Another Terribleminds Joint – SWAT

As noted last week, Chuck Wendig provides good writing prompts. This week I drew an interesting result in his combination of X vs. Y. I really don’t want to spoil what’s in it, so read for yourself and find out who’s fighting who in this week’s mashup.

As a note, this contains a little bit of alternative history – particularly around the tragedy of the raid on the Branch Davidian Cult back in the nineties. If that kind of thing might make you feel uncomfortable or angry, perhaps this isn’t for you.

Personally, I think there’s a great long-format story waiting to be expanded in here. I hope you agree.

When Mitch arrived on the scene of the standoff there were already bodies piled up. The whole thing reminded him of Waco again. He’d been a young agent on that raid though. He hadn’t been toughened yet, was too green for the truth of what had been going on inside the Branch Davidian Cult.

He approached the scene and flashed his badge at one of the staties tasked to help keep the whole circus in order. The uniformed man nodded and lifted the yellow crime scene tape. It didn’t take Mitch long to find the people in charge.

One of them was a tall guy who looked like a scarecrow that had half its straw missing, leaving nothing but sticks and partially filled clothes. He was saying something about formations and casualties.

“Evening folks,” Mitch said. He approached the huddle with his typical Texas drawl and good old boy posture. “So, what have you got for me?”

The scarecrow looked up. “Excuse me, we’re kinda in the middle of something here.”

“I know, I know, and that’s great. Why don’t you just stop what you’re doing and tell me how you lost your men?”

Now the entire group looked up. Scarecrow looked to be the kind of guy that Mitch was used to dealing with: territorial, self-assured, and one hundred percent out of his depth.

“You got a badge, peckerwood?” said Scarecrow. Big words for a guy who looked like he was on the tail end of chemo, Mitch thought.

Mitch flashed his fed badge again, but before he could put it back in his jacket the gangly man pulled it out of his hand.

“Federal Department of … okay, what the fuck is this? Arrest this man. Get him the fuck out of here before I -“

Scarecrow’s phone rang and his fellow agents hesitated. Mitch waited patiently for the man to answer his mobile.

“Norwood here, look I…” Scarecrow’s voice seemed to strangle itself in his throat. “No, sir, but I…” his face went pale. “Are you… alright. Okay. If you say so.”

Scarecrow’s phone went back in its pocket and he straightened. “Okay. I’ve been directed to follow your lead, Mr…?”

“What, didn’t read it the first time? Name is Whatley. Mitch Whatley. And this is now a Federal Department of Xenoarcana operation.”

“So we sent in a first unit with body cams attached. We’re still trying to puzzle out what exactly the guys inside did to them. It was a five man squad. Four are dead now, and the lone survivor came out screaming like a lunatic. He’s missing most of his right arm, and minus a few fingers on his left hand.”

Mitch scratched his chin. “You got footage from the team handy ?”

The analyst swiveled on his chair in the surveillance truck and brought up a series of monitors. In them, Mitch watched the team’s entry. They managed to get to the front door, ram it open, then gain entry. About ten seconds in, a man stepped into the end of the entrance hallway. From what Mitch could see the guy was unarmed. Then, there was some shouting and the man in the hall raised his hand. There was a single shot from one of the agents, then a flash of light. All the cameras went out at once.

“We’re thinking EMP,” the Analyst said. “But, the people we pulled out had all sorts of other electronics on them, all fine. Watches kept ticking, walkies were good.”

“You’re right, it’s not EMP.” Mitch said. “That gesture, see that?” he pointed to the monitor containing a grainy, green-white image of the man in the hall. “That’s a spell meant to occult the caster from sight. As for what killed those men, I’d have to say they used another incantation that causes its victim’s flesh to necrotize. Probably a standard withering spell or a variant of it.”

The analyst looked at him with a clear look of disbelief.

“You don’t have cultists, son. You’ve got Cultists. Capital C.”

Mitch pulled out his cell phone and speed dialed a number. He didn’t have to wait long for an answer.

“Yeah,” he said. “It’s official. Bring in SWAT.”


The black van arrived thirty minutes after his call. Mitch looked at the moon. It was gibbous, pregnant with its culminating phase. Thank god for small favors.

The van door slid open and five people stepped out. They were a mixed group. Short, tall, fat, thin, male, female. The only common thing between them was their attire. Their suits were form fitting black tights. All were barefoot and bare handed. Mitch walked up to one of them, a middle aged guy with a physique going to fat. Mitch reached his hand out.

“Bancroft. Goddamn, when they move you out here?”

“Two years ago. You know, after that whole Detroit heroin raid?” The man didn’t seem entirely comfortable.

“Oh yeah, that FBI loan out. Sorry that went south on you man. I heard you took a hell of a hit.”

“You have no idea.”

“I got a notion.” Mitch looked to the rest of the group. “These your folks?”

“Yeah, they’re… they’re my family now.”

“You the big dog?”

