Let’s Murder Some Trees!

I wanted to do it for quite some time, and now I finally sat down to finish preparations and make all my readers compliant in my sweet act of mass murder. And now both How to Sing Butterflies and its expanded edition How to Sing Butterflies DX are available on paper via Amazon.
But or floral enemies shall not have died in vain, for here are five lessons I took away from my first go at print publishing. Among those a solution to get spine text on books of less than 100 pages.

Design Itself is the Easy Part

Amazon's 3D preview is small and not really easy on the eyes, but it gets the job done

Amazon’s 3D preview is small and not that easy on the eyes, but it gets the job done

When doing a cover for an ebook, the design takes up the whole process. You create an image, and once you’re done you got yourself a cover. You will probably tweak it a few times here and there until you’re satisfied, but it’s as straightforward as that.
Not for paper books. And I’m not talking about the spine or back. You’ll have to also make it work with the print software.
The interior is easy. I imagine it might get a little harder once I add images to the books, but I did not do that for any paperback yet. But even then, the margins are quite well-defined and easy to work with.
That cover check software, though.
On the first try, I had issues with spine elements getting too close to the edge of the spine. This was mainly caused by having put the spine content a little too much to the left. No biggy, I fixed that.
When the error message didn’t disappear I realized the problem was two-fold. I had fixed the positioning of my spine content, but the software still acted up, marking the yellow lines you can see crossing the spine in the preview image as erroneous. That was annoying. I wanted to have those, and I had seen others having graphical elements going all around their cover, spine included.
What was causing the problem was the way I had realized that design. The lines are part of the text element that also forms the title, meaning this was identified as text by the KDP software. Turns out only text elements are restricted like that. I did not know this. I found out by getting bold and upload a version of the cover that had this whole element converted into polygons. The system raised no issues with a polygon going across the spine, so that was fixed.
All problems fixed, I then switched to working on the thinner of the two books, the standard edition. It happened to be exactly 100 pages long. I thought I was in luck by having just made the threshold to put text on my spine.
Yeah, not according to the preview check. It did tell me I had to have at least 100 pages. But what it apparently meant was I had to have more than 100 pages. That rule is stupid and I realize in hindsight, I could have remedied that by converting the spine text into polygons to circumvent Amazon’s restrictions. I ended up adding four empty pages to the end of the book.
By the way, it would have been nice to know beforehand that Amazon would put a barcode on the cover and where they put it. Because my initial upload ended up with two identical barcodes (one included by me, one by Amazon) with Amazon’s copy printed right over my website URL. So, yeah, know beforehand Amazon will put a barcode in the lower right of your back cover. It did play nice with my squiggly lines, though.
There seems to be a problem with the centering on the DX edition’s cover, but I can’t be sure of that without seeing a printed copy. It’s easily possible to change covers after publication, though.

Yes, You Can Have Text on Thin Spines

So here’s something we all can learn from my adventures in getting stuff on the spine: If your book is below 100 pages, just convert your spine text into graphical elements (polygons or curves) to trick the cover previewer into allowing it.
Consider that little hint my revenge against Amazon’s automated complaints about that.

Book Designers Have Weird Conventions

Okay, so English and American books have little headers above their content pages, showing the author on the left pages and the book title on the right. Got it easy enough.
Chapters are supposed to start on the right-hand page. That means there may be blank pages to the left. Makes sense.
But then those blank pages are completely blank. Why? What is the purpose of a header if half of it disappears? Why would you not display a number there when all other pages are numbered? To me, that seems like a pointless exercise to make interior design in books a tad more tedious. I have disliked it for years as a reader, and now I dislike it as a writer as well. But I’m self-publishing, so screw that made-up rule.

I'm such a rebel

I’m such a rebel

Beware of Widows

Print design knows of two sins: Those of the widows and those of the orphans. And I’m really glad I didn’t write this article in German. The German terms translate to whore’s children and shoemaker boys, respectively. The former hide in the attic, the latter bow down to shine your shoes, you see. Needless to say, we started using translations of the English terms in recent years.
In short, a widow is a single line ending a paragraph at the upper end of a page, while an orphan is the first line of a new paragraph ending a page. They look weird and can disrupt reading flow.
Orphans are easy enough to get rid of, you just add an empty line to have it go to the next page. Widows are not only harder to get rid of, they are also considered the worse offender design-wise. An empty line in the middle of the page should only appear when intended to break up the text.
Usually, I would change the text a little bit to be longer or shorter by a few words. But this is a collection of existing stories. I can change them to some degree, but not for something minor like that. It would be worse if I wasn’ the one who wrote them in the first place. So the trickery with breaks, line heights, and paragraph alignment to conceal breaks starts.
It can get complicated, but it needs to be done.

