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A Coin, a Ball, and a 20-sided Dice

Every coin has two sides. One side is the side you show everyone. On the other side: secrets you’ll never freely admit to, some of which you won’t even acknowledge to yourself.

On the public facing side, ridges and curves make up that image people perceive when they see you, hear your voice, or even think of you. Your angry reactions. Your happy reactions. Your sad reactions. Predictable as the changing of the seasons, with little variation.

I am not a coin.

I’m a 20-sided dice. You’ll see all of me at some point or other, and not all of it is pretty. In fact, very little of it is. My anger. My happy. My sad. It’s all a roll of the dice.

Screaming and crying. Beating fists. Red-faced, jaw clenched. Narrow-eyed calm. Roll the dice.

Smiling sedately. Grinning like a fool. A frenzy of activity. Roll the dice.

A solemn mask. Silent, still. Broken and bawling and shaking. Roll the dice.

Words surface. Depression. Anxiety. Insomnia. Then more words I can’t quite pronounce or spell without looking at the bottle.

Still, I’m not a coin.

I’m better, but I’ll never be a coin. With help, though, I can be a ball. A small, gray, smooth, soft, calm, predictable ball.

I'm sure there's an actual expert on this shit who can tell you how to properly build a world. When it comes right down to it, we're all just whistlin' our own versions of dixie, so I'm gonna add my ante to the pot. I present to you two things you should try to remember when building a world.

#1 Don't.

You know that guy who assures his wife he can fix the toilet himself then ends up knee deep in shit? Don't be that guy. Unless you're an architect, you ain't building shit. Stick with what you're good at. You're a writer. Don't build a world around your characters. Do show me how this lovely person you've introduced me to moves through and interacts with the world around them. Easy enough, right? Here's the hard part...

#2 Choose wisely.

You know that awkward moment at the movie store when a guy is choosing a video for the first “in home” date. Like him, you need to prioritize, then make a decision and stick with it. You wouldn't get a cheesy romance flick for your fantasy football buddies, now would you? Don't go all Hey let's have a Hellraiser marathon on your girl either. Unless, you know, she's into that sort of thing. Same goes for writing.

I'm a big fan of breaking rules and mixing genres. Just make sure, like the aforementioned date, your readers want what you're whipping out for them. That way, you're not just gingerly poking them, hoping they'll stroke your, um, ego. If you choose your genre(s) carefully when “world building”, you can stand there bearing your, er, soul with confidence and pride.

You may think I went off topic there, talking about genres in an article about world building. I didn't. See, while you're busy trying to build a 3D world with words, Character McFictional is busy lighting the candles he's scattered throughout his living room to set the tone for his date tonight. Percy Sledge plays softly from the CD player near the TV. When the doorbell rings, he plucks a single red rose from a vase full of them, with which he'll greet his date. With a final glance at his reflection in the gilded hall mirror, and a minor adjustment to his tie, he opens the door to the hottest woman in the shortest black skirt he's ever seen. Which genre was that? Exactly. Your “world building” and genre, if done properly, go hand in hand to set the tone for your story.

Try to build a world and you'll end up knee deep in a novel full of shit when all you wanted to do was write a short story. Use the world around your character(s) to show me what's going on, and, more importantly, to clue me in as to how things are going for them. If I can feel what you're trying to show me, there's no way I'll be able to put your book down. Use your chosen genre(s) and each scene's “props” to do that.

Now that I've told you how it's done, I think I'll go read some articles on world building from people who actually know what they're talking about. Come to think of it, I probably should have done that first. Ciao!

West1Jess

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Readers, pervert, get your head out of the gutter. Although, to be fair, I guess I could have titled the article The Art of Getting Readers to avoid confusion, but where's the fun in that?

Anyway, so you wrote something and you edited something and after all the bleeding and crying you've done to get this thing as pretty as can be, you set it free into the world. There are a number of ways to do that, but for the purpose of clarity lets just look at how to get readers to check out your book at retailers.

Buy them a drink.

Does that ever actually work? I mean, really. You go to a bar, spot a hottie and pop a squat on the stool next to hers. She crosses her legs and glances at you out of the corner of her eye. At least, you think she does. She could have been checking the location of the bartender who just happens to be standing on the other side of you. Doesn't matter. She knows you're there and you know it. So you drop some cheesy line and offer to buy her a drink. Seriously, does that ever actually work? Probably won't work for readers either, but it doesn't hurt to try. Except your pride. If the plan fails, it might sting just a bit.

