Friday, July 31, 2015

Flash Fiction Friday: "The Glow" (Part 2)

Jack (As played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt)
Previously: Part 1


7:29... 7:30.

BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!

Jack Foster jumped awake to the symphonic blare of the alarm clock. A pillow smacked him full in the face.
"Shut it off, Jerkface!" His roommate growled.
Jack found the toggle switch on the top of the clock and flipped it to the "OFF" position. The noise ceased. Jack turned on the light, grabbed his courier's uniform, and began sliding into it.
"Have fun playing mailman!" The roomie groaned, grinning at him from the other bed.
"Yeah? At least one of us has a job," Jack retorted.
"Mmph!" His friend grunted as he rolled over. "I told you, I don't want to settle till I've exhausted all my options."
"Code for 'I want to mooch off my roommate till he starts making enough to afford his own apartment', I assume."
"Your words, not mine."
Jack rolled his eyes. "At this rate, I bet you would get a Glow before you find your perfect job, Ray!"
The curly blond head came up. "Dude... About that..."
Jack's blue eyes opened wide and his mouth dropped open. "You did? Wait, last night? Man, I thought... You said the date was a bust!" He picked up the stray pillow from his bed and tossed it at the twinkling hazel eyes.
Ray caught the pillow and hugged it to himself with a sheepish grin. "Well, the date... Meh, she was okay; I mean, I thought she was cool, but..." He cleared his throat, "At the restaurant, you know, we're talking, she's not Glowing, I'm not Glowing... The waiter brings us the check and it's like—POW!" He illustrated the effect of a Glow by bringing his hand straight up behind the pillow, spreading his fingers wide in front of his face. Ray lowered his hand as a slow blush crept over his face.
Jack shook his head. "Man, all this time... I had no idea—"
"You had no idea!" Ray snorted, "Just imagine how I felt! Things got awkward with the date after that; I mean, no way she missed the Glow between us. We kind of said goodbye after that, and I stuck around to... you know, chat with the waiter."
"What's his name?" Jack asked.
Ray smiled. "Ben; he's a really cool guy, you'd like him."
Jack bobbed his head. "Maybe we could invite him over for pizza tonight."
Ray nodded. "Yeah, cool, man. Well, you'd better get to work."
"And you'd better find a job, Glow-stick!" Jack closed the door to the sound of Ray’s chuckle.

Walking down the six long city blocks to the tall skyscraper where he worked gave him plenty of time to think.
So... Ray found a soul mate who made his heart Glow. Good for him. Jack only felt sorry for the poor girl he'd gone out with the previous night. He hoped she would find her Glow, whoever she was.

Jack smirked as the building came into view. Ray continually gave him flack for keeping such a thankless job, but Jack wasn't an inter-office courier because it was any kind of life goal or anything. He breezed through the rotating glass door and waved at the doorman, shifting the strap of his bag to hide the dancing firefly behind his shirt.

Jack's problem wasn't that he didn't Glow; it was that the Glow flickered on and off on a pretty consistent basis.
He stopped by the mailroom on the fourth floor. The large bin of incoming mail sat on the counter where the deliveryman had dropped it off. Jack sifted through each envelope, slipping the pile into the respective slot in the accordion file tucked into his messenger bag. This done, he trotted over to the stairwell.

It happened most often on the stairs. On again, off again; sometimes people would catch it; he could see them glancing at their own collars to see if they too had the same flicker. Once, he had been washing his hands in the bathroom and his Glow came just as Greg from Accounting walked through the door! But there was no answering glow in the accountant's chest. So where did it come from?
Jack noticed it now; whenever he saw the flash, he would stop and look around—but by then, the Glow was gone, as if whoever it had been had missed the chance to see it. Jack sighed, trading the envelopes in the “Legal” section of his bag for the ones in the “OUTGOING” box beside the door. From there it was up to Human Resources with a few square-ish packages that wouldn’t quite fit in the mail slot. Jack sighed and pushed open the door.
Lily worked at the reception desk. She smiled at Jack; he smiled back.
His chest flickered like a spastic flashlight; hers didn’t show the slightest glimmer.
Jack ignored the gleam and checked the name on the package label.
“Hey, Lily; I’ve got a package for Rita here—“
“Oh, I just saw her go into the copy room,” Lily supplied, gesturing to the appropriate hallway.
Jack nodded, tucking the package back into his bag. “Thanks.”

He passed Tiffany in the hallway. The redhead was usually grinning and humming some catchy tune, but just now, she had a serious expression on her face. Tiffany? Serious? Jack caught her eye, and she smiled. That was more like it! He poked his head into the copy room, and somebody jumped.

"Oh," Jack muttered, as the green-eyed brunette stared at him. This wasn't Rita, this was Jessica; she looked distracted, almost dazed. He'd probably startled her. "Hey, Jess," he said casually, "someone told me Rita would be here."
Jess pointed to the tray where the copier continuously spit out papers. "That's probably her stuff."

Jack nodded; there was something... off about Jess' appearance. What was it? "I'll just head toward her cubicle then," he said, for lack of anything else to say, "see if I can catch her—" He almost left the doorway when it hit him: the reason Jess looked odd was because her usually-calm demeanor had been shaken. She was typically almost as upbeat as Tiffany, clearheaded and focused... But just now, it looked like she'd been crying.
And by the look on her face, he'd probably been standing there staring for too long.
"Are you okay?" The question left his lips before he could think of something more appropriate to say.

Horror flickered in her eyes, and her cheeks flushed bright pink above the dimples. "Do I have something on my face?"

Her question reminded him of the old joke his dad used to play. Jack kept a deadpan expression and quipped, as he pointed to her frown, "Yeah, it's just—"
He got no further. Jessica gasped, covered her mouth with her hand, and ran out of the room.
Jack could have kicked himself. What had gone wrong?

He was still standing there when Rita walked in. "Oh good, it's done." She loaded the stack of copies into a short plastic bin, and noticed him. "Oh, hey Jack."
"Hi." What was—"Oh yeah, Rita," Jack dove into his bag and fished out the package. "This came for you."
She nodded toward the bin in her hands, and he set the box on top. "Thanks; I've been waiting for that to arrive." She departed down the hall, but stopped after only a few paces. "By the way," she said with a huge grin, "nice Glow."

Jack's gaze shot to his chest. Glow? He was Glowing! Not the mad flickering of a faulty circuit, but a constant beam of light emanated from beneath his collar! Who--it couldn't have been Rita. She had already shared a Glow; his name was Alan. The humming printer distracted him. "INCOMING FROM ROSS J." the screen read. Ross... This must have been the file Jess had been waiting for when he sent her running. Sheepishly, Jack decided that the least he could do after embarrassing her was help her out a little. He took the stack of papers out of the printer. Flipping over the first page was common practice with forms that contained sensitive material that should be kept limited—the sort of material people like Jess dealt with. Jack did this, and then, remembering his botched attempt at a joke, hastily grabbed a paper from the scrap bin and scribbled out an apology note. He wrote her name on the front and left it there. By the time he emerged from the copy room, the Glow had faded. He would just have to wait for the next time his soul mate crossed his path. For now, his Glow had returned to its customary sporadic flicker.
Who was she?

The question bothered Jack all day long, through all his rounds, and even into dinner with Ray and Ben. The two of them were like the twin headlights of a car. Ray was right; Ben was a good guy, smart, thoughtful, and a great sense of humor to boot. But Jack couldn't stop thinking about the mysterious someone who had made his heart Glow steadily for the first time in his life. He sighed as he lay in bed, drifting off to sleep on the lulling cadence of Ray's snores...

