Friday Reviews: Comic Strip Edition

Today we’ve got a couple of comic strip collections, a compilation of classic strips from 50 years of Charles Schulz’s Peanuts, and the second volume of Katie Cook’s charming web-comic, Gronk.

Woodstock: Master of Disguise

Writer and Artist: Charles Schulz

WoodstockCoverI’ve been a lifelong fan of Peanuts and have at different times in my life related to Charlie Brown or Snoopy. Every Christmas my parents give me the next volume in Fantagraphics’ wonderful archive of Peanuts comics (which is nearing the end after over a decade of publishing these volumes). And I’ve bought my share of themed collections focusing on Scouting, Writing, Baseball or specific characters.

Perhaps Snoopy’s expression on the cover says it best about this volume. Woodstock may have earned himself a place on Whoopi Goldberg’s chest (weird intersection of Trek and Peanuts trivia), but he’s better in small doses rather than as the main event.

I like the inclusion of the head beagle strips and the scouting strips, but both of these have a lot more to do with Snoopy than they ever do with Woodstock. We also get pieces of strips that would form the basis of Snoopy Come Home and a lot of hockey and football strips where the joke is usually Woodstock being crushed by the football.

Peanuts is a lot about repetition if you think about it. The best running gags are Charlie Brown losing (almost) every Baseball game, missing the football, Snoopy fighting the Red Baron and getting his every literary work rejected. But collections of those strips show the ways in which Schulz changed the gag every time so even though we knew what was going to happen, the joke was still funny. Woodstock jokes, on the other hand, are really all the same.

The one thing this collection brings out is that while Snoopy loves Woodstock, he doesn’t always like him very much. Play a drinking game with this book and take a drink every time Snoopy says “stupid bird.” You’ll enjoy the book all the more.

The activity section might be okay for kids, but doesn’t add much. This is also a bit nit-picky, but I actually prefer the strips in their original black and white form over any recoloring. The Sunday color is fine, but I like the plain presentation Fantagraphics has chosen over this re-colored collection.

(3 stars | There are a lot of great Peanuts collections out there, but this one is just okay)

Gronk: A Monster’s Story Volume 2

Writer and Artist – Katie Cook

GronkVol2It’s probably best to look at Gronk less as comic strip and more as a poster book with a cute loveable character. There are lot of pages here that would make great posters, coffee mugs, mousepads, etc. There are visual gags of movies, art, and even other comic strips like The Family Circus.

We do get a nice prequel story involving an early intersection between Gronk, Dale and kitteh and there are some recurring gags with Gronk discovering the joys and perils of the iPad that are decently funny.

Again this is cute, funny, geeky and a little sweet book and most pages would be great printed on the side of a coffee mug or as a background. It’s just a shame we get so few of these both on-line and in these collections (less than 60 strips here).

I will say that here re-coloring brings a lot of vibrancy to the art. The web-comic is in black and white and often has a half-finished quality. These collections really make these characters come to life and while this book isn’t very long, you’ll still enjoy it.

(3 stars | Probably more of a 3.5 because of the art and geek parodies)

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Writing Drunk

A dear friend who was kind enough to read the rough draft of my very first novel made a comment that is still very true of my writing today. I need to spend some time in bars and see how people really talk when they’re drinking. Now I was 18 at the time, so I had little in the way of life experience, but now 12 years later I still can’t say I’m any better qualified to write a scene in which the characters are believably drunk.

I tend to get very geeky when I’m drunk which is probably not a very good model of the population  as a whole. Probably the only characteristic I share in common with people under the influence is a slightly increased use of colorful metaphors, and a decidedly increased interest in the beautiful little red haired girl (my wife in case any of you are new to the site).

Part of the problem in this particular case is that I’m still figuring out the baseline of my character, so it’s a little hard to figure out how he’s different when he’s been drinking. We all have slightly different personalities when we’ve had a few, though our drunk traits have their roots in how we are when we’re sober. In my story we’ve got a priest who’s an alcoholic saying “f— it” at the end of the world and talking about women. Most of us can probably relate.

