[sticky post]Experiment-Flash Fiction: Two Letters In A Fireproof Box
dalecoz
Dear Martin:

I have a confession to make.  Remember the time you came home and thought you saw my car outside, but went in and your wife denied that I had been there.  I feel a little guilty about that, especially since I gave her syphilis, which you got and since you didn't get it diagnosed in time it ate enough of your brain that you're now permanently incarcerated in the state mental hospital for your own good.  I did get my dose diagnosed and it was not antibiotic resistant, so I'm fine.  Your wife is okay too.

As I said, I feel a little guilty since we were best friends and all, but your wife is really good in bed, and you've been around me long enough to know that good in bed consistently trumps conscience in my case.  I'm not a bad friend.  I'm just a bad friend to let be around your wife.  You should have known that, so it's all really your fault in a way.

In any case, we still celebrate your birthdays with champagne and an exchange of bodily fluids.  She's gotten over the whole STD thing and gets quite lonely on most holidays without male companionship, so I kindly oblige her.  It's the least a friend can do.

Oh, by the way, your son and daughter are both mine, just in case you were wondering.  I can set your mind at ease in that regard.  Your savings are safely in my name now, so you can rest easy about that too.  I do have a bit of bad news.  I had to have your dog put down.  He never liked having me around, so it just didn't work out.

Oh, and your lovingly restored 57 Chevy?  I'm sorry to say I wrapped that around a telephone poll.  I was kissing your wife at the time.  I'm sure you'll be happy to hear that neither of us were hurt.  Your mom and dad were in the back seat when the wreck occurred, and I'm sorry to say that they were thrown from the car and never woke up from their comas.  I do feel bad about that.  On the bright side, the police ruled it an accident and the insurance company paid up, so financially things were a wash.

There is another upside to this.  Your wife inherited everything and we are currently living in the house you grew up in, the one that has been in your family for five generations.  It's a nice place, but a developer offered us a couple of million for it.  He is going to tear it down and put in a mini-mall.  I'm sure you'll understand.

Let's see.  Is there anything else?  No, I guess not.  Confession is good for the soul, but I suppose I probably shouldn't actually send you this letter.  You might get agitated.  I'll just leave it in the fireproof safe for a decent interval, then burn it.  I did mention that I was sorry about the syphilis, didn't I?

Your best friend.
James.
-----
Dear James:

I escaped.

Martin


--------
By the way, I posted this as part of a multi-author blog hop. Links to the other authors and their stories follow.

Katharina Gerlach: Canned Food

Rabia Gale: Spark

K. A. Petentler: The Twisted Tale of Isabel

Shana Blueming: Paper & Glue

Amy Keeley: To Be Prepared For Chocolate

Cherie "Jade" Arbuckle: After I Died

Karen Lynn: The Family Book

Angela Wooldridge: An Alternative to Frog

Thea van Diepen: Are You Sure It's That Way?

Paula de Carvalho: Body Double

Kris Bowser: Tantrums

Virginia McClain: Rakko's Storm

Grace Robinette: Georg Grembl

Elizabeth McCleary: The Door

Dale Cozort: Two Letters In A Fireproof Box
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Experiment: Can I Write A First Person, Present Tense Story? Ice Mind
dalecoz
I'm normally a very traditional writer in terms of my writing style. I write in third person in the past tense. There are other ways to write, though, and it's fun to play with other styles. I actually wrote this for a friendly contest among a writing group called the wombats. One of the objects of the contest was to identify who among the group wrote each of the stories in the contest and to keep people from figuring out which story you wrote. I deliberately tried to imitate on of the other wombats and this is sort of the way she would write on an off day.

One of the perks and banes of being a real psychic is the porn.  I go to the average motel room, run my hands along a couple of inches from the walls or the bed and feel every emotion of a dozen recent or mind-blowing bedroom games.  Bad sex doesn’t leave much of a psychic imprint unless it’s violent.  Emotions usually don’t get past the skin unless they are strong, out of control.  Like the emotion of really good sex, or of rage or murder.

So I look around the room.  Body is gone.  Evidence techs are wrapping up.  Detective Ariel Carter is looking at me skeptically, her uniform gamely trying to hide a figure that I would love to see in my bed.

