Viewing entries tagged
fiction

How to Have (and resolve) an Existential Crisis in One Weekend

How to Have (and resolve) an Existential Crisis in One Weekend

I attended the 2015 Sterling & Stone Colony Summit this weekend and came away with more than I had expected. I rediscovered my true passion, and I know exactly how to pursue without leaving anyone behind.


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Kevin Tumlinson is the author of numerous novels, novellas, and non-fiction books, and the host of the Wordslinger Podcast. Try three of his best books for free when you download his starter library at kevintumlinson.com/starterlibrary.
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Philadelphia, Shadow Strait, and Lucid

Philadelphia, Shadow Strait, and Lucid

Updates galore!


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Kevin Tumlinson is the author of numerous novels, novellas, and non-fiction books, and the host of the Wordslinger Podcast. Try three of his best books for free when you download his starter library at kevintumlinson.com/starterlibrary.
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[SNEAK PEEK] "Sawyer Jackson and the Shadow Strait" — "Two Wolves at War"

[SNEAK PEEK] "Sawyer Jackson and the Shadow Strait" — "Two Wolves at War"

The second Sawyer Jackson book is done and in edit! I'm looking at a mid- to late-October release. Ideally, I'd love to release it on my birthday, October 12. So I'm diligently working on the edit now, and "Sawyer Jackson and the Shadow Strait" will soon be ready for your perusal and review.

In the meantime, I thought you might appreciate a quick sneak peek. The following scene happens early in the book, and becomes pivotal to the development of Sawyer as a character. It's one of my favorite scenes, and I think you'll love it. No serious spoilers here, but if you're squeamish about that sort of thing this is your chance to ditch out!

For the rest of you, I give you "Two Wolves at War."


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Kevin Tumlinson is the author of numerous novels, novellas, and non-fiction books, and the host of the Wordslinger Podcast. Try three of his best books for free when you download his starter library at kevintumlinson.com/starterlibrary.
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[AUTHOR INTERVIEW] Stacy Claflin on YA Paranormal Romance

[AUTHOR INTERVIEW] Stacy Claflin on YA Paranormal Romance

This week, I had the privilege of swapping interviews with one of my fellow Unboxers, author Stacy Claflin (you can read my interview here). Stacy discusses her work in YA paranormal romance (aren't all YA romances paranormal?), and talks about some of her upcoming projects including her Gone series.


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Kevin Tumlinson is the author of numerous novels, novellas, and non-fiction books, and the host of the Wordslinger Podcast. Try three of his best books for free when you download his starter library at kevintumlinson.com/starterlibrary.
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Who says print is dead?

Who says print is dead?

Definitely not me! Usually.

This Friday, August 22nd, you can pick up a copy of Sawyer Jackson and the Long Land in print, for the first time ever! 


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Kevin Tumlinson is the author of numerous novels, novellas, and non-fiction books, and the host of the Wordslinger Podcast. Try three of his best books for free when you download his starter library at kevintumlinson.com/starterlibrary.
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Guess what's coming soon?

Guess what's coming soon?

Ready for another tangle?

I hope so, because it won't be long before Sawyer Jackson and the Shadow Strait hits shelves. And I want one of those shelves to be yours!


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Kevin Tumlinson is the author of numerous novels, novellas, and non-fiction books, and the host of the Wordslinger Podcast. Try three of his best books for free when you download his starter library at kevintumlinson.com/starterlibrary.
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[NEW BOOK!} Sawyer Jackson & the Long Land - Available 7/1

[NEW BOOK!} Sawyer Jackson & the Long Land - Available 7/1

I am stupid excited to announce that Sawyer Jackson & the Long Land will be available as an ebook on July 1, 2014!


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Kevin Tumlinson is the author of numerous novels, novellas, and non-fiction books, and the host of the Wordslinger Podcast. Try three of his best books for free when you download his starter library at kevintumlinson.com/starterlibrary.
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4 Must-read, must-have books for indie authors

4 Must-read, must-have books for indie authors

I promised my friend and fellow, Tammy McDonald, that I would create a reading list of books I thought every indie author should read. This isn't that list, but it's a fair start. 


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Kevin Tumlinson is the author of numerous novels, novellas, and non-fiction books, and the host of the Wordslinger Podcast. Try three of his best books for free when you download his starter library at kevintumlinson.com/starterlibrary.
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Steven  Gould, SFWA - books for charity

Steven Gould, SFWA - books for charity

Steven Gould (author of Jumper and current President of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America) just posted a link to handful of great science fiction that you can purchase to support a couple of worthy charities.


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Kevin Tumlinson is the author of numerous novels, novellas, and non-fiction books, and the host of the Wordslinger Podcast. Try three of his best books for free when you download his starter library at kevintumlinson.com/starterlibrary.
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New ebook — Teresa's Monster

New ebook — Teresa's Monster

Today, I'm thrilled to announce a new Happy Pants Books "Short Pants" (synonyms such as Kindle Single and Novella may apply) has hit digital bookshelves. Teresa's Monster is packaged and ready for you to download and enjoy!


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Kevin Tumlinson is the author of numerous novels, novellas, and non-fiction books, and the host of the Wordslinger Podcast. Try three of his best books for free when you download his starter library at kevintumlinson.com/starterlibrary.
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Fill in the blank — Best non-SF authors and books?

I'm am omnivorous reader, but I'll admit I've slanted my reading toward science fiction for most of my life. When I've branched out, I've discovered amazing works by incredible authors, and I want to keep finding 'em! Since I'm not as tuned in to non-scifi, I was hoping I could ping you folks for some suggestions. 


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Kevin Tumlinson is the author of numerous novels, novellas, and non-fiction books, and the host of the Wordslinger Podcast. Try three of his best books for free when you download his starter library at kevintumlinson.com/starterlibrary.
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Citadel update - Outline progress!

Citadel update - Outline progress!

"Good news, everyone!"

