Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Mid-Week Flash Challenge - Week 70

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Everyone likes a little flash fiction, right? Thanks to a prompt from Miranda Kate's 70th Mid-Week Flash challengeyou're going to get some! This is from Miranda's post:
Here is a link to the photo prompt for this week's challenge.
If you want to join in, here's what she's looking for:
General Guidelines:

Story length: Anything up to 750 Words (no minimum).
How enter: Either provide a link in the comments, or post the entire story in the comments.
Deadline: I will post a new one every Wednesday, but if you're inspired by a previous weeks, go ahead and write for it.
Genre/Theme: All/Any - completely open. It doesn't even have to refer to the picture.

Link to story:

I went a little Mickey Spillane with this one. I do that from time to time. I don't know why. This story is just under the limit at 742 words. 
It's called Ave Maria. And, no, it isn't religious. The story is posted on my Patreon site (free access).

© 2018 K. R. Smith All rights reserved

Monday, August 27, 2018

You Folks Need To Get In Better Shape

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This last weekend I did something I'd been contemplating for over two years.

I ran a 5K race.

Yes, I know. This blog is supposed to be about writing. I don't get any great inspiration while running. Just perspiration. And while I did write a couple of articles for the Baltimore Road Runners Club newsletter in the distant past, that is about as much of a tie to writing as I can make. My main reason for running is it helps relieve stress and keeps my aging body moving. I sit much of the time these days—at work, while commuting, and while writing. My backside needs an occasional change of pace.

I used to run a lot. That was about twenty years ago, however. I'd occasionally gone jogging since then, but life's events and my work schedule had mostly eliminated any sort of regular exercise. Still, a return to running, especially on the trails, had been creeping into my thoughts for a while now.

It was with the encouragement of a stranger (under unusual circumstances that would add nothing to this story) that the commitment to enter a race was made. I told myself I would train hard and do the best I could.

Except I didn't. Not really. I hardly ran at all. I resigned myself to the thought of finishing dead last and barely dragging my spent body across the finish line. But the commitment had been made. I would not back out. I had signed up early. Even got a senior discount! BTW, that thrill dissipates quickly once you realize it only means you're getting old.

The route was on the Ma & Pa Heritage Trail near Bel Air, Maryland. I'd run a race there many years ago.  Once I checked out the trail map I remembered why I hated this course. The last half is all uphill. Thank you, sir. May I have another?

There aren't many spaces at the trailhead to park and these were taken up by the race staff. The only place close by was next to a funeral home. Was this coincidence or fate? Only time would tell.

The building next to where I parked for the race
The building next to where I parked for the race

Once parked, I made my way to the registration table. I picked up my bib and souvenir t-shirt, and then I checked for the restrooms. They had one spot-a-pot. ONE. I could had tied that up until race time all by myself. Come on, Charm City Run! Get real!

The start finish line at the "Age is but a #" 5K race
The start finish line at the "Age Is But A #" 5K race

I walked around and jogged a little to get warmed up. Not too much, though. I didn't want to wear myself out before the race even started.

Finally, the call was made for the runners to line up. The starter's pistol sounded. I was off. Well, eventually. If you've ever started a race when lined up at the back of the pack, you'll understand.

The first mile came up quicker than I'd expected. I was wondering if I'd gone out too fast. By 'fast' I mean waddled more quickly than I should have. I knew the last half of the race would be tough. Would I be able to finish?

As a side note, why does a 5K race have sections marked in miles? Must be American exceptionalism. We make you learn math in order to run. Just one of the reasons why I love this country.

When I reached the turn-around point, I saw the water cooler. My eyes fixated on the orange plastic barrel. Even though the temperature was in the low sixties, I needed a drink badly. Unfortunately, there was no one manning (or womanning or even beasting) the water stop. No smooth hand-off of a cup of water here. I had to stop, open the plastic bag of cups, find the spigot on the cooler, and get my drink. This was costing me precious seconds (minutes?). Come on, Charm City Run! Get real! Wait. I already said that once.

After disposing of the cup, I looked up the trail. Yes, up. Dang. It didn't seem that steep coming down. I contemplated getting another drink. No, they'll probably hook me right up to an IV in the hospital anyway. My legs were not prepared for this. And yet I managed to pass a few other runners. And a few passed me. For the last mile, I went back and forth with a woman, exchanging places as we crept up the hills. I was finally able to pull away on the last stretch, beating her by about sixteen seconds. And she was eighteen years my junior. Unfortunately, I couldn't quite catch the thirty-six-year-old lady who finished just ahead of me—well, not and live to tell about it. I was exhausted and covered in sweat. She looked like she'd taken a short walk around the block. I'm so out of shape.