So the obvious possibilities for getting past the block are writing this in a bar, or at home after a few pints of Guinness. This brings to mind something that all writers have to figure out at one time or another. How much can they write about things they have never really experienced? Now I’ve been drunk before, but my experience of being drunk is pretty different than the one I’m going for.

Another big one on this list is sex. I generally feel like this is one of those things you need to experience to write about well. Whether or not you choose to be explicit or Victorian is up to you, but even euphemism comes from basic understanding. But even someone who’s had great sex might not be able to write about all kinds of sex in all kinds of circumstances. As writers we have to have some basic ability to put ourselves in circumstances we can never experience. I’m probably never going to space, and it’s even less likely that I’ll commit a murder, so I kind of have to figure out how to get into the minds of characters who would do these things without doing them myself.

But even things we can experience can be tricky to get a hold of. Ultimately it takes spending time with your characters and knowing when to take a break and live to write another day. Maybe try to figure out some good source material to review, a scene that does something similar to what you want to accomplish. And maybe a little liquid libation will loosen the literary logjam.

I swear to you all I’m drinking right now is lemon-lime.

What do you talk about when you’re drunk?


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Biting into the GUI center

We’ve all had that annoying moment when the way we’ve always done things changes. If you’re a Facebook user this is pretty much a de riguer experience. Even something as simple as pasting a link from your blog can change on a day to day basis: what screenshot does it find, can you replace it with a file from your drive, does the URL show or not?

I’ve got a guy a work  (actually several) who apply skins and themes to make their Windows 7 machines look like gray box Windows 2000 machines. Not XP, 2000. Another likes to take his text editor and put it in VI style (green text on a black background). These anachronistic choices aside, at least they have the option of keeping the things the way they have always known. For many things online, it just is the way it is and there’s nothing we can do about it.

I’m a browser switcher and my current favorite is Opera. It’s fast, it’s simple, and it lets me make my own start-page. But because programmers always have to have something to do, it has become slower over time because of all the new features I’ll never use and don’t want, the location of bookmarks has changed several times in the last year, and the nice big start page boxes have been shrunk to mimic Chrome. The reason I switched to Opera is that Chrome had shrunk its link boxes to a tiny fraction of page real-estate in favor of a large search area, and now Opera has matched them. It’s gotten a little better since the initial release of version 29.0. Opera fixed a text overlay so it is under the box and not over it, making up for some of the clipping and size problems, but it’s still not what I was used to and had grown to like.

If I didn’t like the change my options were to go back to a previous version (not the easiest or most secure procedure), switch to another browser that had features I liked from Opera and nothing else, live with the problem, or write my own browser. I’m increasingly becoming convinced this last option is the best one. I can use Chrome’s rendering engine and just slap the simplest possible GUI on top. Ah, if only.

Other sites with unwelcome “better” changes:

  • The Internet Archive – Admittedly its old interface looked like something out of the 90’s, but the new look makes it harder to find what you need and takes up more space on screen. Not a good set of characteristics for the internet’s library. You can go back to the old interface, but only after sitting through the new one and who knows how long that’ll be an option.
  • Indie Royale – N0t every gaming site needs to have a black background. You were doing your own thing with tan and hand-drawn icons. The purchase bundles interface has never been right either.
  • Netflix – Took an easy to organize list and made it a jumble of icons. More visually appealing, but annoying for those of us OCD people. Why can’t we sort what we want to watch?

I’ll admit, I’m guilty of this as well, all of us programmer’s are. Sometimes we remove a feature to solve a problem with a new architecture. Sometimes we try to simplify to make it easier to find what we think you’ll need. Or we add something new because we think it is really cool. We talk to customers and we try to make the best engineering decisions. But the internet, and internet software is different. You expect changes with new OS’s or new versions of purchased software, but browser versions have largely shifted into the background, and websites are constantly changing. And it can be annoying to feel like you have no say when something you like doing one way, suddenly has to be done another.