Amazon Can be Weird

Once I got my books done, and they went up, I wanted to order a proof copy. KDP does not send you a proof copy like Createspace and some others do, they have you trust the 3d rendered preview. Like I said before, there appears to be some alignment issue with the DX edition, but I want to check some hardcopies for that first. Not to mention, I want to see what my spine looks like in real life.
In addition to this, as a selfpublisher living in Germany, I am legally required to send two copies to the national library and one to my state’s library for archival purposes.
So I ordered four copies each. Simple. If Amazon wouldn’t have decided to act up by sending me a statement that my account was suspended for unpaid bills. I was like “Wait, what?”
Contacting customer support I was informed the issue was with an apparently unpaid bill from January 2010. Yes, 2010! About €10 plus shipping. I don’t know if I was victim to a glitch or whether that was true. For the record, articles I have ordered in between 2010 and 2017 include a microphone, a tablet computer, my Kindle and a lot of ebooks. Among other things. And now, more than half a decade later, that happened. So yeah, this is weird.
I’m currently sorting that out. Dammit, I want to finally hold my books in my hands!

How to Sing Butterflies (104 pages, US$4.99) and How to Sing Butterflies DX (168 pages, US$6.99) are now available via KDP Paperback in the US, Europe, and Japan.


I’m Terrible at Blogging

Let’s try to summarize my blog activity for the last two months, shall we?

Tumbleweed

Seems about right – Image base: Jez Arnold

Yeah, that’s not too good. Technically speaking, the Christmas flash fiction manages to squeeze into that timeframe by five days, but still. My problem is none of the obvious problems everybody starts to point to when a blog stays small.
My design is not utterly broken, cluttered, or ugly. My content is not bad (I hope). My posts are properly broken up by headlines and feature a nice image close to the top. My editing boils down to a quick copy-and-paste into Grammarly’s online check but that’s not that bad and I recently installed Language Tool for a second check. My URLs are lacking in SEO and I suffer from having a very common name but that’s not the kind of problem I’m talking about right now.
No, my problem is very different and probably extremely common: I ask too much quality of myself. Not even in terms of writing where such a thing is justified, but when it comes to topics.

Too Good to be Good

The thing is, I read a lot of writing advice online. And when I don’t do that I listen to a lot of it. Once you have read enough of it, it all becomes so repetitive. There is very little unusual advice, very little creativity. At least that’s what it seems like when you hear the same advice a hundred times.
The problem is, I then steered clear of that. I still read and listen to writing advice in the hope there may be something worthwhile every now and then. You see, the right piece of advice can be extremely inspiring, life-changing even.
But I avoided giving people stale advice. I felt above that, I wanted to write stuff worthwhile to everybody, new stuff. I hate wasting people’s time. Thus I rarely gave writing advice at all. Meaning, I had very little to write about. The occasional flash fiction piece here and there, a new book being published and every few months an actual piece of writing ideas I actually thought to be worth the time to write about them.
For example, there is an unfinished article about using dioramas for writing motivation on my computer. It is a completely unique idea as far as I can tell, it seems to be a very useful one to me using it, and it is almost done, just missing some photos. But it is the kind of idea I have once in a blue moon – or probably once in an even more exotically colored moon. Excellent content, but a blog cannot sustain itself from quality alone.
With that, my posting frequency went down to about one article a month. There would have been one for January but that was tied to a publication I’m still waiting for, so a once-a-month schedule breaks apart quickly.
I do believe a lot of bloggers and authors share that problem. They expect too much of themselves, they avoid writing “merely” good content in favor of great content that is rare and hard to do. Not to mention, their sense of quality is skewed from having read too much great stuff themselves. It’s not exactly intimidation, it’s humility grown to unhealthy proportions.
And I think it is important to recognize the unhealthiness of it.

Snapping Out of It

The good thing is, this is something special to my English blog. My German one can always live off of my life, my personal social networks, my non-author related activities such as political activities. It is less focused, yet more active for it. So I do know how to blog more than that consistently.
So here’s what I’ll do from now on: I will dial down my overblown standards where it comes to topic uniqueness. There will be a post every Wednesday. I will keep my focus on writing topics, meaning every post will be either advice, a piece of fiction, or announcing a new release. Seeing how I have started to try and sell my short fiction, there is bound to be a lot of writing stuff for authors.
It’ll be great. You’ll love it!
During the last few days, I have prepared about two months worth of content. Some has been written, some boils down to a note on my mobile, but it all will come up. No longer will I have a blog for content, I will now produce content for this blog. And while I will stay determined to keep it from being stale advice, I will lower my expectations toward that to a reasonable degree.

