The long way around to writing

I'm writing a book.

I'm actually in the process of writing five books, which is a shame, because the only consistent writing I seem to manage is the Scalzi stories, and with even those, I'm not completely consistent.

Three of the books i'm writing are technical books. They're completely in text format right now, which fails for a lot of reasons, and succeeds for others. I decided about a month ago to switch them to Markdown so that I can format them nicely, add headings with styling instead of just two underscores:

__Chapter 2: Getting Started

Okay, so, Markdown. I have pretty much avoided using most formatting, even for this site, so, great, time to learn Markdown (it's really not that difficult to learn, and, well, really, after about 2 minutes, I learned enough to get going). Oh, but wait, editing the Markdown and seeing how it looks, okay, I should automate that, right? Given that one of the technical books is on automating the crap out of front-end development, makes sense. Let's see, I can install grunt and set up a watch on my text files; or I could run the conversion by hand each time I saved the change; or I could add the Markdown module to a drupal site and hit save each time, which would display it; or I could, well, shit, pick some other process.

Somewhere on Twitter in the last week (okay, three days ago, from Mark Otto), I heard about MacDown, an OSX-based Markdown editor, open source no less. Awesome, I'll give it a try.

So, I download it, and open it. Rejected, since the box I'm on is 10.7 and the app requires 10.8.

So, I download it on the next box, and open it. Rejected, since the box I'm on won't run unsigned software.

So, I download the source, open up Cocoapods, update the box, and....

Realize that I'm doing all this stuff to avoid working on the book. Given how much I enjoy writing, how much I enjoy being in the flow of the words, how much I love the end product, I have no idea why I am avoiding working on the book. Okay, books.

Maybe it's the fear of producing something crappy, that I'll write and no one will read it. Would that really matter, though? I mean, I write because the words need to get out, not because I expect someone to read them. Public speaking is different: I present because I believe I have something to share. My writing is different.

Or maybe it's not and I'm lying to myself when I think it is.

Yeah, so, enough of the delay and procrastinating. It's early enough in the day yet, I can get a couple hours of writing in.

 Robot Pitchfork

Wherein I take a band name from Scalzi’s Next Band Name list, and spend no more than 20 minutes writing the story with the band name as a title. Current one is Robot Pitchfork and the full story archive.


"You have to shut it down!" The old guy stood at the front of the sheriff's desk. He was dressed in a plaid flannel shirt, jeans, and a red, faded baseball hat. He leaned forward onto the desk, slamming both his hands on the top. "I don't care how, Robertson, you have to shut it down!"

The sheriff sitting behind his desk, leaned back in his chair to look around his office. The crowd had grown in the last hour. He wasn't sure if he should laugh or cry at the whole situation. Bill's red face in front of him nearly matched his baseball hat, he noted.

"Now, Bill," Robertson started, "it can't be that bad. Morrell is a good guy. He wouldn't do any of the things you're saying he's doing. Let's all just calm down, and ..."

"Calm down!" the woman next to Bill screamed at him. "It hit me with a crow!"

Sheriff Robertson clearly struggled not to laugh. "Now, Betty, I'm not sure it was aiming at you..." he started.

"It was!" she yelled. "It was trying to hit me!"

"And me, too!" another older woman behind her echoed. Robertson leaned forward, and pulled his hand up to his face, unable to suppress the smile any longer.

"It just left the crows on my porch!" another woman from the other side of the room continued. Robertson recognized her voice, Mrs. Rigsby from the farm two east of Morrell's place. She might have a legitimate complaint.

Robertson stood up. "On your porch, Mrs. Rigsby?" he asked.

"Yes. They're dead. On my porch. A dozen every morning! If I don't clean them off, they just rot!"

"Well, clean them off." That was from Leigh. Robertson had to agree with him.

The crowd erupted with complaining. Robertson let them go on for a bit, they clearly needed to vent. Crows and pitchforks. Who would have thought they'd be such a problem? Eventually the crowd started to calm down. How did all of them fit in his office? Robertson wondered, looking around at of them. He hadn't seen half of them for over a year.

