We need to talk about feedback

 

Or I do, anyway. The three of you who are human and read this site are not necessarily the object of this rant, but I’m sure every writer has run into this at some point.

 

So, you’ve got this writer friend, someone who has been working on their novel for three-plus years, four-to-eight hours a day on it. They’ve finally reached a readable state with the piece and they’ve asked you if you’d like to read it.

 

Say no.

 

Seriously. Say no.

 

If you don’t have the time, or you think you’ll read it only after the next five books on your kindle, or you’ll get to it in a year, say no.

If you think you’ll just glance at it, say no.

If you think you’ll probably hate it, or you just don’t want to hurt their feelings, say no.

If you don’t feel like writing more than a couple of sentences of feedback, say no.

If you aren’t willing to answer more in-depth questions about your reaction, say no.

Look, a writer isn’t giving you their book for you to tell them how great they are. We’re not looking for a pat on the back and words of encouragement (well, maybe deep down we are, but the ones who are serious aren’t) and to be told we are a precious snowflake. We’re showing you this work because it took us thousands of hours to put together and we’re hoping, just maybe, that someone else whose opinion we respect, will care enough to read it and help us see the flaws we’ve been blind to.

When an author asks you to read their work, they’re taking a huge risk. They know that you may very well hate it. They may be asking you to listen to a long, boring tale that right now, is special only to them. It’s like that guy who wants to tell you about that really weird dream he had, only in this case, that dream took three years to refine.

If you don’t think you’ll have the time, say no. Resist the compliment that they want your input. Say no. You don’t have the time, you wish them luck, you’re flattered, but you just can’t commit to writing more than a few sentences. Your feedback won’t be helpful.

Suppose you said yes.

Here’s a list of ways to break that author’s heart:

1. Say you “liked it” or “It was fine.”

2. Be vague. Toss them a couple of sentences saying what you liked, but don’t go any actual detail. Refuse to answer any further questions.

3. Never get around to reading it. Tell them all the other things you’re doing that aren’t you reading their novel. Talk about other books you are reading. Talk about movies you saw. Talk about all the things you did while they’ve been waiting.

4. Say you didn’t like something, but don’t go into detail.

5. Say “It sucks.” Shrug.

6. Tell them all the ways they aren’t like your current favorite author.

7. Say you haven’t finished, but don’t say why. Talk about the next book you’re reading.

8. Awkwardly avoid them. Avoid all texts and emails. Pretend like you never got the manuscript.

9. Suggest changes that would turn it into a completely different book (by your favorite author).

10. Say “I’m really impressed you put so much time into this.”

 

Feedback is a discussion, folks. It’s a conversation. If you aren’t ready to talk about the book (no matter how bad it is) please don’t string us along. No book is complete until it’s been read, and unless we know what to improve, we’re dead in the water.

 

 

 

 

 

Free books and updates

 

So.

I am finally wrapping up production on the second book in the Skyla Traveler series, entitled THE UMBRAL WAKE. It should be out in the next month and I’m both relieved and a little exhausted. YOu can get the first book, A LATENT DARK for free this week.

You see, I’d never written a sequel before, and as it turns out, there are a lot of ways to massively fuck up a second book. I am guilty of a few of them, and as a consequence, the initial Beta read was not great. You see, sequels are weird in that you already have the universe laid out for you. If your big kick in the first book was in discovering the world, then I got news for you: the second book is going to feel like a chore. Sequels force us to dig deeper, try harder, and show the reader something they haven’t already seen. Here’s a few things I took away from writing my first sequel:

 

1. Every ending is a beginning – Did everyone end up with exactly what they wanted at the end of the first book? Well, then we have a problem. See, stories need to go somewhere and when you end your book on the happiest of endings, it doesn’t leave much room to improve upon things. Every solution has a problem, so what problems does the ending of your first book set you up for?

