Wednesday, December 30, 2009

In Process

Thirty-eight days ago, I submitted a short story called People Need to Know to Everyday Fiction (EDF). I don't count the days - the submission tracking system tells me. Up until yesterday, that same system told me that the status of my story submission was "Slush". You don't need to know a lot about the publishing world to understand that slush is not a good place to be. In publishing houses, the "slush pile" is the nickname for the great big pile of unsolicited manuscripts that are yet to be sorted (read: thrown away). The name comes from the quality of the vast majority of manuscipts in the slush pile. They're not typically very good. Anyway, the name has stuck, and the editorial team at EDF have a slush pile too, albeit electronic.

Like many publishers, EDF have "slush readers". Their job is to read through the slush pile, reject all the very bad stories immediately, and pass the not-so-very-bad stories on to the editors for them to read. When a submission passes the first-pass filter of the slush reader and moves to an editor, the submission status moves from "Slush" to "In Process".

This is what happened to me yesterday. People Need to Know got past the gatekeeper, and an editor is going to read it. The reason I'm posting about this? Well, I'm really quite happy about this little piece of progress. Too happy, for what it is, I think. That said, some slush reader didn't think it was bad enough to reject outright. That's something, isn't it?

If you want to know more about submitting stories to EDF, have a read of an article I wrote about that called Get Published at Everyday Fiction.

If you want to poke fun, use the comments. Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Six Word Memoirs

I just discovered Six Word Memoirs. Six words is what I call concise. I couldn't resist trying to use only five words, and so I had a go here. Why only five words? I don't like to pad out my writing just to get to the word limit.

Monday, December 28, 2009

On Considering my Marriage to June

I've written a slightly different six-sentence piece here. My apologies to those of you who get little satisfaction from the sixes. I'll try to post something more substantial here soon.

Friday, December 25, 2009


They spent hours, days, looking at houses. Each one had at least one thing they didn't like, but usually more.

“If we're going to commit to so much debt,” she said, “it's got to be just what we want. Our first home has got to be perfect.”

He agreed, and they kept looking. Days turned to weeks. They got tired and stressed, and started bickering and second-guessing each other.

“I wish we could be like we were before,” he said, when she asked him what his problem was. She felt the same way, she said.

They went home to their rented apartment. She smiled as he led her through the doorway by the hand.

“Welcome home,” he said.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

After the Duel

Another one of my micro-fiction (twenty-five word) stories, has been put up at Espresso Stories. It's called After the Duel.

Click here for links to the rest of my Espresso Stories. You'll notice I'm not doing well in the popularity stakes. I'm going through my nobody-loves-me tortured-artist phase.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Feeling Dirty

My short story Feeling Dirty has been published in the 5 Minute Fiction column of Issue 77 of Shift Miner. The latest issue is always available for download from the website. There's a new edition every two weeks.

Plot Spoiler Warning! Read Feeling Dirty before continuing...

About Feeling Dirty
Shane from Emerald gave me a challenge a few weeks ago:
Jethro wants to be a coal miner, but he suffers from automysophobia (an abnormal fear of being dirty). He's been trying to get a job in the mines for years, and now he has got a chance as an operator/maintainer in a CHPP.

I decided to take him up on the challenge. Rather than create a reply for this blog, I decided to write my response as a story for my 5 Minute Fiction column at Shift Miner. After all, I had to write the column anyway. This may seem a little lazy to you. I prefer to call it "efficient".

The story I wrote is obviously based on the premise within the challenge. I thought a job interview would be a fun setting. The twist was also important. I couldn't leave a character thinking that you don't get dirty in a washplant! I hope you enjoyed the story.

Shift Miner Online Delay

Sorry to those that are hanging out for the latest Shift Miner on their website. They appear to be experiencing some technical difficulties. The print version is out, and available from the usual outlets. My story in this issue is called Feeling Dirty. I'll post the links, and some background on the story, when the new pdf version is available online.

Last night I sent in my story for the last edition of the year, which should come out on Monday 28 December 2009. My story is called Christmas Party. I promise it's not boring.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Brave Little Girl

This story is a response to Sunday Scribblings writing prompt number 193: brave. It's just a little idea; I hope you like it.

Julie hated to be called brave.

"There's a brave little girl," her Mother always said before the needles and the operations. A brave little girl was what it meant to feel a lot of pain and not be able to do anything about it.

"She's so brave," the other adults whispered to her parents, thinking she couldn't hear. It's my bones that don't work properly, she thought, not my ears. She pretended to ignore them, and wheeled her chair to her bedroom to cry. To be brave meant to be helpless and pathetic. Brave girls were pitied, and whispered about.

"I just want to say from all Australians, you are so brave," said the hyped-up burly sports reporter, right after Julie was awarded her Paralympic gold medal. The brave little Aussie girl in the wheelchair, who captured the heart of a nation, buried her fist in the reporter's face, knocking him cold to the ground.

"She is such a bitch," said the office-workers as they gathered in their kitchenettes for their morning coffee breaks.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Motivator & Shift Miner Feedback

Edition 76 of Shift Miner Magazine is out. You can always download the latest issue as a pdf from their website. My story for this edition of the 5 Minute Fiction column is called The Motivator, and is on page 19. While I've tried to keep the first few stories up-beat and humorous, this one's a bit on the sad side.

My inspiration for this piece comes from the many stories I've heard and the few instances I've seen of marriages pulled apart by the time and distance of working a FIFO shift roster in the mines.

I did once work with a man at Southern Colliery who had a laminated copy of his payslip in his pocket. He was only to happy to explain that it was to remind him why he was there. That was some place to work: we all needed a motivator from time to time.

While you're reading the Shift Miner, take a look at "Stuff to the Editor" on page 16. Shane Garven wrote:
G'day guys,
Thanks for the mag. It's always a good read and full of relevant information, and some good laughs. Really like the addition of the 5 minute fiction stories. Old Bernard might ahve a new career on his hands. Keep up the good work.

Thanks heaps to Shane for expressing his support. That's the kind of feedback that makes it worthwile. While it is a dream to be able to support myself from writing, I'm not about to quit my day-job!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Crossing the Tarmac

This a response to a writing challenge. Mez told me to write a story about "the person you'd least expect to see in an airport terminal". I hope this very short story meets with her (and your) approval. Please rate this story below, and leave comments.

David walked in line with the other passengers from the plane towards the terminal. He adjusted his tie with his free right hand: he always felt like he was on show, walking on the tarmac. He remembered how, as a boy, his parents would take him and his brother Adrian to the observation deck to look at the planes. Adrian had been obsessed with planes, but David had been intrigued by the people walking between the planes and the terminal. Now he looked up to the observation deck and wondered if some other young boy was up there, dreaming about the destinations and motivations of the passengers below, as he once did.

David didn't know who was going to pick him up from the airport. Things were hectic at the family home, with the whole family converging on the town for his grandfather's funeral. In any case, he'd been assured that someone would be sent to fetch him. That could be awkward. There was a handful of people in David's extended family that he would loathe getting into a car with, and about the same number that felt the same way about David. Eventually, David decided that his sister May would get the job. Though they only talked on the phone a few times a year – life was just so busy – they didn't hate each other. How many kids did May have now?, he wondered. Four? Yes four, definitely; or five. David didn't mind his sister, and he could get on with May's husband (what was his name?), but he really couldn't stand his nephews and nieces. He hoped she didn't bring any to the airport. The small ones were screaming poo factories. The big ones had been hitting puberty pretty hard last time David had had the misfortune of crossing paths with them. That was about two years ago; maybe three.

As the glass door to the terminal opened, covering David with a gust of cold air-conditioning, he decided that starting now, he'd keep in better contact with his family gain. He knew it was guilt that drove him to make this secret commitment, but he didn't care. It was a promise he'd made, and broken, plenty of times before. It made him feel better, for a while.

Inside the terminal, David looked around for his sister. He couldn't see her. Instead, a tall, blonde bombshell that looked no more than sixteen or seventeen years old bounded up to him, gave him a big hug, and kissed him on the cheek. "Hello Uncle David," she said. "I'm here to pick you up. Did you check any baggage, or do you just have the carry-on?"

Monday, November 23, 2009

Ugly Duckling

This is the third of three (exactly) fifty-word stories that I wrote for the Brian Dibble Shortest Story Competition. I didn't win.

Sarah was a pimply, pudgy teenager. Her mother tenderly took her hand, and told her the story of "The Ugly Duckling".

"One day," she said, "you'll become a beautiful swan."

"You don't just think I'm ugly," said Sarah, between sobs. "You think I'm a whole different species!"

Sunday, November 22, 2009


This is the second of three (exactly) fifty-word stories that I wrote for the Brian Dibble Shortest Story Competition. I didn't win.

I broke down in tears when I tried to write a story in only fifty words. I threw my pen across the room and swore.

"That's not a story," I said to the scribbling on my notebook. "That's a paragraph!"

I went back to working on my novel.

Friday, November 20, 2009


A piercing shriek reverberates throughout the train carriage. It stings my ears, and I cover them with my hands. The muscles in my neck clench up and spasms shoot down past my shoulders. I stop breathing momentarily. The hubbub of conversation and laughter within the carriage stops cold, and an elderly man across the aisle clutches desperately at his hearing aid.