If you heard that in the voice of Dr. Farnsworth, then you're my kind of people.

But seriously ... good news! I've officially outlined the first three chapters and most of the fourth chapter of "Children of Light." Not as exciting as saying "I've officially WRITTEN the first three chapters," but we take what victories we can. And that's one.


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Kevin Tumlinson is the author of numerous novels, novellas, and non-fiction books, and the host of the Wordslinger Podcast. Try three of his best books for free when you download his starter library at kevintumlinson.com/starterlibrary.
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Green World

Robbie and I had talked about "the shop" for years. Everyone did. It had stood there, empty, since before I was born. At least, I think it had. Robbie thinks it might have closed down just a few years ago, when we were still in grade school. And he says that he might have seen the inside once when it was still open. He remembers there being lots of people wearing hard hats and goggles, moving big pieces of metal around, sparks flying from welding rigs, and a lot of cursing and music. He remembers seeing a picture of a naked woman tacked to the peg board on someone's workbench, and his dad pulling him away before he could get a really good look.


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Kevin Tumlinson is the author of numerous novels, novellas, and non-fiction books, and the host of the Wordslinger Podcast. Try three of his best books for free when you download his starter library at kevintumlinson.com/starterlibrary.
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Three

3.jpg

Today's flash fiction is dedicated to my lovely and supportive wife, Kara. For eight years now she's managed to tolerate me, and hasn't stabbed me once. All my love, Kara. All my days.


"Three," she said.

I couldn't believe it. "Three? Just three?"

"That's the total."

"And you're sure. Out of all of them?"

"Two hundred queries sent, three returned. Look," she said, showing me her tablet so I could see the figures.

Three.

Time was when I could send two hundred, or two thousand queries, I'd get the same number of responses back. Time was when I could ask them to do whatever I wanted, and they'd do it. Time was when they'd all listen. 

Now.

"OK, three. Let's get them engaged."

She nodded and walked out of my office, which was now just a bedroom in the back corner of my apartment, stuffed with a desk and a large table where I did the work. Bits and pieces were strewn all over the table. The printer sat silent, ready for a feed of materials so it could churn out a model. It hadn't done that in so long. And now, just as I'm ready for another one, just as I finally have an idea again, I only get three notes of interest. 

I fired up the printer, I pushed the design, I waited. In moments the first of the models was ready. Moments later, all three models were ready to go.

I looked at them, examined them, studied them. They were perfect. They were exactly as I had envisioned them, exactly as I had designed them. Just the right balance of sophistication and style. There was a sort of cuteness to them, a human-ish quality that I liked to build into my work. That's what separates what I do from the thousands of clones out there. I put that human touch into them, that bit of relatability. To everyone else, it's just about getting the thing built and in production as quickly as possible. For me, it's about crafting the experience.

Wait ... 

A flaw. Number three has a flaw. It's tiny, a small blemish that no one but me would notice. But that's the point, isn't it? I would know it was there. I would see it, every time I closed my eyes, every time I thought back on it. I moved it to the printer, where it would be dismantled, atom by atom, recycling the materials so we can try again.

The printer was old, that was all. The newer models didn't have transcription errors or inadvertent blemishes. They were perfect. I would have had one, in the old days. Someone would have just handed it to me, begging me to ply my craft, to give them the honor of using their equipment to create.

Again the printer hummed and the recycled materials were rearranged and redistributed, and a new model emerged. I looked it over, studying it. It was perfect. Not a blemish. Perfect.

She came back to the door, knocking gently, even though it stood half open. Bless her. She'd stuck with me, even as I had to sell off the company, the resources, the facility. She'd come with me here, to this apartment, where I lived in one bedroom and worked in another. She made the kitchen her office, where she answered messages and marketed the work. I don't know what I would have done without her. If she had ever married, I'm sure I would have lost her. That's a shame, really, that she never married, never found anyone. Neither had I, for that matter. That's the way life goes.

"Contracts are signed. Money has been transferred," she said. "Are they ready?"

I nodded. "They're ready. They're perfect."

She stepped into the room, looking at the three models, pristine and new and perfect in every way. "They're beautiful," she said. "They are always so beautiful. Something always seems to be missing from the commercially produced models. Like there's no ..." she stopped, reaching, trying to find a word that described what she was thinking.

But I knew. Oh, I knew. "Soul," I said.

"Yes! Soul. It's like yours have one, and the others don't. I can't understand why anyone would want one of the mass produced models when they could have one of yours."

"The others are less expensive," I waved, annoyed. "And new models come out constantly. One breaks down, you just get a new one. There's no room for soul anymore."

She shook her head. "I don't know about that. I think these are just amazing. So perfect. They'll love them."

I nodded, and she left the room. 

Maybe they'd love them. I certainly loved them. But there was no market for them anymore. No one, outside of this apartment, really cared that they were beautiful, that they had soul. 

And maybe that was OK. My work had made its mark, after all. The mass produced models were all essentially copies of what I created. They were an homage, of sorts, to the work I had done. My mark on the world. My legacy. 

Maybe that's all one can hope for, in the end — that the work lives on, even if it doesn't live up.

Or maybe, I thought, as I looked at these perfect models, filled with soul, filled with thought and relevance and relatability, maybe what matters most is that I love what I've created

If no one else cared, if I never sold another, if no one ever once raved about what I was doing, then maybe the work itself would be enough. Just knowing that I was doing the best I could possibly do, the work I was born to do, could be my reward. 

It felt hollow, at first. It felt like I was just talking myself into believing it. But soon, very soon, it didn't feel artificial at all. It felt real. Because as I thought about it, as I took another look at what I had created, as I thought about the three, the people who wanted them, the humans who felt the pull, the need to have these in their lives, I felt the soul of it. The work really was enough, if three people appreciated it. It was enough if only one person appreciated it.

