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Friday, January 30, 2009

The New Friday Challenge - 1/30/09

In response to The Last Friday Challenge, which was posted over on The Ranting Room, we've received the following entries:

Vidad: "Amidst Twisted Tresses"

Ben-El: "He Hasn't Got Shit All Over Him... Yet"

Arisia: Untitled

Al: "The Prince and the Curse"

As always, even if you have not entered the contest this week, we invite you to read, comment on, and vote for your favorite(s). The winner(s) will be announced either Sunday night or Monday morning, depending on some logistical details we haven't quite work out yet.

I now turn the microphone over to Henry.

Welcome to my first Friday Challenge! I'm thrilled to be here and hope you all enjoy the challenge I've got lined up for you.

I'm a big fan of pulp fiction. Not Pulp Fiction, the movie. I hated that. I'm talking about the kind of stories you could find in dozens of magazines back in the 1920s and 1930s; all of them printed on pulp paper. We're talking stories with rock-jawed heroes, reluctant but ultimately indispensable sidekicks, dastardly villains, large numbers of nearly useless minions, nefarious plots to take over the world and, of course, a beautiful woman who loves the rock-jawed hero but is also the object of the unnatural affections of the dastardly villain. That's the kind of challenge I have lined up for you. Grab your Royal typewriter and a ream of typing paper and let's get started!

Working the biplane’s controls with the practiced ease only possible from a former flying ace, Cliff Hanger pointed to the hilltop farm ahead.

“Cote? Are you sure that’s the place?” Cliff yelled over the roar of the aeroplane’s engine.

Cliff’s younger brother struggled to keep the map open against the buffeting wind and yelled back, “If the little bit Beth managed to say over the telephone before she was cut off is correct, then that’s the place!”

Giving Cote a thumbs up signal, Cliff was about to turn back toward the hill when he saw the other aircraft. Swooping down out of the sun and the clouds came half a dozen black-painted aeroplanes. Minions of the evil Doctor Darkness!

As he went into a barrel roll, Cliff hollered, “Doctor Darkness has sent us an unwelcoming party. Hang on, little brother!”

Machine guns chattered from the pursuing aeroplanes as Cliff dived, climbed and rolled, putting on such a flying exhibition as had not been seen since he last flew his Spad on combat missions during the Great War. But back then he had machine guns of his own and could take the fight to the enemy. Now, he could only play this airborne game of dodge-ball and hope to reach the farm before one of the dark doctor’s minions got lucky. Even as that thought flitted through his mind, the gods of chance turned against Cliff. A stream of bullets stitched the little aeroplane’s fuselage, the last one plowing into the engine!

On the hilltop below, Beth Key, plucky reporter for the Denver Sentinel, cried out in dismay as black smoke sprouted from Cliff’s aeroplane. At the same moment, it began rapidly losing altitude.

“Bwa ha ha ha ha ha!” crowed Doctor Darkness. “So much for the Hanger boys! Your precious Cliff and his little brother Cote are doomed! Doomed! Now nothing stands between me and the power I deserve!”

Looking directly into Beth’s eyes, Doctor Darkness added, “And the woman I desire!”

Struggling in the evil man’s steely grip, Beth declared, “My heart belongs to Cliff and will for as long as he lives!”

Turning back to the plummeting aeroplane, Doctor Darkness said, “Which should not be very much longer, Miss Key. Not much longer at all!”

Even as he spoke, the little aeroplane seems to pull out of its dive, leveling off. Beth’s hopes lifted as Cliff fought to land the mortally wounded craft. But just as it looked as if Cliff had the aeroplane under control, skimming the ground at terrible speed, it flew into the farm’s big, abandoned barn. Seconds later, an explosion rocked the hilltop and the barn burst into flames.

Are Cliff and Cote doomed? Will the evil Doctor Darkness be free to pursue ultimate power? Who will save Beth from the amorous clutches of Doctor Darkness?

Write the end of the story, answer the questions and, in the tradition of the pulps, give us a happy ending. As always, we are playing by the loosely enforced Official Rules of the Friday Challenge and playing for whatever is behind Door #2. The deadline for this challenge is midnight Central time, Thursday, 2/5/09.

Well, what are you waiting for? Cliff, Cote and Beth all need you! Get started. Now!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The new comment engine is in place

Okay, the last major bit is in place, that being the new Comment engine from JS-Kit.com. I have to admit that after four years of wrestling with HaloScan, plugging in the new JS-Kit code was so easy I thought I'd done it wrong at first and had to go back and check it again. Many thanks to Chris Saad, JS-Kit's VP of Product Strategy and Community, for patiently answering my questions and steering me down this path.

JS-Kit commenting is remarkably feature-rich, and I expect I'll be flipping all sorts of bits off and on in the next few weeks as I get to know it better, so expect the look and feel of the Comments to change for a while before things (or more honestly, I) finally settle down. I also stand corrected on another point. Importing existing blogspot comments was a snap, so all the brilliant commentary on the "Rules" post remains. (Except for a few of my own comments, which I deleted to test the comment moderation functions.)