2. People need to be reminded of just who the characters are again – A LATENT DARK (currently free on Amazon until sept 12th) had a lot of characters. I found myself discovering characters faster than I knew what to do with them. THE UMBRAL WAKE even picks up on a few side characters readers might not even remember from the first book. You have to give some point of reference so that everyone knows who is who. This could be as simple as a sentence or two…

3. But don’t obsess with backstory – The biggest problem I had with THE UMBRAL WAKE was refraining from going overboard with backstory. Yes, Scribble was a side character in the first book, but that doesn’t mean we need an entire chapter dedicated to him that takes place before THE UMBRAL WAKE even really begins. Too much backstory takes away from the momentum of the book.

4. Keep the ball rolling – The point of a sequel is to give readers a continuation. It’s about keeping the momentum of the first book and letting it move along naturally, while at the same time providing deeper insights into the characters. Not to harp on backstory, but too much of that crap and you’ve just stopped your story cold.

5. Dig deeper – Sequels are your opportunity to show how your characters cope even when they think they’ve won. It’s a chance to blindside them (and the readers) into situations they hadn’t predicted.

6. Formula can be dangerous – Your hero defeated a dragon in the first book. Don’t just give them a bigger dragon in the second. There has to be a deeper threat, one that spans the theme of both books combined. Otherwise you’re just writing stories that become as predictable as an episode of HOUSE. The HARRY POTTER series is a good example of what to do. Even thought Rowling kept the theme consistent, the threats were both new and old. Sure it was a basilisk in book two, werewolves in book four, but the deeper, consistent threat was that Voldemort was growing stronger, giving us all that slow build of anticipation to the final battle. Sequels have to carry that momentum through and leave us wanting to read the next one as well.

7. There still has to be theme– Just because you don’t want to be boring doesn’t mean you can throw curveball after curveball. You’re writing a larger chapter of a bigger story. You still have to keep things within plausibility.

8. Every solution has a problem – Your character sealed that door to the netherworld, but she borrowed the nails from a spectral hardware salesman who wants them back. Or maybe you blew up the enemy city which was about to unleash a doomsday device. Well, good job; now that city is in ruins and overrun by mutants. Maybe you finally saved the last unicorn from poachers and it’s living happily on your ranch. You’re in for a shock when that unicorn goes into rutt. Fixing one problem doesn’t mean you’ve fixed all problems.

9. It ends when it ends – The good and bad thing about sequels is that they don’t have resolve the entire story arc. They can be bridges, but they still have to lead somewhere. You don’t have to cram five books of story into it, but at the same time, you have to give the readers some degree of closure. Endings don’t have to be final, or happy, but they have to be satisfying and interesting.

10. Character is still king – Your characters are the vehicles of your story. If you are driving your readers around in an uncomfortable, stinky, shitbox of a car, or a boring beige sedan, it will matter. People stick with stories because they care about the characters. If you’ve given them nothing to care about, they are under no obligation to care about your book.

11. It must, MUST be interesting – This is maybe the vaguest and most honest rule in fiction writing. It can be a five page run-on sentence, it can be an army of prepubescent bear cubs in New York, it can be the self-discovery of a cricket finding itself on the back of a naked gigolo. None of that matters. All that matters is that it’s interesting, whether it be the writing, the prose, the structure, the character, the ideas. Boredom is death for a novel.

 

Anyway, I’ll be promoting THE UMBRAL WAKE a lot more in the upcoming weeks, including a cover reveal soon. I hope the five of you reading this blog finds this list somewhat helpful.

So I curated a story bundle at StoryBundle

 

I got approached a few months back to not only participate in a horror bundle but to curate it as well. Seeing as I’ve never done bundle curation before, I found the task somewhat daunting at first. Where do you even start? We received dozens of submissions, some of them amazing, many of them difficult to choose from. We managed to narrow it down to these nine books, some of them by authors you’ve no doubt heard of.

http://storybundle.com/horror

All Covers Large

A couple of great things about storybundle is that the books are all DRM free, meaning you’re free to move them from device to device, or share them with friends–though it would be awesome if they bought in as well. The bundle also gives you the option to donate a portion to charity, which makes everyone feel good about capitalism.

 

So swing by if you want to take advantage of it and get yourself some really great books.

STEAMPUNK EXTRAVAGANZA!

 

 

steampunklit

 

 

So there’s this thing going on this week, a steampunk fest, where a bunch of steampunk authors are going to tempt you with their steampunk books. It’s an impressive collection by plenty of solid authors. I had the opportunity to interview one of these authors.

Pauline Creeden is the author of ARMORED HEARTS,  a Victorian era steampunk novel. You can see it there on the graphic next to ALD.

 

1. First, who are you? Introduce yourself.

I’m Pauline Creeden ~ A horse trainer from Virginia who writes for therapy. It’s not as crazy as it sounds, because I have a degree in Creative Writing, and working with horses happens to be very stressful…but it gives me a unique level of expertise when dealing with the Victorian era of Steampunk.

2. As far back as you can remember, what were the first authors who inspired you to decide to become a writer?

The book that sparked my love for reading was Little Witch by Anna Elizabeth Bennett. When I finished that book, I was so enthralled, that I asked the librarian to recommend me another. She recommended The Secret Garden, which, I’m sad to say I found IMMENSELY boring. But this misfortune lead me to decide then, in the third or fourth grade that I wanted to be an author and write books that weren’t so boring. Through high school, I absorbed all things Poe and Stephen King, and in college, I loved Anne Rice and Oscar Wilde. Overall, I discovered that I enjoyed things dark and fanciful. And that is what I write.

3. Let’s talk process real fast. Would you say you’re more of a gardener or an architect when constructing a story?

Typically I’m a gardener. I nurture and pull weeds, but I hardly even plant what’s there. It just sprouts up and I keep the pretty bits.

4. Tell us a little about ARMORED HEARTS? What’s it about?

When Melissa Turner Lee and I got together to pen Armored Hearts, we wanted to create a Steampunk Fantasy that would introduce the genre to an audience who may not even know what it was. I have written short stories in the genre and have another completed novel that is undergoing edits, so Melissa came to me with her story ideas and we hashed things out together. In general, Armored Hearts is a romance – fae fantasy – set in a Victorian retrofuturistic parallel to our own history.

5. The hero of your story, Gareth, is disabled and faces certain physical and emotional challenges. What challenges as an author, did you find yourself running into, writing a main character in Gareth’s situation? 

Gareth is a sourpuss. He’s surly and spoiled, and tends to hate life and nearly everyone in it. The hardest thing to do? Make him likeable. We did our best…and according to the reviews, some felt we succeeded, others, failed.

6. How do you feel a steampunk setting affected decisions made in the story? Did you set out to write a “steampunk novel” or did the story simply demand that it exist in a steamdriven universe?

For the story to fit properly, it had to be right at the turn of the century. Gareth is a nobleman and needed to be in a time when nobleman mattered. Jessamine is a forward thinking American woman whose intelligence is only supported by her intellectually set parents. The characters demanded the time period, and the freedom added to the period by the use of steampunk technofantasy? Makes the genre unparalleled.

7. Of all the characters in this book, who would you most like to meet/least like to meet and why?

I’d want to meet Thompton. Because in our collective imaginations, he looks like David Tennant. And why? Two words. David Tennant.

8. Tell us a little about the Steampunk Lit Extravaganza and what it means to readers?

Steampunk, like children’s literature, can be as wide and varying as Little Witch and The Secret Garden. Mind you, only one of these two books is considered a literary classic, and it wasn’t the one that I enjoyed reading. Tastes vary as much as there are tongues…or rather minds to do the tasting. So this Extravaganza, to me, was created to take the one genre we all enjoy and expose as many people to it as possible to create new fans of the period.

 

ARMORED HEARTS is available on Amazon.