She came back to the room, tablet in hand, with a blank line on a page that required my signature. She was my friend. My best friend. She was the closest thing to a wife I'd ever had. She had stayed with me through all of it, the downsizing and the reinventing and the rethinking. Bless her soul.



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Kevin Tumlinson is the author of numerous novels, novellas, and non-fiction books, and the host of the Wordslinger Podcast. Try three of his best books for free when you download his starter library at kevintumlinson.com/starterlibrary.
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A Second Skin (new flash fiction)

Another smudge of flash fiction to keep you warm on a very chilly day. Temperatures are in the 20s and 30s here in Houston this morning, and to keep my fingers from freezing to the keyboard I'm moving them as fast as possible. Hope you enjoy the result!

 —

fiery-landscape.jpg

Dear Dad,

I haven't written in a long while, I know. It's been, what, three years? Maybe more? Last time, it was to tell you that I was fine, and that I was enjoying living here. That was a long time ago.

I was wondering about how you were doing. I was thinking about you, and I hope that means something. Three years is a lot of missed time, and a lot to make up for in one letter. I'll do my best.

You already know about the fires. When we were first hit, I was sort of annoyed about it all more than anything. It wasn't like I didn't realize how serious it all was, I just wasn't all that worried at the time. What, in my entire life up to then, had ever really been a serious problem? Was there ever anything that was so bad it wouldn't go away after a few nights of TV and video games? Or books. I remember reading all of the Harry Potter books that were out, after 9/11. I was, what, seven years old then? Seems like forever.

But you can see why I haven't written. It's been busy. Crazy, really. So much happening.

During that first strike, I was with a group of people who took shelter in an old cathedral in Strasbourg. It was cold there, for a while, until the fires were everywhere. Then it was so hot I thought I'd melt to the floor. 

We were lucky, though. One of the first rescue teams came through in that area, for some reason. They came to the cathedral and gave all of us a suit. The skins. It fit kind of snug, I thought, and was uncomfortable. But it kept the heat and the cold away, and it let me breath. That's something. That's everything. And eventually, I hardly noticed it. Day and night, it's just there, part of me now. A second skin.

We left the cathedral, and with the skins we did OK. Food and water were a problem. We went without for really long time, scraping by on whatever we could find that wasn't burnt to a crisp or contaminated. The skins will filter out a lot of toxins and radiation and bacteria, but they aren't perfect. People still got sick. A lot of the older people died pretty quick. Kids ... 

I don't like to think about the kids.

We followed the rescue team for weeks. They tried to talk to us, but none of us could ever make much sense of the language. We got by with hand gestures and signs. They had just as tough of a time understanding us, really, and in the end I think we developed a nice sort of "third language" that had nothing to do with words. 

They're a good bunch, the rescuers. Good people. The other survivors and I have talked about where they may have come from, and we all have theories. They look like us, so wherever they're from it must be very similar to here. They live in the skins, just like us. They need food and water and air, just like us. But they're different. You could tell right away. It's in the way they interact with each other, with us, with the world itself. They know what they're doing, like they've done it a hundred times before. And I think they have. I don't think we're the first world to be hit by the fires.

But that's all history. The reason I'm writing now is that I think I'm about to step into the future. The rescuers have become very excited lately. They're gesturing a lot, making sure we know that something is happening. They're trying to tell us that we're moving on, but no one has been able to work out where we're going. I think it's to the next world. They keep drawing something in the dirt and ash that looks like a portal. I think we're about to become rescuers ourselves. 

It's been three years, dad. I've missed you. I think you're gone. I'm pretty sure of it. But maybe you're alive, somewhere in America, with your own group of rescuers. Maybe you're wearing a skin. Maybe you're getting by. Maybe I'll see you in the next world. I hope so. 

All my love,

Danny


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Kevin Tumlinson is the author of numerous novels, novellas, and non-fiction books, and the host of the Wordslinger Podcast. Try three of his best books for free when you download his starter library at kevintumlinson.com/starterlibrary.
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Parker Sixteen (new flash fiction)

Today's bit of flash fiction has a steampunk flavor! Enjoy. 

Factorem-Gear.jpg

Parker Sixteen

It was looking at me. 

It was standing in the center of a ring of junk, no face that I could see, and I couldn't see any eyes at all. But I could feel it looking at me. 

Grandpa's shed has always been my favorite place. Whenever I stayed with him, this was where I'd end up, connecting bits of pipe and wire and old electronics into ... something. I was never sure what I was building. I didn't have a plan. I was just tinkering.

Until the day it worked.

I had the last bit, a piece of an old radio, pulled free of its casing. It was a small circuit board with a bunch of stuff on it. I used a screwdriver to turn a few things that had slots. I pried a couple of things off of the board. I wrapped wire through holes and around metal legs that were soldered to the board. I had nothing in mind. No idea what I was building.

And then it worked.

There was a flash, blue and bright, and then the hum of something from under the pile. The air smelled weird, a sort of burnt smell, and I felt like a million ants had just walked over my whole body. I was tingling.

The pile moved, and stuff started shifting and falling away. I jumped back to avoid getting hit, and looked as the pile opened up, some of it sinking downward.

And then it stood up. Or walked out. Or something. I wasn't exactly sure. It was just sort of there.

It looked kind of like a man wearing a suit, like those old-timey clothes you see on TV and in the movies. He had on a suit, and under the coat was a vest and a tie that bulged from the top. But his head wasn't human. It looked more like an upside down bowl, with a bunch of slits cut in it. The bowl rotated all the way around until it was back to where it started, and light started coming from the slits.

I didn't know what to do. I stood there.

"Hello," it said.

"Hi," I said, still not sure if I should run and hide. 

It looked around the scrap heap, and put a finger on the gadget I'd built. It sort of ran its finger along one of the pipes, then stuck it up in front of the upside down bowl, in front of one of the slits, as if it was looking at it closer. "Well that's impressive," it said. "An accidental one. You made an accidental portam."

