’s story. And it’s getting to the stage where I’ll probably have to pause and figure out where it’s going before I continue. This is a common occurrence in my writing process: I write for a while with no particular idea of where a given story is going. Then, once I find it maintains my interest, I pause and map it out.

Anyway, here’s this week’s photo prompt:

Photo of a shirtless, bearded man sitting at a chest press machine in a dark gym.

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Friday Flash Fiction: The Digital Corpse

So, for this week’s Friday Flash Fics prompt, you might wonder: Who could look at a photo like this and immediately think “murder”?

Photo of a round luxury bathtub overlooking a tropical ocean view

This guy, that’s who.

Like last week’s story, this one isn’t so much a complete story in itself so much as the start of something possibly longer—which I guess I’ll have to get around to finishing sometime. (Ugh, why do I do this to myself?) It’s also somewhat tangentially related to the novel-in-progress that I’m currently revising… and which I really need to finish.

Anyway, without further ado:

The Digital Corpse

For some reason, the body hadn’t de-rezzed. It—she, Andrews supposed he should say—she lay on the floor to the right of the bed, in the shadows just inside the bedroom near the entryway to the deck. A large, round bathtub dominated the space, just sheltered beneath an overhang and beyond which lay the crystal blue waters of the beach.

It took him a moment to recognize the view: Bora Bora. He’d seen it on a holo some years back, recorded before the islands succumbed to the rising Pacific.

Andrews dipped his hand in the bathwater. Still warm.

Well, what passed for warm in this place. In reality, it was just a simulation of water interacting with his simulated hand and sending signals back to his body in analog that registered as warm. He shook his fingers and silently cursed his chief.

“What was her name?” Andrews asked the proprietor, who was a small, elderly-looking woman with an immaculate black suit and upswept silver hair. He didn’t doubt she was a male programmer somewhere in South America or Australia who’d created the simulation looking for some easy money.

She shook her head. “She never gave me her name, but here’s her contact.”

The woman did nothing, but suddenly the holo address registered in Andrews’ memory. In an instant, he had a name—Rose Smith—and a physical address in New York. He sent the address to his partner and told her to alert local authorities.

“Why didn’t she de-rez?” he asked. It should have happened automatically once synaptic functions ceased.

“I think because they wanted someone to see this,” the proprietor said, and led Andrews to the bathroom, the actual bathroom, with the toilet and sink and shower, not the glorified tub with a view. It was a small but sleek space, all glass and chrome and completely at odds with the island vibe. There, scrawled across the mirror in what Andrews first assumed was blood before he saw the open lipstick tube on the counter, was:

ONE DOWN, 47,456,893 TO GO

“At least it wasn’t blood,” the proprietor said, as if reading Andrews’ mind.

“What difference does it make?” Andrews snapped. “Wouldn’t have been real blood anyway.”

“Even so…”

Andrews turned away. Apart from being annoyed by whatever little shit in some backwater was dressing up as an old lady, Doyle had just replied to his message.

“Found her. Dead. No obvious signs of trauma. Autopsy may show more, but go on the assumption that whatever did this happened in the Upload.”

Andrews sighed. Great. How do you track a murderer when the body isn’t even real and the suspects might not even look like themselves?

Andrews replied back: “Can you tell me what’s significant about the number 47,456,893? And don’t unplug her yet. I want some more time with the scene.”

He turned back to the proprietor. “Leave this sim running for at least the next hour. And send me your source code for all this.”

“My source code?” That nearly made the old-lady avatar flicker. “You know how long it took me to program this? You’ve got no—”

“Listen, buddy.” Andrews stepped forward and the old lady flinched, but all he did was pat her on the shoulder—just enough contact to snoop her portal ID and have Doyle look it up. “The Temp behind that corpse,” he gestured toward the body, “is an actual flesh and blood dead person in New York. Now they’ve still got the death penalty. Would you like to give me your source code voluntarily, or would you like me to have you extradited,” he paused as the data came in from Doyle, “from France and see how nice they are to a twenty-three-year-old hacker from Egypt who’s living in Paris on an expired visa? What do you think your chances are?”

The proprietor narrowed her eyes at him. “That’s a fine way to talk to an old lady. You kiss your mother with that mouth?”

“My mother’s dead.”

“Of embarrassment, probably.”

“The source code, now.”

The old lady sighed. “Fine.”

She blinked out of sight about a second after the source code file landed in his directory. Andrews looked around, recording images of the room and the body and, what the hell, the spectacular view. He’d never get to see the likes of it anywhere on Earth. Not anymore, at least.

Before he downloaded and unplugged, he got another message from Doyle: 47,456,893 was the population, Temp and Perm, of the Upload.

My Goal for 2018: Focus

Image of a man's hand holding a camera lens in front of a landscape, through which the scene can be seen in focus

Photo by Paul Skorupskas on Unsplash

For the past couple years, I’ve tried to come up with one word or phrase that could capture my focus for the coming year. In 2016, it was “completion.” I wanted to complete the draft of the novel I was working on. And I did that, although in 2017 I ended up setting it aside when it was no longer working. That is somewhat related to my goal for 2017, which was “embrace rejection.” By that, I meant I wanted to submit my work frequently and broadly, with the full knowledge that it would be rejected more often than it was accepted. As it turned out, I could have done a better job of that, but I did my best.

Last year came with its fair share of opportunities and challenges, chief among the latter being depression and time, or rather the lack thereof when it came to time. (I had plenty of depression, thanks very much.) As I may or may not have mentioned, after a couple years of freelancing and living very hand to mouth, I took a full-time job last year. While that came with a lot of benefits—health insurance, steady income, less of a persistent fear that I was going to starve or die—it also meant that from eight thirty to five fifteen every weekday, my time was not my own (and continues to not be my own). I’ve been trying to get a handle on the hours outside of that window, and figuring out how to maximize as much of that time as possible in the service of my writing. This is an ongoing process.

