Monday, December 21, 2015

What Do You Wish For In 2016?

image by Alexey Kljatov via Flickr

The past two months have been difficult ones for me, as an illness I'd hoped would disappear for one of my family members has reared its ugly, dangerous head again. Focusing on writing or blogging has flitted and darted like a butterfly, nearly always a few steps out of reach.

But today I'm fighting back, if only for a few moments. I don't want to lose sight of the wonderful parts of this year. And I have wishes for the next.

In 2015, I was grateful for:
  • Modern medicine and modern technology. They've made an enormous difference in my life and the lives of my family and friends.
  • A wonderful support system (both personal and professional) when loved ones are ill.
  • My work, which allows me to interact with an intelligent, creative and caring team on a daily basis.
  • Progress in my writing—here's a special shout-out to the people who give me time and feedback.
  • Life in a country that supports refugees, people who are just trying to live in peace and protect themselves and their families. We've been in the lucky position to make some donations to help support them, and I hope to continue that next year.

Looking ahead, to 2016, I wish for:
  • Health and stability for my family members. It's not until the "same old, same old" is out of reach that you really appreciate it.
  • Time to write. A head not buried in problems, but free to be creative. (At least for a few hours per week anywaylet's not get greedy here).
  • A home country I don't have to be ashamed of in terms of hatred based on race, religion, or sexual orientation. I don't understand where the desire to turn the world into cookie-cutter copies of one type of person comes from. I want us all to feel safe and free to be ourselves.
 What are you happy about from 2015? And what are your wishes for the coming year?

Friday, November 20, 2015

Advent Calendar 2015 - The Christmas Cookie-Eating Shadow

It's that time again--time for another advent calendar in story form! 

Starting on Dec 1, feel free to read a chunk each day to your kids, pets, spouse or just enjoy it yourself. Distract yourself, and it will be Christmas in no time.
image by Catherine via Flickr

Don't know what an advent calendar is? Click here.
If you'd like to see what our calendar looks like (hint: there's a story and...socks), look here.
And if this crazy story doesn't tickle your fancy, you could select one from a previous year—they're all listed here.

And now for The Christmas Cookie-Eating Shadow

DECEMBER 1
The thing about your shadow is that it should be the same general shape as you. That's what Oliver always thought anyway. A round head, two arms and two legs. But Oliver's shadow wasn't like that at all.

DECEMBER 2
When he stood in the sun's rays, a tall, dark shape stretched across the snow behind him. One with NO legs and a wide, glowing mouth. And triangular ears that pointed straight up. Or were they horns? Either way, it was not normal. And it was pretty scary.

DECEMBER 3
Oliver tried to show his parents his weird shadow, but with winter days growing dark so soon, it seemed the sun was always down when they had time to look. Or sometimes, it was too cloudy. Oliver's friends never managed a peek at it either. And even Oliver usually only saw it as he crunched over the fresh snow on his way home from the bus stop.

DECEMBER 4
One day after school, Oliver caught a glimpse of his creepy shadow. As he walked, he was extra careful not to turn around since he didn't want to see it slinking along behind him again.

With a shout of "Boo," the shortest girl in Oliver's class, Bettina, jumped out at him from behind a fence.

DECEMBER 5
Oliver's heart leaped into his throat. He just barely held back an embarrassing scream.

But...he heard a shriek nonetheless.

"What was that?" Bettina asked as she scooted around the fence. Then she stood completely still, her mouth hanging open.

DECEMBER 6
Oliver knew it right away. Bettina saw his strange shadow.

"I saw your mouth," she said to Oliver. "It didn't open. Your shadow made that sound!"

She heard it too?

DECEMBER 7
Bettina raised her arm and pointed behind him. "Why does it look like that?"

Oliver shrugged.

"How come the mouth is so big? How long as your shadow been that way?"

She sure asked a lot of questions. "I don't know. A month?" Oliver said. "Since it started snowing, I think."

DECEMBER 8
Bettina squinted as she stared at the shadow. Then she inched closer, tiptoeing around Oliver. With a loud "Ha!" she leaped right into the middle of the shadow.

