Thursday, October 27, 2011

#FridayFlash--The Fantabulous Funnybone Floatiboats

The Fantabulous Funnybone Floatiboats
by Eric J. Krause

Heidi waited for the last boat to cycle through, and then grabbed her waders, flashlight, and walkie-talkie. She couldn't put into words how much she dreaded Tuesday nights, her turn to walk the flume. As light and airy as it was during the day, the building was that much darker and heavier once the last guest left.

She took a deep breath and stepped down into the water. Though it was only 18 inches deep and the waders were insulated, she felt chills flash all over her body. That wasn't from anything other than her dread and anticipation. So far.

During the day, the Fantabulous Funnybones sang and danced to the delight of the children, and to a lesser extent, their parents. Now, though, in the dark of night, the various dogs, cats, and mice stared down with menace in their dead, mechanical eyes. But as creepy as the robots were, they weren't the problem. No, the real problems drifted unseen around the lifeless automatons.

Or at least that's what the stories said. And as much as she laughed about it with her coworkers in the well-lit break room, she didn't when she was down here alone.

She sloshed through the first room without incident. The flume and propulsion devices worked fine, and she didn't hear any cringe-worthy sounds. Just as she did every Tuesday night, she said, "One down, four to go," referring to the various rooms of the ride.

It started in the second room. Just tappings and footsteps up among the characters. Heidi ignored it, instead focusing on the flume. She'd heard it all before. But then came a whisper that caused her blood to run cold.

"Heidi, Heidi." She couldn't tell where it originated from, but she knew right away it wasn't human. The malice in the voice caused her to pick up her pace. Her flashlight stayed trained on the flume and propulsion system, but her attention remained up amongst the cartoon characters. She saw nothing.

As she passed from the second room to the third, she walked through the coldest spot she'd ever felt. If every air conditioning vent in the building was pointed to that one area, it wouldn't have been as cold. She sloshed a few steps forward, and the air remained frozen. A voice, different from the one before, said something, but it was so garbled that she couldn't understand. This time she lifted her flashlight, but other than the various Funnybone characters, she saw nothing.

After a few more feet, the voice returned, and this time she had no problem understanding it. "Die, die, die." As it spoke, something splashed into the water in front of her. A scream escaped her lips, and she positioned her flashlight so she could see. It was an animatronics eye. She pulled out her walkie-talkie, intent on calling for help. She'd feel stupid relaying the story, but at this point, she didn't care.

Before she could press the talk button, the ride turned on. But that was impossible. A padlock lay attached to the start mechanism, and the only key was in her pocket. Either someone had cut the lock, which they wouldn't do--they knew she was in here--or even more improbable, something in here caused an override.

As the Fantabulous Funnybones sang their signature song of tolerance and peace, the water propulsion jets spit out more air than necessary to move the boats at a steady pace. It knocked Heidi off-balance, and the walkie-talkie flew from her hand. It splashed into the water at the same time she did, but it was far out of her reach and already rushing away in the current.

She tried to prop herself up, but her hand slipped on the bottom. Her head went under, and before she could pull it out, hands pushed her down. She struggled and tried to scream, but water rushed into her lungs. She'd only been under a second, and she already felt the first signs of drowning. She knew she shouldn't panic, but with phantom hands still pushing down, that was impossible. Thrashing about did no good.

Her head hit the bottom, and the hands disappeared. She pushed up, but pain assaulted her scalp. Through the chlorinated water, she saw her hair stuck in one of the propulsion mechanisms. A quick yank broke a good chunk of hair loose (with a fair amount of scalp). It wasn't enough. She still couldn't rise. And she'd already taken in too much water. Unless she acted fast, she was going to drown in a foot and a half of water.

Heidi grasped her hair and planted her feet on the bottom of the flume. It would hurt like a bitch, but her legs were strong enough to pull her free. And she had to hurry. Not only was she about to pass out, but the boats had no doubt been launched. With the speed of the propulsion jets, they'd not only get to her in a hurry, but would hit too hard to survive.

With the speed of the water, she couldn't get traction on the bottom of the flume. She tried a new angle and moved her feet to the side of the flume. She pushed hard, screamed out the last of the air in her lungs as her scalp ripped, and freed herself. She pushed up, but before she broke the surface, the first boat slammed into her. She didn't die right away, but it pinned her down, trapping her at the bottom.

As the happy music of the Fantabulous Funnybone Floatiboat attraction played above her, the last thing she heard was a raspy voice.

"Join us."

Monday, October 24, 2011

Writing Prompt #82

Here is this week's speculative fiction prompt. I'm labeling it as horror, but you can take it whatever direction you choose. Have fun with it!

