Short Story: “The Encourager” – Revised and Complete

About 3500 words. First complete draft.

Her face was blank mask, devoid of feeling, and she knew it. She practiced each day in front of the small, grimy mirror, removing every trace of emotion and every hint of her thoughts.

Amanda used to cry when they questioned her, hot fury and poisonous despair destroying her control of herself. Now she faced them in perfect silence, and still they knew nothing.

It wasn’t easy to purge the effects of feelings. It wasn’t that she didn’t feel at all, but rather she had trained her body to no longer respond unless she willed it to. Her training was far more painful than the questioning ever was, but she turned herself to stone in order to survive.

Again today she brought up the memories of the CPD bludgeoning her father to death with their batons, then of her mother stalking purposefully from the porch. She saw again how the armoured men wilted before the woman, tearing off their helmets and vomiting as they fell, great welts appearing suddenly across their faces. And inevitably she saw her mother’s body jerk and spasm as the rounds from unseen snipers blasted through her.

The memories hadn’t changed, and her mind’s reaction was still horror and shock and rage, but her face remained cool, her heart rate steady. Amanda was the master of herself, as she had to be if she wanted to stay alive.

She started in surprise as the door to her room banged open behind her. She felt the rush of adrenaline, both familiar and frustrating as it threatened her facade, and she fought down the reaction her body was insisting upon. In seconds she was ready, and she turned around.

Blue-white fluorescents buzzed in the empty corridor, and cameras dotted the walls every ten feet or so. Amanda walked out of her room and down the hallway. She passed dozens of locked rooms identical to her own, each home to a pathetic soul whose parents had been murdered by the Citizen Protection Division. Most were twisted wraiths, barely recognizable as human. Some were loud in their defiance, but she knew their fear was louder still. Some rooms were empty, doors open, the former occupants having been “set free”.

Only she had survived intact, overcome the torture, the drugs, the equipment, the provocations, and the endless, endless questions. She was a rock.

Eventually the too-bright hallway ended at a too-familiar steel door with a six-inch safety glass window to the other side. She didn’t need to look; it was the room she had visited every day for longer than she could understand, and she knew every inch of it in terrifying detail.

As she approached the door it swung open on its shrieking hinges. The scent of bleach and latex assaulted her and her stomach rebelled. She held her breath for just a moment before willing herself to breathe normally.

There was a man seated in a stainless steel chair in the centre of the tiled room. He wore the brown and black uniform of the CPD, and he held an open file folder which had a photo of her fastened to the outside corner with a paperclip. He looked up and smiled.

“Come in, Amanda; I’ve been waiting for you. I’m Solomon, Agent Solomon, with the CPD. Please sit.”

He motioned to the only other piece of furniture in the room, another chair placed opposite him and a few feet away. His face was open and honest-looking, but she knew better. Amanda judged him to be about fifty. She stood impassively just inside the door and Agent Solomon’s smile became slightly forced.

“Please,” he repeated, “join me for a moment.”

She relented and sat in the chair, neither relaxed nor tense. She wore her emotionless mask and she sensed she needed it now more than ever.

He continued to peruse the file for a moment, then looked into her eyes. “You’re a Pusher.”

She did not respond.

He smiled again, humourlessly this time. “You’re a Pusher, and we both know it. You’ve been able to Push for years, and you’re the best I’ve ever seen at keeping it to yourself, but you’re still a Pusher.”

She looked at him without expression.

He leaned back and crossed one leg over the other knee. “You see, I’ve been watching you for a long time. Since shortly after you arrived here, actually. Because both your parents were Pushers, so we figured there was a good chance you were too.” He paused. “We weren’t aware that your mother had the skill when we went to apprehend your father, you know. It wasn’t until she attacked our men that we found out.”

Solomon started to flip through the folder, pausing to turn it sideways from time to time. Amanda assumed he was looking at photos; she couldn’t see to be sure. He made small noises to himself as he turned pages, nodding.

“Do you know how long you’ve been here?” He looked up and waited for her to respond, but continued after a moment. “One thousand, four hundred sixty days.” No reaction. “That’s four years, Amanda. Or it will be tomorrow.”

She felt her eyes widen. Four years. No wonder she was being questioned by an Agent. No one lasted four years in a CPD orphanage. The law said that after four years they had to let you go. She felt hope bubble up hot inside her, followed quickly by a knowing despair.

Solomon continued. “So that’ll be it. Tomorrow you’ll be a free woman. It’s never happened here before, you know. No one has ever left this facility alive. Ever.”

His casually polite voice had turned gritty and dark on the last word, and Amanda became certain she would not break the streak. She had long ago resigned herself to dying in this prison.

Solomon started to tap his fingernail against the chair, the metallic ring echoing ominously.

“Do you understand me, Amanda?”

Knowing silence would buy her nothing, Amanda swallowed hard and then spoke, her voice unfamiliar to herself.

