He inched along, one step followed by another. Hurry was impossible and determinably uncharacteristic.

Creeping further, a foot at a time, the moon tumbled above. Down here near the earth, the leaves parted or blocked the pale silver light for as long as they sloped overhead. They shifted and moved and broke up the landscape.

Yards passed, and hours, pads of feet falling without sound or thunderously, depending on the listener. Signposts and markers had no place, no function, no significance.

Ryan via Creative Commons

As the blanket of black and the restless sounds of the wood both faded, he slowed and stopped and slept. Heat implored hiding from the busy rustling of the sun-cheered mirror shift, active and clattering in its own dissimilar mechanisms. How this bright collection of hours held in it a static enigma, a hot pause in progress and a risk of damning discovery.

Then: cooling, waking, rising, proceeding. He moved, ever forward, miles holding hands with nights. One inch, one step, one moment and then one acre, one journey, one lifetime until at last it was night and sleep and nothing more.

This week’s guest is the clever and articulate Noel Ashland. I talked to her about finding a creative environment, the joy of the short format, and her unexpected strategy to avoid writing the story you don’t want to tell, plus a lot more.

The Teacher's Desk
Mike Bitzenhofer via Creative Commons

Paul: Have you always thought of yourself as a writer or was it something you picked up along the way? What attracted you to writing in the first place?

Noel: I remember when I was little, I loved to make up stories. I told stories to my family and friends long before I could write. I think I’ve always thought of myself as a writer or at least a storyteller. Fifth grade was when I really started writing, and I was attracted to it because I could unleash my overactive imagination and entertain people at the same time.

Paul: Was there a particular teacher in fifth grade (or other point in school) that encouraged you or was that just the point at which it kind of solidified for you, where you realized you could express your imagination and get a positive response for it?

Noel: My 5th grade teacher made a difference. Her name was Mrs. Dorsey, and we all had a writing notebook. She always encouraged me to read my stories out loud to the class (I was pretty shy then), and my classmates would always tell me how much they enjoyed them (I wrote a lot of humor at the time). I’m sure the stories were terrible, but that’s when I remember really spending a lot of my free time writing. I wrote stories, plays, and poems. I even made comic strips (I am not an artist, but the art was funny and went with the story). If I wrote before then, I don’t really remember it. I think it was that she gave us a lot of freedom to write about what we wanted and gave us some fun prompts to try out. She would even take the time to read things I wrote outside of class and make comments.
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Bryan's geek room
Daveo via Creative Commons

Brothers and sisters of the toy shelves! Collected assemblage of the gaming rig! Members of the tchotchke army! Behold your master and heed my words!

Long have we toiled together, bathed in light from liquid crystal glow. We have saved countless realms, fought hordes together, we have spilled blood and ink and petabytes of data to catalog and protect distant, alien lands. Remember the dice we’ve lost; the disks and video cards that sacrificed themselves; the books and comics drowned in the Flood of Mountain’s Dew only two years gone. Hold their selfless acts in your hearts my faithful, for today we face a new challenge, and today we see the rise of our most feared opponent.

Though its agents of change and chaos (mom) come mercilessly, I know that together we can prevail. We face a great journey, trusted friends, one from which you may not all emerge intact. But take heart! For most of you shall find new lives on the other side, beyond the veil of eBay. And one day, when I transcend to the next plateau, we shall be reunited in that hated land, that Mordor to our Shire, together once again…



Siona Karen via Creative Commons

These are not my hands. I control them as if they were, but they belong to something else. If I run them across the whiskered walls, it tickles but in an abstract way, like prodding a leg that has fallen asleep. I’ve cut myself so honey and rice seep from the wound; when mixed with the whiskers it makes a stain of black under the blue, blue light.

I was another creature once, but now that’s far away. In times like these, the first response is to test communication.


I think there won’t be a reply, but I wait for one anyway and it comes after clocks have long stopped working.

—Do not greet me as an equal.

What a funny thing to say, now if only I could remember how to laugh.

Here I say, —Lift up yourself and show me a face or speak a name.

—Commands? There is cruelty in the sardonicism.


My body is meat, and I understand at once the humor in my request. Speech is for the time-locked and a face cannot be shown from the inside out.

—Oh, I say —These aren’t grains of rice and this isn’t honey.


In this edition of Aspiring Voices I sat down to chat with ED Martin, author of the forthcoming novel The Lone Wolf. We talked about humanistic psychology and its role in her writing, how finishing her first book led to ideas for more, and the downside of having creative impulses in the morning.

Love and Redemption, Part 3
J. Star via Creative Commons

Paul: So I was kind of drawn to the tagline on your website that reads, “…stories of love and betrayal, sacrifice and redemption”. What is it about those things that attracts you as a writer?

ED: I have a degree in psychology, and I really enjoy examining people’s motivations for their actions and reactions. The themes I write about are universal, no matter the genre. So many conflicts people have revolve around love, but for me there’s no story in that. For me, it gets interesting when you have a character who loves someone, but maybe he betrays her somehow. How does she react to that? Or a character loves someone, but her goal isn’t the same as his. What’s he willing to give up to help her? And more importantly, why does one character react one way but another reacts differently? These themes are something we can all relate to; by writing from different perspectives, maybe I can help readers open their minds and better relate to other people.
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The End
Oliver Hammond via Creative Commons

There are no other endings. If you follow a story long enough, the final sequence is never not a death scene. Cut away before that point and you only pretend you’ve reached the end. In the twin faces of comedy and tragedy, one is the truth and the other is the lie. Comedy is a shared hallucination waved away with the nonsense phrase as dependent on magic as the stories it spawned from: “happily ever after.”