When the results were posted, I noticed something odd. Instead of finishing last, I was sixth out of fourteen in my age group (60 to dead). I was in the middle third of all runners on the course. That's about where I used to finish twenty years ago.

That's not too bad, you say? True. I was quite pleased even though my time was abysmal. But it shouldn't have happened. There's no way I should have placed that high. I've never been a great runner, and now I'm terribly out of shape. I'm overweight. In the last three years I've run perhaps five times. That is not a valid training regimen.

All I can think is how many others in the race were in worse shape than me. That's a bit sad. And maybe that's why the funeral home picked its current business location. You folks need to get moving. I know I am. Fear is a great motivator. It appears every time I look in the mirror. Age has not been my friend. I guess what I'm saying is if a wheezy geezer like me can outrun you, perhaps it's time to think about getting a little more active.

Anyway, I'm going to keep running and get in better shape. Maybe do another race. Why? I have more stories to write and being published posthumously doesn't sound all that appealing!

© 2018 K. R. Smith All rights reserved

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Zombies Need Your Help

Zombies Need Brains, to be more specific.

Zombies Need Brains LLC logo

Joshua Palmatier has set up a Kickstarter to fund the creation of three new sci-fi / fantasy anthologies based on the following concepts:
He's hoping to collect $25,000 to fund the printing, cover the cost of the cover art, and to pay the authors (at a SFWA professional rate - most important!). There will be about 14 stories in each anthology. Approximately half the authors are already chosen from people Joshua has worked with in the past, but if the Kickstarter is funded then there will be an open call for stories to fill them out. He is always eager to read from outside his pre-selected group and has mentioned that the best stories often come from unknown or lesser-known authors.

Joshua has a track record for creating these anthologies, so don't be concerned about the   disappear with the money. He has done this for several years now, and the books have done quite well. I've already contributed for this project, and I contributed to the last round of anthologies, too. And maybe I'll have time to write a suitable short tale should everything go as planned. And please consider submitting (or preparing) a story yourself if you have something that might work.

As of this posting (August 23, 2018) the Kickstarter is nearly a quarter of the way funded and less than two days have passed. This gives you the heads-up that he has serious support for his anthologies. That doesn't mean you shouldn't contribute, however. There are some great perks for those who do!

You can read more about here: Zombies Need Brains Developing Projects

This is a direct link to the ZNB Kickstarter: Kickstarter

© 2018 K. R. Smith All rights reserved

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Do You Remember That Old Joke

...about hockey?

"I went to a fight the other night and a hockey game broke out."
                                       -- Rodney Dangerfield

I had a similar experience Saturday. No, I wasn't at a hockey game. Or a fight. I went to a slumber party the other night and an opera broke out. Okay, my opening here is a stretch, but that's what happened.

It was on the Saturday in question when I attended a performance of the HMS Pinafore by the Chicago-based theatre company The Hypocrites in the Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab at the Olney Theatre. This is not quite your standard version of the Pinafore. If you didn't pick up on that by noticing the stage is mainly made of beds (like a slumber party) and has a big pillow pit in the center (with a sliding board leading down into it), then it will surely become apparent when the song I'm Called Little Buttercup is sung by the biggest, burliest fellow there. Having the cast all wear pajamas was another clue, just in case you still weren't sure.

Pre-show staging for the HMS Pinafore at the Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab at the Olney
Pre-show staging for the HMS Pinafore
in the Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab at Olney

Even before the play begins, the cast gets everyone in the mood by doing several pop/rock numbers while explaining the rules of the stage. Depending upon the type of ticket you purchased, you can have a seat (as I did) or mingle with the players on the stage. If you do the latter, you must be prepared to move around as the play progresses.

The actors and actresses provide their own music for this play. There are guitars, ukuleles, mandolins, a flute, an accordion, and a toy piano. Oh, yes, and a banjo. It is possible I missed something.

This presentation is very kid-friendly (the pillow pit and general stage set-up), but that doesn't mean adults will be bored. The story is still there, the songs (mostly), too, and though the gender rolls are reversed it doesn't make a difference. It's still the Pinafore. You can even buy a beer any time during the play - assuming you are of legal age. And I do mean anytime. You don't have to wait until intermission. There actors specifically mention this while going over how the show works. That's especially good since the intermission is only one minute long. Yes, one minute.

And the play does work for both kids and adults. Not many children would want to set through a British opera from the 1800s, but here they were having pillow fights with the cast while the action was going on. And it went swimmingly. Thankfully, the adults never got too rowdy. I'm surprised.