“I understand. You’re going to kill me,” she replied.

His serpent’s smile reappeared. “No, I don’t want to kill you. I want to hire you.”

Solomon stood and started to pace in front of the girl, waving the file folder in one hand as he spoke.

“I need a Pusher who is so good that I can’t tell she’s a Pusher. I need someone who can lie so well that no one would even suspect that she has the skill, even when she’s using it against them.” He stopped pacing and looked intently at her. “I need you to Push for me, just once, and then you can go free. If you don’t… well, your other choices aren’t favourable.”

Amanda didn’t answer him, but her mind was whirling. This was a new tactic, for sure. Was he trying to get her to demonstrate her skill so that he had the excuse he needed to execute her? She flicked her eyes up to the cameras in the corners of the room near the ceiling. If she Pushed too hard in this place, she was dead.

“They’re switched off, Amanda. No one is watching.”

She gritted her teeth, but remained silent. She knew he had the power to end her life, maybe even without “evidence” that she was a Pusher. She didn’t like her chances.

“I’m not a Pusher,” she said at last. “Let me go.”

Solomon shook his head and settled back into the chair. “Yes you are. We both know it. Let me speak plainly.” He looked intently at her, his dark eyes boring into her blue ones. “If you don’t help me, we’re going to kill you today. If you do help me, you’ll be able to leave here freely tomorrow after you do this job. That’s all.”

Amanda considered. He certainly was speaking plainly, and she knew there couldn’t be an audio feed on those cameras or he would never have said that. The CPD monitored everything in these rooms and they prized their deniability. She doubted he would have spoken even if the video feed was live for fear of having someone read his lips. She was starting to feel hope trickling up again.

“Why do you want me to Push?” she asked finally. Nothing to lose, she thought.

He smiled again. “I think it’s more important to know whom I want you to Push.”

“Fine, who?”

He handed her a photograph from inside his uniform jacket’s pocket. It showed a woman in her late thirties, serious-looking and professionally dressed. She was posing for the camera, and the backdrop was one of those artificial drapes like those in school photos.

“Melissa Clement. She’s an entrepreneur and a politician. Her platform involves reforming and dismantling the CPD, and she’s about to make a speech that will put a lot of pressure on the government to fold up my Division. I want you to change her speech, and I don’t want her to know that you’ve done it.”

Amanda felt suddenly sick. Her heart was pounding in her ears, and a sweat broke out across her body. What Solomon was asking wasn’t possible. Wasn’t supposed to be possible.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” she told him. “Everyone knows you can’t Push someone without them knowing it.” Her voice sounded unconvincing and she knew it.

He cocked his head to one side. “You can,” he said, and the certainty in his voice chilled Amanda.

Amanda looked around the room again, and behind her to the empty hallway. She turned back and put her head in her hands.

Solomon spoke again. “Amanda, I know you can do this. I’ll tell you what: you can test it out on me.”

She looked up in surprise, then furrowed her brow. “What do you mean?”

“You Push me to do something I don’t want to, and we’ll see if I know what happened.”

Amanda shook her head. “That won’t work. How will you know what you wanted to do after I’ve changed your mind?”

Solomon reached into the folder and took out a sheet of paper. He retrieved a pen from inside his jacket, wrote a few words on the back of the page, and showed it to her.

“I, Solomon, do not wish to clap my hands,” she read. “So you want me to make you clap?”

Solomon nodded. “I’ll try my best not to clap, and after you make me do it you can show me this page. If you can’t make me clap, you die. If I know you Pushed me without looking at the paper, you die.”

Amanda pursed her lips, then nodded. “Okay,” she said, and folded the paper in half. She sat back in the uncomfortable chair and crossed her arms, glaring at the man.

Agent Solomon stared at her impassively.

She concentrated on him, gently suggesting to his mind that he should clap for her. It had to be as natural as possible so that he couldn’t detect her manipulation. She needed to fit the changes into his own mindset about her, about the situation, and about his needs and desires.

He slowly shook his head and his mouth curled into a mocking smile. “Too bad, Amanda. I had such high hopes for you, but it looks like your skill can’t save you. It was a good effort,” he continued, clapping, “but you might as well start thinking about what you’d like for your last meal.”

She grinned at him suddenly, and he stopped applauding. She unfolded the page and handed it back to him. He read it silently, and she watched the muscles in his jaw ripple.


Amanda sat in the passenger seat of the car and looked through the binoculars at Melissa Clement. She paced the sidewalk outside of a Starbucks and spoke rapidly into a cell phone, gesticulating for emphasis.

Amanda turned to the man in the driver’s seat. “What kind of coffee does she drink?”

Solomon shook his head. “I don’t know,” he replied. “Does it matter?”

She returned to the binoculars. “I want to make her order something she wouldn’t normally order,” she explained. “But it would be better if I knew what she might like.”