“In a manner of speaking.”

“Well, good, you make sure they follow your lead.”

“I know. I remember Waco.”

“I’m sure you do, Bancroft. I’ll have an agent over here in a second to brief you on the situation.”

Mitch turned from Bancroft and went to the new huddle of shot callers. Scarecrow was still there – Mitch didn’t give a flying fart what his actual name was – as well as a pair of FBI agents, an ATF woman, and a liaison from FDX.

Mitch cleared his throat and started giving orders.

“Okay, our SWAT team is here. You,” he pointed at Scarecrow, “I need you over there with SWAT to give them a basic overview of who you think is in there. How many, how they’re conventionally armed, any kind of training they have, shoe size, voting history, whatever you got.”

Scarecrow looked at the swat team with contempt. “You mean, they’re… that’s the SWAT team?”

Mitch looked at Scarecrow, irked to be interrupted. “Yeah, you got a problem, slim?”

“This is un-fucking-believable.” Scarecrow looked at his feet and shook his head. “Okay, so you’re some kind of special fed division, I get that. I don’t like it, but I get it. But we have four dead agents. One that probably isn’t going to make it through mentally, even if his body does. We’ve got cameras here now, watching,” Scarecrow pointed to the flashing blue and red lights that kept a small but growing number of media staff a good two hundred meters away. “And you’re going to send in a bunch of… I don’t know who the fuck in, unarmed?”

Mitch looked over his shoulder to the SWAT team. Bancroft was talking to a six-foot five woman with a neutral expression who was barely contained in her skin tight uniform. The other three were scratching themselves almost uncontrollably and looking at the moon.

“Trust me, they’re specialists. And they can hear you too. Sharp as bloodhounds those folks are, so you mind your fucking P’s and Q’s, you read me, good buddy? I wouldn’t piss those fellas off.”

One of the SWAT team members stopped itching long enough to shoot a salute at Scarecrow as Mitch stopped speaking.

“So, go on, git,” Mitch said, fighting the urge to kick Scarecrow in the ass on his way out. “The rest of the adults got work to do.”

He turned to the others as Scarecrow sulked away.

“I’m gonna need a secondary squad to follow up on the primary SWAT team to handle anyone who surrenders or to retrieve hostages. Just hang by the entrance and remember: no matter how weird things get, just stay clear of the primary squad…”

Mitch saw the whole operation play out from the exterior surveillance footage routed into the van. It was all over within three minutes. It tended to go this way once FDX’s SWAT teams were deployed in Mitch’s experience. The only questions were how many bodies ended up on the books and from which side.

Within twenty seconds of SWAT’s insertion, the gunshots started. This disconcerted some of the usual FBI and ATF guys – they lived in an age of body cameras and thermal imaging. Hot shit toys and by the book tactics fed them intel they’d learned to use as a crutch. Mitch had waved all of that aside. “Don’t need ‘em,” he’d said. Some of it might have helped provided the Cultists didn’t cast any more wards, but magic was costly. Mitch knew that. But, he’d take the SWAT team as they were over another whole van full of high-tech gear.

At thirty seconds in, there was even more gunfire, and then an uncanny noise. It was low at first, but raised in intensity over the next few seconds. Then, the howls became clear. Mitch saw the panic ripple through the folks working in the other agencies. Fed, ATF, fucking Navy SEAL, it doesn’t matter, he thought. You hear that noise, you know someone’s gonna die. Mitch put his hand on the surveillance analyst’s shoulder. The kid almost jumped out of his skin.

“S’okay, kid. Almost over.”

Sixty seconds in, one of the walls from the compound’s main building buckled. From the camer’s view, it seemed as if a wrecking ball got a shot from inside the structure somehow. Dust puffed out and several cinderblocks fell, but the wall held. There was a brief spat of panic fire from agents at the perimeter but it was quickly halted by a squad commander somewhere.

Ninety seconds in, the glow started. The main room of the compound had high windows all around it’s bulk, and green, searing light came pouring out of them. A few folks wearing light amplifying goggles were forced to turn away, and a wave of pure chaos seemed to overtake everyone in sight. Some agents fell to their knees and wept, others shouted, and another touched herself. At least one agent turned his gun on the agent next to him and shot him.

Mitch hated that part the most – Cult magic just made people standing around batshit crazy. It was usually the buttoned-up, upstanding, really with-it types that buckled too. The more strange or open-minded you were, the less the magic could hurt you, but even a little magic went a long way. It ate order and shit madness.

The inter departmental shooting caused a ripple of panic along the line as the madness took hold. Before things could get any more out of hand, Mitch saw the FDX liaison make a kind of strange gesture and the riotous units went slack jawed and complacent. Mitch hadn’t figured the agency had hired on Deep Ones yet, but… he hadn’t seen anyone else command that kind of power. He’d have words about that back at headquarters after all of this was over.

At two minutes, the wall that had buckled earlier burst out and two forms could be seen.

