One Hell Of An Offer

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Modestine was aware of the gap in her memory, the section of consciousness that was removed and two separate events seamlessly spliced together in a non-jarring, dream jump-cut fashion.

The first partial memory was of Modestine stepping out of the shower. Her petite foot missed the rubberized shower mat by inches and instead slid along the wet tiled floor. Her vision shifted up toward the ceiling and her eyes locked on the one hundred watt energy saving fluorescent light bulb. The next instant, at the point of the splice, she found herself standing inside a pair of pearlescent gates, as patient as the lamb she was in life.

She was dead, of this there was no doubt. There was also no cause for alarm. She had no memory of either fear, pain or the precise moment of her death. That was the portion that was mercifully removed from her awareness, no doubt to aid in her acceptance of events.

Modestine watched the hubbub of nervous yet joyous chatter and a flurry of feathers as angels tested their wings in the air above her. They flew from structure to structure — she hesitated thinking of the impossibly tall spires as buildings because their various shapes defied her limited perceptions of architecture — getting the lay of the land. Though no one told her, she somehow knew this commotion was normal for the first day of new arrivals in heaven.

While she waited, Modestine’s eyes drifted over to an ornate pulpit offset to the right of the gates. This, she assumed, was where the welcoming saint was supposed to have been stationed, but Peter was nowhere in sight. She noticed a few pages had fallen from the ledger on the pulpit, so she spent a little of the time laying the leafs out, deciding the order they should go in, and locating the exact spots in the book they had fallen from.

Finally, an angel arrived, tall and thin with black horn-rimmed eyeglasses he no longer needed. A remnant of his physical life that he clung to, a misconception that it was a permanent part of his appearance. A trapping that would fade in time. This was yet another thing Modestine had known without being told.

The glasses made the angel look bookwormish and out of place in their surroundings. Then she felt guilty for judging his appearance. Who was she to do this? She, who had always been short and mousy in the physical world, what her mother affectionately called the uns — undertall and unassuming. She wondered what she looked like to him and if the same rules of beauty still applied here.

“Hi, I’m Modestine.” she offered a hand and a smile simultaneously.

Bookworm eyed her head to toe and back to head again, before taking her hand for two firm pumps. He opened his mouth and let out a high-pitched screeching noise, intense enough to rock her celestial molars.

Modestine, who graduated magna cum laude in never let ’em see you sweat university, replied, “Pleased to meet you…” and she tried her best to match the noise he made… but came up a little short. A lot short, actually.

Bookworm let out a burst of short laughs like a semi-automatic weapon. “Just messing with you. My name’s Phil. Welcome to Heaven!”

Modestine didn’t really get the joke but smiled anyway. “Are you here to give me the guided tour?” she asked.

“Heavens no,” Phil replied. “That’ll come later, once all this dies down. Saint Peter sends his apologies, by the way…”

“Oh, that’s no problem at all.”

“I’m here to take you to class.”

“Oh, okay.” Modestine followed behind Phil, a little unsteady on her wings, but through sheer determination managed to keep up.

Phil led her past fields of flora and fauna, the likes of which she could never have dreamed existed and finally into a structure that housed a vast amphitheater that was unmistakably set up like a classroom. Packed to capacity, its seats were filled with the most grotesque and vile creatures imaginable.

“Here you are.” Phil gestured in the direction of the amphitheater and was about to fly off.

“Wait! Wait!” Modestine caught his forearm and pulled him down to eye level. “Where do I sit?”

“At the podium, where else?” Even in Heaven, the duh look had a sting.

“What? Why?”

“Don’t tell me no one let you know?” Phil looked at the class with his best can you believe some people look. “You’re a teacher, right? Or were, before, you know…”

Modestine nodded, “Underprivileged kids. Twelve years.”

“Well…” Phil swept his arm in the direction of the class as if to answer.

“Oh, no… no way. I’m not qualified for this. I barely know what I’m doing here.”

“It’ll come to you as you need. Heaven’s cool that way.”

“But, this class…” Modestine whispered. “Not to be rude but what are they?”

“Our version of underprivileged students. They’re bussed in every day.”

“From Hell?”

“We tend not to use that term in front of the students. We call it The Basement.” Phil checked the invisible watch on his bare wrist. “Well, I’d love to stay and chat, but I’ve gotta run. Too many new recruits and not enough ushers. You’ll be great. I’ve got a feeling about you.” he smiled and shot into the sky, leaving Modestine’s jaw swinging on its hinges.

The once and now future teacher straightened out her ethereal robe, cleared her throat, turned and faced the class. “Pleased to meet you, class. My name is Modestine. Welcome to Introduction to Heaven.” The name she took off the lesson booklet on the podium. The completely blank lesson booklet. Beside it was the roster. “Hopefully you’re all in your assigned seats because it’s the only way I’m going to learn your names with a class this size.”

Modestine went through the attendance sheet and called her students one by one, each responding with a grunt or bodily noise that she assumed translated as “Present!” When she completed her check, surprisingly every student sat quietly or whispered inaudibly to their neighbor.

“Well, class, as some of you might have figured out, I’m new here, but don’t let that stop you from asking questions. My goal is to teach you everything about heaven, which means I’ll be learning it as you do, and if I don’t know an answer to your question, I’ll do my best to find out as quickly as possible. Today, though, I’m going to outline my expectations of you, and how you’ll be graded.”

The time passed swifter than Modestine had anticipated. Quite frankly she was surprised to be aware of the passing of time at all. For the most part, her students were orderly. A few class clowns, but nothing she couldn’t handle. She’d straighten them out before the course was over.

The entire class watched her closely, she never felt so scrutinized before, and a good deal of the period was spent answering questions about Earth. It wasn’t long before she realized these students were born in Hell and Earth was like some mythical place to them. When the earth questions began dying down, she introduced several icebreaking games before the class broke for recess.

As the class filed out of the amphitheater, some by flight, a few in a puff of eye-watering brimstone, and the rest on cloven feet, one student hung back.

“Miss Modestine,” the young demon said when all the others had left.

“Just Modestine, and, yes… ?” she searched the attendance sheet for the section he came from, hoping one of the names would jog her memory.

The demon shook his head. “You won’t find me on your list. I’m not one of your students.”

“You’re not? Then who… ?”

“Many names have I, from those who live and those who die, but for you, I wish to be known as Mister Thatch.”

Modestine frowned, looking down at this creature who straighten itself in an odd regality. “All right, Mr. Thatch… what is it you want?”

Thatch pulled a file folder from seemingly nowhere and opened it. “Interesting session today. I’m assuming you taught the class off the cuff, as I am unable to identify any of what was discussed in the pre-approved syllabus, correct?”

“As I stated at the beginning of class, this assignment was thrust upon me at the last moment, so if you have any objections…”

“No, please, you mistake my meaning. I’m not here to condemn you, I was simply assessing your performance. It’s what I was hired to do.”

“By whom?”

“Your superiors would call them Basement Management.”

“And do my superiors know you’re here?”

“They should. It would make for a shoddy operation if they didn’t. Now, as to my assessment,” he pulled a document from his folder, stapled in the top left-hand corner. “Here is an offer from my employers for you to teach your course to a larger audience of underprivileged students. Please study it carefully and feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns. Please be aware that agreement to the terms as stipulated in the contract will require you to abandon your post here. Out of curiosity, are you willing to relocate?”

Modestine stared dumbstruck at the professionally worded document in her hands. An immediate and instant “No” rested on the tip of her tongue but never quite made it past her lips, because, in her quick scan, she found a list of perks that tickled each and every one of her many interests, as any temptation worth its salt should have done.

“I’ll need to read this more closely, Mr. Thatch, before I can respond, of course.”