Unless

In an instant, Jack was wide-awake all over again. His Glow, flicker though it was, had been brighter than ever up on the Human Resources floor... Which was also where he had experienced a full-blown Glow... Which Rita had noticed (but she was not the cause)... But just before Rita had come, he'd been in the room with...

Jack rubbed his face and lay back down. He forced his eyes closed and cleared his mind. He would think about everything else in the morning.
>>>>>

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Thursday, July 30, 2015

Throwback Series: "Day of Reckoning" Chapter 1, Part 1

"In the library they had prepared her a small cloister in one of the alcoves..."
Previously: Prologue Parts 1-8
 
The next morning, Renata awoke near dawn to find Laurel already dressed and sitting cross-legged on her bed, with her sword across her lap. Her friend sat with her eyes closed, and when she heaved a sigh, Renata heard the shakiness of her breath.
"Laurel?" Renata asked quietly.
Laurel did not answer; she muttered to herself.
"It's going to work; it has to work! No, no—I don't want to succumb, don't want to put myself in that situation again! Will I be more vulnerable, because I've been exposed before? Perhaps on a different planet, in a different situation, the wyrts will be different as well. There's no other way! There has to be some other way! This is the only way to take down the network; they've tried other ways and failed. I must not fail! I cannot fail! If I fail, we might as well be dead!"
Renata shivered at the ominous musings. She grabbed her bathrobe and slipped out of bed to find Deej. The Ewok was certainly a comfort to be around, and he seemed to share Renata's love of peace and good food.

Laurel, meanwhile, sat immobilized by the horrific nightmares of her past. The thought that she would be willingly putting herself through that same nightmare all over again made her heart beat wildly in her chest. Why could wyrts not just be killed outright? Laurel rolled her eyes, knowing that every minute they delayed, the mother-mind formed another wyrt out of her body, like a polyp, and it crawled away out of the cavern to wherever she sent it. Where was the cavern? Could they not just get straight to her and take it down that way?
But Laurel knew that even if the mother-mind was easy to get to, killing her outright would send all the wyrt-hosts into neural shock because the network was so deeply entrenched here. Furthermore, she did not doubt that it would not be easy to get to in the least; surely the cunning Elitinati would be on their guard against anyone equally as cunning.
At last Laurel allowed herself a small smile. They wouldn't see this one coming; at least, not until it was too late to do anything about it.

Carsius rapped softly on the door.
"We're ready for you downstairs, Laurel," he announced soberly.
The Elf nodded and followed him.

In the library they had prepared her a small cloister in one of the alcoves, so that just in case the wyrt tapped in far enough to use her eyes, the Elitinati Mentor controlling it would not see anyone else with her, nor be able to discover her precise location.
Gorrmunsa approached with a syringe in his hand containing a vial of althraxine. He also had another device in his other hand, one that looked like a small stylus with a carpule of analthraxine.

"I'll administer the althraxine," he explained, "and when the wyrts sense it in your system, they will begin crawling toward you, and what you see will become visible to them for a moment. This injector-stylus," he placed the device in her hand, "is the fail-safe. If at any time you feel that you are in danger or risking too much, you must puncture your arm with the tip just inside your elbow and it will release the analthraxine and instantly neutralize the althraxine."

Laurel nodded. Augustus came forward, eyes alight with determination.
"Good luck, Laurel," he said genuinely. "You'd be the bravest person I know for doing this."
"Thank you," Laurel said, on the inside wishing she were miles away from this dangerous situation.
Renata ran forward and threw her arms around her friend.
"Be safe, okay?" she begged. "Don't forget to come back to us when you're done."
Laurel bent her head and kissed the springy red curls. "I'll come back, Ren," she promised, "Just for you."
She turned to Deej, "Ardanaf," she said, "Thank you."
Deej nodded, "You won't be gone forever," he said. "I will ask the spirits to guide you."
Finally, Laurel looked at Gorrmunsa. "I am ready," she declared.

He inserted the syringe into her right arm—the hand that held the stylus—and depressed the plunger.
Laurel winced as the liquid coursed through her system. Finally, the Kytarr removed the needle. Laurel felt a small rush, and a slight flush, but nothing more.
"How long does it take to affect the wyrts?" she asked.
Gorrmunsa pointed to the furry mass already congregated at her feet. Others came down the walls toward her.
"Not long," he stated simply. Laurel's friends closed the curtain of the cloister and retreated from the room as the first wyrt laid a foot-pad on Laurel's head.

Instantly—far faster than the wyrts in that cave under Mt. Horbaroth—Laurel's eyes flew open as she was plunged into a kaleidoscope world of shimmering images. The library came to life before her, but all she could think about were the furnishings the room did not hold, books she did not have. Was the room always this sparse? She moved around within it. Advertisements for bookstores and furniture floated before her eyes. She saw a vase and immediately desired to fill it with flowers. Why were all the drapes closed? Surely it would be midday by now!

The minute her hands brushed the fabric, Laurel remembered who she was and what she needed to do. She sat in a chair and closed her eyes, focusing on the source of the barrage of stimulus, trying to find what or where it was. She thought about...
She needed a new dress. Her jerkin was beginning to look faded. Besides, it wasn't fashionable. She should get something for supper as well. Some nice wine, a leg of mutton, or a ham, perhaps. And of course a new gown meant new shoes, new stockings—was she even wearing a corset? Honorable Lady Ventimeer would be having a party tonight. Was she on good enough terms with the lady to make an appearance?
Laurel clenched her eyes tighter, willing her more vulnerable consciousness further away from the prying influence. She pushed back, fighting for some strand that would lead her to the Scholarship pillar, knowing that the minute she gave into any of the bombarding thoughts the wyrts would have a way in and there would be no escaping them. They pressed closer in—there was something she needed to do, some sort of escape she had in just this kind of situation. What was it? Laurel felt completely lost in her mind, detached from her body.

In one swirling explosion, the whole psychedelic vision evaporated. Laurel's eyes snapped open, and she returned to the present. Her clothes and hair were dripping with sweat. She lay on the floor of the library, near the door into the hallway, curled in the fetal position. The stylus—

Where was the stylus? Laurel finally lifted her head. Her body felt stiff and sore. She turned her body—and froze. Above her in an easy chair, a dark figure sat. Pale hair, pale skin, dark clothing, and in the shadowy library, all that Laurel could see were the piercing silver eyes. The intruder stared down at her, fiddling with the empty stylus in his hand—her hand? Laurel could not tell if the person was male or female; she glanced at the hands: small, nimble fingers—female, then. The woman blinked at her under a long forelock of white-blond hair that was cut short boy-fashion at the nape of the neck.
Laurel wanted to move away from this stranger, to defend herself from the threat of attack. However, the psychic shock had left little strength in her limbs. She moved to sit up, to drag her body over to the wall, but she could barely manage an inch.

Instantly, the stranger was at her side—the opposite side, Laurel's left—aiding her with strong, gentle hands. With the stranger's help, Laurel was soon sitting up against the wall. She closed her eyes briefly, relaxing and trying to build up her strength. A lock of hair fell into her eyes, and she did not have the strength to brush it away. Laurel opened her eyes again, just in time to see the stranger—now squatting at her left side, opposite where she had been only moments before—reach up and brush the hair from Laurel's forehead, tucking it behind her ear with deft fingers.

Laurel felt her voice returning, though she was still incredibly weak. She moved her lips to the word, "Who?" but the stranger raised a delicate finger to her lips. The stranger tucked the stylus into Laurel's left hand, whispering a single word as she did so.
At the sound of the voice, Laurel felt her world fade to unconscious darkness.....