"Uh ... I did?"

"You did. And that shows promise. Mister ...?"

"I'm Parker," I said.

"Mister Parker."

"No, I'm not a mister. I'm just sixteen."

The man stood still for a moment, and I got the impression that it was smiling. "Parker Sixteen. Well, Parker, that's quite a feat. And one to be proud of. How'd you do it? Just cobbled stuff together?"

"I ... yes, I think so."

"Remarkable. Well then, I'll have to keep an eye on you." He reached into a pocket and took something out, then walked up to me, reaching out his hand.

I reached back, not even sure why. Like shaking hands. Automatic.

He gripped my hand, and then let go. He turned and walked back to the circle of junk, and touched his wrist, where he was wearing something I couldn't see. As he turned to face me, the blue light and the burning smell came back. "Parker Sixteen, it has been a pleasure. You will do some amazing things. I'm happy to have been the first to meet you! Keep cobbling. We will meet again!"

And then he was gone. The light dropped away, the smell drifted, and I was alone in Grandpa's shed, with the junk and my gadget.

I looked at my hand and saw that I was holding small, round gear with a pin soldered to its back. It was about the size of a quarter, and it had a flat metal band across its middle with a small hole in the center. On that cross-piece was the word "Factorem." I had no idea what it meant, but it felt important. It felt big. It felt like seeing the future.

I pinned it to my shirt, and then pulled the door shut on Grandpa's shed before running inside. I could already smell supper. The day was ending, and a new one would start in the morning. I couldn't wait to see it.


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Kevin Tumlinson is the author of numerous novels, novellas, and non-fiction books, and the host of the Wordslinger Podcast. Try three of his best books for free when you download his starter library at kevintumlinson.com/starterlibrary.
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Xander Travel and the Floating Button

Today's flash fiction features a character I've developed over the past few years. This marks his official public debut, and I'm curious to see how people will react. Feel free to comment here (or Facebook or Twitter or aloud to an audience hanging on your every word) and let me know what you think! And have fun.

Xander-button.jpg

Xander Travel and the Floating Button

It was like it was just stuck, in mid air. When Kendal found it, at first he thought it might be hanging from a piece of fishing line. But it didn't sway, even in the breeze. As the leaves rustled and moved all around him, here in the clearing in the woods behind his parents' house, he was pretty sure it should move. Was it tied top and bottom? Was it on a a rigid wire? A sheet of glass?

But it was just a button.

It was small and brown, with a sort of marbling through it, a darker brown or light black. Possibly from a shirt or a coat. Four holes where thread would be sewn through it, to hold it to fabric. But there was no fabric. There was no shirt or coat, and no fishing line or wire or glass. Just a button. In mid-air. 

Kendal had found it while out for a hike, back to the clearing where he'd spent a lot of years playing and pretending and being whoever and whatever he'd wanted to be. In his clearing, near his house, he'd been Indiana Jones and Luke Skywalker and Spider-man. He'd been a cowboy and a superhero and a pirate. He'd been a lot of things here, and thought up all kinds of stories that kept him busy and entertained, all by himself. His closest friends lived miles away, too far for a bike. And his little brother ... well, he had his own thing. He had friends who lived close. He had their parents. Kendal liked being alone anyway.

He'd only come out here to relive some of that childhood. Finals were last week, and they were brutal. College hadn't been as much fun as movies and TV had led him to believe. It was hard work, especially when Kendall had to hold down two jobs on top of his class schedule. College and work and life were all much harder than Kendall had expected, and all he really wanted was to come back to this clearing, where he was anything he wanted to be, and he never had to worry about whether he was getting everything right. 

He reached out to touch the button.

"I wouldn't touch that," a voice came from behind.

Kendall turned and saw the man. Or the boy. Wait, was he young or old? When Kendall looked at him, he saw someone who might be his age, but who felt older. The man was dressed pretty much like Kendall was dressed, in jeans and a button-up shirt, untucked, and a brown leather jacket that looked vintage. 

"Timmy!" the stranger said, flinging his arms out wide like he was hugging Kendall from across the clearing.

Kendall shook his head, confused. "No, I'm Kendall."

"Oh! Kendall!" and the man repeated the gesture.

"Wait, who are you?"

"I'm Xander," the man said, striding across the clearing and sticking out a hand for a shake. "Xander Travel. Nice to meet you, Kendall!"

Kendall took the hand on instinct and shook, and looked confused. "But you acted like you knew me?"

"Oh, that? Pff. I do that. If I'd asked 'what's your name' you would have asked 'who's asking?' or similar, and then we'd be going back and forth about it, with you being all paranoid about stranger danger, etcetera. But if I get your name wrong right off, you just correct me and we move on. Isn't that nice? Now we know each other, and we can talk like old pals. So, what do we have here, a button?" He leaned in close to inspect it.

Kendall blinked, but nodded, and then turned and looked at the button floating in mid-air, with Xander Travel standing beside him, and more than a few questions tickling the inside of his skull.

But best of all, the feeling.

He felt it, somehow in the center of his chest and in his stomach and in that space behind his eyes. It felt like coming home, just like he'd hoped he'd feel when he'd walked out into the clearing in the woods behind his house, early in the morning. He felt like himself again, all of a sudden.

"Yep, that's a button alright," Xander said. 

"How is it floating like that? There's no string or anything."

"It's done up," Xander said.

Kendall looked at him. "Huh?"

Xander made a motion with his hands, like buttoning a shirt or a coat. "Done up. It's buttoned, holding a flap closed."

"But ..."

Xander waved. "You'll get it, don't worry. Smart kid like you. Just give it time, the story practically tells itself."

"Wait, but ..." 