The first was a Cultist, crackling with eldritch flux. His skin was emitting a baleful green glow, and his flesh was starting to burn and crackle. His eyes glowed even brighter, and his mouth was releasing torrents of malign energy toward his assailant.

The assailant was easily eight-and-a-half feet tall. Clad in all black, its clothes beginning to tatter, was profuse with hair and fang and claw. It’s wolf-like head used powerful jaws to snap of the Cultist’s arm. A gout of ooze and green fire erupted from it, scalding the wolf thing’s muzzle. The beast spat out the limb and bit again, this time seizing the Cultist by the torso, then shook him until there was a crack that could be heard audibly even above the howling and the chanting booming from inside the main building. The Cultist went limp and his inner glow died. The wolfen figure released it’s bite and batted away the corpse, howling in triumph.

Agents who still had their wits about them on the line fled. Mitch kept his hand on the analyst’s shoulder. The poor guy was weeping and gibbering now. Par for the course. Mitch was made of sterner stuff.

At minute two, second forty-two, there was a single howl of triumph and then Cultists and hostages poured out from inside. The liaison made another hand gesture and suddenly the enrapt units came to, and their training took hold. They had the fleeing men and women on the ground and started to make their arrests and rescues.

In all of the confusion, the five semi-naked swat team members came out, not a scratch on them, and went to Mitch for debriefing.

Scarecrow was not doing well. Last Mitch saw him, he was being carted off in an ambulance, catatonic and drooling. Mitch had that figured that would happen from the get go. He had little remorse for him or guys like him: too straightlaced for the true nature of the world.

The rest of the agents on the line had some fuzzy recall of the entire event.

The man who’d been shot didn’t even remember who had done it to him; it was easy in the post-op to write it off as cultist panic fire (cultist of course being written with a small ‘c’ in the ‘official’ paperwork). The guy who shot him didn’t even remember doing it. A fortunate side effect of the kinds of chaos Cultist magic wrought was that it almost always was forgotten. Those who didn’t forget could be made to, or turned out to be great FDX recruits.

The folks running the show on state and federal levels, they had some questions though. They always did. But, with a little magic ‘push’ and some help from the almost full moon, Mitch had taken care of it with as much grace and care as he could. He didn’t like using magic himself, but sometimes, he had to. It was the only way to keep the gears moving and humanity alive.

And the press? Shit, the press was easy. FDX had infiltrated them years ago. Most of the folks running the media knew what side their bread was buttered on. Anyone reporting the truth got lumped in with conspiracy theorists and Fox News.

As the whole scene began to deconstruct, Mitch made it a point to go to the van and talk to the team.

“I gotta hand it to you, Bancroft, you’re doing a hell of a job in Scrying, Werewolves, and Thaumaturgy.”

“It ain’t easy,” Bancroft said. He wiped a prodigious amount of sweat from his forehead. “I don’t think I ever handled a pack this big. Three was my upper limit before but these guys are good.”

“I knew you had it in you,” Mitch said. “And besides, there’s nothing you can’t do with the moon behind you.”

“Yeah, the moon gave just enough kick to negate the worst of the Cultist mojo. Coulda stood for a full one though. Hard to alpha that one.” Bancroft pointed to the giant SWAT woman who no longer had a shirt or any apparent trace of modesty as she tried to smear blood off her chest. “She’s a toughie. I’ll recommend her for special training for pack ops. She rates her own pack after taking out their Magus.”

“I’ll see to it.”

Mitch put out his hand. Bancroft took it with some hesitation and shook it.

“We’re seeing more of this, you know,” Bancroft said. “It used to be I’d get a raid like this once every two or three years. But now… I’m getting them every three or four months. It’s happening isn’t it? That’s what Koresh said back at Waco. ‘The stars are right.’ You heard anything?”

“No. That kinda thing is probably beyond both of our clearances and pay grades. Best to not ask.”

“Yeah,” Bancroft said. “Maybe so.”

“You watch yourself, alright?”

“Sure,” Bancroft said and walked back to the van. The pack followed him in, and they drove away.

Mitch spat in the grass as the op began to shut down. He looked at the stars.

No matter how hard he looked, they didn’t seem right to him yet.

For curious readers, the assignment was ‘Cultists Vs. Werewolves.’ 

Beasties: A Terribleminds Flash Fic Challenge

Beasties and creep crawlies abound…

You might have heard of a guy by the name of Chuck Wendig. He’s had a series of fantastic books featuring his trailer-punk death psychic, Miriam Black. My personal favorites though are the many sourcebooks he wrote or co-wrote for White Wolf (now Onyx Path Publishing or O.P.P. if you know them) for the World of Darkness, and also for a book I don’t think gets as much credit as is due: The Blue Blazes.

But, apart from the free advertising here for Chuck (which hell yes, I support; buy his books), he also has a blog at On said blog, he’ll put out a challenge or two fairly regularly.