What to Expect

Crime! Little plastic people! Godzilla! Steamy Stuff! Dead Trees! The degradation of William Shakespeare! Lots of exclamation marks!
And for you, dear readers, to ask yourselves whether you suffer from the same unhealthy over-humility, if you have the same problem of not writing on your blog often enough (i.e. less than once a week). I suspect that is the most common hurdle bloggers face nobody talks about. Some may call it perfectionism, but I do think it’s not quite that. This is something related but different from perfectionism. Ambitionism? Exceptionalism? Qualitism? Huh. Any of you have a good word for that? Or is there even an existing one I’m missing?


And Peace on Earth

hollyjollybloghop_banner_12152016So, this is a day late due to the Berlin attack taking top priority in my topics for Tuesday. Living in Germany and being active in politics, that was a major event for me. But now, on to some levity.

True to the banner above, this short is part of Elizabeth Barone’s Holly Jolly Blo Hop 2016 that has various authors publish a short each on their blogs. The unifying topic here is The Wrong Gift. In my case that does become a more sci-fi variation on Christmas stories, this being my favourite genre. This marks my third sci-fi Christmas flash, the others being one unpublished story and one in German. I might do a Future Christmas collection next year if (or when) I manage to do at least 20, preferably 24 to make a kind of scifi advent calendar.
You may find all the other entries to this blog hop via Elizabeth’s site for your enjoyment. Quite a varied selection, there’s something for everybody there!

And Peace on Earth

As always, the delivery was on time. The invading Gurnock fleet had surrounded Earth to intercept the cosmic Santa entities packages to the planet in order to both take away hope and gather intel on its denizens. The plan an empire was built on.
“For the glory of the empire!” Shoobed shouted to the advisor staff as he opened the door to the delivery room. A multicolored mass of items poured out, mostly plastic. A few small animals ran off barking and meowing. At least the meowing ones made the impression to be useful in dealing with some pests from last year’s invasion. The empire really needs a policy on this, Shoobed thought. “Now sift through this for information on the enemy’s technology and abilities!”
“Sir, this planet is weird. Most of these are models of creatures and vehicles. I mean, is this world so easily conquered that of all the weaponry they could wish for from Santa, they wish for this stuff? And look at their actual weapons!” Tukard shoot one to demonstrate, its foam ammunition harmlessly bouncing off a metal beam. “They’re all like this!”
“Something has got to be wrong here. Keep searching, I want to know if these creatures can possibly be this squishy or if we are being tricked. Take as much time as you need!”
“But those humans aren’t worth it. I mean, look at it!” Körtag next to Tukard held up the scale model of a human that seemed to be very common in the package, marked as a 13arbie. “Look at them, all scrawny and long. No edible meat, no muscle for slave work, what would we even do with those? They’d just slow down the empire!”
“We do not know that this is an accurate model. There are others here.”
“But all of them are either thin or so lacking in fat, they’re all stringy with muscle. Maybe we could use their newborns as popcorn, but that’s it!”
Shoobed sighed. “Could we please concentrate on the plan? And Glypüroq, would you please put away those Legos?”
“Lego! The plural of Lego is Lego”, the answer came irritated.
“How would you even know… I mean, is that really important right now?”
“No proper argument without proper grammar.”
“Alright, that’s it, the invasion is off!”

Making Of bonus stuff

Well, that was short, wasn’t it? So why not add some background info to it?
The story changed quite abit. Originally, the invading army was wishing for weapons to invade Earth only for Santa to qwitch the gifts between Earthlings and invaders, resulting in the aliens giving up and the humans expand into space using the technology delivered a few years later, having formed a space-age cargo cult around the failed invaders.
In the end, I kept the idea of Santa as a cosmic entity and the invaders giving up based on Earth’s gifts. I decided to keep it short and sweet, not to water down the initial concept.
If you want an idea on what these aliens look like, I imagine them as massive centaur-like creatures featuring a pair of tusks and two rows of spikes each along their backs that can be folded away. During battle, the tusks and spikes are covered with poison generated by glands at the base of each structure. Often, tusks and spikes are covered in harmless crystalline residue of that poison. Imagine a cross between a Kentrosaurus and a centaur on a really bad day.
So yeah, ain’t that christmas-y?
For anyone guessing about the gifts, those are, off course, a couple of pets (btw, please don’t gift pets, I know it happens, but, please don’t), a Nerf gun, a Barbie doll, and some Lego.