The apocalyptic cry came from a young boy, a toddler really, sitting two rows in front of me. I seethe as I fix my eyes on him. He's sitting next to a woman who I assume is his mother. She looks ghastly, though she would not yet be thirty years old. The woman doesn't react to the child, but continues to stare out of the window.

How inconsiderate! She should do something about that child.

The child hits the woman's arm and shouts at her, "Mummy!"

The woman turns slowly from the window, focuses on the boy, gives him a weak smile. "Yes, Danny?"

The boy says nothing, but turns around and wriggles backwards into his mothers side. She puts her arm around him, kisses the top of his head, and then turns back to the window.

The other passengers in the train return to their own books, newspapers and conversations. Minutes pass; we stop at Indooroopily Station, and then continue towards Ipswich.

As we are leaving Oxley Station, the boy screams again. My nerves are still frayed from the first outburst. The noise invades my flesh like some demonic force. I feel a stabbing pain in behind my eyes, and my neck clenches up again. A tic starts in my right cheek. I glare at the mother with freshly kindled wrath, yet she continues to stare into the window.

It is just unacceptable to allow that sort of behaviour. How inconsiderate!

I continue to stare, hoping she will glance my way, so that my scowling scrutiny might communicate my intense disapproval. I see that she truly is a loathsome creature. Her hair is a mess. Her eyes are bloodshot, and there are dark orbs beneath them on her cheeks.

Probably on drugs. Calls herself a mother? Where is the boy's father? Perhaps she doesn't even know who the father is! Some people in this world are just trash; it makes me sick.

I look around the carriage. Some of the other passengers are also trying to stare the woman down. A few of them share a knowing look with me. The mother is unperturbed, however. She sits, vacantly drawn to the world outside her window, her head rocking slightly with the sway of the carriage.

Someone needs to tell that woman to bring her child into line. It's upsetting not just me, but everyone else on the train. She may be inconsiderate of others, but I'm not. I'm going to do something about it, for everyone's sake.

I walk over to the woman and take the seat opposite. I say, "Excuse me", but there is no reaction. I cough, and again say, "Excuse me".

She is completely ignoring me.

I reach out and tap her on the shoulder, and quite loudly now, say, "Excuse me!"

She turns her head from the window and focuses her bleary eyes on mine. "Sorry," she says, "can I help you?"

"Yes, I think you can," I reply, pointing at the child. "Your boy really is very loud, and is causing quite a disturbance to the good people on this carriage. I'd just like to ask you to show some consideration, and keep him a little more under control."

There: I said it.

The woman looks around the carriage, and seems to notice for the first time that every eye and ear in the place is on her.

The automated public address system announces to the hushed carriage, "The next station is Darra."

Tears form in the woman's eyes as she says, "I'm so sorry. Danny's having a lot of trouble coping; we both are, really. My husband – his father – we just had the funeral yesterday. This our station coming up right now. We won't bother you much longer."

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Farewell Gift [Part 5 of 5]

Welcome to "Farewell Gift", a 2,500 short story I wrote earlier this year. I've decided to present it to you here on Surge Bin in five parts. Why not start with part 1, and work your way through? Enjoy!


Marcelle glanced at the clock: three sixteen. It was only two minutes since she had last looked. She went to the kitchen and asked Laura, "You want some tea?"

"Sure thing," she replied, "Why don't you just relax. We know he took the suitcase, we know he got on the plane, and we know the plane has landed. It will all work out. He'll be tied up with customs and the police for a while. You may not get a phone call for hours, even days."

But the phone did ring. Marcelle rushed to answer it, leaving the kettle in the sink.

"Marcelle speaking!"

"Hello Marcelle." The sound of Gary's voice made her heart jolt.

"Gary. You landed safely?"

"Yes, we're all safe in Thailand now. It took me an hour longer than everyone else to get through customs, but never mind. You'd think they'd never seen Prada before."

"You're through customs?" Marcelle's voice tripped over her words. She began to realise that the plan had gone very wrong.

Gary continued, "Look Marcelle, I've decided to change our plans a bit. After the sessions with the university, Cindy and I are going hang out in Thailand for a few months, and really get to know the place, and each other."

"Cindy? Laura's Cindy?" Marcelle only became more confused.

"I suppose that may come as a bit of a surprise. I did try to prepare you by getting Cindy to tell her mother I was in a relationship with a student. I knew Laura wouldn't keep her mouth shut, of course. And then you didn't seem to bat an eyelid. I wondered what was going on, until you gave me my farewell gift."

"Farewell gift?" repeated Marcelle, struggling to keep up with what was happening. Laura was now standing beside her, craning her head, desperately trying to hear Gary's voice on the phone.

"Yes, the farewell gift," said Gary, his voice still relaxed. "Given that you were fully aware that I was in a relationship with a much younger woman, who was also a student, you can imagine my surprise that you wanted to give me an expensive new suitcase. So I looked into it, so to speak, and good thing I did. Beware of jilted women bearing gifts."

He chuckled at his own joke and then paused for a few seconds. "That was a lot of heroin, Marcelle. I've decided to return it to you however, as my own little farewell gift. It will be something to remember me by, until I come back to finalise my divorce. I really can't stay married to a drug dealer, you know. I'm sure the judge will see my point of view."

Gary hung up. Marcelle stood holding the beeping phone, reeling. What happened? She tried to explain to Laura, "Gary found the drugs. I think he's left them here with me. He's with Cindy, Laura. He's having an affair with your daughter Cindy. He's going to divorce me. What am I going to do? What are we going to do?"

Laura's face went pale, but she didn't reply. There was a thumping at the door. Marcelle went and opened it. It was the police – lots of them. They rattled through rehearsed phrases, showed some papers, and demanded her car keys. They went through her car, taking out panels and carpets. Very soon, small white packets began to appear. Marcelle and Laura sat down next to each other on the front steps and began to cry.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Farewell Gift [Part 4 of 5]

Welcome to "Farewell Gift", a 2,500 short story I wrote earlier this year. I've decided to present it to you here on Surge Bin in five parts. Why not start with part 1, and work your way through? Enjoy!


On Wednesday, they went to the Queen Street Mall and found a classy Prada suitcase that met their requirements perfectly.

Laura spent the rest of the day removing stitching and carefully packing the drugs into the walls of the case. She painstakingly resewed the linings closed.

When Marcelle came around to her apartment, she was impressed.

"Wow Laura, that's amazing!" she said, running her hands over the case, inside and out. She examined the stitching closely. "You can't tell that it's not just a brand new suitcase. It's perfect."

As they admired the farewell gift, Marcelle imagined the look on Gary's face when he saw the hidden contents, and laughed.

"This will be perfect, Laura. Thank you so much."

Laura smiled wearily. "That's okay, Sweetie. It was harder work than my paid job, though – which I'd better get back to tomorrow. The rest is up to you."

(To be continued...)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Farewell Gift [Part 3 of 5]

Welcome to "Farewell Gift", a 2,500 short story I wrote earlier this year. I've decided to present it to you here on Surge Bin in five parts. Why not start with part 1, and work your way through? Enjoy!


On Tuesday morning, Marcelle and Laura walked the paths and open spaces of the Mount Coot-tha Botanic Gardens with the wind in their hair and the Autumn sun overhead. They'd both phoned into work sick, saying she didn't expect to be in for the rest of the week. They had a lot of work to do.

"I just want him dead," Marcelle said firmly. "He deserves it. He has no right to throw me aside, after everything I've done for him. Over the last eighteen years I've sacrificed my career so we could make the moves to get him the promotions. I've lived my life through his success. He needs to pay!" She paused, then said, "I'm ranting, aren't I?"

"Well," said Laura, with a smile, "yes."

"How are we going to do it, Laura? How are we going to actually kill him?"

Unfazed by the directness of the question, Laura said, "For a start, you and I are not going to go around with knives and guns, or run him down with a car. We need to be really smart about this."

"Do you want to use a hit man?"

"I considered that," she replied casually, "but I don't think we want to bring someone else into this. Obviously there are lots of ways to go about it, but I think the best for our situation is capital punishment."

"Australia doesn't have capital punishment."

"Thailand does."

Marcelle felt her face flush as she realised, "Gary's going to Thailand next week!"

Laura nodded and smiled, then repeated softly, "Gary's going to Thailand next week."

Marcelle found Laura's cold and calculating manner reassuring. This should be freaking me out, but I'm just so glad to have her on my side. Then she thought aloud, "Why would Gary be given the death sentence? I don't think he's planning to commit any crimes over there."

"Gary? Didn't you realise he's a heroin smuggler?" said Laura, chuckling.

"A what?" Marcelle stopped on the path, astonished at the suggestion.

Laura explained further, "The Thai government executes drug smugglers – especially those that bring in heroin. Getting caught bringing that stuff into the country is a one-way ticket to death row over there."

Marcelle barely paused before she laughed, and then said, "So let's buy one of those tickets for my darling husband."

The two women walked and talked for the rest of the day, probing the plan from all angles for weaknesses. The final plan was simple: Marcelle would give Gary a new suitcase for his overseas trip as a farewell gift. Once the plane was in the air, the Thai authorities would be notified anonymously that there was heroin hidden in the lining of Gary's suitcase. The rest was up to the Thai government.