Robertson stood there, letting them calm down, looking at each of them in turn until they quieted.

"Okay, so you're saying that Morrell's scarecrow is stabbing crows from the fields," he started. Nearly all of the heads nodded.

"And you're saying that it's leaving some of the dead crows on your porches, for those of you who live near the Morrell farm." Fewer heads nodded, but a still large number.

"And it's flinging some other crows at people who walk or ride by the farm." Even fewer heads nodded, but enough that Robertson couldn't dismiss the accusations. "Any crows being flung at cars?" he asked. Most of the crowd looked at each other, but none of them nodded. "Okay, just exposed persons."

He stood there, looking at them, then asked, "His scarecrow, right?" The whole crowd nodded.

Robertson slowly looked around the room. "Let me ask you, before I head out to Morrell's farm, how are the bird problems in your fields this year?"

Again, Robertson struggled to keep the smile off his face, as to a one, the crowd leaned back somewhat aghast. Some of the crowd looked down, others put their hands to their faces in obvious thought. Robertson waited for the murmurs to die down before continuing. "Yeah, we all know Morrell is a tinkerer, always having some gadget or other running on his farm. Some of them have really helped you all, though. Wilson, didn't that thingy with the hay bales help you out last harvest?" He saw Wilson nod vigorously. "And, Munn, you were struggling with the irrigation on the far side of your fields, if I recall correctly. Morrell fixed that, didn't he?" Munn's bald head joined Wilson's in nodding in agreement. "Now, looking around here, I can't see no one whose farm isn't better because Morrell has some crazy contraption going on." The crowd looked around at each other again before turning back to Robertson. "So, if you still want me to go talk to Morrell about some crazy robot pitchfork thing he has going on at his farm, because you don't want to help clean up the debris or something like that, I'll do it." The farmers and neighbors around him were quiet, most of them looking down.

"What do you say?" he asked them all.

The muttering began.

"Well, I guess the crow never actually hit me, just landed in my bike basket."

"The porch ain't that hard to clean up. Those coyotes get most of them."

"Crow didn't hit me, either. Landed at my feet."

"I usually find those dead things in my trash bin, if I leave it uncovered."

Robertson smiled. Those in the back of the room started filing out the door. Robertson waited.

Eventually there was just him and Bill. Bill looked at him frowning, hands on hips leaning forward aggressively until the last other person but the two of them left the office. When the door swung shut, he relaxed. "How'd I do?" he asked.

Robertson smiled even bigger at Bill. "You did great, Bill. Morrell will be happy to know you have his back."

"He's a good guy, just doesn't always think through his inventions very well."

"Tell me about it. That robot scarecrow?" He shook his head.

Bill nodded. "At least it has good aim."

 Portland Hotel Showers

Wherein I take a band name from Scalzi’s Next Band Name list, and spend no more than 20 minutes writing the story with the band name as a title. Current one is Portland Hotel Showers and the full story archive.


"How far are you going?" I leaned over and asked the woman seated next to me on the bus. I know you're not supposed to talk to other people when riding on public transportation, buses, trains, subways. People look at you weird when you talk to them in public. I don't understand it, so I strike up conversations with people on buses and trains and subways. Of course, I'm also the person who refuses to stand facing the front of an elevator, choosing to stand facing everyone else, thereby making everyone on the elevator uncomfortable and awkward as I smile at them. It amuses me.

The woman looked tired. Bone-weary tired. Her shoulders were low, her back bent. She looked close to folding over into herself and start crying. I've been there. I understood that desire. I wondered what her story was.

She looked over at me, a puzzled look on her face. "I'm heading to the Alphabet District," she answered quietly.

"Hey, me, too!" I smiled back at her. "I'm getting off at Burnside and 23rd. It's the stop one past the steak house on the right."

She looked back at me for a few moments, then nodded. "Me, too," she said.

"That's a coincidence," I commented. "Are you going to the Portland Hotel, too?"

