Monday, March 28, 2011

Aidan's Pensieve: Change II

I claimed in the previous blog entry that I dealt well with change (yes, time has escaped from me and when I wrote that blog entry; I'd already had this one planned as my follow-up), but I discovered that some things annoy me when they change.

I discovered my resistance to change when Amazon upgraded the Kindle recently and one of the hyped features included in the release was the addition of true page numbers instead of locations. I know when I first bought my Kindle I was uncomfortable with locations because I didn't know how they translated into time read. I like to look to see how many pages -- or locations -- I have until the next chapter to decide whether I'll read to the next chapter or stop for the night. However, within a couple of books, I had a reasonably accurate feeling of locations and I even had a rough idea of how many words fit in a location as well. I figured the addition of a page number feature to the Kindle couldn't hurt. Unfortunately, I was mistaken.

I'm one of those annoying morning people who get up early and can have thousands of words written before other people wake up. Unfortunately, a morning person because once I wake up I don't fall back to sleep. One day I woke up around three in the morning and couldn't sleep so I went to another room and started reading my Kindle. However, I discovered that my locations no longer showed up on the display. My Kindle had changed. I realize that I can see what the locations are by pressing the menu key, but I felt like I should have at least been asked if I would accept the upgrade. Of course, I would've accepted the upgrade but at least then I could be upset at myself for accepting the upgrade and not upset at Amazon for upgrading my device without even asking me. Worse, I felt like they took away a feature since I no longer saw my locations and bizarrely, the change resulted in an empty spot on the bottom of my Kindle.

Of course, change got me thinking about some other things as well. Publishers claim that part of their value proposition is preparing electronic books. However, I already format my stories as electronic books (Kindle only at the moment, but it wouldn't be too difficult for me to support ePub as well) for my first readers. Therefore, I don't see this as a complex task.

One difference I've noticed between what I do and published books, is that occasionally I'll get a book that has a special font. I know an important decision in a physical book is the font. Yet, the electronic books I've read with special fonts (Suzanne Collin's The Hunger Games, and Mingmei Yip's Peach Blossom Pavilion) have been annoying because they're not the same size as the fonts in other books and I must continuously fiddle with font sizes as I switch between books.

My office mate, a huge electronic book fan, appreciates these special fonts. He had an example of one book where the publisher had created inks spots and other special aspects to the fonts to enhance the experience. I began to wonder whether my discomfort with change was coloring my preferences. What are your thoughts about the fonts in books, electronic or not?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Yuri's Butterflies

Yuri dipped his fingers in the ground dust of Faberge's swan egg, mauve enamel and coal dust slurring with the powdered diamond and flecks of aquamarine lake. Illusionary carbon-steel surgical blades descended from the tips of Yuri's fingers and he caressed his hand along Alexandre's cheek blending a stinging sense of salt in with the illusion of blood running down the man's cheek. "You did a bad thing."

Alexandre's shivering shook the gurney, but the nylon bonds held his arms and legs securely. "I... did... my... job." Sweat beaded between the blood lines.

The edges of Yuri's mouth curved like the blades on his fingers. As long as he didn't overstress the man's heart, using illusions for torture had all of the benefits, watching the prey squirm, creating fear, and modifying behaviors, without the drawbacks, unintended deaths. "I didn't like your story." Yuri gripped a trailing flap of skin and ripped it from the journalist's face. The man howled. Blades retracting into the oligarchs's fingers, Yuri licked the blood.

The door creaked open.

"I'm busy."

A woman's gasp escaped before she cut off whatever she was going to say. Yuri dipped his fingers into the dust, touched his lips and moved forward quickly to grab Cheryl's hand, lips pressing against her knuckles as he tasted the fear beneath her skin. Behind him, light flashed and when the girl's eyes would readjust to the room she would see Yuri's illusion of a basement garden with blooming dahlias, orchids, and lilies, orange and black-veined butterflies flitting between the flowers and the miniature eucalyptus.

Igor, the butler, massaged his hand. "I told Miss Parcells that you were occupied."

"What did I see?"

Yuri took the opera singer's elbow in his and led her out of the room and up the stairs to the main floor. "I have one of the largest personal collections of butterflies."

Cheryl raised a hand. "But --"

"You didn't see anything. Sometimes, long cross-Atlantic flights and the cold of our Russian winters can make one imagine unusual things." Yuri squeezed Cheryl's upper arm. "How did you get past Igor?"

Cheryl opened her hand, an electric handshake-zapper lying in her palm. "There was a man bleeding in the room. I think I've seen his face somewhere. A newspaper?"

She knew too much. "Igor, clean up the butterflies. And be careful. We wouldn't want any of them to escape. The cold would kill them."

Cheryl opened her mouth, but before she could say anything Yuri placed finger on her lips.

"It was good of you to come to my party." It had taken a small sum to lure her from New York. "You remind me that the Metropolitan Opera may have to cancel this season if they don't find a foundation donor. It would be unfortunate if your first primary role was canceled."

