Flash fiction — Weasel

[Strong language, adult themes]

The man who had turned John’s cancer into a death sentence was on television again. Flashbulbs blazed as the Veteran Affairs Secretary strode from his office towards the parking lot, waving away a microphone from the NBC news crew.

“Weasel’s on again,” John called to Ella.

John had made a point of not remembering Weasel’s actual name. He wouldn’t give him the satisfaction.

“Fucker,” Ella said, returning from the kitchen with a Bud Light for John. They had barely spoken since her return from her weekly reading group, that afternoon.

John nodded, and held the beer can against the back of his neck. He had been running unusually hot since last Wednesday, even with the fan on full.

“What’s the latest?” she asked, sitting down on the sofa next to him.

“Another whistle blower. Saint Louis. Same thing.”

John cracked the can open.

“That’s three now?” asked Ella, absently spinning her black star-shaped necklace between right thumb and forefinger. She had taken off her father’s crucifix after John’s diagnosis.

“Yeah,” he said. “Here. Phoenix. Saint Louis.”

Ella nodded. On screen, the NBC anchor woman was talking to a young male reporter standing outside Capitol Hill.

“…Well, we just don’t know how widespread this practice is, and that’s what Congress is trying to find out. They’ve…”

Quietly, Ella started to sing to herself.

“All around the mulberry bush…”

John closed his eyes. His thighs ached. The cancer had already metastasized to the lymph nodes there. Penile cancer had an 85% survival rate, if caught early enough. He had waited two years on an invisible waiting list to see a specialist at San Antonio’s North Central Federal Clinic – a waiting list that only existed in someone’s desk drawer. By the time they had actually called him in, it was far too late. At best, they could only keep him comfortable. Survival was no longer a viable outcome.

“…called for his resignation. The Vice President, however, in a statement earlier today said that he strongly supported…”

“…The monkey chased the weasel…”

They had done this to him so that they could look good on paper. So that faceless administrators could get pats on backs for their terrific performance. They must have known, when the waiting lists were suddenly slashed overnight. The Weasel must have known, but instead of investigating, had just chosen to let John die.

“…The monkey thought it was all in good fun…”

The sudden sound of sirens caused John’s eye’s to blink open. The TV was showing live footage of a parking lot where a black Mercedes was engulfed in wildly dancing flames.

John stared at Ella, eyes wide.

“Pop goes the Weasel.”

Slow website development is slow.

Back in late January, I decided to ditch my Linux webserver for a Windows one.

As part of that switchover, I thought I’d repoint stevencowles.com to Twitter whilst I quickly created an entirely new website for myself.

The world, however, had other plans – and promptly landed me with an absolute ton of other things I needed to do first. It’s now 5 months later – and so it’s time for plan B.

This is a sneak peek video of what the next generation of this website will eventually look like. The issue, as always, is getting the time to finish it. Based on the last few months, that may take a little while.

So – until it’s finished – this simple Wordpress blog is home, sweet home.

Branch – Rewrites are coming.

About a month or so ago, I backed a Kickstarter campaign where one of the rewards was to have a query letter critiqued by a literary agent.

I realised while going through that critiquing process that Branch wasn’t currently good enough. As soon as you summarise the whole book into a few paragraphs you quickly discover which elements are strongest. I thought it was a love story – but the actual love story I’ve written is quite weak.

I’ve worked out that I could lose my protagonist and still have a compelling book. The real story and tension is actually between two other characters.

In short, I’ve chosen the wrong protagonist.

Which means, all in all, that I’m going to be rewriting Branch over the coming months. It’s painful, because I was hoping to have it much further down the road to publication this year. On the other hand – this is my first novel. I’m told statistically that first novels rarely get published – and probably with good reason.

I’ve toyed with the idea of just putting it away in a drawer somewhere and starting a new one. The truth is, however, that I need to finish Branch – and finish it well – to prove to myself that I am a writer.

Even if it does never get published.

Why I don’t enable comments

There are a couple of reasons I don’t enable comments on this website — and it’s not just because only four people have visited it, ever. Sure, two of those may only be search engines but I’m going to count them, anyway.

The main reason is that this website isn’t supposed to be any sort of community. It’s essentially a fatter status update for things that are too long for me to tweet about. It’s a place where I pin things for people to read and for people who know me to look me up from time to time and find out what I’m working on. Most of the time, the target audience for my posts is just me — and I’m totally okay with that.