She nodded again. She looked down at her hands and her thin, nearly skeletal fingers. She didn't continue.

There are some people who just don't want to talk to strangers. I can respect that. If you talk to enough random people, you'll run into ones who don't want to talk with you. You'll eventually run into those do want to talk, because no one else will listen. Most people are polite, few fully engage with the normal looking person who is crazy to talk to them on the bus, though.

Her clothes were well worn, I noted. She was dressed neatly, her thin, long, blonde hair pulled back into loose ponytail. Her backpack sitting on her lap had seen better days, but the same could be said about mine, and it had been around the world three times, so I didn't think anything odd about a well-used, well-loved backpack. Her hands were thin, and gripped the backpack tightly.

I felt she didn't want to talk with me. I looked at her longer, before turning back towards the front of the bus. It was crowded at this hour, many commuters heading home. One of the things I like about Portland is how so many people embrace public transportation: even those who could afford to drive took the bus and trains. It was grey out, the rains had stopped some time before my plane had landed, so I wasn't soaking, sitting on the bus. I looked at the woman next to me. She seemed less dry than I was.

I tried again. "Are you staying at the Hotel? Going to check out the showers?"

She nodded slightly, before her face pinched and her nose turned red. I watched as she squeezed her eyes shut tightly, an obvious attempt not to cry.

"I'm sorry," I said. "Did I say something wrong?"

She shook her head quickly. "No, no," she answered. "I just don't have a reservation, and, and..." she trailed off, turning to look at me.

Her face was thinner than I thought it had been, almost gaunt. Her eyes were red from crying, with dark circles under them. She had a haunted look on her face. She took a deep breath, then continued, "I don't have a reservation, but I'm hoping to get in. I left my daughter, she's only four, with her dad back home, to come here, and I've tried everything else, and I just don't know what else to do, and I was hoping this would help, but if I can't get in, if they don't let me, if they're full, I don't know..." She trailed off again.

"How bad is it?" I asked.

She looked up, realizing I understood. "Three months, tops," she answered.

"Do you have a ticket back home?" I asked again.

"No," she whispered.

The bus stopped, and I looked out the window. We were on Burnside, a steak house, THE steak house, there was no mistaking that place with the giant green cow on the roof, on the right side of the street. People hopped off the bus, and a few more boarded. The doors shut, and the bus started moving forward again.

"The next stop is ours," I said. She nodded. I shifted to the edge of my seat, moving my legs into the aisle, indicating I was exiting at the next stop. A few other passengers standing shifted over, a couple others eyeing my seat. The woman next to me didn't move.

When the bus stopped, I stood up. She didn't.

"Come on," I said. "Let's see what they have. They might have an opening." She looked up at me, then moved to follow me off the bus. We walked next to each other, her steps slower than mine, though she looked at least a decade, if not two, younger than I did.

We walked down the block and turned right, walking down the quiet tree lined street a couple blocks. The street became quieter as the trees and vegetation along the street blocked more and more of the sounds. We turned right down a small alley, the woman obviously letting me lead. As we approached a small door at the side of a three story brick building, she hesitated.

"This is it?" she asked.

"Yep," I responded. "The Portland Hotel. The world's best kept health secret," I continued, quoting no one but myself. "Three showers a day for three days, and you're cured of anything but old age!" I threw my arms wide. She looked at me.


"Actually, very much yes," I said, "It's why I keep coming back. This will be my tenth year in remission."

Her face pinched again.

"Let's go see what they have," I said.

"But, but..." she started.

"Come on," I reached for the door and opened it. "What's the harm in asking?"

"Okay," she whispered, and walked in the door.

The lobby was a ten foot square, tan marble floored room with a front desk taking up the far end. The same potted plant sat there, as was there last year. I don't think I had ever seen that plant change. The woman behind the desk smiled as I approached.

"Good evening!" she said. "Do you have a reservation?"

"Yes," I responded. "Last name Washington."

"I have you right here, Ms. Washington. You'll be staying with us four nights?"

