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Flash Fiction Challenge: Alliteration

It’s been awhile since I’ve done a Chuck Wendig flash fiction challenge. This time was to come up with a title that has alliteration in it and then write out about 1000 words from that. I pulled “Jimmy’s Job” out of thin air while taking a shower. The story below took a little longer than that, but not by much. Enjoy and comment if it so pleases you.

Jimmy’s Job

Jim pressed down on his truck’s loose brakes and screeched it to a halt. He’d let the pads wear down well past the warning sliver of metal that scraped against his wheels like fingernails on chalkboard mixed with a touch of reverb. Jim had gotten used to the sound over the weeks. Money was tight these days and he had better things to spend a hundred dollars or so on than a new set of brakes. The old truck still stopped when he needed it and that was good enough for him.

Jim popped open the door and gave it a shove. The heavy steel door swung open, locking its hinge with a well made ‘clunk’. Dust and the stale smell of old foam padding rushed up through Jim’s nose as he climbed out of the seat into the hot summer sun. He slammed the door shut before moving around to the bed of the truck. His mud-flecked boots crunched over the dry patches of grass that clung to life amidst the rock-choked clay dust this field called soil.
In the back of his rusted yet dependable pick-up were all the tools and self respecting man of the South needed and kept. Two shovels both long and short handled, caked in dried mud and clay. A length of sturdy rope and a coil of wire. A battered toolbox. Two car batteries that were dead and one that still worked, probably. Last but not least, a plastic cooler full of beer. Jim grabbed the handle of the cooler and slid it towards him from the center of the truck bed. He popped open the top and fished around in the icy stew inside until he came up with a can of booze.

Jim walked over to the back of his truck and then leaned against the tailgate. He snapped the beer open. The foam boiled up from the mouth of the can as Jim stood there for a moment, looking out across the field. The rough land stretched out for at least a mile, in Jim’s estimation, before it was swallowed up by a pine forest at the edge of the property line.
Jim drank his beer as he listened to the cicadas kick up a strong whine against the breeze that blew in from God knows where. Once he finished he grabbed the long handled shovel from the back of his truck and set about digging the hole.

Jim was about half way done with the ditch and close to two beers further along when he saw the dust cloud rising up from the old access road that led into the field. He glanced at his watch, a beat up plastic digital number that wasn’t fancy but did the job of telling time pretty well. According to it, Jim’s appointment was two hours early.

He kept digging as the cloud drew closer, but Jim didn’t stress himself. Another pair of hands had almost arrived after all. After about two or three more bites at the rough dirt with his spade, Jim’s appointment rolled into the field on a pick-up with a slight bend to its axel. The front left corner lifted up and down as it came to a slow stop near the back of Jim’s truck. After it came to a rest in the hot dust and the crackle of the emergency brake split the air, the driver shoved open his door then stepped out.

The man was too fat for pleasant euphemisms and wore a pair of mud splattered overalls that strained against his bulk.
“Ain’t it finished yet?” the overalled man said, punctuating his displeasure with a healthy spit of tobacco juice.
“You’re early,” Jim said, not taking his eye off the widening pit or his shovel. “Cooler of beers in the back there.” Jim jerked his head in the direction of the cheap plastic container.
“You’re welcome to one if you like,” he said, “Might take me another hour or two to finish here. ‘Course there’s another shovel back there if you’re in a hurry.”
The heavy man waddled over to the edge of the pick-up bed and peered over.
“Reckon I’ll have a beer first then help you with the pit.”
Jim just nodded and wiped the sweat off his brow before turning back to the work.

An hour later the fat man and Jim had made a decent pit. Six feet deep as is standard.
“Help me out with him,” the fat man said, “Starting to turn in this heat.”
They swatted at the flies, thick as quarters they were, that swarmed around the burden sitting heavy in the back of the fat man’s truck.
“Where’d you find this one?” Jim asked.
“Down near the river,” the fat man said as he and Jim grabbed the dingy cloth that wrapped the bundle and slid it across the rusty truck bed.
The two men grabbed each end of the load and crab-walked it over to the lip of the pit they’d dug. On a three count they pitched it into the depths. Some of the canvas tarp came loose, exposing a patch of dark skin here, blood-matted hair there. The fat man spat a final disgrace on the bundle as it sank into the cool sandy clay at the bottom of the hole. The thick glob of nicotine laced phlegm splattered against the shroud.