“Of course. I think you’ll find the compensation quite reasonable. If you have questions, you may ask me at any time. We have high expectations and we’re positive you can fulfill them, Miss Modestine.”

“Just Modestine, and why me?”

“You’re new and, as yet, unjaded by the caste system. We look forward to working with you.” Thatch held out a hand, which Modestine took. It was remarkably soft, despite its texture. “Enjoy the rest of your day.”

Modestine watched as the demon simply evaporated from the room. She looked at the contract. Am I willing to relocate? she asked herself as she walked over to her desk, sat and read the agreement more thoroughly. Again, she found it difficult to verbalize the word “No”. Chiefly because she loved working with underprivileged students and they didn’t come more disadvantaged than the denizens of The Basement. The second reason was she’d always preferred warmer climates and there was an odd constant chill to the air in Heaven…

Sally forth and be weighing out your options ’cause heaven ain’t for everybodyingly writeful.

– Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

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The Folds of Love

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When the delivery truck pulls up outside the shop, neither of us look out the window ’cause we know exactly who it is. 12:15 pm on the dot means Department of Tissue Waste Removal. Light load today. Driver only schleps in one body bag.

“You’re up, Mickey.” Jhonni nods my way. “Snag ‘n tag salvageables and dip the rest.”

Mickey. Only other person to ever call me that was my pops. I hated when he did it and I damn sure hate that my boss somehow exposed that raw nerve. He only does it to get a rise outta me, but I ain’t bitin’ so I let it slide this time. My mistake? Tellin’ baldilocks here I prefer bein’ called Michelle.

Snag ‘n tag means I gotta dissect the corpse for salvagables, which are any organs that ain’t completely shot to shit and dip whatever’s left over in the chemical vat for DNA repurposin’ — usually either cosmetic skin grafts, lifelike mannequins for movie stunts or some other bioengineerin’ bullshit I don’t really understand.

I sigh, chuck the rest of the deck onto my game of solitaire — cards weren’t cooperating, no how — and walk over to the body bag. I ain’t squeamish about dead bodies or puttin’ the blade to ’em, but I do have one hangup…

I hear myself mutterin’ before I have a chance to stop it, “Don’tbeadudedon’tbeadudedon’tbeadude…” and when I unzip the bag, guess what? A dude. So’s we’re clear, I gots no prob flaying a man, it’s just that chick thing that does me in. You gals know what I’m talking about.

Every man a woman meets, she sizes him up and decides if she’d throw him one. Sex, I mean. Young, old, fat, skinny, short, tall… alive or dead, you rate ’em. Would you do ’em, could you do ’em and under what circumstances? A dare? Boredom? For the story? Only me, I got this vivid imagination, see, and when I come across a mutilated dude, I see myself having sex with him. And no, I ain’t no nekkidphiliac, they’re very much alive in my scenarios, just all banged up, pardon the expression.

This one, Ethan Garner, by the toe tag, was tore up from the floor up. Anythin’ worth savin’ would be an innard and not one that’d bring high market value, either. Somethin’ nickel and dime like an appendix, spleen, or some shit.

The fluorescents buzz overhead and sweat breaks out on my forehead as I hear Ethan groan beneath me in my mind’s eye. Think of a dude I know, think of a dude I know. No good. Where’s my iPod? I need a distraction.

The cause of death is listed as Industrial Misadventure which meant poor old Ethan was mangled by machinery, probably one of them press and fold jobbers. His body looks like a bedsheet fresh out the package, tucked up all tight into a tidy square. How the hell am I going to get inside to harvest organs?

I put a little elbow grease into it, dig my fingers into a crease — an armpit, maybe? — and try to pry it apart. Bones creak and skin pulls apart from skin with the sound of moist velcro. I’m sweatin’ buckets now, cause in my head, Ethan is givin’ me the workout of a lifetime, only I can’t see his face so it’s like doing it with a Hot Pocket with a hard-on. Focus, Mickey! Focus! Damn, now that bastard’s got me doin’ it.

With the back of my blade, I scrape away the dried blood, which there’s plenty of, and I find a seam. That’s right, a goddammed seam! Now, I wasn’t exactly top of my class in Biology, but I’m kinda certain the human body don’t come equipped with seams. But I’m curious about this so I make my first cut along Ethan’s unnatural hem.

My fingers move into the cut and part skin. I tilt the swing arm lamp to get a better view and the light catches somethin’ that makes my stomach hitch. Whoever bagged this on scene fucked up big time, which I suppose is kinda-sorta understandable, given the unusual nature of the cause of death, but if I reported it, it’d probably cost that slob their job. The Office of Forensic Affairs forgives a ton of infractions, unfortunately, body count ain’t one of ’em. This was incorrectly listed as a single, when Ethan here, is wrapped around a whole other body.

The second body’s a smaller one, a girl, judging by the tiny pink-painted fingernails, and in the middle of a splatter of brain matter is a child-sized tiara, pressed between them like a flower in a book. The sex visions with Ethan stop instantly and my stomach heaves as I try not to hurl.

My jumpsuit is dripping with sweat and it clings to my clammy body to the point it makes my skin crawl. And then my trusty dusty brain, with its wonderful imagination, kicks into overdrive and I play the story of their final moments.

Ethan works — worked — works in laundry services. It’s bring your daughter to work day. Maybe he’s a weekend dad that doesn’t get to spend enough quality time with his baby girl and he fights the court order and pushes for this until he’s able to negotiate terms.

So he brings her to his job and she insists on wearing the little princess halloween costume, the one with the tiara, and he can’t say no because she is his little princess. Things are going great and he tells her to be careful and stick close to him, but he gets distracted for a moment, maybe by his boss about special instructions on a rush job or somethin’.

The little girl tries to be good and listen to her daddy, but curiosity gets the better of her and she climbs on a piece of machinery she shouldn’t climbin’ and Ethan’s dad-alarm goes off and he spots her, losing her balance and he runs for her… runs and dives with no care for his own safety and he manages to grab hold of her but it’s too late and they both fall into the machine before his coworkers can hit the shut off switch.

So, Ethan does the only thing he knows to do… he wraps himself around the little girl and folds her in his love, as the machine does what it’s designed to do.

It probably ain’t even in the same neighborhood as the actual events, but even though my story is most likely bullshit, it’s still real to me. it’s what I choose to believe.

And it breaks my heart ’cause that’s how I wish it was with me and my pop, but after moms died, we can’t be in the same room for ten minutes without it breakin’ into some big production. I know he means well, but who the hell is he to give me instructions on how I should live my life? Holder the Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition Lifetime Achievement Award, is who.

I carefully harvest the tiara and clean body residue out of every nook and cranny. Then I place the plastic jewelry on a towel and carefully fold it into the best presentable package I can manage.

“Fuck’re you doing over there, Mickey?” Jhonni says over his shoulder.

And suddenly I can’t do this anymore, not just Ethan and this nameless little girl, but any of it. I peel the sopping wet jumpsuit off me and throw it at my boss. “Quitin’ is what I’m doin’.” Correction, my ex-boss.

I take the tiara package over to the phone and search the directory for Forensic Affairs. “And it’s Michelle, by the way, you fat piece of garbage. Call me outside my name again and somebody’ll be unzippin’ you from one of those bags.”

I expect a response, an argument, a something… but he just sits there and takes it quietly. Makes me think this isn’t the first time somethin’ like this has happened.

I dial the number. Do I feel sorry for the person about to lose their job? Sure, but fuck ’em. There’re more important matters at hand. There’s a family that needs reunitin’.

And maybe, just maybe, I’ll make another call after this one. It has been a while since I spoke to the old man, after all.

Sally forth and be folding them what you care for into your lovingly writeful.

– Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

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The Anniversary Meal

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As Amantha carefully diced the spleen, she caught herself. Lost in the preparation of the meal, she absently sang a song under her breath. Normally, this wouldn’t have been a problem but she was doing it in her native tongue, a dead language that might have revealed her true identity, had anyone heard it. Not that they’d have been able to pinpoint what she was exactly, but they would have sussed she wasn’t what she appeared to be.

She bit the inside of her cheek as she marinated the kidneys, the pain and the coppery tang of blood in her mouth served as a reminder to be more cautious. The head that had been severed and chilled on ice overnight to preserve its freshness, was placed in the stewpot to dissolve in a broth that smelled faintly of sulfur. She would have to remember to do the same with the hands and feet and all the other body parts that couldn’t be disguised as normal cuts of meat.

Anal to a fault, Amantha arranged all the innards neatly on the countertop and went to work on deboning the torso and limbs, the bones of which would join the head in the liquefying broth. She knew she had plenty of time to get rid of the evidence, but she also wanted time to get dressed and made up before Onathan arrived. It was their one year anniversary and she wanted the meal to go without a hitch because suspected he was going to propose tonight.

“He’s going to propose tonight,” she let slip aloud as she slit open the intestines to clean them. If only she had studied the language better, none of this food preparation would have been necessary.

Onathan’s mother was an important figure in his life, more a best friend than a parent, and he wanted to include her in the anniversary celebration, which Amantha had no problem with because she enjoyed the old woman’s company, she just wished he had phrased his wish differently.

His exact words were, “Do you mind if we had Mom over for dinner? It’s a special night that I want to share with her. Since Dad died, she’s been alone in that house and it’s not good for her.”

“Of course I don’t mind,” Amantha answered, playing the question over and over in her mind. “If you’re sure that’s what you want.”

“You’re amazing. I can’t believe how understanding you are.” Onathan pulled her into him and gave her the biggest kiss. Surely, she had gotten it right this time. The kiss made her confident that her first interpretation was accurate.

Amantha called Onathan’s mother over late last night after he had gone to bed and she came without question or hesitation. Either she was the most selfless person on the planet or she truly was lonely in that big house all by herself. This would be a good thing.

No stranger to the procedure, Amantha treated her hopefully soon-to-be-late mother-in-law to refreshments laced with a two-part toxin. The first substance was mixed into the pâte sucrée and would have passed through her system harmlessly, had it not bonded with the chemical placed in the sherry. Death was instantaneous and painless.

The phone rang not a few seconds later. It was her mother. When Amantha relayed the news and what Onathan asked and what she had done, there was silence on the other end of the line.

A chill ran down Amantha’s spine. Before her mother said a word, she knew she had gotten it wrong once again. English was such a bastard of a tricky language.

“These humans, they’re not like us, Ammie.” her mother said. “Relatives do not sacrifice themselves for celebration feasts nor do they feel pride in eating kin.”

“But what am I going to do, Mother?” the rising panic made her body quake.

“Are you sure she’s dead?”

Amantha prodded the old woman’s arm with her shoe. “No doubt about it. I followed your recipe to the letter.”

“Looks like you have no choice but to tell him the truth.”

“The truth? I can’t do that! Hi, honey, remember your mother? I killed her by mistake last night, sorry. He’ll never marry me now!”

“Then play ignorant.” her mother suggested. “Human females do it all the time.”

“And what about the body?”

“It isn’t a body anymore, it’s evidence. If you intend to live a lie, you’ll have to get rid of it.”

“I can’t move the body, somebody will see me!”

“Who said anything about moving the body?” her mother said nothing further, waiting patiently for her daughter to catch on.

“You mean cook her?”

“You were going to do it anyway.”

“I–I can’t. That would be wrong.”

Turned out she could. After hours of playing out scenarios in her head, she decided she couldn’t live without Onathan and he wouldn’t want to live with her if he found out the truth.

The difficult part was hiding the body until Onathan left for work in the morning. Amantha thought she had tipped her hand when she rushed him through breakfast and out the door. One of his mother’s earrings was on the kitchen floor, right beside his shoe! It was so close that if she made any move to retrieve it, he would have noticed.

But all that was behind her now, as she opened the refrigerator to get the older woman’s eyeballs to mash into a jelly topping for the dessert. But they weren’t there. She searched everywhere she hid body parts, everywhere they could have rolled but there were no eyeballs! She distinctly remembered plucking them out of their sockets last night.

How could she have misplaced them? Amantha knew she had to find them before Onathan came home in two hours. She threw herself into overdrive and tore the house apart, all the while cursing herself for not being more careful. The last thing she wanted was to have Onathan accidentally stumble upon one of the elusive orbs. He might not recognize it as one of his mother’s, but at the end of the day, it was a human eye and while she didn’t completely understand human culture, she was sure finding random eyeballs in your house wasn’t a common practice.

Amantha finally found them, yes, in the refrigerator. They somehow managed to roll off the saucer and landed in the crisper. She breathed a sigh of relief… until she looked at the clock; Onathan was going to be home in less than an hour, and she not only hadn’t finished dinner yet but now the house was a complete mess.

She prepared the dessert in record time then hopped on the massive chore of tidying up the house. Just as she put the finishing touches on her makeup, the doorbell rang.

Amantha sat on pins and needles the entire dinner. What if he recognized his mother’s taste? A silly concern but it plagued her nonetheless.

Onathan seemed nervous as well, his eye constantly checking the wall clock or shooting over his shoulder to the front door. It didn’t stop him from enjoying the meal and he ate everything placed before him. At the end of the meal. he accidentally knocked his fork on the floor. Amantha was about to comment on how clumsy he was when he came up on one knee with a ring in his hand. “I was going to wait until mother arrived, but I feel now’s the perfect time, after the perfect meal.”

And that was all it took. The dam of emotions she tried to suppress all evening burst wide open and Amantha began to cry uncontrollably.

“D-did I do something wrong?” Onathan said, confused. “I thought you wanted this?”

“No, no, I do want this,” she said, her breath hitching. “Just not this way.”

“I don’t understand.”

“It’s not you, you’re fine. Really, really fine. It’s me. I have something to tell you…”

Sally forth and be truthful to your better half should you accidentally murder themingly writeful.

– Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

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Things Kept Precious

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My mother warned me to guard the things I held precious by keeping them hidden inside me. The only thing I held precious was her and I found it impossible to place her inside my body. I was too young to understand she was talking about love. Too young to save the best parts of my mother’s love in my heart. Too consumed by the hate caused by her leaving me on my own. Too young to accept that death comes to us all.

It was hard to hold onto her love. Hard because I watched her body decay and rot away to nothingness. I watched to see the precious things she kept inside her and where she managed to hide them so I could do the same. I never found them. I watched as I picked vermin from her flesh and fought away carrion from her decaying form, until the day she was unrecognizable to me.

In particular, I watched her heart. Who knew what was inside there but I knew it was fragile because my mother spoke many times about how it had been broken. She said, “Sometimes you have to break a heart to find out how strong it really is.”

But when her heart became visible, I couldn’t see any cracks. I watched it as it bruised like an apple and disintegrated away. Nothing inside it but emptiness. I was hoping to see love—even though I had no idea what love looked like—or at least be privy to some secret that would explain the world to me. I found none of those things.

Her heart was a chamber for maggots. That was what my mother kept precious. Little disgusting creatures that fed off her body. They were everywhere. Stripping my mother of her beauty.

It grew harder to remember her face. I tried to recall the last time I saw her eyes or her smile but that memory was too distant in the past, lost in the forest of forgetfulness.

Occasionally I dreamt of my mother, standing in a room somewhere I had never been but yet felt so familiar to me, her face was a storm. Clouds roiled where features should have been. When she spoke, her voice was a swarm of black bees the drained the life of anything it touched. The bees blotted out the room and ate a pet dog I only had in dreams and never in real life, before coming for me.