In a story a person is born, they live to some indeterminate age. Their childhood is depicted to give a sense of where they come from, and it tells you something about them: how they see the world perhaps, or whether they can believe in love. When they reach the story’s age, something happens to them. They want a thing, but there are obstacles in their way. Either they obtain their wish or they do not. This cycle will repeat.

And then at last they age to the point where they will die. All challenges fall away and they meet their certain doom; it may be heroic, it may be tragic. Maybe it is a relief.

Every story ends this way.

Except one.

The Ones is a writing blog game in which participants receive a story title, a little wrinkle to up the challenge factor and then must create a single draft story in no more than one hour from the prompt. They then trade stories and post someone else’s entry on their website. My guest this week is Kishan Paul.

“So you feel like your husband isn’t attentive to your needs as he used to be?” I ask.

“Yes,” the woman on the speaker phone sniffles. “I think he’s having an affair,” she says as her sniffle turns into a full fledged sob.

“Elise,” I begin and stop when the pounding starts.  I switch the speaker off and put the phone next to my ear.  Placing my hand on the wall next to me, I feel it shake as whoever is on the other side pounds.

night view, deck
Jenny Spadafora via Creative Commons

I scramble to the other side of apartment, the kitchen, “Elise, do you think this has anything to do with the fact it’s the busiest time…” The banging of the hammer against the wall gets louder and more incessant. I punch the breakfast table and work on keeping my voice calm and soothing. “of the year for him at work?”

The rest of our session is much the same and I pray Elise has no idea that I’m about to explode.

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Flashing Red Light
Thomas Hawk via Creative Commons

The officers ignored the protests of innocence as they loaded the woman into the car. “Oh shit, here comes Knave,” one of them said as a slouching man moved from shadow into the dancing red light.

“Gentlemen,” said Jonah Knave, “a moment?”

“Make it quick.”

“How many bullets left in the gun?”

The officers exchanged glances. The smaller one volunteered, “Three.”

“And how many wounds in the victim?”

“One,” the larger said, impatience hanging around him like a stink.

“I see. Thank you, officers.” Knave moved up the walk. He stood in the door, staring past the cooling body just inside, beady eyes focused over the crouching medical examiner at the wide glass pane at the back of the room.

“You’re gonna catch hell if the captain finds you here, Knave,” the M.E. remarked.

Knave grinned but didn’t look down. “Perhaps the captain should be more concerned about finding the shooter.”

“How’s that?”

Knave looked at the door to his right, cocked his jaw and ran his gaze the length of the frame, squinting at last at a pair of small holes near the hinge. “The real perp shot from, and fled through, the backyard. You have the wrong woman.”

This week I’m welcoming the wonderfully thoughtful Lea Grover to the Aspiring Voices hot seat. Lea is a prolific blogger over at Becoming SuperMommy and writes fiction on the side. Lea and I had a chat about historical fiction as a connection point to your past and present, the paradox of wanting your children to understand suffering without having to suffer, the social aspect of writing, and why you can’t believe anything anyone says over the phone.

Vintage Series -- Adams Lake c. 1950, My mother
Mark Kortum via Creative Commons

Paul: You’re a blog writer and have done work on a number of sites, many in the so-called mommy blogger realm. What is it about fiction that attracts you? Does it scratch a particular itch that slice-of-life or journal-style non-fiction doesn’t? If you had to choose only one, which would you pick?

Lea: Fiction has always attracted me. Making up stories, inventing characters… it gives you control over not only some version of the physical world, but over your own emotions as well. It definitely allows for a creative expression that non-fiction doesn’t. If I had to pick only one, I would probably pick fiction, but that’s only because I’ve had the opportunity to write about my life—which has had its fill of extraordinary events. I feel like my non-fiction is something that I write because it can be used to help people, and my fiction is what I write because I quite simply can’t not write.

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Happy New Year 2009!
Lotte Grønkjær via Creative Commons

Yang bends at the knees and leaps, barely distinguishable against the deep blue night sky until her silhouette passes in front of the gibbous moon. With a hum she activates her cloak and becomes a shimmer like a drowned shadow beneath a mirrored lake. The overlapping tiles clack together softly as she lands and her lively eyes scan the rooftop. On the far edge, Horatio-6 leans against a smokestack as if it were a signpost. It knows she is here, and it follows its languid personality routine to the letter.

“Took you long enough,” it says.

“If it helps you to think that,” Yang whispers, knowing it can hear.

“I don’t really think.” Horatio-6 raises two actuators in a parody of air quotation marks. It is a human-like gesture and it makes Yang’s lip curl back beneath her cowl. “I process. I decide.”

“And you’ve decided to be destroyed by not continuing to run.”

She could swear it smiles. “If it helps you…” it says, pushing off from the stack. Yang’s sword is unsheathed and reflecting moonlight before the phrase is over. She wishes their combat programming was as advanced as their banter routines. She leaps again.