Cheryl's face whitened. "What? James didn't mention money troubles."

"You know I'm good friends with Peter Gelb. The news was sudden. He didn't want to scare you. I think we can solve their troubles. Will you accompany me to New York where I will donate the money they need?"

"You're trying to distract me."

He lifted her chin to look in her beguiling green eyes. "No, you are distracting me. We can talk more about your concerns on my private jet." Yuri snapped his fingers for his limousine.


Cheryl sat in the seat across from him as the jet engine's roar became louder and the floor of the jet rumbled as the landing gear descended. The opera singer looked out the window. "Hey, this isn't New York. The water is too cyan. Where are we?"

"Refueling. I will show you my favorite lounge while we wait for the plane." The lounge was inside the medical center he'd funded and although he liked Cheryl's vivacity, she asked too many questions and seen too much. He frowned. The lobotomy and dust reanimation were necessary.

This flash is set in the same world as Bengal's Flowers.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Placard

The boy looked at the placard in the airport, an old woman or a man, he couldn't tell by the silhouette, with a cane in their hand and kicked a foot over their head. He traced his hands over the placard and felt the raised bump of the white relief outline. There was something more than the metal placard, a heat to the image that seemed to steal his breath.

His mom hurried to yank his hand from the sign. "Don't play with things you don't understand."

She pointed at the planes outside and tried to distract him, but the planes moved along the ground as if they were just regular cars, from this vantage he couldn't see them take off and he counted the bags as they jerked up the conveyor into the side of the plane. His mother smiled at him until her phone rang and the smile slipped into a frown and she answered. His ears were good and even though she moved away, he'd heard his father's voice. The father he wasn't going to see again because they were traveling to some place his mom said was far off. Oceans away. She made him choose two things he wanted to take with him and told him the other things he'd never see again. She promised him he'd like his grandparents, but he thought of dad and she wouldn't tell him why he wasn't coming with them.

She looked at him and he pointed at an airplane coming to the gate and when she looked away distracted by the phone, he returned to the placard. He looked at it and kicked his foot over his head like the person on the placard and he placed his heart hand against it and his breath puffed as the world flashed before him.

He looked around, he saw the airport in white and black. His mom was a flat caricature of a face, those curls down the sides of her hair against the grayness of a window. He tried to move closer, but found himself stuck unable to move towards her and only side to side.


He screeched in a tantrum that always earned attention, but no one answered him the room quiet. He was unsure of how to return. He placed his hand out feeling everything and nothing.

"Where am I?"

The silhouette of the person who'd been in the placard stood next to him and the boy shook when the silhouette moved. He tried to run, but the elderly person moved faster and speared the boy's foot with his cane.

"Where am I?"

The boy decided he was an elderly gentleman because he wore pants, like the silhouettes indicating whether the bathroom was for girls or boys. The man raised both shoulders his arms flashed out of the sides fingers extended.

"How do I get out of here?"

The man tipped his bowler hat at the boy and the face turned to the side, the mouth opening and the tongue waggling in the air but making no sound. The boy pushed the man and he fell backwards with his cane twitching in the air like the legs of a beetle rolled onto its back. The boy ran and he saw silhouettes moving on an escalator. He'd cry if he could, but he was flat and he doubted one could see tears on a silhouette.

He screamed and yelled, but found his throat growing scratchy and the darkness came to the windows of the airport, lights in the ceiling and people and then they disappeared. He fell asleep.

Days passed and then he found another boy, like him the other boy was silent his voice gone from the screaming initially and never returned. He pushed on the boy's arm and the boy pushed his arm. He turned away from the boy and the boy ran away and he chased him and then he traded turns. They found ways to play as day and night was measured as black and white through the windows of the airport.

Weeks passed and then the boy felt two hands grasp him as breath streamed into him and he looked into his mom and dad's eyes as they together held his hand and his mom was crying. She was always crying when dad was around, but this seemed different.

"What's wrong?"

"There's nothing wrong," she said. The boy watched her kiss his father, her husband. "Time to go home."

This flash prompted via RJ Clarken's Flashy Fiction prompt, "Walk this, way please...".

Friday, March 11, 2011

Ringer Games

Father Deagle trudged the shale stairs, the mortar thick in the seams, to the church's second floor and the dozens of rooms just outside the nave, the knobby joints of his toes swollen and complaining with each step. His knees cracked when he lowered himself to the floor searching for the glass-swirled marbles. Sister Drusilla followed in his wake arching her tail with a kink reflecting her curiosity.

Father Deagle's foot never came close to the cat as he swung at it, worrying about the marbles and considering that a cat must never swallow marbles. They were too smart. On the other hand, could a dog have gotten into the church? He clutched the sleeveless mantle as he hurried down the stairs, his knees cracking with each step.

"Hello, Animal Control?" His knee fidgeted -- he was never able to keep still except during sermons and he told the congregation when they asked that it was God's way to reward his instruments -- and he ignored the fidgeting as the voice on the other end answered.