"Yes, please."

"And how many keys?" she asked, glancing quickly and frowning at the woman standing behind me.

"One, please."

"Very good," she responded, finishing up the paperwork and handing it to me. I signed all the places that needed signing, and received the room key. "Room 202."

"Thank you," I responded politely, and turned around.

I held out my key to the woman. She looked down at it, then up at me. "But, but, I can't take that."

"The showers work for only one person. If we both take showers, they won't work for either of us. I've been coming for ten years. That's ten years more than I was supposed to get. And I don't have a daughter. Take it. And take this," I handed her a wad of large bills. Assuming she lived in the US, she'd make it home with that.

"I..." she stammered. "I can't."

"Sure you can," I said. "Here," grabbed her hand, and shoved the pile into it. I closed her hand around the wad.

"I don't understand," she whispered.

I leaned close so that only she could hear. "How do you think I got my first reservation?" She looked up at me, surprised. I smiled, turned to the front desk woman and nodded. She nodded back.

I turned and walked back out of the hotel.

 Deus Sex Machina

Wherein I take a band name from Scalzi’s Next Band Name list, and spend no more than 20 minutes writing the story with the band name as a title. Current one is Deus Sex Machina and the full story archive.

"What did you just do?" The short, pudgy man sat up quickly, and asked the taller, thin man next to him.

"I didn't do anything," replied the tall man.

"Well, you did something," the short man responded, looking around at all the dials, knobs, screens, and lights on the oversized dash in front of him. His eyes skimmed over the blinking lights, a panic starting to creep into his eyes as he looked around.

"No, I didn't," insisted the taller man, as he moved closer to his side of the dash. He leaned in, looking closely at a small screen. Neither appeared to know what they were looking for on the dash.

"What did you do!" Another man ran into the small room where the two other men were leaning close to the dashboards. Both men turned to the new man, who appeared to be in a full panic. "Do you hear that?" he screamed at the two men.

"I don't hear anything," the taller man responded.

"EXACTLY!" the panicked man answered. "I don't either, and the gods are never quiet!"

"You're loud enough for all of them," the short man muttered, as he turned back to his screens.

"WHAT?" the new man, yelled louder. "What did you say?"

The short man turned to him. "I said, I'm not opening the tank. That's your job."

"My job?"

"Your job," the short man continued. "As supervisor."

The man standing at the door slumped, dropping both of his hands to his sides and dropping all the paperwork he had in them. He looked defeated. The two men at the dash looked at each other, then back at their supervisor, who was shaking.

"The last time," he said, barely audible. "The last time," he said louder, "this happened, the god killed the man who opened his tank." The two men nodded to the doomed man, who looked up at them. His eyes were pleading. "The god. Killed. Him."

Both men nodded again.

The supervisor looked at both men quietly. Neither man sitting spoke.

"I guess this is why I'm paid the big bucks."

Still, neither man sitting spoke.

"And have such great life insurance."

Both men looked away from the doomed man at the door.

"Good luck, Jared," the short man offered. "Gods bless."

Jared stared at the two men for a bit longer, then turned and left the room. The two men watched as he walked around the glassed room, through the secure door only he could access, and walked into the enormous white room. The room was three hundred meters long, a hundred meters wide and easily eighty meters high. In it, sat a giant tank that filled up just under half the height, but much of the floor space. Jared didn't have far to walk to reach the communications pod of the tank. Though he slowed as he approached, he didn't stop moving forward. He stared at the screen on the front of the pod.

As he arrived at the side of the tank, he heard a tapping noise. He stood up straighter, asking out loud, "Did it restart?" He looked around for the source of the sound, and saw the taller man in the control center waving frantically at him. Looking puzzled, he looked at the man, then turned back to the tank. No delay was the rule. No delay in any news, good or bad. He reached for the button to talk with the god.

The pounding on the office windows became frantic. Jared turned to look at the men, he hand hovering on the button. Puzzled, he watched them as they gestured wildly for him to return to the glassed room. An internal debate seemed to rage in Jared, before he turned and walked back the way he had just come.

