Cupcake (Flash Fiction)

(30 day Flash Fiction Challenge: Day 1: An impulse buy leading to intergalactic warfare.)

“Stand back!” cried the cupcake through crackling static. It jumped up off the plate on tiny legs and sprouted tentacle arms holding shiny little instruments. The blueberries popped open to reveal eyeballs.
Susan shrieked and jumped off her chair. She picked up a large hardbound book and held it up to swat it.
“Freeze! Don’t move!” said the cupcake creature. “Or I’ll… I’ll shoot!” Its tentacle hands were trembling. The voice sounded like it came filtered through an old radio.
“What? Who? What are you?”
“I am Zeno of Baloo here to investigate the disappearance of Isheka, the expedition scout with whom we lost communication. I awoke from cryosleep to find myself here. Where am I?”
“I don’t know what you are talking about. You’re a cupcake I bought at the outdoor market. I’d been off gluten for thirty days. I couldn’t help it.”
“What are you talking about? I do not understand. Where is gluten? Terrestrial or celestial?”
“Neither,” said Susan, still holding the book, not sure whether to strike or to run. “It’s a substance. It’s something we eat. A protein.”
“Carnivores!” cried the cupcake nervously pointing the shiny instrument at Susan.
“No! No! I’m a veggie!”
“Why am I here?”
“I bought you!”
“What for?”
“Because I wanted to eat…”
A sudden flash emitted from the shiny instrument and a laser beam burned a dollar sized crater in Susan’s book. She looked at the scorched cover and realized it was her newest copy of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations.
“That was uncalled for!”
“Stay, creature!”
“Listen cupcake…”
“Don’t call me cupcake!”
“You may be new around here, but in these parts we have this thing we call manners.”
“Manners? Isheka must have been eaten. Eaten!”
“Ew.”
The alien raised its weapon.
“Wait! Wait! You don’t know that! Anything could have happened.”
“Like what?”
“I don’t know. Someone might have bought your friend just like I bought you.”
“And eaten?”
“If your friend was eaten, I’m sure it wasn’t intentional. It’s that you look so much like something we eat.”
“We must hurry.”
“We?”
“Isheka may still be alive. You must take me to the place you found me.”
“It was the farmer’s market in the park.”
“Then we must go there. The peace of the universe is at stake.”
“That sounds a little overly dramatic but I guess I had fights over a cupcake before. Can you get in my purse because people might freak out when they see you.”
“Yes. We shall go to the rescue. And don’t call me cupcake.”

(Written in response to 30 day Flash Fiction Challenge: Day 1.)

The Scene (Flash Fiction)

I had to swerve to avoid spilling my coffee on the forensic guy as he rushed out of the crime scene to vomit in the ditch full of broken glass and mummified trash. Either the guy was still green or this was a really bad day to show up with a hangover. In the rush, I forgot to take out the diaphragm and my underwear was getting uncomfortable. The cup was hot in my hand.
“Hi, Martha.”
The medical examiner barely looked up from her clipboard, her graying Afro obscured under a police issue shower cap.
“Morning, Carol. How was the date?”
I tried to buy time to come up with an answer by sipping on the coffee, still too hot to really drink. Martha looked over her glasses at me.
“That bad, huh?”
The place smelled like a million dead rats. Everything looked grayish, the house had been vacant so long.
“You need a shower cap,” she said pulling one out of her bag. I was suddenly aware of the state of my hair.
“Thanks.”
“It’s greying.”
“What?”
“Your hair.”
“Well at least I won’t get blond jokes anymore.”
I put on a pair of disposable gloves and stooped over the corpse partly hidden under plastic cover.
“What have we got?”
The smell of blood was overwhelming. And there was the chicken meat smell of fresh corpses. And the smell of wet hair.
“Same age group. Twenty-two or three. We won’t know for sure until we get a positive ID.”
The victim’s wrist was very thin and her skin was still fresh and smooth. Dark and beautiful.
I thought I grew up to be decently inclusive, color blind practically, but last night when it was time to actually sleep with a dark skinned man, a loving man I did not deserve, I took more Scotch than I should have to help me go through with it. And as the puss from the diaphragm ran down my thigh and I fought back the sick in my throat, I realized what I was beneath the veneer.
“Bitch,” I said.
“What?”
“No, not her.” I stood up, and immediately felt the blood draining out of my head, the floor a ski slope under my feet.
“I was talking… about myself.”
A cold chill gripped my body and liquid squeezed through the goosebumps.
“Are you alright?”
“Fine.”
“Seriously, your eyes look like rotten fruit. What the hell?”
“Nothing. I just…”
I looked at the corpse. So young. So still. Martha spoke down at it.
“Same M.O. Same African-American victim. Same brutal rape. Fifteen stab wounds. Sign of anger, like the others. Three makes a serial.”
“Whew…”
“It gets worse. The two previous sperm samples, they were from the same individual, big surprise, but both had the C282Y gene mutation, cause of hereditary hemochromatosis, most commonly found in Scandinavians and related Europeans.”
“Meaning the perp is probably white.”
“And probably race motivated. You gotta get this bastard before the media gets wise or it’s gonna be a fuckin’ circus.”
“I can’t do this.”