I didn’t make a lot of progress on my major projects last year: a novel, a raft of short stories, a community-based writing project that I’d really like to kickstart. Given all that, the keyword for 2018 was obvious:


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Friday Flash Fiction: The Librarian

Another Friday, another flash fiction piece! As mentioned previously, I’m in a Facebook group called Friday Flash Fics. We’re given a photo as a writing prompt, with our flash fiction responses (500 words or less) to the photo posted every Friday.

This one’s a little tamer than most—which may be a good thing. Facebook actually flagged me for the one that went with “Santa Baby.” Prudes. Hopefully this one won’t raise anyone’s ire:

image of a muscular man in a t-shirt that says "Librarian—the hardest part of my job is being nice to people who think they know how to do my job."

(Image credit unknown; if you know, please pass it along so I can give attribution. Thank you!)

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January Flash Fiction Draw: The Artist

So, flash fiction seems to be something I’m getting into. In addition to the Friday Flash Fiction courtesy of the Facebook group I belong to, my friend ’Nathan is also doing a monthly flash fiction draw challenge. The parameters are determined by a random selection of playing cards. Check out this post on his website to get the details about January’s challenge, but the guidelines are:

A fairy tale, involving a tattoo machine, set in a prison.

I wrote this yesterday in my notebook while sitting in one of my favorite hangouts in St. Louis. So, I don’t know how long it is until I type it in here. Also, I took liberties with the guidelines. I think we all reserve the right to do that.

So, without further ado:

January Flash Fiction Draw: The Artist

Once upon a time, there was an artist. He worked in ink, but his canvas was the human body. With his tattoo machine, he engraved in people’s skin their greatest wishes and their deepest desires. And seeing these wishes made visible, the Artist’s clients realized the true purpose of their lives, their short time on this world. His gift to them was clarity.

Until one day, a man came to him, one with a hardened expression and an even harder heart and a body that had already served as the canvas for many other artists, but none of them with the skill and empathy the Artist brought to his work.

And yet, despite the man’s hard exterior, the Artist could see something within him, though it was well hidden.

When he entered the Artist’s studio, he rolled up his sleeve and jabbed a finger at his shoulder.

“Cover this up,” he grumbled.

The Artist took the man’s arm in his hands, his touch gentle as his turned the man’s shoulder toward him. It was a name, this tattoo: Jacob. The man flinched under the Artist’s fingers.

“What would you like to cover it with?” the Artist asked.

“I don’t fucking care.” The man practically flung himself into the Artist’s chair. “Just get rid of it.”

The Artist stared at the man’s profile for a long time, at the hard set of his jaw, the proud angle of his nose, and for a moment he felt something stir in himself. The Artist’s first instinct was to push that feeling down, bury it deep, but…

Wasn’t that exactly what the man in front of him had done?

Picking up the machine, which he often thought of as his brush, the Artist got to work, wiping away rivulets of blood as he etched into the man’s skin his truest desires. He worked tirelessly, an hour flying past, then another. Black ink gave way to color, and his design spread beyond the name the man claimed he wanted to obliterate.

The Artist knew better, though, even if he couldn’t say how he knew. But after two hours, he shut off his machine and rolled his stool away from the man.

All the time the Artist was working, the man had stared straight ahead. Now, though, he looked down at his arm, and his face twisted in anger.

“I told you to cover up that damn name. How come I can still see it?”

The Artist gripped the edge of his stool, bracing for a physical confrontation but praying the man would see first.

“You asked me to cover it up, and I’ve done that. You didn’t ask me to make it invisible.” The man started to protest, but the Artist pressed on. “No one can conceal what’s in your heart, not even me.” Carefully, he lifted up the man’s arm. “But maybe, if you’ll look again…”

As the man looked and the Artist raised his arm higher, the tattoo seemed to shift, though it was clearly the same design as it had been when the Artist finished it. Only now, it became a spray of sunflowers surrounding another name that wasn’t Jacob’s but was woven within it. The man’s own name.

“Who was Jacob to you, Lazlo?” the Artist asked, his voice gentle, and the hard angle’s of the man’s profile softened.

“He died.”

“I’m sorry.”

The man started to say something else, but his voice caught, a gasping choke cutting off words. The artist steadied him with both hands.

“I can’t—”

“You don’t have to,” the Artist said. “Not until you’re ready.”

Happily ever after would come to the man eventually, but that was still a ways off. For now, as Lazlo gave in to his grief, the Artist held him steady with the hope that time would soften the scars.

Friday Flash Fiction: Watch How I Soar

Happy New Year! I hope everyone survived 2017 relatively unscathed. Me, I think my mantra for 2018 might take a page from Selina Kyle: “Four… five… still alive!”

But anyway. It’s Friday, and that means a flash fiction piece. As mentioned previously, I’m in a Facebook group called Friday Flash Fics. We’re given a photo as a writing prompt, with our flash fiction responses (500 words or less) to the photo posted every Friday.

I’m beginning to notice a trend in these photos:

image of shirtless man with tattoos in marijuana boxer shorts

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Friday Flash Fiction: Santa Baby

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m in a Facebook group called Friday Flash Fics. We’re given a photo as a writing prompt, with our flash fiction responses (500 words or less) to the photo posted every Friday. And also again I’m late and over the word count. What was this week’s photo prompt, you ask? Well, it’s Santa themed, sort of, but I think I’ll just let the picture speak for itself:

Photo of shirtless man in Santa hat

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