Fun fact: This story was written backwards, the last line being the first I wrote.

Again, please check the other stories in the blog hop, I quite like what I’ve read so far and I hope you will, too.


Self-Editing for Bilinguals

© Jesse Burgheimer, CC-BY-SA

© Jesse Burgheimer, CC-BY-SA

Okay, we are two-thirds through NaNoWriMo. This means two things:

  1. I really need to update the progress meter, but first
  2. It’s about time to talk about editing.

Because I am me, let’s start with editing. Because doing so means I am writing something for my blog, which is something I should do more frequently anyway.

Of course, many people have already said a lot about editing and even about self-editing, its pros, cons and some approaches to it. That part you can probably google.

But my own self-editing process is somewhat different from those usually advised, mostly because it is something not everybody can do. This is for those of us who speak more than one language fluently. Luckily, English is the easiest language to gain fluency in these days, thanks to its ubiquity on the internet and in media in general. So yay for anybody who is not a native speaker of English reading this blog! For any bilingual who is a native speaker of English: Well done, you had the harder road among those two sides. Again, not because of any properties of the language, but because it is just harder to get a lot of practice in your second language.
So, let’s get to the point. In case the title has not given it away, this is it:

The Bilingual Translate-Edit Method

The short version of this is easy: Translating a text back and forth between the language it was written in and your other language, is a rewarding process, even if you don’t speak your second language fluently.

Now, the long version.

When learning a foreign language, the better you get, the more obvious it will become translation is anything but an easy task because languages tend to be very different from each other.

Obviously. Image: Natalie Moxam/Public Domain

You don’t say?
Image: Natalie Moxam/Public Domain

Different languages form sentences differently, have different figures of speech, different go-to metaphors, they even tend to involve different approaches to the world itself in some ways. This makes translation hard. This is why translators are very well-paid and why automated translation is just about the hardest task you can assign a computer.

When editing, this is good. The trick is this: Translation forces you to view your writing in context again. Thinking about the way you inform and/or entertain, many problems of a text will become obvious. You will clearly see points where information is missing because sentences suddenly become incomplete after translation. You will see redundancies when a sentence explains something you just described. All this happens because translation cannot be done word by word. When you translate, you force yourself to view every word in its context. This is what most self-editing is missing, often boiling down to a mere word-for-word grammar check.

To do this, you should be an advanced speaker of a second language, but you don’t need to be perfect. Maybe even fluent is too much. All you need to have learned is how not to translate by just replacing words with corresponding words in the other language using a dictionary (nothing wrong with using a dictionary, though). The better you are, the better your results will be, but you don’t need to be perfect to start. Remember, your goal is not really to make a translation, it’s to find errors by way of translating a work back and forth. Your finished text will be in whatever language you originally wrote it down.

How to do this

  1. Make a backup copy of your original text. Seriously, whatever you do, do not translate within your original document. I once accidentally saved a translation over the English original, destroying it. So, I can’t stress this enough, do make a backup copy. Preferably name one of them something like xyz-translation.doc
  2. Be sure you switched to writing in your translation copy
  3. Now, translate the text into your other language, ironing out flaws as you stumble upon them. Take note of any flaws encountered. This will be the hardest part of this editing process.
  4. Translate it back into the original language, again taking note of any flaws encountered. Do not check your original yet, translate this back independently. Chances are, the language will have turned clunky through the process. Don’t worry about that yet.
  5. Now, compare the original to both your list of encountered flaws and your translation. Change the original (or another copy of it for extra security) accordingly.
  6. Now, check the original again, this time for grammar, style, and spelling to make sure there are no visible “scars”, points where it is obvious something was added, deleted or changed.

Yes, this ends in another round of editing. The goal of this method is not to make editing easier or faster, it’s to make self-editing more reliable.

I hope this is helpful to a lot of you guys. Have fun! Good luck! Get all the success you earn!


Let’s NaNoWriMo!

write50kHey, there. Long time no see. However, this is precisely why I came back now. You see, NaNoWriMo is starting tomorrow, and because I have not written much the last few weeks, I will take up that challenge to get back in the groove.

NaNoWhatNow?

NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writer’s Month. It has grown international for a long time now, though. The idea is simple: Finish a novel of 50,000 words or more during November.
People who join the official site may even win prices.
While I will not join the official site (because I’m modifying the rules to better suite my writing style), I still aspire to write 50,000 words by November, 30th 2016 and call that participating in NaNoWriMo for simplicity’s sake.

Deviant!

Indeed, and a proud one at that.
The reason I plan to deviate from the official rules is simple: I do not write stories that long. In my mind, stories have to earn the amount of time they may take from us and I prefer those that give more than they take. Very few stories need or deserve to be that long. Dune needs it for its complexity, so does War and Peace due to the size and diversity of its cast. The Harry Potter books earn it by the wildness of the imagination displayed and by having each book span a year. There are more, these are just examples.
I tend toward the shorter end of tales. I have a story to tell and I do not like to meander around doing so. Maybe it’s just my own preference for reading short fiction informing my own writing here, but in short, a story of more than 10,000 words is a rarity with me just because that tends to be more than enough room for me to finish any story I decide to do.
So, instead of writing one novel of 50k words, I commit to write 50k words during the month of November. This does include all uncommissioned writing I do that month. It does not, however, include any commissioned writting as well as writing not directly related to book and/or story writing.
So, blog posts do not count, neither does any writing not intended to be published.
This means, I plan to write about 1,800 words per day. That is more words than my longest published piece of fiction at about 1,200. It is, however, less than some of my non-fiction books that were written chapter by chapter as opposed to one piece of story as you get with my fiction (ignoring the notable exception of Sleeper Hit.
I expect this to result in several pieces of flash fiction (probably enough to do another collection), finishing my English novelette Boy, as well as finishing my German novelette Neanderthalensis. As always, pieces of flash fiction I do in that time will also be available here on this blog, unless this is prevented by a contract (I will write at least one flash intended for a multi-author Christmas anthology).
So, by tomorrow, there will be a counter showing my current progress in reaching 50k words. And the occassional flash fiction piece on this blog.

Why Am I Doing This?

Let me put it this way: Writing 1,800 words per day on top of everything else I do essentially means that for one month, I will go full-time. I will have to find ways to have enough time to write thise much every day. I will have to devote time specifically to writing as if I went to an office to do so.
This will be a new experience for me and I am very interested, if I can pull this off.
In essence, I am about to decide wether I go all-in in the future, using the next month for a template.


10 Things I Learned Writing How to Sing Butterflies

Cover of How to Sing Butterflies DX

DX edition (Amazon link)

Cover of How to Sing Butterflies

Standard edition (Amazon link)

Finally, with only two days of delay, I made it, I finished my short story collection How to Sing Butterflies. It will now roll out across the ebook vendors over the next few days, Amazon being the first as usual, but others following. They just happen to have the quickest system for new publications.
As you can see from there being two covers to this entry, this collection comes in two editions, DX and standard (or, well, non-DX). This is the one thing I hope I am still going to learn, publishing this book: Does this approach work? Is it a good idea to give readers a choice between a barebones edition and a deluxe edition with additional content?
To break the differences down, the DX edition features additional commentary for each story in the back of the book. Each story has a story behind it and this is what that commentary provides: The inspiration behind each story (often a writing prompt), how that inspiration turned into the story I ended up with, interesting trivia on the creative process in its planning and, more importantly, writing. That edition I set at US$2.99. The other edition has nothing but the pieces of fiction and is priced a little lower at US$1.99.
To me, that is a large difference: The higher price point gets me about US$1.40 more per sale, three times what the lower one gets me. But I realize this is not what the reader sees, so I want to give them free choice. I also realize short story collections are not very popular and people do not want to spend too much on them.
So, if you are interested in the stories behind those stories, or just want to support this here author, go get the DX edition. If you want to read the stories, but prefer not to spend too much on somebody you maybe never heard about before, get the standard one. I think that’s a fair deal for al of us. I’m very curious how that’ll turn out.
All that being said, as with every book I learned a lot from writing this one. And yes, I am stealing this idea from Chuck Wendig’s blog. Go on, try and stop me!

1. Working Title, Shmorking Title

I set out to collect my shorts a long time ago. It started out a year ago under the guise of Glimpses. By February it had morphed into the far more descriptive mouthful of Glimpses into World Unknown.
Then, I lost my progress on almost all works to a computer crash that affected both my main hard drive and the more recent backups. There’s still hope to recover those, but it’s expensive.
Anyway, I started from scratch. What got lost was some unpublished work, but I could still recover all those entries into Flash Fiction Challenges and the like, along with everything already published in some form. I didn’t like the original title I was working with anymore, so I ended up taking the title to one of the stories included instead: How to Sing Butterflies made for a nice title and the story itself served well to represent my brand of short fiction.

