Saturday, April 26, 2014

Duck Duck Goose Symbiont

"Duck Duck Goose Symbiont" was inspired by a photo prompt from the Every Photo Tells podcast. You can download the audio version here.

Ducks were the best way to get around. They were fast, reliable, could move across water, air, and land with ease, and were generally considered nice to look at, even though there wasn't a huge variety in color schemes. And, most importantly, they were made completely of organic material and would decompose rather than having to go through a long recycling process once they broke down for good.

Perc loved roaming the land in his duck. Being nothing more than a collection of gaseous molecules made travel difficult unless he was contained in another living creature. It was one of the hazards of being what he was, but being at the top of the evolutionary ladder had its price. Stil, domesticating other species was easy, and finding hosts was no challenge. Ducks were just the most convenient and most versatile vehicles. Unlike most of his people, Perc had actually named his duck. When his clanmates learned about this, he was teased mercilessly. But eventually, the amusement at his naming of his duck wore off, and his quirkiness was forgotten.

Perc wandered around in his duck, whom he called Muck, and found clear ponds, shiny rocks, foliage, and all manner of animals. He particularly liked guiding Muck up into the low hills, where the two-legged, mostly-hairless creatures made their dens. A few generations ago, when Perc's people had first discovered these tall, slope-browed people, they had been decided to call them "humans".

Perc had no idea where the name came from, but he used it all the same. He loved watching the humans, perching Muck the Duck nearby and observing as the humans milled about, struck rocks together in their primitive manner of making fire, built crude tools, and grunted at one another. The scientists said that the humans might eventually evolve into something greater than the idiot beasts they were, but it would take ages. Muck the Duck would be dead long before then, and Perc would have moved through many other ducks. If it took too many millennia, even Perc might be dead by then.

Muck quacked softly as Perc watched through his eyes. The duck had foraged a large lunch from a pond they'd been in earlier, and the food was still being digested. Perc received a constant stream of energy from Muck as the duck went about its everyday routines, but Perc could take control of its body if the fancy took him. He did so less often than many of his friends. Some never let the duck control its own body. It was just a vehicle, they said, searching for a way to justify their actions. That was why the ducks were rarely named. Perc was one of few that saw value in ducks as creatures themselves.

A huge flock of ill-tempered grey-and-black geese alighted nearby, and Perc stiffened at the same time Muck did. Unlike ducks, geese were a nuisance and had long ago been deemed unfit to serve as vehicles for Perc's people. They were a problem of the worst sort, because they liked to attack ducks and eat their food, which made things difficult on the ducks and their inhabitants. Perc made Muck crouch low and attempted to waddle awkwardly out of their sight, but the geese spotted them, and soon all was a mess of feathers and loud honking.

The commotion was enough to draw the attention of the dim-witted humans, and several of them hurried over with their sharpened sticks and rocks, probably hoping to catch an easy meal. That was a highly undesirable situation for Perc; something about becoing a meal unsettled him. He urged Muck to action, but apparently the humans were ready for them. They had been creating a new type of weapon that proved to be developed specifically for this sort of situation. The humans had actually created a net! Perc and Muck were trapped, along with the majority of the geese.

The geese's size worked against them as the humans set to killing the birds with rocks and spears. Perc was able to hide Muck under a couple dead goose bodies. He kept Muck perfectly still, waiting for the net to be lifted and the bodies to be gathered. With the humans distracted, they could make their escape.

His ploy didn't work. Muck was discovered to still be alive— Perc couldn't stop him from letting out a gentle quack when the geese were lifted away— and one of the humans was quick enough to get her hands on the struggling fowl. Perc's life flashed before his eyes: being spawned in a cloud of goo and spores with others of his kind, selecting Muck as his vehicle, ages of wandering... and now he would die as some human's dinner.


Silently wishing Muck a quick death, Perc disengaged himself from the duck's body and consciousness and entered open air. It suffocated him and starved him. He had no incoming energy! The distance between Perc and the human woman suddenly seemed too great to cross!

Perc strained to reach her. Humans inhaled, just as ducks did. It heartened him to realize that Muck was still alive at this moment. The wild bird was flapping and squawking, no longer tempered by Perc's control. The woman struggled to hold on. Her nose and mouth were so close, but Perc was blacking out. He could feel himself growing thinner, blowing away on the wind.

Sweet sustenance! The woman must have breathed him in! Perc was immediately aware of the entire huge body of the mammal, the beating heart, the coursing blood, the taut muscles. And the crazed bird in her hands. Perc breathed deeply and willed calm to Muck. Surely there must still be a connection there. He loosened the hands' grip, and the bird settled, looking up at the human face Perc peered out of. Muck quacked once, loudly. 