"Yes, this is Father Deagle." The phone buzzed and he held it away from his ear, these newfangled gadgets were always so loud. "Yes... yes... no, I'm not batty. We solved that problem. I've got a new concern and, well I was wondering, have any stray dogs been reported near the church?"

Father Deagle held the phone to Sister Drusilla, but she wiggled her nose and he realized he'd have to handle this whole situation. The help was hopeless. "You've seen no mutts. I can't believe it. Well, I've got this problem. You see. I've lost my marbles."

The phone clicked as Animal Control terminated the connection.

This flash was inspired by Nathaniel Lee's Euphonious drabble. If you aren't familiar with his drabbles, check him out at Mirror Shards.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Aidan's Pensieve: Change I

I like to think that I like change. I've worked as a director in a company, and the one thing trait shared by every company I've worked for is frequent reorganization. This results in significant changes, particularly for a smallish (250 people) company. Some of the people who have reported to me respond poorly to change and need to have preparation and support through the change. I've enjoyed change because of the opportunities that opened up when change occurred.

This is how I've usually thought of change, yet I struggled with representing this in characters. Showing how some characters flow and change easily while others struggle. Particularly, in short stories this evocation can be difficult to accomplish in a small space.

After returning from Sweden mid-February, I caught the flu. It was so bad the following Monday that outside of a technical call with one of my Swedish colleagues (I must have been incoherent on the call), I slept the entire day. On Tuesday, my opinion was that I was nearly healthy. Mostly, because in contrast to Monday I was feeling significantly better.

The flu made me think about change and contrast. Using someone who might not change to show the way in which someone does change. This isn't rocket science, but it is interesting to me when you live through things that make you think differently.

What are ways that you show change in your characters?

Friday, March 4, 2011

Bengal's Flowers: Illusions of Grandeur

Bengal bobbed his head at the pedestrians hurrying along Telegraph while propping himself with one hand on the utility bucket appearing to contain three bouquets of flowers. Behind him, bars kept the vacant lot's dead grass pure. On the edge of the vacant lot, a mix of cerulean and cobalt blues dominated the mural behind him dotted with cream and chocolate milk faces. In the shadows of the vestibule to the Galaxxi's tattoo parlor, stood a leather-vested man wearing a flat gaze. The man weighed at least twice Bengal's weight and the peddler itched the back his neck. Even if he could conjure the goods out of nothing, he needed a sale to fill his belly.

A man in a tweed jacket crossed Haste Street. The polo shirt was on inside out. Bengal shuffled until he stood in the man's path. Professors had more money than students, even if they bickered over the state's lack of funding. "Please, sir. Flowers?"

The man didn't stop until he'd collided with Bengal. "I... I didn't see you." The man bent, his flow of motion broken, to help Bengal to his feet.

Bengal's hands slipped under the coattails of the man's jacket and felt the bulge of the wallet. That was not his game. He felt the heat, but dropped his hands. "My flowers are best quality. Whatever your wife desires can be had."

The man held his hands away from his body, as if they'd been stained. "I'm sorry. I didn't see you." The voice became stronger. The mark was slipping away. "My wife has exotic tastes."

Bengal grabbed the man's forearm. He held it close as if evaluating the palm's lifelines. Without letting go, he pulled backwards until he could reach into the bucket. Bending down to the bottom where the dust gathered. He needed only a small pinch. He murmured a word over the dust and held his hand out to the man, carefully curled.

A flower appeared in the professor's hand. Deep violet petals wrapped the blossom with whiskers tapering away from the center. "Tacca Chantrieri. It can't be. Endangered."

"No. For you and your wife." The flowers, a shared delusion, would last as long as the professor believed.

The man dug into his wallet and pushed some bills into Bengal's hand before disappearing into the crowd of pedestrians. A hand clamped onto Bengal's shoulder as he tucked the bills into his waistline. The man from the tattoo shop held him.


"Whatever you desire." Bengal's voice squeaked.

The man's boot kicked over the bucket to scatter dust across the sidewalk. The waste galled Bengal.

"Illusions are illegal."

Bengal cursed under his breath; the man looked like a bouncer, not an undercover cop. Bengal sneezed with enough force to spray some of the dust into the air. Two soft words turned his hemp shirt into oil-slicked scales and the cop's hand slid along Bengal's back as he rolled to the cement grabbing a fistful of the dust before springing through the bars fencing people out of the vacant lot. The cop lashed out at the bars, but couldn't fit through them.

Bengal sprinted across the tufts of grass and squeezed through the far side and into an alley. The cop's footsteps pounded as he ran around the vacant lot. Bengal turned left, hopped over a trash can, and turned right before leaping to catch the bottom rungs of a fire escape. He breathed over a pinch of dust and faded into the sand-bleached paint. Another pinch and he crafted footprints and the sound of clattering feet turning down the next alley and back towards Telegraph as the cop ran past.

With darkness's caress, he slid from his hiding place and sought a street vendor. Illusions never hurt anyone.