Wednesday, April 29, 2009

My Writing Style (Or lack thereof...)

I decided to get a jump on my Writer's Round Table assignment for this week and quickly pounded out 600 words before I realized that I had misread the instructions... I had written 600 words ON my writing style, not IN my writing style... Crap. Well, not wanting it to go to waste, I decided to share it here with you. Enjoy!

My earliest recollection of wanting to be a writer was when I was probably about ten or eleven. My family somehow acquired an old-fashioned typewriter - you know the really old kind that actually depended on your fingers to propel the hammers against the ribbon and paper to make a mark. I thought it was the coolest thing I had ever seen. I sat down at it and began hammering out a story. If I remember correctly, it involved a boy falling unconscious and having a terrifying dream sequence. 

Ever since then, I have wanted to be a writer. Being an avid reader only further whetted my appetite, and I tried again and again to start work on my Great American Novel. Unfortunately, my desire was never matched with enough persistence to get much past chapter one. (I may have gotten as far as chapter thirteen once, I think...) After high school, I fell in love with a college girl, and for no other reason decided that I should also be enrolled in college. As an English major, naturally. I took and nearly flunked a History of American Literature class. I guess I could care less what was really going on in America when Nathanial Hawthorne was writing about Hester Prynne and in her custom logo apron. 

But a class that I took that I really enjoyed, and which I passed easily was Poetry Writing. No memorization of stupid dates, or old dead author's greatest works. We were given an assignment to write a certain type of poem, or just an assignment to write a poem. We would then take time in class to read and analyze each other's poems. (Sound familiar fellow RT'ers?) Most of the poetry that has been published in the Press under my name came from this very class. I felt as if I might actually have a future as a poet, or a novelist. But alas, just like a summer romance that I tried to follow to college, my muse took a vacation and got lost in real life. My girlfriend dumped me, I dropped out of college, and real life took over for about ten years. Aside from some super sappy love poetry written to my next girlfriend (now my wife) I didn't write anything during this time. 

From time to time, I thought about being a writer. I pondered plots for novels. I even joked with a college professor (yes, I finally went back to college) about writing the Next Great American Novel. However, except for class assignments, memos for work, and a single letter to the editor, I did not write.

October 31st, 2005. I am at home in Texas, dressed as a hula girl for Halloween. (Seriously. Coconut bra, grass skirt and everything...) Waiting for trick-or-treaters. My wife was out with our kids gathering the annual feast of free stimulants and I was idly surfing the web when my eye was caught by a news story headline on Yahoo! "Have you ever wanted to write a novel? November is National Novel Writing Month." My memories of wanting to write a great novel danced briefly through my mind, and I clicked on the link. Since then, I have indeed written a novel. Four in fact. All four in a different genre, with a different style. 

Which brings me back to the original question: "What is my writing style?" The answer is, I have not yet discovered just which style I am most comfortable with. I really enjoy science fiction; the ability to invent new technologies to get my characters through plot holes is an awesome power. I have tried fantasy, but it is much more complicated to work out a magical or supernatural solution to problems than one might think. I have tried a "human interest humor" style, much like this very piece in homage to one of my favorite writers. (Dave Barry, if you have heard of him.) And yet, I am still unsure if I even have a "style". 
Perhaps that IS my style. 
Whatever pops into my head. 
Whatever the situation demands. 
Whatever is enjoyable right now. 

I am over my word limit. Does that make my style "Wordy?"

© 2009 Tyler Willson. All rights reserved

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Writer's Round Table Assignment

A couple of fellow Pikers have invited me to participate in a "Writer's Round Table". Each week, we receive an assignment to stretch our writing muscles. When complete, we send it to each of the other writers in the group who critique it for us. Then we meet online and chat about it. The first assignment was: Write a passage of up to 600 words beginning with the sentence, "The sky was dark and ominous." Here is what I came up with. 

The sky was dark and ominous over the blasted wasteland of the alien planet. Zeniff adjusted the respirator hose attached to the facepiece of his helmet and trudged on. The rusty mining droid followed doggedly, its worn treads puffing up clouds of orange dust in the sandy soil. As soon as Zeniff let go of the hose, it flopped right back in place where it kept banging against his chest. Zeniff was far too exhausted to be angry, and kept doggedly pushing it back out of the way. The failing light worried him. Night time on a desert planet was not the best time to be out and about. Besides the drastic temperature drop, there was the potential for violent wind storms. Every so often, between efforts to push the respirator hose back into place, Zeniff would stop and scan the sky in a slow circle. But the heads-up display remained blank. Nobody had noticed that he was missing just yet. He was not yet expected on the moon base, as it was a twelve hour trip. Nobody could have noticed his shuttle falling from the sky, as he was on the opposite side of the planet when the power plant failed. The failure was so sudden and complete that even the comm equipment had been useless. Only the emergency chutes had saved him from cratering into the sandy orange soil a few seconds later. Even so, the clunky space vehicle had no aerodynamic properties whatsoever, and when the anti-grav engines failed, it simply fell like a rock.

Even with the huge parachutes clawing madly at the thin atmosphere he had been sure something in him broke when the ship hit the ground.