The most recent challenge was to take two random genres to mash up and then let them have at each other until you have 1,500 words, approximately. I got:

Space Opera and Splatter Punk.

So… this is going to get fucking disgusting pretty goddamned quick. I’m temporarily calling this one ‘Beasties.’ Maybe I rename it, maybe I don’t. Either way, enjoy – provided you can hold down your lunch. You’ve been warned.


The drop craft’s landing was much smoother than its orbital entry. It’s captain, Narthan, was irked at having to walk through one of his newer grunt’s vomit on his way out. According to the pilot, they were only minutes away from the last known location of the prospectors. When he found them, he would put his boot up their collective asses for dragging him down to the surface of… whatever the fuck this shitty planet was called. As the Fury’s Executive Officer, he resented going mudside in some ancient drop craft that his syndicate wouldn’t even retrofit. The smell of defoliant only made him more insufferable.

He gulped a lungfull of air from his rebreather and shouted at his crew.

“All right. You all know the reason we’re here. Get to the prospecting team’s transponder and bring back information on what happened to their party. This planet is property of the Noborov Syndicate now, and we’re to bring back anything useful concerning the missing prospectors as well as any survey data. Faster it’s done, the faster we can get our cut of everything valuable on this festering shithole. Fucking get to it.”

The crew split up into pairs to begin investigating while Narthan went back to the craft. He ducked his head into its access point and spoke to the pilot.

“We have a reliable linkup back to the Fury?”

“It’s thready, but it’s here. Even our amped up transponder relay gear is having trouble in this magnetosphere though. Cap’n ain’t gonna be happy, but… nothin’ to be done, XO.”

A scream came out from the jungle. Narthan was on the comm channel immediately.

“What in the fuck is going on? report in!”

“XO, you’re gonna wanna see this,” came a staticky voice. The channel’s signal was poor, but Narthan could make out the voice of Darby, one of the grunts.

“Locked on to your signal. I’m coming to you,” Narthan said, grabbing his gun.

The corpse was all but broken down into a twitching, bloody pile by the local wildlife. A small swarm of tiny, five-legged, eyeless creatures no bigger than a child’s finger were feasting on it, their mandibles clicking and clacking as they shoved gristle into their conical maws. They’d taken out the softest parts of the prospector first – the genitals, the meat near the armpits, spaces between digits on hands and feet. The skin was almost entirely devoured. It could barely be identified as human. Ropes of veins and nerves stood out in sharp relief against ravaged muscle. Bones could be seen in a few places, mostly around the ribs. The limbs looked deflated and withered.

Narthan did his best to look unfazed.

“Where’s his fucking head?” he said to Darby.

“No clue.” Darby’s voice was dull. Narthan recognized him as one of the crew’s only combat veterans.

“Any other bodies?”

“Not yet. If the scavs on this one are any indication, any of the other prospector corpses might be gone by now. These bastards are good little eaters.”

“You sure these things aren’t what did ‘em in?”

“If they were predators, I think they’d have started eating us by now.”

“Probably. But, never trust an alien ecology to be like ours.”

Narthan turned to look at the other crew mates. “All right. I want a standard sterilization here against known insect-like life. Hose this whole place down in a hundred meter radius from the landing craft. Hop to it!”

The men scattered to comply. As they did, the XO began to take count. The crew’s math didn’t add up.

He checked his roster in his ocular implant’s heads up display. One, two, three…

He counted nine men deployed in his line of sight.

Ten was a standard drop, plus a pilot.

“Son of a bitch,” he said, lifting his rebreather to spit. “Where the hell is Finch?”

The transponder became more finicky as Narthan trudged through the fetid jungle growth. Based on the Pilot’s earlier comment, he had no reason to believe that Finch might actually be dead – it was probably a transponder problem causing his reported ‘death.’ They’d seen it happen before on planets with strong magnetospheres. They’d barely touched down on the planet for fifteen minutes, how much trouble could a fuck up like Finch get into? Regardless, Narthan took Darby with him to look into the missing crewman’s last location.

Narthan figured the greedy little shit probably saw something that he thought might make him rich. Bizarre lifeforms fetched a good price in certain quarters of settled space, and Narthan was seeing all sorts of it that might qualify… if you were stupid enough to leave your post on an uncharted backwater planet.

He swatted at a stinging creature at his neck. His hand came away red and yellow with goop. Darby had a few critters on him too, but he didn’t seem to mind while they supped on his blood.

“For fuck’s sake, log this into our report, Darby – more insecticide next time.”

“Aye, XO.”

After a few more minutes they found a gobbet of flesh about the size of an apple in the leafy ground.

“Fuck,” said Narthan. “Is that…?”

Darby began scanning the area visually. His implants kicked in, giving his eye a shine like a cat’s.

“Yeah. That’s his heart,” said the grunt. “Personnel transponder is weaved in it day one with the syndicate. We’re right on top of the signal.”