He didn’t respond to that, and Amanda continued to think about how to approach Clement while observing the animated phone conversation.

“Okay, let’s go,” she told Solomon, and stepped out of the car. She strode towards the coffee shop and him ran to catch up to her.

He grabbed her arm and stopped her about thirty feet from the building. He leaned in and spoke in a low, urgent voice. “You need to stay very, very close to me,” he said. “That strap around your ankle will inject you if you get too far away. No surprises. Tell me what you’re doing.”

Amanda felt chilled as she realized how close she had come to killing herself. She steeled herself against the shakes she felt coming on and explained her plan.

“I’m going to go and order a coffee. When she comes in and gets in line, I’m going to make her order something and then change her mind and order something else. Then I’m going to get her to sit at a certain table. That’s all. I just need to practice with her.”

Solomon nodded and released her arm. Amanda glowered at him, then continued to the Starbucks, albeit at a much slower pace.

Clement was still clutching her phone and waving dramatically when they entered the building. She didn’t appear to notice them.

Amanda ordered a Tall Skinny Vanilla Latte for herself, and told Solomon to order something as well. At first he refused, but relented when she frowned meaningfully at him. Amanda paid with the money that Solomon had given her, and they sat at a table near the counter.

They had nearly finished their drinks by the time Clement entered and approached the counter. Amanda looked down at the table and then closed her eyes.

“Um, can I have a Grande Italian Roast, no room please?” the politician asked the barista. “Wait, no…. Can I have a Tall Skinny Vanilla Latte instead please?”

Amanda smiled and looked up at her captor. “Far corner table behind me,” she whispered to him. “Right beside the window.”

He looked over her shoulder and watched as Clement sat at the table Amanda had indicated. He nodded slightly to the girl.

“Okay, let’s go,” she said.


Amanda had never been to such a formal, expensive dinner. She sat with Solomon, who had introduced himself as Ryan Carter, and picked at the unidentifiable dish on her plate. Solomon was supposed to be her uncle, and she was along to “learn the life” as he had put it to several inquisitive diners. For her part she mostly stayed quiet, answering questions in ways that did not invite further conversation.

The ankle strap had been removed just before entering the building. Solomon had explained that there were snipers on nearby buildings to pick her off if she ran, and there were other guests at the dinner who would subdue her if she tried to leave. Because she wouldn’t know who they were, he explained, she wouldn’t be able to influence them until it was too late.

Gazing around the crowded banquet hall she counted over two hundred guests. The sounds of murmurs, forced laughs, and clinking silverware washed over her, and closed her eyes for a moment, imagining the other people employed by the CPD who might be stationed throughout the room. When she opened them she saw an elderly man ascending the steps to the stage to one side of the hall. Close behind him followed Melissa Clement.

Solomon leaned closer to her. “It’s time,” he said in a whisper.

She shot him a look. “I know!” she hissed, and he sat up again, unperturbed.

The man on stage had called for attention, and spent a moment introducing the honoured guest. Clement looked calm and patient behind him, smiling a meaningless smile while she waited for his rambling to finish. Finally he stepped aside and Clement stepped up to the microphone amid polite but enthusiastic applause.

“Good evening, dear friends,” she began, looking down briefly at her notes on the lectern. “I’m so glad you could join me tonight to celebrate our shared vision for the future of our people and our country.”

While Clement spoke to her people, Amanda stared intently at her, concentrating hard. This was her moment, her chance to change the future.

“As you know, there is no issue that divides the parties more distinctly than that of the Pushers, those among us who can influence the thoughts of others. I have always delivered the same message where these citizens are concerned: they are people, they have rights, and they are unfairly treated by the Citizen Protection Division.”

Amanda’s breathing slowed as she focused on Clement’s next words.

“But I have been wrong. I haven’t understood them well enough, and so I haven’t understood their plight.”

Clement paused, and the silence in the room was broken only by the shifting of guests in their seats.

“They are not Pushers, dangerous threats to our safety. They are Encouragers, people who have the power to enact change by helping us to see past our self-induced blindness.

“They are not rats to study. They are not a danger as the CPD claims. They are the future, not just of this country, but of the human race. We should be welcoming them as superior beings, not fearing them as predators or prodding them as laboratory curiosities.”

The audience rumbled now as a tension grew in the room. Amanda could sense the unease around her as Clement strayed from the party line into uncomfortable territory.

“Amanda!” Solomon whispered at her urgently. “What are you doing? I’ll kill you!”

She ignored him and continued to Push, determined to finish the work.

Clement raised her voice now, partly for effect and partly to be heard over the muttering. “Perhaps this is a new age, one of discovery and enlightenment. Perhaps a new dawn for humanity is now upon us, the evolution of our species which will take us to heights we had never before dreamed of. Let us embrace these gifted citizens as heralds of the future, and let us give them the honour an acclamation they deserve.”