The hotel room walls are drywall.  Not good.  Wood or concrete hold emotions better.  At least it isn’t glass.  Glass, plastic, ceramics—forget about reading them.

Anyway, I get the usual bedroom escapades as I move around the room.  Stronger around the bed, but scattered around the room too.  Amazing what you can do on one of those little hotel desks.  I try to keep the emotions I feel off of my face and out of other parts of my body.  And abruptly I feel fear.  Terror.  Helpless rage.  “Was the victim a woman?”

Detective Carter shrugs.  “You’re the psychic.  You tell me?”

I look at her.  “Why do we have to play these games?”

“Because you’re a fraud.”

“I’m feeling terror.  I’m not sure if it’s the victim.  Feels fresh.  It’s from a man.  A powerful man.  Arrogant.  But helpless.  Maybe dying.”

That shakes her.  I see it sneak onto her face.  I say, “So that’s our victim.  Man.  In a position of power.  Physically strong but now helpless.  Knows he’s going to die.  Trying to deny it to himself.  Trying to find a way out.”  I move my hands along the wall.  Nothing more.  Down to the floor.  Pain.  Enough pain that even second hand it almost causes me to cry out.

I look up at Detective Carter.  “He was here.  Probably dying.  A lot of pain.  Maybe tortured.”

She tries not to look impressed.  “So tell me something we don’t know, like who the murderer was.”

I move around the room.  No killing rage.  Nothing along the floor except fragments of sex.  No rage in the bed.  I go over the bathroom.  Nothing there among the glass and ceramics, but I have to check.

Finally I go back to the wall where the victim thought his thoughts of fear and rage.  I go over the wall inch by inch, then try along the carpet.  Carpet is even better than wood or cement.  A flash of a girl or woman walking away.  Naked.  Seen from the floor.  Slender legs.  Butt firm.  A tattoo of a rose on one cheek.  The lower back of her head-- 

I look up.  “Possible murderess.  A woman.  Probably young.  I see her from the back.  Auburn hair cut short.  Tattoo on her butt. Don’t see her face.”

She looks .at me like she just stepped in something.  “Auburn hair, huh?  Sounds like you peeked at one of our reports.  An outdated one.”

“So there is an auburn-haired woman on the suspect list?” I ask.

“There was an hour ago.  Janet Thomas.  She’s off of the list.  She fell. Was getting a broken arm set the entire time the murder could have happened.”

“Do you have a picture?”

She shows me one.  I say, “I didn’t see the face, but she fits.”

 “And she was here.  Just not when the murder happened.”

I go back to where I picked up the image of the woman walking away.  I see a lamp near where she was standing.  Lampshades are the best—better than wood or even carpet.  I go over and pick up a faint impression of amused contempt.  “If she did it she’s cold.  Colder than anyone I’ve ever felt.”

Ariel Carter isn't your traditional beauty, though she probably was ten or fifteen years ago.  She's at least ten years older than me, and she looks like a cheerleader gone slightly but decorously to seed--blonde hair, fading slightly, that light complexion of a natural blonde showing bits of wear and tear as she approaches her fourth decade.  Her figure is still trim though, and her face still has the strong feminine lines that must have made her a beauty not long ago.

And she's less than halfway through a woman's average lifespan but the second glances from guys have faded.  She probably notices it.  It probably hurts.  Beauty fading.  Is the fading worse than never having it?  I suspect so.

Alternate History Challenge: Keep the Upper South From Seceding
dalecoz
In the leadup to the American Civil War, there were actually two waves of states seceding from the Union. The first wave was the deep South, with South Carolina taking the lead. The some of the upper South, including Kentucky, Maryland and Missouri, arguably never seceded, though in some cases Confederate sympathizers at times held substantial parts of some of those states. The other part of the upper South, including Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee, didn't secede until after Fort Sumter, and did so very reluctantly.

In Virginia, the initial vote on secession by a special body elected to consider the question was around 2 to 1 against seceding. The upper South tended to regard the FireEaters in the deep south as a bunch of hotheads who just needed to cool off. With a few exceptions, the Upper South voted for pro-Union candidates in the 1860 election--not Lincoln and his Republicans, but for pro-Union third parties rather than the pro-secession southern Democrats.