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

"The Dragon's Quest" Excerpt: "START HERE"

It's not a fancy GIF... but I made it myself, ok?

[Excerpt from Chapter 1]
I trudged upstairs to the little attic where so much of my creative genius took place. My faithful black typewriter hunched upon the desk, like a runner at the starting block. It was a standard black Remington Model 10 I had snagged at a garage sale for twenty bucks, and it was typically where all my books began. I took my seat as Gregson’s words echoed in my mind.
I’m giving you permission to go hog-wild…” Ha! That showed how much he knew about me! Didn’t he know I always plan my novels first? That it usually stems from an intriguing idea, or a particular context? My writing was almost never spontaneous.

With much trepidation, I approached The Shelf. The notebooks had lain there for so long that they were covered in a layer of dust. I opened them, perusing page after page of notes and half sentences and far too many scribbles. The trouble with my ideas was that, while they would start here, in some far-off place like a pirate ship or a medieval castle, they would invariably end up so far-fetched and clich├ęd that I would instead take the plot idea and turn it into something that happened here in town.

I sat there amid so many words—words of my own creation, meaningless streams of abstract consciousness, and shook my head.
“I don’t even know where to start,” I muttered to the empty air.

Click-click-click-click-click… click-click-click-click.

I froze just short of holding my breath. What was that sound?

DING!

The ring of a carriage return was so loud in the stillness that my whole body jolted. Slowly, I turned to the typewriter behind me as the clicking began again.

Click-click-click….

My suspicions confirmed, but it didn’t make me feel any better. My typewriter was possessed! Typing all on its own, it repeated the phrase a second time: START HERE.

I hesitated right behind the high-backed desk chair. “Hello?” Was there a ghost suddenly trying to communicate with me? How was that for “beyond the scope of plausible”?
DING! The carriage returned to the start again, and at last, the movement ceased. I waited for several seconds.

Clack, clack, clack; the “Shift” key tapped all by itself, not adding anything to the page—more like the typewriter was tapping its foot or something.
After confirming through excessive arm-waving that there was indeed nothing corporeal occupying the seat, I sat down and raised my fingers to the keys. Still, nothing moved. The page in front of me read: “START HERE. START HERE.” So I started.

Hello? I typed.

The keys sprang to life and I pulled back as if they’d burnt me.

YES HELLO; ARE YOU READY?

Ready for what? I typed.

YOU WRITE FROM EXPERIENCE, DO YOU NOT? THAT IS WHY THOSE STORIES HAVE NEVER BEEN FINISHED, BECAUSE YOU HAVE NOT EXPERIENCED THEM. YOUR PROBLEM IS NOT THAT YOU HAVE NOWHERE TO START; IT IS THAT YOU ALWAYS STOP JUST BEFORE YOU REACH THE DOOR.

A typewriter with a memory and a bizarre amount of self-awareness. Just what I needed. Where did I even get this thing? I couldn’t remember at the moment.

What door? Even as I typed the question, somewhere my own traitorous mind slowly came up with the answer.

The typewriter confirmed it. YOU KNOW EXACTLY THE DOOR I AM TALKING ABOUT. THE DOOR THAT JUST BEGINS TO CRACK WHEN YOU HAVE GONE FAR ENOUGH IN A STORY TO LET IT OPEN. BUT YOU NEVER LET IT HAPPEN. YOU WOULD ALWAYS STOP RIGHT THERE AND ABANDON THE WORLD AND EVERYONE IN IT.

“I didn’t abandon anything!” I spluttered defensively, even though it was a lie. I always rationalized it.

Not abandoned, I typed, just set aside to let the ideas take shape.

THEY HAVE ALREADY TAKEN SHAPE, BUT THEY WILL NOT COME THROUGH THE DOOR. YOU MUST GO THROUGH THE DOOR TO MEET THEM.

What door? I typed again.

The carriage rang in response, and once again, the question appeared on the paper.

ARE YOU READY?

I was tired of this stupid conversation. I reached to remove the paper from the carrier—but as I did, another one slid into place and the typewriter started moving again!

WHAT ARE YOU AFRAID OF? THESE ARE WORLDS OF YOUR OWN MAKING ARE THEY NOT? YOU KNOW THEM ABOUT AS WELL AS YOU KNOW YOUR OWN NEIGHBORHOOD.
I ignored the moving keys and did my best to try and type over it, to shake myself out of this strange funk I was in, chatting with a typewriter.

No Laura. Stop Laura. It is just a dream. You're crazy. Stop this Laura. Wake up Laura. This is crazy. Think about something else. Think about anything else. Think of the puppy next door, the one that is always trying to outrun your fat, balding neighbor with the striped pajamas. Remember how it would always run circles around his ankles and slip into the door and no matter how hard he tried he could never quite catch it


YOU ARE STALLING.

Leave me ALONE! I typed. Why I hadn’t had the sense to just leave the desk, I’ll never know. But just then, I noticed something on the wall in front of me, just beside the round window. A flicker, just a spark; it was enough to catch my eye.

It was like one of those optical illusions, where you couldn’t see it till you actually saw it, and yet once you saw it, you couldn’t un-see it.

I saw THE DOOR.

YOUR TIME IS UP, the typewriter gloated. DO YOU SEE IT NOW?

I most certainly did. It wavered and flickered. At first glance, it looked like a normal door; then I kept looking at it, I could see the surface of the wood start peeling away and in three blinks, it was a solid curtain of hanging vines lush with leaves. I kept watching and the thing morphed yet again into a translucent, netherworldly portal.
My fingers brushed the wavering surface, and I gasped. Somehow I had crossed the room and now stood in front of THE DOOR. Through the sheen I could just barely make out some kind of outdoor view, but the color and the light obscured any details. The typewriter clicked again, and even from my new position, I could still see what it said:

ARE YOU READY?

I looked back to the glittering portal. The more I watched, the more the curling vines returned to cover the opening in my attic wall. I would have to push through them—and who knew what to expect on the other side?

I took a deep breath.
I stuck my hand out and pushed the vines aside.
I saw grass on the other side, just level with the attic floor.
I stepped onto the grass, letting the curtain drop behind me.
A gust of cool air made me close my eyes, and when I opened them, I was somewhere else entirely.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Suggestion Box, Vol. 3: "One Thousand Words", List #4

"This is all we can find."
 Suggested by: Raven Ramsey 


The List:
Scuttle
Pluto
A green flower pot

The Result:
"Inside The Impact Zone"
SPECIAL REPORT 
AGENT: BARTHOLOMEW SCUTTLE
LOCATION: FLORIDA, USA