"Watch it!" yelped the dark shape.

Oliver whirled around. Bettina's feet were planted right in the middle of the shadow's belly.

"Who are you?" Oliver demanded.

DECEMBER 9
A sound like the clearing of a throat came. "Um...I'm the Secret Christmas Cookie Eater."

"The what?" Bettina and Oliver asked in unison.

"You can just call me 'Cook.'"

DECEMBER 10
"Nope. Back up, Cook." Bettina crossed her arms and glared at the shadow. "What are you?"

The shadow swayed back and forth. "You know...the one who eats the cookies? When your mom says 'who ate all the cookies' and everyone says 'not me.' Well, I'm the one who actually does eat the cookies."

DECEMBER 11
Oliver scratched his head. Something didn't seem right. "How do you eat the cookies if you're just a shadow?"

Despite the sun staying put, the shadow slid all the way around Oliver like the hand of a clock. "Well, that's the problem. I can't anymore. It works like this. I travel by attaching myself to people as their shadow. Then I unhook myself and hide behind a lamp or a couch. When no one's looking, I turn solid and snatch a few cookies."

DECEMBER 12
"But I can't turn solid, and I can't snatch cookies anymore. Without me"—Cook's sigh was long and drawn out—"there are too many cookies in the world."

Oliver couldn't imagine there could ever be too many cookies, but Cook moaned like a sad little puppy.

DECEMBER 13
Bettina climbed onto the fence and scraped some snow into a snowball. She threw it at Cook's head. He jerked and giggled. Oliver rolled his eyes.

"Too many cookies in the whole world?" Bettina asked.

"Yep." Cook said, and his wide mouth stretched in a glowing grin. "I go on airplanes all the time. Germany has some great Christmas cookies too. Oh, have you ever had chrusciki in Poland? And don't get me started on all the kinds of gingerbread in Europe. Yum!"

DECEMBER 14
Oliver frowned. "What kind of cookies there are is not the point! Why are you stuck on me?"

"Hmm..." sighed the shadow. "I think it happened when your mom made those amazing chocolate brownie cookies—with the cream cheese centers. Do you remember that evening?"

Oliver nodded.

"Well, I was originally latched onto your mom. Then I hid behind your couch. When she left the room and turned off the light, I leaped out to grab those cookies—"

DECEMBER 15
Oliver was beginning to understand. "And I jumped up from under the table and took one also."

"Right," said Cook. "Except it was dark and we grabbed the same cookie. When you took a bite, so did I. Since then, I've been stuck."

DECEMBER 16
Bettina was still standing on Cook's belly. "All right, Oliver, I'm holding him down. You run off that way." She pointed up the street.

Oliver didn't have to be told twice. In a flash, he was halfway down the sidewalk. He whirled around. Bettina hadn't moved a bit, but Cook was still right next to him.

DECEMBER 17
"Got any other ideas?" Oliver yelled to Bettina, who skipped down the sidewalk to him.

She shook her head.

"Cook?" Oliver asked.

"No," the shadow said, his wide mouth turned down in a frown.

"I'm getting cold," Bettina said. "Let's go to my house and figure it out."

DECEMBER 18
They all agreed and walked past Oliver's house. Bettina called to her father who was doing laundry in the basement: "Hi, Dad. I brought a friend!"

Her dad's deep voice sounded from downstairs: "I made some cookies this morning. Go ahead and take some."

Bettina motioned Oliver into the kitchen, but with only one foot in the room, he stopped short.

DECEMBER 19
"Whoa," said Cook.

Made some cookies? Oliver thought. There were about a thousand cookies in the kitchen. In tins, on plates and cooling racks. There were even two full baking sheets. All different kinds—with nuts and without...chocolate and swirled...green with pistachios...red with jam...covered in yellow glaze...vanilla frosted and sprinkled in colored sugar.

DECEMBER 20
"Your dad made all this?"

Bettina selected a tree-shaped cookie and held out a plate to Oliver. "He's kind of crazy about Christmas baking. Kind of...over-the top."