On the subject of things changing, I expect I'll continue to play with the content in the sidebars for a while, so don't be alarmed if things move around. I can't help but notice there's a lot of blank space in the right column, though. Shall we establish a blogroll, or is the Followers widget sufficient?

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Recipe Exchange

Because writers cannot live on words alone! Tell us about your favorite comfort food to eat while writing, your favorite snacks to munch while reading, or your tips and tricks for stretching the food budget so that you can live on a writer's income.

The Idea Exchange

Need an idea for a story? All the ideas listed in this post are free for the taking.

Have an idea you know you'll never use but hate to see go to waste? Post it here. Maybe someone else can use it.

Here's one from the BBC: "The slow death of handwriting"
A century from now, our handwriting may only be legible to experts. For some, that is already the case. But writer Kitty Burns Florey says the art of handwriting is declining so fast that ordinary, joined-up script may become as hard to read as a medieval manuscript.

"When your great-great-grandchildren find that letter of yours in the attic, they'll have to take it to a specialist, an old guy at the library who would decipher the strange symbols for them," says Ms Florey, author of the newly-published Script and Scribble: The Rise and Fall of Handwriting. She argues that children - if not this generation then one soon to come - may grow up using only a crude form of printing for the rare occasions in life they need to communicate by pen...

The BBC "In Pictures" sites is one of my favorites. The basic site is here. Sometimes just seeing an unusual image will spark an idea. Who are those people? How did they get into that situation? What happens two minutes after this picture was taken? Or sometimes it's as simple as, What the Hell is that?

If it's a media presentation, I generally mute the speakers. I don't want the narrator's words polluting my imagination.

The BBC's Science page is also always fun and full of things you don't see in the American news. For example, this.

Then there's always Agence France-Presse, especially their Portfolios section.

Another of my favorite sites is The Register. If you're looking for bleeding edge tech news mixed with the downright weird, this is the place. For example, this is where I learned that Lockheed has developed a powered exoskeleton for the U.S. Army. Fittingly enough, the acronym works out to be HULC, and it can run for up to three days on a tankful of JP8.

The folks at The Register also keep an eye on DARPA, dishing up such delights as this article on the latest fruits of the Nano Air Vehicle program. (Your tax dollars at very tiny and expensive work.) Sadly, this is also the site where I learned that Columbia Pictures is planning a remake of Total Recall. Oh God, no, please, say it ain't so.

Sometimes a story idea just starts with a name or a single word. For example the other morning Karen was reading something in Biblical Greek at me over breakfast, but I mis-heard her and thought she'd said the name, "Arsenio Kotai." That got me thinking: who is he? What's his story?

Or what about Joy DeVive? Or K'Pok, the Buoyant Vulcan? A stand-up comedian now playing at a Ferengi casino? Can there even be such a thing as a Vulcan comedian?

Chains of creative causality often make no sense in retrospect and are impossible to explain. Suffice to say I was thinking about something else and trying to come up with a word to describe it, and ended up with, "The Oneirovore." It's a title. What's the story behind it? I don't know. But to decode it for you, "oneiros" is Greek for "dreams," and a "vore" is of course something that eats or devours. "The Dream-Devourer:" is it a character, a parasite, an illness, or a metaphor for my job? I don't know. You tell me.

The Supermodel's New Clothes

by Imnay Udosay

Many years ago, there was a famous Supermodel, known throughout the world for her devotion to fashion. She cared for nothing else; only the colors, the cuts, the fabric, and all the available accessories that one could conceive. She would not let anything other than the finest of cloth touch her precious, exotic skin. She was so successful and so respected that when the time came, it was easy for her to launch her own designer line of clothes. You see she was more than just a pretty face and slender frame; she loved the art of fashion. Oh yes, she would conspire within her mind all the different shapes and styles and combinations that one could ever possibly wear. And it was said that she nary wore the same outfit twice. She, and all around her, knew that her taste was unquestionable.

Now there arrived on the scene a designer whose creations were said to have a mystical power. The story was spread around the fashion elite and their underlings that a dress or skirt or pantsuit designed by this fellow would be invisible to anyone who had a limited fashion sense. You see, the gods of fashion had blessed this fellow with such talent that anyone who could not appreciate it would not be allowed the privilege of even seeing it. Such are the “artistic” gods.

This, of course, was all falsehood and the bogus designer had himself spread the tall tales about his ability. Truth be told, he was just a simple con man recently escaped from an Italian jail, but he was such a fine liar that everyone believed in him.

The Supermodel said to her assistant, Stephan (pronounced STEF-on, please don’t confuse it with Steven!) … anyway, she said to Stephan that she must have this designer for her new spring line and that she herself would be the lead model for his exquisite work for the big spring show. Now, she had not done any modeling herself for several years and this made all the underlings quite nervous and they knew that they had better see to it that this designer did his absolute best work.