BEGIN TRANSCRIPT:
“Agent Scuttle, come in, Agent Scuttle!”
“Agent Scuttle, reporting, Sir!”
“Agent Scuttle, this is Commander Whipple; you were supposed to report in hours ago. What happened?”
“Well, sir, I was going to get around to it, but—“
“Get around to it? Pardon me, Agent, but this is your first mission in the field, and I can’t have you slacking!”
“I’m not slacking, sir.”
“Then where is your report?”
“I have it right here, sir.”
“Well?”
“Shall I read it to you, sir?”
“That is exactly what you should do, Agent Scuttle.”
“Where shall I start, sir?”
“At the beginning, Agent!”
“All right, Commander Whipple, sir. Investigations began when NASA interstellar probes detected abnormal activity in the vicinity of Pluto.”
“We have covered that, Agent Scuttle. Move it along!”
“At precisely 4:27 PM yesterday afternoon, a meteor entered the atmosphere and struck the ground in Clearwater, Florida.”
“At which point NASA administrators contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and I sent an agent out to Florida. That would be you, Agent Scuttle.”
“Yes, sir; thank you, sir.”
“Save your thanks for when I can actually congratulate you on finishing the job, Agent! Now then, where were we?”
“NASA.”
“Ah yes, continue.”
“I arrived in Florida, sir, and began by making my presence known to local law enforcement.”
“That wouldn’t be Sheriff Regis Pointer, by any chance?”
“Sheriff Regis Porter is the leading law enforcement officer in Clearwater, sir.”
“Ha! I’ll be a red dwarf! How is the young whippersnapper?”
“Not so young any more, if you don’t mind my saying, sir. His wife—“
“Regis is married? Great horse nebula, how the young ones grow up; what’s she like?”
“Old, sir.”
“Regis took an older wife?”
“Regis took a wife about his own age, sir. As I said before, Regis is old, too.”
“Impossible! Well, what did old Regis have to say for himself?”
“Nothing, sir.”
“He said nothing? A meteor crashes into his town, and he says nothing?”
“I’m sorry sir; I mistook your meaning, sir. He had plenty to say about the meteor, but nothing about himself, sir.”
“I see; well, no harm done. So what did Regis say about the meteor?”
“Well, he said that the damage was quite extensive.”
“How extensive?”
“The meteor demolished a couple buildings when it landed.”
“A couple buildings? That doesn’t sound very extensive to me, Agent Scuttle.”
“They were skyscrapers, sir.”
“Pardon, did you say skyscrapers?
“Yes, sir; the meteor landed in the center of a burgeoning metropolis. Preliminary assessment seems to indicate that approximately two skyscrapers, three bridges, and an overall distance of five or six city blocks were demolished beyond repair.”
“I see; this is very serious indeed.”
“There’s more, sir.”
“What else, Agent Scuttle?”
“When we proceeded into the impact zone, there was something inside it that shouldn’t have been there.”
“Inside the impact zone?”
“The meteor.”
“You’re saying the meteor should not have been inside the impact zone?”
“No sir; sorry, sir. I meant that the thing that shouldn’t have been there was inside the meteor, which was in the crater at the center of the impact zone.”
“Ah—so what was it?”
“I am not sure, sir.”
“Didn’t you see it?”
“Not directly, sir.”
“What do you mean, Agent Scuttle?”
“They had already extracted it, sir, and kept it under guard in a large white tent.”
“So?”
“They wouldn’t let me inside, sir.”
“You? Why not?”
“Because I had already seen it.”
“How did you see it if it was inside a tent they wouldn’t let you enter?”
“Sheriff Regis Pointer had a photograph of the object, sir.”
“A photograph?”
“Yes, he said ‘This is all we could find’ and he handed me the photograph.”
“I take it you copied the photograph in your report.”
“Yes sir, it’s all there.”
“I see.”
“Do you have it with you, sir?”
“I’m looking at it right now, Agent!”
“Sorry sir; I just—“
“Save it, Agent Scuttle. I don’t know if that pea-brain of yours can understand this, but… the nature of the information in this photograph is highly sensitive material—“
“I understand that sir; that is why I engaged in evasive maneuvers, as per your orders, should sensitive materials ever cross into the wrong hands.”
“What evasive maneuvers?”
“I made them think that the pot was more important than the plant.”
“What pot?”
“The pot that held the plant in the meteor.”
“There was a pot?”
“Yes sir, a large round flower pot in a most pleasing shade of green.”
“And you diverted attention to that?”
“Yes, sir; I merely hinted that perhaps the pot would provide answers as to the plant’s origin, to throw suspicion off the meteor.”
“And why was this such a good idea to you, Agent Scuttle?”
“Well, sir, I concluded there was a 43-percent chance that inspection of the pot would prove that it did in fact originate here on Earth, so it couldn’t possibly have been something that came with the meteor, only got trapped in it at the moment of impact.”
“……”
“Sir?”
“You idiot!”
“I’m sorry, sir; what did I do, sir?”
“You just might have blown this whole operation, Agent Scuttle. I hope you’re satisfied with your experiences on this mission, because you won’t be getting another one! Return to your Base of Operations and I will confer with my superiors. Tell your unit to stand by for further orders.”
“Yes sir; thank you, sir; we will await your orders, sir.”

“Commence emergency message for the Galactic High Council of Phyllor. Councilor Gerth, this is Commander Whipple. I’ve been informed by our undercover agent that Operation Cue-ball did not go as planned; repeat, Operation Cue-ball is a bust. Based on information imparted to me by my field agent, we have reason to believe that…. Well, Councilor, I think the wives know. It is my understanding that they deliberately applied certain—countermeasures, if you will—to the main projectile, thus inviting suspicion where we had taken great pains to conceal our involvement and make the whole thing look like a freak accident. As matters stand, the humans are currently in possession of certain items, which, if the origins are discovered, could compromise the existence of our whole planet. I intend to instruct my men to obliterate the evidence at all cost, and withdraw immediately from this solar system. Recommend that, next time we try an assault like this… could we at least get someone who can aim properly? That asteroid our boys shot was completely off the mark! The White House isn’t even in Florida! Commander Whipple, out.”

Previously in This Series:
#2 "The Artist's Wife"
#1 "Red of Morning" 

#3 "Soul Mates"

Friday, July 24, 2015

Flash Fiction Friday: "The Glow" (Part 1)

The image that inspired it all... If only I knew the origins...
The Prompt: "Imagine if your chest glowed when you met your soul mate."

The Result:

The Glow
by Leslie Conzatti

Part 1
 
Jessica Ross finished updating the last cell on the spreadsheet and sighed. Over the steady hum of office business, she heard a loud, cheery voice doling out Hi-There’s and groaned; she knew what was coming. Hoping against hope, Jess adjusted the stray lock of straight brown hair hanging in front of her glasses and opened the next file, a form.

Footsteps slowed just beside the next cubicle, and came to a stop.

Jess didn’t turn.
Someone cleared her throat.
Jess couldn’t concentrate enough to fill the information correctly, but she still refused to acknowledge the person standing behind her.
“So…” Tiffany sauntered in and planted herself next to Jess, leaning on the edge of the desk behind her.
Jess finally looked up at the grinning redhead.
“How did it go with Ray last night?” Tiffany asked.

Jess didn’t move, only kept staring at the calendar hanging on her cubicle wall.
Tiffany’s grin dipped with sympathetic concern. “Oh, but I thought…” A pink blush spread over her cheeks and neck.
Jess still stared at the calendar; Ray’s name was still there, and the time of their reservations, 7:00.
Tiffany was still trying to process the unspoken news. “But… His status—“ she stammered. “I thought that if he got The Glow…”

“He did.” Jess could barely squeeze the words out through the narrow pathway in her throat. Her chest felt heavy. “He’s now dating the waiter who brought us our dinner.”
“Oh, Jess!”
“Shut up!” She wasn’t going to cry; she’d cried too much already. There wasn’t a point anymore. “I’m still a No-Glow, Tiffany, and it’s okay. Maybe it just… doesn’t happen for some people.” Jess felt the sting of trying to say out loud the things she’d been telling herself for years.
Tiffany patted her shoulder. “It’ll happen, Jess. Just give it time.”
“Whatever.” Jess turned back to her computer and Tiffany wandered awkwardly out of the cubicle. She tried to go back to filling out the form, but her fingers weren’t working. Jess gave up with a heated sigh and slumped against the back of her chair.
There was another date on the calendar, one with a big blue circle around it: October 23, her birthday. The day she would officially become the oldest person in her own acquaintance who never Glowed.