Narthan sent an alert through the comm. “All right everyone. Pack it in. We’ve got hostile local life here not indicated by the initial sat survey. We’re getting the fuck out of here. Dust off in ten standards.”

He shut off the comm and looked into the jungle. That was when he saw Finch staring at him from behind a thicket of leafy growth.

“What the…” he said.

Many things happened almost at once.

First, Narthan heard distant gunfire. Several lights went off in his HUD display implanted in his left eye noting that two of the crew were now dead or dying. Then, that same eye was skewered by a flying lance of bone, sending vitreous humor and chunks of nerve into the blanket of dead leaves around his feet. He screamed and fell to his knees as another sliver of bone flew into his throat. His wet screams were utterly feral.

Narthan tried to rip the bloody dart from his eye socket with one hand and to offer futile panic fire with the other. The thing wearing Finch staggered out of the brush. It was much like the other five-legged insects they’d been shooing away, but larger, standing almost three feet tall and draped in what Narthan had to assume was the remains of Finch. Where the creature’s main body should be was now protected by Finch’s severed head from the jaw up. Bits of trachea, brain, and tongue dripped from its crude armor’s base. Fresh human bones – Finch’s femurs, a humerus, a tibia, and several vertebrae – seemed to cover its segmented legs like extra armor. It seemed to be nibbling on finger bones in it’s mouth, whirling and sharpening them down into darts.

Darby’s autorifle roared. The first hit to the thing knocked off the top of Finch’s skull, exposing the softer, pulsating shell of the beast beneath. The second shot sent a spray of yellow-brown ichor spurting across vines and roots as the thing fell.

The last thing Narthan would ever see, was the squirming of tiny, five-legged things crawling over his remaining good eye and beginning to devour it as his HUD flickered out and died with him.

Darby made it to the drop craft only to find the pilot dead. His head was similarly missing, his body practically rippling with burrowing horrors. He tossed the body out, then gave the craft the command to return to base on autopilot. He found more of the smaller beasts, and killed as many of the squirming things as he could under his boots until he could find no more.

Thirty seconds before docking with the Fury, he hit the airlock controls and voided the craft with an override. He left the airlock open until his skin went icy and cracked, until he felt like his eyes would freeze solid. When he finally managed to close the airlock, he knew he’d be in infirmary for weeks if he survived, laid up with voidbite. So long as the critters were dead, he could live with that.

When he finally felt the dock clamps hit home, the Fury’s alarm klaxons were active with orange quarantine lights. It was then he realized that the death of almost all his crew would trigger a lockdown request after going to an uncharted world.

Darby gave out a wheezing laugh, then lit a cigarette. As he did, a larval creature crawled up his hand. He took one big inhalation of smoke, then shoved the cigarette’s glowing ember into its soft chitin, searing his own flesh in the process.

Then the dock was filled with heat and flame to rival a small sun.

“Fuckin’ figures,” he said as he felt the heat rise, then saw a mass of writing creatures begin to poor out from behind bulkheads and drop cradles.

Then there was only fire.

Site Update – The Challenges

You might notice that the writing challenges from 2015 have gone the way of the dodo. This is intentional. The Site Update is upon us.

You may remember back in 2016, before my life became much more complicated, I had intended to start editing and working towards publication. That time has come. I’ve taken down the (wretchedly) rough stories from the blog, and I’m now actively going through a review process… and looking for publishers!

I have about three stories that I feel are fit to print as of right now. I’ll be working these through the various publisher options I’m digging up and feeling out the landscape. Keep an ear to the ground for more information as it comes.

For the folks who really liked the stories, fret not – there hopefully will be buying options soon!

Writing Challenge Wrap-up or: What Have I Learned From All of This?

Back in 2014 I found myself in a weird place. I knew I wanted to write. I’m told by some of my readers that I’m not half bad at it, so I keep doing it. But, I felt like I was neglectful. I wasn’t writing regularly. I’d completed two manuscripts and stalled out on a third. It was torturous kind of work. I loved the spinning of the tale, but often I’d feel like I’d written myself into a corner. Or that I’d been spewing out so much work that no one would ever want to read any of it.

In 2010-2011 I believe, I was involved with a few creative writing classes from the Liar’s Club. I took two of their classes – Novel In Nine Months and a short story workshop. I learned a lot in both – but the short story class really got me going. I worked regularly. I really enjoyed it.

So, as I slid half-drunkenly into 2015 I thought that maybe it was time to try something new. The short stories came easily and often left room for larger ideas. And more importantly, writing short stories was really, really fun.

With that in mind, I decided to make a resolution right there and then. Some people resolve to lose weight. Others to stop smoking. Some even go to wholly redefine themselves.

I wanted to refine myself.

All for one reason.

If you wanna be a writer, you gotta write. And I wasn’t writing enough.

So I came up with some starting rules:

1 – Write a short story for every week of 2015, with 52 stories in total.
2 – Keep them as short as you can. 3,000 words max (learn to kill your darlings)
3 – Publicly post my work to keep me on track and honest.