"I had a chat last night with an old girlfriend who made some different choices in life, and has made some very different friends. She can get us 120g of some reasonably pure heroin by tomorrow night. That's more than enough to buy his ticket to death row. Like I said Marcelle, this stuff is expensive, but it's worth it. Once Gary's dead and buried, you'll have all of his money anyway. I'll loan it to you out of my savings for now, and you can pay me back when it's all over."

"How much?' asked Marcelle.

"Fifty thousand dollars."

To Marcelle, it was just a number. She wouldn't enjoy her life again until Gary was gone, so what was fifty thousand dollars?

(To be continued...)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Farewell Gift [Part 2 of 5]

Welcome to "Farewell Gift", a 2,500 short story I wrote earlier this year. I've decided to present it to you here on Surge Bin in five parts. Why not start with part 1, and work your way through? Enjoy!

Marcelle was watching the end of Four Corners when Gary arrived home that evening. While Gary fetched a beer from the fridge, she reached for the remote, and turned off the television.

"You're home very late again today," she said. It sounds like I'm accusing him! Calm down.

"Things are pretty hectic, preparing for our meetings in Thailand," said Gary, opening his beer, and taking a long swig.

Marcelle sighed. Thailand. Gary was about to lead a delegation to negotiate a deal with one of the public universities in Bangkok. With both government and corporate funding drying up, this deal was essential for the faculty to remain viable. Marcelle had been very supportive of the extra time Gary had put into this project. If Gary was having a fling with a student however, then the time that he spent with her was probably under the guise of preparing for the Thailand trip.

"I just haven't seen much of you lately," said Marcelle, forcing an apologetic tone.

"I know." Gary sighed. A moment of silence followed, broken by the screeching of car tyres out in the street. Gary spoke quietly, "I think it's fair to say, we've drifted apart over the last few months, even years."

Marcelle wasn't prepared to talk about their relationship tonight. "I know," she said, "but you have a lot on your plate preparing for the Thailand trip, and you leave next week. Can we agree to work things out when you get back?"

Gary sipped at his beer again, seeming to contemplate the offer. "I think that's a very good idea," he said, and then with a little smile added, "Don't do anything rash before I get back, will you?"

Marcelle suddenly saw the truth in his smile, his eyes, and the way that he spoke. Now she was certain. He is guilty as sin and I know what I'm going to do about it. With the decision made, Marcelle found it easier to relax and take charge of the conversation. She asked, "So, how is the preparation going? How many people are going on this trip, anyway?"

"Half the faculty sees it as a junket, and now everyone wants to come along," said Gary. His voice had taken on that slightly patronising tone of his lecturing mode. Marcelle smiled: now that she'd got him started, Gary would simply blather on. Her smile appeared to encourage him, and he continued enthusiastically, "As Dean, and the one who initiated the whole project, I've been very firm on this. There'll be only the six of us. There's the heads of mechanical, electrical and civil, two students, and of course, yours truly."

Gary explained, "The students will give the Thais a bit of a preview of the kind of graduates we can produce. Cindy – your friend Laura's daughter – and Robert are our best two final year students. Their project presentations will really impress."

Marcelle let Gary chatter on about the trip for over half an hour, before she went up to her room, complaining of a headache.

To be continued...

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Farewell Gift [Part 1 of 5]

Welcome to "Farewell Gift", a 2,500 short story I wrote earlier this year. I've decided to present it to you here on Surge Bin in five parts. Enjoy!

"Gary is having an affair, with one of his students," said Laura.

"My Gary?"

"Yes, Marcelle. Your Gary – your husband."

Marcelle sat at the kitchen table, not moving. She felt winded.

"Have some tea," said Laura.

Marcelle sipped the tea, feeling it revive her. "How did you find out?" she whispered. The words caught in her throat.

"Cindy told me, this morning. It must be one of her friends." Laura's daughter Cindy was a final year Bachelor of Engineering student in the faculty that Gary was Dean.

Marcelle nodded slowly. "I suppose she'd know," she said. "Who is it – do I know her?"

"She won't say," said Laura.

"She's got to!"

"If Cindy has had a friend confide in her, she won't breach that trust. I brought Cindy up to make her own decisions about right and wrong. Once she's made that decision, she won't move," said Laura. Before Marcelle could object, she added, "But I've been thinking about that. Does it really matter who the girl is? She's as much a victim as you are! It's Gary that's betrayed you and abused the trust of his position."

Marcelle sipped her tea and nibbled a Tim-Tam as she sat and pondered over the situation. After a few minutes, she realised that Laura was still sitting opposite her at the table. "Sorry, I zoned out for a while."

"Don't be sorry. Right now, you just need a friend. I'm here to help you through this, no matter what."

The women discussed how they should deal with the situation. While Marcelle knew that she wanted a divorce, she also wanted Gary to suffer. "He has abused his position of trust, and needs to be punished for what he did," she said, more than once.

Laura was certain a formal complaint about the affair to the university wasn't the answer. "Say we succeed in getting Gary the sack for taking one of his students to bed. He's not going to get another job in Queensland! If he's lucky, he'll find a position with some second-rate uni across the country, at half the salary. How is that going to benefit you?"

Marcelle frowned. She didn't want to find herself divorced, without a job, and with an ex-husband unable to maintain the lifestyle she enjoyed. She rested her head in her hands and groaned. She had to admit, "I can't see a way out of this mess."

"I can," said Laura.


"There is one way that Gary can be removed from being Dean, and be properly punished for what he's done. You would be left with everything. Everything."

Marcelle didn't consider herself a greedy person, but her heart quickened at the thought. "How?" she asked again.

"The same way that I got everything from my husband Ted," said Laura. She took Marcelle's hand in hers. "Just consider: if fate had it in store for Gary to just – pass away – wouldn't your problems be solved? Don't even think about how, for now. Just think about if. Do you want a future without Gary?"

"I don't want a future with Gary - I don't even want to see him again," Marcelle replied, her voice steadier then she expected it to be, "but I'm not certain I want him dead. That's a big call."

"Take some time and think about it. When you're ready, we'll talk again. To keep your options open though, you'll need to act as though you've heard nothing of Gary's affair, for the next few days or so."

Marcelle wasn't sure she'd be able to do that, but knew that she had to. She was glad to have Laura on her side during this time, not just for tea and sympathy, but for practical advice. Very practical advice.

"Look," said Laura, "How things go forward from now on is your decision alone. You will need to live with the consequences, both good and bad, no matter which path you choose."

To be continued...

Rally Car

This is the first of three (exactly) fifty-word stories that I wrote for the Brian Dibble Shortest Story Competition. I didn't win.

Shane punched the throttle as his Subaru entered the straight. In one beat of his heart he was slowing for the next corner; but he misjudged it, badly. Shane smiled as the car left the track and started to roll. He loved playing with his slot cars.

How to Get Published

What defines success for a writer? Most would argue, as I used to, that the aim is to "get published" (and consequently, get read).

But what does is really mean, to get published? Does it mean a hardcover novel deal, or is a blog-based literary journal okay? How about getting published in a newspaper? Let's not even mention self-publishing! (Yes, I mentioned it).

I've discovered just how much writing, and "getting published", really is more a journey than a destination. Getting stories published in a fortnightly magazine like Shift Miner is fantastic. I got a real buzz a few days ago, seeing two people reading Shift Miner at the local airport. Just knowing that these complete strangers were holding my story in their hands - whether or not they even read it - was great. Yet, I know I've only made baby steps on this great writing journey.

So, when in doubt, create another blog! I've recently started a blog called How to Get Published, located at I'm using it to share things that I've found useful - or not so useful - as I travel along. If you're a writer - or want to be - I'd invite you to go have a look. Please provide comments - and especially suggestions and advice to include. I'd really like to put some "guest blogs" up there, so get writing.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Three Minutes

The flow of cars has been pulsing to the colours of the traffic lights; hypnotising me as I watch and sip my coffee and daydream. The lights turn to red again, and the cars slow, then stop. They'll need to wait exactly three minutes; I've timed it. The man in the first car turns towards me, and I look straight into his eyes. He is alone in the car. There is unflinching anger in his eyes. It breaks the spell of the traffic, and casts a new one over me.

I don't recognise the man, though he obviously remembers me, and has rekindled his grudge in an instant. His face is vaguely familiar. I should know him, but time has been severe to both his face and my memory. He looks to be about my own age: mid fifties. He wears his grey hair long at the back, almost to his shoulders. His sideburns come down well below his ears, and flare forwards onto his cheeks. His black-banded white panama hat, his long-sleeved black shirt and his hair are the style of a man lingering in the seventies.

He continues to stare into my eyes. He has one hand flopped on top of the steering wheel, and his other arm poking out of the open window, resting on the door frame.

It is the car that triggers my memory. In an instant I remember both car and man. Neil was driving the same tan Kingswood when I last saw him, about fifteen years ago. He had had that same look of loathing on his face then too. I don't know why I didn't recognise him sooner.

I feel guilt return with the memories. Neil was devastated when his wife Sarah left him. What made him angry, was that she and I became an item. He and Sarah had been divorced long enough before that happened. Long enough, I thought. He didn't see it that way.

I tried to reason with him at the time, and begged him to accept us, and what we had: for Sarah's sake. Instead, he chose to keep his grudge and lose two friends. I think he was just too proud to let Sarah find happiness with someone else; especially his mate. It was the usual love triangle story, I suppose. Things were said in the heat of the moment, threats were made, and eventually restraining orders kept us apart.

