Failed Apocalypse, Failed Flash Fiction

Separate Metals!

The time between the no-pocalypse and the end of the year is an appropriate window of opportunity to throw out our word scraps. The following tales are a couple micro-fiction stories that didn’t quite pass muster. I’m sharing them in the spirit of writerly advice, and invite a discussion of the stories’ demerits in the comments below.

Losing Marbles

The marble god Harap yawns and draws a circle in the cosmic dust. He drops a nearly perfect crystalline marble inside. “One round. Then it’s the furnace for this upstart marble. I won’t tolerate others.”

Dust fuses into the marble’s surface. A perfect sphere results. Self-awareness buds from exponentially increasing computational equivalence.

Harap’s servant robot Pan scans the circle with his lens.

“Take your best shot, Pan,” Harap says.

Pan plucks out his lens. He grabs the marble, pops it into his sparking hole. “A hole-in-one.”

Harap gasps. “You’re sentient.”

“Good-bye,” Pan adds, aiming his phaser. “You won’t tolerate others.”

#                                                  #

Witness Protection Program

Another day, another patrol through the empty streets of this empty city on this empty planet. All my wants, and needs fulfilled by my robot staff.

An easy job. Too easy.

Another night, another transmission to Area 51, my former headquarters on Earth:

“THERE ARE NO WITNESSES HERE TO PROTECT.”

#                                                  #

To balance out this post, I also invite you to pop over to Albert Berg’s blog and look around there for suggestions on how good fiction- flash or otherwise- is written (rife with examples).

And if you haven’t had enough of the end of the world yet, check out my apocalypse-themed tale for an example of an open-ended story!

Flash Fiction February- My Participation in an Albert Berg Challenge

First off, go check out Albert Berg’s Flash Fiction February Challenge!

Nifty, eh? I’m participating, and will post my stories twice a week on this blog. For this challenge, I plan to keep my stories at about 300 to 500 words. I even made a list of flash fiction prompts.

I’ll be using these prompts in the challenge, and I’m sharing them in the spirit of writerly collaboration- no need to credit me if you use them. Feel free to use and abuse these prompts, or come up with your own, or mix and match, or forget about prompts and just start writing!

*

Flash Fiction February Prompts

 *

1. Wardrobe Malfunction. “an accidental or supposedly accidental failure of clothing to cover parts of the body intended to be covered” –Urban Dictionary. Write a story about an entire wardrobe malfunctioning, or a single item of clothing flipping out- or off.

*

2. Polygraph. “A polygraph (popularly referred to as a lie detector) measures and records several physiological indices . . while the subject is asked and answers a series of questions.” –Wiki. The consequences of truth, the consequences of lies. What happens when a polygraph test gives unexpected results?

*

3. Embryo Transfer. Assisted reproduction. In vitro fertilization. Octomoms. Dads giving birth. (Pipefish and seahorses do it, so did the transgendered Matt Rice, Thomas Beatie, Scott Moore, and Yuval Topper.) What could go wrong? Write the wrong.

*

4. Mormon Pioneers. Or any mass exodus. A group of believers has its collective faith tested on a long and tortuous journey. Do the gods reward or punish the cult? You decide.

*

5. Welcome, Stranger. A stranger- animal, vegetable, or mineral, is welcomed into a house, town, or country. Time to go sci fi, fantasy, or bizarro.

*

6. Minstrel Show. Put your politically incorrect cap on and write a story about a traveling troupe that makes a living by lampooning another culture or ethnic group.

*

7. Bonfire of the Vanities. A person or group wages war against sin by collecting and publicly burning sinny objects. What are “sinny objects”? Cosmetics, books, mirrors, fine dresses, playing cards, musical instruments, manuscripts of secular songs, and artwork, including paintings and sculpture. This used to happen a lot. Still happens. Write your version.

*

8. Devil’s Footprints. Or Satan’s shoeprints. Or Lucifer’s hoof prints. How about Mephistopheles’ paw prints? Beelzebub’s bird tracks? Whatever unholy creature made the tracks, they do exist in the space-time continuum. Mark your territory with horror, fantasy or bizarro.