Cook made a deep moaning sound.

"I guess," Oliver said.

But the longing in Cook's voice gave Oliver an idea.

DECEMBER 21
"Cook," Oliver said. "Don't those cookies look amazing?"

The shadow made a gulping sound. "They sure do."

Oliver sniffed loudly. "They smell so good. I bet you'd love to eat some, wouldn't you?"

"I sure would," said Cook, his tone almost desperate.

DECEMBER 22
Bettina must have caught on, because she said, "We have so many cookies. They'll surely all go to waste. No one can ever eat this many."

"No one?" Cook asked.

Oliver motioned Bettina to follow him out of the kitchen. In the hall, she pointed up the stairs to her room, but she said extra clearly, "It'll be such a shame if we have to throw them away."

DECEMBER 23
Oliver nodded. "Such a waste."

They tiptoed up the stairs and sat on the carpet in Bettina's room. Bettina picked up a red ball and tossed it to Oliver. He tossed it back.

DECEMBER 24
"I don't see any shadow," Bettina whispered.

Oliver wiped his brow. "Whew! Good. I better stay up here for a little while though, don't you think?"

Bettina was just about to nod when her dad's voice floated up the stairs: "Who ate all the cookies?"

Oliver and Bettina looked at each other and smiled. Together, they called, "Not me!"


Monday, November 2, 2015

Flash Fiction - Darth in the Mirror

A few months ago, Michelle Hauck asked writers to come up with one of those scenes you should actually never write: a character sitting in front of a mirror, describing themself, preferably with a lot of adjectives and adverbs. She also specifically said to let our freak flags fly. 

So while others wrote about women flipping shiny blonde hair and puckering glossy, cherry-red lips, I...well...here's me, enthusiastically waving my freak flag.

image by Thomas Hawk via flickr


It had been two days since Sidious had woken me so harshly, forcing me to accept the evilness in my being. Now, I finally steeled my metal-strengthened spine enough to sweep my cape out of the way and sit wretchedly on the bench in front of my dressing room's perfectly polished mirror. 

As I pivoted my head slowly back and forth, the bright white ceiling lights reflected luminously off my new, shiny helmet. The nearly round eye covers bulged black, staring emptily at me, as if I weren't in here at all. The vertical lines of my speech synthesizer stood like long, barred, angry teeth. The armor that covered my burned cheeks was sunken and skull-like. 

Only two points of non-black existed—one silver rivet at either side of my jaw. In the glaring light, they shined like Padme's teary eyes the last time I'd seen her. What would she think of me now? A monster? 

A monster.


So, what do you think? Freak enough for you?

If you'd like to see more fun "bad" writing, I wrote another piece where I included as many stereotypical tics that we writers tend to use when describing our characters' behavior as possible.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Out of Office - Hidden Talents

The company I work for set up a fun event they called Out of Office. The basic idea was to showcase creative work done by employees outside of working hours. 

Our large lobby area is currently filled with paintings, photographs, clothing designs and other types of artwork. I was so impressed by them that I contacted some of the participants, and a few of them allowed me to shows pictures of their work here on my blog.

Give it up for my talented colleagues!

Chiara Wu painted some amazing large pieces: vegetables on found materials, with beautiful calligraphy added. My favorite picture, however, was this one.

by Chiara Wu
I just love the facial expression, the chopped carrots and the hints of gold. 

Chiara Wu can be found on tumblr.

Phoebe Heess designs high tech, high fashion clothing. Here are some pieces from her collection "Black Hole Sun."

by Phoebe Heess

A closeup of the centerpiece.


by Phoebe Heess

Phoebe Heess can be found here. Stop by to read the best ever slogan on wearing black. 

Adrien Wira had several pieces I admired. Here's an example that speaks to my sci-fi heart. You can find much more of his impressive work here.


by Adrien Wira

Finally, Matthias Walter brought humor and Star Wars (!) into the event with his collection May the Art Be With You. For more from Matthias, including more Star Wars pieces, click here.


by Matthias Walter

I hope you enjoyed the creativity of my colleagues! Maybe you'll even want to ask your workplaces to set up something similar!