I keep looking into those sad green eyes. I hope that my own eyes show that I'm sorry for the hurt I caused him.

The light turns to green. Neil nods at me, once, then turns forwards, and drives away. I shake my head, and feel goose bumps down my neck. Maybe next time I'll get him a cup of coffee, and we'll talk; maybe.

Monday, November 9, 2009

A Promise is a Promise

Johann checked his bait and cast his line back in. He leaned against the rail of the jetty, looked over the deep, dark water, and sighed. He really did not want to be fishing today. His two boys, Nico and Pete, had blackmailed him at breakfast.

"But Dad, you promised," Nico had said, with tears in his eyes. Nico was the older of the pair. At twelve years old, he didn't cry easily any more. "You said you were going to take us out last Saturday; but then you went to work. Then you promised that you'd take us fishing next Saturday, which is today. A promise is a promise, Dad."

"That's all true," said Johann. "But do you still want to go fishing, after everything that's happened this week?"

The boys nodded in unison: slowly, but firmly.

They had gone to the jetty: their usual spot. The sky was overcast and small drops of rain were beginning to spit down on them. The wind bit through their jackets. The tide was all wrong, and none of them had had so much as a bite after a full hour; but, a promise is a promise.

Johann looked over at the boys. Nico was helping Pete thread a prawn onto his hook; explaining again the finer points to attaching the bait to make it attractive to the fish, whilst ensuring the hook protruded enough so it was able to do its job. Both boys had tears running down their cheeks and were constantly sniffling. They ignored their tears; however, and fished on. Johann smiled slightly, and shook his head again. While Johann watched, Pete cast his line into the water. It was a bad shot, and crossed over Nico's line. Without a word, they swapped places to fix the crossover and kept fishing.

An old man braved the weather and came out to the end of the jetty. His hair, combed over from the edges of his mostly bald head, folded over in the wind and flapped like a loose tarpaulin. With his voice raised against the wind, he asked, "Catch anything?"

"Not a bite," said Johann, shaking his head. He began to wind his line in.

The man turned to leave, one hand holding his comb-over down. He stopped and turned back to Johann. "None of my business, of course," he said, "but why are the two lads crying like that?"

Johann glanced at the boys and then back at the man. "We buried their mother yesterday."

The old man's eyebrows flicked up into his forehead, but he said nothing. Instead, he turned and walked briskly back down the jetty.

Johann checked his bait and cast his line back in.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Dying Young

"Look at your wedding photo," said Thomas, "there on the wall."

Alan looked at the picture and smiled. Two days back from their honeymoon, he and Wendy had picked up the picture from the photographers earlier in the day. He turned back to Thomas. "Do you like it?" he said, then added, awkwardly, "Dad?"

"You sure look a lot like the boy in that picture," said Thomas. He took a tentative sip of his coffee, then eased back into the armchair.

Alan felt his face flush. He knew he looked young, but he didn't need the old-timer to rub it in. He wondered whether Judy would mind if he grew a goatee. Of course she would, he thought. Maybe I'll try in a year or two.

"Have I lost you?" said Thomas.

"Sorry, I was daydreaming."

"I said, 'You sure look a lot like the ...'"

"Yeah," said Alan, "I heard. Look, it's our wedding photo; of course I look like myself."

"Of course you do," said Thomas. He took another sip of his coffee. The temperature seemed more to his liking now, and he took a longer drink.

"Sorry," said Allan. "I just don't know what you're driving at."

Thomas nodded. His eyes showed something like patience, or pity. "Look at that photo over there," he said, pointing to a smaller picture on the bookcase, taken on his own wedding day. It was a studio photograph, with Thomas standing rigidly behind his wife, who was sitting on a straight backed chair. The colours had faded over the years, and insects had left dubious deposits behind the glass. "I don't look much like the boy in that photo now, do I?"

Allan stopped the sarcastic reply that came to his mind before it got to his mouth. Thomas was right, of course; it was a boy in the photograph. Allan looked back and forward between the two pictures to compare them. "You've come a long way," he said at last.

Thomas laughed. His laugh was loud and hard, and shook him all over. He spilled coffee into his lap, but he either didn't notice or didn't care. "That," he said, wiping a tear from his eye, "is a very kind way of saying that I'm an old coot now; and that I really look the part."

Allan smiled.

Thirty seconds of silence passed. Thomas sighed. "It creeps away from you, you know," he said. "Time. Days, weeks, months, years. Decades. Soon you'll have one of those small, trendy beards – though not quite as grey as mine – and then your belly will bulge out from too much food and beer – though not quite as big as mine. And every day you'll look a bit less like that boy." He pointed up to the picture again as he spoke.

Allan recalled how his own father had often said, "It's better to learn something about life from somebody else's experience. It's quicker, cheaper and less painful."

Allan smiled at the memory. The smile seemed to encourage Thomas to go on.

"Getting old is a strange feeling, because you don't feel it. Sure, when you run up stairs you feel it; but when you're sitting down, drinking a cup of coffee, it doesn't matter if your eighteen or eighty-one. On the inside you're the same."

Allan was sceptical, but kept this to himself.

"I always thought they were mad," said Thomas, "when old men said that." He shook his head. "But it's true; it's so true."

Well, I still think you're a little bit mad, old-timer, thought Allan. Aloud, he said, "I thought getting old was all about aches and pains?"

"Oh," said Thomas, "that's true. Getting old is not for sissies: it really hurts. But the aches and pains are in your body, not in your mind. It is a pain to grow old; but consider the alternative."

Allan looked into his father-in-law's eyes. "What's that?"

"Dying young."

Monday, November 2, 2009

Fancy an Espresso?

I've had a few more Espresso Stories published. I don't seem to rate very high in the popularity stakes over there, but I can't seem to stop myself trying to write a twenty-five word story that wins hearts and minds. It's a big ask.

The new stories:

My full Espresso Stories catalogue can be found here.

So, do you think I'm wasting my time? Be honest, I can take it.

You Miners Get Paid Too Much

My latest contribution to the Shift Miner Magazine is "You Miners Get Paid Too Much". I reckon that'll get people's attention. It appears under the "5 minute fiction" heading on page 21 of edition 74, downloadable as pdf for the next two weeks at the Shift Miner Magazine website.

The purpose of "5 minute fiction" is to publish flash fiction stories that appeal to coal miners working on shift in Queensland. This is my second story to appear since Alex Graham, the editor of Shift Miner Magazine (SMM), agreed to trial this new column.

I'm keen to hear what people think, especially the men and women working in the industry that have stumbled across my stories in SMM. What did you like? What didn't you like? What issues, themes and situations would you like to hear about in future "5 minute fiction" stories.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Nine Clubs

The 3WW Wednesday words this week are heartache, jangle and reckless. A little scene for you:

We play bridge at a small square table in the corner of the staff room over lunch. The game starts when we have our four players. Today I'm partnered with Elka, a Polish woman from the art department. She irritates me in so many ways. Her jewellery is pretentious. She has dangly gold earrings and a golden necklace that looks like a dog chain. There are rings on each finger and countless bracelets on her arms that jangle every time she plays a card.

I could possibly tolerate Elka if she would just eat her lunch and play cards; but for her, this would be a waste of a captive audience. She imposes tales of hardship, misery and heartache on us. She is a perpetual whinger, who complains not only about the present, but also about every wrong committed against her, real or imagined, that she can remember or invent.

Elka is in fine form today, and I'm sick of it. I decide to provoke her further with a reckless bid to eight hearts. She drops her rambling and tells me to repeat my call; she's sure she can't have heard properly. Bob, on my left, doubles my bid. She is stunned now, and tries to rescue us to nine clubs.

The hand is unwinnable, but Elka is silent as she concentrates, trying to make something from nothing. Her pride forces her to fight to the death. I recover my smile as I get myself another cup of coffee and leave the staff room for the fresh spring air. Life's too short to keep playing a game you're not enjoying.

(Edit 28/10/2009: changed "heart properly" to "heard properly". Thanks Mattrozzi.)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Shift Miner: 5 Minute Fiction

Today, the 73rd edition of Shift Miner Magazine came out, complete with a new section, written by me, called 5 Minute Fiction. The story in this edition is called Lifting Point, and appears on page 21 of the magazine. Shift Miner have recently started their website, where they have a copy of the latest edition available for download in pdf. You've got two weeks to read the magazine before it gets replaced by the next issue.

Shift Miner specifically targets workers in the Queensland coal mining industry, offering them news, opinions and entertainment relevant to the industry. Their business model appears to depend largely on advertisers targeting this same demographic. I'll be trying to write stories that are relevant to the context of mineworkers in this area, so I'm hoping my stories will really "click" with the readership.

I'm very excited to have a regular column in a printed magazine. I'm not sure what this is going to mean exactly, but it can't be bad.

Friday, October 16, 2009

[3WW] I'm Talking to You

The three words for Three Word Wednesday (3WW) CLIX are "frustrate", "indecent" and "understand". Here's a little scene around that...

"I don't understand why you watch those films. They're rubbish."

"Mum," she said, "I love horror movies."

"They're indecent. They're filth. They will turn you into a tramp. I try to bring you up a good catholic. Why do you throw all that away?"

"It's just for fun, Momma. It's not a religion. It's a fantasy. It helps me forget about school, and stuff; all my frustrations."