Everybody loves swag, even if they don't know what swag is. Swag, my intrepid literary entrepreneur, is free shit. Custom pens with your name and website emblazoned right there on the barrel (that sounds exactly as cool as I thought it would), custom beach bags, custom book marks, custom coffee cups, custom any fucking thing El Escritor desires. Find a good site like Cafe Press and a good designer of graphic art stuffs and just go wild. Well, as wild as you can afford.

Host a Death Match

Offer your custom swag as prizes in a contest, but not just any contest, a social media contest (I may have exaggerated a little calling it a death match, but you might be surprised- they don't call 'em voracious readers for nothing). For example:

"I've got custom doormats for the first ten people who tweet the purchase link to my book!"

Yeah, that could work. Make it something good, though. Ooh! I know... Put your face on custom printed toilet paper. Your tag line could be, "If you don't like my book, you could always wipe your ass with my face and tweet that! Don't forget the hash tag #ThisIsShit." Hey, don't knock free public service announcements. Any publicity is good publicity when you're facing death by obscurity. People may get curious, check out your book, like the description and buy the book. Worst case scenario, thousands will buy it and end up tweeting it's shit. On the bright side, at least you'll trend on Twitter. #FTW!

You may or may not hit it big when you publish a book. Chances are good you'll sell a few copies and if people like the book well enough, they won't beat you over the head with every mistake you've ever made in the form of a one-star review. If they really liked it, they may even give you a glowing four or five-star review. If a lot of people liked it, then a lot of people will recommend it, whether all of them read it or not. Seriously, of all the people talking about 50 Shades, how many do you believe have actually read it? Them's the breaks, kid.

Don't worry about any of that, though. Successful writers do three things: write, publish and advertise. The thing that makes them successful is that they do those things well and consistently. The hardest part is getting started and gaining momentum. Swag can help you get the readers, but you gotta deliver the thing they really want when they open your book. If that chick at the bar ends up going home with you tonight, show her a real good time and she might keep coming back for more. Damn, that's actually a great analogy.

West1Jess

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Once upon a time, there was this creepy kid named Macey. I know it sounds like I’m being mean, but seriously, if you took one look at this kid, you’d have agreed. I mean, it wasn’t some obvious disfigurement. I’m not a total douche-canoe. It was something deeper, seen only in her eyes. Something wasn’t quite right with her smile. The real kicker? She kinda had her own catchphrase, but she said it at the weirdest times.

“Something wicked this way comes.”

I’m not even joking. That’s what she’d say. I think she got it from a book or something. She was always reading.

Anyway, one day just before English class—when me, Emily, and Stacy walked in and sat down—I could have sworn I heard her whispering my name. So I turned around to look at her, but she was staring at the door.

She always did that, so I just shrugged. Then I heard it again. “Madison…”

I glared at her, not saying a word, just waiting for her to speak.

Her lips didn’t move.
“MADISON!”
If I’m lying, I’m dying … her lips. Did. Not. Move. I just rolled my eyes and ignored her, but I was shaking.

“Something wicked this way comes,” she said.

I jumped, goosebumps climbing up my arms. Movement from the door caught my eye, but I was too scared to look. I just focused on my desk. But then I heard Ms. Snider’s voice from the front of the class and I knew Macey had played a stupid prank on me. Ms. Snider was … a bit harsh at times, and I did manage to rub her wrong that day, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call her ‘wicked.’ Macey got me all creeped out over nothing.

Anyway, that was Macey for you. Just real freaking creepy.

But here’s the thing, she saved my life once. Not while she was alive, though. It was after she died.

See, I was staying late after school one day for basketball tryouts. On my way to the gym, I heard her voice. I tried my best to ignore her like I did that day in English class, but I was even more scared. This wasn’t just some voice-throwing trick or something. She was dead!

Just the same, I heard her voice.

“Something wicked this way comes, something wicked this way comes, something wicked this way comes.

MADISON, RUN!”

So I ran. I turned around and ran back toward the main building. I ran until I couldn’t hear her voice anymore. I kept running through the main building and to the principal’s office where I could call my mom. I just wanted my mom.

After we called her, the secretary calmed me down while I waited for her to come pick me up. I was still crying and shaking when she got there.

A fire alarm went off a few seconds later. Five people died in the gym that day; the first three kids to show up for tryouts, the assistant coach, and a janitor. Apparently the gym was the target of an arsonist, according to the news. Something wicked, indeed.