The fat man in the overalls patted Jim on the back before returning to his rusty vehicle. As his client drove away down the dusty road, Jim went to his cooler to get the last beer. He stood there as he drank it, looking down into another unfortunate ending to a day’s work. When he was finished, he chucked the crumpled can into the pit and slowly set about filling it in once more.

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Is adding “Japan” to your fiction a turn off?

I’m going to come out and say that for me it is. I’m not talking just about anime fan fiction. I’ve seen some stuff in published material as well that turned me off. Now this is a hard feeling to pin down and even more difficult to avoid being hypocritical about. I confess, I put a lot of “Japan” into what I’ve been writing lately. Part of the “write what you know” school of thought. I live here, so it goes into my writing. Call it my “Japan period” if you’d like. Like Picasso’s blue period. I’m sure it’s just as good.

Of course the last thing I’d like to come off as is some how “superior” or “better” or “outrageously more talented” than the lovely fan-fiction writers or anyone else that uses “Japan” to flavor their work. Hell, I started writing by doing fan fiction pieces about a computer game I was playing at the time. I’m not here to crap on people.

However, and maybe I’m just more easily attuned to it, often times “Japan” is used in a way that adds little more than “Woah, cool!” to the story. I keep putting “Japan” in quotes because I mean it as taking something that should be a normal part of a story or movie or whatever and just throwing in something “Japanese” for the hell of it. Case in point, every time I see someone use a katana instead of a more practical weapon makes me want to slowly twist needles into my eyes. (Watch Audition if you don’t get the reference)

Exception: Kill Bill doesn’t count since I love that movie and it’s pretty tongue lodged firmly in cheek about the whole thing.

It doesn’t even need to be “Japan”. It can be any culture that isn’t your own. I just bring up “Japan” because it seems to me to be the culture that gets the most abuse in this manner. I’ve read a lot of Haruki Murakami because I like his style. He’s certainly not an author for everyone but is probably the only modern Japanese writer anyone who doesn’t bother to harvest enjoyment from Japanese popular culture has heard of. All of the books I’ve read have a certain “Japan” quality to them but understandably it doesn’t jar the senses, at least not for me.

Murakami is from Japan so he writes truths about his home and tells stories that would fit anywhere. That’s the main point. Cutting off some dude’s head with a katana doesn’t make the story any cooler than if it was done with a Scottish broadsword. If the story is lame then the “Japan” spice isn’t going to save it.

I guess my problem is that I’ve run into too many things that try serve up dog poop and think a little dash of wasabi will make me forget it’s a pile of crap.

Am I wrong? Right? A super nerd dork jerk that should just shut up and go die in a hole because how dare you say katanas aren’t cool? Let me know.

16/30

Nanowrimo One Week Later

So I’m still clicking along like some mad steam work auto-writing…..thing. Anyway, after about 2500 words last night I managed to fall short by about 300 words of par for day seven. But I consider it a victory since I was about 1200 in the hole before that. Don’t try to do the math, it’s confusing to me too.

I’m sitting on a story right now with a little more than 11,000 words. That feels impressive to me. I had started another novel last year during nanowrimo and had been picking at it ever since. Let’s check how many words that beast has.

Under 9000?!?!!!! *cough*

Yes, I’ve written almost half again as much in one week as I did in a year for the other novel. This was when I started thinking about what I was taking away from this experiment.

THINGS I’VE LEARNED ABOUT WRITING FROM NANOWRIMO (Or: Shit I should’ve known already)

1. Holy crap plotting is super effective!

I’m not saying you need to plot. Some people like to do things by the seat of their pants (or pantsers as they’re known to all the cool people) and that’s what I did for the first book I mentioned. But let’s also compare output. ~9000 words in a year compared to ~11,000 words in a week. It’s really great to be able to sit down and have an idea about where to go next. Thinking of plot is time not spent writing other kick ass stuff, like robots having cooking battles in kitchens made of fire.