I would run from the house and through the trees, down a dirt path that led to a black pond of brackish water. The water called to me and I was torn for the water was frightening, but so too were the bees who devoured trees on their way to eat me.

No real choice at all, I dove into the pond and discovered the water was actually tar and I was being pulled in, just as other creatures foolish enough to make the same mistake, the same fear-based choice as I had.

My nose and mouth filled with hot thick liquid, bitter molasses that scorched my insides, and melted me like butter on the griddle.

I woke alone in the dark, choking for air, my chest weighted with the heaviness of fear. My breathing was a thick, wet noise like someone sloshing through mud — or tar! — and I no longer felt safe in this world, so I did the only thing I could think to do.

I crawled inside the remains of my mother’s body and wrapped her tight around me so that I could be the thing she kept precious.

Sally forth and be keeping things preciousingly writeful.

– Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

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Beast of the Illusory Moon

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“Mǣnōn concede to me the quietude to recognize the effects I should not alter; the bravery to transform the conditions I am able to; and insight to recognize the distinction,” he prayed to the moon. Not Luna, the other one, Mǣnōn, the illusory moon that sat back and to the left. The moon that was only visible every four years on the twenty-ninth of February.

* * *

He had never been so disappointed in himself as he stared at the nubiles sauntering in and out of the bars and nightclubs that lined the strip. The passersby, those who bothered to toss him a sideward glance, sussed him as an alcoholic, but his problem was far more severe than that.

His affliction stemmed from the fact that everyone had two sides, no matter how open and honest they appeared to be. There was the side they showed the world and the beast side that only revealed its face when they were all alone. It wasn’t necessarily as evil as it sounded, but it was there nonetheless. And there was no way of really knowing someone’s true nature unless they revealed it to you.

But he saw it. On this night, with this gift that wasn’t so much a present as it was a curse that gnawed at his sanity. He saw the true faces of evil that hunkered down behind the tall brush of fashion, cosmetics and innocence. And sometimes the evil caught sight of him as well.
He spotted a woman as she appeared from one of the clubs, ultraviolet stamp still moist on the back of her hand, Ten years his junior, she was stunningly beautiful in an exotic way that unsettled him. Her auburn hair cascaded over the shoulders of her white satin dress and gave her the appearance of an old-world masterpiece come to life.

The woman walked past a Chinese take-out joint and an exposed bank ATM before she sensed she was being followed. When she turned, he knew she had seen him for what he was as clearly as he had spotted her. Her countenance shifted from serene beauty to that of a woodland creature frozen in the headlights of a speeding vehicle. But it wasn’t fear that registered in her eyes—she was making a decision, flight or fight.

The moment her face tightened with determination, he knew she would rabbit. And she did. She spun on the balls of her feet, kicked off her heels and bolted out into the street, dodging cars as she ran against the traffic, inhuman toenails ripping into the tarmac.

He grinned as he whipped out past the parked cars; he loved it when they ran. His reflexes, sharp normally, were amped under the light of the illusory moon and hope blazed within him as he was about to overtake her easily. In this mode, before what had to happen actually happened, he saw himself as a savior. What he had to do was in everyone’s best interest, even hers. He would not fail this time. He intended to honor his duty. And as he was about to lay his hand on her shoulder and set things right—he heard a wet thumping sound and felt a sharp pain shoot down to his marrow as a car bumper made contact with his hip and sent him sprawling into a lamppost.

Nausea and blood mixed in his mouth and as he looked up through blurred vision, he could just make out the woman’s lithe frame turning down a side street. A voice cried out amidst the murmurs in the background, “I’m sorry,” it said. “You came out of nowhere! I didn’t see you in time!”

Voices shouted and people rushed to the scene from both sides of the street. He fought the pain and forced himself to his feet. He had to leave before the cops showed up. Too many witnesses. He couldn’t have explained why he was chasing the girl in the first place. Who would have believed him? To bystanders, he surely must have looked like a psycho ex-boyfriend or worse, a perverted sex deviant.

He kept his head low and shielded his face from camera phones as he pushed through a crowd of people asking if he was okay, hobbling towards the side street, hoping against hope that he hadn’t lost her trail.

* * *

He still couldn’t fathom why he was chosen. Had he been a cop or any other branch of law enforcement, this might have been so much easier. Easier to pursue, apprehend and deal with a special brand of evil on a particular night every four years. But as a thirty-seven-year-old accountant, what was he supposed to do? How long could this go on before he was caught, or even worse killed? He had no social life, how could he? This thing made him unfit for human consumption. And what if he managed to hook up with a woman only to see, come February twenty-ninth, what sort of demon lurked beneath her cool surface? He knew he had to quit at some point. Maybe tonight, if he were able to resolve this in time, he would petition Mǣnōn to find a replacement.

Along with his heighten abilities came the urge to scour the streets and rid the city of pestilence. It was a basic bodily function to him, as much a part of his continued existence as breathing.

He limped around the corner, his pace picking up as his fractured bones knitted themselves back together and his muscles and internal organs returned to their optimal state. The neighborhood wasn’t the safest to begin with and those with a modicum of common sense stayed on the crowded strip in well-lit areas. The side street was dark, streetlamps busted on both sides, which was most likely why she chose this as an escape route. Nothing but places in which she could hide.

He moved into the street and swiped a finger across a bit of dug up tarmac, touched it to his tongue, and smacked his lips, processing the taste of her. Motionless, twilight settled on him as he cleared his mind—then he picked up her trail that led to an alley.

“You don’t have to do this,” she called out from somewhere in the dark.

“Yes, I do,” he said at the mouth of the alley, scanning the blackness as his eyes adjusted to the starlight. The woman was well hidden.

The buildings on either side were nonresidential but there was life here, he could feel it. And somewhere amongst the vermin and strays was the woman who was not a woman. He stepped into the darkness and inhaled deeply. As he could not detect her outright, he would have to eliminate all the things she was not. He sifted through the odors of rotten refuse and the rancid liquid that leaked from the overstuffed garbage bags. Dismissed the stink of vomit, urine and feces from canine, feline, rodent and human alike. Until, halfway down the block, the faintest trace tickled his nostrils. A musk that was most certainly not of human origin.

“You might as well come out,” he said, standing in front of a restaurant dumpster.

The lid raised slowly as the woman stood, her still oddly beautiful face and body smeared with dumpster sludge which was how she tried to mask her scent. “I haven’t hurt anyone.”

“Yet,” he spat.

“Please, let me go.” Her voice, soft as a butterfly’s footfall, was in itself a plea for life. She stared at him, eyes watering, lips pursed into a small quivering bow. It was plain to see she wanted to live.

“That isn’t the way this works. The earth must be cleansed of all unnatural beasts.”

The woman suddenly began fishing through the dumpster. He tensed, ready to pounce.

“No, wait!” she put up a hand, palm out. “It’s not a weapon. Just my clutch.” Her other hand came into view above the dumpster lid holding a small purse.

“You said all unnatural beasts must be cleansed?” she thumbed the clutch latch open.

“Yes,” he calculated the distance and felt certain he would be on her before the gun, knife or whatever she was carrying could clear the bag.

“No exceptions?” she produced a disc and held it up for his inspection.

“None whatsoever.”

The woman opened the disc, revealing a compact mirror and held it up, catching the faintest bit of night light. “Have you seen yourself?”

His expression turned from predator to absolute horror. His jaw clenched, clamping down upon a shriek, and his grip loosened on the urge and anger. He dropped down on his haunches. She was right. In the reflection, he could see what no normal human eye could see, that he was a beast, no different than she.

“How do you think you’re able to spot us? Didn’t it ever occur to you that it takes a beast to catch a beast?”