So: there was ample pro-Union sentiment in the Upper South. The states in that region that eventually joined the Confederates essentially doubled the population of the Confederacy. They also added a great deal of industry to it, especially in Virginia. If those states had stayed in the Union, the balance of power in the war would have been far more lopsidedly in favor of the Union, probably enough so that the war would not have lasted anywhere near as long as it did historically.

The challenge: You're in Lincoln's very difficult chair, newly elected president in 1861. Take actions that eventually bring the deep south back in the Union and at the same time keeps at least two and hopefully three of these states in the Union: Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee.

The main obstacle to doing that: while a solid majority in at least some of those states wanted to remain in the Union, they did not want to fight against white southerners, nor did they want their states to be used as military bases for war against the deep south. Lincoln felt that he couldn't let the deep south go without a fight. If it came to war, the upper south was where that war had to be fought from.

With the benefit of hindsight, could you do a better job than Lincoln did? Could you keep the upper South in the Union and reduce the size and casualties of the Civil War?.

TV: The Future of Books?
dalecoz
I've often thought that TV has a lot of parallels to the book marketplace. For both TV and books, this a time of unprecedented amounts of material and choice, but it's also a time where it's incredibly difficult to find the stuff you're interested in before it goes away. During the months after my knee surgery when I couldn't do much else, I did a lot of channel surfing and usually found nothing on that I could even stand to watch. I often settled for NCIS reruns that I had already seen a couple times because there was nothing better on. At the same time, I knew there were good shows out there I was missing. I was right on that. A good friend happened to mention in passing that she was upset that three new shows she loved had all been cancelled. I like her tastes, so I tried watching them and loved all three of them. I would have never found them without her recommendations and found them too late to do even a little bit toward saving the series.

If you can stand cop shows, Battle Creek has a lot more going on than a simple description would tell you--interesting characters and quirky plots.
Forever is gernerally well done drama about a guy who doesn't age and has to keep adapting to society and keep acting his apparent age through the centuries. He has a son who is now an old man, while he still appears to be in his early thirties. It can sometimes be a little hokey, but generally well done.

Current TV: I started watching Complications, about a doctor who saves a young boy from a gang shooting and quickly gets sucked in to a gang war. It's interesting, but the main character sometimes seems too stupid to live and the plot depends on that, which is sloppy writing. The series does move fast and keeps me riveted while I'm watching episodes, but when I think through the plots they aren't that good.

Better Call Saul is a prequel to Breaking Bad, which so far looks good. Quite a few of the characters from Breaking Bad play significant roles in it and it has some very intense, very \quirky scenes. I'm not sure if it will take off like Breaking Bad did, but it is worth watching. Some of my favorites, like Mike are back, and Saul himself is proving to be a very interesting character. If you've watched Breaking Bad, you know how Saul ends up, but how he gets there is fascinating

I haven't made up my mind on Mr. Robot yet. It has an interesting main character, and I like the way it captures the way high-level computer geeks think, but it pushes the limits of what people will sit through on TV with unusually explicit drug use, language and sex. We'll have to see where it goes. A bad sign: The last episode seemed very clumsy. It was trying to do something very sophisticated, but didn't do it well at all. I'm deliberately being vague here to avoid spoilers. I'm going to keep watching, but not as avidly after this last episode.


I stumbled across Dark Matter on Science Fiction channel a few days ago. It's sort of an attempt at a Firefly clone, with a cast of characters doing odd and often illegal stuff to keep an old ship going and supplied with food, fuel, etc. It has the conspiracies and the unreliable partners/double-crosses of Firefly, but based on two middle-of-the-season episodes, it hasn't grabbed me yet. On the other hand, Firefly didn't grab me until I saw the episodes in order and watched the characters develop, so I'm going to suspend judgment on this one. On the other other  hand, Firefly was good because of the characters, the dialog and the general execution, not because of the overall scenario, so I'm skeptical.