"What?" said Momma. "You have it so easy. You're ungrateful. You have nothing in your life to frustrate you, you understand? Nothing! Don't walk away when I'm talking to you. Hey, I'm talking to you."

Monday, October 12, 2009

Ghost Gum

He dug the hole as quickly as he could. Sweat covered his face and soaked his shirt. The root of a long-dead bush or tree appeared in the bottom of the hole. He attacked it with the edge of the spade. The inside of the root flashed white and fresh against the dirt. Eventually he hacked through it.

After a while, the hole was big enough. He allowed himself a moment, leaning on his spade, breathing hard, to admire his creation. Then he went back to work.

When he walked back to his car, exhausted, he left behind him a freshly planted, well fertilised Ghost Gum. Aptly named, he thought.

(The Ghost Gum is native to Central Queensland).

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Peaceful Dove

She was watering her garden with a hose in the late afternoon when she saw the bird on her lawn, trying to hop away from the water spray. He couldn't fly, and didn't have much strength left for hopping. It only took her a minute or two to corner him against the fence and catch him with her hands. He was a small dove, grey, with black bands on its breast. He didn't look wounded. Perhaps he was sick, she thought, or in shock, after being attacked by a larger bird, or hit by a car. In any case, he wouldn't survive long, if she left him here, outside.

She held the dove firmly but gently in her left hand as she went to find something to put him in. She found a cardboard box. She put some budgerigar seed in the bottom, and a small container with water. The dove didn't move when she placed him on the floor of the box. She placed one of the wire racks from her oven on top of the box. Perhaps he would recover overnight, she thought.

In the morning, the bird was dead. She was careful not to let any tears form in her eyes as she tipped it from the box into her rubbish bin. It was only a bird. It would have died anyway.

(There is a good photo and some info about the Peaceful Dove at this link).

Sunday, October 4, 2009

More Espresso Stories

I've had a few more stories published at Espresso Stories. These are all 25 words or less, which you'll agree, is ridiculously short.

Why not pop over and have a look? Signing up to vote is very easy and quite fun. You can have quite a dramatic effect on the rankings of newer stories that haven't had many votes, especially if you really like (vote 5) or dislike (vote 1) them.

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Fitter's Wisdom

The fitter struck the end of the coupling with the sledgehammer five or six times, forcing it further onto the shaft. Smoke came from the coupling: it had been heated to help it fit onto the shaft. The apprentice leaned forward with his measuring tape, then shook his head and said something. He moved back as the fitter started into the coupling again. Like a machine, they worked as one: hitting, measuring, moving.

Why, I wondered, had the fitter chosen the hammer instead of the tape? Perhaps he didn't trust the young man with the forceful delicateness of the task, or maybe he was venting the frustrations of working a week-long shift away from his wife and children. As I walked on, I understood the fitter's wisdom. An apprentice must learn to measure more than he must learn to strike.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Richard Ridyard Affair

The Richard Ridyard Plagiarism Affair exposed by Angel Zapata in his blog post I've Been Plagiarized…and I'm Not Alone has been both sickening and fascinating. It's sickening because someone stealing words and claiming them as your own has caused even the most left-wing pacifists to sharpen their pitchforks and warm up their tar. I don't need to go into my own diatribes here: we all hate it.

The experience has been fascinating because it demonstrates both the perils and the pinnacles of the online writing world; a world that I entered myself only a few months ago.

The perils of the online writing world are clear. Firstly, there is so much more material to steal now. So many more people now are publishing in online journals, personal websites, blogs and other forums. This new group of available victims are also the most vulnerable. They are the new wave of talent, the up and coming – or at least they're trying to be. Secondly, there are so many new venues to use stolen material; and these are actually the same new places that people can steal from. This was, in part, the undoing of Mr Richard Ridyard, and brings me to the pinnacles of the online writing world.

Mr Richard Ridyard ripped off a number of writers, but he was discovered by Angel Zapata. How? Because Angel was reading a story in Flashshot and recognised his own work, which had previously been published in Micro 100. First pinnacle: every reader of online material has the capacity to recognise something they've read before, and identify a potential word thief.

In Angel's case, this was easy: he recognised something he wrote himself; but we're only talking about two sentences. The first sentence is loosely stolen, the second sentence is a verbatim theft. It's bad, but not compelling enough on its own to do much about it. Yet, something was very wrong: and Angel started digging. We all have the capacity and the responsibility to dig like Angel dug. The second pinnacle of the online writing world: Google. This is such a powerful digging tool, as demonstrated by the ultimately damming body of evidence that Angel was able to collect and present.

Now, Angel got to work immediately. He notifyied some of the editors and authors that he'd identified as victims of Mr Richard Ridyard. He did this both before and after his blog posting, but he had other things to do with his life. Things like work, family and sleep. But Angel was not alone in his rage. The third and greatest pinnacle of the online writing world is that we act like a community. Our community includes writers from a wide range of countries, with a wide range of talent levels. Many of us have had minimal, if any publication. Some of us aren't very good at all. As a community; however, we look out for each other. We read each other's work and make comments, at blogs and social networking sites like Six Sentences.

When Angel exposed a plagiarist in our midst, we worked together as a community to weed him out. We put links to Angel's post on our own blogs to help spread the word. We emailed editors of online journals and authors to let them know they'd been duped. Those editors got back to us very, very promptly. They were thankful and removed Mr Richard Ridyard's "work" almost immediately. This is a real credit to those editors, and the experience has made me realise that they are just as much a part of this online community as the writers. If anything, their passion for good and honest writing greater than any writer: just look at what they do. They're actually more vulnerable to this type of deception than us writers, so we should look out for them.

Let's not abandon the online writing world because of its few perils. Let's build on what we've learned by The Richard Ridyard Affair. Let's embrace the pinnacles of this world-wide community, and work together to eliminate plagiarism and create beautiful writing.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Pplagiarism is a very, very low act. Dark fiction author Angel Zapata has recently discovered that he, and others, have been plagiarised by one Mr Richard Ridyard.

Angel has exposed Mr Ridyard in his blog post I've Been Plagiarized...and I'm Not Alone. I'd like to support Angel in tackling this issue by encouraging you to read his well-researched article. We all need to be aware of the type of things that go on, and the type of people that do it.

The Joke's on You

I've posted a six-sentence story to the 6s Social Network called The Joke's on You. This was my response to a challenge by Dan to write a story along the lines of the familiar "A man walks into a bar..."

Sunday, September 27, 2009


Sunday Scribblings writing prompt #182 is "cheese", which is the title of this little story.

She was a very beautiful woman, from a very upper middle class family. She was way out of his league, but he wanted her anyway. She agreed to go with him to a restaurant for dinner. The place was her favourite, though he'd never heard of it. She took the lead with the ordering, which was fine by him.

"How about some cheese for dessert?" she asked him.
"Sure," he said. That sounded safe; he liked cheese. The date had gone pretty good so far, he thought.

What arrived at the table didn't look like cheese. It didn't smell like cheese, either.

"It's a Tasmanian blue vein," she said, before popping some into her mouth. "It's just heavenly."

If it was heavenly for her, it was going to be heavenly for him. He cut of a bit of the cheese, put it on a cracker, and put the lot into his mouth. He chewed. It was as though something dead had exploded inside his head. In an instant, his nose and sinuses were on fire. His eyes were streaming tears as he stumbled into tables and other patrons, searching for the exit. He didn't make it in time.

She was gone by the time he recovered, and he never saw her again. Later, he married a girl who was a year below him in high school. They are happy together. For them, cheese comes in thin squares, wrapped in plastic.

The Way of the Moth

April sat on a bench in the garden and watched a moth float by in front of her. The moth´s path was erratic as it flapped along; moving up, down, left and right. Despite it's twisting and turning, its overall path across the garden was, overall, quite direct.

April liked to sit in the garden to be around nature, to relax, and to contemplate. She thought about the moth, and its flight path. The moth's path was a lot like the path of her own life, she thought. She could learn a lot about life, by watching the way of the moth.

A butcher-bird swooped from the tree branch above and caught the moth in its beak. It flew back to its branch. It struck the moth against the branch; once, then twice more, to kill it. It watched April as it swallowed its prey. For long moments, April and the butcher-bird stared at each other. Then, as the bird flew away, she understood about life.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

[3WW] Tip Velocity

Three Word Wednesday (3WW) CLVI words are: eclipse, languish and velocity. Here is my effort, called "Tip Velocity"

David wants to be a published author, in every corner of his soul. Not just a published author, but popular, respected and honoured. Everyone agree these are lofty goals, considering David failed Junior English and mows lawns for a living. For now, however; he continues to languish in obscurity. His only "published" works are those he posts to his online blog, which even his friends and family read only occasionally, and reluctantly.

David's desire to write is such that it can eclipse every other aspect of his life. This helps him get through each day, because mowing lawns can get boring after the first two minutes. While pushing the mower along, he dreams of characters, plots, crises and resolutions.

While pulling the lawnmower back from the edge of Mrs Smyth's garden, he runs over his left foot. It doesn't hurt as much as it should, and it really should hurt a lot with all that blood, he thinks. Mrs Smyth faints when she see's the blood, so he hobbles next door to call for two ambulances.

While David lies in his hospital bed, his friend Allan, an engineer, tells him that the tip velocity of a lawnmower blade is approximately 650 kilometres per hour.