You don’t have to stick to the plot either! That’s the best part! I plotted a chase scene but by the time I got to that part it made more sense for the characters to get arrested instead. (Oops spoilers!) And you know what? That doesn’t matter either because I can just go change it later! Writing is bitchin!

2. You need to do the work.

I’m sure I’ll have many people that will scoff at the idea that “writing” is “work”. I spent sixteen years working at a gas station in the blazing heat AND snow at the same time! My pay check was 15 cents and that was enough to buy milk and bread for a month but the only store was uphill both ways with bear traps every 10 yards and if you cried when you stepped in one you got the switch to your backside for being a sissy. AND WE LIKED IT!!!!!!

Woah…yeah that is certainly a lot more work than I do making up fairies and demons. It’s harder than my real job, teaching English, a language I was fortunate enough to grow up speaking.

AND THERE WERE BEES EVERYWHERE WITH STINGERS THE SIZE OF CAR ANTENNAS!!!! 

Holy shit dude calm down, I understand. All I’m saying is writing to a word count won’t happen magically. If that is what you’re after you need to sit the hell down and do it. That’s the biggest difference between my story last year and my story this year. I’ve been sitting down, usually late at night after work and fucking about on the internet for too long but I still get in there in the word hive. Up to my elbows in word honey. Swollen all over from the awful word stings by word bees…

Ok I’ll stop.

3. My god the typos.

Not too much to say but while trying to crank out 2000 words in an hour to meet a self imposed deadline I start to wonder if I’m not secretly dyslexic given the amount of really simple words I screw up all the time.

Thanks for reading. I’m out of ideas and about to dash out for about six solid hours of running around the city like a crazy person trying to earn a living. Comments appreciated, responded to when I can remember that I should be doing this “engage the audience” thing I’ve heard so much about.

NaNoWriMo Day 1

It has begun. The NaNoWriMo is upon us. Don’t worry I won’t be constantly talking about it but since this is the first day and I got my word count goal finished (Though I did cheat a little by taking about 500 words directly from another story I had written) I thought it would be a good post to put up. I’ve been drinking a lot of coffee at home so I was thinking of doing a review about instant coffee here in Japan. If you have any recommendations let me know.

Anyway as a special treat here is the complete first scene from my novella. Only 26 more to go!

Nick shoved his front door open. It sticks in the humid summer heat. He put a little too much force into it so the door crashed against the opposite wall of his cramped entryway. It was late but the other residents of the tired, worn out guesthouse were prone to slamming doors at all hours, so Nick didn’t care about his noise.

Despite the trouble, he did try his best to slide the door shut with some degree of courtesy for the neighbors. It didn’t work too well but he knew the short bang could have been worse. Nick set his keys on a dusty ledge next to the sink and slipped off his shoes. The light in the kitchen was an old fashioned pull string switch, hanging from a frayed main wire. When Nick turned it on the kitchen was bathed in a depressing yellow glow. Nick paused by the sink to gaze at the stack of dirty dishes sitting there, stagnant water making a foul soup from his left-overs. He glanced at the files in his left hand, then back to the sink, then to the grocery bag in his right containing a bottle of cheap red wine and nothing else. There was no need for clean dishes if he didn’t plan to cook anything.

Nick went into the main room and sat down on his uncomfortable couch and turned on his 32’ plasma TV. Nick was a man of simple pleasures and a strong tolerance for filth. It came with the job. His penchant for electronic gadgets, however, is where most of his disposable income went. He flipped through the channels and settled on a shampoo commercial. The file still in his hands was choaked with papers, wrapped with a thick, red rubber band.  Nick dropped it on the table. He pulled the bottle of wine out and tossed the bag aside. With a practiced twist of his wrist he cracked the screw top. He didn’t waste his time or money on wine fancy enough to have corks.

Nick leaned back on the couch, resting his legs on the short, IKEA brand, wood-like coffee table. He had the file on his lap and his cup of cheap wine in his hand. The rubber band took some deft movements to remove it without spilling his drink, but eventually he got it open. On top was a stack of typed reports. Dry, boring affairs that Nick had read at the office. Some parts were redacted, however, as his source within the department wasn’t exactly at the top of the ladder. Still, he always came through when Nick asked for a favor as best he could. Nick set the reports aside carefully, he needed to return the file before work in the morning, then picked up the first of the crime scene photos.