Weirdly, I do my physical therapy exercises while watching American Ninja Warriors. It's made-for-TV sports, often called junk sports, but it has a certain appeal. The contestants go through fiendishly difficult obstacle courses where one slip knocks you out of the running. I can sort of imagine myself working up to it, assuming I still had two good knees and weighed what I did in college and was in my late twenties. Okay, me running that course is a total fantasy, even in my best days, but it's a fantasy that makes the physical therapy exercise easier to stick with.  My wife and daughter both got into it too, though in their cases more for the very buff shirtless guys than the 'sport', I suspect.

What does this say about the book market? There is a flood of stuff out there in both markets, a deluge of forty days and forty nights proportions. There isn't any good way to find the good stuff in either market, other than word of mouth to some extent. Both markets face a real tragedy in that good stuff comes and goes without ever finding audiences, when there are audiences out there trying and failing to find stuff exactly what the type of book or show that is failing to find an audience.

Experiments in Writing--The Very Long Sentence
dalecoz
Not sure how useful this one is, but I tried it: The very long sentence:

I wonder if it ends now, on an ice planet with no life now and only the slightest of feeble hints of life in times past, and those probably the product of my imagination, trying to dredge up hope where the crushed remnants of my spaceship should have ended that hope long ago, should have put me into the a mode of hopelessness, of trying to figure out a reason to prolong my time in the icy winds sweeping across featureless plains of ice, of white surface, white sky, white-filled air, a blanket of white surrounding me, smothering me, smothering hope, yet hope peeks out, grasps at straws, the straws of movement vaguely sensed through the white, perhaps imaginary, perhaps figments of my desperation, certainly not life; sensors would have detected that, but at best possibly the surviving artifacts of life, the machines of a vanished civilization, outliving their creators, survivors that could be sentient and helpful in the best case, or more likely indifferent or hostile in the more likely cases, the ones that would follow from the luck that brought me here, to this state, to this useless, frigid rock where I wait for salvation or its exposure as an illusion.
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Experiments in Writing--Words of One Syllable
dalecoz
This is the result of an experiment for a writing class that I think was kind of fun: write as far as you can on a story while using only words of one syllable.

When Don won the big pot he was on easy street to stay, right? Wrong.  The smart guys and brassy gals came into his life with ideas on how to spend it, came down like flies on raw meat.  And then it was gone, and so were they, but the bills were still there and the easy way with cash that comes when you have more than you can ever spend or think you do.

Don's girl went early on.  She thought she had a voice on where the cash went.  He said no.  She left.  A bunch of one night or one week girls went through his life while the cash was there, but they left when it left.

The house went not long after the cash.  Banks were happy to loan when he won, when the cash was there, more than he could ever use.  They got the house when the cash ran out.

The job went even prior to the girl.  Don did not even tell his boss he was gone, just left for good.

Kind of sad how all that works.  Give a man cash riches and no sense and the cash leaves.  The taste for what it buys stays, ruins a man.  So now we have what is left from the big win, a man with rich taste and no cash, all set up for the next hit, all set up for me and my way.  I take a man down low.  I take him down where even a big win and a run that spends all the cash will not take him.  I take his soul, not in the old devil and sign in blood way.  The way I do it is worse, far worse.

Don took a walk to the one bar in town that still let him have a tab, the one where he could still get a brew and a smile.  I met him there, not making it look like I knew him.  I felt no guilt.  I leave the wrecks of lives more torn up than I find them.  That is what I do.

The Post That Won't Die
dalecoz
Three years ago I did a post with the tongue-in-cheek title: "Nothing Says Loser Like an Adult Tricycle." Unlike most of my posts, that one has gotten a steady trickle of responses over the years, the last of them a few days ago.

I think adult trikes are gradually becoming more mainstream, as more baby boomers age out of their ability to safely ride bikes. Better styling could go a long way toward taking them mainstream.

Then there are quadricycles like the Rhoades Car series, which I would buy in a heartbeat if they cost maybe a fourth of what they currently do--which isn't going to happen without higher sales/economy of scale.