 

A new review for A LATENT DARK

Patricia Eddy of Author Alliance gave ALD a 4.5 star review, which makes me feel all fuzzy inside. Or it could be the whiskey.

Read it here if you like.

In other news, things are moving along. The space opera novella (currently titled PATCHER) is due to be back from beta readers and into the hands of editors in the next few weeks, and ALD2 is heading off to an editor hopefully by the end of the month.

In other other news, this current project is killing me. KILLING. ME. I am at the point now where I see very clearly that I will need to once again, re-outline and rewrite from the beginning, perhaps throw out the current world as well, just like I did with BLOOM at around revision 8.  I’m on the third revision of this one, and yeah, I can see the signs. So no I’m torn between the feelings of “I have to finish this no matter what” and “I know now what I have to do to make it better, so do it.” And it’s not a fun place to be.

This book also covers a lot of familiar tropes as well, which I think, is part of the problem. I don’t want this to be “another science fiction book about X that reminds you of that other book that did it better.” I want to break some new ground on this, and that birthing process is often painful and destructive. But my wife is gone all this week, so I might find myself with nothing to do but write. Which could be fun, assuming I can stay away from the video games. Maybe I’ll play DISGAEA and just call it research.

I am sick of this book

 

It’s 9am on a Sunday and I’ve been up since 7am trying to revise a few more chapters before my eyes start burning and my brain turns to pureed Mac and Cheese. I am sick of this novel and I want to move on. Waaaa.

That isn’t to say I don’t love the book. I do. I love the story, love the characters. But I want it to be done.

This isn’t really a bad thing. Most people don’t realize how many hours go into a novel, especially a novel that is 125,000 words in length. A lot of people outline, set up a three-part structure and then flesh those sections out. My process is a lot messier, which leads to more revisions. I am now on revision 16…

That’s Sixteen… with a one and a six.  For me, revision is slow, with lots of iterations. I am whittling the story down enough to be clear, but not so much that essential elements are cut off. It can be delicate surgery at times; or it can feel like hacking off limbs with a chainsaw. Usually, I prefer the chainsaw to come sooner than later.

BLOOM went through almost as many revisions. In fact, the original rough draft was cut so thoroughly about the only thing left was the main character’s name. I deleted all the supporting characters, the universe, the setting, the time period, and started over fresh.  It was a good decision; the rough draft was bad. B. A. D. I don’t regret that decision at all, but that isn’t saying it wasn’t painful to do.

I’m working on a sequel to A LATENT DARK, and as the three of you who have read the book might remember, the story has a lot of characters. It tends to bounce around from different points of view, taking some odd turns here and there. It’s one part GOLDEN COMPASS, one part WHAT DREAMS MAY COME, with a healthy dose of Lovecraftian horrors.

I’ve never written a sequel before, and I’m learning that writing sequels, basically sucks. I don’t mean that the book isn’t good, just that writing sequels is a lose-lose situation a lot of times for writers. It is almost inevitable that someone is going to be bored because you included too much backstory; another reader  will be clueless because they don’t remember any of the characters and there isn’t enough backstory. Then there’s some other guy who never even read the first book and has no idea what’s going on at all! “Why does this girl have only one eye? Why does the Reverend wear only white? Wait is this character dead? WHAT’S GOING ON? OMG! ONE STAR!”

The book picks up three years later, with the characters, now in their teens, thrust into more adult situations. It’s a balancing act without a net.

The other thing that makes revision so mind-numbingly drawn out is the fact that writers grow. We improve over time. Returning to a manuscript you haven’t seen for months can result in a fairly awkward reunion. I am currently picking this book apart sentence by sentence, rewriting as I go. So far, the dialog is okay, but other parts… yeesh. I just want to rip out and rewrite from scratch, which I do.

But you see how this can be a slippery slope. It’s easy to fall into a state where the novel is never good enough, because in another year, you might cringe at some of the things you were once proud of. I know people who have been revising their first novel for ten years. Will it ever be done? Who knows? But it’s easy to see how the relationship with a novel can become an unhealthy one, even a codependent one. At some point, you simply have to let go.

So this will be the last revision before THE UMBRAL WAKE moves on to my story editor. I imagine she will give me her usual harsh critique, in which case, the novel will go through yet another revision. Then it’s off to proofreaders.

Then I will be free to move on to other projects. You can’t chase the horizon forever.

The new readable is with my wife.

 

So I finally got this novella into a readable state, which means that now it sits with my wife until she has the time (between homework, school, and Tiny Death Star) to take a look at it. My wife is my first reader, my Alpha reader. She suffers the first draft and tells me point blank if it is ready to move on. I skipped her once. Once. And the results were a beta copy that wasted both mine and my beta-readers’ time. So I’ve learned my lesson. It will sit with her until she has the time to check it out and at least tell me if the first chapter or two hooks her.

What’s it about? Well, what I can tell you is that it definitely falls into the Space-Opera/Science Fantasy realm. I have never been a hard sci-fi writer. I am just not that smart. The story for me is about the characters and how they deal with extraordinary circumstances. In this case, it is about a teen stowaway who ends up stranded on a barely sustainable planet. The rest is almost pure science fantasy and a lot of fun (for me anyway). The book is about 45k words, which is about 1/3 the size of most books I’ve written, but that was part of the experiment as well. I wanted to make a series, and in order to do that, I needed to keep a lot more  cards close to my chest, focusing on the immediate conflicts rather than branching out into all POVs and possibilities.

The result is a short, but quickly paced adventure with a really weird group of characters. Will it fly? We’ll have to wait and see.

Until then, I have the LATENT DARK sequel THE UMBRAL WAKE, to hammer out before it hits an editor. Sequels are a pain, especially if you wrap things up too tight on the first book. Just saying. You will almost always have people who are either bored because you spent too much time catching everyone up, or you will have people who are clueless who any of the characters are because you didn’t spend enough time on backstory. Long story short; you cannot win with sequels. This is what I have learned.

So, on to the other projects until this little wordbeast is ready to leave the nest.

Paperback giveaway is done. And other updates.

Time for my bi-monthly blog update. I think that if you are one of the fifteen people who have stumbled on this page, you’ve figured out by now that I am not a huge blogger. I do, however, like to keep people updated on what’s going on, and touch on a few thinsg now and then.

Item #1:  Thanks to everyone who signed up for the Goodreads giveaway.  As first attempts go, I think it went well. If you are a numbers person, a little over 400 people signed up for it. Will it generate interest? We’ll have to see.

Item #2: BLOOM has been on a mini-blog tour. You can get an idea of that here. The exposure has been good, and I’m glad to see the book getting attention. A little sad that it isn’t reaching more people…

which brings us to…

Item #3: So here you’ve written a book, and you think it’s great. It’s a fantastic book. Everyone who reads it loves it and you’ve gotten nothing but five-star reviews on every possible review site. But…

The numbers suck. You sell maybe one copy a month and most of the reviews you’ve garnered are from free giveaways. So you spam about it on Twitter and Facebook and you try to get more reviewers. Then you start to see that your usual reviewers are sick of doing reviews because of the HUGE influx of indie-published novels floating around on the internet. So now, even the people you thought you could count on for a review don’t want to review anymore. So you tweet again, post on Facebook again (which is really sort of preaching to the choir in this age of social media. If they are following you, they’ve read your stuff. Unless you can count on them to buy a fresh copy every week… which would be weird…) And you wait.

And wait…

And wait, refreshing that Amazon page, watching your book barely hit that top #100 in its category but still scramble around the depths of the #450.778 on the Amazon rankings.

This, my friends, is why authors drink. Because writing is a science, storytelling is an art, but publishing is a business. It’s a small business, your business. It’s one of a million small business calling themselves indie-published authors out there in this huge ecosystem of indie literature. The rules change like the tide and you find that some of those guys are WAY better at it than you are. Like, way, way better.