Best of all, the cast is very good. They played the instruments well and the singing was great. They didn't play anything too fancy (mostly strumming), but the fact that they were doing so while jumping on platforms, stomping through the pillow pit, and going both up and down the sliding board would have made that nearly impossible anyway! The sound in the Lab was reasonably good, and the timing (jokes, music, singing) was spot-on.

Of the cast, my favorite was Dana Saleh Omar who plays Ralphina (formerly known as Ralph Rackshaw). It's easy to believe the Captain's son, Joseph (Mario Aivazian), would fall in love with her. Any young man who heard her sing would surely do so. The two make their scenes quite believable.

Don't feel you have to make a comparison between this version of the HMS Pinafore and a more traditional presentation. They can both be funny, interesting, and entertaining. They are just different. If you have a chance to see this troupe perform, however, give it a try. And bring along a kid, no matter how old they are.

© 2018 K. R. Smith All rights reserved

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Shore Leave 40 - Saturday

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Saturday is always the busy day at a Shore Leave convention. There are too many panels and talks to attend every one you'd like, especially when they are scheduled at the same time. There are difficult decisions to make! Plus, I was helping some friends with taking pictures and getting autographs, so that came into play, too.

The first stop is always the restaurant where the Cinnamon Tree cooks up a nice buffet with made-to-order omelets, eggs, and waffles. Notice that was an "and" and not an "or." I did try to keep the calories under control, however. That being said, everyone eats a good-sized breakfast because there is never time for lunch—too much is going on. And dinner is usually late. After fueling up, we dove right into the action.

During the middle of the day the actor/actress guests were either talking, posing in the photo area for pictures with the fans, or signing autographs. Some in my party were getting multiple pictures taken with the actors/actresses, so I was left holding the bag ( or bags ) while they were busy. I also helped hold the autographed pictures while the signatures dried. They move the lines quickly there, so there are usually multiple photos in everyone's hands who are waving them in the air until the ink has set. Even though it doesn't take long, you still have to let them dry before putting them into their protective sleeves. The whole process can be quite awkward. I did get a picture with William Shatner, and his autograph, plus an additional one ( with an image from one of his Twilight Zone shows ) for a relative.

I didn't get to any of the writing panels on Saturday. The ones I could have attended were panels I'd been to 2 or 3 times over the years, often with the same panel members. A couple of others conflicted with scheduled talks, autograph lines, or photograph sessions. That's the way it is at these conventions; there are too many activities to get to all the ones you want to attend. Still, you do get to talk with writers all day long and at just about any time. With some authors, if you ask them about their book you have a hard time getting them to stop! They will discuss what is popular and what isn't doing as well, and most important, what might be coming up next. And there is always the opportunity to make or refresh connections with authors, some of whom are small press publishers. There isn't much free or wasted time at Shore Leave!

After getting the pictures and autographs, we caught part of the talks by Shawn Ashmore and Ming-Na Wen. I know the photographs from Shore Leave are not the best, but when the guests are on stage they always shine these yellow lights on them and this really messes with the images, especially from my little camera.

Ming-Na Wen at Shore Leave 40
Ming-Na Wen at Shore Leave 40

Shawn Ashmore at Shore Leave 40
Shawn Ashmore at Shore Leave 40

Around 4:00 pm, the second William Shatner talk / Q & A session started. Mr. Shatner does have some interesting responses to the questions people ask, but he seldom gets directly to the answer. "It will all be clear in a minute," he says, much to the amusement of the audience. Eventually he does get to the point, but it always took more than a minute. I had heard he was often a bit gruff, but he was very warm and engaging whenever I saw him.

William Shatner at Shore Leave 40
William Shatner at Shore Leave 40

About 7:00 pm I stopped by the room where the art auction was supposed to take place and found it was already over. Not many pieces went to auction ( none of mine where in the auction ), so it hadn't lasted long. It was at this time I discovered my painting ( Alien Dawn #1 ) had a bid but had not been picked up by the purchaser. That was when I became concerned they might not come back! I did spend time talking to the art show staff and got a lot of pointers on what to do for next year. They also discussed some of the changes coming to the art show rules to prevent items being offered for sale that might violate copyrights.

After this, we stopped by the pub ( The Paddock Bar, which is within the hotel ) for a light meal and refreshments, talked about what we'd seen during the day, and planned Sunday's activities.

As the others in our group decided to turn in for the night, Marie and I headed outside to where the stargazing activities were set up. There were several telescopes, and for once, clear skies. This is the first time in the last three (four?) years the weather has cooperated. We got to see Venus and Saturn, and yes, Saturn's rings were clearly visible! No UFOs or aliens, though. Not even a shuttlecraft.

That was all we could do for Saturday—it was time for bed!

© 2018 K. R. Smith All rights reserved