Here is the original link:

http://dalecoz.livejournal.com/61511.html

The path back to normal
dalecoz
As many of you know, I fell off a treadmill on March 23rd of this year and tore a major tendon in my knee. A week later, I had an operation to fix it.
For five weeks I was pretty much confined to the first floor of our house. I used a walker to get to the bathroom and spent most of the rest of the time in a drug-induced but nearly pain-free stupor.

Finally, after those five weeks I started a long path back to normal. It's amazing how good it felt to do things that I had taken for granted before the fall.
- A little over two weeks ago I was able to go back to work, though my wife had to drive me. I still couldn't bend my knee far enough to work the brake or accelerator.
- Last week I was able to go upstairs and use our own shower for the first time. Up until then I had been using a combination of sponge baths, the YMCA handicapped showers and other expedients.
- On Wednesday of last week, the doctor told me that my knee brace was now optional. It felt so good to walk around without having to put that thing on!
- On Thursday of last week, I drove for the first time since the accident. I borrowed my wife's car because mine is a stick shift, which was still a bit more of a challenge than I could handle. I started my own car for the first time since late March two days ago.
- Over the last week, I've been slowly transitioning away from my cane, using it less and less for short walks and feeling more confident each time.

I still have a way to go. The muscles around the wounded knee still aren't as strong as they were before the injury and it's taking far longer to get them back than it took to lose them. My knee still doesn't bend as far as it is supposed to, which makes getting into a car harder than it should be and makes riding a bicycle impossible, though I'm inching toward being able to. My balance still isn't where it should be.

I did accomplish some things during the enforced time off. I lost thirty pounds very quickly, within two months. Since then the pace has been much slower, but I've lost a few more pounds. I look and feel much better. I did quite a bit of writing and editing, though I didn't focus on one project the way I should have. I've done better on the writing lately, with some writing every day and several days in the two thousand words/day range, which is quite good for me. I'm almost done with a new novella and I think it'll be some of my best writing so far.

This is not an experience I want to repeat ever, but I'm making it through it and getting back on my feet, literally. The doctor says that the tendon he repaired takes four months before the healing process starts to level off. At six weeks it was at about 50% normal strength, still very subject to getting torn again. It's probably over 75% of normal strength now, still vulnerable but able to handle most normal stresses. By the end of July, most of the rest of the healing will have happened, though it'll keep gradually getting stronger for six months to a year after the operation. At the end of the process, I should be at about 90-95% of the knee's normal capability. As long as keep the muscles around it strong and keep my weight down, I shouldn't have any problem doing most normal activities, though I probably shouldn' t do any distance running.

Venturing Back Into the World
dalecoz
As many off you know, I've been recovering from a major knee operation for the last month and a half. I should be able to do almost everything I normally do on a day-to-day basis in a month or two and make very close to a full recovery in six months to a year. In the meantime, I'm coping with problems, enjoying rare tastes of things I took for granted before my fall and celebrating little bits of progress.

Problems: I'm halfway through  week two of what will be eight weeks of Physical Therapy to get myself back on my feet after messing up a knee (torn patellar tendon). I still have to use a walker to get around and I still can't drive--can't bend my knee enough to put my foot on the pedals or even sit as a normal passenger. Almost the only places I've been since March 22 have been to the doctor's office and to physical therapy. No shopping. No getting to work. My wife drives me to physical therapy sitting in the back seat with my leg across the back seat.

The layout of our house makes life interesting. The bedroom and the main bathroom with shower are upstairs. So is my main computer with printer and scanners. Climbing the stair might be possible with enough effort and considerable risk, but I haven't done it since my fall. I've stayed in the downstairs guest bedroom and with two exceptions I've done sponge-baths rather than showers. The exceptions: My wife took me t to the "Y" twice to take advantage of their handicapped accessible showers. It felt incredibly good. The sponge-baths are better than nothing, but I'll be so glad to get back to daily showers, which hopefully isn't too far away.

Yesterday, the doctor said I can to back to work part-time next week as long as I wear a brace and only do sedentary work. The repaired tendon is still healing and only at about fifty percent of its normal strength. The doctor said it's like a cake halfway baked--with some strength but nowhere near enough to function normally and still vulnerable to pull apart if I fall. On average, a tendon repair gains strength linearly for about four months, then the rate of repair drops off with tendon strength close to normal and the last few percent of the healing come more slowly over a couple months. Bottom line: chances of tearing it again will go down quickly over the next several weeks, but I have to be careful not to push too hard as I start feeling stronger.