So there you sit, gin in hand, staring at the numbers that don’t move. You then fall asleep in the crook of your numb arm, drowning in drool and tears. Sweet, sweet tears.

So, you write something new. You get back up and you start a new project to take your mind off the old one, the magical one that you loved more than anything, but nobody knows about. You work on this new project and suddenly it all doesn’t seem as bad. A year later, you’ve almost forgotten about the last book (it still sells a few here and there but it never caught fire like you hoped). You publish, get reviews, put it out there, and lo and behold people love it! They leave 5-star reviews, can’t put it down! You race to the Amazon page…

And you are #387,900…

You move up to whiskey. You drink and stare at the numbers and you can’t believe it. Another flop, another disappointment. You pour another whiskey and start talking to the monitor until your wife pulls you away from the desk.

But the next morning you look at the stats, the actual stats, the numbers that show what’s really going on. Turns out the people that read book #2 also bought book #1. And now that book #3 is out, people are buying that one AND book #2 and #1.

Do you see where this is going. Fast-forward five years and four books later. People are buying #5, 4, 3, 2, and 1. Maybe your rankings aren’t Neil-Gaiman-good, not Chuck-Wendig-good, but they aren’t bad either. You have what we in the industry call “fans,” people who dig your work and want to see you make more of it. They are the folks where once you hook one, they want to see more of your work–and you’d better have that work ready for them to see.

The harder you work, the luckier you are in this industry. The more books you put out there, the wider a net you have to capture more fans, capture them and store their frozen bodies under your shed–I mean capture them and give them plenty of material to read, plenty of ideas and memories to discover, plenty of feels to feel. And those fans tell other fans and on and on and on… We are sharks in this ocean and we simply don’t have time to rest at the bottom and hope that seal comes to us. We have to keep moving and keep producing or we simply don’t eat at all.

So thank you, fans, all fifteen of you. Every review I read of Bloom is humbling, ever five-star rating feels like a big sloppy kiss on my forehead. Thank you for buying my books for you, for your friends, thank you for telling me you like the stuff I put on a page, because if it wasn’t for that, I’d be working in fast food.

*raises whiskey glass*

*salutes*

-M

Win a signed copy of BLOOM on Goodreads

 

So I’m doing a little giveaway over at Goodreads. If you like BLOOM, would like to read BLOOM and have no money, or if you simply like getting free signed books, you can head on over there by following this link and check it out. So far people seem to really be digging it, and this promotion helps distract me from banging my head against the desk as I work on my other books.

Bloom Cover kindle 900 600

Echoes of Scheherazade

“I’m not saying it’s bloom,” says Doc. “I’m just saying it’s probably bloom.”

Larry glowers at him from beneath eyebrows the color of rust. “Are you saying it is or it isn’t?”

The hobo steps back and lifts the half empty bourbon bottle to his mouth, drinks, and scratches his chin, payment for his diagnosis. They both look down at the blemish on Larry’s arm, a fuzzy birthmark.

Doc hands the bottle back to Larry.“When I worked at the lab…”

“Which lab?”

“The one in Fresno. We were studying goat prions.”

“What?” Larry snatches the bottle and takes a swig, annoyed at the half-assed answer.

“Prions. They’re little rogue proteins. They eat away at your brain, make you forget things, act different.”

“Like rabies?”

“Thats a virus…” Doc takes a breath. “What I was saying is that at the lab we called these fairy rings?”

“What?”

“Fairy rings. Like a bunch of fairies might dance around them. It’s folklore, Larry.”

Larry makes a face and takes another swig. “I’ll tell you who’s a fairy and it ain’t me.”

“No, you’re the troll.”

“What?”