"Smart? Because here you are, standing in a clearing in the woods, looking at a button floating in mid-air, and you've already figured out all thing things it isn't. Plus, just being here in the first place, in first light. The 'magic hour.' That takes some thought. You had to have thought about this place. There aren't any trails. You've been here before, probably when you were young, and you knew the way. And you're up early. Really early, for a college kid. Especially a male. Shouldn't you be sleeping 'til noon and eating everything your parents  have in the house? No, you have other things on your mind, I can see that"

"That was a lot."

"I talk a lot when I'm thinking. Now, button. All done up. Connecting the two worlds. That's always a good find."

"Two worlds?"

"This world, Earth Prime we'll say. And another world, the Long Land. That's a nice spot. I'm not technically allowed there anymore, but I go all the time. You should come with me."

Kendall wasn't sure what to say, or what to think. He just felt something inside of himself let go. Like feeling a tense and cramped muscle finally release. Like feeling blood rush back into a sleeping foot or hand. He felt fresh. He felt ready to go.

"Who are you?" he asked.

"Done that. Past that. Now we're talking about this button. And ..." he dug in one of the pockets of his coat and pulled out a spool of thread. "There we go. OK, you hold this," he said, handing Kendall the spool while taking hold of the thread. "Spool that out for me as I go, OK?"

Xander pulled the thread as he walked up to and around the button, eyeing it. Then he stuck the end of the thread in his mouth, wet it, and held it up, pinched between his forefinger and thumb, holding it in front of the button as he squinted one eye. Then, in a quick jab, his hand darted forward. When he pulled it away, the thread dangled from one of the button holes.

Xander quickly reached out and tied the loose and dangling end to the strand stretching from the button to the spool in Kendall's hand. He tugged on it, cinched it, and then stood back to admire his work. 

Kendall stood there with the spool in his hand, not sure what to do next.

"Done," Xander said. 

He turned and looked at Kendall, and laughed a little. "It's just a spool of thread, Kendall. It won't bite."

"OK," Kendall said, relaxing a big. "So ... I have no idea what's happening right now."

Xander smiled. "But you like it."

It was a heartbeat. A bare moment in time. Just a pulse, like the click of a dial or the first beat of a song. The moment ... the moment ... before it all starts. "Yeah," Kendall said next.

"Then let's see what we can unbutton today," Xander said, and then wrapped his hand with the thread and gave it a yank.

The button popped out of the space where it had hung and fell to the ground. Xander quickly reeled it in and then reached back to grab the spool from Kendall's hand. He wound the thread around the spool quickly, faster than Kendall could follow, and dropped spool and thread and button into his pocket. All this, while a small gap formed in the air in front of them.

It was like a curtain open and fall away. The air split into shimmering waves on either side of a scene, like seeing something through a part in a waterfall. And the scene beyond was amazing.

Kendall could see a valley that stretched on forever. It was a strip of land, filled with trees and rivers and lakes, mountains in the distance, birds in the air. It was lush and green and untouched. And on either side of it was an ocean. It was like looking at a perfect ribbon of a continent, separating two oceans from each other. It had to be miles and miles across, and stretching on to infinity, but Kendall could see it as if from a high vantage point.

"The Long Land," Xander said quietly from beside him. "Home of the Exemplars. Source of all good stories and myths. Destination for anyone who has the right button." He smiled at this last bit. "Or some other funny object. It's amazing the items that can get you there these days."

As Kendall stared at the scene, a little dazed, a lot confused, Xander turned to him and smiled. "So, Kendall ... what do you think? You want to tag along? I can't stay there for too long. They start to notice. But it'd be a chance to visit for a while, maybe chat with some old friends. Then we can pop right back here and I'll be on to the next thing. The fun never stops. Hasn't for almost four thousand years, so why start now?"

"But ... I don't even know you. And ..." he looked at the scene, the Long Land. "What is that place?"

"The beginning," Xander said, and for once he had a bit of awe and quiet in his voice. "That's where it starts."

Kendall looked at it, and looked Xander Travel, and then looked within himself.

He felt it. That buzz and tingle. That giddy excitement, that the world had more to offer than he could imagine. He'd felt it as a kid, here in his clearing, but hadn't felt it for a very, very long time since. And now, here it was. Old friend.

"Let's go," Kendall said.

Xander smiled. "Button up," he told him, and then the two of them stepped through to the Long Land.  


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Kevin Tumlinson is the author of numerous novels, novellas, and non-fiction books, and the host of the Wordslinger Podcast. Try three of his best books for free when you download his starter library at kevintumlinson.com/starterlibrary.
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A Burst of Birds

burst-of-birds.jpg

 

A bit of flash fiction to start your day! Somber. Sorry. I didn't know where this character was going when I started tagging along. But enjoy, and let me know what you think.

It was a burst of birds. A swarm of them, exploding upward, circling, diving, rising, all in unison. I had never seen anything like it. Not really. The odd cluster of birds fluttering up into the sky in a Walmart parking lot didn't really compare.

This was in an open field, on a road leading away from home. It was like seeing a dirt devil or a twister, but it was alive. And it was loud. And it was perfect.

The road was perfect, too. Long and quiet and lined by trees and fields and small homes with beat up pickup trucks and disused tractors sitting out front. It was my third day on this road. My feet hurt. My legs were stiff. My back was sore. I felt oily and dirty and grungy. I hadn't showered in three days. 

First gas station, that was my promise to myself. The first gas station I see, I'm going in. I'm monkey-bathing it. I'm getting myself as clean as you can get in a gas station bathroom. 

And maybe some food. I still had a back of Ritz crackers and about a third of a jar of peanut butter. They were at the top of the pack, where I figured they had the least chance of getting crushed but were also the first thing I saw when I unzipped the top of the backpack. Which meant they were tempting. Which meant they were eaten.

I've never been all that good at self control. Which was one of the reasons I was here, watching a perfect storm of birds burst into the air and circle around in a huge arc, and land back in the field again as if nothing had happened. No self control. No filter. I say too much.

She didn't deserve it. My mom. She didn't deserve that. And then she was gone.