And so began a year of work. Here’s what I learned 145,140 words later.

Rules Suck

Not gonna lie – those first weeks were hard. Really hard. I banged out three stories in the first week and thought I’d gotten a good head start. After that, it became a kind of race. Sticking to the rules was not always easy, and sometimes, they changed, got bent, or all around became unrealistic. When my grandfather was on the edge of death in February and when he eventually died later that year in August, those deadlines became impossible. So I had to adapt the challenge if it was going to work.

Guidelines are Better

I decided that Wednesdays were going to be my target story release days if all went well. It didn’t necessarily matter if the stories came out each week – it was more important that I had fifty-two stories (one for each week) at the end of the year.  Additionally, the rule to keep stories short was a good one. Those first few weeks I was actually stricter than I thought. I’d set the rules for 3,000 words max but was paring down to below 2,000. It taught me to keep things concise and to get to the point, but once I got that down, I let the words come back slowly – I just tried to make each word count and it’s immensely helped.

I Hit Consistent Goals

Looking back on things, I realize that I achieved what I was looking to attain. There’s fifty-two stories, and when I take the total number of words (145,000 approx.) and divide it by fifty-two weeks, you get an average word count of 2,788 – which is beneath my desired 3,000 per story word count. I have some that go over (highest I think was a bit higher than 5,000 words) but some were in the 1,800’s when I was really learning how to cut out unnecessary crap. Obviously I have fifty-two stories. Plus, I kept the world informed of progress while I did it.

This is one of the first times I’ve made a plan and stuck with it.

I Failed a Couple Goals – And That’s Okay

I did of course meet with some failures.

The most consistent personal failures I feel came in terms of some stories not feeling like fully fledged stories so much as a glimpse into a larger world. Nano Noir and the Road stories come to mind – but the good news is that in these vignettes, I do feel like I latched onto something larger. There’s a deeper story waiting to be told about Kyle, Butch, Slim, and Auntie Bellum. Nano Noir has an entire arc all ready in my head to be laid out and tweaked.

Additionally, I feel like I sometimes phoned the work in. There are some weeks I just didn’t feel creative as I’d like. Sometimes the Script I used to create stories didn’t jive or I’d start writing them and have to junk it when things didn’t work out right. I could expound on which stories to me were awful – but I’d rather not. You can figure that out on your own I imagine, reader. And, like my dad kept telling me: “Don’t preface things by saying ‘this isn’t my best work’ because no one will read the damn things.”

So, from those failures, I have learned lessons and can begin to correct them.

I Found Out a Lot About My Shortcomings

There are things I am goddamned terrible at. I’ve learned that for some reason, my body is trained to say the same thing twice – sometimes three times – under the false pretense that it adds emphasis. It’s a bad habit I have no idea where I picked it up from. The challenge helped me find it, recognize it, and start gunning it down. It still crops up here and there, but I’m getting better at it.

I also know my most villainous typos, common turns of phrase, and that a lot of the time my first person perspectives often sound too alike.

The great thing about finding out your shortcomings though is that once they’re out and running around your keyboard you can smash the little bastards with a hammer, then get back to writing.

Quite A Bit of My Effort Is Pointless

I sat down with one of my alpha readers at a book club meeting and we got to talking about process as we often do (he being a creative as well). He was really kind of surprised when I told him one of the big things I learned: write the story, then take about the first thousand words out and start there.

I remembered having the same reaction the first time I heard this myself back in the Liar’s Club classes. Can’t remember which teacher told us this – but it’s true. My first thousand words are almost always warm up that doesn’t really convey anything important to the reader. By the time I’m a thousand words in, that’s where interesting stuff is finally happening. Scene setting (different from world building) for me isn’t really important as it was to me any longer. Start with action or dialog. Get people invested in that first paragraph. Sometimes I can hack that stuff out from the get go, and other times I have to murder a thousand words to get things right.

I have learned a lot about killing the proverbial darlings in my life. And I’m getting better every day.

The World Can’t Be the Only Thing Fantastic

Another friend of mine at that very same book club meeting had read my published short stories Kowloon-M and Halfway House and honed in on another realization.

I’ll paraphrase him here – we had all had a beer or two by this point (great benefit of meeting for book club at a bar). He said: Kowloon-M and Halfway House are great setting pieces – but your characters should come through just as developed. Shift your focus a little. Take as much time building them as people as you do building the fantastic circumstances.

He’s right too. When I look back through my stories, the setting and world build the crux of the story while characters facilitate it. To do better, I need to turn that equation around. Let the characters drive through the world and expose it. And make sure those characters have more drive and motivation. Short stories don’t give a lot of room for development – but it doesn’t mean it can’t be done and it’s a goal.