The rusty droid had somehow survived the fall as well, despite being strapped to an external cargo rack for its return journey to the mining colony on the moon. As Zeniff surveyed the crashed vehicle, the droid had come to life and started following him. He tried to shut it down, and order it to stop, but its control panel was smashed, and apparently its comm link as well. So it resorted to its basic programming, which was to follow its human overseer until directed to begin extracting the precious minerals from the soil. Zeniff chose to ignore it as he set off in the direction indicated by his global positioning indicator. Now, except for when he stopped to scan the horizons for any sign of life, he forgot that it was there. He knew he would have to stop soon, but he held out hope of finding some kind of terrain feature for shelter against the night storms. The environmental controls on his suit seemed to be in order, at least for now and had plenty of energy to last until the sun returned. But the thought of hurricane force winds driving the coarse orange sand against the thin fabric of his suit made him shudder. He decided his search for shelter would have to stop however when he almost walked right into a deep crater. He cursed himself as a fool for leaving the scene of the crash, at least he might have used the ship itself for shelter. At the time he had not thought he had flown that far, and that he would be able to see the colony after only an hour or two of walking. He stopped and turned on the light on top of his helmet. He wanted to use the light sparingly, in order to save as much battery power as possible for more critical things like the respirator and the environmental controls. The crater was not deep, but tumbling into it blindly would have definitely ended poorly for him. He thought he saw a slope he could get down on the far side, and turning off his light edged his way towards it. When he reached it, he found that it was indeed a gentle slope down to the bottom of the crater. He followed it down, having forgotten completely about the mining droid behind him. At the bottom of the crater, the darkness was complete. Just as he was reaching up to turn on his helmet light for a brief survey, a bright light surrounded him. He screamed and jumped, the sound echoing loudly inside his helmet. He spun around and saw the droid a few feet away, its work lights on and illuminating the crater nicely. Zeniff bent over to catch his breath and wait for his heart to return to a normal pace. He looked gratefully at the droid. At least he wouldn’t have to drain his suit’s reserves for a little light while he waited out the coming day. 

© 2009 Tyler Willson. All rights reserved

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Fwd: Dear Dad

I must share this message I got today. Best. Message. Ever...

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Nicky
Date: Thu, Apr 23, 2009 at 4:14 PM
Subject: Dear Dad
To: Daddy

hidh fdfjfjbjbdjjfdjbfbugfugfudgugfuggdgfgygf8t 7ygfyvvvvfhfvvhvfvhvvh v vhf hvhfdfffghdfgfgfgfgvgfgvfgvfvgvfggfgvfgfvgfvvfgvffgfgffvvvfvffvdfhhfvgfh
Dear Dad I wish you had a knife pocket for me.
bvkvnbnvbvjnbgjbgj bgjbjbjbfjbjbjgjjgjjgjbbjbbjbfjgbjbjbjbj bifdgyufuyuguyguguhghghttyuiyugufhuubhuuthuirtuuturugyhtuyguygyuggggguuyuutut
Dear Dad I like you because you don't throw a tizzy fit.
bknknbvbnnvnbvbnvknkblohbhbinbvn hbbbbv hbvbvccbgftetrhertehrgfshfbdfdgegtgefdggdrsrvcdvfbdfdvdfdvffgfdsghdfshfsdgdbgdgdtdbgdbtryyhgrhrtyyygggfyyyyyvffddeddc dyyyyyb bv
Dear Dad I wish you had one.
ha Ha Ha
love nicky


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Part 4 -Conclusion... Randomly Generated Short Story Plot

For your easy reference, if you have not been following along.
Part One
Part Two
Part Three

Bill and Ted straightened nervously when The Boss entered. He was a large man with a walrus mustache. His name was Percy, but he had found long ago how such a name inspired scorn and disrespect from underlings, and so he insisted on being called simply "The Boss".
"What is it? This had better be good." The Boss grumbled as he sat down in Ted's seat. Ted glanced at Bill, who glanced back. After a few seconds of silently attempting to convince the other to speak first, The Boss snapped impatiently.
"In case you just called me down here because you like looking at me, let me remind you that it is the fourth quarter of the inter-dimensional full contact ping-pong finals, and my team is behind by three points. If I am missing the end of this game for a social call..." Ted blurted out.
"Bill sent two passengers into the portal after the destination was already closed, and then closed the portal behind them. We have two castaways, and they have been in the tunnel for almost fifteen minutes already! It wasn't my fault, Bill..." The Boss interrupted him.
"Castaways? On my watch?" He glared balefully at the two frightened men, his walrus mustache twitching in anger.