There was some sparse clapping at this statement, but it was quickly lost in the confused, angry muttering in the hall. Solomon kicked Amanda hard under the table, and she yelped in surprise and pain.

Clement looked up suddenly and then down at her notes as though disoriented. A middle-aged woman at the table next to Amanda raised a finger and pointed at the girl.

“You!” she shouted, rising from her chair. “You’re doing this! You’re one of those Pushers!”

Amanda looked at the other guests, trying in vain to find support. Solomon’s face was clouded in anger, and she knew she was running dangerously low on options. She didn’t know which guests were on the CPD payroll, and it seemed the high-class mob before her could snap at any time.

She stood and looked out over the crowded hall. A few other guests were standing as well, and the woman from the next table was still shouting at her. Amanda closed her eyes and reached out with her mind.

Slowly, silence descended in the room again. The middle-aged woman sat down and looked back to the stage. Clement continued to stand at the microphone, but she too was quiet.

Amanda gingerly pushed back her chair and stepped cautiously towards the nearest exit, about twenty feet away. She Pushed all of the guests at once to look towards Clement while she approached the doorway and slipped through it. She was gasping for breath from the exertion of such a widespread Push, even a simple one, and it was a moment before she could properly look around.

She was in a service hallway which ran behind the kitchens. There was no one in sight although there was a great deal of clatter and chatter from, she assumed, the cooks and servers. She slunk along the narrow passageway until she saw the symbol for a staircase painted on a door. She pushed the metal bar and found the staircase led both up and down. Mind racing and heart pounding, she descended further into the building.

She was lost for a while. The basement was poorly lit and consisted of dozens of identical passageways of concrete and drywall. The building was much larger than she had originally thought. Just as she was feeling a sense of hopelessness asserting itself she spied another glowing red exit sign up ahead. She decided to take her chances.

Amanda opened the door enough to let in a sliver of light and to let her see what was beyond the door. To her surprise it was a street, which she assumed was in the back of the banquet hall. It was deserted, but Solomon had told her that snipers were poised and ready to end her short life. Taking another deep breath she reached out with her mind.


A taxi pulled up to the bus station and stopped. Thanking the driver but not paying him, Amanda stepped out of the cab into the chill night air. She breathed deeply, smelling freedom and imagining possibilities, and then went inside to get a ticket.

The #24TweetStory Collected

For fun I thought I’d write a story over 24 tweets and share it one tweet per half hour for twelve hours. Since it might be kind of hard to read  later, especially in reverse-chronological order, I’ve collected it here in chronological order on one page.

It was a little weird to write it in 118-119 character chunks (the hashtag and progress indicator take a few characters). There is no paragraphing. I wrote it in about twenty minutes, so there wasn’t much editing for style (mostly just for length). Maybe I’ll write a longer version with the same idea later.

The #24TweetStory

I’ve been painting a large, detailed scene every day for the last three months. (1/24) #24TweetStory

I can usually finish two or three canvasses each day, so I’m probably up around two hundred fifty now. (2/24) #24TweetStory

It’s always the same picture, but I’ve never been sure I have it right. I can’t afford to make a mistake. (3/24) #24TweetStory

I have the power to change things, to alter reality as I see fit, but I have to paint what I want to become real. (4/24) #24TweetStory

It’s pretty simple; I paint the world I see, from my own vantage point, but I change something. (5/24) #24TweetStory

It can be something small or something large, but I can make that change a reality. (6/24) #24TweetStory

The bigger the change, the more exact the rest of the image must be, and the higher the cost to myself. (7/24) #24TweetStory

I’m trying to make a big change. It’s not a lot of paint, but it’s a big change in my reality. (8/24) #24TweetStory

The scene is my art room. It’s a small room, and I’ve gotten rid of anything that’s not essential. (9/24) #24TweetStory

The reason is simple: I can paint an empty room more easily than a full one. (10/24) #24TweetStory

So I’ve been working each day inside this little grey box. No windows, just a small light to work by. (11/24) #24TweetStory

My canvasses are mostly grey; I’ve perfected the mixture now. The chair in the corner is a series of blacks. (12/24) #24TweetStory

But that’s easy. I mastered the chair in just weeks. I can paint what’s in front of me. It’s the change that’s hard. (13/24) #24TweetStory

If I want to change my reality, I have to change what I see in my painting. I don’t want an empty chair in the corner. (14/24) #24TweetStory

My new paintings have my dead wife, now alive, sitting in that chair, watching me paint. (15/24) #24TweetStory

I can see her perfectly in my mind, but I can’t describe her perfectly with my brush. What if I get something wrong? (16/24) #24TweetStory

Will she be a shell of herself? Will she remember me? Will this work at all? (17/24) #24TweetStory