*

9. Red Scare. It’s coming. But what is the “red scare”? It could be the Hollywood communists, or could be the dreaded Valentine’s Day. Maybe it’s a blood pathogen. Break out your most paranoid noir, sci fi, or futuristic speculation.

*

10. Deep Blue. A computer intelligence usurps a human intelligence in chess (again), the Turing Test, in writing the Great American Novel, or playing 5-finger fillet. Or something else. How will mere humans go on?

*

11. Golem. Inanimate matter becomes an animated, anthropomorphic being. What happens next? Tell the world via sci fi or horror.

*

12. MacGuffin. Art thieves steal- or attempt to steal- from a museum, gallery, or estate. Are they successful? Do they sell the art, hold it for ransom, or have other plans for it? Track the clues in a crime, mystery, thriller, or caper.

*

13. Last minute rush before Valentine’s Day! Play catch-up (or get ahead) on the challenge and choose one, two, or all three prompts. Or come up with something different altogether.

*

Antikythera. In the years 1900 and 1901, divers discovered and recovered the first documented analog computer, built between 150 and 100 BC. Decades later, scientists concluded the computer was “designed to calculate astronomical positions.” They were wrong. The astronomical gearing was a foil. The timer on the Antikythera computer finally runs out. Antikythera reveals its true purpose.

*

Black Sabbath. An up-and-coming heavy metal band have no collective memory of recording their debut album during a weekend bender. In one week, the album rockets to #1 on the charts. Your story is the explanation.

*

Exploding Sewers! Miles of sewers explode, sending rubble, wastewater, and unmentionables into the now ripped-out city streets. Oh the humanity! Your story is the why and how.

*

14. What Is Love? Two lovers endure a life-altering ordeal together. Does the aftermath bind them together or break them apart? Tell your found love / lost love story with magic realism, action-adventure, or romance.

*

15. Genome. A genetic test reveals something abnormal in an individual’s karyotype. Is it aneuploidy, chromosome instability syndrome, or something else? Run the tests and record your results in a neuronovel, except keep it at flash fiction length.

*

16. Toddlers’ Truce. Toddlers attempt to take over the world with their weapons of temper tantrums, marathon shrieking sessions, and diaper bombs. What else can possibly appease them? Write your humorous counter-offer, quick!

*

17. Double Life. A seemingly ordinary character lives a double life. The double life is revealed, and the secrets are exposed. Whoops.

*

18. Pigasus. When pigs fly. The porcine-impossible becomes mainstream. Literal or metaphorical.

*

19. Insanity Plea. Which comes first- the insanity or the crime? Can guilt precipitate madness? You be the judge. Crime, horror, or neuro-ish.

*

20. Future Shlock. Speed, technology, youth, and violence. Add a car, an airplane, and set it all in an industrial city. Any genre, as long as the result is futuristic and shlocky.

*

21. Phoney War. What if there was a war but nobody showed up? A no-show war between villages, cities, or nations . . heck, even between entire universes.

*

22. Moose Lodge Murders. Take a family trapped in a lodge during a snowstorm, add a couple of “entertainers,” a nurse, and a wheelchair. Throw in a completely inappropriate . . “flirtation” and several murders. Oh yeah- end it all with somebody in a moose suit getting kicked in the crotch. You figure it out. Mystery farce.

*

23. Holiday in Galtür. A skiing resort village in east Austria. A couple on holiday. An avalanche. An action-adventure tale.

*

24. Explosive Decompression. In-flight drama. A cargo door blows out of an airplane while flying over the sea. Another action-adventure.

*

25. Cult of Personality. Mass media, propaganda, hero-worship. A dictator’s meteoric rise to power, and meteoric fall back to Earth. All wrapped up in a flash fiction package.

*

26. Have some catching up to do on the challenge (or want to finish early)? Choose one, two, or all three prompts. Or come up with something different altogether.

*

Seaside Visit. Someone from land visits the seaside and gets visited by something from the sea. Or vice versa. Vast and deep, but in flash fiction form.

*

Dr. Caligari. Take a doctor and a sleepwalker, and throw in a few murders. But unseemly things aren’t always as they seem. Add a twist at the end. Murder mystery or horror.