The other humans moved in, rocks and sticks at the ready, but Perc raised a hand, cradling Muck in the crook of his other arm. He opened his mouth, intending to let out a distinguished oration detailing why this particular duck was not to be killed. In fact, no ducks were ever to be killed again! They were to be worshipped. But all that came out was a series of guttural sounds akin to coughing. But it seemed to placate the other humans, and they backed away taking the dead geese with them. 

Perc decided that the human mouth and throat wasn't yet ready to make any real speech sounds. He could teach the body to do it. Their bodies were capable of it, or would be eventually. His people had said so. So Perc could help them along a little. He stretched out in the vast space of his new vehicle. He thought he might wait a while before finding more of his people and telling them the humans were safe to inhabit. A few decades, maybe. Perc could live for a long time, switching human hosts when they expired. What a great chance to mold humans into what he wanted them to be. Ducks had reached the peak of their evolution; why not start on another species? Perc smiled.

He decided to name his human Cumin. Cumin the Human. Let the other duck-dwelling molecule monsters make fun of that!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Book Review- Down from Ten by J. Daniel Sawyer


What really happens when eight highly artistic friends get together for ten days of hedonistic seclusion? Normally, a lot of creativity and adult situations, peppered with some meaningful connections and catching up after a year apart. But throw a blizzard and avalanche into the mix, and suddenly, tension builds. And when unexplained things start to happen, insanity becomes a huge possibility. Can this group stave off cabin fever and madness in the face of mysterious troubles that threaten to tear them apart? And who is the mysterious cloaked shadow that wanders the house at night, cleaning?

That was my summary. Here's the summary I got from

You can make the whole world end, if you just count down from ten...
They shared a dream of a haven. A place of beauty and freedom. Eight friends gathered in a mountain chalet removed from the grief and wreckage of their lives.

Now, trapped thirty feet beneath the snow, huddled together waiting for rescue, they hear the voices in the dark. They see the scratches on the walls. And every night they share a new vision of memories, and shadows, and a mysterious power reaching in for them from the cold outside. When the darkness comes, can their friendship survive the power of their dreams?

Being an artistic soul, this sort of retreat has always been something that I’ve wanted to do. Technology can so easily take over that falling back into a disconnected state for even a day is challenging. Seriously; try losing your phone sometime. But cutting themselves off from the outside world for ten days is just what this group does, though of course, that cutoff becomes more severe when snow completely covers the entire house. Seclusion is much more difficult to deal with when it’s forced. Control is completely removed, leaving these friends (and a few newcomers who aren’t quite used to their attitudes and chemistry) at a loss for how to maintain the peace between them.

One thing about artists is that we are some serious control freaks. Speaking as a writer, I thoroughly enjoy playing God on my characters and plots. Take away control from people like me, and tempers flare. It’s like backing a wild animal into a corner. Defensiveness reigns, and eight such people are trapped together in a house, control having been stolen from all of them. This novel is a huge study in human nature, and it’s not pretty.

Sawyer has some serious writing chops. He knows how to drawn his readers (or listeners) into the setting, to place a visual before the eyes as clear as any HDTV image. He has such a masterful use of analogies that the entire English language is his toy. He makes the language dance to his tune, building a compelling story and characters that are unbelievably real.

The production of the podcast version lives up to the writing. Sawyer himself reads the narration, and the full cast of voice actors has proven to have a complete understanding of the characters they voiced. There were, perhaps, one or two tiny areas in the entire production where the background music or something got in the way of the book, but they were easily forgettable and passed quickly. Like the novel, the podcast itself is a work of art with just as much draw as the words.

My Thoughts
What. A. Ride! I couldn’t get enough of Down from Ten. Each episode left me wanting to listen to the next one, and it was almost depressing when I had to turn off the iPod for the day. I had no trouble sorting out the characters, and not just because they all had different voices. Their speech patterns, their personalities, and their actions were so clearly them that it simply couldn’t be someone else doing or saying what they did. I was on edge right up to the end, and the final episode left me wide-eyed with a racing heart. It answered so much but still left some things to my imagination, so that I didn’t feel like I had overeaten on the feast of a story this was.

Would I recommend it?
Dear God, yes. Keep in mind that this novel is not for the young or overly sensitive. But if you’re not easily offended, or if you like a little bit of controversy and tension in your reading, then you need to grab Down from Ten. It is more than worth the time! It gets a shameless 5 out of 5 stars!

You can find more info on the book on the author's website.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

How Podcasts Changed My Life

I'm going to level with you guys here. I'm the type of person that resists new technologies and fads... for the most part. Heck, I resist a lot that's outside my routine. I don't really care to watch a lot of new movies, because the old ones I've seen again and again are fine and still hold replay value for me. I tend to take exactly the same driving route to work/home/wherever, unless you can prove to me that a new one is better. I'm a very set in my ways type of person. I refused to get a cell phone until I absolutely did need one (in college, when I was organizing my senior music recital and needed to be able to get in touch with my performers without actually being in my dorm room). Even then, I only got the most basic flip phone. I fought Facebook for a long time and Twitter for even longer. I fought ereaders for years.

Basically, what I'm saying is that I am (infuriatingly) going to resist changing my routine until it's my idea. What's bad is that often, once I do change and try something, I find myself wondering why it took me so long. Still, true to my nature, when my friend Dave Robison (of The Roundtable Podcast fame) told me back at the end of 2010 that he was going to start a podcast for writers, I sort of took the information and set it aside. I wasn't into podcasts. At all. I hardly knew what one was. That is a serious regret.

It wasn't until I changed jobs at the end of 2012 that necessity bred change in me. I got a promotion to a job that allowed me to spend a good amount of my working time listening to my iPod, and despite my large music library, I found myself wanting more. But what else could I listen to? Over two years after Dave mentioned his podcast to me, I suddenly remembered it and actually figured out how to subscribe to a podcast in iTunes. I downloaded The Roundtable Podcast in its entirity and started to listen.

Oh, my GOD! Yet again, I had my "Where have you been all my life" reaction. I stormed through the podcast, learning names I'd never heard before, hearing ideas, and basically opening a whole new world of writing I hadn't known existed. Up until then, I was fumbling along on my own with writing, putting along and not really doing a ton. Sure, I'd already self-published Empeddigo and The Trials of Hallac by then, and Mere Acquaintances was up on the blog, but I really had no real plan or direction, and no networking presence.

The Roundtable Podcast opened the doors to Reader/Writer, I Should Be Writing, The Drabblecast,, The Every Photo Tells Podcast, and a lot more that I won't list here. It's been just over a year since I started listening to podcasts, and now I don't know where I'd be without them. I've had eight of my short stories podcast on Every Photo Tells. I've joined a Facebook gang of writers. I've expanded my blog, built my full website, and established a Twitter. I'm networking and have made a lot of contacts writing, even just saying hey to other authors and telling them I enjoyed their writing. I'm going to Balticon in May to actually meet some of these people in person. I've uncovered a startup small publishing company and submitted a few things to them (all rejected, but at least I had the cojones to put stuff out!). I've joined and am refining my reader/editor's eye. I have resources.I'm currently shopping a novel around, looking for nibbles.

And I'm working on starting a podcast of my own. That's right. Captain Resists Podcasts is starting up one.

What about my reading and writing? My To-Read list has gone off the charts. I'll never be able to read everything on my list, and that's not a bad thing. that I mentioned helps. There is a nice library of podcast books to listen to, so that helps. I also finally gave in and subscribed to Audible to get more audiobooks. I'm addicted. My wish list on Amazon of books for my kindle is always growing, and the books I already have on my kindle is slowly getting worked through.

I'm learning how to work smarter, how to critique, how to think, how to brainstorm with my amazing co-author (who I'm trying to talk into doing another guest post), how to think in a writerly way, and just generally how to be more productive and improve my work. I think it shows in what I'm turning out. I really do.

In general, I'm happier. I've joined a community of other people who cannot help but write, and they have welcomed me with great enthusiasm. Being a writer doesn't have to be a reclusive career/hobby/whatever. Holy cow are we social people. We send snippets of writing to each other, we beta read for one another, we bounce ideas off one another. None of us want to see the others fail. When someone sells a novel or a story, there's nothing but congratulations and wondering, "Who's next?"

I won't say that my writing career would never happen if I hadn't started listening to podcasts, but it certainly would have taken longer and involved a lot more fumbling. I'm still fumbling, mind you, but I'm not fumbling alone. I've got amazing resources in my coauthor and other writers, ones I've spoken to and those I haven't.

Here's the great thing: podcasts aren't limited to writing. If you're not familiar with podcasting, check things out. You can find podcasts on all sorts of topics. I've actually got one that's helping me with my German and a few history ones (that I'm using to help generate ideas and just generally educate myself). But they run the gamut of all sorts of topics. If you commute, travel, or just like to listen to your iPod (or whatever) while working, doing housework, cooking, walking, running, or anything, then explore what's out there. It's not there for nothing.

And who knows... it might just change your life.