(Composing this piece was previously discussed under the heading “300 words“.)

Questions and Answers -sarcasm alert –

Question:

Hey guys I need to write a fiction novel. Tell me tips on how to start.

Answer:

Here it is in a nutshell.

1. Fill in the blanks.
An (adjective)(adjective)(somebody) desperately needs to (blank) the (blank), otherwise (blank) will (blank). It is not easy because an (adjective)(adjective)(obstacle) stands in the way. Story opens with (action event) that (blank) the protagonist to want to (blank), which becomes more urgent when (blank) (blank) the (blank). The task must be finished before (blank) is (blank).

2. Put a “corpse” on the first page, and a “shootout” in the final chapter. The “corpse” and “shootout” can be literally a corpse and a shootout, or something that can be figuratively described as such. (Do NOT place a dead body on a piece of paper and call it a corpse on the first page. Be more creative.)

3. Master “show don’t tell”. Omit needless words. Learn the art of point-of-view. Turn every scene and every dialogue into a clear and obvious conflict leading to a resolution. Every conflict must move the plot forward.

4. The first draft always sucks, but don’t try to polish it before you finish it. The second draft is always longer than the first and never has missing characters or plot elements. The third draft is shorter than the second because you just deleted (never added) characters, plot elements, and chapters. Then you send it out to 3 to 9 beta readers (usually 5 or 6) who will resoundingly tell you that your work sucks and instruct you on how to mutilate it. Never argue. Fall into a spiral of self doubt. Tear your book apart and paste it back together until you have a fourth draft. Send it to a professional editor (but ask for a quote first) who will tell you (for a hefty fee) that your work sucks and instruct you to go to a writing seminar, a psychiatrist, or to repent and join a seminary. Never argue. Take whatever lessons you gleaned from the diatribes of the editor and incorporate it into your novel. Now that you have your fifth draft you have a choice of burning the manuscript and slitting your wrist, or self publishing a digital book and let your manuscript drift into the internet void, or sending your manuscript to an agent or publisher who will tell you that your work sucks and tactfully direct you to shoot yourself. Never argue. After you have shot yourself ten to twelve times (because not every rejection successfully triggers a gun), you may be lucky enough to find an agent or publisher who will give your manuscript a lukewarm reception and pay you an advance of twenty dollars. Your book will be published, critically acclaimed by three book reviewers who publish literary magazines out of mom’s basement on recycled toilet paper, given one-star reviews by Amazon customers who did not get the cooking book or pornography they expected from the blurb, and the book will disappear after the first printing.

Question:

How long do most people take to write a book?