Glen was struggling to stem the tide of his panic. He searched his memory for any and all information he had ever heard about the science of traveling via inter-dimensional wormholes. He had no idea how the wormholes were formed, just that it took an inordinate amount of energy. He remembered the story of the scientist who had been trapped inside a wormhole tunnel and emerged a century later utterly untouched by time but irretrievably insane. Nothing else came to mind. He supposed that he would simply have to wait and hope that the IDTA would eventually come to their rescue. They couldn't fail to notice two missing travellers could they?
As he pondered his situation, he suddenly felt something grasp his ankle. Simutlaneously, he heard Madeline's voice in his head again. But it had changed. No longer was it the shrill and vicious harpy. Now she was terrified, and her voice was pleading, and repentant.
"Oh Glen! I found you again. Please don't leave me alone again. I can't take the numbness, or the silence! Please don't leave me again!"
Glen grimaced, but felt the instinct to help anyone in distress kick in.
"Madeline, calm down. It won't be long before someone notices that we are missing and they will get us out of here. Why do you think they make you give them portal passes? So they can make sure everyone who goes into one end comes out the other." Madeline's mind calmed a bit, and Glen decided that it would be best to keep talking to keep her calm.
"Any minute now, we will be sucked out through the other portal, and we will be in Bermuda, enjoying the beaches and waves and sunshine and..." Madeline interrupted him.
"I'm sorry Glen."
Nothing she could have said could have silenced his thoughts as effectively. He couldn't remember the last time he had heard her so much as admit to being even slightly mistaken.
"Sorry? For what?" he asked. His mind searching for whatever treachery she might be hiding behind those unexpected words.
"Oh for goodness sake Glen? Why are you so suspicious? What could I possibly gain for asking forgiveness? You are such a..." her voice halted mid-thought, perhaps in response to Glen's impulse to kick her hand from his ankle and sever the mental link again.
"No! Don't leave me alone again! You are right! I have been manipulative and shrill! I have been a shrew, a harpy, a... a..."
"Not the woman I married, that is for sure." Glen finished for her. His mind wandered through their seven years together, and he felt her watching as she transformed from the cheerful, happy woman he had first fell in love with to the bitter, haughty person who seemed to take pleasure in torturing him.

"Why?" the single word inquiry echoed through their minds. Glen had tried to ask the question so many times before, trying in vain to discover how he might repair their relationship. Always before the question, no matter how diplomatically phrased, sparked an argument and ended with a taught silence. However, the instantaneous nature of their communication and the fear Madeline felt at being left alone again lent this simple question a weight and clarity that Glen had never before been able to give it.

"Why?" Madeline echoed. Instantly a stream of memories from her mind began flowing through their collective consciousness, answering his query more completely than words could have ever done. He watched himself rise through the ranks of the police department, earning awards and getting promoted. He also watched Madeline struggle alone through her nursing studies, spending many nights alone with her textbooks and medical diagrams. He saw her graduation day, when she received her diploma and felt the sadness she felt knowing that he was not there, but was instead on a stakeout in a bad part of town. He felt the sorrow and loneliness change into anger and bitterness. He saw her saving lives everyday, just as he did in his job. But he also saw doctors and patients alike who treated her as a maid in a hotel. No awards, no acclamations, no promotions.

Understanding began to dawn on Glen. He had been neglectful of her he could see now. Just as Madeline now understood how her own actions had pushed him further into his work, rather than drawing him out. He finally saw her last desperate attempt to draw him back to her, and understood that this trip was her last, best effort. If nothing changed over the course of their three weeks together without the pressures of work, then she was prepared to end it. Before stepping into the inter-dimensional portal, Glen would have welcomed such an idea. Now, after having relived the good times, and understanding the part his own selfishness had played in the demise of their relationship he felt only sadness.

"How come we couldn't figure this out earlier?" he asked. Madeline's thoughts answered almost simultaneously.

"You wouldn't listen, you couldn't hear."

Bill broke first under the weight of The Boss' angry glare.

"They came late, and I was still gathering the portal passes. The lady was a real..."

"Shut Up!" The Boss snapped and snatched the manual out of Ted's surprised hands. He tapped on the screen angrily for a few seconds, and then tossed it towards the trashcan.

"This thing is out of date! Where is your up to date manual? We sent a new one out just three weeks ago!" Ted quivered in fear. "We looked Boss, that is the only emergency procedures manual we have." The Boss harrumphed, his mustache actually moving up and down in frustration.

"No matter. All you have to do is reverse the direction of travel, re-open the portal and ..." he shoved Ted roughly out of the way and began tapping on the control panel. "You better get down to the portal quickly. You are going to have two very confused travelers there in about thirty seconds. Offer them a free round-trip ticket to anywhere in the universe and send the billing info to my office."

The Boss turned and started walking away. He paused, just before leaving the office and turned back.

"And get an updated manual before your shift ends, or don't bother coming back for the next one."

Ted nodded glumly and Bill quickly followed The Boss out of the office.

As Bill sprinted up to the portal door he could see the man and woman sitting on the floor outside the portal doorway. They were holding each other, and it seemed as if the woman was sobbing. The man held her tenderly, rubbing her back and making soothing sounds. Bill slowed to a walk and approached cautiously, not sure what to expect. The man looked up at his approach, and Bill began to stammer an apology.
"I'm sorry for any...uh... the IDTA would like to apolo... umm well, you see we want to offer you..." The man waved his hand dismissively and turned back to his wife. He helped her to her feet, and they walked away together up the terminal walkway. Bill sighed with relief and went over to the control panel for the portal door. He tapped on the control panel and closed the portal and then shut down the power to the wormhole generator. Reaching beneath the panel he threw a switch that closed a steel mesh gate across the doorway with a message that read: "Out of Order". Then checking the time on the overhead clock, Bill saw that it was quitting time. He turned and walked away, up the terminal towards the office.
He failed to notice the oddly shaped creature that had followed Glen and Madeline through the portal gate. Its malicious green eyes followed him as he walked away.
© 2009 Tyler Willson. All rights reserved

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

No writing today...

Monkee Numbah Five has arrived!
8 pounds, 20 inches.

Happy Birthday!

(As usual, we do not yet have a name picked out!)

