Writing, publishing, geekdom, and errata.

Memorial Day Flash Fiction Challenge - It's FREE (and extra time to boot!)

Several of us have started our own, self-hosted, flash fiction challenge over at a website we're calling Obsidian Flash.  It's on a forum behind a password, so that anything you write and submit is considered unpublished.  Registration is quick, free, and pretty painless.

Here's why you should do it, especially if you haven't been writing for a while:

1. Challenges like this are great for stimulating creativity. 
2. You don't have the time to critique yourself.
3. You'll get helpful feedback from published authors and editors like myself, Donna Munro, Anton Cancre, and more.

The next challenge is scheduled for Memorial Day weekend.  The prompt will go up this Friday at 8pm EST.  You'll have twice as much time to write as normal.

Go sign up now at and we'll see you writing this weekend!

Here are the rules:

1. All stories should be complete, written and posted within 24 (48 THIS WEEKEND) hours of the prompt being posted, and can be anywhere from one sentence to 1,000 words in length.  Typically the prompt is posted by 8pm EST on Friday, and stories are posted by 8pm EST on Saturday.  BUT BECAUSE I'M THE FLASHMASTER, and it's Memorial Day Weekend, you've got 48 hours! Stories are due on 8pm EST on SUNDAY

2. You may choose to write your story in any genre.

3. Your story must be built around the restrictions—words, themes, photo prompts, word limits, etc.—provided by the Flashmaster at the beginning of the challenge.

4. Once the participants’ work is posted, the voting and comment session begins and continues until all votes are in. Time limit for voting will be determined on the spot, depending on how many people finish the challenge.  Typically this is within 24 hours of the end of the writing portion, or 8pm EST on Sunday. But because it's Memorial Day Weekend, the critique is due on 8pm on MONDAY.

5. The winner becomes Flashmaster and chooses the prompt(s) for the next contest.  Also, you get all the Internet Bragging Points you think you can get away with.

Going on hiatus for a while

I'm going to stop writing blog posts for a while, especially about relationships and self-improvement and that sort of thing.

This pains me, as I've seen people respond positively both in comments here, in e-mails, and on social media.  It sucks for me personally, as I'll often realize further things about myself and ways I can further improve while actually writing the posts.

But I have to stop, at least for a while.

It's important to know how I typically write posts for the blog.

I write them in fits and spurts - for example, the posts in May were pretty much all written one weekend in April. In some cases, the ideas for the posts were floating around longer than that, and I'd just not gotten around to writing it. 

Sometimes I'll dash off an immediately relevant post - like the one about inviting dictators over for tea, or how we already have the worst form of socialized medicine - and I'll bump the rest of the posts even further down the queue.

I can also say that most of the posts in May were directly inspired by my own screwups, failings, and realizations as I overcame my own mistakes.  And in the cases where they weren't, they were completely covered by my artistic license - something I made sure to occasionally point out.  (In short - if you recognized yourself in a post and I didn't name you, I was talking about someone else.)

Despite this, it's come to my attention that to some, it's seemed like I was aiming my posts at a specific individual. 

They weren't. 

Regardless, a number of people whose opinions matter to me believe this, even when I've (privately) shared the reasons and inspirations for why I wrote the posts that went up this month, or pointed out that I wrote them before the events that they were supposed to be in response to.

And it's costing me in my own personal life.

If you've found resonance in the posts I've written, or meaning, or clarity, or a point of view that made you stop and think, I'm glad. That was the purpose for writing them here.  If you've found yourself uncomfortably reminded of yourself, you're welcome to ask me directly if I was talking about you.

But I wasn't.

Because I know others have gained value from these posts, I'm not going to take them down.  Maybe I was naive to think that writing things weeks ahead of time or publicly making a point of obfuscating details would be enough to keep people from getting upset and think I was writing about them. I hope that me writing this publicly is enough for those who've thought I was writing about them to think differently.

Regardless, I'm going to take a break for a while. 

Have a good one.

Moral Judgments and the end of relationships

I was recently recounting the end of a past relationship, where I was dumped - and found out I was dumped by another person trying to sympathize with me via text message.  I mentioned that I'd pretty much cut all ties with that ex immediately.

The person I was telling said: "Wow, you must have been hurt".