You can create and control the undead.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Underpants Gnome Problem

If you're like me, beginnings and endings to novels come relatively easy. Maybe a great opening scene and a bang-bang, satisfying to everyone ending take some thinking, but the general opening and closing of the novel are there almost from the inception of the idea. But, of course, more than half the novel is neither of these; it consists of the middle of the book. While I usually have a few ideas of how to bridge the gap, most of this chunk of the book is a mystery to me as I start planning. Thanks to South Park, I like to think of it as The Underpants Gnome Problem.

Sometimes this middle section of the novel seems like it'll never materialize. Little scenes come, but nothing major, nothing that will wow the reader. But fear not, there are things you can do to defeat this dreaded Underpants Gnome Problem. Here are a few things I like to do.

1) Freewrite: If you're not sure what comes next, simply grab a blank sheet of paper or open a new file in your word processor, and write. Don't worry about making much sense, simply jot down ideas that come to you. Keep your pen (or fingers) moving, and put down ideas that come to you, no matter how silly they seem. Sometimes those silly ideas turn out to be gold, either on their own, or with a bit of tweaking. Or those silly ideas might be blocking the golden ones. Whatever the problem, often freewriting will help.

2) Work on something else: Maybe your brain simply needs to marinate the idea. Work on a short story, watch TV or a movie, or read a book. While you're concentrating on these, your subconscious mind will be playing around with ideas for your novel. Give it a day or two, and then go back to it. You might find that you now have a nugget of awesomeness waiting for you!

3) Start plotting: You know how you want to start, so plot that first act. When you get to the final scene, you might be surprised to see you know where you want to go next. And if not, plot the ending. If you're still blocked, plot minor scenes from the middle, ideas that have been floating around but aren't those big blockbuster scenes you need to bridge the gap from beginning to end. Put all of these scenes on 3x5 cards and spread them out so you can see them at the same time. Chances are, something will click. You'll see ways to put these scenes together, and those big blockbuster scenes will come.

4) Know your characters: Get to know your characters. Often they will dictate how the middle of the novel should go. You know the major problems, so give your characters quirks that work with or against these problems in interesting ways. Your characters could very well be the key to getting your novel from beginning to end seamlessly.

If you try one or all of these tips, you should be well on your way to bridging the gap between collecting underpants and profit. That big dreaded question mark should fall away. Remember, whatever you choose to do, it can always be changed later, either while you're writing (there's no rule saying you can't amend your outline) or during revision. Since the middle is the biggest part of the book, it can be daunting, but these simple tips should help you out. So get out there, collect those underpants, and make a profit. I have no doubt you'll figure out how it works!

Writing Prompt #81

Here is this week's speculative fiction prompt. I'm not labeling it this week, so take it whatever direction you choose. Have fun with it!

A Witch visits the used broom salesman.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

#FridayFlash--Slit Wrists

This one has a few instances of "adult language."

Slit Wrists
by Eric J. Krause

"Death will come easy, just close your eyes!" he wailed at the top of his lungs, which brought out raucous shouts of "Slayer!" from the fellow metal-heads around him. Slit Wrists, the ultimate Slayer cover band, would be on stage next, and the energy in the building bordered on catastrophic. When Tom (yes, the lead singer-bassist had legally changed his name to Tom Ayala) belted out the opening scream of "Angel of Death," the club might just come down around them.

An old Metallica song blasted on the sound system while the roadies and technicians readied the stage. Heads banged and throats growled out the lyrics of "Creeping Death" as if they were watching the song actually performed. Wouldn't it be cool if someone organized a "Big Four" concert done by cover bands? He'd be there, that was for sure, and he knew most of these crazed motherfuckers would be, too. No doubt that could tour around the country, using different cover bands in each city if necessary. If he had more ambition, he'd totally make it happen.

Without any big build-up, Slit Wrists stomped out on stage and tore into it. As expected, they launched with "Angel of Death," and the crowd went ballistic. Three separate pits exploded in the tiny club, while fists, middle fingers, and devil horns shot up from those not moshing. After the first song, the band transitioned into "Killing Fields," "Disciple," and "War Ensemble."

After those four songs, with the crowd riled up to dizzying heights, Tom stopped and addressed the crowd. This was strange--Slit Wrists always played through two dozen or so songs in rapid-fire succession and left. No talking at all. If anyone but him wondered about this, they didn't show it.

"We are Slit Wrists, and we're here to slay you fuckers! This is 'Mandatory Suicide!' Die, fuckers, die!"

The crowd's reaction shot up to even higher testosterone-driven levels, and the mosh pits erupted harder than before. He seemed to be the only one in the place who didn't like that short speech. As much as he wanted to watch the rest of the show, something in the back of his mind told him to leave.