All photos taken by me.

Friday, October 9, 2015

St. Georgskirche - A Fortified Church

This summer, I was invited to a friend's wedding. She was married near Nuremberg, in a fascinating, 700-year-old, fortified church: St. Georgskirche Kraftshof.
image by Karl-Otto Eichwalder via Flickr

Fortified churches were built not only as a place to worship, but for the locals to flee to in times of conflict. They have thick walls, towers and battlements.

In the pictures above and below, you can see the towers at each corner of the wall protecting the church. It was built in 1315 and withstood several wars, only to be destroyed in World War II. After the war, it was rebuilt.

image by helst1-off via Flickr

Inside the walls, there's a gatehouse and a cemetery. 

image by Karl-Otto Eichwalder via Flickr

 
Graveyard inside the walls. Image by me.



Statue in the graveyard. Don't blink. Image by me.

For more information, see the church's official website. Unfortunately, my pictures inside didn't turn out, but the collection of pictures on the official website is great.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Flash Fiction - The Scalpel

I've had so much fun with flash fiction contests lately! Agent Janet Reid chose me as one of the nine finalists out of 85 entrants in her contest this weekend. I didn't win*, but she did say some lovely things about my writing (she used the words "gorgeous" and "beautiful!" ...Okay, I'll stop dancing now.)

Entrants had to write a complete story of 100 words or less using these words:
six
crow
spy
secret
weapon

Here's mine...

The Scalpel

image by Andrew Eason via Flickr
For a spy, secrets can mean the difference between life and death. Of an informant. Of a partner. And betrayal is a weapon to be wielded like a scalpel, not a crowbar.

Six lights blink on my screen--six men track me through this rundown Latvian town. One used to be my Matthew, before he wielded the crowbar and became her Matthew.

They think he's one of them.

He thinks I'm still his.

I think...I'm all out of forgiveness.

From a burner phone, I text: Matthew Bennett = MI6.

One light winks out of existence. Like I said. A scalpel.



I hope you enjoyed reading my story as much as I enjoyed writing it!

*I highly suggest you check out the winner. Click the "nine finalists" link above. You'll never think of Winnie the Pooh the same again. :-)


Sunday, September 20, 2015

Flash Fiction - Learning How To Walk

This past weekend, I entered a flash fiction contest on Operation Awesome's website. If you're a writer and haven't been there, check it out! The other entries were great. Operation Awesome has loads of tips and tricks for writing, plus agent-judged contests.

For this contest, the piece had to be 500 words or less, and had to somehow include the writing prompt "learning how to walk."


Here's my winning entry:

Learning How To Walk

The twelve-hour operation was over hours ago, but the anesthesia hit Amit harder than me. My first chance at freedom? Spent in bed, like always. It didn't matter that the nerves and ligaments and muscles were all in the right places now or that the nanobot results were stellar. Until Amit opened his perfect eyes, we wouldn't be doing any walking.

A nurse hurried in and checked our file. I bared my teeth at her. She scurried out. Ha.

With our right hand, I poked Amit's cheek. Dead to the world. How could the drugs affect him more than me? My twin and I shared half our organs.

I poked him again, then gave up.

Death by boredom.

TV was stupid. Internet was stupid. Amit had twice as many followers on Twitter. His smile never forced anyone away.

I turned to him. Maybe Amit's popularity would plummet...if they saw him drooling on his pillow.

I held my phone so both our heads were in the picture and smiled. Damn. Even with drool his face was friendlier. I clicked anyway.

Post-op. Waiting for sleepyhead so we can finally learn to walk.

Seconds later, I had twelve faves. I had fans too.

"Hey, Mahesh." Amit's voice sported that edge that said he was seconds from freaking out.

"It's fine," I told him. "They're ready when you are."

He rubbed his eyes with our left hand. "And the nanobots?"

"Doc says they're working as they should. Give 'em a wiggle." I held my breath. That had been the hardest part of watching him sleep: waiting to see theory turn into reality.

Our right toes flexed, then our left. With a grin, Amit lifted each leg in turn, bent each knee. "Have you tried?"

I swallowed. "Doesn't work for me. But that's what the docs said to expect, right?"

He leaned his head against mine. Before he could try to say something to make it better—nothing could make it better—I pressed the call button.

That same nurse skittered into the room. "Yes?"

I kept my face neutral. "We're ready."

"Wonderful. I'll let them know." She smiled at both of us. But longer at Amit. Whatever.

"Can you imagine, Mahesh? We can go anywhere now. We can walk into a restaurant. Stroll through a park. Where to first?"

I closed my eyes. Wide blue water, sparkling under the summer sun. Would it feel different from the hospital pool? "Granny's lake," I said.

Amit beamed while he paddled happily with our feet. "The lake it is!"

We bumped fists, and I cursed myself. Amit didn't deserve an asshat brother. With a shallow breath, I scrolled on my phone. Twitter. Own tweets. Delete.

The team of doctors stormed our room. "Gentlemen, who's ready to learn how to walk?"

Father squeezed into the corner, his camera ready. My cheeks stretched wide, even though I knew what it looked like to outsiders. Amit and I pushed ourselves up from the oversized hospital bed. We were ready.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Beyond Google Glass - The World in 2025: Robots and Artificial Intelligence

Welcome to Part IV of my series "Beyond Google Glass – The World in 2025". Some of the products I'm showcasing are available today. Some are receiving the final polish and will be introduced within the next decade. Check out the other parts of the series too:
Part I - Wearables and Interactive Surfaces
Part II - Shopping in the Future
Part III - Print Everything
 
image by ars electronica via Flickr

You were waiting for this, right? No discussion on future tech is complete without robots and artificial intelligence. As always, click the links to see videos or articles about these up-and-coming concepts.

Robots!

Robots are becoming faster, more agile and dexterous. Not to mention, Honda's Asimo looks adorable.

Not sure what to eat for dinner? Ask your robot to check your frig, then YouTube for a cooking lesson.

But there are others. Why do we need human mail carriers when a robot can lift hundreds of pounds without complaining? At least until they take over the world, that is. The video is pretty long, but it's worth checking out. Think you can outrun the one at the 6:00 mark?


Artificial Intelligence

Zoe is a talking head that can remind you of your appointments or take notes for you. But she now also has six different emotions. Click here to see an angry reminder for a birthday gift.

Amazon Echo and Emospark are both AI you can talk to. Emospark takes it a step further. It reads your facial features. Its goal is to make you happy, by playing music, telling you the score for your favorite baseball team or showing you pictures from your summer vacation.

Cognitoys has a talking dinosaur that recognizes each of your children's voice. It interacts with them and recognizes when they grow intellectually, giving more complicated explanation and posing more difficult questions. I showed it to my kids, and despite the needs-improvement voice, they both want one.

Sure, they give us new possibilities, but does anyone else feel creeped out about these new developments?

After having seen them all, my question is this. With so many examples of how technology will change our world, where does that leave people? Will we turn into the floating humans of Wall-E? Pure consumers with little obligation to do anything but buy and enjoy? 

What do you think?



Thursday, August 6, 2015

Release Day: DELINQUENT by Emma L. Adams

It's release day for my critique partner Emma L Adams! Delinquent: An Alliance Novella, a prequel to the universe-hopping urban fantasy Alliance series is out now. Don't forget to scroll down for a giveaway!


Nineteen-year-old Kay Walker seems to have it all, including an assured future with the Alliance after he graduates from the prestigious Academy. But when he and his friends discover the lure of the Passages, the place between the worlds where monsters hide, they’re caught up in a contest with rival student Aric - which soon escalates into a deadly game.

A perfect life hides lies, and Kay becomes a target for alluring yet deadly magic he has no way of understanding. Magic is a force on its own, and on no one’s side…


Buy the book: Amazon   Kobo  Barnes and Noble  Apple  Smashwords

a Rafflecopter giveaway



Start the series from the beginning with Adamant (Alliance, #1)!

Adamant is the first in the world-hopping urban fantasy Alliance series.



Ada Fletcher is twenty-one, keeps a collection of knives in her room, and lives under the Alliance's radar in London, risking her life to smuggle people away from a devastating magical war on her homeworld to hide on the low-magic Earth. Being arrested wasn't on her plan, nor was being accused of a murder she had nothing to do with. But when a simple delivery goes wrong and she's taken into custody by the Alliance, her unusual magic makes her a prime suspect for a supervisor's suspicious death.

Kay Walker, grandson of the Alliance's late founder, expects to spend his first week as an Alliance employee chasing monsters out of the dark Passages between worlds, not solving a murder. But it's clear the strange, fierce young woman he arrested in the Passages stole something highly dangerous from the Alliance - and the closer he gets to the truth, the higher the body count rises.

The last thing Ada wants is to help the infuriating Alliance guard who arrested her, but it soon becomes clear that the Alliance knows too much about Ada's magic. More, in fact, than she knows herself. Now she has to choose between loyalty to her family, and helping the Alliance save the Earth - and the Multiverse - from a deadly enemy.

Buy the book:  Amazon  Kobo  Barnes and Noble  Apple  Smashwords
Add on Goodreads   Read the first chapter

What reviewers are saying


"The world building is magical. Even though we only get a hint of what's out there, I am already in love with this world." - Lola at Lola's Reviews

"...the beginning of a potentially brilliant and addictive series" - Jeanz Book Reviews



"Adams delivers high suspense throughout the whole book and manages to get you emotionally attached to the main characters which keeps you worried at every twist and turn. I basically flew through the action-packed story with its monsters and magic." - Goodreads reviewer

"Adamant is a fantastic start to a fun, adventurous and super cool series... a world so well written and brought to life you can totally lose yourself in it... Can't praise it enough!" - Alisha at Reality's A Bore.



Emma spent her childhood creating imaginary worlds to compensate for a disappointingly average reality, so it was probably inevitable that she ended up writing speculative fiction with magic and monsters. She lives in the middle of England, but dreams of exploring the Multiverse. When she's not immersed in her own fictional worlds, Emma works as a freelance editor and proofreader and reads an improbable number of books.

Emma is the author of various fantasy novels, including the universe-hopping urban fantasy Alliance series and the YA paranormal Darkworld series.

You can visit www.emmaladams.com to find out more about Emma's books, or subscribe to her newsletter (smarturl.it/ELAnewsletter) to get a free Alliance short story and monthly updates on upcoming releases.


Website  Blog  Facebook  Twitter  Newsletter


Monday, August 3, 2015

Beyond Google Glass - The World in 2025: Print Everything

Welcome to Part III of my series "Beyond Google Glass – The World in 2025". Some of these products are available today. Some are receiving the final polish and will be introduced within the next decade. Feel free to check out the other parts of the series too:
Part I - Wearables and Interactive Surfaces
Part II - Shopping in the Future
Part IV - Robots and Artificial Intelligence

Credit: Keith Kissel via Flickr
Today's topic: 3D Printers!

In the section on shopping, I mentioned that we humans were becoming more impatient and less willing to wait. But you can take it further than one hour delivery. Why order the products you want when you can just 3D print them? Click the links to see videos or articles about these up-and-coming concepts.

Before you print, you need a 3D model. Here's a handheld 3D scanner that works similar to taking a normal picture.

AIO Robotics offers a 3D scan, copy, print and fax machine already. Forget your key? Have mom scan and fax it to you. Or you could design products in one location, then send them to your factory as a model for mass production.

New 3D printers allow you to print in different ingredients, including plastics, metals and paper.

These 3D printouts are already being used for promotional puproses. In Israel, for example, Coca Cola set up a scanning center for their customers. They received a printout of themselves – a mini me.

So, printing with plastic, paper or metal doesn't sound spectacular enough? There are even printers that can print using chocolate or other foods.

Kids can produce their own toys using their brainwaves and this 3D printer.

And if Amazon runs out of drones, they can just print more.

What would you like to be able to print at home?