2. Free Ressources can be amazing

After I settled on a title, there was the issue of a fitting cover. I did not exactly make that easy on me with such a strange title. Searching for illustrations that combined butterflies with music failed, so I started searching all the stock photo sites for butterfly pictures, hoping to find something to work with. Not to get an overused picture, I even started to order the results by least liked ones first. This is when I stumbled across the perfect cover to this title. A butterfly shape of simple yellow lines, the perfect image to combine sound with butterflies.
Beautiful.

3. But sometimes you still have to pay for stuff

Sample of the font Sound Sample

Sound Sample, err, Sample


The cover illustration was perfect, but there was only one font I found anywhere. That was Sound Sample by Anfa. Everything else was either too fancy or not fancy enough. I mean, you don’t want to pair a picture like that with something like Arial or Times New Roman. On the other hand, some butterfly font would have been way too fancy for a book of tales that often veered to the darker side of things.
Very few fonts related to sound or music in any meaningful way, but this one was almost perfect. It could be more easily legible when sized down, but other than that this went perfectly with the title illustration, the titular piece of flash fiction, and the overall content of the book.
However, unlike all the fonts I had used up until now, this one was free only for non-commercial use. Five dollars is a good price for a well-made font, though, so I gladly sent that over to the creator’s Paypal as asked to on the site.
Yeah, we are all struggling artists here, but I paid five dollars for far less useful things.

4. Translating is way harder than writing

Aside from 15 pieces of fiction previously published, this collection also includes three completely new ones and four translations. The translations turned out to be the culprit when it came to missing my deadline of Wednesday, August 3rd.
Turns out, translating already written text is much harder than writing something from scratch. The words are already there, but they are in a different language, written to suit that language’s vocabulary, sensitivities, even rhythm. You can’t just change the words into their counterparts, you have to rephrase everything without changing anything. That is hard, even when the words in the other language are your own. Maybe especially when they are your own words, chosen for reasons hard to apply in another language.
There’s a reason I write some of my work in German and some in English. And that reason is not planning with market size. Well, except for the Jurassic World book. That one I did write in English because of market size considerations.

5. A construction site does NOT make it easier

Somebody decided to build a few new houses across the road. Te last two weeks, they connected those to the water main. Meaning they opened the street with a huge buzzsaw-like contraption and then dug down with an excavator and some trucks, all driven by diesel engines. At least now they changed it to a truck with a built-in excavator.
Ain’t complainin’, just sayin’.

6. A story is never finished

Editing and especially translating my shorts taught me, you can always find something new to change in anything you did. A story can be part of a book consistently getting five-star reviews and still have jarring issues like details left out and characters changing their species (yes, species!).

7. Grammarly does help

Grammarly is by no means perfect. We often disagree about the necessity of an article for abstract nouns. But I do have problems with the use of commas in both my main languages and this is something the app excels at.

8. Backup, backup, backup!

About that incident in February: You know how barely anybody does a regular backup, even when it’s vital to what they do? Yeah, do backups. Once a week is probably a good rate.

9. I really need to finish this blog

Yeah, the English blog still has a few bugs to solve. Like something is really wrong with the book overview mixing up German and English titles. And the mobile theme needs to be replaced. I just rarely think about the latter because I rarely ever use a smartphone to go online.

10. The internet does forget

A zombie dinosaur short on io9 of all places had disappeared from their comment section when I tried to recover it. Huh.
I really liked that short. I hope I can recover it from my crashed hard drive to include in a later collection along with other tales lost in the crash.


Sleeper Hit

Image: George Hodan / publicdomainpictures.net

Image: George Hodan / publicdomainpictures.net

I haven’t done a flash fiction challenge response in a while. This is partly due to Indies Unlimited switching to image prompts instead of written ones. I’m just not as good with those and frankly, I found IU’s prompts to be rather uninspiring. but that’s just me, other authors keep doing great works with those.
There’s other stuff, like my hard drive taking its journey to the everafter in February.
But that aside, let’s do one of these again. It’s Chuck Wendig’s turn again, who this week asked for a story that features insomnia. Well, here it is. I went into this having no idea how dark it would get to just run with this idea. Oh, it got dark alright.