Apparently, I’m a Horror Writer

This is something I think I always knew, but the challenge brought it out where I could see it. As I’ve been writing these stories, I take the finished process and collate them into Scrivener which manages all of my serious work in a manageable format. It’s how  got my final word count and how I divided my efforts up into three general categories: fantasy, science-fiction, and horror.

Surprise! Horror was the biggest category by a landslide. Twenty-three of the stories – almost half – were based around a concept rooted in the macabre. I had one reader actually tell me that when she read ‘Now, Watch,’ that she couldn’t get past a particular scene where there was a rather detailed and gruesome description of someone unsuccessfully trying to keep a nasty wound closed. Another told be they got goosebumps at the end of ‘Take Only One.’ Clearly, I have the capacity to give people the willies.

And, weirdly enough, I enjoy writing those stories. That may sound pretty messed up – but there’s something very cathartic about the horror writing process. I learned a lot about horror these past two years. My girlfriend almost died of a severe pulmonary illness. My mother was struck by a car and developed severe problems with vertigo. Both grandparents rapidly deteriorated and ended up in hospice care or nursing facilities, then died. So much fear and dread and terror built up in me. If I have to have those wretched experiences, I figure I ought to make them useful. These topics and more, old anxieties, unspoken fears, and my always present fear of the unknown pour themselves out into the pages. I’ve learned that if you want to scare the living shit out of people, you have to write about what personally scares you. Death itself, the process of it, loss of control, watching people change suddenly and drastically – it’s bad enough I have these fears, but letting them cling on uselessly?

I plan to chain those things up in words. Put them out there where I can see them like I have with my shortcomings in craft. There’s something about the idea of everything in the process, including my fears, being out in the open that appeals. Because once you can see a thing and can label it, you’ve taken the power of the unknown from it. They’re just as ugly of course, but once everything’s in front of you… you can start dealing with all of it.

You Have To Let Yourself Write What Feels Like Crap Some of the Time

This was hard to learn. But there came times when a story had to come up because it was deadline time, or I was already a week or two behind. Part of the challenge was accountability, and when you are forcing yourself to write, you sometimes don’t come up with the best stuff.

I’ll be the first to admit – I hate some of these stories. I won’t go into specifics, but I really didn’t like some of what came up. Some of my readers did – which stuns me a little. But, it has come to show me that even if it’s not your favorite, people may love it. I’m told that Tchaikovsky absolutely hated The Nutcracker Suite and wished he’d never written it, but every damned Christmas, the world pulls it out and parades it around.  Perhaps I’ve written a few Nutcrackers of my own.

But, this bridges into…

There’s Nothing You Can’t Edit Later

I’m multi-disciplined when it comes to creative stuff. I went to school for training to become an Animator. I have always loved the visual arts (my first artistic love as it were). I’m trained in design. I can draw. If you put a gun to my head, I might even be able to paint you something in acrylic. I’ve done graphic design for print and television, I can take pretty good photos without a big need for equipment. But, all of those mediums seem harder to fix in post than with writing.

I can’t count how many times I had to crumple up a paper or throw away illustration board or waste a canvas because I messed something up so badly it could not be fixed or covered up.  With writing, if I have crap in front of me, I can fix it. In writing, turds can actually be polished with enough drafts. There’s almost never a need to entirely go back to the drawing board because you can raise the corpse of your present story. Amputate its limbs, cut off its head, and rebuild from a tiny sampling of guts – it’s not always easy, but nothing ever worth doing really is.

I Love This

This is something I already knew, but it drove it home. I love this. You can’t be a writer without loving the act of writing. You wouldn’t spend several hours over the course of a week doing it if you didn’t (time in schooling being discounted, mostly). There’s so much other stuff you could be doing – but you find yourself writing, putting one word down after another and you feel something inside you stretching and moving and being born. Sometimes it’s like pulling teeth, other times it’s like taking a piss after drinking half a six-pack. But, in both cases, I’m never quite as happy as when I’m in front of a keyboard for the explicit purpose of writing things that I hope people will enjoy.

I want to make this my living some day.

New Goals

And it’s taught me that I need to set goals. I work better with deadlines. I work better with accountability. I work better with friends and family reading my work as I go forward. So I’m going to take what I’ve done this year and run with it. I think I have enough work in here for at least two anthologies and I’m setting out my goals here.

In the first three months of 2016, my goal is to select twelve of the stories seen on my Writing Challenge page. I wish to pull them down from the site (sorry – this is a part of the process that has to happen) and get to tweaking. To making them the best stories I can possibly write.

In the fourth through sixth month, I intend to format them, then shop them around. I want to be able to have an anthology of my favorites – most likely from the horror category.

After that, I guess right now the goal is to keep writing. To keep the momentum moving. I may not be placing the stories here, but I want to do an article a week to go over progress or any daft notions that come through my head about the craft of writing or my process. I want to be out there with people from the Delaware Writer’s Group, to Reconnect with the Liar’s Club Coffee House. This should be the year of trying to become a professional at this.