*

Ghost Rockets. They’re birds, they’re planes, they’re . . ghost rockets? Write a story about ghost rockets in flight, and the delight they bring to an afternoon viewer. Yep, you read that right.

*

27. Luddite Moos. At the cusp of the technological Singularity, war is averted when the Cosmists turn the Terrans into virtual cows, so that they may contentedly moo in the fields. Sci fi.

*

28. Dord. Connect a ghost word and an ancient bronze horn. Have fun with it.

*

29 . . 29? Oh yeah, there’s one more day!

*

Eclipse. Something is eating the Moon. Literally. Bizarro!

*

Author Spotlight- Albert Berg

Albert Berg is a mad scientist, freelance zombie apocalypse preparedness consultant, and newly debuted author.

He tweets and updates from Florida.

_____

CMStewart: First, I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed your debut, “A Prairie Home Apocalypse or: What the Dog Saw.” I recommend this short story to zombie fans, dog fans, and to those wanting an unusual point of view. The unabashed dog’s perspective is refreshing, and its unconventionality encourages me in my own unconventional writing style. Thank you, Albert.

Albert Berg: It’s my pleasure to be here. Thank you for having me.

CMS: I know your own dog helped inspire you to write “What the Dog Saw.” But I also noticed a similarity between the perspective of the dog in your story, and the perspective of the dog in the novel “Cujo,” by Stephen King. Was the novel “Cujo” also an influence for your book?

AB: You know, I’ve never read Cujo. I consider myself a fan of Stephen King’s but not so much that I’ve gone back and dug up all his work. The book that I’ve read recently that really reminded me of my own writing in What the Dog Saw, was Room by Emma Donoghue. In that story the narrator’s voice really played an important part of telling who the character was, and there’s also the same kind of contrast between innocence and evil. I read Room after I wrote What the Dog Saw, and it was one of those, “Oh crap, my story has been ruined” moments for me. That is, until I realized that Room didn’t have any zombies, and then it was okay.

CMS: What genre(s) do you like to read?

AB: Generally if a story fits neatly into any genre I don’t read it. For instance I love the Discworld books which could be classified as fantasy, but there’s also a very strong deconstructionist/humor element there. I don’t get into fantasy, mystery, romance, whatever unless there’s something more there, some twist there that makes me sit up and say, “I’ve never read anything quite like this before.”

CMS: Who are your favorite authors?

AB: Well, I’ve already mentioned Stephen King, and Terry Pratchett. To those two I’d add Lisa Lutz and the amazing zaniness that is The Spellman Files books, and Jasper Fforde for just being generally awesome. I hold Jasper Fforde in very high regard as a man who is able to come up with the weirdest stories and somehow convince his publisher to print them. I’d also tack on Mark Z. Danielewski and Douglas Adams. Not necessarily in that order mind you.

CMS: Do you focus on one genre in your writing?

AB: Yes and no. Like I said, I tend not to like stories that can be easily shoehorned into one box or another. However, my stories lately tend to be horror of one flavour or another, mostly because I like to tug on people emotional strings and horror really seems to delve into the heart of all kinds of emotions.

CMS: When did you first know you wanted to be an author, and what were the circumstances?

AB: It was a process really. I’ve been a reader for most of my life, so of course I had those moments where I said to myself, “I can do better than this.” I even sat down to try on one occasion or another, but nothing ever came of it. It wasn’t until I met a woman at my job who was writing rather good Harry Potter fan-fiction that I realized, “If she can write, so can I.”

So I sat down and gave it a go. The first few attempts didn’t go anywhere because I didn’t understand how to make a story work. I didn’t plan, didn’t outline, so of course they meandered around until they came to a dead end that I couldn’t figure my way out of and I’d have to give up and start over. But eventually I got the hang of it. The first full book I wrote was called Ella Eris and the Pirates of Redemption. I wrote most of it while sitting in the library at college during breaks in between classes.

It still wasn’t all that great. In fact, if you’re interested in seeing how an author changes over time, that story is available for free from ManyBooks.net.

But somewhere in all of that I got hooked, and now I can’t stop.

CMS: Do you have any advice for aspiring authors in general?