"Thanks for that," says David. "Hey, did you read my blog yesterday?"

"Sorry," says Allan, as he checks his watch and stands up to go, "I didn't."

From Dream to Reality [Alternate End]

Mattrozzi made the suggestion in the comments to my little story From Dream to Reality that a different ending might have worked better. Here is that same story with an alternate end along the lines he suggested. Only the last paragraph has changed.

The plant rumbled and shook loudly through Ralph's earplugs. It wasn't just noise, though. The plant was talking, and she wasn't happy this morning. A conveyor roller squeaked above the rumble, competing for attention with a loose drive belt on one of the ground floor pumps. The vibration in the plant beat louder every few seconds, then softer, shaking the structural bracing till it clattered. The raw coal screens were out of synchronisation again.

Black dirty water poured, out of control, from the ground floor to swirl around half blocked drains. Ralph splashed his way to the front door. He glimpsed the product stackers out in the yard as he went inside, teasing him with tiny wisps of product that drifted onto stockpiles that were still far too small.

Ralph took a deep breath before making his charge up the three flights of stairs to his office. He started to plan his day on the way up, juggling the priorities. He smiled as he pushed open the door of his office. Being the plant manager was everything he'd dreamt it to be. He would turn this plant around; because now, he could. Now, Ralph didn't hate Mondays anymore.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

More Espresso Stories

I've had two more stories published at Espresso Stories. Stories at this site must be 25 words or less. This is the extreme end of flash fiction, sometimes called "hint fiction".

The stories are Stalker and Widower. My full catalouge at Espresso Stories can be found here.

If you enjoy this site, I highly recommend signing up. That way you can rank each story 1 - 5, and help determine it's overall ranking.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

From Dream to Reality

The plant rumbled and shook loudly through Ralph's earplugs. It wasn't just noise, though. The plant was talking, and she wasn't happy this morning. A conveyor roller squeaked above the rumble, competing for attention with a loose drive belt on one of the ground floor pumps. The vibration in the plant beat louder every few seconds, then softer, shaking the structural bracing till it clattered. The raw coal screens were out of synchronisation again.

Black dirty water poured, out of control, from the ground floor to swirl around half blocked drains. Ralph splashed his way to the front door. He glimpsed the product stackers out in the yard as he went inside, teasing him with tiny wisps of product that drifted onto stockpiles that were still far too small.

Ralph sighed heavily as he started up the three flights of stairs to his office. One foot in front of the other, gripping the handrail for support, he shuffled to the top. Being the manager wasn't what he'd dreamt it would be. Now, he hated Monday's more than ever.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Once in a while

See here for a six-sentence story I wrote called Once in a while.

I've had some feedback that the six sentences stories are not as popular. If you want something longer, see my previous post.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Your Optimism, My Faith

Tristan challenged me to write a short story demonstrating the difference between optimism and faith, as described by what has been called the "Stockdale Paradox", recorded by James C. Collins in Good to Great. See the wikipedia article on James Stockdale for more information.

Thanks to Tristan for pointing out the Stockdale Paradox to me: I hadn't heard of it. I gave this one a lot of thought, and I hope that this story meets the challenge.

I feel a need to note that like everything else on this blog, this is a work of fiction – even if it is written in the first person. I am not, and am not claiming to be, a bestselling author. My name's not John Percival anyway.

Your Optimism, My Faith
A young man approached me out of the airport crowd. He was about thirty years old, with black hair gelled into that messy, just out of bed style. I avoided eye contact until he said, "Excuse me."

I let my book drop a little from my face and turned to him. "Yes?" I said. "Can I help you."

"Sorry to just come up to you like this," he said, "but you are John Percival, aren't you?"

Even a bestselling author, such as myself, is really only a minor celebrity. A 'real' celebrity goes around in his own plane, chauffeured limousine and has his own bodyguards. He's mobbed by fans and paparazzi, but is equipped to deal with it. A minor celebrity like myself, is stuck in the middle. I drive my own car, take regular airline flights like everyone else, and go to the shops without a body guard. Fact is, most people don't know what author's look like, and ninety-nine percent of the time we don't look like the studio portrait on the dust jacket anyway. This time however, I was busted.

"Yes," I said. "As a matter of fact I am."

The man extended his hand, "I'm Nelson. Nelson Hogan; very pleased to meet you, John."

I shook Nelson's hand, and sat down next to me. I wasn't too surprised to be picket out of the crowd. I was in Australia launching my latest book, and it was already on the bestseller chart. I was due to appear on one of the network television breakfast shows in Sydney the next morning.

"I'm really glad to meet you," said Nelson, "because you're my role model".

I'd never heard this one before. "I love your latest book" was more common, followed by some unsolicited advice on how the plot might have been improved. All I managed to reply was, "Oh?"

"I've also written a novel myself and…"

He must have seen the fear in my eyes, because he quickly added, "Don't worry; I don't want you to read it or anything. I've started sending it to publishers. I've already had two rejection slips, but I'm really optimistic about getting it published soon."

"Really," I asked. I was intrigued, having been through the rejection slip phase myself. "What's the basis of your optimism, may I ask?"

"Of course you can ask, John," said Nelson. "You're the reason, actually, that I'm so optimistic. I read somewhere that you had fifty rejection slips from publishers and agents before your first novel was published. I just know that soon someone will say yes to me too."

I smiled, but without humour. There are few things as sincere yet totally ridiculous as unfounded optimism. It scares me. "Actually," I said, "I had fifty-two rejection notes. But tell me, why is the number of rejections that I got relevant to you?"

Nelson paused a moment, and ran his fingers through his hair. "I'm not saying my novel is in the same league as yours: I'm just saying that your optimism is my inspiration. Each time I send a letter or an extract to a publisher, I'm at home, expecting them to say yes."

"Can I give you some advice?" I said.


"Stop expecting them to say yes. Stop being that optimistic: it's insane."

Nelson's jaw dropped; literally. Some drool actually escaped down to his chin while he sat, unmoving.

I felt obliged to explain a little further. "It wasn't actually the first novel I wrote that got published," I said.

"What?" He reached with his hand and wiped away the drool.

"That's right," I said. "Once I sent that manuscript off to the first publisher, I starting writing my second novel. Then, whenever I got a rejection note, I sent the manuscript to the next publisher, or agent, and went straight back to writing."

"Why did you keep writing the second novel when the first one was getting rejected?"

"You haven't started writing your second one?"

"No," said Nelson, looking at the floor.

"Then why did you write the first one?" I asked.

"Because I like writing," he said. "I want to be a writer. I think I have a lot to say, I think I can entertain people. I like it. You must understand that."

"I do understand that, " I said. "Why then didn't you start writing your second novel?"

It didn't look like Nelson had given this much thought before. "I suppose I thought I'd better get the first one published. You know, to prove myself; show that I could do it."

"That's funny," I said. "You said you're very optimistic about getting your first novel published, but that you don't seem so optimistic about the second."

Nelson seemed to prefer to ask the question. "You were so optimistic about the publication of your first novel that you started writing your second one; is that right, John?"

"No, I wasn't optimistic at all," I said. "In the end, not being optimistic paid off. Once I finished my second novel, I thought it was a lot better than the first. So, I stopped sending the first one around, and started sending out the second one. And of course, I started on my third novel. That second novel I sent out was the first one I got published – with some major rewrites – by an editor that was willing to give me a go. My first novel stayed on the shelf, and then my third got published."

"He didn't publish your first one?"

"I never showed that editor my first novel," I said. "I wasn't optimistic – I was realistic. I faced the hard fact that fifty-three professionals in the publishing industry didn't think it would fly. Later, I picked up that manuscript again and had another read, and it was terrible! It's so bad; it's not worth rewriting."

Nelson spent a few moments contemplating. "So," he said. "You were realistic, rather than optimistic. What kept you going, then? Was it your love of writing?"

"It takes more than just a love of writing to put that much work in," I said. "What kept me going was my faith in my ability to write, and more importantly, my ability to learn to write better. I had faith that if I kept working at it, I would write something worthy of publication."

"Isn't your faith the same as my optimism?"

"No!" I said, a bit too loudly. Some of the other passengers gave us dirty looks. "No, there is a major difference. Your optimism has you at home expecting a call any moment from a publisher, begging you for the rights to publish your manuscript. My faith kept me writing, knowing that in the end I would get better, and would be published. Your optimism is going to get dashed one rejection at a time until it is completely ruined. You won't get half way to fifty-two rejections before that happens. My faith in my ability to become a better writer is completely independent of external influences. It continued through the time of the rejection letters, and it continues when fans, and even agents, try to tell me that now I'm perfect."

Nelson said nothing for a minute, but looked down at the heavily worn carpet. Then, very quietly, he said "I don't really see the difference. Faith or optimism: it's the same."

The lady speaking into the public address system announced that my flight was now boarding.

I turned to Nelson as I grabbed my bag and stood up. "Think through what I've said again; a lot. This is critical, not just to your writing career, but to your whole life. If you don't see the difference soon, you'll die of a broken heart."

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Piano Man

"He can sure play that piano!" said the man in the cheap suit and the red tie.

Joe nodded, smiled, and asked him if he'd like another drink.

"Sure, another beer," he said, "and one for the piano man too!"

"He only drinks Glen Fiddich, eighteen year old, doubles."