Neither moved in those long seconds that stretched like eternity and the city din was drowned out by the sound of two creatures breathing in near synchrony.

“Leave,” he eventually said in a low growl.

“You’re letting me go?”

“Run!”

The woman hopped out of the dumpster, giving him a wide berth as she tore out of the alleyway. “Thank you, mister! Thank you!” her voice echoed off the walls.

***

He was a failure, much as he had been his entire life at almost everything he attempted. Relationships. A career. A family to carry on his legacy or better yet, to improve upon his mistakes and build their own legacies. And now this. All the nights on the prowl over all these years, he failed at ridding the world of a single beast. There was only one thing left to do.

He found a neighborhood playground as far removed from nightlife activity as he could manage, unbuttoned his shirt and fell to his knees, arms stretched out to the waning illusory moon.

“Living one moon at a time; enjoying one solstice at a time; tolerating adversity as the conduit to tranquility; acquiring, as you do, this aberrant humanity as it is, not as I would wish it; believing that you will set all things right if I submit to your command; that I may be satisfied in this life and rewarded with you forever in the next,” his guttural voice trailed off to a whisper.

His prayer completed, he dug his claws into his chest and tore out his heart, marveling at how little blood there was.

To his surprise and delight, Mǣnōn, the illusory moon, embraced the essence of his being without hesitation or chastisement. For the first time in his life, on the first day of his death, he felt as if he finally belonged.

©2014 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

Of Air Returned (1988)

images

i.

I burned my soul to ash but the pain paled in comparison to the terror that struck my heart like a match, anticipating her arrival and the tirade she would carry in tow. An unwarranted fear, as she was calm when she saw what I had done. Calm and nurturing. Soothing my pain with herbs and aromas, and each early morning during the hour of the wolf, she laid an ear on my back and listened as my soul mended itself.

She never spoke the words of disappointment aloud but it registered in her eyes. Although residing within my body, this wounded thing, this unwanted soul, did not belong to me. She had laid claim to it many years past, and in my despondency, I had taken liberties with her property and attempted to destroy it. Again.

ii.

The first time, I threw my soul into a sinkhole and allowed the ground to swallow it whole. I made her acquaintance when she plucked it from the soil like a tattered tuber. “I saw what you did,” she said. “And since you would so recklessly toss this precious thing away, it is no longer yours, but mine, agreed?” I nodded and she handed my soul back to me for safe keeping.

I honored our pact for a few years, caring for it within my limited capacity, but during a particularly nasty bout of depression, I tied heavy stones to my soul and pushed it off the sea wall. For a second time, she appeared, fishing my soul from the waves and scolded me, “You are charged with protecting this thing that is mine, do you understand?” Again, I nodded. Again, I lied.

iii.

“Why do you want this worthless soul when it has been crushed by the earth? Why do you want it when it has been drowned in the sea? Why do you want it when it has been set aflame like so much tinder?” I searched long and hard yet found no answer in her silence.

iv.

During the day, when she thought me preoccupied, she secreted herself in the shadows and slept. One day I followed her into the darkness and watched her body twitch from dreaming and listened as she muttered,

One more soul, once buried deep.
One more soul, in ocean steeped.
One more soul, by fire burned.
One more soul, of air returned.

v.

Under her care, my soul grew healthier and it frightened me. I was pitilessly plagued and badgered by the phrase, One more soul, of air returned, that repeated in my mind’s ear until it turned dogged and cacophonous. But she was unaware of my inner torment, in fact, she was in an exceptionally good mood today, her voice almost a song, “I know you don’t see it, but you are a gift, you are. You have no idea just how special.”

vi.

Today was the day. I felt it in my marrow. Something was destined to happen, something I most likely would not survive. I should have embraced this eerie premonition, for it was no secret that I did not want to continue in this manner, broken, detached and alone. But the choice of how and when I departed this wretched life was mine to make and mine alone. So, I stalled by distracting her with trivialities. “May I have more broth? Have you seen my shoes? No, not that pair, the other ones? Can we go for a walk?” If she knew my plan, her expression never showed sign. No request was too large or small on this day. She granted them all.

vii.

We strolled along the pathway in the park that led to the duck pond, a place we visited often during my convalescence. Picked, naturally, as not to arouse suspicion as I searched for the proper diversion in order to make my escape. But I was so wrapped in my own thoughts, I failed to notice that she was walking slower than usual today. “Can we rest a moment?” she asked as we neared the benches. “I am a little short of breath.”

Her breathing became a labored and raspy thing before it hitched and became lodged in her throat. When her face went dusky blue and she slid off the park bench, I panicked. The opportunity had presented itself and there I stood like an idiot, frozen. Entangled in the decision of whose life to save, or more accurately, whose death I could live with.

There was no real choice.

viii.

Her breathing was a trembling, liquid sound as I pressed my mouth to hers and exhaled, but instead of me breathing air into her body, I felt her sucking air from my lungs, and not just air…

I tried desperately to pull away but her thin, vise-like hands clamped down on the nape of my neck and held me firm in a kiss that was collapsing me. My hold on life became dim and futile, but before I slipped away into emptiness, I noticed the oddest thing: her belly began to swell.

Every fiber of my actuality was drawn into her, and my soul, the object I had forever been so reckless with, was systematically being stripped of concern, of negativity, of identity. I fell further and further into a darkness that pressed on me from all sides. So tight, so constricted. I was still unable to breathe but the sensation was somehow different now.

At the very moment when it seemed the darkness was about to claim me for eternity, there came a burst of light so bright as to cut my eyes. Thankfully something soon blotted out the light – a face, slowly coming into focus but I knew her before I saw her. From the moment I heard her soft cooing, “You are a gift, you are. You have no idea just how special.”

Mother.

©1988 & 2016 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

Unlock Your Inner Story

Skeleton X-Ray - Locked Mind

They say, “Everyone has at least one good book in them” and while I think book might be a bit of a stretch, I wholeheartedly believe that everyone has at least one good story in them. The natural length—the pure story without padding or the encumbrance of unnecessary detail or description—of which can range from flash fiction (under 1,000 words) to short story (under 7,500 words) to novelette (7,500 to 17,500 words) to novella (17,500 to 40,000 words) to a proper novel (over 40,000 words).

No matter how non-creative you believe yourself to be, your brain is nonetheless gifted with the special ability of imagination, and regardless of how infrequently you put it to use, you still are able to dream up intricate realities, despite your age or IQ level. Haven’t we all, at one time or another, projected a new reality in our minds in the form of daydreaming our desires? And no two daydreams are exactly the same since we each possess unique preferences, points of view, wants and needs.

Yet, even armed with the knowledge of this gift, we, as writers, tend to suffer because we either do not fully believe in or properly comprehend our true nature as creators. Sure, we continue to imagine “what if” scenarios but sometimes we find it difficult to allow those thoughts to flow through us—the conduit—and blossom into the stories they need to become.

The following list isn’t a step-by-step “how to” guide, because no one can tell you precisely what you need to do to access your inner story. You are a totally unique entity, after all. View it more as a broom to help you sweep away the clutter piled up on the footpath to your personal tale.

1. Examine your self-image.

The first battle you must face is the one against your self-image. You are more than pen and paper, more than a keyboard, more than “just another writer” or more than whatever obstacle your past or conditioning has placed in your path. The main reason why most writers fail to connect with their inner story is because of their limited knowledge of who they truly are.

As flawed human beings we are so engrossed with the perceptions of who we are that we fail to see that we are usually the source for the reality we have created for ourselves. Sure, the walls of the prison may have been constructed by events of the past, by family, peers or environment, but we continue to fortify the walls and never once open the lock–the key is always in our possession–push the cell door to step out into freedom.