Monday, April 13, 2009

Phishing Bait Uncovered

This is an e-mail my sister received today. She forwarded it to me to see what I thought of it. Since I don't think we can spread the word about this kind of thing enough, I thought I would share my answer with everyone.

Subject: Verify Your Account Now To Avoid It Closed (VX2G99AAJ)
Date: Sat, 28 Mar 2009 08:36:48 +0000

Dear Account User

This Email is from Hotmail Customer Care and we are sending it to every Hotmail Email User Accounts Owner for safety. we are having congestions due to the anonymous registration of Hotmail accounts so we are shutting down some Hotmail accounts and your account was among those to be deleted. We are sending this email to you so that you can verify and let us know if you still want to use this account. If you are still interested please confirm your account by filling the space below.Your User name, password, date of birth and your country information would be needed to verify your account.

Due to the congestion in all Hotmail users and removal of all unused Hotmail Accounts, Hotmail would be shutting down all unused Accounts, You will have to confirm your E-mail by filling out your Login Information below after clicking the reply button, or your account will be suspended within 24 hours for security reasons.

* Username: ..............................
* Password: ................................
* Date of Birth: ............................
* Country Or Territory: ................

After following the instructions in the sheet, your account will not be interrupted and will continue as normal. Thanks for your attention to this request. We apologize for any inconveniences.

Warning!!! Account owner that refuses to update his/her account after two weeks of receiving this warning will lose his or her account permanently.

The Windows Live Hotmail Team

This is a classic example of a PHISHING message. It has all the hallmarks.
First: The return address. (Although this one is not always 100%, since it is a very simple thing to spoof the return address on any email message!) The sender address is Hotmail is operated by Microsoft, which is one of the most wealthy companies in the world. How likely is it that Microsoft employees would be required to send out official e-mail using their personal free e-mail account? Anything official coming from Microsoft would more likely be from a "no-reply" address. (Again, this is easy to spoof, so never think that a message is genuine just because the sender address looks legit. I have recently been receiving a lot of spam that gets through the filter because it apparently came from me!)
Second: Poor grammar and spelling. Once again, Microsoft definitely has enough money to hire workers who can use proper spelling and grammar in their official communications. Many phishers are not native English speakers, so watch out for mangled english phrasing especially in tense and gender. Example: "we are having congestions" No capitalizations at the beginning of a sentence and misuse of the word Congestion. (How many congestions have you had lately?) Example: "Verify your account to avoid it closed."
Third: Basic rules of Internet security. Companies will rarely if ever contact you via e-mail asking for sensitive information. Companies that do should be chastised by their customers (I certainly do!) because this is a horrible way to get info from your customers. How do they know it is you replying, and how can they guarantee that your information is safe? Even when my bank sends me a legitimate message telling me that I need to take some action they won't ask for the information in an e-mail. They will instruct me to log into my account and get or give the requested information. They may provide a link - just to be on the safe side I will never use their link. I will open a browser window and go to the site the way I normally do. This is to prevent someone from putting a bad link in the message that directs me to a different spoof site. If you really, really, really think the message is genuine, find a legitimate phone number for the organization (NOT from the e-mail itself!) and call. Banks especially LOVE to hear from their customers that there is an e-mail out there trying to initiate fraudulent activity on people's accounts. Can you imagine why?
Fourth: Asking for information that is irrelevant. When you signed up for your Hotmail account, do you remember having to enter your birthdate and country of birth? What in the hell would Hotmail need that info for to confirm that you are using your account? This message at least isn't asking for your SSN or DL number, but once they get into your account, they are free to dig through your messages for whatever info you may have stored in there aren't they? In addition they can assume that you use the same password for multiple online accounts, and once they have your password for Hotmail, they are free to go try that same password at your bank website too. Finally, once in your account they can send out spam messages from your account, and guess what? People you know will be more likely to trust a message that comes from you. And access to your account also gives access to your address book. Eureka! A gold mine of new victims who will initially trust a message from you!
Fifth: Common Sense. Think how many people have Hotmail accounts. Think how many of those accounts are used once or twice and then forgotten. Think of the administrative burden on some poor analyst at Microsoft to sort through those millions of accounts and try to figure out which ones to flag for deletion. Wouldn't it be easier to just go through and delete all of the accounts that have not been logged into for say 90 days? Leave your Hotmail account idle for 90 days and see what happens. You can sign into it after that time, but all of your mail will be gone, and it will act like you just opened a new account.
Sixth: A sense of urgency. Scam messages will ALWAYS give you a ridiculously short deadline to follow the instructions. The don't want you to think, or to consult anyone, or otherwise have any time to consider what they are asking. They want you to react out of emotion and panic. Because paniky people are stupid. Einstein would have been stupid if you could have made him sufficiently panicked. How many people you know (including yourself) might go for a day or two without logging into their email accounts? How reasonable would it be for someone to set a 24-hour deadline for deleting your account?
Seventh: Google is your friend. Google the e-mail address of the sender. OK, in this case there is nothing. No surprise. Free e-mail accounts are simple to set up and so this one just has not shown up on the scam radar just yet. Wait a week or two and see what develops. Next, try Googling some text from the message. Try to pick a phrase that is kind of unique in the message. I chose the one that I pointed out above as having some grammar problems. "we are having congestions due to the anonymous registration"
Number one hit? A website dedicated to debunking e-mail scams. Number two through 1,320,000 - probably more of the same. This script is used by phishers all over the world to try and lure unsuspecting victims into giving up their account information.
So what now? You can feel good that you detected this particular phish-bait. You also did the right thing in not replying. Even replying to say that you were not fooled would only let them know that they had a live one. (Think when you were fishing. Even nibbles could keep you at that spot for hours. Don't nibble!) Hotmail has a "Junk" button you can click to mark the sender as a spammer. (