What site or software change has annoyed you in the past?

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Garbage In, Garbage Out

I’d say one of the things I’m already learning in my 30’s is the truth of an old programmer’s adage: “Garbage In, Garbage Out.”

When you’re younger you can do pretty much anything you want and get away with it. I’m not saying that drinking too much caffeine, or eating too much, or not getting enough sleep don’t have an effect. You just have a better ability to power through.

Despite being a “creative” I have a very quantitative mind when it comes to this stuff. It’s hard for me to make generalized changes like “eat better” or “drink more water and less soda” without quantifiable goals, plans and known results. Ironically I like my plans clear and my results fuzzy; “I feel better” not “I lost X pounds”.

Today I started my new work schedule which is an hour later. I could tell from the way I felt during the week, and how much better I felt on weekends that I simply wasn’t getting enough sleep. And I know from my own patterns that the solution to this couldn’t be “go to sleep earlier” since pretty much no matter what I do I can’t fall asleep before 10:30pm. I may have inherited some of the Trube “gift of sleep” but so far that only seems to affect the strong desire on Sunday afternoons to take a nap. I do feel more rested and less like a narcoleptic today, and we’ll see how the siesta time in the afternoon goes.

Another change was a hard one, cut down the caffeine and limit when you drink it. Like a lot of cubicle dwellers every time I get up and walk by the coffee pot I come back with some. Sometimes it’s decaf but that’s still 4-6 cups of coffee every work day (which in terms of the actual cup unit of measure is more like 10-12). My solution, brew my own coffee at my desk. I have a little 4 cup (the unit of measure) coffee maker from my college days and I brew a full pot every morning. I try to drink it before noon and don’t drink anything but water the rest of the day (2 water bottle’s worth). I’ve been doing this for a couple of weeks and find I am sleeping deeper (less waking up in the middle of the night) and I am feeling a little less high-strung. One down side is that I seem to be having more vivid dreams, not all of them pleasant but that may due to other kinds of input (shows I watch, news I hear, media I consume).

But what seems to have changed in my late 20’s and 30’s is that these kinds of changes actually have an immediate positive effect, or if I go the other way, an immediate bad effect. This might sound like a bad thing but actually it’s kind of helpful. Some of the stuff we do to be healthy can seem theoretical. At best it seems to effect only one arbitrary variable and not the systemic qualitative way we feel. What’s the basic goal of life? Be well, live long, and enjoy your time. That’s going to look different for all of us but it helps to get feedback from more than just external sources.

We’ll see long run if these changes actually result in better health, but feeling better is a good start. It’s a good lesson to learn at 30 rather than 50 (though I wouldn’t have minded really learning it 5 years earlier).

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Hidden Star Trek Comics Gems

Instead of my typical review post this Friday, I thought I’d give some of the Star Trek and Comic Book fans a little treat. I’m always working on my digital and physical Star Trek collections, and in my Amazon searches I found four collections for 99 cents that contain some of the best Star Trek stories ever told.

As far as I can tell these collections are a bit of an error from IDW. Amazon does not have the resources to verify all of its content and leaves that responsibility to the publishers. I had this happen when I bought Batman #408 (Jason Todd’s first post-crisis appearance). It actually contained the content for Batman #409. I contacted Amazon, who contacted DC, who eventually corrected the issue. What IDW meant to collect here (I believe) was the individual issues for the Star Trek Archive: The Best of Peter David (for 3 of the 4 collections in this post). The content for each of these is actually whole Archive collections of 5-6 comics each, probably some of the cheapest graphic novel stories you can pick up.

Star Trek Archives: Best Of Borg

Listed as Star Trek: Best Of Borg

Writers – Michael Jan Friedman and Paul Jenkins, Artists – Peter Krause, Pablo Marcos, Steve Erwin and Terry Pallot


This collection contains DC Star Trek: The Next Generation #47-50 (more commonly known as “The Worst Of Both Worlds” and Marvel Special: Operation Assimilation.