It was a close up shot of her face. The patch of fur under her throat was once white but had turned a deep yellow. Not the kind of yellow that they use in commercials for lemon scented cleanser. No, that was a happy kind of yellow. Fresh and vibrant. The yellow on the fox’s neck was dull and dirty. The color of phlegm during a strong cold. Nick remembered a time in high school chemistry class when he spilled some iodine solution on the floor. Those tiles were stained instantly. He was just happy that none got on his shoes. As far as he knew, the stain was still there. This shade of yellow staring back at him from the photo brought all these memories back from deep corners of his brain.

The next photo in the stack was a picture as he remembered her. A modest pose, perhaps part of a modeling portfolio. She’d mentioned that sort of thing a few times while she was walking on his back, working the stress from his shoulders with her delicate feet. The picture was likely the one the police would take around the neighborhood. Potential witnesses don’t react well to gruesome photos of corpses. He knew this first hand but sometimes those kind of shots were all he could get his hands on. Nick set the good picture aside. Massage girls that turn up dead don’t often get the full attention of the Metropolitan Police. That goes double for foxes. Nick was sure this one wouldn’t be missed.

The rest of the pictures were shots from every angle of her, the alley she was found in, and the recycle bin she had been stuffed into. No visible wounds or damage except those suffered from the gymnastics required to fit into such a small container. Coroners report suggested that she moved into her new digs post-mortem. Took the boys an hour to get her out she was crammed in there so tight. Every inch of her was stained the same horrible yellow color.

Nick closed the file then finished his glass of wine. When he reached for the bottle he was a little surprised to find it already empty. He glanced at the clock in the bottom corner of his TV. It was late, so the grocery was closed, but there was another convenience store a minute walk from his place. He stood on unstable feet, struggled into some pants, grabbed his keys, then headed out to buy some beer.

Nick arrived into that haze between sleep and waking. His sheets were twisted around his body in a corkscrew, the covers long since kicked to the floor. The air conditioner coughed on the wall above. It had given up on it’s duties to make the room comfortable and had instead chosen a path of dripping foul smelling water onto the floor. To describe the air it belched forth as mustier than a desiccated corpse would be doing it a service. The many layers of padding scrounged from friends that made up his bed had shifted during the night and had arranged themselves into a mosaic of lumpy uncomfortableness. That spidery, itching feeling Nick had on his arm could have been cockroaches wandering past or just the imagination. At this point Nick was unsure which and had long since crashed through the wall of not giving a shit.

He tried to sit up and reach for his water glass that he kept on a nearby table. However, this was impeded by a heavy weight sitting on his chest. Heavier than a cat and lighter than a box made of iron it sat there in the dark, restricting Nick to his unwashed prison of sheets.

He rubbed the gunk from his eyes and tried to figure out what the hell was sitting on him so casually. Dirty gray sunlight was starting to filter through the nicotine stained drapes but it was hardly enough light to clarify any detail no matter how obvious.

I killed your friend.

The amorphous darkness on his stomach had spoken. Though not quite speak as much as echo inside Nick’s skull. He attempted to engage it in conversation.

“What friend?”

The shape came closer and against all laws of physics as Nick understood them, he saw the pale morning sunlight flash off of five slender steel claws. Thin as a pencil lead they were. The beast, as he now considered it, dragged these filaments across his cheek.

The friend you always kept with you.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Nick said.

The beast withdrew his thin claws from my face but Nick could hear them in the dark. A smell of honeyed wine drifted through his nostrils. Other scents lingered there. Freshly poured beer over cut grass. The smell of a concrete sidewalk after he’d sprayed it with a hose. Smells of summer back home. What torture was this?

You abandoned her.

“This is so not what I need right now,” Nick said, “I’ve got work in the morning.”

The creature rushed him. All Nick could see was a darkness that deepened but the smell hit him with the power of a subway train. It took a brief moment to place it but he knew the stench all too well. It was the smell of a third dry heave, head stuffed firmly into a porcelain bowl. Praying to anything that will listen to please release him from this horrific pain. Then it came, the muscle pain and acidic bile rushed up his whole body.

That is what this creature smelled of now. What it made him experience again in vivid detail. He tried to look at it’s face but saw only a swirling black. It grabbed Nick with those thin metal claws and twisted his head around, as if it was searching for something. The thing leaned down and Nick heard it sniff him. Rapid and broken like a dog searching for a treat hidden inside his skin.

She wasn’t the first. She won’t be the last. I have your scent now. Sleep well.

Nick’s eye snapped open and he shifted around in his bed, trying to regain his sense of place. He was covered in sweat despite only having a thin sheet over his body. He stared hard at the shapes in the room, frightful things that he knew by instinct were nothing dangerous. He just had to let his eyes adjust. After a dream like that it was difficult. The sinister figure with bat-like wings eventually coalesced in to his laundry, hanging up to dry. The evil clown face on the ceiling turned back into his overhead lamp. After much internal coaxing, Nick’s brain woke up enough for the world to return to normal. Nick swung his legs over the side of the bed and sat up. He massaged his eyes in the still dark room. He checked the time on his nearby phone. Still several hours until sunrise. Nick knew he wouldn’t be able to get back to sleep though.

He went into the kitchen to set a kettle boiling for coffee. While he waited for the whistle he searched underneath the sink for his emergency bottle of whiskey. It was set all the way in the back, past the pipes, to discourage unnecessary use. In Nick’s opinion, nightmares on the level of the one he just had qualified as a whiskey emergency. The kettle went off, spewing hot steam into the air. Nick turned off the burner then poured his cup. The coffee was instant but the decent kind that included the milk and sugar in the powder. Three steps, boil water, open package into cup, introduce coffee powder to water. He usually didn’t have to stir it either. Three steps was about the most that Nick was interested in when it came to food or drink.

He tried to take a sip but soon regretted it. Still too hot, the coffee burned his tongue. Nick went to check the front door while he waited for his coffee to cool. What he saw almost made him drop the cup. Only the strong repulsion to cleaning lodged deep in his lizard brain kept his fingers around the handle.

On the inside of the door, five razor thin, equally spaced lines were carved into the poor quality wood.

8/30

Halloween 2011: Shibuya Style

It’s that time again. Strap on a costume and get read to ride out into the cold night and conquer the land. It’s Halloween and that can only mean one thing for anyone above the age where trick or treating becomes embarrassing.

Alcohol. In great quantities. Except I pledged to stay sober this month. Damn. Well the antics should be fun to watch.

My night started in Roppongi, a den of iniquity that I know far too well. There was a period in my life that would find me down in the dark trenches of that town where the concrete oozed the stench of vomit and broken dreams. Money flows like polluted water out of the hands of the too drunk to know any better and into the pockets of those that are clever enough to extract it. Time better spent in another post.

My trip to Roppongi this time was for a gathering of like-minded grilled meat enthusiasts. Nearly fifty people packed into one room with the smoke of a dozen flames charring the flesh of animals it was a PeTA members night terror come to life. The food was delicious though delivery of everything from beer to rice was slow and ponderous. I stuck to ginger ale, true to my word, and though I know that the all you can drink special is slim on the profit margins when heavy drinking foreigners are involved, even my tee-totalling was impeded by the same mediocre delivery service.

I should apologize to my friends from that party again. I left after the meal not because I did not enjoy your company but because of my history with the place I was worried I would succumb to temptation out on those streets as I had done so often in the past.

The evening carried me eventually to Shibuya where I met up with some fellow travelers of the Hallow’s Eve and went to a new club that had opened that very night. They had booked some talented and famous acts though I regret that club music to me is like comic books. It is something I enjoy when given the chance but can not be bothered to remember the names of the artists involved. A friend of mine is far more into these things than I am and I can not help but glaze over and stare into the middle distance behind his shoulder whenever the names of people involved come up. I know this is a shitty thing to do as someone who aspires to be a paid writer as well someday. If my friend tells me it’s good, however, I will take interest as I trust his opinion in these matters and he has rarely let me down.

The music was quite awesome. Except for this one quirk of one of the DJs. He had the habit of muffling the sound and then instantly switching back to full blast. It seemed as simple as turning off whole sets of speakers and then switching them back on again. It wasn’t the volume that annoyed me as my favorite room in the club (of which there were several) was one where the music was so loud you could feel the air move around you if you drifted closer than a few feet from any speaker. No, it was the shock and suddenness of the changeovers from quiet to loud. The human ear takes time to adjust, that’s why gun fire is so painful to the unprotected ear. I digress, the audience seemed to like it and for all I know this is some real pioneer shit in the world of club music. You can see what I’m talking about in the first club scene during the video below.

All in all it was a very good night. I stayed true to my vow and came out feeling very good about myself. Perhaps the dark demons at the edges of my soul are not vanquished entirely but I feel like the tide might be turning in my favor. I’ll leave that to another post. In the meantime, please enjoy the pictures and video. Feel free to leave any comments of course, good or bad but no spam. That shit gets thrown in a fire.

7/30

NaNoWriMo

So while I was waiting for the people to show up and test my smoke detectors (they didn’t by the way) I was up and about much earlier than usual. So I went ahead and signed up for NaNoWriMo. For those not in the know that stands for National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to write a 50k word novel by the end of November.

Now there are detractors and supporters of this event. Most of the arguments against are about how 50k words is not exactly enough for a novel, it encourages absolute crap to be written, floods the market with dreck so that publishers and agents go into hiding. On the positive, to reach the goal you have to write at least an average of 1,667 words per day for an entire month which is no walk in the park. This breeds discipline and instills the writing habit into people. Plus there’s a pretty big community, according to the website about 1500 people are signed up in Japan. Seems like a good size to me.

I’ve decided to approach this more as discipline exercise and style test. When I do writing exercises for myself I like to have rule sets. I’ve done a lot of 30 minute writing, 30 minute editing stories with a stopwatch, just for an example. So I hope to approach this more as a Novella writing month and not a novel one. But who knows what will happen? I’m still chipping away at the book I started last November after all.

So my rule set is this: 3 Acts -> 3 Sequences per Act -> 3 Scenes per Sequence

This will give me 27 scenes and to make the goal each will have to be about 1850 words a piece. I’m going to shoot for around 2000 and try to get at least one done a day so I can finish a little early.  We’ll see. Here’s what I’m thinking of for the “hook” so to speak.

Nicholas “Nick” McLeod is a freelance detective/social worker who, along with his 7-foot, blue-skinned partner, Tom, delves the depths of modern-day Tokyo’s Yokai population until one day a mysterious shadow invades his apartment and soon after the “monsters” he’s worked with in the past start turning up dead. 

So gritty-noir-crime-mystery-Japanese mythology novella. Hope it’s got legs.

Tokyo Music Showcase: Taoyame Orquesta

Taoyame Orquesta [sic] is a big band. Seventeen people big. (Maybe more, I had trouble counting from the crowd, more on that later.) Also Big Band in the music sense. An all female troupe, I went to see them because one of my students is a member. Personally, I thought the show was great. Powerful energy and soulful singing with even a bit of comedy thrown in to the mix. I wish I had more footage of the band but the venue doesn’t allow cameras or photos or fun.

Well maybe not the last one, but the dude running the swag table was a little more gruff telling me to stop than he needed to be. Kind of killed the mood.

Which leads me into the worst part, the venue. In a word, sucked. In a few more words, to be fair it only was terrible because of massive overcrowding. See, my student’s band was part of a two band set. The other being Gentle Forest Jazz Band. It would seem the leader of this band is also a bit of a TV star so lots of people came out to see them. The club is a small place called “Loop” in Daikanyama. The set up is one large empty space in front of the stage and two narrow staircases along the sides leading to the bar and bathroom area. Problem is the walls along these hallways are low. So people can stand next to them and watch the show. They are only about a person-width wide to begin with. Cue subway level congestion when trying to get anywhere in the place.

It didn’t help that pretty much half the fan base that showed up were tall hipster dudes in hats. So seeing the stage from my place in the back was tough. Next to the swag table taking up a tenth of the available space.

Long story short, venue fail. I left after my student’s band finished their set, which was excellent. Some of the songs felt straight out of a Bond movie or a 60s gangster hot spot. Very cool and I will certainly try and catch another show. Just hopefully in a place that doesn’t make me want to chew my foot off to escape.

I really need a better camera.

1/30