Turns out he should have trusted that voice.

As the group pounded through the song, a strange green fog fell from the ceiling and poured from the front of the stage. It was a neat effect at first, giving the band and crowd an eerie, otherworldly glow, but it soon proved deadly. A bitter taste assaulted his tongue, followed by a burning in his throat. And he wasn't the only one to notice. A number of people fled to the exits, but those doors proved locked. Some tried to escape backstage, but something he couldn't see blocked their way. He coughed and fell to his knees, joining everyone else in the final moments of suffocation. Those in the mosh pits had already succumbed, and somewhere in the back of his mind he realized the music had stopped, the stage now empty. Slit Wrists certainly had killed tonight.

Screams died with the patrons around him. He wasn't far behind. With his last living thought, he wondered why they'd chosen "Mandatory Suicide" instead of "Chemical Warfare." That would have made more sense . . .

Monday, October 10, 2011

Writing Prompt #80

Here is this week's speculative fiction prompt. I'm not labeling it this week, so take it whatever direction you choose. Have fun with it!

A ghost serenades you every night at midnight.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Query Letters for Novels

My latest manuscript, Dragon Guard, a YA modern fantasy, is all set to be viewed by agents and/or publishers. So, of course, that means it's time for the dreaded query letter. I know many authors, myself included, hate this part of the process. We spend so much time getting out long manuscript (mine is over 70K words) as perfect as we can, and we need to summarize it in just a few sentences to entice an agent or editor to even give it a look. It can be quite frustrating.

I'm not professing to be an expert on the subject. How can I? I've yet to have an agent bite on a query I've sent in. But that doesn't mean I don't know the formula for creating a good query letter. I've spent hours reading through various query letter advice, both in printed form and on the Internet, and I've found the skeleton of a letter that should be serviceable every time a query letter is asked for. If you're not sure what you're doing, follow this format, and you'll be good to go. Of course, it's simply a format, and you will still need tight and sparkling prose in the letter, but at least you don't have to start from scratch.

Lets take a look at the format of a simple but effective query letter, which is three paragraphs in length:

1st Paragraph: This is your opening paragraph. You want to grab the agent's or editor's attention right away. You want to dive into the action. Think about dust jacket/back cover summaries--the plan is to get your reader, whoever it may be, interesting in your book from the get-go. Since characters are often the most important part of any story, the sentence I usually start with is: "[Lead character] is a [occupation or vocation] who [life situation]." After that, add 4 to 6 sentences explaining the "wow" factor of the plot. This, of course, means the main thrust of the story that will get readers excited. You will likely have interesting and exciting sub-plots, but for a query letter, stick to the basic plot that runs through the entire novel. If this basic plot isn't exciting in itself, you may have trouble selling the book at all. Finish this opening paragraph with a sentence about how the novel ends. It may seem strange to do so, since back cover summaries would never tell how the book turns out, but agents and editors want to know you can bring your tale to a satisfying conclusion.

2nd Paragraph: This is the background paragraph. Here is where you put the title of your novel, the approximate word count, and relevant parts of your personal background (if you have anything relevant--no worries if you don't; simply leave that out). You should then list your writing credits, if you have any. I also put a link to my web site, which has links to some of my credits, as well as how I can be found on various social media outlets. End this paragraph with a sentence or two to the agent or publisher about why you chose to send to them. Do a bit of research--go to their web site and see other projects they've been involved in; visit their Twitter feed/Facebook profile/blog if they have any of those; check to see if they are looking for specific materials in addition to their wide interests. When you are armed with some of this information, find a way to personalize your submission to this agent or editor. A little human touch can go a long way!

3rd Paragraph: This is the "Thank you" paragraph. This is two or three simple sentences. If you are sending only a query letter, write these two sentences: "Thank you for your consideration. I hope to hear from you soon." If you are sending in a synopsis, the first 10 pages, the full manuscript, or whatever else is required in the agent's or publisher's submission guidelines, you can add one more sentence telling what you've enclosed (or, more likely nowadays, what you've pasted in the body of the email below). An example would be: "Below is my short synopsis and the first ten pages of my manuscript." You, of course, can change the order of the sentences in this final paragraph so it sounds best to you.

That's it. When you finish the third paragraph, sign your name with a simple sign-off, such as "Sincerely," and you're done. Also make sure you read the submission guidelines carefully, as some agents and editors have specific information they want in the query letters they receive. But in most cases, this simple structure will serve you well. You still have to come up with your own scintillating content, but at least now you'll know where to plug it in. Good luck!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Writing Prompt #79

Here is this week's speculative fiction prompt. I'm not labeling it this week, so take it whatever direction you choose. Have fun with it!

You must find the secret book hidden in the library.