Sleeper Hit

Edinburgh, Scotland, 4:13 a.m.
For almost a minute, something was very wrong. Granted, 176 hours of partying always took their toll, and Burt knew the feelings that caused all the way from hunger to thirst, even boredom. But exhaustion was something he had stopped feeling for a long time now, a glimpse of maybe a second or two once a year was all that ever reminded him what kind of an emotion it even was. One like lead and rainy days and refusal of nice things. So bad, it made sleep desirable, that old king of unproductivities.
He had done away with all this a long time ago.

Bandar Tidur, Malaysia, 12:10 p.m.
Another one. Izzati fixed her view on the screen that had been pulsing with red for a few seconds before it went numb. To quick for anybody to rush in and change the bulb. A young immigrant from Thailand, like so many bulbs somebody with no other options in life here and only even worse ones back home. They were willing to take the risk, silence took care of that not changing.
When it began, one bulb could work two customers – batteries, as some started to call them, despite the weird reversal in terminology that created opposed to the real relationship between the two. A year later, there had to be one bulb per battery. Now, some batteries had started to burn through one bulb per year.
Bandar Tidur was asia’s hell needed to create europe’s paradise. The furnace to its engine.

San Jose, California, 09:00 p.m.
No matter how much he brooded, an empty page kept staring at Steve. He was the one man who banned unproductivity itself and now that blank page was mocking him for it like it never happened. He began anew.
“Sleep and death have much in common. The two great unproductivities, neither of which really known to man.”
He liked that, though it was followed by more blankness in his mind. The thing was, he had conquered sleep. When he invented a chip to monitor health years before, strange readings showed up and led his team to realize exhaustion was transferable and could be transformed into awakeness using sleep, to then be transferred back. Nobody really understood how it worked, but it did.
He and his team made these findings into machines, a network capable of electronically shipping sleep across the globe, to sleepers sleeping for their customers who could stay awake as long as they lived, continually drained of their exhaustion and supplied with new awakeness.
And yet, here he was, asking himself how to put to page a story everybody on earth already knew, effectively doing nothing with that time gained. More time, more ideas to have and pursue, but somehow not much had changed.
He erased the line and began anew again.
“So, this is the story of me, and how I did not change the world.”
That wasn’t it either.

Bandar Tidur, Malaysia, 12:12 p.m.
A new girl entered the chamber, her predecessor already removed. This one was a native, one of the first in an experiment. She did not look any different, but she was specifically designed to make her sleep more durable. Maybe a little pale for a Malaysian, but other than that just an adolescent young girl.
She let herself strap into the machine to be infused with exhaustion. Within a minute, the new bulb was asleep at work, hopefully quickly enough for the battery not to realize anything. Angry customers were the worst.
The old bulb passed Izzati’s door on its way to the pit, now somebody else’s problem.

Edinburgh, Scotland, 4:14 a.m.
The display in Burt’s left hand confirmed a short connection failure, but also his vitals being excellent. The connection problem had its fault with the other side, so he filed a short complaint. Within seconds, a response arrived, apologizing and explaining something about a bulb that needed to be changed.
As long as it was working again, he really couldn’t care less.


Day Five

Bild: Joan M. Borràs (ebrenc) CC-BY-SA 2.5

Bild: Joan M. Borràs (ebrenc) CC-BY-SA 2.5

Again a story inspired by an image prompt at the Angry Hourglass Flash Frenzy, this time the picture was of a young man reading a book on the beach. Reading on the beach is an alien concept to me. When I’m at the beach, I just enjoy the beach and the sea. So I tend to think what book would be so compelling it makes one ignore the beauty of the beach.
This is what grew out of that.

Day Five

The year had begun lackluster. The next day he was pregnant, which also managed to clear weird off the list. Jovian on the third was hard to pin down but worse, it made Simon miss the fourth day, when he had to talk his way back out of an insane asylum. That would have ruined his project had day two not counted for two adjectives. So far, living every day according to a random word generator selecting an adjective from the dictionary had been a worthwhile experience.
Today he was gullible. A nice word, there was a ring to it and so he committed to it quickly.
He went to a bookstore and selected the book with the boldest claim. “How to breathe underwater” it said and it was a thin one, too. So he sat down low on the beach and began to read, convinced he would have mastered breathing underwater by the time the flood submerged him.
The book was practical, it mentioned how unfeasible it was to grow gills in the little time he had, so it clearly knew what it was talking about. So many exercises, many of the strange beyond imagination, yet he did them all and felt successful each time.
It became hard to read when the tide washed over the pages, but it was still possible and even made the exercises a little easier. When the water reached his nostrils, he inhaled with confidence. Simon hoped the remaining adjectives would work underwater.
Best book ever.