And the thing was, I wasn't.

I was upset, sure. But it was a pretty casual relationship in many ways, so it didn't experience the deep core-level hurt that I've experienced at other times.

Which got me thinking.

In all the instances where I'd either been the person doing the dumping - or cut ties with the person who dumped me - it wasn't because I'd been hurt.

It was because I'd been morally offended.

To back up:  We all have some things where we make a moral judgment. Maybe it's abortion, or the death penalty, or cheating, or lying about money.  The specific offense doesn't matter so much here as the reaction.  They're the thing(s) that are simply unforgivable and elicit an immediate, visceral reaction from you.  Those are moral judgments.

What occurred to me is the possibility that when I (at least) break up with someone or cut ties with them, it's not because they've hurt me, but because they've crossed one of those absolute lines.  For example, explicitly trying to poison a kid's relationship with a parent because your relationship with that parent sucks is definitely one of those lines for me.

Maybe this is just me.  But if it's not just me, then this gives us a different way of looking at how relationships end and how (toxic) relationships persist.

Luring the thing with feathers - Seeing past the limits of what is "possible"

I asked her what she wanted from her life.

"I don't see how it can be any different," she replied, and it nearly broke my heart.

Let's back up.

She's (see my artistic license policy; and let me explicitly state this is an amalgam fictional character) in a pretty awful relationship. There's abuse - mostly emotional, but some physical and sexual - as well as the logistical entanglements of money, having been a homemaker for years, and children. She's female, but I know this can happen to men as well; I've been there myself.

I've been talking with her, trying to help her decide what she wants to do. Hell, just what she wants, and it keeps coming back to this exchange. So fast-forward again.

I sigh. "That's not what I asked. I want to know what you would like to have happen if you... I don't know... waved a magic wand."

"I don't have a magic wand."


"It couldn't happen."

I'm reminded of my dog Taylor. The first house he lived in had the kitchen off to the side, and he was trained to keep out of it. When we moved, the door to the backyard required him to go across the tile floor of the kitchen - and he wouldn't. As far as he was concerned, the back door might as well not exist, even though we were begging him to walk across it.

All of us - but especially women, thanks patriarchy - are trained. We are trained to see the walls of what society says is possible... even though these walls aren't based in anything real. If we don't have a concept for something, it's impossible to comprehend (such as the color blue in early Western history, or the concept of progress prior to a few centuries ago).

In this case, it was the walls of society's assumptions that kept her in this abusive relationship. She'd internalized them so much that she couldn't envision changing the relationship, let along leaving.  It did not matter how many ways I tried to phrase it, how many resources or options I pointed out. Her aspirations and dreams were limited by what she'd been told - both explicitly and implicitly - by the walls society (and her boyfriend) had set up around her.

I remember not being able to see a way out. I remember feeling hopeless. I remember thinking that since it wasn't a big blowout fight that day, it counted as a "good" day.

I remember not having any hope.

And so I keep trying to coax the thing with feathers to perch within her mental line of sight, and to sing so that she can no longer ignore its existence.

And maybe someday, she'll be able to imagine a better future for herself.

Because this scenario - or something so close to it - has played out so frequently in the last few years, I'm going to again note my artistic license policy, and add in that if the shoe fits, you should probably check out the signs of being in an abusive relationship.

Don't let the loops and whorls of self-improvement throw you for a loop!

I've written a lot of posts about relationships and communication over the last few years.

Sometimes that causes a problem for me.

I usually tell people "If I sound like I know what I'm talking about, it's because I'm either quoting Dan Savage or it's something that I've screwed up in the past."

And I have screwed up a lot in the past.  And I've done a lot of work on and with myself to improve.


Sometimes I get overconfident. Sometimes I forget that I have to keep doing the work.  And then I screw up, and things get worse, and I recover, and improve.

And that's the way it usually works.

Look, here's a graph to illustrate:

Improvement tends to have loops and backsliding and be irregular as all hell.  The important thing is that the overall trend is upward.  It's great if your best is way better than you were before.  But it means something if your worst is better than your worst before.

That said... if you're dealing with someone who is trying to improve, that does not mean that you have to put up with behavior that violates your boundaries or hurts you... even if they're improving.

Don't forget that either.