Click it. And forget it. There is not much more you can do. The scammer will monitor this mailbox until it quits receiving replies or gets shut down and then will simply open a new free account, paste a million potential victims in the To: or CC: line and hit send again. As long as you use common sense and don't allow emotion to dictate your actions, Spam like this will remain simply an annoyance like stepping in dog doo at the park. People aren't supposed to do it, but law enforcement usually has better things to do than chase down people that do.
© 2009 Tyler Willson. All rights reserved

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Random Plot Story - Part 3

Part Three of my Randomly Generated Short Story Plot

Bill and Ted stared at the display and the slowly blinking red indicator.
"It looks like your last two passengers never arrived at the destination. Apparently they closed the portal before they entered on this end." Ted's voice was a little bit shaky, and Bill's face was turning a light shade of green.
"What does that mean?" He asked. Ted shrugged his shoulders and shook his head.
"Not sure. Never happened to me before. I suppose I should look it up." Ted was trying to remain calm, but he had never really paid any attention to the emergency procedure briefings where they talked about castaways. All he could remember was that there was a procedure, and that he was supposed to follow it. He couldn't even remember where the manual with the procedure was located.
"Shouldn't you call the boss?" Bill asked uncertainly. He knew for sure that he didn't want to.
"I don't remember if that is in the procedures." Ted answered, also absolutely sure that he didn't want to call the boss.
"Well, I guess we should find that manual then right?" Bill said, relieved that the boss was not in danger of being called.
"Yep." Ted answered. He got up and walked towards a sagging bookshelf.

Glen resisted the urge to let go of Madeline's wrist and let her float away. His police training to preserve lives no matter how repugnant he found them was the only thing that kept his hands tightly clasped around her wrist. He could see nothing but the silvery-blue mist swirling around him, could feel nothing but the warmth of her skin in his hands, and hear nothing but her voice. In fact, he soon discovered that he was not even hearing that in the classic sense of the word. It was more like she was inside his head. He also noticed that when he spoke, he didn't seem to be moving his lips.
"Great!" he thought sarcastically. "Telepathic communication with someone I have no desire to communicate with."
"I heard that!" Madeline's voice shrieked. Glen's hand trembled with the effort to keep holding on. He had learned over the past few years to be very careful of his words, and now he would have to watch even his thoughts.
"Darn right you need to watch your thoughts mister!" Madeline snapped.
"Will you shut up for just one minute? Do you have any idea what kind of a predicament you are in right now?" Glen thundered back. He felt Madeline recoil slightly, and was surprised at the amount of fear he felt in her mind. Not fear of being stuck halfway through a dimensional portal, but fear of him. The realization froze him momentarily. Until Madeline also sensed his surprise and pounced on it like a starving cat.
"Of course I am afraid of you. I have heard the stories. I have seen the pictures." Glen knew instantly which stories she meant, both because they had already had this conversation, and because he could almost see them flashing through her mind.
"What would you have had me do? Just let them torture that woman? They would not have hesitated to do the same and worse to me if given the chance." Glen was not sure why he even tried. They had been around this particular mulberry bush a thousand times, but he couldn't help himself. Her self-righteous...
"I am NOT self-righteous you brutal animal! I spend my life trying to save lives and you spend your life finding excuses to take them. You and your power hungry..."
Glen let go of her wrist and her voice immediately disappeared. The silence was crushing and complete. Even his own thoughts were muffled as if they were a voice coming from a great distance. Nevertheless, he was glad to be free of the shrieking voice of his wife. Apparently the physical contact in this non-physical dimension had been the medium by which they had been communicating. Well, he had no idea how to find her again. Not to mention that he had no desire to even try.

Ted finally located the pertinent manual. It was an old manual, which meant that it was heavy. When the world finally declared itself paper free, technology still had some catching up to do. The fusion power pack that powered the electronic book was a good fifteen pounds in an earlier model like this, which made it a perfect door stop. Ted picked it up and thumbed the power button. The capacitors made a high-pitched whine as they energized, and the logo of the Inter-Dimensional Travel Authority flashed briefly across the screen, followed by a table of contents. Ted tapped his finger on the heading for the section labeled: "Emergency Procedures in Case of Portal Closure During Passenger Transit". The heavy device hummed briefly then displayed a multicolored flow chart. The first shape on the chart was blinking. Bill read it out loud:
"If you suspect that a passenger has been trapped between portal doorways by a closure on either end, immediately contact the watch supervisor."

Ted and Bill groaned together. "The Boss!"

© 2009 Tyler Willson. All rights reserved

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

An essay... for a change.

In case you hadn't noticed, this blog is not so much a blog as a sketch pad for me to practice writing in. So you get a lot of fictional stuff, all of it rough and unedited. Today, I thought I would write an essay of sorts, just to break up the rhythm. Don't worry, I will get back to the "Random Plot" story soon enough. Meanwhile, enjoy a lesson I learned a long time ago.