An Invitation To Come With Me

Come with me through the process – because writing shouldn’t be a solitary process. As I’ve also discovered, it’s good to be with others doing the same as I have come to most Monday nights over at a friend’s place.

Thanks and Acknowledgements

There are so many people I really need to thank for the past year’s support and encouragement.

Mom and Dad – Dad, you always get around to the stories and you always have some kind of feedback, good or ill. Mom, you don’t always read the stories (sometimes, this is a good thing) but you always are on me to keep doing this because I love it.

My Girlfriend – You’re always willing to read my stuff right after I write it (unless you’re already asleep) and always ready to tell me without any reservation what works for you and what doesn’t.

Steve Myers (Premiere Alpha Reader) – For extended review sessions and telling me what I need to hear sometimes. Your input is always appreciated!

The Extended List of Alpha Readers – God there’s a lot of you. I’ve received a lot of feedback from the following folks: Dan Bogart, Jacob Jones-Goldstien, Nick Leamy, and Dan Lynn to name a few.

My TeachersJanice Gable BashmanDon LaffertyMarie Lamba, Jonathan Maberry, Jon McGoran, and Dennis Tafoya to name a few.

The Monday Night Crew – Patrick Conlon, Marcella Harte-Conlon, Jacob Jones-Goldstein, Nick Leamy and Steve Myers (Double dipping here to be sure – but they’ve earned it).

Halfway There

So, here we are. Six months later, halfway through. The writing challenge has gone better than I ever anticipated it would. To be honest, I thought this would be the kind of thing that would peter out in three weeks, another self imposed thing that I would find falling by the wayside in three weeks.

But, here I am. Twenty-six stories all in place. Some are fragmentary as more than a few test readers noted, smaller parts or vignettes of larger works. Some are full formed, beginning, middle, end. Some are better than others. Unfortunately, all stories are not created equal.

But, I’ve been rolling around the whole thing in my head and I’ve been planning this for a few weeks. There’s a new benchmark I’m looking to meet.

The second half of the challenge will look a lot like the first part. I’ll be putting out a short a week right up until 2016. That will not change. What will change is the Writing Challenge page.

You’ll note that I’ll be un-linking some of the short stories at some point in the future. My goal is to select twelve stories from the challenge, a little under half of the stories to date, and continue revision or possibly even expanding some of the tales that I feel are the strongest or that people have been good enough to advocate for.

After that, I will begin seeking publication of the story as an anthology, either traditionally or electronically.

That’s the plan.

So, with that said, I’m going to be goddamned busy. Wish me luck.

Altering the Deal

In light of my most recent writing challenge, I’m looking back at the goals with a fresh eye. The challenge’s rules were pretty straightforward per my post where I outlined the basics:

I’m thinking that the challenge should involve the script that Ben hooked me up with, already pre-loaded with the 20 master plots, and, genres, settings, and elements that I already like. Each short story should be somewhere between 1,500 and 2,500 words (challenging for me – my average ‘short story’ is something like 5K-6K words).

Given the above, you can extrapolate:

– No longer than 2,500 words.
– Incorporate all elements from the script.
– One short story a week.

I’m wondering if all of these rules are good ones. Maybe it’s time to alter the deal.

I’m still down with the word count rules – in fact my stories have all been 2,000 words – and I am down with the deadline. What I’m having issues with is the script.

For all of the random permutations it could create, I find that I’m already starting to trip over things I’ve done in other stories. I can expand the entries – but ultimately, the master plots are going to be repeated at least twice for each if I spread them out evenly – some will get three times. And it’s clear I’m not good at some of them. Love and The Riddle come to mind – they don’t cram well into short works. And I’m ultimately, my goal isn’t to get good at them if I’m being really honest.

Riddle me this: why would I force myself to write something I don't enjoy?
Riddle me this: why would I force myself to write something I don’t enjoy?

I’m all about expanding my horizons and personal growth in my work – but isn’t life too short to be spinning cycles on things that don’t utilize my actual skills? I think my repertoire is pretty good with the things I am good at.

I’m finding that my deeper goal is that I want to write. I want to write about the things I’d want to read.

Is that enough?

I think it might be.

So, I may alter the deal. I’m thinking that I should be using the prompts as guidelines – not a rule.

First person to say parlay gets a cutlass to the face.
First person to say parlay gets a cutlass to the face.

As noted earlier, the script is great for mashing up ideas – but sometimes the plots or the settings don’t match (though there’s a case for this in stories like Moneyworkers) and as a result, there’s no flow. No flow means less writing, which in turn means more failed challenges.

I’m thinking the challenge would be modified as follows:

– No longer than 2,500 words.
– Alter the script to drop the master plot element (let me write the kinds of stories that work for me while retaining setting, genre, and elements)
– One short story a week.

It’s presently food for thought for me. I haven’t decided yet.

Ultimately, I have to do what’s best to develop and refine my skills. If you have thoughts on it, post to my Facebook Page. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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