I’ve tried little things. I’ve made a flower blossom. I’ve even turned lead to gold, just to see. (18/24) #24TweetStory

It’s hard to do, and it hurts. After the flower blossom I was unconscious for days. (19/24) #24TweetStory

I don’t know what it’ll do to me, but it doesn’t really matter. I have to try, even if it kills me. (20/24) #24TweetStory

But I’m afraid. As hard as it is to suffer with only memories of her, it would be worse to ruin those memories now. (21/24) #24TweetStory

Her expression isn’t right. It’s too happy. She wouldn’t be happy that I’m doing this. (22/24) #24TweetStory

She’ll be mad that I brought her back, probably. I have to do it anyway. (23/24) #24TweetStory

I take out a fresh canvas. (24/24) #24TweetStory

How to create a terrible cover for your novel

In general, I’m in favour of the self-publishing movement. It lets people publish their work without having to be “found”; this can be empowering for the dedicated author. Self-publishing and traditional publishing can co-exist, I think; traditional publishers offer great services like editing, promotion, critique, distribution, and more. Some authors opt for something in between, like hiring an editor for a flat fee or paying a company to prepare an ebook for them.

However, a distressing number of [possibly excellent] authors have chosen to design their own covers for their great [insert nationality here] novel, and it causes me to not buy it.

It’s the first thing I see

Even before the title, usually. Cover, title, author, page count (I try to read new folks at under 200 pages, in case it’s awful). You need to get it right, or I’ll scroll past.

It shows how serious you are

If you spend 500 hours writing your story, shouldn’t you spend more than an hour making it look presentable? Or, since you’re better with the keyboard than you are with the camera, perhaps you should consider hiring this out?

You’re not going to make any money if your cover is bad

I think a lot of authors are hoping to make money selling their books. If I won’t buy your $0.99 ebook because of the poor font choice, you can bet a lot of other people won’t either.

Here’s a thought

Instead of having a terrible cover, contact a local high school (or not-local; the Internet is pretty large, I hear). Speak to the teacher who’s responsible for graphic design, photography, or visual arts. See if they have a student who would like to read your book (yes! make them read it!) and design your cover for $200. Better yet, make it a contest: anyone in the class can submit a design, and the winning designer is awarded the $200 and is credited in the book. 

But if you’re going to do it yourself…

…please don’t do the following. Many, many ebook covers look too much like this one.

A bad cover image.

Here’s what I did to build this monstrosity.

Step 1: Find a scary background image

Okay, I couldn’t find a scary forest in less than 60 seconds, so I grabbed this one (I took care to get something with a licence I could use; I worry that many authors would not):

A picture of a path in a forest.

Then, since it was too daytime-ish, I took a moment to make it scary:

A picture of a path through a forest with a poorly-darkened sky.

Step 2: Find an image of a scary object to put in the scary background

No problem. Skulls are scary, right?

A picture of a skull, cutlass and gold coins on a red velvet background.

Now, to get rid of all that extra, non-woodsy stuff:

A picture of a skull in an image editor.

Step 3: Add some text using multiple, tired fonts in difficult-to-read, flat colours

A bad cover image.

That took about 5 minutes, including the time to load Photoshop Elements. Unfortunately my title seems to be related to the cover image, which (judging by the covers I’ve seen) is not a requirement. I’m sure you can do better, and I’m really sure an aspiring high school student can do much, much better. Pay them something so you can get back to writing.

Collaborative Fiction Writing

Has anyone tried to co-author a story? I thought about this today – what would it be like to try to negotiate a group of characters, a setting, major plot elements, and so on with another person?

I listened to Writing Excuses several months ago (maybe a year ago? If I had Internet access I could check!), and in the episode the hosts were hammering out a story idea (a tidally-locked world in which one culture was in perpetual darkness and the other was in perpetual daylight, as I recall). The process was very interesting to me, and I thought it would be interesting to try.

But not knowing anyone else who wanted to write fiction for fun, and not really having time to spend on such a project anyway, I didn’t do anything with the idea.

And now it returns, in my evening in Hornepayne, because I have time. Tonight, at least. Of course, I can’t actually collaborate tonight since I’m not connected, so this is more of a thought experiment than an actual proposal.


I like to outline a story before I write it, even a very short story. I like to plan it out and then just fill in the prose. I think my stories are better if I take the time to do this, and it seems those stories are more likely to be completed anyway. The stories I’ve written “organically” or by “discovery writing” tend to be terrible; maybe they just need more post-writing effort.

But collaborating on an outline (I’m imagining this in a Google Doc or Spreadsheet) sounds pretty difficult. Maybe a Hangout would be a better way; this feels like it would be best done live, not asynchronously.


If you’re creating a world, or even just a local context, the details are really important. How do you make sure both/all of the authors have a consistent knowledge of the environment, history, circumstances, …? You have to record it all, no?