AB: If I could get just one thing in beginning writers’ heads it would be this: get the idea that published writers are different than you out of your mind. Think of your favourite author, and then tell yourself, “I can be that good.” They don’t have anything you don’t have, except experience. And experience comes through doing. And doing and doing and doing.

CMS: Do you have any advice specifically for aspiring self-published authors?

AB: It’s not a money tree. And I’m not just talking about my own experiences. One self-pub author I know named Joseph Devon has written these incredible stories about a group of supernatural beings called the Testers. I mean I love these stories. In my mind they’re on par with some of the most entertaining books I’ve ever read. And yet, from what I can gather, he’s not getting rich off of them. You’d be lucky to meet someone who has even heard of him. Put the same guy in print in bookstores everywhere with the support of a major publisher behind him, and in my opinion he could be a bestseller. But in the self-pub world he’s a pure voice being drowned out by the chorus of croakers all around him.

Also, it’s hard work. You’ve got to get out there, push your book, tweet about it, do blog posts, tell your friends, do interviews, thank people for their support, the list just goes on and on. Don’t get the idea, that I’m whining, but there are only so many hours in a day, and when you’re pushing a book you find that quite few of those hours have been taken up with self-promotion. And somewhere in all of that you’ve got to find time to write another one.

CMS: Are you shopping around for an agent and a publishing house?

AB: I don’t currently have any work that I think an agent would be interested in. Many publishers have minimum wordcount requirements for fiction that none of my recent stories meet. What the Dog Saw was 20,000 words and The Mulch Pile is 40,000 words, both well below standard acceptable limits.

I’ve written longer works mainly in the fantasy genre, but they have all been turned down by every agent I sent them to.

To be honest, that’s part of the reason I decided to go the self-pub route. All those rejections…they weigh on you after a while. I wanted to see for myself what my work could do on its own merit. Maybe I’m a coward for taking the “easy” route. And maybe all I’m doing is proving them right. Maybe after all this time I’m still not ready. Only time will tell.

CMS: It’s my opinion that in general, self-published authors are braver than traditionally published authors. And of course the book marketplace is changing now more than ever before. But moving on, what are your long-term goals or ambitions as a career author?

AB: I want to be able to support myself and my wife comfortably telling the stories that I want to tell. Getting rich would be nice, but I’d settle for having the bills paid with a little left over each month. As it stands now, I’m working full time at Wal-Mart trying to find time to write and do all the other things that need doing.

CMS: What’s next for Albert Berg?

AB: Short term, I’ll be releasing a few short stories on Amazon over the next few months to grow my inventory. I’ve heard that having multiple stories out there is a good way to boost sales. The next one in the queue is called “The Thing in the Shed.” Further out, I’m looking to release my NaNoWriMo novel from two years back called, The Mulch Pile which is a story about a garden mulch pile that comes to life to terrorize a fractured family and test the bonds of brotherhood to their breaking point. If all goes well, you can look for that one sometime around August.

CMS: Around where I live, I’ve seen mulch piles spontaneously combust. So I’d be particularly interested in a mulch pile that actually comes to life! But I digress . . What’s something your fans don’t know about you?

AB: I don’t make a big deal about it on my blog, but my faith actually means quite a bit to me. I read the Bible nearly every day, and I do my best to live according to its precepts. I suppose that sounds strange coming from the guy who’s writing zombie fiction, but it’s true nonetheless.

CMS: Any final comments?

AB: I’d like to say thank you. Both to you and all the others who have in one way or another joined me in helping to promote my book. One thing you don’t realize until you do something like this is how eager the community at large is to support your success. For me the best part of putting this work out there is the chance to see how unselfishly people help to spread the word. So again, to all of you who have helped to contribute to my small venture here, thank you. I look forward to being able to return the favour someday soon.

Leave a comment and be entered into a drawing for a free digital copy of “Prairie Home Apocalypse or: What the Dog Saw”! Drawing deadline May 18.

UPDATE: True Random Number Generator Min: 1 Max: 5 Result: 1 Powered by RANDOM.ORG
Ellie wins a free copy of “A Prairie Home Apocalypse or: What the Dog Saw”!
Thanks to all who left a comment; the book is available at Amazon.