“Under the bridge,” Doc smiles and points to the tracks high overhead, lost in the night sky. He runs a dirty hand through his wild salt and pepper hair. It wisps slightly in the breeze coming off the gorge as they sit beneath the railroad bridge. A tin can sitting on the rock beside him falls over and they both watch it tumble down the slope into the San Joaquin river. Then the ground rumbles and Larry looks back at his arm. Now there are two rings.

“Fairy ring, eh?”

“Yep. you see them a lot in the wild. Formed by mushrooms.”

“I thought you said prions.”

“These were mushrooms, a fungus.” He points at Larry’s fairy ring. “That probably is too.”

“Someone plant them like that?” asks Larry. “The mushrooms I mean.”

“Nope. Just happens naturally.”

Larry screws up his face and takes a drink. “How do they know to be in a circle?”

Fifty feet up, a train makes its way over the bridge. The ground moves. Doc’s mouth begins to move, but Larry can’t really hear over the train. He looks down at his arm again. They’re still there, a dozen wispy towers in a circle, growing out of his skin just below the crook in his elbow. At the center stands another cottony spire, half an inch high. It doesn’t hurt, but Larry can’t help but wonder if it will.

“So is this a prion or a virus, or a fungus or what?” he asks. But Doc is still talking and the train is making it impossible to hear his own thoughts. What he does hear, sounds like music. The train above is blasting Rimsky-Korsakov, Scheherazade. All Larry can do it smile.

Doc is staring at him. “You alright, Larry?”

“Fine. Why?”

“You’ve been staring at that fairy ring on your arm for the last two hours.”

He sees now that Doc is wearing a paper face mask. When did that go on, he wonders. “I have?”

Doc nods slowly.

Scheherazade sounds fainter now that the train is gone. But Larry still thinks he can remember the tune. He hums and then laughs.

“Damn. I couldn’t even play drums in school.” He beams at Doc with a gap-toothed grin. “They kicked me out of marching band. But I fuckin’ loved me some Scheherazade.”

But Doc isn’t laughing with him. Doc just stares, his dark eyes going between the fairy ring and his face. Finally Doc reached into his tackle box and brings out a clear plastic bottle.

“What’s that?” asks Larry.

“Rubbing Alcohol,” says Doc. He pours some on a damp rag. “Give me your arm.”

He’s on his feet before he knows it. “Why?”

“Because,” Doc says. “I’m going to see if I can get rid of it.”

The arm moves fast, snatching up a rusty metal shiv and brandishing it at the old man. Larry stares at his arm like some alien appendage. A full minute passes before he can relax and the shiv comes down. It clatters on the dirty concrete.  “I’d… I guess I’d rather you didn’t.”

Doc gives a slow cautious nod, damp rag in hand. The music is louder again, and Larry can’t tell if Doc is smiling or frowning behind that surgeon mask. He likes to think the old man is smiling, smiling along with him. Maybe he hears Scheherazade too.

“Why does it know how to grow in a circle like that?”

“Maybe that’s just what it’s meant to do,” says Doc. He stands and takes his tackle box. “Lots of things in nature do things without knowing why. How does a spider know how to make a web? How does a bee know how to plot its GPS coordinates to the hive? How does a lyrebird know how to mimic any sound it hears? How do we know how to write or sing or play the harpsichord?” He begins to walk past Larry, but stops to look down at the arm. “Maybe that’s all talent is, ,just some flipped genetic switch. What you should be asking, is if you are remembering a song, or if the bloom is remembering it for you. Or if you are even remembering this conversation.”

“But I… you said it wasn’t bloom.”

But Doc is gone and it’s now daylight. Larry looks at the sky and blinks. How did it get so fucking bright? He raises his hand to block the sun and frowns at the wool muff over his arm. Densely packed fibers hint only a faint suggestion of the hand and forearm underneath.

Larry flexes his fingers, and the fibres shift like a feather duster under water. And from somewhere deep inside, Larry hears the song again. He smiles up at the warmth in the sky, and hums along.

—-

This is a flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig’s Terribleminds.com.