The Art of Salesmanship

I am not much of a salesman, although I was once offered a position as one of those people that drives around with a trunk full of stereo equipment and tries to get people to buy it. I am not so sure that my sales acumen was as impressive to them as the fact that I showed up to their so-called interview and spent the entire day trudging through slush and snow and interrupting people at work without quitting. (Apparently 9 out of 10 people do just that before lunchtime...) Despite my lack of skill at selling things to people, I learned at a pretty young age one of the secrets to being able to sell things.

When I was in elementary school, we took a trip to the State Fair. It was a pretty highly anticipated trip, and I spent as much time as possible harassing my Dad for spending money. Looking back, I am truly sorry that I gave him so much grief. With seven kids to feed and some pretty bad luck job-wise, to say we lived paycheck to paycheck would be slightly over-stating the case. However, when the day of the trip came, somehow he produced about five bucks for me to take. Happy to have something, I went off on my trip.

When we arrived at the fair, we immediately began running around finding the absolute stupidest things to throw our money at. The kids with plenty of money but whose parents did not come were in heaven, and were quickly carrying around arms full of cheap toys and snarfing down extremely unhealthy food. The kids whose parents came also had it pretty good, since parents came with wallets. Their giddiness was tempered however by needing approval to buy stuff, and depending on the thriftiness of the parents, they also collected a good armful of junk.

Then there were the kids like me, with a small wad of crumpled bills and that hungry, tortured look borne of the knowledge that we had to find just the PERFECT piece of junk to throw our money away on. (Not included in this discussion were the smart kids who saved their money for another day. I mean, how interesting are they anyway?) I wandered around, examining the selections of toys wistfully, feeling a pang of disappointment over and over again as I examined the price tags. Five bucks just doesn't buy much fair junk these days. As I went around I began to notice that much of the junk in the stalls was very much the same. In fact, it was exactly the same, but each salesperson would try to arrange their fair junk in a slightly different configuration to stand out from the stalls to the left and right. I finally resigned myself to the fact that none of the toys I wanted were within my price range, and so I began just visiting the different stalls and trying the stuff out.

Now we get down to the secret I promised. Pay attention, it shouldn't be hard to see.

I walked up to one stall with a friend of mine, and we began admiring some plastic swords. And by admiring, I mean we picked them up and started swinging them at imaginary bad guys. The guy at this stall barked out at us to put them down and I, willing to pretend that I was genuinely interested in his merchandise, asked: "How much are these?" With nothing more than another growl, he snapped some sarcastic comment and snatched the swords out of our hands. My friend and I quickly wandered away, and found another stall. This one was crawling with kids, and the salesman was out front actually sword fighting with kids. My friend and I went there and joined in the fun for a while, and it was there that I actually spent my precious money. (On a trick pack of gum that would snap your fingers when you took the fake stick of gum out of the fake pack... Yep, I know. I certainly go MY money's worth!)

After a long and very fun day at the fair, we began wandering back towards the school buses. As we walked, I remember passing the grouchy guy's stand. It was still stuffed to the gills with fake swords, stuffed animals, and other assorted junk. He sat on a stool glowering at the passing people. Then we passed the cheerful guy's stand. It was empty. Completely sold out except for a few broken toys stacked on the counter. The guy was out front sweeping up and waving and joking with people as they passed.

Did you get the secret? I guess it is not really a secret, but of all my childhood memories, this one stands out. I imagine that the second guy probably lost some money on the toys that got broken by kids playing with them. I am sure that a few toys walked off without being paid for while he was having fun with his customers. But how much do you want to bet that those minor costs were more than covered by the profits he made by selling out his entire inventory? How much profit do you think the grouchy guy made from his carefully protected and unmolested inventory still on the shelves at the end of the day?

Attitude is everything, especially when convincing people to part with their hard-earned money is involved. If people feel welcome to come on in, touch the merchandise, and get the feeling that the salesperson enjoys their job, they are more likely to spend money, and come back to spend more later. I could come up with several more examples in my life, including a used-car salesman that actually trust. But I think you get the point.

I did, that day long ago when I spent my few dollars on a cheap toy, just because someone took the time to play swords with me.

© 2009 Tyler Willson. All rights reserved

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Random Short Story Plot (Continued)

Madeline stepped through the portal doorway quickly, her face red with embarrasment. She hadn't really intended to be disrespectful of the agent, she was just in a hurry to get through the wormhole before it closed. Why did Glen have to rub it in her face by bending over to help him? He had seemed even more surly and distant than ever lately, and she was at her wit's end trying to figure out why. Didn't he recognize how hard she worked to make him happy? This vacation was just another example. She had been planning for months, and the closest he had come to showing gratitude was when he stopped insisting he didn't want to go. She almost perferred active resistance to his silent, passive-aggressive attitude. Oh well. He could stay miserable if he wanted, she was going to enjoy her time off of work. No whining patients or arrogant doctors harrassing her, no inferior co-workers to infuriate her with their incompetence.

As she passed through the silvery-blue fog of the portal entrance, she felt the familiar cold chill of interdimensional travel. She hated it, but it usually only lasted an instant, and then she would be stepping out of the far end of the wormhole and into the destination terminal. This time though, something was wrong. She continued walking, which was weird, since in all her past travels she never remembered taking more than just the one step. Pick up your foot and step through the portal, and it came down on the floor of your destination. Surrounded by the silvery blue fog, she began to panic, and then she felt something grab her wrist.

