This is War (flash fiction)

“I almost feel sorry for the guy,” said Kevin as he sawed off the bottom of another can. He tapped the can over the bucket and a foamy white cylinder fell out. He tossed the empty can into the cardboard box and started working on the next can with his hack saw.
“This is war, Kevin. No sympathy for the enemy,” I said, dropping another foamy cylinder into the bucket.
The cans were so cold we both wore heavy gloves in spite of the hot weather. We had sweat on our foreheads and our arms and shoulders ached after hacking for so long.
“How many cans?” said Kevin, slightly out of breath.
“We bought four dozen.”
“I mean, how many left?”
“Five.”
“You think we have enough?”
“Let’s do them all. No sense having any left.”
“I was worried maybe the first ones are beginning to melt.”
“They are at the bottom of the bucket over the dry ice. They’ll last another while.”
“If he wasn’t such an asshole…” said Kevin, hacking through a can.
“The way he slammed that door,” I said, “nearly caught Mei’s fingers, I mean, she’s a piano student, right? He could have hurt her.”
I cut through another frozen spray can and dropped the white content into the bucket. Kevin nodded while cutting away.
“What gets me is that he kept bugging her even after he found out she was my girlfriend, then after he realized that he had no chance with her, none whatsoever, he started on that racist crusade of his…”
He cut through another can and knocked out the white cylinder into the bucket.
“… total douche.”
“He deserves this,” I said.
“Yeah, I guess you’re right.” He picked up another spray can, frosted on the surface. “Are you sure about the window?”
“His side of the dorm has lousy air conditioning. He sleeps with his window open every night.”
“What if he wakes up when we throw these in?”
“Then we run. Abort mission.”
“Let’s hope he doesn’t.”
We hacked away in silence for a while. A soapy smell was rising from the bucket already.
“How long does it take for these things to start melting?”
“Once out of the bucket, an hour, maybe two.”
“These spray cans were never meant to be frozen. We’re lucky they didn’t blow up or something.”
We emptied the last of the cans into the bucket.
“Okay, we better hurry. Let’s go throw these into his window. If it works out as planned, he will wake up in the morning swimming in shaving cream.”
“This is war, dude. This is war!”
“Let’s do it!”

 

How To Become A Writer

How do I become a writer?

Short answer: Read a lot. Write a lot. Don’t give up.

Long answer:
(Warning: Chances are, you are going to like the long answer a Lot Less than the short answer.)

  1. First try to understand the true meaning of your question. If you write, you are already a writer. Yet you ask “How do I become a writer?” Is your question “How do I become a good writer?”, “How do I become a professional writer?”, “How do I become a financially successful writer?”, or something else? Define your question carefully. Maybe you can achieve your true objective more easily if you did not try to be a writer at all. If you want to be rich, famous, admired, or respected, there are much better ways to achieve those goals other than writing. If you want to be a good writer even if it means you will be serving tables for many years to come, then you may really want to be a writer.
  2. Assuming that you want to be a writer, the first thing you need to learn is humility. You can never improve as a writer if you are not receiving objective criticism of your work. One thing is for certain, if everybody you showed your work to loves it and cannot find a hundred things wrong with it, you are showing it to the wrong people. If you disagree with the criticism you are getting, just say “Thanks, I’ll consider it” and shut up. Then take a deep breath and seriously consider it. DO NOT talk back to the critic no matter what kind of a jackass he is. You need critics to make your writing improve. You must not give the impression that you cannot take criticism calmly. If your critic is a hater who is only trying compensate for their own insecurities, just walk away without talking back and find better critics. (Most young writers have trouble getting through this first phase.)
  3. Be strategic about your reading. If you have never read a vampire novel, then you are clearly not qualified to write one. If you are an avid reader of vampire novels and know intimately what tropes vampire fans are tired of and what elements vampire fans want to read more of, then, you will have a good chance of becoming a successful vampire writer. Definitely, you must know your genre. One the other hand, if you have never read beyond the vampire genre, you will not be able to develop your characters sufficiently or adopt fresh elements into the genre from a different angle. Therefore, you must read widely in disparate areas far beyond your usual field of vision. You must also read psychology, philosophy, history, botany, and an array of other non-fiction titles. You cannot read everything, so you must strategically map out your reading range. You must also read to learn. If you are vague about any of the words you read, do not skip them, but search them in the dictionary. If there are story elements you do not understand, look them up in the encyclopedia. Do not just rely on the internet for your knowledge.
  4. Study the craft. There are hundreds of books in publication on how to write. Read as many as you can find. Be warned that most of the material is dry. Most of the best books will encourage you to do exercises. Learning to write requires repetitive training, like sit ups and push ups. A lot of it is like training for an athletic event. You do not get ahead by having fun. It is not easy. It is not quick.
  5. Learn to be properly dissatisfied with yourself. Becoming a billionaire writer like J. K. Rowling is a statistical impossibility. You should not be unhappy that you are not raking in mountains of money. But then again, every writer, editor, and publisher is seeking to become/discover/publish the next J. K. Rowling. Nobody is lowering aspirations. Yet you will destroy yourself if you iron brand yourself a failure for writing books that almost nobody reads. That is  the hardest part of writing. You have to aim for gold, which means you have to be analytically dissatisfied with your current performance, but you have to remain positive, which means you must not be emotionally dissatisfied with your current performance.You must learn to maintain a balance between enthusiasm and dissatisfaction.

All told, learning to become a writer is a drab and dull endeavor. Oddly enough, I find it similar to a video game. You shoot mindlessly until you are killed. You reset and start over until you reach another level. You go on until you are killed. You start over. It is addictive, but at the same time you begin to feel that you are wasting your time. Then you get killed. And you start over. And then you begin to feel that your life is pathetic that you are devoting so much time to being killed over and over in a fruitless diversion. Except, there is no such thing as a “gamer’s block”. Writing is a lot harder. You have to build the maze as you go along. You have to do writing exercises which are as dull as push ups. And you keep struggling until you reach another level. Then the next level. Then the next level. If you become a writer, your life will become an endless, tortuous video game. Yet at the end of the game, you still may not get published. If you can count the publishers that rejected you on both hands, you have not finished your appetizer.

And after knowing all of that, if you still want to be a writer, you probably already are a writer. My condolences.

 

What Are Friends For? (flash fiction)

“Hello, old friend.”
He looked calm, his dark eyes as piercing as ever, his hands relaxed on the shotgun, finger on the trigger.
“Milo.” For half a second I froze in the doorway, then, having no alternative, I walked in the room.
“Mind if I have a Scotch?”
“Be my guest,” he said. The point of his gun followed me as I walked.
I poured a finger, stopped, then poured a double.
“You want one?” Milo did not answer or shake his head, his eyes on my every move, shotgun on my chest.
“Mind if I sit?”
He gestured slightly to acknowledge my question. I sat by the liquor counter, just for convenience.
“Any last requests? Any message to your wife?” said Milo.
“My wife died last year.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. How did it happen?”
“Cancer. How about you put some flowers on her grave for me?”
“I can do that.”
“And you can tell Big Murd to go fuck himself.”
“Murd had a message for you too. He said ‘Rot in hell.’”
“I’ll be waiting for him.” I washed down the Scotch over the residue taste of afternoon coffee. I hated Starbucks then like I never knew. Milo was biting his lip.
“You want me to shoot Murd for you?”
“You can do that?”
“I’m your friend, Steve. I’d do anything for you.”
Except spare me, of course. He was a professional that way. I took another sip, and realized the Scotch was going down real fast. I shook my head, not at anything in particular, but Milo didn’t like it. His finger tightened slightly on the trigger.
“Murd needs to die, Steve. He’s gone paranoid.”
“Not my problem now, is it?”
“We go back, Steve. We’re friends. You need to help me on this. I know I’m next.”
“What do you need?”
“Proof of your death.”
“Then chop off my head and take it with you.”
“To Chicago? I have to take a flight. Get real.”
“Well how do you figure?”
“Murd needs to know I killed you. Then maybe I can get close enough to cut him down.”
“Good luck with that.”
“I’m serious!”
I reached for the bottle and poured myself another. I gestured the bottle to Milo, but he shook his head. I sipped on the Scotch, trying to enjoy it. Then I reached in my shirt and saw Milo tighten again as I pulled out a crucifix on a chain.
“Murd gave it to me. Happier days. Said it belonged to his mother. He’ll know when he sees it.”
“I still need someone to find your body.”
I reached for the phone on the counter with my eyes on Milo, one hand holding the glass to my mouth. I pushed the button for the speaker phone.
“Nine-one-one. What is your emergency?”
“Home invasion. 1866, Gilmore road.” I hung up.
“It will take them fifteen minutes,” I said.
“Thanks, Steve. I owe you.”
“What are friends for?”
“Finish your Scotch.”