As he re-entered the control room, the two men were frantically gesturing at the dash. "Look, it spiked right before it stopped. Right there," the small man was pointing at a readout on his secondary screen. The tall man was tugging on his hair with one hand as he looked at the screen.

Jared looked at the screen, then asked, "What is it?"

"Nothing," the short man said.

The three men stood looking at each other.

"Then WHY did you get me to come back?" Jared finally asked.

"Because nothing is showing on the sensors," the tall man continued.

"Nothing?" Jared asked.

"Nothing." The short man confirmed.

"Nothing." Jared repeated.

The three men continued to look at each other.

"So, uh, what do we do?" The tall man broke the silence first.

"With a god who likely just died from the biggest orgasm ever produced by man?" Jared asked.

The two control room men nodded. "Yep," answered the taller man.

"I have no idea," Jared responded.


Wherein I take a band name from Scalzi’s Next Band Name list, and spend no more than 20 minutes writing the story with the band name as a title. Current one is Cinnadouche.

"Did you get 'em?"

"Yeah, they arrived yesterday. I barely got home before my mom did."

"Uhhhhhhhhnnnnnnn... Did she see it?"

"Of course not. If she had, do you think I would have this?" The smaller boy pointed to a box on the ground next to the wall behind him.

"Yes! Let's get Josh and do it now!" The bigger boy walked over to the box, bent over, and picked it up. "Ooooof. It's heavy."

The smaller boy snorted. "Not sure what you were thinking eight gallons of that stuff was going to weigh, Matt. Yes, it's heavy. You're carrying it."

Matt smiled as he started walking. "Sure thing," he said, as his smile grew bigger. He followed the smaller boy around the corner and half way down the block. He set the box down, and started opening it, as the smaller boy walked up to the front porch and knocked on the door.

"Josh!" the smaller boy called out.

Another small boy peeked through the curtain next to the door. "Just a second, Aaron," he called through the window, before darting back into the house. Aaron heard some calling, a few fainter noises, and a giant crash, before the front door opened and Josh walked out.

"Ready?" Aaron asked.

"Let's do this."

The two small boys walked down the front stairs, into the front yard, where Matt was opening the plastic jugs of pink liquid. He had four of the eight bottles open, and was pulling out the fifth jug when the two boys reached him.

"Will it be enough?" Josh asked.

"I think so. Worth a try anyway," the large boy answered.

"Cool." Josh and Aaron picked two of the open jugs and walked over to the long, narrow, rose colored plastic tarp pinned to the ground. Aaron looked at it, then looked around the yard, before turning to Josh.

"You sure about this? I mean, your mom and her yard and all."

"Oh, I'm sure," he answered, and upended the jug over the middle of the tarp. The pink gel blurped out of the jug and plopped onto the tarp.

Josh giggled.

Aaron smiled, and upended his jug. When they had emptied their jugs, they turned to grab more jugs, emptying them onto the tarp, dispersing it to cover the tarp. Matt brought over the remaining jugs, and helped with the final one, dumping its contents on the tarp.

They stood back and looked at the pink-gel slathered tarp.

"Good enough?" Aaron asked.

"Better than," Josh responded, nodding. "Let me go tell my mom. She'll get Sissy's party to move out here for the water slide."

Matt snorted.

Aaron smiled. "Can we watch from the porch?"

Josh nodded as he walked around the side of the house. "Sure, that's where I'll be. I put out chairs."

A few minutes later, Josh returned from around the house, and joined his friends on the front porch. He had barely sat down before the screams of a dozen girls, not yet adolescent, came around the same side of the house.

Josh smiled. "What flavor did you order?" he asked, turning to Aaron.


"I didn't know Astroglide made cinnamon lube," he commented, watching his mother begin her water slide diving demonstration for the girls.

"Yep," he answered as Josh's mother started sliding along the tarp. "They sure do."

"I'm in so much trouble," Josh smiled.

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