Glen stepped through the portal with the same casual indifference as Madeline. He also was immediately surprised when after three or four seconds he was still surrounded by the silvery blue fog. He felt the panic rising in the back of his mind, but he forced it to the back of his mind. In his long years as a cop he had learned that panic is normal, but given free reign it would make it nearly impossible to think rationally. Instead, he funneled the burst of adrenaline to focus and sharpen his thoughts. He was no inter-dimensional physicist, but he knew that the human body could survive perpetually in the murky environment of the wormhole tunnel. In fact, while the body was in the midst of inter-dimensional travel it was in a sort of suspended animation and ceased to age at all. So on the bright side, if he was somehow stuck in the tunnel he would not die. On the other hand, he could conceivably sit here for centuries with nothing but his conscious mind for company. No physical sensation or awareness of the passage of time would wreak havoc on his sanity. He quickly squashed the memory of a story about a scientist in the early days of inter-dimensional travel who had become lost in a tunnel, only to emerge a century later irreversibly insane. He struggled to make some progress, not sure if he could actually make himself move, but the physical effort reassured him somewhat. As he waved his hand around him he thought he felt it brush against something. Instinctively he grasped it, amazed to find anything tangible in this murky place. As he grasped the thing, a terrified scream burst through the murk.

Madeline screamed, frozen with terror. Something had a hold of her wrist, and was gripping it with a cold viselike strength. She screamed until her lungs should have been emptied of air, but the scream continued. The fact that she could not feel the scream, nor the panic of having no air in her lungs made her even more terrified, and she screamed all the louder. Another hand grasped her arm, just a bit above the other and she felt as if her sanity was slowly slipping away. Then she heard a voice. It was a calm voice, speaking with a quiet authority and tinged with annoyance and disgust.
"Calm down Maddy, you are going to hurt yourself."
The surprise of having her hysteria interrupted by Glen's disgusted voice drove the panic immediately from her mind. She wanted to be angry, she wanted to hurt him. But the relief of understanding what the mysterious thing was that had grabbed her battled mightily with the impulse and finally won.
"Glen? Is that you? What is happening?" Her voice trembled with fear and anger, battling within her mind for control. She reached her other hand out and placed it over his hand where it grasped her wrist. Glen's maddeningly calm voice answered, seeming to come from everywhere at once.
"I'm not a freaking scientist am I? Your guess is as good as mine. It seems like we are stuck for some reason."
"I told you to hurry! This is all your fault."
Glen could not believe what he was hearing. Had she really gone from hysterical to catty that fast?

The portal agent whose name was Bill and who was looking forward to going off shift in five minutes entered the control room and dropped the stack of portal passes on the counter in front of a technician named Ted. He mechanically picked them up and dropped them in an auto counter which immediately began flipping through them.
"Which portal?" his bored voice intoned. "64B" Bill answered with the same amount of interest. He didn't even slow down to watch, but headed directly for the break area in the back. He was stopped by the voice of the Ted, which was no longer bored and disinterested.
"Which portal did you say?" Bill repeated the portal number over his shoulder without slowing. But Ted's next words stopped him in his tracks.
"It looks like we have a castaway... or two."

To Be Continued...

© 2009 Tyler Willson. All rights reserved

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Random Short Story Plot...

My favorite collection of random generators resides at the Seventh Sanctum. This entry is the result of a randomly generated short story plot.

The story is about a lawman and a nurse. It starts at a portal to another dimension. The story climaxes with a failure.

"Come on! We're late!" Madeline's voice rasped on Glen's last nerve. Vacation was supposed to be relaxing, right? Then why was he more stressed right now than just before a raid on an occupied meth house? Glen picked up his pace a fraction, but was still falling behind his wife's frantic pace. The terminal was deserted this time of the morning, and unfortunately there was no way they would be getting separated. She looked over her shoulder at him, and gave him the same exasperated face she gave to patients who disregarded her medical advice because she was "just a nurse". He had seen it thousands of times, and it used to be amusing to him. Now, it was another straw on the proverbial camel's back, though it was not yet broken. Not yet. The emotionless voice over the PA system announced that portal 64B would be closing in five minutes.
"That's us! We're going to miss it, and then we will have to wait another solar cycle before it opens again! Let's go!" Glen picked up his pace. The thought of having to wait in the terminal with his wife for another solar cycle enough to encourage him. They reached the end of the moving sidewalk, and turned down the corridor leading to portal 64B. The odd metallic scent of inter-dimensional travel was strong in the air as they passed other portals, some open and admitting passengers. Others were closed, the silvery blue fog of the closed wormhole entrance moving hypnotically. Passengers lounged here and there, looking bored and nervous at the same time as travellers have looked for millennia. He turned his attention back to the slim figure of his wife walking a half-dozen paces ahead. She was still stunning, her brown hair cut short and her figure still trim. But he had a hard time recapturing the excitement her beauty used to give him. He wondered again, as he had many times over the past few months why that should be. Before he could properly get very far into that line of thought, a dim overhead sign indicated that they had reached portal 64B. A bored agent was already gathering up all of the portal passes and preparing to leave.
"Wait!" His wife shrieked. The agent jumped, dropping the sheaf of passes on the floor. His face registered annoyance, but Madeline was as blind to that as she ever was to Glen's annoyance. She walked up and shoved their portal passes in the man's face, actually walking on the dropped passes as she did so. Glen arrived just as the poor man was about to explode, and without a word bent down and began picking up the passes.
"Sorry man, she is really excited to get on with vacation." Madeline looked down at him with the beginnings of a sneer. He ignored her, and just kept picking up the passes. The man looked back and forth from the portal passes in Madeline's hand to Glen kneeling on the floor and a look of understanding seemed to dawn on his face. His face became a mask, and he nodded to Madeline with a perfectly polite and friendly smile.
"Yes ma'am, you made it just in time. Please place your luggage on the luggage belt, and step this way." He gestured towards the portal with one hand, while taking the passes from her with the other. As she stepped towards the portal, Glen retrieved the last few passes from the floor and stood up straightening them as he and the portal agent stood watching her drop her bags on the conveyor belt and walk through the round doorway.
Glen handed the sheaf of portal passes to the agent, who shook his head and smiled wryly. As soon as Madeline's form had melted into the swirling inter-dimensional fog he chuckled.
"You know, if you want, I could accidentally send you to a completely different dimension." Glen smiled, and actually pondered it for a few seconds, before shaking his head.
"Nah, she would track me down, and then where would I be?" The agent nodded knowingly. "I understand man. Try and enjoy your trip." Glen nodded and stepped up to the luggage conveyor. He placed his bag on it, and walked through the round doorway where his wife had just disappeared.