This in no way suggests you have to deconstruct your self-image–unless that’s your goal, then by all means, have at it. You’re merely peeling away the layers of the identity you’ve created for yourself for societal purposes and exposing your core self, the real you. Don’t worry, it’s only for the exercise of writing. You can reapply your layers once you’re done.

Your secret identity is safe with me.

2. Take note of your gifts.

Different from writer traits–talent, the hunger for knowledge, and diligence–a writer’s gift can range from an eye for detail, to a flair for description, to a talent for dialogue. Or, you might not even be aware of your talents, so I want you to grab a piece of paper and something to write with and in 60 seconds jot down a list of what you’re good at. Don’t think about it. Simply jot down, off the top of your head, the things that come easiest to you when you write.

All done? Now take a long, hard, honest look at your list. The things you don’t concentrate on, those bits and bobs that just sort of come naturally to you when you write… those are your gifts. You’d be surprised to discover how many writers aren’t aware of their innate skills because they aren’t utilized in their everyday work lives and wind up being placed in the “Hobby” category.

3. Exploit your strengths. 

Since you’re bothering to read this, my guess is that you’ve written a couple of pieces already and maybe even finished a few of them. Now, if you’re an avid reader, you will have no doubt compared your piece to your author idols, and have developed the brutally honest ability to cast a critical eye upon your own work and spot areas in your writing that aren’t as strong as others. And since the writing isn’t perfect, you are therefore a horrible writer who should no longer legally be allowed to string a sentence together in an email, let alone write a story.

Maybe it’s true. Maybe you really are a bad writer–hey, they exist–but that’s not my call to make. I don’t know you, so I’ll assume you at least have some fundamental writing potential. However, no matter how good you are, there is one basic truth you must learn to face: Your writing will never be perfect. Why? As stated in a previous post: Because wunderkind wasn’t conveniently inserted into your backstory, and perfection isn’t DNA-encodable at this point in time. Still, you should always strive to get your writing as close to perfection as you can manage, and accept the fact that: It. Will. Not. Be. Perfect.

Maybe you can’t write a convincing love scene. Maybe you struggle with organic dialogue. Maybe you get stumped when attempting to create a character’s internal arc. Maybe you’re rubbish at tying up all your story’s loose threads. Console yourself in the knowledge that you wouldn’t be the first. A few of these “weaknesses” and more are true for authors of published works, some of which even make bestseller lists.

And because, as a writer, you are always a student and ever pushing yourself and learning new ways to hone your craft, you will eventually learn to strengthen your weaknesses. In the meantime, put all of the aspects of your writing into perspective, make a deal to stop beating yourself up so much, and focus on your strengths. They’re your “A” game.

4. Gird your loins against the enemy.

In addition to dealing with possible self-image barriers, there are other obstacles that can block your path: Fear, intimidation, procrastination, and self-doubt. The problem with these buggers is that they often take the form of lies you tell yourself. And they happen to be effective as hell because they insulate your brain from facing unpleasantries, in this case the difficult portions of the writing process that you need to slog through in order to strike gold.

The biggest lie you can tell yourself as a writer is, “I’ll do it later.” It’s a dishonest postponement because later never comes. If you don’t confront the enemies that keep you from your writing and tamp the bastards down long enough to complete your piece, then you don’t have what it takes to be a writer. Staring into the gaping maw of the harsh realities that terrify you is one of the most important parts of the process.

Slap a “H” on your chest and “Handle” it.

5. Identify your genre.

At this point, you arch an eyebrow and ask, “Rhyan, how can anyone not know the genre of their story?”

The answer lies within the fact that writers are creators. Some are resistant to the notion of placing labels or classifications on their work. For others, classification difficulties arise when their piece contains elements from several genres as some writers disagree with the act of limiting creative freedom in order to adhere to strictly delineated genre segregation.

For your audience, knowing the genre sets not only the stage, but their expectations as well, and puts them in the proper mindset to both understand and accept the rules of your story.

At this stage in the process, the importance of identifying your genre has to do with story mechanics. Certain elements step to the forefront and operate differently depending on genre, so you should be aware of the rules of the category–even if you decide to break them because of the maverick you are–as you’re arranging your idea into the proper story structure (see: Simple Anatomy of a Plot Outline).

6. Plant your feet firmly in the soil of your story.

This is your story. First and foremost, it must feel natural to you. No matter how fantastical the environment, how outrageous the yarn you’re spinning, if you don’t feel confident in the pocket dimension you’ve created, there’s little chance of you selling the story as being credible. Your job is to take utter nonsense and portray it with as much authenticity as possible.

7. Go with your gut.

Some people seek permission to write. Thinly disguised under the “Oh, it’s just an idea I’m toying with” veil, they will ask family and friends if they should write about such-and-such or if this-that-or-the-other-thing would make an interesting topic.

I urge you not to be this person.

I’m reminded of a quote by Jerome Lawrence, “The whole point of writing is to have something in your gut or in your soul or in your mind that’s burning to be written.” So, if you can actually feel inspiration or instinct churning like hot snakes in your gut to write, forget the opinions of those around you, disregard the idea of “should” and just go for it.

Never live with regret, if you can help it.

8. Do it now. No better time than the present. 

To snatch a line from Pixar’s Ratatouille “Why not here? Why not now?”

By now you know you must show up for writing everyday, and there’s no time like the present. So, why not find yourself a quiet spot, practice listening, and trust what you hear. That’s your inner story talking to you, and it not only has to be unlocked but it must be accessible at will.

I know it’s become hackneyed to instruct you to follow your bliss, but if you deny your instincts to do what you truly want to do, then the problem becomes one of trust. Do you trust the voice within you or do you trust reality as you are made to perceive it? Or, are you willing to trust the voice and write what you hear, no matter how crazy it sounds?

You have to learn to be compassionate with yourself, as well as having compassion for yourself. Especially during the vulnerable times when you’re blocked and can’t bring yourself to write because you’re scared you’ll be rejected. Take some small comfort in knowing you’re not alone in this.

Since all art must be criticized, every single published author had to overcome fear of rejection. What you need to keep in mind is that your audience–human, just the same as you–can only relate to your writing from their own experience, and sometimes their feedback will be negative. That doesn’t necessarily indicate problems in your writing, and may simply reflect a varying viewpoint.

But fear of rejection has no business rearing its ugly head right now as it’s time for you to honor your inner story by listening to the words it shares with you and writing about it. Trust me, if you’re willing to enjoy the process, you can write damn near anything.

So, why not sally forth and be inner story writeful?

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Writing Style Is the Dress of Thoughts

Parsing prose. Syntactical structure. Conceptual framework. Your writing style is the voice you use to speak to your audience and is more than just diction and the words you choose, as it offers a glimpse at your true personality. It takes the literal and transforms it into a subjective expression that evokes an emotional response from the reader.