The con-man designer was indeed hired and he began to ask for all the most expensive types of cloth and ribbon and silk, etc. As you should guess, he was just keeping all this material to resell at a later date as to line his own pockets twice. He refused an assistant, declaring that he only worked alone and that he must conjure with various dark arts for the magic to take hold and that these things were his secrets.

After a time, the Supermodel started to get a bit impatient so she sent her assistant, Stephan to go and check on the fellow and bring back a report on the progress he was making.

Stephan went downtown to the studio where the clothes were made. He quietly went in the back door so as to spy briefly before making his presence known. What he saw was of great distress to him for he saw nothing at all. Here was this fellow cutting and stitching and sewing…nothing! “Is it true that I have no taste in fashion?” Stephan lisped to himself. “Could my fashion sense truly be limited…am I a Ralph Lauren retard? A Donatella dunce?”

“Ahem,” Stephan came into the room, exuding an air of confidence.

“Ah, my good man,” said the phony designer, “What do you think, eh? Most beautiful?” He held up nothing in the air as if it were a spider’s web, as if touching it would spoil it.

“Um, yes, quite…um…astonishing. Indeed. Where did you get your inspiration?”

The fellow went on about various places and colors and things such as to give Stephan an idea of the type of garment they were both imagining.

Stephan reported back to the Supermodel with all haste, reciting to her all that he heard from the man. The Supermodel was happy at the news but she did not fully trust Stephan’s judgment, so later that week she also sent her intern, an eager young fashionista with a sharp eye and Gucci in her bones.

The young woman had also the same experience with the con man and not wanting to betray her taste, said nothing but high praise for the work of this false fashion manufacturer.

“I want to know the minute he has something finished,” declared the Supermodel and so a few days later they all went down to the studio to see a couple pieces that had been said to be complete.

Upon entering the place and coming up the area where the fellow was snipping away with his scissors at an exquisite roll of invisible linen, the Supermodel, looking around, began to feel dread. “This can’t be,” she thought. “I’m a Supermodel!” For she, also, saw nothing. She pushed the fear aside, telling herself that success is more about confidence than talent anyway.

“Is there something I should try on?” she inquired. “Yes,” replied the con man, “This one right here. I made the blue silk embroidered trim to match your eyes perfectly. “

He held the hanger up to her neck, as though dangling from it was a beautiful evening gown.

“Come help me.” She spoke to her intern, who was gazing at the unseen as if it were something she would like to wear but knowing that she was too petite. “Oh, it’s beautiful,” she exclaimed.

The two ladies ducked behind a divider and the Supermodel returned a moment later, quite exposed but sure that she was most splendidly adorned.

“How is it?” She did a little spin.

Stephan looked her up and down and attempted to disguise his awkwardness.

“You look absolutely…stunning,” he said in a voice deeper than anyone had ever heard out of his mouth.

The Supermodel looked down at his pants.

“Your crotch betrays you, Stephan, in more ways than one. You’re fired.”

The night of the big Spring show finally arrived and the anticipation was felt throughout the event hall, both in the audience and backstage, where a menagerie of young models were all being helped into their outré outfits by the deceitful designer himself. One by one they were helped into shirts and skirts and dresses and heels (the shoes were real, by the way.) Not one of them saying anything at all to the other to suggest that all of them were quite, entirely naked; except for the shoes.

“You are truly a genius,” one of them said to the con-man with the utmost of sincerest admiration.

“Thank you, my dear. No one could look more perfect in that outfit than you.”

The young woman blushed, not of shame but from the compliment of a master.

Now Sting was finishing up his opening set and the girls were ready.

The Supermodel walked up to the group and called them to attention so as to give them their final pep talk. “Ladies, you all look so beautiful. Let’s hear it for the one who has made this night possible.” They all looked over at the gentlemen who’d given them the goods and gave a little girly applause. “All right, girls, here we go…”

The announcer finished his introduction and the ladies began slowly walking toward their entrance with Ms. Supermodel at the front of the line…

The Euro-Dance music began with a deep groove. The audience was still applauding when the Supermodel walked out from behind the wall, the dropped jaws and gaping eyes only served to support her fantasy that she was indeed wearing the finest clothes ever fashioned in the world.

As she began her stride down the extra long catwalk configured for this anticipated event, along with the trail of models that came after her, she began to notice the photographers smiling at each other and looking back at her in a way that one does not look at clothes. And she began to realize the look on people’s faces was one more of shock. Then she distinctly heard someone in the front row say, “Omigod, they’re naked!” And the Supermodel was vexed for she knew it was true, but she knew the show must go on for she could not show weakness. So she strutted all the more boldly, heel to toe, with even more verve and audacious attitude, her calves and thighs flexing like a thoroughbred, her hips swinging back and forth.

And all the models following behind their mentor pranced along, swinging their arms and flipping their unseen scarves; turning and twisting as though they were wearing the most graceful, flowing garments ever gathered in one place.

The end.
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