“It’ll happen,” her parents always told her. “You never know when, but when you Glow, you know!”
Meanwhile, the halls of her high school and then her college were practically lit up like Christmas trees with all of the glowing, thudding hearts of soul mates who had found each other. It was a phenomenon nothing short of miraculous—but the more time passed, the more Jess began to feel that perhaps the others were right, that the problem was with her.
It certainly couldn’t be anything she said or did; she’d tried everything she could think of: working out, changing her hair color, moving across the country—nothing worked. In her sophomore year, someone had started the rumor that maybe Jessie Ross didn’t have a heart at all. That was stupid; of course she had a heart. If she didn’t have a heart, she wouldn’t be alive! But it still stung; what was it that glowed inside a person, anyway?

One would think Jess would be an authority on The Glow by now; she’d seen enough of them, without ever experiencing it herself. She’d lost count of how many guys she’d dated (even a few girls, just in case) hoping that the others were wrong, that it really was a matter of timing.

Yeah, right; most people were finding their Glow in their early 20s; there weren’t many single people her age that she knew of—and who would date an almost-27-year-old woman with straight brown hair and glasses who might never Glow at all?

Jessica swallowed hard and tried to breathe normally; somewhere in the trip down Memory Lane, she had started crying. Now she vainly tried to smother her sobs and refocus on what her sister always referred to as “the boring job.”
“Why do you work there, anyway?” Kelly demanded in their last text conversation. “I thought you wanted to be a teacher or something; why didn’t you stay with that job you had in Kansas?”
Jess had responded “IDK” and passed it off at that—but the truth was far more desperate.

She never admitted it to anyone, but lately she’d been imagining that there was some kind of sparkle that would happen when she walked into the office on most days. It might have been her aging brain playing tricks on her… but then again, it might also be a legit Glow as she passed her prospective soul mate without even realizing it. A few times, Jess had made a point to freeze where she was and look around at everyone she could see—but no Glow. Whoever it was had probably moved on already.
Jess clung to that hope whenever she felt like quitting. She could Glow, it might happen… but what if a Glimmer was all she ever got?

“It’s better than nothing,” she murmured to herself. She punched in the last amount on the form and hit “Send to Printer.” One brief check in her compact mirror confirmed that she didn’t have streaks of mascara around her eyes, and she slowly made her way to the large copy machine down the hall.

Sure enough, someone else was printing at least a dozen copies of some multi-page report. Jess sighed and leaned against the wall, arms folded, to wait.

“Oh.”
Jess jerked upright when someone’s head came through the doorway. Curly dark hair, blue eyes, a quirky smile—Jack’s was a face she’d seen around the office. He wasn’t in the Human Resources department much, but he was one of the regular couriers, always headed to somewhere like Legal or Accounting.
Now, he backed out of the tiny “copy room,” muttering, “Hey Jess; someone told me Rita would be here.”
Jess pointed to the stack of papers just finishing their exit. “That’s probably her stuff.”
Jack nodded, “I’ll head toward her cubicle then, see if I can catch her—“ he stopped, still watching Jess. His eyebrows dipped. “Are you okay?” he asked.
Jess felt a hot flush crawling over her cheeks; had she missed a makeup malfunction? “Do I have something on my face?” she asked.
Jack’s lips twitched, but he didn’t crack a smile as he responded, “Yeah, It’s just—“ he pointed, and the mortified Jessica covered her mouth with her hand and raced for the bathroom.

Idiot! Her thoughts screamed, Moron! Crybaby! That’s what you get for crying at work! Frantic, she stared at her face in the mirror. It was a bit blotchy from the crying, but other than that, nothing was out of place.

Well, almost nothing.

With the status of her face confirmed, Jessica inspected her blouse. Something pink—Oh crap, was that hi-lighter? She pulled at it—
Leaning over the sink, Jessica could clearly see the soft pink brilliance filling the space between her collarbone and her blouse. She was Glowing!  
Jessica burst out of the bathroom at almost the same speed she had entered it. She got a couple strange looks from people, but by then her Glow had faded, and she could remain calm enough to make it back to the copy room without attracting too much attention.
The printer was empty, but there was a stack of papers she recognized as the form she’d just printed—and a note on top with her name on it! Jess grabbed the papers and trotted back to her cubicle to read it.

Jess,
Sorry if I embarrassed you. It was supposed to be a joke my dad would use to cheer me up when I was down. He would say “What do you have on your face?” and when I would say it was nothing, he’d say, “Yeah you do; son, you’ve got a frown where a smile should be!”
You ran out before I could finish. If there really is something going on, I’m sorry. I’ve just noticed that you haven’t been smiling lately, and I can remember thinking when I first started working here that you were one of the happiest people I’d ever seen. So, I’m sorry, and I hope you find something to put that smile back where it should be.

Jack
  
 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Throwback Series: "Day of Reckoning" Prologue Part 8



“By the fires of Kaama-Drezz!” Gorrmunsa swore. He dug his claws into the back of the chair in front of him and raked long furrows in the rich material. “Our entire plan, completely failed,” he turned to the two Black Hand operatives, “Because you did not tell me anything about a pneumatic filtration system!”

Carsius shook his head, nearly laughing in complete surprise. He looked at Laurel.
“You saw those and learned about the filtration system, and that’s how you knew the plan would fail?”
Laurel paused a moment; part of her wanted to lord it over the men, to throw it in their faces and tell them, “I told you so!” But she saw the crushed expression on each of the operatives’ faces, and so she chose to remain gracious.

“Yes, I wanted to tell you about the filtration system. I had wondered how the people could remain healthy in spite of the factories spewing filthy smoke day in and day out, and that’s what led me to discover the filtration system that automatically takes any foreign biological substance—like the althraxine spores—out of the air.” She sighed, “I tried to tell you.”

“I know that now,” Augustus admitted mournfully.
“Laurel,” Carsius remarked pensively, “there was something else you were saying about the wyrts earlier, when Augustus first arrived. If I remember correctly, it had nothing to do with vapor dispersion. What was it?”

Laurel heaved a sigh; here was the moment she had been waiting for.
“I was trying to say that it’s not just the althraxine that will overload the wyrts, nor is it the analthraxine that will keep the people safe from them. Chemicals don’t defeat wyrts; their whole existence subsists on the transmission of information. If there is a forceful inundation of information that conflicts the current trend of information, I believe that this, coupled with an infusion of the althraxine and analthraxine vapors, will be the key to ensuring widespread neural liberation.”

“But how can we accomplish this inundation?” Augustus asked. “Such a thing sounds impossible.”
“It must be focused,” Carsius observed, “we’ve already tried hitting the whole city at once, and that didn’t work.”
“Then, too,” Deej observed, “you have given the Elitinati no less than eight colorful announcements that there is someone within the city seeking to end their influence.”
Everyone pondered that somberly.
“Where do we even start?” Augustus burst out.
Renata raised her hand timidly. “What about the Six Pillars of Illuminus?”

Laurel blinked in surprise, “Those are the foundational beliefs of the Elitinati!” she mused.
“And if the Elitinati are the ones controlling the wyrt-mother—“ Carsius continued.
“—then to get them where it hurts,” Augustus completed, “we need to take down the pillars!”
Laurel looked at the wyrts still crawling around the paneling on the walls of the house. “Which pillar, though? All of them?”

“Let’s start with the easiest one,” Carsius suggested, mulling over each of the six in his mind. “If we can figure out the order of importance, and begin with the less-noticeable one, we may be able to squelch the Elitinati influence before they decide to fight back.”