Secondly – if I enabled comments here, on my own, I’d be knee-deep in trolls and spambots within a week and quite honestly it’s not worth the grief.

The big problem with Social Media as I see it, is that signing up to multiple Social Media sites essentially splinters your online reputation into several different locations.

A while ago, I realised that I spent a lot of my free time just checking those locations. I’d click round them all in a loop, just to see if anyone had said anything I needed to respond to. Which is when I decided that I was just going to pick one place.

And that place is Twitter. Because 140 characters and a paid moderation team. Yay!

If you want to send me some feedback on anything I post here, then feel free to message me via Twitter.

Flash fiction — Red Encyclopedia

Note: This is an entry for Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: “Roll for title!” – http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2014/01/10/flash-fiction-challenge-roll-for-title/

316 words.

Red Encyclopedia

[email protected] We should definitely meet.”

To Audrey’s surprise, the blood that ran thickly down the hardback’s spine and over her knuckles had gathered in a large pool on the floor.

She gingerly placed the book upon the desk, and hunted around for something, anything, to clean up the blood with. Behind her, the laptop’s light danced over the broken face of the man tied to the chair. The sound of Maria Callas’s “Habanera” looped through its undersized tinny speakers.

Sniffing, Audrey settled on his discarded blue shirt. She scrunched it up into a ball and then used it to clean her hands, left-to-right, digit-by-digit. Finished, she returned to the desk. She scrubbed briskly at the book with the balled shirt, occasionally pausing to scroll down through the man’s still-open Twitter feed.

#NetNeutrality was trending. She paused scrubbing and clicked through.

JayJay841: “They can bite my metal shiny IP packets #NetNeutrality #ScrewYou”

Audrey smiled and stopped to examine her handiwork. Encyclopedia Rex, Volume 19 – Peach through Pumice – was now dry to the touch. She felt a small tremor of panic as she saw the rounded dents in the cover from the nails she had driven through his palms. She opened the book and was relieved to see that the inner pages remained undamaged.

She scrolled through the tag, still smiling.

Debbie4evar: “WTF! Your kidding me! #NetNeutrality”

Audrey doubled over and closed her eyes, breathing hard.

You’re. You’re. You’re. You’re.

You’re. You’re. You’re. You’re.

After everything she had done, everything she had put herself through – the Internet was still wrong. She needed to fix it.

Her and Rex. They’d fix it, together.

[email protected] Your amazing. Tonight, 8pm. Bring Poetry.”

The hardback felt reassuringly solid in her hands: weighty, trustworthy, true.

They’d fix it all.

Audrey opened her eyes and stared at the Twitter avatar of the balding 54-year old man slumped lifeless behind her. She placed the book down on the desk and then pinched her bottom lip. She’d need something hotter than that to grab Debbie’s attention. Much hotter.

Happy Hols!

Just popping in to say that the Branch edit is going fine, but taking a little longer than expected.

Also – whether you celebrate Christmas / Saturnalia / Pancha Ganapati / Yule / Modranecht / etc – have a great one!

Branch – First Draft Reviews

The first reviews for the first draft are in.

The common consensus seems to be that the concept is good, but it has some initial pacing issues and some character issues that need to be resolved. Since it’s just the first draft, however – I’m pretty happy with that, all things considered.

I’m going to make a detailed plan of the changes that I need to make and then spend some time crafting v1.1 – I may well go quiet for another month or two.

See you all in December, if not before.

Branch – First Draft Milestone


The first draft of Branch is finished.

It still needs a lot of work, but the basic structure is complete. It’s a book. It reads from end to end, and it tells the story that I wanted told.

It’s messy in parts. Some parts need expanding. Some need condensing. Some of it needs to be removed entirely.

Some of it, however, is pretty good.

In my biased opinion, of course.

Branch – Progress Update


An epic weekend of writing.

60,000 words. One third of a million letters. 64 scenes out of 72 written.

Aiming to finish the first draft by the end of August. Possibly sooner, at this rate.

Branch – Progress Update

Fifty two thousand words. Finally smashed my way through the 50k ceiling that’s been taunting me since I began.

Not likely to do much writing for a week or two, however. Delivery time at work means that my spare time in the evenings and the weekends (the only time I get to do anything that isn’t work) are about to be eaten for a while.

But, still – 52k is a pretty good place to pause for a while, before the final assault.