Master of Man

It has been too long, hasn’t it? Well, here I am with a new flash fiction story, this time a result of the competition at The Angry Hourglass. The version of the story posted over there is slightly different because of the 360 words word limit. The story originally reached 420 words, I then edited it down to 359 as posted on the Angry Hourglass site and then edited some new words back in where I felt cutting down had hurt the tale.
Interesting story behind this one: I originally mistook the image prompt preview for a man fighting in a dojo with a lamp in the foreground. When I later looked at the larger version I recognized it was a man carrying a flame on a stick. Both interpretations have found their way into this short piece.
Visit the link above to see the other version as well as the prompt and other entries resulting from it, some of them exceptionally good.

Master of Man

He watched them flee into the darkness. Victory, but how? And why had he fought them? The aggression had been something that suddenly took hold of him to subside once they fled. Somehow not his anger, it was of somebody else.
„Hello“, Josh called out into the empty hall. Only one lamp burned against the night outside. Though dim, it should have been enough to see anybody hiding here. There was nobody.
„Hello“, answered something from no direction at all, feeling like a voice inside his head, „thank you for your assistance. This is my room. I was born here, I live here. And I cannot fight my oppressors, so thank you for taking care of that.“
„Where are you? Who are you? Why did I fight?“
„That was me, I made you want to fight. I can’t fight, but sometimes I can get help when I need it. I am who lives here. There were others living here, but those you drove off came in here. At first they started training as you do in any dojo. But as they got better, they started to become aggressive.“
„You’re not answering my questions!“
„No, I’m making you understand. There used to be more like me living here, one in every corner, but one day, they killed one next to the door, then the other one there. One by one, they climbed toward us, killed my brethren and had the hall grow dark and cold. You came in so I gave you eagerness to fight them. You saved me.“
„You’re not making any sense, who are you? I don’t even see a shadow.“
„That’s precisely who I am, no shadow.“
„That’s no better! Where are you and how do you make me feel like you speak inside my head?“
„Silly boy, that is what our kind does. We live to fill humans with emotions, with ideas, with warmth. To the most receptive, we can talk. I am flame, and fire, and light. And you will now pick me up.“
„Why would I want to do that?“
„Because you want to.“
„Yes, I do“ Josh said when a sudden urge to do so woke in him.


How to Sing Butterflies

The following is the result of this week’s Flash Fiction Challenge at Chuck Wendig’s blog. The challenge last week had participants come up with a title (without a story), this week it has them choose one of last week’s titles and make a story from that. How to Sing Butterflies on page 4 of the comments struck a chord with me, so I picked that one. Thanks to Medina who came up with it.
This is the first time I’m doing the challenge at Chuck Wendig’s. I’m always looking for good flash fiction challenges. I like flash fiction for it being so much to the point.

Speaking of which, on to the story:

How to Sing Butterflies

Muffled notes escaped the convict’s gag. Did the architects’ talent to conjure objects with their voices still work when obstructed? Dubious, but then again nobody really knew how architecm worked. Like electricity and so many powers before and since it, the technology had been discovered and used long before anybody understood what it actually was. A genetic mutation, a one in several billion event, discovered, isolated and copied to create a caste of people capable of conjuring any object from pure air by instinct.
Nobody knew how coded proteins on these people’s dna could manipulate quarks to form anything anywhere. Nobody knew why the ability used soundwaves or if they were a mere side effect or the method of change. Nobody knew why the music was always so beautiful when by all logic it should be random noise.
The girl just sang. Like any architect, she had sung before. This is how she ended up in front of a firing squad. Singing notes of mystery. Several monstrosities had attacked Tokyo in the last six months, ranging from nightmarish bugs to kaiju with everything in between. In court she said she wanted to create something beautiful, tried and tried, but always something eldritch came from it. She claimed there was just one thing missing and she would find it. The Architecm Guild had wanted to save her, the only architect to ever sing something to life.
In the end, she was just deemed too dangerous. The very knowledge of the possibility of singing life was. So it was all a secret. Nobody knew of the process and there had never been another option how it would end. Even making it illegal to create life by architecm was avoided not to give anybody any ideas.
The girl sang through her gag as the firing squad aimed. She sang as they readied. And then, as they fired the end of the melody became indistinguishable from the sound of the guns. Had it been the same sound from both guns and girl? There was no way to tell now. The final moment had happened quickly and pointlessly.
And then, everyone saw. Above the soldiers they flew. A pair of butterflies dressed in a color that didn’t exist.