Laurel paced agitatedly. “So,” she prompted the man, “which one would that be?”
Carsius frowned in deep thought.
Augustus suddenly gasped, eyes alight, “The Pillar of Scholarship!” he exclaimed.
Carsius confirmed it with a nod. “Taking over the Universities and schools of a country is the first step of an Elitinati infiltration.”
Laurel grinned and rubbed her hands together, “Then let’s take over the University!”

“Now, wait a minute,” Deej spoke up, “Is it really as simple as taking over one building, or are there several? And how are we supposed to get inside?”
Laurel shrugged, “Walk in, I suppose; we are invisible to the wyrts and their victims, so we could just get inside and—“
“And what?” Deej interrupted. “That is the problem with you humans! You are always so hasty to go and kill each other that you do not take time to make plans!”
Laurel heaved an exasperated sigh, “All right, we need to make a plan.”

Deej nodded, “That’s more like it! Now, what is the first step in overcoming a wyrt-influence?”
Laurel thought back to when she had accomplished this feat.
“Well,” she answered slowly, “at first I was overcome by its influence.”

Deej nodded to Renata, who immediately grabbed a book of empty pages from the shelf and began writing at his direction.
“So perhaps the air is different here than it is on your homeworld; one cannot simply ‘be overcome’, they must have althraxine in their system for it to happen here.”
Renata wrote: 1. The saboteur must take a dose of althraxine to enable the wyrt-connection.

“Good,” Deej continued, “then what happened?”
“Then…” Laurel faltered as she tried to sort out the details, “Then I realized I was being overcome, and I fought for a time.”
“What happened when you fought?”
“Gwynna—I mean, the wyrt-mother—pushed harder to influence me.”
“So…” Carsius tried to factor this into the plan, “The first sign of an influence not working will push the wyrt-mother into overdrive to enact the influence.”
Renata wrote: 2. The saboteur must remain in control, to cause the mother-mind to push harder and react, focusing on the single host instead of the whole city.

“What happened after that?” Deej prompted Laurel.
Laurel blinked, “That was when the neural connection suddenly reversed,” she remarked with surprise, “and suddenly I had the capacity to access the wyrt-mother, and influence her.”
Deej thumped his staff on the floor, “There we have it! When the mother-mind is focused on a single host, and that host has the capacity to fight back, as long as the resistance is powerful enough, the ‘signal’ will reverse, and we can begin introducing the counter-idea to the Pillar!”
Renata wrote: 3. The saboteur must continue to push against the mother-mind until the signal reverses, enabling the saboteur to influence the information passed on to the network by the mother-mind.

Gorrmunsa had remained silent this whole time; his tail flicked slowly back and forth, but inside, the wheels of his mind spun at a furious rate. He shook his head in amazement.
“That’s all we need, then,” he noted as the pieces fell into place in his mind. “Once the pathway is open, we need only to introduce the counter-idea, ensure its effectiveness with a dose of analthraxine, and the people will be awakened!”
Renata reviewed her notes. She looked up at Laurel. “Will it work?” she asked.

Laurel picked up a passing wyrt and studied it. “There’s only one way to find out,” she stated simply.
Carsius accepted the book from Renata and looked over her notes himself. “Who should be the saboteur?”
“Perhaps it might be me,” Gorrmunsa purred, “everyone knows that the Kytarr mind is the most resilient of any species.”
“Yes, but we’re talking about an influence on human hosts,” Augustus objected, “Therefore it might work best if the saboteur was human as well.” He looked to his fellow Black Hand operative, “may I be the saboteur?”

Carsius, to Augustus’ dismay, shook his head almost immediately. “You’re so hot-headed, you’re liable to destroy the whole system before we could topple the first Pillar.”
Augustus wore a wounded expression and did not reply.

“Besides,” Carsius observed, “there are Elven races here, too; therefore, if we’re going for a species match, the saboteur would have to be one who is both Elvish and human.” He winked slyly at Laurel, “Plus, it wouldn’t hurt if the saboteur is one who has done this before and succeeded.”

Laurel wagged her head and sighed, “All right, I’ll do it!” she conceded. “Tomorrow morning, I’ll take a dose of althraxine and we can begin.”
“Tomorrow?” Augustus asked in surprise, “Why not today?”
“It is nearly nightfall,” Gorrmunsa pointed out, gesturing toward the window.
The young man shook his head, “Is it just me or did the day go by really fast?”
“That’s something you’ll have to get used to, Augustus,” Carsius noted, “Time moves a bit faster in Eillumaeia than it does back home.”

Just then, Renata appeared with a pot of soup, and Deej followed her with a tray of bowls, spoons, and goblets of wine.
The Ewok passed the goblets around to each person. He raised his glass and toasted, “To the Day of Reckoning!”

“The Day of Reckoning!” everyone echoed, and their unity was sealed.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Case of the Irrepressible WIP


Scumbag Muse... is Scumbag at picking WIPs...

So I was going to finish up "Merely Meredith"....

...I had every intention of going back and finishing "Merely Meredith" instead of the other choices of Works-in-Progress that I have sitting on The Shelf....

.... I went through the work of weighing out pros and cons, and "Merely Meredith" came out on top for a variety of reasons:
  1. I had just finished a fantasy novel, after poking away at it for two years running.
  2. "Merely Meredith" is one of the few manuscripts that is plotted all the way through, but I never finished the first draft.
  3. "Merely Meredith" isn't fantasy.
  4. All of the other WIPs I have are fantasy 
  5. In turn, most of the WIPs I still have in reserve are old drafts I "finished" years ago, but need to be rewritten.
  6. "Merely Meredith" is more like realistic fiction with a little bit of romance because it's based on a Jane Austen novel, not something out of my own head.
Get the picture?



 But NOOOOO. Muse isn't happy with the idea of writing not-fantasy. Muse thinks I could use more dragons and fairies in my life. Muse doesn't care that I just spent two years thinking about a fantasy and now maybe I want to focus on another kind of character that isn't almost exactly like the character I've just been dealing with for the last two years! Muse thinks its just fine that not only is this (now) current project a fantasy, but also the novella that I still need to edit for an upcoming anthology is--YEP--also fantasy.

Grrr.... NO! STAHP!

And for all my complaining.... I sat down just this morning and wrote (or I guess rewrote...) the entire first chapter and am well into the first scene of the second chapter, and the inspiration doesn't seem to be flagging at all. *le sigh*

So, after all that, maybe those of you still reading this (and feeling sympathy for me, hopefully...) will want to know what I'm going to be working on (and posting excerpts/updates of) every week from here on out.

The Current WIP: "A Writer's Tale".... The Series

What's up: So this is technically something I wrote before... actually, it was the fall of 2012, my second-ever attempt at NaNo. A friend was having trouble coming up with an idea for his NaNo project, and I had just read "Arabian Nights" and thought it was so clever how one story just led right into the next, with nothing really connecting them, except the fact that a character in one story would say something like "That reminds me of a story..." and the next story would start as if it was the character from the previous story telling the current story. (If that makes sense...)
Anyway, he couldn't decide which genre to write in, and so I came up with the solution: who says you can't write them all? Why not write a story that follows one character or a group of characters through scenarios from different genres, as cliche as you like (like space ships and aliens, cowboys and bandits, castles and goblins, etc.) and that way, not only will you have a story that does not necessarily have to be in chronological order (because nothing kills the writing mood like having to slog through a hard part to have things set up for the fun parts) but also, you could be writing multiple parts at the same time, and thus hit the word count in a very short amount of time.
Of course, the more I thought about it... the more I was highly entertained by the idea... and then I began wondering if, in fact, it would actually work... So on September 29, just for the fun of it, I started writing... and, sure enough, I basically finished the thing in somewhere close to a month, maybe a week or two over. 
One problem: it was supposed to be "for NaNoWriMo" right? Well, National Novel Writing Month... is in November. I had just written this whole serial novel in the month of October. Oops.