Answer:

Here is the equation: Take the average number of words you can write in a day over the course of five working days, say 1000 words per day. Cut by half for a realistic daily word count for long term, 500 words. Multiply by 5 working days makes 2500 words per week. Now set your target word count. For a first time book by an unknown author that should be about 80K to 100K words. Let’s say 80K. Divide total number by weekly word count and you get 8 months for the first draft. Insert three months to account for the 30K block, six months for the 40K block, and 9 months for the “fuck it, I’m just gonna die” block. Now you have 26 months. Assuming that you have finished your first draft by then, add one month for re-reading your first draft, tearing it apart, and hating yourself. Two months to begin to see some merit in it. Another month to discover the copy of the draft you did not delete in the attachment file of the email you sent to your high school sweetheart who is not talking to you anymore. Now at 30 months you can start burning your brain on the second draft and you realize you need another 12 months to research the botanical heritage of domesticated onions. After you have finished your research, you realize that a daily word count of 300 is more realistic for your new style which has matured over time, but your target word count has increased to 120K. You scrap your draft and start over with a fresh idea and try to come up with a better equation this time. After about 30 years of repeating the above, you realize that trying to figure out how long it takes to write a book is a waste of time and that you might have gotten published 30 years ago if you weren’t constantly fretting about the manuscript that wasn’t getting ahead fast enough. There is no way your manuscript will be finished next year, or the year after that, or even the year after that if you keep worrying when it will ever get finished. Your book is going to take a long time to finish. That is how long it takes.

Question:

Does anyone in here know how it feels to get shot? (I realize it’s a major longshot but figured I’d ask)

Answer:

(After a long line of sarcastic replies)
Not to ruin such a humorous thread with a serious response, there are numerous resources out there on this topic.
Gun enthusiasts are most pissed when they read unrealistic depictions of guns in fiction and they have many internet articles discussing just that. Many gun enthusiasts have been in shooting accidents and know first hand what it feels like. Some have written at length about their experience. You may want to reach out to them.
Gun shot trauma is remarkably common in some parts of the world (but not in my neighborhood fortunately). There are doctors who specialize in them. You can find many graphic descriptions of gunshot wounds in specialized journals.
If you go to the Pubmed website, you will find an archive of every medical article ever published after about 1960, find the name of the journal you are looking for, then go to the library and ask for relevant books and documents.
And, of course, you can try shooting yourself, but writing is a traumatic enough endeavor as it is.

Question:

BETA READING QUERY
How to trust my beta that my manuscript wouldn’t be stolen?

Answer:

Send your manuscript to competent readers who have experience enough at writing to understand that stealing a beta manuscript is not worth the trouble.

Question:

Where do you get (story) ideas from?

Answer:

Agatha Christie suggested Marks & Spencer. You might find a better deal at Walmart. Try to avoid knockoffs from China.

Question:

i want to be a writer. plz help me how can i do it.

Answer:

I want to be a writer too. I have been trying for 40 years. Plz help me.

 

Why Reality is Stranger than Fiction

This blog, as I keep saying, is primarily about writing fiction. But since I cannot ignore Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential election, let me talk about its significance from the perspective of a fiction writer.

I am not proud to say that I successfully predicted a Trump victory. I half hoped his opponents will see what they were doing wrong and reverse the trend, but it was not to be. As a result, we have an unlikely presidency that underscores the old axiom “Truth is stranger than fiction”.

But why is it so? Truth and reality cannot, by their very nature, be stranger than fiction. Why is the real world so much stranger than our wildest imaginations? In the case of the Trump victory of 11/9, the reason is quite obvious: Our reality was not real.

A man who says his seduction tactic is to “grab them by the pussy” running for president was unthinkable in the past. Or was it? Donald Trump dismissed this remark as “locker room talk” for which he was widely criticized. But any senator, congressman, or even president who had ever been in a fraternity must have participated in similar locker room talk or worse. We only look away and pretend that it never happened. We build mental barriers and assume that a dignified leader in public is also a boy scout in private. In hind sight we know this not to be true for most past presidents. Even the most deified presidents have, over the course of time, been revealed to have had some faults. And yet we pretend that such behavior does not exist. We are seeing the world through colored glasses.

Reality is stranger than fiction when something that happens is not supposed to happen. Who is supposing? No one but ourselves. We assume something to be the way the world should be and let that assumption cloud our eyes. And when reality reveals our assumptions to be wrong, we are shocked at what we finally see. It is because we made up the world into something that it is not that we find reality so strange when it finally slaps us in the face.