I was just tired. Not like now, with my sore feet and aching back. I didn't know what tired was, three days ago. A few nights without sleep? A couple of mornings of panic, making calls, waiting for ambulances? 

It was the vomit that did me in. She'd thrown up again, into the small waste basket by her bed. And I had to clean it out, again. I took it outside, turned on the hose, squeezed the handle on the nozzle, and a jet of water took the vomit away. But some of it bounced, and sprayed upward, and some of the vomit hit me in the face, near my mouth. And suddenly I was hosing off my own face, and cursing, and mad and sick to my stomach, and so mad.

I used one of the dish towels in the kitchen to dry my face, and I threw it in the sink, which had soapy water in it, and that made me mad too. Why was I the only one doing anything around here? Why was I the one doing dishes with no dishwasher, and cleaning up vomit, and taking care of her? Where was dad? Where was my sister? Where was everybody?

And then I went to mom, and I told her she had to get better or just give up already. Just like that. "Get better or give up already!" I said it under my breath. I whispered it as I put the waste basket down beside the bed. It was never meant to be heard.

"I'm sorry," she said. 

She was looking at me.

"I'm sorry," and it was quiet.

And she was gone.

And so was I. 

Three days. A burst of birds. A tornado of birds. And the first gas station I find, I'm going to get cleaned up. Somewhere along this road there's a place. I don't know where it is, exactly, but it's where I'll stop. Somewhere else, where I'm not the me who says too much. 


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Kevin Tumlinson is the author of numerous novels, novellas, and non-fiction books, and the host of the Wordslinger Podcast. Try three of his best books for free when you download his starter library at kevintumlinson.com/starterlibrary.
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The Three Reasons to Avoid Being Punched in the Face - Part 2

Read the second installment of "The Three Reasons to Avoid Being Punched in the Face." 

Elle had a thing for red.

“It’s bold,” she said. She’d said this more than once, as we perused the wares of the little clothing shop just a block from the record/comic/hot chocolate shop/post office, where I’d decided it would be a good idea to buy a new wardrobe for a near stranger. She had described nearly every item of clothing she’d picked up as some variation of ‘bold.’ The skirt was “pronounced.” The pants were “adventurous.” The gloves were “distinct.”


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Kevin Tumlinson is the author of numerous novels, novellas, and non-fiction books, and the host of the Wordslinger Podcast. Try three of his best books for free when you download his starter library at kevintumlinson.com/starterlibrary.
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The Three Reasons to Avoid Being Punched in the Face - Part 1

I recently decided I would start serializing some of my in-print work on the blog. So I'm planning to select a work and start posting a chapter a week, from some of my novellas and Kindle Singles and also my long-format books. I want you to get the most out this, so I'm going to start with the novellas and singles. 

Any and all works I post here are Copyright J. Kevin Tumlinson. I'm more than happy for you to repost or link to or quote from this work, and all I ask is that you credit me and link back to my site at www.kevintumlinson.com. Cool?

Also, if you're the impatient sort and you'd like to read the complete work all at once, I'll make sure to include a link so you can buy it on Amazon.com, in either print or Kindle format (most of my novellas and singles are available only in ebook format). If you have a Nook or some other device, and you'd like to read this or any other work by me, you can purchase my books on Smashwords

Enough already! Let's get to the fun part. 


Want to read it all at once on your Kindle? Get it for only 99-cents on Amazon!

Want to read it all at once on your Kindle? Get it for only 99-cents on Amazon!

"The Three Reasons to Avoid Being Punched in the Face" is my newest novella.  Here's the Amazon.com description:

A new novella from the author of "Getting Gone." 
Sometimes you find yourself in the strangest places. No one knows that better than Charlie Dustin. He's been avoiding his life for three years in every dusty church and old building in Europe. Until the day Elle finds him in a French cafe, bringing along three really good reasons for staying out of trouble.

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1 | Reason #3

There are three reasons (more or less) why you might want to avoid being punched in the face.

Yes, there is the usual discomfort. Bruising around the ocular socket. Swelling, and possible splitting of the flesh. That quick, stomach-clenching whiplash snap of the head that turns your neck into so much strained and sore spaghetti, which makes you feel like your brain just ricocheted off of at least two sides of your skull. We’ll lump these under “Reason #1.”

The second reason has to do with pride. Humility, actually. Do you take the punch, shrug it off like you might have deserved it? Maybe. That’s a cool way to handle being punched in the face, no doubt. Or do you become outraged in a classic ‘50s “How DARE you!?!” mode—face red (and bruising), fists clenched, shaking all over with righteous rage? This is a tricky decision. It will influence everything that happens after. It should be carefully weighed. It is “Reason #2.”

But the third reason is maybe the one that matters most. It’s a simple fact. It’s all about causes. At the root of this punch, at its origin, at the Big Bang preceding this big bang, there is a series of events that brought you to this point in time—that connects you to this connection. At its heart, it’s the core question of existence. The “What brought us here?” question. 

It boils down to this: “Reason #3” means you’re in trouble.

I would very much have liked paying heed to Reason #3 before this all began. The punch to the face I could handle. Hurt? Yes. Pride bruised? Sure. I hadn’t quite decided yet whether I was going to shrug it off or shake with rage, but either way I felt like a heel. Trouble? I was in it. Loads of it. Loads and loads.

It started three days ago.

 

“Charlie? Charlie Dustin?”

I hadn’t made up my mind yet whether that was really my name I’d just heard or whether it might be a coincidence. I’d been traveling, see. It felt like centuries. But really, I’d been out and about, away from home and country, for about three years now. I was here now, in Strasbourg, France, in the middle of a freak storm that had brought the first snow in maybe 15 years. And it was a good one. Crisp and wet. Solid. I could feel it in my boxer shorts. I’d only brought a couple of sweaters and a coat on this impromptu jaunt near the French-German border, and it never occurred to me that I might need thermal underwear. I really did.

“Is that really you?” the girl asked, leaning in a little closer.

“Umm … Michelle?” It was the name that came to mind. And now we wait. Will I be right? Have I offended her? I’ve always been bad with names, ‘So sorry about that! Really, I do remember you now … honest! I just …’

“Yeah! Well, Elle. I go by Elle these days.”

“L?”

“E-L-L-E. As in Michelle. I know, kind of dumb. It’s something my friends started calling me in college. There was another Michelle. She won the name.”

Elle was smiling, which is the universal sign for being OK with things. I smiled too. “Elle,” I said. Smiling. “Hi. I think we haven’t seen each other since … high school, right?”

“Right! That’s been, what, six years?”

Six years, five months, eighteen days, thirty-seven minutes …

No, not really. I couldn’t possibly have kept track of the exact last time I saw someone, down to the minute. I’m just kidding.

“Something like that, I think.” Smiling. “What are you doing in Strasbourg?”

She beamed then. “Isn’t it beautiful here? I’m on vacation. My folks paid for the trip. Sort of a graduation present. I just left grad school.”

“Grad school! Nice. Medicine?”

She shook her head, sipping from a paper cup of coffee I had only just noticed she was carrying. Starbucks. The world was infested with them. The good kind of infestation. Is that possible? I feel like there should be a good kind of infestation.

“Chemical Engineering. A little boring, I know.”

“No!” I said. And I meant it. I was interested in chemistry. At least in that nerdy, geeky, “I love science” kind of way.  In a “I read books about chemistry for fun” kind of way. In a “I’m that guy” kind of way. “LNG?”

“How’d you guess?”

“Houston,” I said, pointing at her UH sweatshirt. The Cougar was growling, fierce and ready to attack. Charlie beware.

She looked down, then smiled. “Yeah. Undergrad at UH, then grad school at the Colorado School of Mines.”

“That’s quite a commute,” I said.

She laughed. “Yeah. It’s where my dad went. I felt obligated. Plus, it’s a great school.” This last she said with an “I dare you to disagree” tone, and a little sideways look that I found intriguing.

“Of course,” I smiled. “One of the best.”

“What about you?”

“Me? Oh, I didn’t go to college.” This was usually a showstopper.

“No? Invented something that made you rich, I take it?”

I blinked. “Uh, something like that. How did you …”

“Pretty expensive coat. And you’re sitting in a café in Strasbourg in the middle of a workday, alone. Plus, you don’t have that weary look of a tourist. No sweatshirt.” She said this as she gestured at the Cougar on her chest with her coffee cup.

I finally realized she’d been standing this whole time. “Sit down! Sorry. I forget that other people are people,” I said, smiling, covering, hoping I hadn’t just made an ass-hat of myself.

“Thanks!” she said, and plopped down. “I hung up my coat nearby, just in case I’d be able to convince you to let me have a seat.”

“So this was all part of a nefarious plot to find a chair in a crowded café?”

She rubbed her hands together. “Mwa-ha-ha.”

I smiled and lifted my cup of espresso. “Very good, Ms. Elle. You have bested me despite my immense training.”

“Which is in what, exactly?” Elle said.

The waiter, who must have been hovering nearby waiting for just this circumstance to occur, interrupted to take Elle’s order. She asked for soup. And water.

“Please add her to my tab, and could you bring some Carpaccio?”

The waiter nodded and moved away.

Carpaccio … isn’t that raw beef?”

“Er … yeah. Sorry. I figured …”

“I ordered soup and water, so I must be broke? And your idea was to order me a plate of raw beef?”

“It’s kind of a delicacy,” I said, sheepishly.

She gave me a stern look for a second, then smiled so wide it nearly made the wool cap fall off of her head. It was a strangely familiar-looking cap, actually. “So I’ve heard,” she said. “Can’t wait to try it. So … what’s a small town boy like you doing in a foreign country like this?”

 

Hours. Maybe four. Maybe just a couple. Honestly, I lost track. But it was good. Elle moved seamlessly from soup to Carpaccio (in small samples) to a more-her-speed sandwich to a real espresso served in a proper mug, allowing the waiter to carry away the paper Starbucks cup, holding it like it was a stool sample. I had a bit of Carpaccio myself, and another espresso. We got the customary disapproving look from our French waiter, reserved for Americans who order Italian coffees in the middle of the day. I get it a lot.

“So you still haven’t told me.”

“I know,” I said.

“I’ve asked like five subtle times.”

“I know,” I said.

“And it’s porn, isn’t it?”

I laughed—loud and sharp—earning us a few looks from around the café, which had gone strangely quiet at just the right moment. As cafés do. “Not quite. I mean no, not at all. I mean, yes, I suppose it could have something to do with porn.”

She arched an eyebrow.

“I created a piece of software. It’s for backing up servers. I sold it, and kept a percentage of ownership, and the company that bought it went public. So now I get a royalty. It’s pretty expensive software, with the contracts and service agreements and such.”

“And porn?”

I shrugged. “They own more servers than anyone. They have more data to back up.”

She laughed at this, and I smiled, feeling strangely relieved.

“Well, that answer took long enough. Why?”

I shrugged again. “It’s boring. I don’t like boring.”

“Says the man sitting in a café, by himself, in a foreign city a thousand miles from home.”

“Nothing boring about that. If you’re me.”

“You do something, though,” she said. It was a statement. Fact. She knew.

Or sort of knew. “Yes. I do something. Everybody has to have something to keep them busy.”

“And what’s your something?”

I hesitated, and she noticed. “Come on! It can’t be worse than porn!”

I laughed. “OK. Yeah, OK. I … well, I have a little pet project. It’s kind of geeky.”

“Annnnnd ….”

I looked around, as if someone might pop up to rescue me. Then I gave up. Because how often do you run into a cute girl you went to high school with and sit with for four hours-ish drinking espressos in a café in Strasbourg, France? Once. If you’re me.

“Churches.”

Elle leaned back. “Wait, what now?”

“Well, not just churches. Old buildings. With really interesting features. It just happens that churches tend to be among the oldest and most interesting.”

“So … what do you actually do in the churches? You just tour them?”

“To start. But I also take pictures of them.”

“So you’re a photographer?”

“Amateur only. I just use a little point-and-shoot. Nothing fancy.”

She blinked, sort of half-smiling.

“And I collect pamphlets, if they have them.”

“Pamphlets?”

I took one out of my pocket. It was for the Cathedral de Notre-Dame. A big attraction in Strasbourg.

She took the pamphlet and looked through it. “I saw this yesterday,” she said. “It’s beautiful. But …”

“But boring,” I said.

She laughed. “OK. Yeah, if all you’re doing to pass your time is looking at old buildings and collecting pamphlets, that’s kind of boring Charlie.”

I smiled. “Yeah, I guess it is. I just …” And there it was. I’d managed to kind of forget it. Or ignore it. But it was there. Right there. A punch in the face. The metaphorical kind, not the real kind. Just a moment, an instant, and I was right back … there.

“What? What is it?” Elle asked.

I waved to the waiter, who had apparently been eager to close us out and rush us out the door because he was on us before I’d even managed to get my wallet out of my coat pocket. I paid him in cash, about twice what the meal cost. “Hey, I’m glad we ran into each other,” I said. I stood.

She stood.

“Charlie, what’s up? What happened?”

I took my coat from where it was hanging, a hook on a pole next to our table. It felt heavy. It always felt heavy.

“Places to see,” I said. Smiling. No, not really. Yes, it was technically a smile. Probably looked pretty bad.

“Charlie …”

“Have a great vacation!”

And then I was out in the street, in the snow, in the cold.

Damn, why hadn’t I brought long underwear?

 

Two blocks.

That’s how far I made it before she caught up with me. She was bundled up in a red wool coat, and a striped scarf was tied around her neck. Her wool cap was pulled a little lower. None of it matched.

She was pissed.

“What the hell, Charlie?”

“Elle, look, I just have somewhere to be.”

“Right. So do I.”

“Elle.”

Charlie.”

Stalemate.

“You can’t go where I’m going.”

“Why?”

“Because I don’t know where I’m going.”

“Obviously.”

Now I was starting to get a little mad myself. Which is always a bad sign. Because anger is the mind killer. I know, it’s supposed to be fear, and maybe that’s the mind killer, too. But when I get mad I get stupid. It’s just a fact of Charlie Dustin. So I’ve learned to take a breath and CALM THE HELL DOWN before I speak. It’s a survival tactic.

“I …”

“Something bad happened to you,” Elle said. “I get that. And you know, it’s none of my business. I get that, too. But … well … I lied.”

So now I stopped. Flakes of snow were drifting down on us, clinging to the fibers of our clothes. I had a hat, didn’t I? Used to. Must have left it somewhere. I do that. I own a lot of hats. They’re decorating various churches and old buildings and cafés all over the world.

Must remember long underwear.

“What did you lie about?”

“I didn’t finish grad school,” she said.

I blinked. “OK. And …”

“I mean, I wasn’t totally lying. I said I left grad school, and I was going to let you just believe I’d graduated. And my parents didn’t really send me here. I sort of … cashed their tuition check and bought a ticket. I flew here on my own. I’m staying in the cheapest hotel I can find. Was. Was staying in the cheapest hotel I could find. Right now I’m actually sort of … between hotels.”

“You’re homeless?”

“And a little chilly. Can we go into another café, maybe? Or anywhere?”

We were standing in front of a music store that seemed to double as a comic book store, and possibly a post office as well. I couldn’t really tell from the signs. I never learned French. I was stuck on English. Kind of a shame, I know, but I’m lazy sometimes. Also, I’m American. We have a thing.

“Here,” I said, opening the door to the shop and letting her go in front of me.

Inside we warmed up quick. Too quick. It was a furnace in there, and all I wanted was to go back out into the snow. Instead, I bought a hat and a couple of hot chocolates. The cool kind, where they give you steamed milk and you swish around a stick covered in chocolate until it melts into deliciousness. Apparently this place also doubled as a hot chocolate shop.

“What happened to you, Charlie? What was so bad that you started running from it?”

“Don’t you think we should talk about you being a thousand miles from home with no place to sleep?”

She half smiled. “I’m a cute American girl. I won’t have trouble finding a place to sleep.”

“Er ….”                                                           

“Kidding. Kidding, Charlie. To be honest, I thought the money would hold out longer. And I thought my credit card limit was higher. So, yeah, I’m a little worried about that.”

“I’ll pay for a room for you,” I said.

She smiled. “I kind of hoped you would,” she said.

“You knew I would.” And surprisingly, I wasn’t bitter about it. I kind of thought I might be bitter about someone taking advantage of me.

“No, I didn’t actually. I kind of thought you might get pissed and leave me sitting in a café to fend for myself.”

“I did,” I said.

“You left because you remembered something you’ve been trying to forget. And I followed you because I want to know what it is, and see if I can help.”

“And you needed a place to sleep.”

“And that,” she agreed.

I looked at her. Cougar’s sweatshirt. Wool cap that looked a little too worn in. Coat that looked …

“You stole that coat,” I said.

She arched an eyebrow. “I … may have borrowed this coat.”

“From someone at the café?”

“It’s possible.”

I thought about this for a while. I looked around the record/comic book/hot chocolate shop/post office. “Well then,” I said. “Let’s get out of here. You’re going to need some clothes, and I think X-men T-shirts may not be your style.”

 


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____________________________________________________________
Kevin Tumlinson is the author of numerous novels, novellas, and non-fiction books, and the host of the Wordslinger Podcast. Try three of his best books for free when you download his starter library at kevintumlinson.com/starterlibrary.
____________________________________________________________

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