The TNG story is probably one of the best arcs in DC’s 80 issue TNG run. The Enterprise is pulled through a dimensional vortex into a parallel universe where the Borg have assimilated most of Earth. The Enterprise saucer section was destroyed during the rescue attempt of Captain Picard who remains as Locutus, over-seeing the Borg’s final assimilation of Earth.

The parallel crew of the Enterprise enlists the help of the prime crew to retrieve Locutus and defeat the Borg. But First Officer Shelby and Miles O’Brian have other agendas that may spoil their plans for getting home.

The art’s a little simpler for this arc then you might hope for, but it does have some nice character moments, action shots and the cover art is stellar.

This moment alone makes the whole thing worth-while:


The Marvel story details a Romulan Commander’s contact with the Borg. It’s been a while since I’ve read the special, but it’s pretty good. If you buy anything in this post, buy this collection.

Star Trek Archives: Best Of Kirk

Listed as Star Trek Archives: The Best Of Peter David #5

Writer – Peter David, Artists – James W. Fry and Gordon Purcell


This collection contains DC Star Trek (Volume 2) Issues 7-12, highlighted by the story “The Trial Of James T. Kirk” (issues 10-12). It’s a shame issues 1-6 aren’t readily available in digital form, as the whole 12 issues forms a longer story-line with several episodes.

Here’s what you missed from issues 1-6: The Klingon empire has put a price on Captain Kirk’s head for perceived crimes against the empire. In the midst of this, Kirk and Company encounter a new race of religious fanatics headed by The Salla, who can cause a man to die just by telling him to. But not Kirk. Kirk is hunted by Captain Klaa (that Klingon commander from Star Trek V) and the Salla all while trying to settle a dispute on a warring planet.

His unconventional solution to the episode earns him further scrutiny from Starfleet and the presence of Federation observer R. J. Blaise who despite an antagonistic relationship, begins to take a liking to Kirk. In the midst of this, Sulu is being pursued by two women and Kirk is having to deal with the antics of one of his new, and over-eager security recruits.

In these issues (7-12) Kirk saves a dying planet from a plague, and a maniacal despot, though the circumstances of that rescue are unclear. He also encounters a bounty hunter eager to profit from the price on his head. Feeling his actions hampered by pursuit from without and within, Kirk consents to a trial in the federation counsel to justify his actions as Captain.

The scenario may be a bit of a stretch, but the characterization here is some of the best, both for the new and old characters. It’s a shame Paramount clamped down on extraneous characters because these secondary stories are some of the most interesting. There’s only so much freedom a writer can have with the big three, but with their own characters they can do anything.

Star Trek Archives: The Best of DS9

Listed as Star Trek Archives: The Best of Peter David #4

Writer – Mike W. Barr, Artists – Gordon Purcell, Rob David and Terry Pallot


This collection includes Malibu DS9 1-5 and the Aschcan story “Hostage Situation”. Malibu started its DS9 run around the same time as the show itself, and it’s a shame it didn’t get as much time to play with the storylines introduced by Worf and the Dominion (the series ran for 32 issues). Still, the stories in this collection capture some of the best elements of the early seasons of the show, particularly a station that still had many unexplored sections and was clearly not a federation starbase.

Mike W. Barr penned these tales, and has had a relationship with Star Trek comics since the first DC Star Trek series (and a couple of Marvel tales from the best forgotten post motion picture series).

Deep Space Nine is always a series I want to see Star Trek fans get into, and these comics are a great entry point.


Star Trek Archives: The Best of Peter David

Listed as Star Trek Archives: The Best of Peter David #1

Writers – Peter David and Bill Mumy, Artists – Curt Swan, Ricardo Villagran, Gordon Purcell and Arne Starr


This collection is the archive I believe was going to be split into individual pieces (that’s how it is listed on Comixology). It contains DC Star Trek (Volume 1) Annual 3 and DC Star Trek (Volume 2) Issues 13-15 and 19.