(This piece was an assignment in a Facebook forum to write a story about friends within 500 words by the end of the week.)

The Wish (flash fiction)

“Awake!” he said into the night.
There was no reply from the darkness.
The warrior sat down, cross-legged, in front of the fire. His eyes darted left and right. There was nothing to see but the dark woods. An animal called in the distance.
This was the right place. This was the right night. He came alone. Everything was done correctly. Still, nothing.
“Curses!” he hissed.
Then, there was the sound, possibly the wind, though there was little of it. It sounded like a slow breath through an empty pipe, a low series of blows. He looked around, but there was nothing.
“Who dare wakes me?” It was clearer this time.
“It is I,” he said standing up, looking around. “I wish my clan to rule all of the Rising Sun.”
“I wish to eat your liver. Shall we trade?”
“I am Prince of Izumi, not common rabble!”
“Nobler the blood, sweeter the meat.”
The origin of the voice seemed to float around in the darkness, as if an invisible ghost was circling the fire.
“Can you make me ruler?”
“You want to hear yes, but no.”
“Then why should I give you anything?”
“Because your son will be given a chance.”
“When?”
“After your death. You shall not live to see it. Pity. It will be quite a battle.”
“Can he win?”
“If he makes the right choices. Not difficult if it were you. You are noble, but a traitor, a warrior, but an assassin, a conqueror, but a thief. You choose your path as craftily as a viper.”
“Impertinence!”
“Is it? You are Saburo-emon-no-joh, Lord Ukita Naoie, Prince of Izumi. Your name is a string of stolen titles. You mutinied your way up to where you are. Vengeful ghosts surround you. Trust me when I say, I am not the only spirit who desires your innards.”
Cold sweat ran down the warrior’s neck. The voice was whispering directly in his ears.
“Time is short. You must do it now. Take your sword and cut open your stomach. Give me a piece of your liver. This is the only chance for your name to live on in glory.”
He sat down again, opened his robe, drew his sword, and hesitated.
“Do it now! Day light comes!”
He slit his belly. He could feel the slick surface of his liver. He sliced off a piece. Blood gushed out. He gritted his teeth. He picked up a burning stick and shoved the cinder end into his belly to stop the bleeding. He screamed in agony.
When he opened his eyes, the fire had gone out. He felt the piece of liver slip out of his hand.
“The deal is sealed,” said the voice. “You shall die from the wound you incurred tonight. You have ten days to prepare for your death.”
“What of my son?”
“He shall live a long life, win or lose. Longer than you by far.”
“Wait! Wait!”
There was no answer.

 

Ukita Naoie (1529-1582)
Often depicted as an evil schemer and a monster, he assassinated his enemies and relatives alike. He died of a mysterious disease, cause unknown. His son Hideie would be the major force behind Ishida Mitsunari in the epic Battle of Sekigahara, which they almost won, against Tokugawa Ieyasu who would go on to found the Tokugawa Shogunate.