Anyway, it was fun, and I succeeded in what I set out to do, (Take note, those of you who just want the experience of writing a lot of words and "winning NaNo" without putting much thought into planning out a whole big long story: figure out a "plot model" that works in multiple genres, and just start repeating that model over and over again till you reach your word count goal; if you don't want them all to feel like "cookie cutter" plots, feel free to tweak the stories at your leisure; it's fun, it's fast, and it's writing!) and I posted it as a series on my blog.

Then, I got this crazy idea: Because, you see, in crafting "compressed stories" like I did, there were ideas that I had originally thought to throw in there, just for kicks, but I ended up cutting them out because I didn't want to make the story too long. 
BUT... If I went back and expanded each section into its own little novella, and made it an actual book series instead of a serial book, it would give me the freedom to add those elements back in. Ergo, I began planning out the framework for how each section would fit into seven novellas of roughly the same length, and left it at that.

So this is what I am rewriting, this is what my Muse decided that I should be thinking about, instead of how to orchestrate the lives of three consenting adults into a miry love triangle of assumptions, mixed perceptions, and mistaken persuasions... No, I'm taking a dorky little NaNo project composed on a whim and attempting to fashion something serious out of it.

What's Old: The old stuff is mostly still going to be there. This was about three years ago, and so my writing "voice" has changed a bit from the way I phrased things... plus I'm not going for any kind of "word count limit" either, so that will affect parsing and the words that I use as well. I've got the series laid out in the same order as the sections of the serial. The books will be:

1) The Dragon's Quest (fantasy)
2) The Commander's Courage (space ship)
3) The Sheriff's Showdown (Wild West)
4) The Corsair's Deception (Pirate ship)
5) The Goblin's Riddle (medieval fantasy)
6) The Hero's Choice (superhero sci-fi)
7) The Writer's Tale (urban fantasy??)

Okay, so that last one... Maybe y'all can read that part as it is in the serial, because it doesn't have like any kind of magical beings or anything... just a character who is a "mini person", like in "The Borrowers"... what genre would that be? I don't know, I just come up with these scenarios, I don't categorize them... I might change the title if I come up with a better one, too...

What's New: So there are going to be even more changes than just a straight up "expanded edition", too. This just occurred to me yesterday, (when I wanted to be thinking about "Merely Meredith"...) so bear with me. 
You see, in the original, I just basically had these seven scenarios, but then I had to "plug them in" to a frame tale for the writer herself, who would be going through all these adventures through these random worlds. So I just threw something together, like the writer is in a "slump" and can't decide what to write, and so she just starts pounding out random stuff on her typewriter, then the typewriter "comes to life" and shows her a portal into the first world, and from there, it's just that each world leads into the next... with a twist in that the writer is technically also the narrator of these different worlds, so she can alter what's going to happen (or what is happening) by narrating from within the story.... So it's like she's "telling" the story, but she's also living and experiencing these things and... yeah, not much thought went into that one.
So the other day, I was thinking and I decided that there would need to be a little bit more of a motivation and groundwork for the fact that she is the writer--such as, what if these seven worlds were places she had actually invented and started writing, but every time she only got so far before she gave up and just abandoned the whole thing? So these are actually her worlds, but experiencing them firsthand shows her aspects and elements that she never allowed herself to think of because all she was worried about was "just getting a story down", so of course these stories never went anywhere.
So that's new, and I think it's going to work. 

Lesson Learned
You might think you know where things are headed, but if your mind suddenly careens of in a completely different direction....
Just go with it. You never know but it just might turn out okay.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have a WIP to work on.

Catch you further Upstream! 

Monday, July 20, 2015

How To Blurb

How blurbing feels to all of us.... and then we end up explaining anyway, right?
Blurbs are weird. Some people swear by them; others don't even care about them ever at all. They can make or break a book; you notice when it isn't there much more than you notice when a book doesn't have one. 

Some of you, reading the above description, are kind of getting a sense of what I am talking about. For those of you who haven't got a clue, let me spell it out for you.

Blurbs are basically like a novel in a single paragraph. The veritable "first impression" of a book after the title. It's the summary of the book that you see either on the back cover, on the inside flap of the dust jacket, or sometimes even within the first few pages of the book.

How many books have you ended up passing over, merely because that one little paragraph didn't strike your fancy? How many times have you made assumptions based on a blurb, only to actually read the book and find those assumptions exceeded or dashed?

Before I sent "The Last Inkweaver" out to beta readers, I wanted to comb over the whole thing myself, and write a blurb for it. I read a lot of books, so I have a lot of experience judging blurbs. It is from assessing blurbs and writing dozens of my own (more about that later) that I picked up a few tidbits of information I'd like to share. 

APPETIZERS: 
Some Words of Advice

  • Start the blurb with something the reader can relate to, something in the real world that ties into the premise of your novel. This helps the reader start the venture into the book, because it gives them something they know to anchor to as they venture into the unknown.
  • Blurbs don't have to be detailed; they just have to be relevant
  • Use the blurb to "warm the audience"; a "cold" performance still works, but a good intro will enhance the performance
  • if your book can't be explained in at least three sentences, or less than ten sentences, it's too complicated to fit all in one blurb; you just need to pick the plot line that has the most potential and let the readers discover the rest.
  • Never EVER write the blurb on what you WANT to happen, merely for the sake of "poetry." I have actually read a self-published book where the author fashioned a blurb with all the buzz words... But upon actually reading it, I had to meticulously squint at every word to figure out if the actual story had anything to do with what the blurb was talking about. Another blurb almost sounded like a "skimmer", a summary that focused on the points that were of particular interest to the writer, to say nothing of the prospective audience... But as I read the book, I did notice that the "sensational" parts of the blurb did coincide with events of the actual story.
BEVERAGES:
The Breakdown of A Blurb 
If you're really having trouble coming up with a blurb, try using the "story arc map" as a guide: Introduction (1); Conflict (2); Inciting Moment (3); Rising Action (4); and Climax (5)
For example:
WIP: "The Red Dragon of Wales"

In the future, information is both currency and prestige. Knowledge is literally power. And the one man in Wales who knows everything is the Security Chief of the Welsh Assembly at Cardiff, Colonel Whitaker. But there is one man who knows the secrets Whitaker keeps from the world, and secrets the Assembly Members pray and pay dearly to be able to take to their graves:
Adam LaRouge, known professionally as Drake Ross. (1) Once a well-paid Mercenary for Members of the Assembly on each other and their spouses, now forced, through a change of fate, to roam the underbelly of Wales, hacking, spying, witnessing...and recording information. (2)
One night, a strange young girl comes to him with an odd request. (3) So begins a journey that will threaten Adam's beliefs about himself and his choices to their very core. (4) Can the Red Dragon defeat his old enemy, or will he himself be overcome by what he assumed would be an easy task? (5)
>>>>>>>

Seven sentences; roughly 160 words. 

Now for the breakdown.

"In the future, information is both currency and prestige. Knowledge is literally power." 
Referencing a well-known phrase or adage gives the reader something to relate to, a basis on which to believe the events of the ensuing tale. Also helps to signify that this is going to be cyberpunk science fiction.

"And the one man in Wales who knows everything is the Security Chief of the Welsh Assembly at Cardiff, Colonel Whitaker. But there is one man who knows the secrets Whitaker keeps from the world, and secrets the Assembly Members pray and pay dearly to be able to take to their graves:
Adam LaRouge, known professionally as Drake Ross." 
Two names (well, three...) and the location for the story. Setting the stage with all the necessary trimmings. Still not spoiling anything.