When I watch a movie adaptation of a novel I’ve read, the characters are never quite as I envisioned them from reading. Sometimes this is because the director/casting director/whoever has departed from the author’s vision (Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher?!?), but sometimes it’s just that my interpretation of the character is flawed or incomplete. How difficult would it be for multiple authors to settle on characters together?

Star Trek, etc.

I used to read a lot of Star Trek novels, which were written by several authors (one at a time, though). They had a world to write inside of, with history, existing characters, and even future arcs to consider. I imagine that would be both easier and harder in some ways. Wouldn’t collaborating on a story have similar advantages and difficulties?

Maybe someday

This isn’t something I’m going to do right now. I’m just thinking out loud about it, and maybe I’ll return to it someday when I have fewer projects on my plate. If you’ve written with someone else before, or have thoughts about what I would be like, I’d be interested to hear about it.

Fantasy is really hard to write too

I know I just said SciFi is really hard to write, but Fantasy is too. Not quite as hard, I think, but still pretty difficult. The fact that you get to design a world can make it much harder than “regular” fiction.

The problem is that Fantasy stories still have to been internally consistent.

If you’re writing something that’s set in the “real” world, you already know all the rules: you’ve lived with them your whole life. The physics is determined. You have lots of reference materials for different cultures, governments, history, etc.

In a Fantasy world, you don’t have the reference materials. Or if you do, as in “Urban Fantasy” set in real-world cities, you mess it up by introducing a magical element. And those fantastic changes, even if small, have dramatic effects on the nature of the world.

For example, I once tried to design a “simple” magic system in which the magic user had telekinetic powers. That’s all. And nothing super-powerful, either: he or she couldn’t raise a sunken spaceship from a murky swamp or anything. But the effect was far-reaching: the person became instantly and exceptionally dangerous. If you can move anything nearby with your mind, it would be pretty simple to become a weapon (I’m reminded of the Coinshot in the Mistborn series). Or forget the makeshift bullets – just move a tiny part of a foe’s brain, without moving the rest of their body accordingly. Dead.

And that’s always bothered me about magic systems. There is almost always an easy way to use it in an extreme fashion to take over the whole world.

So my telekinetic sorcerer doesn’t exist. Maybe I should have started with the character and plot without thinking about the magic system, but the magic was the part I was most interested in.

I also wrote a short story in which the protagonist was learning about magic, and the boundaries were unclear. And as I introduced the effects of the magic (one person hadn’t aged in a long time, for example), I realized that I didn’t know how it worked, and that was a problem. What were the boundaries, and were they different for each magic user?

I also considered how prevalent the magic was – could anyone use it? Was it equally powerful for everyone? Did the magic have the same nature for every user, or did each person access it differently (as in the elemental styles we’ve all read about)?

And working through those questions, I recall how in many, many fantasy series, the magic-wielding character (of any experience level) becomes exponentially more proficient as time passes. Even the characters who are supposedly expert users at the beginning of the story make choices which seem quite novice in the context of the understanding the reader develops later. “Why didn’t he just do X at the beginning?” I often find myself asking later, once the nature of the magic is known. I fear it’s because the author wrote the beginning of the story before discovering all that the magic could do, before considering all of the ramifications of his or her choices.

So Fantasy is really hard to write also, and giant kudos to the authors who are good at it, because they are awesome.

Flash Fantasy Fiction: Mining for Silvers (minor edits plus audio version)

I decided to read the flash fiction I wrote last week. When I did this, I realized there were a few errors. I’m sure there are more, and my reading of it feels a little stiff, but I’m sharing it anyway. Follow the links to download from my Google Drive.

Book 5 – Mining for Silvers.MOBI [for Kindle]

Book 5 – Mining for Silvers.ePub [for other e-Readers]

Book 5 – Mining for Silvers.mp3 [audiobook]

Book 5 – Mining for Silvers [Google Doc]

Flash Fantasy Fiction: Mining for Silvers

Just finished another very short story (701 words) in the same world I’ve been writing in. It’s fun, and always surprisingly difficult. MOBI (Kindle) version here.

Kyle drove the pickaxe into the wall. It tossed up a few sparks and jarred his arms. He was tired, but he was determined to earn his silver piece for the day. Two more cartloads of rock and he was done. Just two more.
He lifted the axe high and sent it into the rock. It thudded this time instead of sparking, and he grinned. A soft spot. He shrugged off the pain and exhaustion, raised the axe and began raining down blows upon the stone. Chips flew and a moment later a large chunk tumbled from the rock wall and rolled to a stop at his feet.
Kyle tossed the pickaxe to one side and bent to lift the boulder into his cart. As he did, he caught a glint in the torchlight. His eyes narrowed and he shuffled over to the light with the stone.
It was a ruby.
Kyle felt his blood pounding in his ears. He looked around quickly, although he knew there was no one nearby. He was one of the deepest miners in the Company, and the handful of other men down here were in their own, distant tunnels.
Carefully, he lowered the rock to the floor of the tunnel and grabbed the torch. He passed it back and forth over the surface of the stone, trying to decide how large the ruby was. He decided it might be a couple of centimetres across, but it was hard to tell.
He reached across and retrieved his pickaxe. Sitting next to the boulder he started to tap away at the grey rock surrounding the gem, trying to uncover it further. As he chipped away the dull stone, he decided that the ruby was bigger than he had originally thought, perhaps four centimetres along its length and three centimetres across. There was no way to know how deep into the rock it burrowed in the dim light.
He spent an hour or more carving the prize from the stone, careful not to damage it in any way. The edges were rough, but rubies were among the most prized gems for their ability to Warm when Infused, and even a chip that came from cutting the ruby would be worth more than his daily silver.
It wasn’t until he had broken away all he dared that he realized the problem. The ruby was far too large. There was no way he would be able to smuggle a gem of this size out of the mine; the Company searched all of their employees thoroughly as they left each day. He had hidden gems to get them past the Company before, but they were just tiny pebbles. This rock was massive. If he could get it safely out of the mine and find a buyer, he wouldn’t have to work again for years, perhaps ever.
Kyle frowned, thinking hard. He knew he should have come out with a cartload of rock already; the Company was almost certainly getting concerned already. Or suspicious, more likely. He had to move quickly, or someone would come looking for him.
He made up his mind. He dropped down at the end of his tunnel and wedged the priceless ruby into a cleft in the rock. Shaking his head in disbelief, he stood, raised his pickaxe again and brought it down hard in the very centre of the gem.
It shattered, tiny fragments showering the miner, the walls, the floor. Kyle dropped the ax and fell to his knees, gathering up the smallest pieces of the red stone and putting them in his mouth. He swallowed hard, forcing them down with water from his small waterskin, wincing as the sharp edges scraped past his throat. He smashed the largest of the remaining pieces again, and swallowed the smaller treasures that resulted. Again and again he repeated this, until his mouth was raw and bleeding, and he could find no more rubies on the floor.
He gathered up all of the worthless rocks he could find to cover the treasure in the cart, rinsed his mouth out with the last of his water, and whistled tunelessly as he pushed the heavy load back up the tunnel.

Some free Kindle fantasy books today (2013 02 19)

I “bought” a couple of free books for my Kindle today. I don’t really need more to read, but I can’t resist them all. I did resist a couple of relatively long books; these ones are shorter. Nice cover art. Maybe someday I’ll even read them…

WICK (Wick Series) by Michael Bunker – “…A Mind-Bending Thriller…” – Listed under “Science Fiction – Adventure” and “Fantasy – Alternative History”. 197 pages.

Edgewood (Edgewood Series) by Karen McQuestion – “…a brand new, spellbinding novel…” – Listed under “Fantasy – Paranormal” and “Science Fiction – Adventure”. 325 pages.

Perhaps I’ll write a review, if I ever read them.

Infusing for Fun and Profit

Here’s a [very] short story I wrote last night; about 850 words. Here’s the MOBI version if it’s helpful for you.

Earlier in the evening Edgar had extinguished the torch over the door, so as he walked by now it was easy to slip into the near-darkness next to a window. He’d heard that the owner of the house was a rich, young woman who had moved into the city against her father’s wishes. He hadn’t seen her, and he expected she was home, but it didn’t matter to him. He would not be caught.
From the inside of the cuff of his jacket he took a gem – an emerald, cut into a perfect cube, very small. Edgar pressed the tiny rock against the metal securing the window lock. He looked about to make sure the street was truly empty then called forth the magic.
Bright green strands of power burst from the emerald, whipping and thrashing about his fingers. He harnessed them quickly with his mind, expertly wrapping them about the lock to Soften it. The light died away as the spell ended. Edgar took a moment to allow his eyes to adjust, then lifted the window pane slowly. The metal of the lock stretched out like a thick syrup, thinner and thinner in the middle until it finally snapped. He stopped lifting the pane and Dispelled the enchantment, tucking the emerald back into his cuff. He flattened the threads of the now-ruined latch to one side and swung his legs over the sill.
It was completely black inside the house. It was a dark night, and his eyes were not completely recovered from the brilliance of the magic. He dug inside his jacket again and drew out a metal cube, about two centimetres on a side, which was glowing faintly. He lifted up the dim light and raised his eyebrows in mild surprise.
He was in a small library, or perhaps an office. Shelves of leather-bound books covered the wall at the left end of the room, and a desk piled with books and papers stood at the other end. Books were valuable, so Edgar felt a certain temptation at the sight of the collection. He shook his head. He had broken into this house to steal jewelry. It wasn’t just for the money; there might be gems.
The door to the hall was straight ahead. He padded slowly and silently through the house, looking cautiously into each room that had an open door. There were more rooms than he expected, but most of them were open and empty. Finally he found the room he was looking for.
He smiled when he saw that the bedroom was carpeted; it made him nearly noiseless. The bed was directly in front of him and the owner of the home was asleep in it, as he expected she would be. The sound of her breathing was soft, slow, and regular. Perfect.
He quickly and quietly moved the dressing table. Opening the drawers as cautiously as he could, he held his Brightened cube up for illumination. He was disappointed to see mostly plain, silver jewelry. He was hoping for gems in the mixture, or at least some gold, but it was all silver and base metals. His information was wrong. This was not the spoiled daughter of a wealthy merchant; she was not even particularly well off. He took what he could without making any noise, leaving behind the tangled pieces and those which he thought might jingle and betray his presence to the woman sleeping two paces away.
He bit his lip as he slid the final drawer back into the table, took his too-light bag of pilfered jewelry, and returned through the darkness to the library. When he reached the window again he paused.
Nearly any book in the library was worth more than the meagre cache of jewelry he had found. Was it possible that a merchant’s daughter spent her coin on books instead of adornment?
Edgar crossed to the desk and grabbed a few of the books that were scattered across its surface, stuffing them into his bag. He also took the papers; he could read, and he felt a twinge of curiosity about the girl. Perhaps he could learn more about her from the pages of her writing. He circled the desk and discovered that it had a single, small drawer on the right-hand side. He opened it and caught his breath.
Gems. Dozens of them. Sapphires, garnets, rubies. Emeralds like the one in his cuff and diamonds like the one fused to his Brightened cube. The drawer was half full, an almost unimaginable treasure, especially to someone like Edgar.
The thief glanced about apprehensively, his stomach churning. He knew now why there was only silver in the dressing table. He knew what the wealthy girl did with her money.
She would not waste coin or gems on jewelry. She was an Infuser, like him.
He swallowed hard and closed the drawer, leaving its contents untouched. He crossed quickly to the window and slid it up again, careful to avoid the remains of the lock. After standing in the darkness of the room another moment, Edgar swung over the sill and into the night.

e-Book/Audiobook deal; a brief review of Scalzi’s “The B-Team: The Human Division, Episode 1”

Since I’m trying to find short books that will build worlds for me without having to commit to ten thousand pages, I bought and listened to John Scalzi‘s “The B-Team: The Human Division, Episode 1” narrated by William Dufris on This is a book set in the same distant future as his “Old Man’s War” novels, but it’s being released as a weekly serial for $0.99 an episode. The e-Book is also available for $0.99  ($1.16 for me, because I live in Canada, the publisher sets a higher price, and I am paying taxes on the purchase), and I bought it as well.

Why did I buy both?

Well, for starters, $1.16 is pretty inexpensive for a well-written novella of about 90 pages. Or almost any length, really. I also wanted to try out the Kindle/Audible WhisperSync system (haven’t tried it yet, sorry – I’ll get back to you on that one). Lastly, I wanted to read the names of the planets, species, and characters, so I’ll go through the book again. For example, there is a character in the book with the last name “Bair”, but I was imagining it spelled “Behr”. If I’m going to transition later into Scalzi’s longer books, I might need to know how things are spelled. Plus, I find characters more memorable if I can “see” their name in my head.

I like this model of delivery: a weekly release of short books all set in the same world. Books on the Nightstand says it’s the year of the short story; I certainly think it is for me.

Brief review; no spoilers

Overall, it was a good, fast read. The characters are complex enough for a novella, and there are several small plot arcs in the context of a larger plot. There isn’t a lot of time for characters to grow in two hours of narration, so there wasn’t much there.

The narration was good but not excellent. The characters’ voices were usually distinguishable from each other, but there were a few times that I wasn’t sure which male character was which. Also, the voice of the narrator (um…. not sure how to say this… the book’s narrator, not the performance’s narrator…) sometimes sounded too much like the characters’ voices.

He said, she said

But I always knew who was talking because of the number of “saids” in the story. In an exchange in the first few pages, the dialogue looks (structurally) like this:

"Sentence," character 1 asked.
"Sentence," character 2 said.
"Sentence," character 1 said.
"Sentence," character 2 said.
"Sentence," character 1 joked.
"Sentence," character 2 said.

When you flesh out the sentences, it’s not really so bad, but it’s still noticeable. When the narrator has to say all of those saids aloud, it’s a bit jarring and it takes me out of the story a little. I hope I’m not overstating this; it’s a minor problem.

The only other criticism I have is that a few times the characters say things that I don’t know would be said by far-future humans (like references to high school and paper bags). Little things, to be sure.

Still worth it

Overall, great book. 4.5 stars. You should read it if you like space opera. I’ve already bought “The Human Division 2: Walk The Plank” (Audible and Amazon).