The agent shook his head, straightened the pile of passes in his hand and walked away, not noticing the flashing red light on the control panel.

To Be Continued...
© 2009 Tyler Willson. All rights reserved

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Interview with Dr. Eliza

>> Hello.
How do you do.
Please state your problem.>>
I am nervous
Is it because you are nervous that you came to me ?>>
You seem to be quite positive.>>
I think I am
How long have you been ?>>
I'm not sure I understand you fully.>>
I have been nervous for years
You say you have been nervous for years ?>>
You are sure.>>
I see.>>
How can you help me?
Why do you ask ?>>
That is why I am here
Does that question interest you ?>>
That is why I came here to speak to you today
What is it you really wanted to know ?>>
What to do about my nervousness
Your nervousness ?>>
my feelings of fear or apprehension
Why do you say your feelings of fear or apprehension ?>>
I am trying to describe my nervousness
Does that suggest anything else which belongs to you ?>>
like what?
Are such questions much on your mind ?>>
not really
Does that have anything to do with the fact that your nervousness ?>>
Does that have anything to do with the fact that your feelings of fear or apprehension ?>>
You are not making sense
What makes you think I am not making sense ?>>
You are using the wrong tense with your pronouns
Does it please you to believe I am using the wrong tense with my pronouns ?>>
Are you saying no just to be negative?>>
Yes.I understand.>>
So now what?
What answer would please you most ?>>
The cure.
Earlier you said your nervousness .>>
Yes. The cure to my nervousness.
You seem to be quite positive.>> I am.
Do you believe it is normal to be ?>>
Who wouldn't be?
Please go on.>>
Well, most people would want the cure to their problems.
What does that suggest to you ?>>
That they don't enjoy having problems.
Do you feel strongly about discussing such things ?>>
That is why I am here today.
What do you think ?>>
About what?
What comes to mind when you ask that ?>>
That you are avoiding my questions.
Is it important that your questions ?>>
See, there is another grammatical flaw.
But your questions .>>
And again.
I'm not sure I understand you fully.>>
That is because you are stupid.
Is that the real reason ?>>
I believe so.
Can you elaborate on that ?>>
I came here for help, and you just keep asking me questions.
Do you say you came here for help for some special reason ?>>
My nervousness.
Your nervousness ?>>
Do we have to go through this again?
Does that have anything to do with the fact that your nervousness ?>>
It has everything to do with it!
Please go on.>>
What does that suggest to you ?>>
That I am getting tired of this!
Do you enjoy being getting tired of this ?>>
Do you enjoy getting tired?
We were discussing you -- not me.>>
Well, it was a dumb question.
Do you feel strongly about discussing such things ?>>
Most of the time.
I'm not sure I understand you fully.>>
I'll say it again: You are Stupid.
Do you sometimes wish you were stupid ?>>
How much is this costing me again?
Have you asked such questions before ?>>
Only when someone was ripping me off.
Have you asked anyone else ?>>
I am strongly considering just that.
Is it because you are strongly considering just that that you came to me ?>>
You are being a bit negative.>>
You are being a bit stupid.
Perhaps you would like to be being a bit stupid .>>
Are you insulting me?
Why are you interested in whether I am insulting you or not ?>>
Because I want to know if I am justified in unplugging you!
Do you think its likely that you are justified in unplugging I ?>>
You are sure.>>
I see.>>
Why do you ask ?>>
What is wrong with you?
Does that question interest you ?>>
OK, I think we are done here.
That's quite interesting.>>
Good bye.
Please go on.>>
Why not ?>>
I'm leaving.
How long have you been leaving ?>>
Not long enough obviously.
What does that suggest to you ?>>
Why Am I still here?
What is it you really wanted to know ?>>
The meaning of life, the universe, and everything.
Do you feel strongly about discussing such things ?>>
I'm not sure I understand you fully.>>
Goodbye. Thank you for talking to me.>>
Please go on.>>
What does that suggest to you ?

© 2009 Tyler Willson. All rights reserved