"Once a well-paid Mercenary for Members of the Assembly on each other and their spouses, now forced, through a change of fate, to roam the underbelly of Wales, hacking, spying, witnessing...and recording information." Establish current status quo, and use strong words like "forced" and "fate", contrasts like "well-paid" and "underbelly" get the readers in just the right mood for the beginning of the story.

"One night, a strange young girl comes to him with an odd request." 
Inciting moment—but I don't give it a name, and I don't reveal the request; this is only the blurb, and I want it to be just as much a shock for my readers as it is for my characters.

"So begins a journey that will threaten Adam's beliefs about himself and his choices to their very core." 
A little cliche, yes, but this is essentially the projected effect of the rising action. I imply their change; definitely the use of "threaten" gives an air of foreboding while neither confirming nor denying any kind of development. Also, these "beliefs" are never directly stated; the reader will have to read to find out what those are. The "very core" is at stake here!

"Can the Red Dragon defeat his old enemy, or will he himself be overcome by what he assumed would be an easy task?" 
Ending with a question is like dangling a carrot over the nose of the donkey: you have complete control over how and when the question will be answered, but the reader is obliged to plod along under the belief that "just one more chapter" will give them the "carrot." (And therein lies every writer's secret wish!)
If you are going to end with a question, make sure it is one that does not get completely resolved in one scene, or else make doubly sure that your readers are irrevocably attached to your characters when it happens...
Because if you don't do that, you run the risk of losing your reader as soon as the scene is over. If you're going to choose a question to answer in a scene near the end of the climax, but before the denouement, you want your readers to keep reading to find out how the answer is going to affect the characters, not set the book aside because "What's the point?"

Notice that in the above example, I summarized only about the first half of the "arc." The blurb should venture no further into the story than this. You want to leave some surprises for the reader!

ENTREE:
A 3-Step Process For Constructing A Blurb
Some of you who have been following me for a while know that I write a lot of fanfiction, and that blurbs are a necessary component. (More than just "Because Reasons" or "I Just Wanted This Thing To Exist" or even the overly-honest "I Want Reviews!!!") In writing my fanfiction, I quickly learned how invaluable blurbs were, not just in drawing the readers, but also in helping me stay consistent with my plot—because, really, nothing says "YOU HAVE NO PLOT DIMWIT" like the inability to write a sensible blurb. That was how I could figure out if I had a premise with a potential; if I could write a blurb, I could start the story. If not, I needed to think about it for a while longer before posting anything.

So how is it done? The same method I applied in writing all my fanfiction blurbs also works in writing any blurb. Hopefully these steps will make it easy for you.

Step 1: Assess the situation. 
(Reasonable length: approximately 3 sentences)
The business of writing a novel usually starts with two things: the premise, and the problem. The premise establishes the parameters of the world in which your novel will function; the problem is the circumstance specific to your main character or characters that they will have to resolve by the end of the novel.

Turns out these things are the basic components of a blurb as well. The premise is what will set your book apart from other genres by telling the reader which genre it is. The problem is what will set your book apart from others of the same genre by telling the reader why your book is different.

Step 2: Set the stage.
(Reasonable length: approximately 4 sentences)
Think about how you want your readers to feel when they read the book. The blurb is your opportunity to get them to open the book. It's the sight of the first backdrop before the lights go down at the play: context with only a hint of the content. You definitely want to use all of your strongest language here: vivid imagery, passionate actions, and (this is very important) HARDLY ANY CONTENT. Basically, everything you want in your blurb should not go beyond the "start" of the actual novel: one sentence for the premise, one for the character, one for the primary conflict, etc. The blurb is only telling as much as who the main character is and where he starts his story from. (If you reach the end of the novel and you can't tell the difference between a character from the beginning and the same character by the end, you may want to consider rewriting your manuscript before you venture on the blurb!)

Step 3: Clinch it with the conflict.
(Reasonable length: no more than 2 sentences)
Once you've covered the premise and set up the context, the next thing that should take a couple sentences will be describing and hinting at the impending conflict, the big problem that will either turn the protagonist's world on its head or be the solution to all the problems—
And DO NOT GIVE ANY INDICATION WHICH ONE IT IS. Leave your readers hanging; this isn't just something extra or random plastered on the back cover or inside the jacket fold; neither is it a comprehensive summary of your novel, like an abstract for a research paper. The title is the lure to get your book into the hands of your readers; the blurb is the bait to get them to want it—and the fishing line to pull them further into the book. And just like in fishing, you don't want to cast out all of your line at once, you don't want the reference to the conflict to get too wordy. Limit yourself; the hook is small, the bait is smaller.

DESSERT:
Five "Dos" and "Don'ts" of Writing A Blurb
The Quest—Basic premise that started the whole story
  • DO include the thing that is the main point of the story.
  • DON'T give away the whole beginning, middle, and end of your story.

The Quandary—The "BUT"
  • DO mention the first huge challenge your character will have to face. "The journey of one thousand miles begins with a single step," so that first step is key to narrowing down your book into the space of a blurb.
  • DON'T list out every task your main character has to accomplish, including the climactic battle. This is important for two reasons: first, it would make the blurb too long, and second, you have just shot yourself in the foot because now your would-be-reader thinks he or she knows the whole story without actually reading any of the words that you painstakingly edited and tweaked and spent the last several months or years slaving over. You need to let the reader know, "Hey, if you think this sounds exciting, just wait till you read what else is going to happen!"

The Queue—Mention the one or two key characters that the reader will want to follow
  • DO limit the names in your blurb to two at the most (three if it's historical fiction and the third name is a well-known figure) because this keeps confusion to the absolute minimum. Besides, you want them to read the book to find out about all the other characters, right? If you decide to reveal the names of the protagonist and his sidekick, leave the villain nameless. If it is the villain and the protagonist, drop hints at the sort of characters the protagonist will encounter without actually naming them.
  • DON'T start name-dropping your entire character list and locations, no matter how pretty and clever you felt for coming up with these new-sounding words for your world. You don't want to confuse any potential readers before they've even gotten to the first page!

The Quirk—Throw in the crazy twist that is going to make it hard to predict the outcome
  • DO mention either the main conflict OR the first one; not both, and most certainly nothing else!
  • DON'T give away the Most Cleverest Twist Of All, and DON'T bother with any of the other twists outside of the criteria above. You don't want to make your book seem too complicated, any more than you want to spoil the Great Big Surprise that took you weeks to invent!

The Query—finish off with a lingering question that will bother the reader till the book is read
  • DO ask a question that is relevant to the story and pertinent to the reader.
  • DO make a statement thusly if you do not wish to ask a question... But still keep the outcome in the actual book!
  • DON'T spoil the outcome, whether it is a statement or a question; that's why they should be reading the book, right?
  • DON'T pair a rambling question with a straightforward blurb, any more than you should pair a straightforward query with a blurb that is randomly all over! The blurb should be leading up to the query, in much the same way (actually in exactly the same way, just a more condensed version) as the rising action at the beginning of the book is leading to the climax. If you build a great blurb that has all this mystery and mounting tension, and you end with a bland, cliche query, the tone of your entire blurb will suffer for it.
So there you have it, a veritable "menu" of advice for blurb-writing. (In case you were wondering, the "menu" thing came about because this actually my fourth attempt at writing a post about "How To Blurb", in which I opted to just combine the last three attempts into one post, as "menu" items... #BecauseReasons) Do you have any other words of advice to share with people who might read this post? Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments!