JM Williams

A home for all things fantasy and sci-fi.

Aftermath of a Bad Decision

Jan
12
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photo by Hans Vivek

It was the worst mess Jared had ever encountered–nine years as a sanitation inspector could not have prepared him for the scene. Shredded paper was scattered all around; broken bottles were shattered on the floor, spilling their contents into a thick brown pool that smelled of urine; what were once ordered stacks of books and DVDs were now collected in a heap. The only thing that wound its way through his dumbfounded mind was the memory of a feminine voice saying, “Getting a cat will only be trouble, Jared.”

*Written as a response for the Three Line Tales Week 102 photo prompt.

I’m getting ready to send out my next newsletter, in honor of the new year. I will be including an exclusive video of myself, talking Iric and future projects, as well as the usual publication highlight and writing tips. If you’d like to see all that, and be part of the “cool” crowd, you can sign up to join the RABBLE on the right side of the page!

Thanks for reading!

~JM

The Color of Kings — 3LineTales

Dec
23
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photo by Emily Morter

The dark lord just did not appreciate good aesthetics–color and light in particular–no matter how hard Ur-Benu tried to convince her. Why must the sky always be a gloomy shade of gray or black, when purple was the color of kings? The orc concluded that his services would be better used elsewhere, and one day, left the dark tower for good.

*Written as a response to the Three Line Tales Week 99 photo prompt.

Author’s Note: I’ve been playing a lot of Middle-earth: Shadow of War these days. It’s a game where you recruit orc followers into your army. Here’s one of the warriors I captured, the inspiration for the tale:

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There’s something about his name, and the way the deep-voiced, melodramatic narrator says “UR-BENU!” every time I click on him. Sure, he looks scary with his size, and all the fire, but he’s just a softy at heart. A fiery machine destroyer…of expectations. He is terrified of Ghuls because they threaten his kittens. Lots of kittens. He is an EPIC kitten-cuddler, his little precious-es. You really shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, you know.

Hope you enjoyed the story. Happy Holidays!

~J.M.

Beggars Would Ride (Flash Fiction)

Sep
20

In honor of my story being published in The Uprising Review, I decided to write another flash story featuring the same characters. This one was inspired by the unwanted thoughts of horses I had all day, after hearing a particularly funny line in Unseen Academicals, the book I am currently audio-reading. I’m not sure if this story is as funny as Jaron and Bren’s last, but the I think the same sense of satire is there.

Enjoy!

~J.M.


Beggars Would Ride

By J.M. Williams

Jaron felt himself fly through the air, tossed unceremoniously onto the stone floor of the jail cell. The guard’s fat grimy hand locked the door, then yanked to ensure its security.

Jaron was still shaking off a constellation of stars when Bren approached the guard.

“Please, sir. There must be some misunderstanding,” Bren said.

“No misunderstanding. We caught ya with your hands on the merchandise. Er heads…well doing something with the damn beast. Dirty horse theives.”

“Horse thieves? Pray sir, we are no thieves.”

“Then how’s it you was standing right next to the horse when we caught ya? Eh? A horse that somehow jus’ disappeared from Mr. Bolton’s fenced-in ranch, several farms down the line mind, ya…”

“I wish you would just let me explain what happened.”

“Well, if wishes were horses,” the fat guard laughed.

“If they were, somebody’d be damn close to a kick in the nuggets…” 

“What’s that?”

“The law says you must give us a chance to defend ourselves.”

“We don’t give no chances to horse thieves around here.” The guard growled. Bren’s face contorted when hit by the rotten air.

“It followed us.” Bren put his hands together, pleading. “We didn’t steal it. Please, you must listen.”

“Enough of your blabberin’. This town hadn’t a good hangin’ in a while. It’ll be good for folks to get out for a show.”

“Hanging?” Bren looked like he would faint. He put an hand to his forehead in a melodramatic show.

“See you two in the morning,” the hairy man said with a laugh, as he swaggered off to the adjoining room.

“You dirty son of a…” Bren’s act of begging and supplication had ended, now only anger could be seen on his face.

Jaron rose to his feet and brushed the dust off his shoulders and arms. He put a hand to his head and groaned.

“Dammit. Fat bastard messed up my hair,” Jaron shouted, hoping the man would hear.

“I don’t think this is the time to worry about your hair. They’re going to hang us.”

“Don’t be so sure.”

“Do you have something to pick the lock?”

Jaron patted his pockets and felt underneath his leather armor. His tools were gone.

“No. Must have fallen out, when the guards jumped us.”

“We’re doomed.”

Bren sat down on one end of a long wooden bench that ran along the far wall, under a window with widely spaced metal bars. Sunlight drifted into the room between the bars, casting blocky shadows. The stink of dirt and horse manure betrayed the road just beyond, a road to freedom that now lay at an uncrossable distance.

“I’m sure our doom is only tentative,” Jaron said.

“Why do you think that horse was following us, anyway?” Bren asked.

“If I had to guess, I bet it’s the honey wax I put in my hair this morning.”

Jaron brushed the large square lock of the cell door, polishing it until he could see his image. Watching his reflection, he rearranged the hair on the right half of his head, making the short brown locks curl outwards. Then he spun around on a heel and dropped onto the bench, the top of his head resting just below the window.

“I don’t really care for the idea of being dead,” Bren said.

“I’m sure the gods will come through for us once again.”

“It was never the gods. It was always you.”

“Are you so sure?”

Jaron leaned back against the wall, feeling the breeze pass over his head, pondering the dilemma. Something clanked against the window bars. He jumped around to see the toothy grin of a horse in the window.

“By the gods, is that the same one?” Bren asked.

“Seems like it.”

“Didn’t they lock it back up at the ranch? This thing must really love your hair wax.”

“Hmm…” Jaron hummed as he leaned towards the window. A long, sticky tongue reached out for his head.

The horse’s mouth was wrapped in a bridle, but its mouth opened and closed freely. It looked as though it were trying to chew through the bars. Jaron reached his fingers through the bars and scratched under the beast’s chin.

“There, there boy,” he said. “You don’t want to chew that. You’ll bust your teeth.”

Jaron’s fingers crawled along the horse’s jaw until they felt something hard. He gripped the object and yanked. A curved metal pin slid out of one of the bridle’s bindings.

“I told you the gods were watching us,” he said to Bren, brandishing the pin.

Jaron went to work on the lock, and in mere minutes had it open. He heard the horse snort encouragingly from the window. The door slid open with only a soft creak, one that could have easily been mistaken for a bird.

Waving his friend forward, he led Bred into the next room, where the fat guard was passed out, face down on a round wooden table. There were several loose coins lying next to the man and Jaron’s hand reached out instinctively, until he felt Bren’s knuckles digging into his back.

The pair crept across the room, keeping a close eye on the sleeping guard. Jaron cracked the door and peered outside. The door opened to a narrow road, across which were several buildings, including the tavern they had visited the night before. The sun was high in the sky, bathing the avenue in light.

Seeing nothing of concern, he swung the door open. It screeched like a banshee.

Jaron grabbed Bren by the collar and dragged him into the street. Behind his friend, he could see the fat guard stirring to life. The man glared at him. Jaron slammed the door and took off running.

He could heard the clanging of an alarm bell from behind as he dragged Bren down the side streets and alleys. All the while, he chastised himself for not heading the other way, to the clearing where the horse had been, outside the jail window.

Eventually, they did arrive at a clearing, but the space was far from clear. A semi-circle formation of villagers blocked their escape. The people brandished pitchforks and pikes, like a proper mob, and their eyes were filled with hunger.

“Thieves! Hang ’em!” the people shouted a bit too cheerily for Jaron’s liking.

“We haven’t had a good hanging in a while,” one of the pitchfork owners shouted.

There was no where left to go. The mob would be impossible to outrun. Jaron closed his eyes in surrender. Then he felt something chewing on his hair. He smiled.

As the horse galloped away from the village, Jaron driving it on, Bren holding on for dear life, Bren shouted in Jaron’s ear, “I guess we can’t come back here again.”

“No bother,” Jaron replied. “The ale here is piss.”

THE END

A Few Quotes from Discworld 37

Sep
12

 

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It’s no secret I am a huge Terry Pratchett fan. Ever since I read, er…listened to the first book I was taken in by his whimsical world. I’m sure his influence can be readily seen in my work, either in humor or concept.

 

I just started Discworld book number 37, Unseen Academicals, and have been struck by just how good the prose is.  I  wanted to share a couple gems from the opening pages:

Mr Scattering then got a job in a pet shop in Pellicool Steps, but left after three days because the way the kittens stared at him gave him nightmares.

Classic Pratchet humor to turn mundane things on their head. I have no idea what sort of look from a kitten could cause nightmares, only that I never wish to see it.

There was so much silence you could hear it. Everywhere it went, it stuffed the ears with invisible fluff.  -and- Silence listened with its mouth open.

Silence can be a powerful tool for creating atmosphere or tension, or simply setting a scene. But all too often, the words come out cliche. “Dead silent” or “eerily silent” or countless other variations–many of which I’m sure I’ve used–fall flat. Leave it to Sir Pratchett to find clever new ways to convey an old idea.

From somewhere in the distance came a sound like a large duck being trodden on, followed by a cry of ‘Ho, the Megapode!’ And then all hell eventuated. -and- Then the thing disappeared down another gloomy corridor, incessantly making that flat honking noise of the sort duck hunters make just before they are shot by other duck hunters.

Sound is an important sense and one that is difficult to convey in words without going full-on phonetic, which can be off-putting. Here Pratchett manages to convey a distinct sound clearly, at least to me, and provide a laugh at the same time. Plus I just love the phrase “All hell eventuated.” Though, that might just be due to the fact that we don’t really use “eventuated” in that manner in American English.

Well those are just a couple bits that stood out to me, though the pages as a whole thus far have generally been great. It would take too much space to remark on all the little phrases that lit me up.

~J.M.

A March of Indignation – 3LineTales

Jun
01

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Lord Bubblesworth strutted along the seawall, admiring the vastness of his domain, breathing in the salty air, eyeing the fish which hid just under the surface. He marched on, to his other palace, where the servants did not call him Bubblesworth. He was a lord, after all, and a lord could only bear so much impropriety.

*Written as a response to the Three Line Tales Week 70 photo prompt.

The Lure of the Sea – FFfAW

May
29
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provided by Louise with The Storyteller’s Abode

Darrin gazed out dreamily at the small boats bobbing in the water. He was supposed to be on vacation, but he couldn’t shake off the depressed thoughts in his mind. He hated being an accountant. He hated the gray walled-office, his cubicle in the center of the room. Why even bother with those thin desk walls when he was surrounded by people and noise and prying eyes anyways?

Darrin wanted to be a pirate. He wanted to sail the Seven Seas, buckle swashes, and say “Arrrr.” He wanted some adventure in his life. He was suddenly filled with the impetus to swim out and steal one of those boats, to just disappear forever.

Of course, he would have to ask his wife first.

*Written in response to the Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers photo challenge for May 23rd.

Vengeance for Bubbles – Sunday Photo Fiction

May
28
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© A Mixed Bag

Kari gripped the doll in her small hands. Who would call this thing a doll? she wondered.

The figure was incredibly ugly, the sort of ugly that is hard to describe with words that didn’t get you a bar of soap in the mouth. It was like a cross between a man and a crocodile that tried to eat a chainsaw. Nothing at all like Princess Bubbles. The Princess is a proper doll, Kari knew.

Princess Bubbles had been a proper doll, until Kari’s little brother chopped her royal head off. Maybe he was trying to be like this alien villain. Maybe play affected kids more than just by providing fun, were thoughts Kari might have had were she ten years older than she was. Being twelve–and mildly vindictive in character–she had one thing on her mind: revenge.

She took the ghastly figure and wrapped it in a small blanket. This was as much to conceal the kidnapping as it was to avoid having to look at the thing. She skipped down to the garage with bubbles in her heart, finding the hacksaw and setting the condemned on the wooded workbench.

“You made a poor choice of allies, my alien friend,” Kari said in a properly deep and European-sounding voice. Then she started cutting.

*Written as a response to the Sunday Photo Fiction May 28th prompt.

Career Change – A Short Story

Dec
29

Ulfar watched the smoke billow up from the smoldering corpse of the pillaged hamlet. The air was thick with the smell of sweat, blood, and death. But the joy of it all was lost.

When he was young, Ulfar had loved to watched the fire dance across the thatched roofs, to hear the final chorus of those trapped inside. He had been on more raids than he could count; his old face bore thick scars as testimony to the fact. But the excitement had long ago started to die. Now it was fully deceased.

He now found himself simply going through the paces—screaming his warcry to intimate the villagers, before he cut them down with his large axe. He envied the younger warriors who still had that look of bloodlust on their faces. Oh, the joys of being young and eager.

He didn’t know what to do with himself. The shamans said that he had to die in glorious battle if he wanted to make it to Valhalla—which would then mean an eternity of endless fighting. Ulfar wasn’t sure that was what he wanted after all.

“Ulfar,” one of the younger fighters beckoned to him.

It was Bragi, a relatively small man for a Viking warrior, but fierce nonetheless. Ulfar had a lingering respect for the man, who worked twice as hard as any other to make his name.

“What is it, whelp?” the older warrior asked with a smirk.

“Skuti has offended me,” Bragi complained. “He has taken what is rightfully mine.”

“What has he taken?”

“My prizes from the house of the man I killed. The loot was mine by right, since it was my sword-arm doing the work. But while I continued with the battle, he snuck in and stole the golden pieces. I demand justice. I want you to stand by me when I challenge him to a fight to the death.”

“Are you sure he took it?”

“Yes, I saw the bits spilling from his pockets.”

“And are you sure you can beat him in a fight?”

“With your spirit aiding me, yes, I believe so.”

Ulfar stood for a long moment, in deep thought. There had to be a better way. They spent their days killing villagers and the nights killing each other. All this killing was becoming exhausting. There had to be a better way.

“Do you have any evidence of your claim?” Ulfar asked the younger man.

“Yes, I have the ear of the man I killed, the owner of the house. And many others warriors saw me and commended me on my skill.”

Ulfar drew his hand down his long, gray beard. He felt the scars on his chin, hiding deep underneath the matted hair.

“I will stand by you,” Ulfar said. “But not at the circle of death. I have another idea.”

“What are you thinking?” Bragi asked.

“We will go present your case to the Jarl. I will be your advocate. We will offer him our evidence and plead for his judgment. No one need die, and we can establish a precedent to prevent this sort of dishonorable thievery in the future.”

It was a good plan, in Ulfar’s opinion. He knew he had a sharp tongue. And the new Jarl was rather weak-willed. It could work. And no one would die. There would be a fight, of course, but a totally new sort of fight. Bragi looked unconvinced.

“Trust me,” Ulfar said. “Have I ever lost a battle? I do not intend to lose this one.”

“And you would do this for me?” Bragi asked doubtfully. “What do you get from it?”

“Just a small share of the loot.”

My Writing Space (Or How Not to Follow Stephen King’s Advice)

Dec
21

Fortune favors the bold, or so they say.

I have been reading Stephen King’s great treatise on the craft, On Writing. While I do intend to extract and discuss many key points of the book later, there is one bit that is likely not to make the cut for me: the discussion of proper writing spaces.

This is because my writing space, according to King’s advice, is wholly inadequate. I know this, my cats know this, but it is largely because of them that I am forced to work as I do.

King suggests, amongst other things, that a proper writing space should be a room with a door–a closed door. It should not have a telephone, TV or other distractions. Shades should be drawn and you should be sealed away from the world as best as possible. Closing the door not only insulates you from the chaos of the outside world, but it tells the other people in the house that you are hard at work–unless those people are cats, cats don’t give a damn about your work.

And thus I find myself unable to follow his rules, despite agreeing with them for the most part. I live in a small but reasonable apartment with my wife and a perhaps unreasonable number of feline cohabitants. Ten to be exact (that is a story in and of itself, the abridged version of which is that our most recent rescue came preloaded with six additional color schemes, so to speak). I have a computer room that doubles as a library, but it also triples as a storage area and litter box space. In all we have seven litter boxes, so finding a place where the air is relatively dust-free is difficult.

So I do my work sitting on the living room sofa, typing away on a laptop that rests on a wooden TV tray. I have to place two or three cushions behind me to give enough support to work for hours straight. And as is likely to evoke King’s chagrin, I sit right across from my widescreen TV. The PS4 cannot help itself but call to me. And when it does, I think just a couple rounds of Vermintide won’t hurt right? Then after several hours and many failed levels (Quit running off on your own and getting yourself killed elf! You’ve lost it for the rest of the team! Bastard! I mean how is it that the game is easier with AI teammates than real players?), I feel the pangs of guilt.

Honestly, I don’t know how I get by. I must have some incredible willpower to actually get 4+ hours of work in everyday in such conditions. But loving what I do surely doesn’t hurt.

I’m hoping to make my fortune soon, mostly so I can move into a bigger place and actually have a writing space with a door…and a proper desk. I suggest against trying to struggle through work like I do. Find yourself a nice King-approved space to work in and get it done.

Pratchett’s Wintersmith – The Concept of Reader Baggage as Explained Through Sarcasm

Dec
13

I have been working my way through Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novel Wintersmith. As usual, it is a great tale, well-written with strong characters. One scene has stood out to me as being especially humorous, but also useful as commentary on writing.

In the scene, lead character Tiffany—an almost 13-year-old witch—discovers a book on her bed and begins to read. Pratchett’s clear intention in the scene is to lambaste generic romance novels for their ignorance of their and our worlds, and other excesses that pop culture has addresses countless times before.

But in his humorous attack on a generally disregarded genre of writing, he reveals a truth that is important to all authors. Readers all have their own personal experiences and knowledge. They bring this with them to the reading: it’s a sort of mental baggage. If any part of the story conflicts with this baggage, the reader can be lost.

In this specific case, the conflicts are with real world truths. The romance writer has made up a story about a farm girl with too many inaccuracies about real farm life and the natural world. This negatively affects the reader who knows better (Tiffany also has perspectives on gender that clash with the writing). Science Fiction authors face this danger regularly. If you try to dress your story up in pseudo-science, passing it off as real, you will bug your readers. If you try your hand at real science and get it wrong or are unconvincing, you face similar issues. I tend to worry about this a lot when I write hard S.F. I know a good bit about physics, but I’m no studied scientist.

But Pratchett’s scene also provides a bit of light though that dark tunnel of self-consciousness. If the story is good enough, you can overcome these other weaknesses. There is a deeper part of the human psyche that strives for sentimentality and melodrama, adventure and romance. If your story hits those buttons just right, you can maintain your hook even through the resistance of your reader’s baggage.

(This is perhaps another good reason to have other people read your stories as you revise them.)

It’s just something to think about. It’s amazing the places your can discover such truths on the craft.

Without further ado, enjoy Pratchett’s humorous little scene—


 

Tiffany was just getting ready for bed that night when she found a book under her pillow.

The title, in fiery red letters, was Passion’s Plaything by Marjory J. Boddice, and in smaller print were the words: Gods and Men said their love was not to be, but they would not listen!! A tortured tale of a tempestuous romance by the author of Sundered Hearts!!! 

The cover showed, up close, a young woman with dark hair and clothes that were a bit on the skimpy side in Tiffany’s opinion, both hair and clothes blowing in the wind. She looked desperately determined, and also a bit chilly. A young man on a horse was watching her some distance away. It appeared that a thunderstorm was blowing up.

Strange. There was a library stamp inside, and Nanny didn’t use the library. Well, it wouldn’t hurt to read a bit before blowing the candle out.

Tiffany turned to page one. And then to page two. When she got to page nineteen she went and fetched the Unexpurgated Dictionary.

She had older sisters and she knew some of this, she told herself. But Marjory J. Boddice had got some things laughably wrong. Girls on the Chalk didn’t often run away from a young man who was rich enough to own his own horse—or not for long and not without giving him a chance to catch up. And Megs, the heroine of the book, clearly didn’t know a thing about farming. No young man would be interested in a woman who couldn’t dose a cow or carry a piglet. What kind of help would she be around the place? Standing around with lips like cherries wouldn’t get the cows milked or the sheep sheared!

And that was another thing. Did Marjory J. Boddice know anything about sheep? This was a sheep farm in the summertime, wasn’t it? So when did they shear the sheep? The second most important occasion in a sheep farm’s year and it wasn’t worth mentioning?

Of course, they might have a breed like Habbakuk Polls or Lowland Cobbleworths that didn’t need shearing, but these were rare and any sensible author would surely have mentioned it.

And the scene in chapter five, where Megs left the sheep to fend for themselves while she went gathering nuts with Roger…well, how stupid was that? They could have wandered anywhere, and they were really stupid to think they’d find nuts in June.

She read on a bit further, and thought: Oh. I see. Hmm. Hah. Not nuts at all, then. On the Chalk, that sort of thing was called “looking for cuckoo nests.”

She stopped there to go downstairs to fetch a fresh candle, got back into bed, let her feet warm up again, and went on reading.

Should Megs marry sulky dark-eyed William, who already owned two and a half cows, or should she be swayed by Roger, who called her “my proud beauty” but was clearly a bad man because he rode a black stallion and had a mustache?

Why did she think she had to marry either of them? Tiffany wondered. Anyway, she spent too much time leaning meaningfully against things and pouting. Wasn’t anyone doing any work? And if she always dressed like that, she’d catch a chill.

It was amazing what those men put up with. But it made you think.

She blew out the candle and sank gently under the eiderdown, which was as white as snow.

Source: Terry Pratchett, Wintersmith, 2006.