• § ☼ •~• ☼ § •

It’s Here!!

• § ☼ •~• ☼ § •

For the Valentine’s Day edition of Canyons, I wanted to do something special. Something to do with love, obviously, but not like anything else I’ve ever experienced.

I was going through some old posts recently and came upon some comments on a flash fiction piece I wrote a while back. An element in that story struck a lot of fancies, so I’d been playing with ideas to incorporate that element in a new story.

Given my obsession with Dante’s ideas of sinners and consequences, I knew that his work would influence my “love story” to at least some degree.

I kept thinking, and thinking, and thinking. Then something else floated to the surface and it all suddenly made sense. That something else was the idea that the seven deadly sins can all be applied to love. Wrathful love, gluttonous love, envious love, etcetera.

I had a word count goal to meet, though. Canyons readers have expectations, and it’s important to meet them. But after writing just three stories and the intermissions surrounding them, it was clear I was going to go way over.

Something else had me blocked after only three stories. My subconscious mind knew something just wasn’t quite right. With some help from a critique partner, I realized exactly what the story needed (and why my subconscious mind had dug in its heels).

And so, Hell Zoo: Valentine’s Day Exhibit came to be.

If you grab a copy and read it, please let me know what you think. It can be a simple line or two saying what you did or didn’t like. It can be a review (much appreciated as it helps other readers decide), or a direct message. It can be a quietly shared Facebook or Twitter post. It can be a comment to this post. Support comes in many forms, and I’m grateful for it all.

Happy Valentines’ Day.

~ Jess

Cheers to fellow flash fictioneer, Nillu Nasser Stelter, and to her latest post–a most welcome reminder of good times–Rekindling the Flash Flame: A Bite-Sized Story.


“The teenager walked in and sat down while her mom signed her in at the window.”

“Abby… Not everyone likes to have their lives narrated.”

The little girl mumbled an “okay,” but she looked so disappointed.

“It’s okay,” I said. “I don’t mind.”

Her mom smiled. “Thank you,” she said. And to Abby, “Just keep it down.”

“Okay! I mean—okay.”

I pulled out my cell phone and scrolled through my timeline, liking a few statuses. Just enough to keep me in the loop.

“The teenager checked her phone for a text message from her boyfriend.”

My mom sat beside me and giggled. I couldn’t help but smile myself. The kid had such a great imagination. She was completely oblivious to how things really worked.

I didn’t have a boyfriend. I had cancer. I’ve read the ‘heartwarming’ stories of sick girls with devoted boyfriends. I saw the movie. It’s bullshit.

But we all have our ways of escaping while we wait for chemo treatments.

Except my mom. She faces everything head-on. And she never meets a stranger. Wait for it…

“So,” she addressed Abby’s mom, “is this your first time here?”

She means well. But…

“Ah, no. We’re in the pain management phase.”

There’s the awkward.

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.”

Wait… pain management phase? That sounds an awful lot like doctor speak for “Time to give up.”

Abby picked at the hem of her dress.

I cleared by throat, my face already burning with embarrassment, and looked at my phone again.

“The teenager looked at her phone and gasped with shock. Abby the Fabulous had sent her a friend request! She immediately accepted the request and sent Abby a quick thank you message. She was trying to play it cool, but she couldn’t wait to tell her friends about the amazing storyteller.”

I’ve never been good at telling stories, but it must not have sucked too bad. Abby grinned and took up the tale from there.

That day, not only was Abby a fabulous storyteller, but she was also a magician, an explorer, and a nurse as well.

I see you looking at my boots. It’s okay, I get it. I look trashy with the wedge heels and the faux fur. But take a moment and look again.

With all the decisions I make, I don’t often get it right. Buying these boots was a truly good choice.

Sometimes we get to decide whether we want the purple dress or the pink one, the blue bike or the red. Sometimes we have to choose between buying lunches at work or diapers. And sometimes we really need a pair of shoes, but we don’t quite have enough money for that and the kids’ Scholastic book orders.

But we can’t imagine our babies sitting in a classroom with twenty other kids and being one of those who doesn’t have an order coming in. Even if it’s something small and inexpensive, we gotta get them something. Sure, they don’t need it, but that’s beside the point. So we go to the thrift shop for our clothes and shoes. We find the cheapest but still comfortable shoes we can find, and we buy them for six dollars.

I love these boots. These six-dollar, thrift store boots. They may not seem like much to you, but I’m pretty damn proud of them. One of the best decisions I’ve ever made.