Red Tie paused for a moment, obviously trying to guess the cost of a double eighteen year old Glen Fiddich, and working out through the alcoholic haze whether the piano man was that good - and whether he was that generous. After a moment, he said, "Sure. A double eighteen year old for the piano man."

Joe nodded again, smiled again and got Red Tie his beer. Then he then reached to the top shelf for the Glen Fiddich bottle on the very end, poured out a double shot into a glass with two small cubes of ice, carefully replaced the bottle, and took the drink to Tom at the piano. Tom nodded his appreciation to the man in the red tie when Joe pointed him out. Red Tie held up his beer in salute.

Back at the bar, Joe laughed as he watched Tom grimace at the taste of the iced tea. The caper had been Joe's idea. Tom didn't drink alcohol, so he'd been missing out on drinks from happy customers for years. Some were even offended that they couldn't buy him a drink, and Tom didn't even like orange juice. The iced tea looked enough like whiskey, and the price of a double top shelf spirit went straight into Tom's pocket; most of it, anyway. The only problem was: Tom hated iced tea more than orange juice. He'd get over it.

In all my Glory

I've submitted a challenge to the Six Sentences (6s) community, to write a six sentence story where the sentences start with the numbers one through six. Along with my challenge, I threw in my own attempt. You can see the challenge, and my story "In all my Glory" here.

If you've ever thought about having a go at writing, why not join the 6s community and have a go? A six sentence story doesn't take long to write.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

3WW (Three Word Wednesday) - "A Bag of Potting Mix"

I've just come across a very simple little blog site called "Three Word Wednesday", or "3WW" for short. In the words of the site's owner, "Each week, I post some words. People write things using the words. Then they comment here."

So, I thought I'd give it a go. The last 3WW (number CLIV) words are "Disarm", "Engage" and "Mayhem". This is what I came up with.

A Bag of Potting Mix

The plan is simple, and we follow it to the letter.

We go to Big W, and the Saturday morning shopping is mayhem, which is perfect. I engage the dragon-lady gatekeeper in a conversation, asking for directions to the gardening section. It's her job to check the bags for stolen merchandise and watch out for suspicious characters like us. While I'm chatting with the old girl, it's Brad's job to disarm the alarm on the anti-theft tag detection sensors.

With the thumbs up from Brad, we go shopping. We find a 68cm flat-screen high definition plasma TV that will suit our flat just fine. On the way out I distract the old cow again by thanking her for her help.

"No problem," she says, "it's all part of the job. Did you find what you were looking for?"

I smile; Brad is walking straight out the shop behind her, barely managing to carry the box. "Sure did; thanks again. Sorry, I have to go now."

I catch up with Brad as he gets on the escalator down to the car park. We finally get the box into the back seat of the car; it barely fits. Just as we close the doors, a cop turns up. It looks like the battle-axe gatekeeper is not as dumb as she looks. Next time I pretend to find what I'm looking for in the gardening department, I should probably buy a shovel, or a bag of potting mix.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Published on Espresso Stories!

I've had two stories published at Espresso Stories. This site is the hard core of flash fiction. Each story has a maximum of 25 words!

The stories are:
Hope you enjoy them. If you sign into Espresso Stories, you can rank each story. The collective votes for each story determine its rank in the slush pile.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Your Objection is Noted

This story is a response to another challenge from Mattrozi. His challenge was:

Write a short story no more than 300 words in length and use "noted" in the title and somewhere in the text. You may not use any words starting with the letter "b" and it must be written in first person.

Confession: I've busted the 300 word limit out to about 600. Sorry. In return, I offer a first-person account of Tara, the character that I introduced in
Dilute Solution, and which Mattrozi said he'd like to know more about. Not using words starting with 'b' is really challenging; but that's the point, isn't it?

Mattrozi writes a poetry blog called
Cleveland Thomas.

"Tara," said Mr Everton, "tell me what you think of your last assignment.
I looked longingly at everyone else leaving the English classroom, going off to lunch. I turned to my teacher. "What I think's not important, Mister Everton," I said, smiling sweetly; leaning a little closer. "It's what you think that matters, isn't it?"

Mr Everton sighed and took a step back. "Very well," he said. "I think that it's an excellent first draft from a highly intelligent, highly lazy young lady. I think this took you twenty minutes; tops."

That got me. I'd actually written my short story submission during the ads of Australian Idol. "Whatever," I said, softly, looking at the floor.

Mr Everton sighed again. "This story, as it currently stands, is less than what I consider a passable quality." Before I could argue, he put his hand up and kept talking. "However, I'm confident that about a lunchtime's worth of rewriting and editing will elevate it to a pass; or higher."

I didn't like where this was going. I said nothing, and looked Mr Everton in the eye as he went on.

"Take your laptop with you now to the staff room, and you can get to work. I'll accept your assignment at the end of lunch.

"Si-ir," I said. "That's just not fair!"

"Your objection is noted." he said, "Though you're quite right. Giving you a second chance isn't really fair; only I think that with a push you just might start to realise some of your potential."

The lunch hour went slowly; however, I worked hard. I had to pass English. A fail would have a seriously tragic effect on the spending money and other goodies I get from Dad.

About half way through lunch, Mrs Atkinson, my Art teacher, knocked on the door of the staff room. "Mister Everton," she said, after noticing me, "I need to speak with you for a moment please; privately."

I just wished I could hide in the corner for the next few minutes to pick up some hot gossip on another student, or even a teacher. As I got up to leave, I had a stroke of genius. I opened "Sound Recorder" on my computer, hit record, and then locked the computer.

# # # # #

I could not have hoped to record a juicier conversation. My two teachers weren't talking about a student or another teacher; they were talking about themselves. They were having an affair; a very raunchy one, it seemed.

Later that night, I lay in my room in the dark and smiled. I formed my plan and slowly drifted off to sleep.

# # # # #

I said nothing as I played Mr Everton the conversation on my iPod the next morning. He went pale, and his hands started to shake. He stopped listening after half a minute.

"You little cow," he said.

I said nothing, and tried not to smile; much.

"What do you want?"

"I want an 'A' for English," I said. "Like you said, I'm pretty lazy and don't like to spend a lot of time on my assignments. So, I'll turn up to class, and hand in the assignments that you write for me; and you'll give me an 'A'."

Mr Everton stuttered. "That's extortion! That's --!"

"Your objection is noted," I said, and it felt good to say it. I turned and strutted down the hallway towards the Art department.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Miner's Wife

I've been posting a lot of six-setencers lately; sorry. I've struggled to find time for anything more. I've received another challenge, which I'm working on, and hope to post soon.

This story has been cross-posted here at "Six Sentences" Social Network. It's a bit melodramatic; I know.

She lay on her side on the bed, holding the paperback in front of her, absorbing the pages. The world within the pages put her into a trance that numbed the constant pain. She could ignore the ache in her own heart for a little while by feeling make-believe joy, anticipation, romance.

When she put the book down, the fictional world dissolved, and reality slapped her again in the face like a cold, wet towel. She dealt with the real world only as long as she had to, and then returned to her bed and to her book. There was nothing she could do anyway; they would keep digging until they found a man, or a body.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Simon's Novel

I just posted a six-sentence story called Simon's Novel here.

Simon was desperate to write his novel, but was caught in a creative paradox. He wrote best when his life was turbulent: when wife, kids and work demanded his time and his mind and his inner strength. This was when he really felt and understood life; themes and plots and words flowed like water amidst the chaos, hastily recorded on a notepad, or on the computer – when he could get the kids away from it. Occasionally a moment of respite came, when children were on camp, or with grandparents, and his wife was just wanted to read a book or visit friends.

"Go, write your book," she would say, "and enjoy the quiet; take advantage of it."

And so Simon would site behind the computer, trying to remember the emotions and words of the hectic times; watching the cursor flash and writing nothing.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Curse the Flu

I just posted the following six-sentence story at the Six Sentences website here.

The fever has returned; it is mocking me, shaking my aching body as I walk unsteadily to the bathroom. The night is cold on my hot, naked skin; but I am thirsty, and drink two full cups of water, before exploding into a coughing fit that leaves a big yellow blob of phlegm in the sink. My teeth are chattering now, and I cannot control the shivering in my arms and legs: I need to return soon the warm cocoon of blankets in my bed.

First, I need something for the fever, so I reach for the blister pack of Panadol on the counter, but I'm suddenly unsure when I last took it - I know that's important, if you want to keep your liver. I appeal to the face of the fool in the mirror for help: his hair a mess, his beard overgrown, his eyes bloodshot and wild. I remember now that I took Nurofen last; I take the Panadol, curse the flu, and go back to bed.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Root Causes of Homelessness

"Got a few dollars to spare?" said the man on the bench. He held out a disposable coffee cup.

I'd been walking along the footpath keeping pace with the rest of the Brisbane rush-hour crowd. I stopped and came back to talk to him. "Are you homeless?" I said. I kept my money to myself for now.
"Yes I am," said the man. Then he added, "My name's Ralph."
Ralph had dark, weather-beaten skin. His hair was black and long; down to his shoulders. He had a full flowing beard that tapered off to a wispy tail just above his chest. His clothes were worn and filthy, and the odour of stale sweat on him was noxious.

I reached out my hand and said, "G'day Ralph. I'm Barry."
He took my hand, and offered for me to sit down; which I did. I sat as far away from him on the bench as I could without falling off.