As to how you develop a writing style… you write. Write what comes natural to you. Write without worrying about acceptance or being published. Write without concentrating on influences. But you’ve heard me bang on about this already, so I invited a few friends to help get you into the proper frame of mind:

1. “A good style must, first of all, be clear. It must not be mean or above the dignity of the subject. It must be appropriate.” — Aristotle

2. “Don’t say you were a bit confused and sort of tired and a little depressed and somewhat annoyed. Be tired. Be confused. Be depressed. Be annoyed. Don’t hedge your prose with little timidities. Good writing is lean and confident.” — William Zinsser

3. “Carefully examined, a good–an interesting–style will be found to consist in a constant succession of tiny, unobservable surprises.” — Ford Maddox Ford

4. “A good style should show no sign of effort. What is written should seem a happy accident.” — W. Somerset Maugham

5. “A strict and succinct style is that, where you can take away nothing with­out loss, and that loss to be manifest.” — Ben Jonson

6. “The hardest thing about writing, in a sense, is not writing. I mean, the sentence is not intended to show you off, you know. It is not supposed to be “look at me!” “Look, no hands!” It’s supposed to be a pipeline between the reader and you. Once condition of the sentence is to write so well that no one notices that you’re writing.” — James Baldwin

7. “The greatest possible mint of style is to make the words absolutely disappear into the thought.” — Nathaniel Hawthorne

8. “When you say something, make sure you have said it. The chances of your having said it are only fair.” — E.B. White

9. “I am well aware that an addiction to silk underwear does not necessarily imply that one’s feet are dirty. Nonetheless, style, like sheer silk, too often hides eczema.” — Albert Camus

10. “It was from Handel that I learned that style consists in force of assertion. If you can say a thing with one stroke, unanswerably you have style; if not, you are at best a marchande de plaisir, a decorative litterateur, or a musical confectioner, or a painter of fans with cupids and coquettes. Handel had power.” — George Bernard Shaw

11. “Who cares what a man’s style is, so it is intelligible, as intelligible as his thought. Literally and really, the style is no more than the stylus, the pen he writes with; and it is not worth scraping and polishing, and gilding, unless it will write his thoughts the better for it. It is something for use, and not to look at.” — Henry David Thoreau

12. “People think that I can teach them style. What stuff it all is! Have something to say, and say it as clearly as you can. That is the only secret of style.” — Matthew Arnold

13. “Style is the dress of thoughts; and let them be ever so just, if your style is homely, coarse, and vulgar, they will appear to as much disadvantage.” — Philip Dormer Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield

14. “A man’s style should be like his dress. It should be as unobtrusive and should attract as little attention as possible.” — C. E. M. Joad

15. “The style is the man himself.” — George-Louis Leclerc de Buffon

16. “The old saying of Buffon’s that style is the man himself is as near the truth as we can get–but then most men mistake grammar for style, as they mistake correct spelling for words or schooling for education.” — Samuel Butler

17. “When we see a natural style, we are astonished and delighted; for we expected to see an author, and we find a man.” — Blaise Pascal

18. “Style is the hallmark of a temperament stamped upon the material at hand.” — Andre Maurois

19. “The essence of a sound style is that it cannot be reduced to rules–that it is a living and breathing thing with something of the devilish in it–that it fits its proprietor tightly yet ever so loosely, as his skin fits him. It is, in fact, quite as seriously an integral part of him as that skin is. . . . In brief, a style is always the outward and visible symbol of a man, and cannot be anything else.” — H.L. Mencken

20. “You do not create a style. You work, and develop yourself; your style is an emanation from your own being.” — Katherine Anne Porter

21. “Style is the perfection of a point of view.” — Richard Eberhart

22. “Where there is no style, there is in effect no point of view. There is, essentially, no anger, no conviction, no self. Style is opinion, hung washing, the caliber of a bullet, teething beads.” — Alexander Theroux

23. “Style is that which indicates how the writer takes himself and what he is saying. It is the mind skating circles around itself as it moves forward.” — Robert Frost

24. “What’s important is the way we say it. Art is all about craftsmanship. Others can interpret craftsmanship as style if they wish. Style is what unites memory or recollection, ideology, sentiment, nostalgia, presentiment, to the way we express all that. It’s not what we say but how we say it that matters.” — Federico Fellini

25. “Proper words in proper places, make the true definition of style.” — Jonathan Swift

26. “The web, then, or the pattern, a web at once sensuous and logical, an elegant and pregnant texture: that is style.” — Robert Louis Stevenson

27. “The most durable thing in writing is style, and style is the most valuable investment a writer can make with his time. It pays off slowly, your agent will sneer at it, your publisher will misunderstand it, and it will take people you have never heard of to convince them by slow degrees that the writer who puts his individual mark on the way he writes will always pay off.” — Raymond Chandler

28. “The style of an author should be the image of his mind, but the choice and command of language is the fruit of exercise.” — Edward Gibbon

29. “One arrives at style only with atrocious effort, with fanatical and devoted stubbornness.” — Gustave Flaubert

30. “To me style is just the outside of content, and content the inside of style, like the outside and the inside of the human body. Both go together, they can’t be separated.” — Jean-Luc Godard

31. “Thought and speech are inseparable from each other. Matter and expression are parts of one; style is a thinking out into language.” — Cardinal John Henry Newman

32. “In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing.” — Oscar Wilde

33. “Style, in its finest sense, is the last acquirement of the educated mind; it is also the most useful. It pervades the whole being.” — Alfred North Whitehead

34. “Style is not something applied. It is something that permeates. It is of the nature of that in which it is found, whether the poem, the manner of a god, the bearing of a man. It is not a dress.” — Wallace Stevens

35. “All my stories are webs of style and none seems at first blush to contain much kinetic matter. . . . For me ‘style’ is matter.” — Vladimir Nabokov

And if I may tack on a few extras pieces of advice: don’t forget to take risks, give voice to that quirkiness of thought that you possess, avoid clichés, if at all possible, be concise and precise, and develop a keen sense of word choice.

Oh, and be patient. Style is a thing that can’t be rushed and it might take a while for yours to become evident, but you’ll know when it finally arrives. Words will flow easier, you’ll feel more comfortable with the act of writing, and you’ll be able to recognize that identifiable cadence that belongs to only one person in the world… you.

Sally forth and be writeful… in style.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Do Your Legwork… the Proper Way

Lately I seem to be coming across more and more authors who thumb their noses up at the thought of doing research, which makes me scratch my puzzler. Not only is it a fundamental part of the process, regardless of the type of fiction you write, it is also a chance to learn and grow as a person as well as a writer. The simple fact is, if research truly is the bane of your existence, then you’re not doing it right.

Yes, you are most likely creating an entire world from scratch, in your own image and the laws of reality obey whatever rules strike your fancy, but even the most fantastical setting must have a sturdy foundation. And that foundation must be built with bricks of solid facts in order for your story to have any sort of credence.

I personally enjoy the research stage almost as much as the construction stage, but I understand how daunting a task fact-finding can be, so I’ve jotted down a few of the steps I tend to use when I’m in that researching frame of mind:

1. Pinpoint the right questions. The assumption is that you either have a strong interest in or possess a rudimentary knowledge of the story you’re attempting to pen. And that’s all you need in the beginning when you’re plucking the idea from the ether and committing it to the page in the form of an outline. But as you rearrange the story sequentially and create scenes to flesh the idea out into proper story form, you should be asking yourself how you’re going to make the story mechanics work. If your story is a period piece, you should be knowledgeable of that era, if your main characters hold down specific jobs, you should be familiar with the basics of their occupations, if the story takes place in a different part of the world… you get the point. Your research begins when you write your outline because that’s where you’ll find the questions that need answering.

2. Locate your resources. You’re probably thinking this part’s a cinch as long as you’ve got internet access, and I can’t really argue the point. As I’ve stated in a previous post, the internet is the wise sage of our virtual village (see: Applying Life Lessons To Your Writing) but, as is true with a great deal of online content, the reliability of the source material found therein can be erroneous, so verify, verify, verify as best you can in order to avoid unnecessary embarrassment at a later date. Myself, I tend to be a bit old-fashioned in my approach to research and armed with my trusty dusty library card I visit ye olde public bibliotheca in search of books pertaining to the various subjects in my story. I only rely on the internet as a back-up resource if I come up empty at the library.

3. Make a treasure map for your gold. What good is that golden nugget bit of research that you’ve discovered if you can’t lay your hands on it when you need it? If you own the book, sure you can bookmark or dog-ear pages, underline or highlight passages–but only if you own the book, please, marking up someone else’s tome is utter book sacrilege. If the book isn’t yours to mar, you can create your own index system by jotting down the book title, page and paragraph numbers, and a few keywords on the passage’s content. Then when you’re done info-gathering, you can transfer the text to your computer (arranged by subject headings) or to a notepad if you prefer to write longhand.