Issues 13-15 wrap up some of R. J. Blaise’s story with Kirk (though her real conclusion is in a later special) while telling the tale of some planetary heroes (who bare some resemblance to Lost In Space characters, hence Bill Mumy) who have been in hibernation for years and are now returning to their planet in triumph. But is there a home for them to come back to?

Issue 19 is a tale of Kirk trying to memorialize a member of his crew who died on a mission but is someone he didn’t know at all. As it turns out no on else knew him well either. It’s a nice portrayal of the death of a redshirt as a real human being.

Annual 3 is the best thing in the collection. Scotty learns of the death of one of his oldest loves and the tale is told backwards through their on again, off again tumultuous romance. It’s bittersweet, but shows a side of Scotty beyond just a grumpy engineer.

All in all, more than 20 issues for less than 4 bucks, across three crews and the best decade in Star Trek comics.

Note: Amazon can correct these at any time so you may want to back them up after buying if you want to keep the full version. On the other hand, if no one complains (and who would, really), then you may never have an issue.

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The Sky Below (Chapter Eight)

Well the production schedule is back on track. Today we check in with our baseball players in the aftermath of losing one of their number, and Bethany and Claudia go out of the donut shop and into the fire.

You can download the full eBook (Chapters 1-8) in Kindle, EPUB and PDF formats. Or you can go to the book’s landing page here.



Eddie looked down at the dead young man and felt nothing. His act had been merciful, a hastening of the inevitable. And if not merciful, it had at least been just. Franklin still lay in a bloody heap behind Eddie, his blood and brain matter plastered all over the back wall. This young man had shot his teammate. It didn’t really matter if he’d meant to do it, or if Franklin had goaded him into it, the young man had taken a life and so his was forfeit. Accounts were kept short at the end of the world.

If Eddie felt anything it was anger, but not toward the young man at his feet. Conesta had been the one to deliver the truly fatal blow. Rather than face his actions and take some share of the responsibility for what to do next, Conesta was curled up in a far corner of the concession stand, rocking back and forth with his head in his hands.

Stankowsky wasn’t acting much better. He hadn’t curled into a ball, but only because his body was frozen in place. His arm had been limp when Eddie dressed it, and now hung uselessly at Stan’s side. Eddie knew the wound hadn’t been that bad; Stan’s arm worked. But Stankowsky didn’t seem to think he had any use for it. He just kept staring at nothing, trapped several inches deep behind his eyes.

These two men had seen the lives of thousands, maybe tens of thousands, all snuffed out in an instant. What did one more matter?

Eddie shook his head. He couldn’t believe the way he was thinking. He wondered if they all could see it on his face. Was that why Manny wouldn’t look at him?

“What are we going to do with the bodies?”

The question had come from Belanchek. He’d been crouched next to Conesta trying to get him up, and had given that up to walk over to Eddie.

“Nothing we can do. We leave them,” Eddie answered flatly. His dead tone snapped Conesta out of his daze.

“What the hell, Eddie? What if that was you lying there?”

“I’d expect you to leave me too,” Eddie replied.

“You heartless…” Conesta had gone from being withdrawn to being on the verge of tears in a matter of seconds. Eddie hadn’t really realized before just how young Conesta was. He was maybe five or six years older than the kid.

“Hell of a time to be talking like that,” Eddie continued. “You and Stan didn’t seem to mind turning this kid into a human piñata. And don’t pretend that any of you would have gotten too sentimental over me if I’d been the one to buy it instead of Franklin.”

Conesta seemed about to protest, but instead looked down at his feet.

“What would you have us do, anyway? Do we drag Franklin and this kid back to the stands and toss them into the sky? We can’t bury them, and we can’t hide them. This stadium is a tomb, and we’re grave robbers trying to grab whatever we can before this place comes down around our heads. Franklin understood that much at least.”