Ralph told me that there weren't a lot of ordinary people who stop to talk to the homeless. Not just charity volunteers, but ordinary people. He said he appreciated it. I explained that homelessness is a real passion of mine; and that I'm doing my part to eliminate it. "Especially the root causes," I said. "If we can eliminate the root causes of homelessness, then the problem will be ninety-nine percent solved."

Ralph looked at me with his dark eyes. "And what are those root causes, Barry?"

I had spoken on the subject at length to community leaders and politicians; yet, the look in his eyes made my confidence wither. I said, "Lots of things Ralph, of course; but the biggest is a lack of education; and that's my background. Poor education itself has a number of root causes, including undiagnosed learning difficulties, physical and emotional abuse of children, drug and alcohol abuse of parents…"

Ralph was smiling now. I felt I'd struck a chord; perhaps even listed some of his own personal demons. Or I was talking way over his head, and the funny words didn't make sense to him.

"How did your own education go?" I asked. I wanted him to feel comfortable sharing his experiences with me. "Tell me about it."
"I graduated from my civil engineering degree with first class honours," said Ralph. "I declined an offer to complete my doctorate and went straight into industry. Now, how about a few dollars for a cup of coffee?"

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

She was Immaculate

Click this link to see my six sentece story, "She was Immaculate".

Monday, August 17, 2009

Wisdom, Experience and Insight

Please have a look at my six sentence story called Wisdom, Experience and Insight which I've posted on the Six Sentences social network.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Khloe after dark, crooked jaw and lifebelt

"Khloe after dark, crooked jaw and lifebelt", said Brett proudly, as he sat down at his desk.

Brett was often cryptic, but this blew my mind. I turned from my laptop and looked him in the eyes. "What?"

"Those," said Brett, pausing for effect, "are the three most popular Google searches for today."

I didn’t know where to begin. "Why?" I asked, hoping I wasn't making a mistake. Leaving the room could possibly have been a better option.

"Who knows why people search for stuff," said Brett. "It's driven by the Yanks mostly. They search for some sick and crazy things. The Indians too; and the Chinese. It's a population thing…"

"Stop," I said, raising both my hands. "Why are you telling me the three most popular Google searches for today?"

Brett gave that look he gives when he's very disappointed with me. Like a father who can't believe his son is such a simpleton. "For our blog," he said, slowly. "We want money from people clicking ads on our blog. Ergo, we need site traffic; ergo we need to appear on Google results."

"Ergo we need people to find our blog by searching 'Glow in the dark with a crooked jaw and a lifebelt?"

"Close." said Brett. "Khloe after dark, crooked jaw and lifebelt."

"Our blog is about short fiction and poetry," I said. "Those words and phrases have nothing to do with either."

Brett didn't let that stop him. Perhaps I should have tried harder to stop him myself. The damage is done, now. The ad revenue is improving, though. In six months I'll be able to buy a cup of coffee. Regular, of course; not large.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Withered, Useless Vine

Most of the passionfruit vine was dead: broken, dried and withered. Joel hadn't torn it down yet, because it always seemed to have enough green leaves, shoots or unripe fruit to give him hope of a better future.

Getting rid of it would be quite a job anyway, so he was happy to have just cause to procrastinate. Besides, he wondered, wasn't a withered, useless vine to be preferred over no vine at all?

Planting a new vine and tending it to maturity would be far too much work entirely. He was too old for that now, anyway.

Joel stood and watered the vine a little longer, and laughed aloud when it occurred to him that some of his friendships had become very much like his passionfruit vine. When he had finished laughing, he cried a little too.

Dilute Solution

This story is a response to a challenge by Mattrozi. His challenge was to write a story with a maximum of 300 words that had the word "dilute" in the title, and the following words at least once within the story: "dilution", "legacy", "river" and "red".

How well did I meet the challenge? You decide. Have a read, and then add your comments.

Thanks to Mattrozi for his challenge. Mattrozi writes a poetry blog called Cleveland Thomas.

Tara's red t-shirt was tight on her. She liked that. Even though no-one could see her down here at the river, she still felt proud and powerful. Her mother had left her a wonderful legacy, and she was glad for it.

She removed the shirt and her shorts, and stood for a moment in the shade of the gum tree in her black one-piece swimsuit, before going into the water. The water was cold on her skin, and felt fresh and exciting. The way her body reacted to the cold still intrigued and excited her. She drew out the swim for a few minutes, holding out on herself, making herself wait. Her breathing was fast and shallow from the cold and the anticipation.

Back on the shore, she took the plastic drink bottle from her backpack and drank. She finished almost half of it in one go, and then gasped for air. She felt the effect of the vodka in the cordial almost immediately. Tara smiled, and finished the bottle. She lay down on her back on the rough sand with the afternoon sun on her face, and enjoyed the feeling of the alcohol as it warmed her belly and her cheeks. Soon her legs didn't even feel attached to her body.

The vodka was easy to get. She took it from the Smirnoff bottle in the liquor cupboard, and then made up the volume with water. The vodka was used only for mixing with orange juice for Tara's mother. She would never notice the dilution. There was usually a fresh bottle every week or two, allowing Tara a good supply.

Tara's next big project was to find a husband to provide her with a house, car and other necessities.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Hint Fiction Anthology Competition

hint fiction (n) : a story of 25 words or less that suggests a larger, more complex story.

If you'd like to write, why not enter this competition?

The guidelines are here. Really, it won't take long to think of something. You'll spend more time thinking of which words to remove to get to twenty-five, rather than which words to add.

Blatant Intolerance

I just posted a six-sentence fictional piece to the Six Sentences social network called Blatant Intolerance.

My aim, based on this discussion thread, was to create a six-sentence short-story that is right-wing conservative, yet friendly, reasonable and non-venemous.

I'd like to know if you think I came close to that: leave a comment.


Gus woke up suddenly and sat straight up in bed; sweating, heart pounding and stomach queasy. It was the recurring dream again; the one in which he had forgotten something very important; vital. It was as though completely missed an appointment with the prime minister, because he'd been playing computer games or watching movies, or something. He'd not only missed the appointment, but would have been unprepared, even if he remembered at the last minute.

That was it, thought Gus, stared into the dark, waiting for the adrenaline to wear off, it's less about forgetting something, and more about being unprepared.

He tiptoed out of the room to get a cup of water and relieve himself, glad he hadn't woken his wife like he often did. She always asked about the dream and it's meaning. This only distracted him from catching pieces of the fragile dream memories as they dissolved, once again. He tried to catch them now, in the dark. What does it mean? What am I unprepared for? What is so important, so urgent?

It wasn't until the next morning that Gus's wife found his body on the toilet; and then she understood.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Wanted: Experienced Scaffolder

On my first day on the job, I was in awe of Jack Bier. He embodied that combination of skill and confidence – no, fearlessness – that made a scaffolder the king of the trades. I wanted to be like Jack: he would walk across a one foot wide beam ten stories above the ground, without even looking at his feet. In those days scaffolders didn't work from walkways and handrails – we worked from beams and girders – and blazed the trail of planks and walkways for others to follow. Jack stayed back for some overtime when I left for the pub, feeling on top of the world.

On my second day on the job, Bob, the foreman, showed me the pool of blood where Jack had landed on the ground. All it took was for his foot to slip on a fresh pigeon dropping. A few of the blokes saw him fall. Bob pointed out the beams that Jack had hit on the way down.

I felt sick, and spewed up breakfast onto the dirt; but Bob wasn't finished. He took me with him to visit Jack's wife with his final pay-cheque. Bob wanted me to learn something that day, and I did. Jack was an old generation scaffolder: skilful, fearless and a little cocky. I became one of the new generation. I don't disrespect Jack, or what he did; but, I don't think a man needs to die putting bread on the table.

SD Harvey Short Story Shortlist

The SD Harvey Short Story award (part of the Ned Kelly Awards of the Crime Writers Association of Australia) short list has been announced:

  • Fidget's Farewell, Scott McDermott
  • Farewell My Lovelies, Chris Womersley
  • Fern's Farwell, Bronwyn Mehan
  • Farewell to the shade, Cheryl Rogers
You will notice two things here:
  1. Each story has "farewell" in the title. This was a requirement of entry. The word "farewell" had to be included in the title, and be reflected in the story. Each year will be a different word.

  2. I'm not on the shortlist. This is not for want of entering: My entry was called "Farewell Gift". I won't be posting it to surgebin because:

    1. It's a bit long; and

    2. I want to tweak it and then resubmit it to more open short story competitions.

Single Mother

The baby is happy riding on her mothers hip; and very cute. Liam smiles at her, and she smiles back. It's been four years since his own daughter was that size, and he wonders at how fast time flies.

The young mother walks past Liam, behind him, while he stands at the doner kebab shop, waiting. The girl behind the counter is just taking the kebabs off the toaster and squeezing them into their foil packets.

Liam turns to sneak another look at the baby. The child has turned to look at him, but so has her mother. The mother is smiling at Liam as she walks away, but something in her look jolts inside of him. It takes a moment for him to realise, She thinks I'm smiling at her; checking her out.

He walks away with the hot kebabs in his hands, feeling a guilty for smiling at a baby. The feeling evaporates once he finds his wife and they enjoy their lunch together, planning the rest of the day. By tomorrow, the incident will be forgotten; by Liam, at least.