4. Create a vision board. Sounds hokey, I know, but pictures have that magical ability to transport your fertile imagination to all the unfamiliar aspects within your story and adding a visual component to your research and writing can help to serve as inspiration for time periods, locales, era clothing, vehicles, weaponry, etc.

5. Walk around in your story like you own the place. Nothing worse than a writer who lacks the confidence to strut their stuff within the world they’ve created. Even if that world is rife with utter nonsense, your job is to sell that nonsense as truth. There’s a saying that used to be popular when I wore a younger man’s clothes, but I haven’t come across it in a dog’s age, “If you can’t blind them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.” Now, this doesn’t mean you should out-and-out lie to your audience, but if the moment arrives when research fails and you need to invent something in order to make your story work, you should endeavor to portray it with as much authenticity as possible.

All the rest of the time? You live up to the trust that your audience places in your hands by checking and double-checking your sources and making sure your facts are as accurate as they can be. Also, you need to keep in mind that despite your best efforts, you aren’t ever going to get the facts correct all the time, but that doesn’t give you a reason not to do your due diligence. And should you ever deliberately decide to ignore the facts, you should alert your audience either in the author’s notes or afterword.

One of a writer’s biggest attractions to the written art form can be best summed up as, ex nihilo omnia fiunt–from nothing, everything is created–but we owe a duty to our audience to make the lie of fiction as truthful as possible.

Sally forth and be researchful.

What’s Your Shark?

This is an oldie but a goodie. A blog post I wrote many years ago, about the patterns I have noticed in screenwriters. – See more at: http://www.justeffing.com/2013/06/27/patterns-in-screenwriters/#.Uc3DXPxljGI.twitter
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This is an oldie but a goodie. A blog post I wrote many years ago, about finding the thing that challenges you. You’re probably familiar with the story, Sharks and Fish–it’s been doing online rounds since the days when I relied on AOL, my gas-powered PC, hand-cranked monitor and an ultra-fast 14.4k modem to gain access to the interwebz. For those of you who haven’t tripped over it yet:

Sharks and Fish

The Japanese have always loved fresh fish, but the waters close to Japan haven’t held a great deal of fish for decades. So they built bigger fishing boats and traveled farther out to sea but the farther the fishermen went, the longer it took to bring in the fish. If the return trip took more than a few days, the fish weren’t fresh and people didn’t like the taste.

To solve this problem, fishing companies installed freezers on their boats to allow the vessels to go farther and stay longer. However, people could taste the difference and didn’t care for frozen fish, which brought down the price.

Then the fishing companies installed fish tanks, but once placed in the tanks, after a little thrashing around, the fish stopped moving. They were tired and dull, but alive. Unfortunately, the Japanese public could still taste the difference.

Apparently, because the fish didn’t move for days, they lost their fresh-fish taste. The fishing companies pondered over the dilemma until they stumbled onto the solution:

To keep the fish tasting fresh, the fishing companies still put the fish in the tanks, but now they add a small shark to each tank. Sure, the shark eats a few fish, but most of the fish arrive in a very lively state. The fish are challenged.

My personal belief is that writers should be in a constant state of fear when writing. This, of course, requires your willingness to break free from your comfort zone and push boundaries. I’ve already discussed tackling that seemingly unconquerable writing task, that ambitious bit of scribbling that you either feel you lack the confidence, skill or proper desire to finish, in an earlier post (see: It Ain’t Impossible Once Somebody Gets It Done).

If it isn’t already, writing needs to be your exploration into that frightening undiscovered country. Every new project is an opportunity to attempt narrative feats above your current skill set. To see what lies beyond the unfamiliar horizon. To embrace bizarre new thoughts, take on larger themes and alien points of view. To shake hands with new intimidating characters. To paint the world in unique hues of poetry. Anything less and you do a disservice not only to your work but also to yourself as a writer.

But it isn’t as simple as all that, is it? I mean, we’re not talking about the same brand of fear that adrenaline junkies face when they undertake risky physical activities. A writer’s fear is an abject terror laced with insecurity, inadequacy, doubt, the sinking feeling that we’ve bitten off more than we can chew, and the risk of exposing too much of our core selves.

These are also the things that fuel our excuses.

To be clear, challenging yourself in writing is more than simply writing everyday, especially if you aren’t inspired by what you’re writing, as the end result could wind up being flavorless, tired and dull. Challenging yourself is about punching above your weight class in each write and rewrite, learning to not only chew but swallow that which you’ve bitten off, and in essence growing as you come to the realization that you’ve just written something better than you believed yourself capable of.

What’s your shark? Only you can answer that. The one thing I do know is a writer’s fear is the only cycle of fear that is absotively posolutely worth repeating.

Writing for a living – no matter what you write – is a struggle. Whether you’re a freelance copywriter, a contracted novelist, or a self-publishing author, there’s countless distractions between you and your deadlines and professional goals. In order to stay on track to develop your skills, grow your business, and meet your deadlines, you need to challenge yourself to making the most of your time writing.

Challenge yourself to set a timer

The late copywriting legend Eugene Schwartz worked within the confines of a timer set to 33 minutes and 33 seconds. In that time, he would concentrate fully on his writing, giving himself over to the project at hand with a few exceptions detailed in this great Copyblogger article.

  1. He could drink coffee
  2. He could stare out the window, or at the wall
  3. He could sit and do absolutely nothing for 33.33 minutes
  4. He could write the ad
  5. He could not leave the chair for any reason
  6. He could not do anything else

At the end of time, he’d take a break and let his creative juices recharge. The practice not only gave him structure for producing great content, it pushed him to complete projects faster. As your timer ticks down, you ignite a competitive spirit within yourself to finish what you’re doing before the timer goes off.

This is, of course, not necessarily the most novel idea in writing. Sprints and timers have long been the go-to solution for increased productivity. However, settling into a routine and resolving to work this hard every day is difficult for us – especially in the time of constant connectivity and social media. Which brings me to my next point…

Challenge yourself to a routine that you actually stick to

When your impending deadline is your only structure, you’ll find that your routine often flounders until you find yourself furiously working to hit your word count in the days (or hours) before your project is due. If you’re anything like me, you tell yourself during each of these mad-dash midnight struggles, “It’ll be different next time. I’ll use my time more wisely.” And then I don’t. It’s the weight loss New Year’s Resolution of the writing world… and it’s just as impossible to stick to.

But, if you’re going to thrive as a writer, you need to establish a solid routine for your work week. Sit down with the calendar of your choice and realistically address your schedule and routine. Set office hours and put them in your calendar. Take these hours into consideration when you’re making appointments and planning lunch dates. Then, start each week and each day by taking a look at what your goals and deadlines are and assessing how to make them fit within your established routine.

The first few weeks are hard, but – once you’ve settled in – you’ll find that you’re meeting your deadlines with less stress.

Challenge yourself to take time off

When you’re freelancing, it’s easy to never take a day off. Even on your weekends (even if your “weekend” isn’t Saturday and Sunday), you’ll check email or try to get a little writing in, but you need to stop that. Time off is essential to sustain creative output. Setting aside time for your family, yourself, and your friends is an investment in your career as a writer.

Find activities that replenish you and do them. Whether it’s a bottle of wine and a good book, time at the gym, dinner with your family, or a massage, putting value on self-care means that you’ll be ready for the challenges of being a writer.

– See more at: http://style-matters.com/blog/challenge-yourself-to-be-a-better-writer.html#sthash.lWcLoEzR.dpuf

Sally forth fearfully and be writeful.