Conesta had shut down, and Stankowsky just kept staring blindly forward. Eddie could feel Manny’s stare without turning around, but he suspected, hoped, even Manny knew he was right.

All of a sudden Belanchek got a wicked grin. “You’re wrong, Eddie. Franklin wouldn’t have left you. He probably would have eaten you.”

Eddie raised an eyebrow, “Excuse me?”

“Better WE eat you than somebody else,” Belanchek replied. “Meat’s not going to be easy to come by.”

Eddie chuckled, “When did you get such a sick mind, Bellie?”

“I’ve always had a sick mind; I just kept it to myself. And it’s Bella, not ‘Bellie’. Y’know, like Bella donna.”

“You’d rather we called you a beautiful woman?” Manny asked.

Belanchek shrugged, “Better than being called a stomach or a tiny bell.”

They all laughed. Eddie should have felt terrible, yet if felt good to get some kind of a release. If he couldn’t laugh he’d become bitter like Franklin, or broken like Stankowsky and Conesta.

He turned to Stankowsky and clapped him on the shoulder. Stan’s eyes refocused abruptly, like a room full of static resolving into a single note. “You okay?” Eddie asked.

Stankowsky swallowed. “Yeah,” He said hoarsely. “Let’s get the hell out of here.”

The ramps to the skybox seats were about fifty feet out and around from where they were. They had a gun but they were already down six bullets, and they still had little in the way of water or medical supplies. For those things they’d need to go down before they could climb up to whatever safety the sewers offered.

The ramp was smooth cement, lined on either side by tight meshes of rubber coated squares. Long electrical line pipes ran down the middle, broken up by evenly spaced bulbs in cages. The floor above them was rougher, designed for the slow shuffling of hundreds of pairs of feet on their way to the upper decks before making the rest of the schlep up to the nosebleed seats.

Eddie was surprised at how reluctant he was to take that first step down. They’d all felt relatively safe nestled in the cement hallways of the stadium, which looked largely the same right-side up as down. But now Eddie was convinced the floor could crack at any moment. Despite the ramp’s gentle slope, he took every step cautiously with both arms outstretched, and the rest of the team followed his example.

They climbed down three levels before Eddie suggested they take a break, stepping off the ramp and back into the catacombs of the stadium. His heart was pounding in his chest, and he leaned against a wall to try to focus on something solid. His mind was creating all sorts of nightmare scenarios. His hands were tingling, and he told himself it was just his own blood rushing through his palm and not the building beginning its death throes. What if he was right about this being a tomb, their tomb?

Belanchek shouted, and Eddie’s eyes snapped open. Even though they were only a few levels down, the distance between the ramp and the seats was a lot smaller, and he found Belanchek standing right on the edge looking out. Eddie walked up beside him and Belanchek turned, a rueful smile on his face.

“Wives, girlfriends and mistresses,” He muttered, shaking his head back and forth.

“What?” Eddie asked.

“Down there’s the complimentary seats. Y’know, for our families. We couldn’t see them from the dugout, never even saw them go.”

Eddie frowned. He’d given his seat to a woman he’d been dating for three weeks, one of the few moves he had left to impress anyone. And for the life of him, no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t remember her name.

* * *

The service hallway was dark, the only light cast by the exit signs in dim red flickering cones. Several 50 gallon trash cans had toppled over, spilling garbage everywhere. Each step brought another new sound and another unpleasant sensation on Bethany’s stocking feet. She’d left her shoes behind in the donut shop. Heels weren’t very good for climbing, but they were better than bare feet for stepping on half-eaten pizza. Claudia gave Bethany’s hand a reassuring squeeze as they moved slowly down the hallway. Her hands were smooth and felt like they had a permanent thin layer of flour from hundreds of hours of baking.

The service stairwell was about 100 feet down the corridor, but it felt like it had taken hours to reach it. Bethany turned back to look at the small circle of light at the other end of the hall. She told herself that no one could see them even if they were looking, but she wasn’t so sure. Claudia, meanwhile, was examining the double doors to the stairwell before letting out a snort in disgust.