Once upon a time, we collectively did not know that pedophiles existed. In the idyllic past when abortionists were never talked about and rape never supposedly happened, girls and young women wore dainty white dresses and knee high stockings to tea parties in flower gardens, oblivious to the depraved thoughts of the men around them and ignorant of what men said about their bodies behind closed doors. It was all a big secret, even when colored men were being tortured to death in public for allegedly having those very thoughts that white men shared in their smoking rooms over whiskey. And when Nabokov finally published Lolita, bringing fiction up to speed with reality, the protectors of our fictional view of the world criticized the work as pornography and tried to ban it from publication, in effect sweeping untidy truth under the rug.

A meme on the internet blamed the Trump victory on the “I’m-offended-generation” saying “This is the answer for all the political correctness hysteria out there. When every single joke is ‘racist’, when every innocent flirt is ‘sexist’, when every Halloween costume is ‘cultural appropriation’, when a cartoon makes you need a ‘safe space’, when every little comment is ‘offensive’, you’ll get Trump for president.”

I wouldn’t go that far (not the least because it smacks of buck passing). But there is an element of truth in the statement. A large number of people evidently believed that a vote for Trump was a vote against runaway political correctness. There are many criticisms against political correctness, to which not everyone will agree. But one thing both proponents and opponents of political correctness agree on, is that political correctness is an attempt to shape the world around us in the way it should be, but not necessarily is. There is no rhyme or reason why “people of color” is less offensive than “colored people” from a linguistic perspective. The only way “colored people” could possibly be offensive is through its association to the way the term was used in the past. It is an attempt to distance one self from the people who used terms like “coloreds” and “blacks”, and by extension their actions. While the intent may be noble, it is a way of bending our minds (if for the better) and changing our vision of the world to suit our ideals. At worst, political correctness is just a way to shame others into sweeping actual problems under the rug without really solving them.

Some people do not see political correctness as an ideal solution to everything. When there is a difference of opinion, there should be dialogue. Instead, the political correct party ironically directs haughty contempt at those who do not agree. That was the very attitude that political correctness was meant to rectify. As a result, a whole new group of people were reduced to targets of “mansplaining”. These lessor beings of the fly over states were not supposed to exist in significant numbers. The majority of Americans were supposed to be “information competent” and “make wise choices”.

Unreality can only be stacked so high. But we engage in it regardless of what place in the political spectrum we place ourselves. The rich have always ignored the slums beyond the palace walls, the masses have always ignored the warts on their champions, and the educated have always ignored their own lack of worldly wisdom. When we construct an elaborate world of unreality it will always, sooner or later, come tumbling down. That is when we feel that truth is stranger than fiction.

The truth is that Donald Trump, despite his radical departure from what had previously been deemed presidential behavior, has won the election. I called it because he had several definite advantages over conventional politicians. He does not need to be re-elected to any office because he holds none. That means he can say anything that grabs attention and let the media be his advertising team. He has a natural charisma that he has utilized successfully for over thirty years. He was riding on a wide spread anti-liberal sentiment, some of which was irrational but some was rational, but was nonetheless uniformly being ridiculed by the liberals. (A word to liberals: Political comedy, no matter how astute, only serves to galvanize your opposition and fracture your unity.) It also helped that Hilary Clinton behaved much more arrogantly than her margin of actual popularity allowed for. Maybe Donald Trump could get away with shooting somebody without losing supporters, Hilary cannot. But at the end of the day, he won because he is a talented man. You can argue that he lost by a small margin in the popular vote, but not many people in the world could have run an election in the way he did and manage to garner so close to half the votes cast.

His opponents ignored all of that. They talked about his antics endlessly, giving him free publicity even as they criticized him. They painted his supporters as if they were beings of lessor intellect. They had in their minds the “correct” way to see the world and demeaned anyone, right or wrong, who saw the world differently. That is a recipe for political failure.

It remains to be seen what kind of president Donald Trump will be or what kind of world he will nurture, but that is not the point of this blog.

There are many lessons to be taken home from the results of this election which will no doubt be argued for many months to come, but for the fiction writer the lessons are clear. If we look at the world through colored lenses of the way we believe it should be, our imaginary stories will be trumped by reality. If we are to write ground breaking fiction, we must look at the reality behind hushed walls, beyond stereotypes, and beyond what we want it to be. We must take a page from Nabokov and admit that things that are never talked about actually exist in the world.