Progress: After a week of physical therapy I already feel a lot stronger. Being allowed to put some weight on the leg for the entire time seems to have helped a lot. Twelve years ago, when I tore the other knee the same way, I wasn't allowed to put weight on the leg at all for a month or so. That time around, I lost around four inches of circumference in the muscles right above the knee. There was very little muscle left.

This time around, with the weight-bearing, I only lost about an inch and a half in the muscles above the knee. They're much stronger, which gives me a head start on the therapy. I had also done quite a bit of weight-lifting in the weeks before my fall, so I started the process considerably stronger than I would have been normally. Overall, the major  leg muscles probably aren't too much weaker than they were before I started the weight-lifting. That's great, but it means that I have to watch it so that I don't tear the tendon again.

With all that, I still have a long way to go. The big problems are range of motion, rebuilding small muscles around the knee, balance and of course the still-weak tendon. I couldn't bend the knee while it was healing, so I lost most of my range of motion. In the last week I've regained about 60-70 degrees of motion, which allows me to sit comfortably with my foot on the floor--something I took for granted before but take a great deal of pleasure in now. I'm allowed to bend the knee to 90 degrees now, but so far I physically can't do it. Still, the range of motion was probably around 10 degrees when I started working on it, so that's major progress for ten days.

The leg feels strong enough to put my full weight on it, but some of the small muscles around the knee are still weak and that means the knee isn't as stable as it needs to be for normal walking. My balance is also off, partly because of the weakened knee muscles. I'm hoping I'll be able to walk without the walker in a couple weeks, but that's a personal goal, not something the physical therapist has told me is possible, so we'll have to see.

Odd fact: I lost around thirty pounds in the fifty-plus days shortly before and after the accident, averaging a pound every other day--scary fast. Then, about ten days ago, the weight loss stopped. I haven't gained anything back, but I'm bouncing around the same weight. My guess: the painkillers caused me to lose water weight and once they were out of my system the water weight headed back toward normal, offsetting any weight-loss. Result: initially exaggerated weight loss followed by the illusion of a plateau. I've been tracking my calories and exercise on Fitbit for 69 days so far and have only gone over my target calories one time.

So how have I spent my downtime? For several weeks I was so doped up on painkillers that I mostly sat in front of the TV with a goofy smile on my face or dozed in front of the TV. I watched a lot of NCIS. I did sort out some books, papers and videos to get rid of, but that's about the only useful thing I did.

Once I got the painkillers out of my system, I spent most of my time editing a short novel. I know this isn't the way you're supposed to edit a novel, but I start out by line-editing it in chunks of 6000 to 8000 words. I do two passes, with a goal of cutting the word count by around 20% without changing the meaning significantly. I can usually reach that goal because my rough drafts are way too wordy. I finished the line-edits on the novel a couple days ago and took a few days off before tackling the next writing challenge.

I usually look at a novel scene by scene after I do the line-edits and do high-level edits then--moving scenes around, adding new scenes and deleting weak ones. Most people do high-level edits first so they don't spend time editing scenes that later get deleted. I understand the logic of editing that way, but doing the line-edits first helps me get back into the story, reduces the size of the scenes for later passes and lets me see polished version of the scenes, as good as I can make them. If they don't make the cut when I do the scene review it will be because there is something inherently wrong with the scene, not because of sloppy writing.

Exchange and All Timelines Lead To Rome
dalecoz
If you've been curious about my first two novels and you read e-books, this is a good time to buy. From now through the end of April, they're both $1,99 at Amazon in Kindle edition, which also works with the Kindle reader apps for iPads, iPod, Android tablets and even computers. That's down from $4,99 and $6.99 respectively.

The buy link for All TImelines is www.amazon.com/Timelines-Lead-Rome-Dale-Cozort-ebook/dp/B009BWKF30/

The buy link for Exchange is www.amazon.com/Exchange-Dale-R-Cozort-ebook/dp/B0041VXD8A/

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