“Locked,” Claudia vented. “We can’t go back out there and look for one of the maintenance guys with those maniacs running around.”

Bethany replied calmly, “It’s alright; let me give it a try.”

“You hiding a crowbar under that skirt?” Claudia whispered, her voice tense and coming out in bursts.

“Not exactly,” Bethany said as she produced two small pieces of metal. The first was slightly curved and flexible, the other firmer and straighter. “Never had to do this upside-down before, but I think the concept should be pretty much the same.”

Bethany inserted the thin piece into the lock, and started probing gently. Claudia’s face was a mixture of surprise and amusement. “That something they teach all lawyers?”

Bethany shook her head, “It’s something you’re expected to know before you go to law school. I learned from my mom, actually, or rather from her keeping a lock on the liquor cabinet. A determined teenager with an afternoon to kill can accomplish wonders in the face of such adversity.”

She smiled as she remembered Grace taking the brute force approach, pulling on the lock until her hands were sore and sweaty. Bethany on the other hand, had been calm and methodical, and had the lock open in less than ten minutes with a couple of hairpins. The memory of what happened afterward was largely obliterated by the quantity of gin consumed, though she did remember her father trying to hold back both of their hair as one threw up in the bathtub and the other in the toilet.

A satisfying thunk indicated success. She pushed the door open triumphantly, only to take in a sharp breath of air as she looked down.

“That’s not a skylight down there, is it?” Bethany whispered.

Claudia looked over cautiously, “I don’t think they build skylights in maintenance stairwells.”

Bethany looked down, speaking almost absently. “Either the stairs are going to fall out from beneath our feet, or they won’t.”

Claudia frowned, her mouth pulling to the left in consideration, “I guess you’re right. Lawyers first.”

Bethany took a deep breath and sat down on the door jam. The ceiling was low in this part of the building so from a sitting position all she had to do was hop down about a foot. The cement was slick and she almost lost her balance when she hit the ground, but Claudia steadied her with a hand on her shoulder. When Bethany was sure of her footing she stepped to the right, leaned on the wall for support, and put out an arm to catch Claudia as she jumped down.

The floor was definitely moving. One of Bethany’s first temp jobs had been on the second floor of an office building. There was a passageway next to her cubicle and every few minutes when someone walked by, her monitor, the desk and the floor moved ever so slightly. By lunch her stomach was often queasy from all of the low-level earthquakes. This floor felt like a hundred people were running a marathon down that passageway.

She took a tentative step toward the stairs, then stepped back as she nearly lost her balance again. The stockings weren’t going to cut it. She’d never much liked going barefoot as a child, but even she could admit the evolutionary advantage bare feet gave her over slick nylon. She hiked her skirt up around her thighs and tried pushing the material down. She hadn’t realized until that moment how much she’d been sweating, and the nylons were stuck to her like a second skin.

Claudia let out another grunt of disgust and without any warning stuck one of her long fingernails about an inch down Bethany’s thigh. She pointed her finger outward and pulled, the sharp nail tearing a hole about the size of a quarter. She took both hands and tore downward till the material split at Bethany’s foot. Another tug upward and she tossed the stocking unceremoniously down the center of the stairwell.

“Bet Jared wishes he could see us now,” Claudia smirked as she worked on the second nylon.

Still a little surprised, but grateful to be free from the clingy and slick material, Bethany flexed her toes and felt the cool metal and cement beneath her feet. The climb was much easier, her foot almost sticking to the stair with each step.

“Can I ask you something?” Claudia said as they climbed onto the next landing.

Bethany chuckled, doubting an answer of no would actually stop this woman. “Sure.”

“Why donuts? I mean, you don’t exactly have the figure of someone who eats the food of the common man.”

Bethany smiled, “Just something my dad and I used to do when I was a kid. He worked long hours, 12-14 hour shifts to be able to provide for all of us. He’d get off work at one in the morning on a Friday, and be waking me up around 5am to go with him for a donut and coffee. He should have been exhausted, but he was always so excited for the opportunity to spend time with his girls. We’d sit in the donut shop and talk for hours, watching the sun come up.”

“That’s nice. All my dad ever did was sit on the couch in front of SportsCenter. My mom used to say that keeping a constant vigil wasn’t going to give the Browns a Super Bowl.”

“Or the Cavs a national title. I wonder if King LeBron is happy he came back,” Bethany said.

“Miami has too many open spaces. He’d have been a goner for sure,” Claudia answered.

Claudia and Bethany were nearly out of breath by the time they reached the top of the stairs. Bethany leaned against the wall for a moment, taking in air in big gulps before pushing tentatively on the double doors. To her surprise, the doors swung wide open, and she fell forward on her face.

Looking up she could see thick black boots mostly hidden underneath baggy jeans. A young man in his teens with a buzz cut and scraggly facial hair gave her a toothy grin. Flanking him on either side were two equally unappealing characters. One had a noticeable red stain over the whole front of his shirt, and the other was running his hands up and down a baseball bat like he was trying to rub it out.

“Well,” the young man said softly, crouching down so he could meet Bethany’s gaze directly. “What do we have here?”


All text in The Sky Below is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported license. To view a copy of this license, visit or send a letter to Creative Commons, PO Box 1866, Mountain View, CA 94042, USA.


Copyright © 2015 Ben Trube

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Bad Work Day

I was having a hard time getting any work done this morning. Part of it was simple distraction. I wanted to install the new GOG Galaxy beta onto my laptop and wasn’t quite sure why it wasn’t detecting all of my games. But even after I’d managed to pull myself away from my home laptop I still found myself having a hard time concentrating.

Sometimes the drive into work can be a good way to focus my thoughts. Though this particular morning I had fog on a dark winding road that required more than my by the numbers attention. So I was twenty minutes late, and had no ability to reflect on what I actually wanted to write that morning, even though it was a scene I’d been playing back in my head for the last week.

But I still had a good hour in which to work. I had caffeine at the ready, and a good cozy environment (after I turned the main office overheads off). But for whatever reason I couldn’t get more than about 600 words done, and after about 45 minutes of fighting my inner censor’s need to delete the whole thing, I packed it in and hoped for a better session in the evening.

The funny thing is, it only occurred to me later what the real problem was. I hadn’t turned on any music.

Music actually has a profound ability in helping me to focus and find a certain mood. I’m not someone who works well in complete silence, as there is never a environment that is truly silent anyway. I’m used to my office in the early mornings, but it still isn’t the most comfortable place, and admittedly I’m more used to the ambient noise of people around me. Sitting in the dark even in my own little cubicle can be a little uncozy.

But music would have fixed that.

There are things we do that help us focus, that put us in the right headspace to work. For some it’s a tidy workspace, and for some it’s the exact opposite. Even though I try to be the kind of writer who can work just about anywhere, the truth is in order to do that I have to do some of the same things every time. Call them rituals, or habits, or comfort security blankets, what have you, but they make work easier, even on days where it’s hard to get anything going.

See this evening I’m not listening to my music, but outside there is rain and there is a soundtrack playing in the Starbucks. My laptop is laying comfortably over my crossed legs as I sit in a comfy chair. The place is nearly as empty as my office (finals must be over for OSU, usually this Starbucks is full of students).

When we’re feeling stressed, when things don’t feel like they’re working, sometimes it’s because we’ve forgotten to do the little things for ourselves that put us in the right frame of mind. You stretch before you exercise, you take a shower after you wake up or before you go to bed, you do vocal exercises before you sing. Whatever activity we need to stretch and we need to feel comfortable before we can really get good work done. Otherwise we are fighting our bodies. Now sometimes we can be really good at “powering through”, but that takes a toll in the long run. Better to take those few minutes to breathe, than to be fighting for air the entire time.

What are your rituals that help put you in the writing frame of mind?

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