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The Ultimate Challenge (Rules and Bylaws)

Welcome, brave adventurers! Do not be afraid – I am not your enemy, only a guide. You have journeyed far and suffered much to attain the summit of this, the Mountain of Prophesy. Here lies the Ultimate Treasure for one of you to claim. But be warned! The Treasure is not for the meek nor the idle; it asks of you a terrible price. One of you must sacrifice yourself willingly for the good of others by leaping from the top of this cliff, falling to your death. Only then will your companions be gifted with the Ultimate Treasure and your quest will be at an end.

Of course – and please bear with me here – there are a few provisos and rules to go over, just so we’re clear on what’s being asked here. I know, I know – this is supposed to be your climatic moment, I understand, but I’ve been here a few aeons and I think we’ll all be happier if I dispel any gray area before we begin. In my experience, everyone will be happier in the end.

Look, I feel what I’m asking is pretty clear, too – one of you needs to jump to your death right there and then you get the treasure. Pretty clear. But, just in case you were hoping for some kind of technicality, here, let me be explicit: there is no scenario that ends with you getting the Treasure and also all of you walking away alive. No resurrection. No creating a clone of yourself and getting the clone to jump off the mountain (oh, and by the way, everybody who’s tried that has really regretted it, believe me. Total shitshow, that plan).

And jumping off the mountain presumes you will die by hitting those jagged rocks way down there. No jumping, levitating halfway down, and then arguing that we’re all mortal or some nonsense and that you’ll totally die someday. Same thing goes for those of you so tough you hit the rocks down there and you’re fine – you’ve got to die.

I’m really very sorry, but these are the rules. I didn’t even make these rules, so threatening me won’t make any difference. This is some immutable, Laws of Creation-type shit. I just work here, and I’m not even technically alive, so getting me to jump off for you guys won’t work either.

Oh, and no psychic bullshit! No hypnotizing your friends into jumping off in your place or finding some poor hapless villager and charming them so that they’ll do anything for you and getting them to commit suicide. Consent, assholes – learn the word.

And yeah, it’s got to be one of you guys who climbed the mountain. You can’t teleport in your aging grandma who has two weeks to live and talk her into it. This is supposed to be an ordeal, people. There is a price to be paid. Don’t be dicks.

Look, there’s no point in getting mad at me – it wasn’t my idea to take on this quest to defeat the Ultimate Evil. I’m not the jerk here. C’mon – you were just talking about throwing your grandma off a damned cliff, you little shit.

Hey, nobody’s saying anybody needs to jump – you can go walk yourself down the mountain, for all I care. Live a happy life somewhere. I don’t give a shit, honestly I don’t. I don’t get paid on commission or something. It’s just no jump means no Treasure. Them’s the breaks.

You know what – fine! Leave. Oh stop with all the whining. Oh – oh really? You went there, huh? You think I haven’t heard all this before? Fuck off, you self-entitled little piss-ants. Beat it! Go on now – get. I got better shit to do than listen to this abuse – me, who later on has to climb his old bones down the whole damned mountain and clean your dead ass off those rocks. Fucking exhausting, is what that is. Not jumping is doing me a favor, honestly.

Ye fickle gods, some people.

Maybe I should just post this on a sign or something.



Hey! Those of you in the Boston area tonight (May 9th, 2019), come by Pandemonium Books and Games in Cambridge. I’ll be there between 7pm and 9pm, signing books and chatting with fans. See you there!

Diet Story: Writing Flash

I am residing in an odd form of editing hell at the moment. I’m trying to write a flash piece (on a deadline). It can be no more than 700 words. It will be in a professional publication with a very wide circulation (much wider, I’d wager, than most of the genre magazines I’ve been published in), so I really want to make absolutely certain it’s my best work.

You've got to imagine a LOT more red pen.

You’ve got to imagine a LOT more red pen.

But it’s only 700 words. And that’s killing me.

I am not a sprinter. I am a long-term, slow burn kinda guy. I like complexity, depth, backstory and I like to make all that complicated stuff look simple. Trying to strip down a story into its barest components leaves the story feeling naked to me. Like, if I can’t include the occasional witty tangent, then why bother, right?

Flash Fiction (i.e. stories under 1000 words) has always been a mystery to me. I mean, I understand poetry (even prose poetry), but how does something that short have a beginning, middle, end, an interesting character, a developed conflict, etc? I mean, I’ve seen it done, I suppose. Most of the time, though, they don’t feel like stories to me. What’s more, the story ideas I have naturally land somewhere between 5,000 and 8,000 words. That, for me, has proven to be the minimum amount of space I’ve been able to tell a story I’m satisfied with. Even those sometimes feel like a sprint to me.

Being a good writer, though, is not about spinning your wheels in the same ruts. It’s about expanding your capabilities, deepening your craft, and welcoming challenges. So this is my challenge: tell an interesting, compelling, complete story in what amounts to 2 standard pages and some change. Not a vignette, not a mere scene – a whole tale.

Here’s some of the strategies I’ve decided to adopt:

Three words: In Medias Res

There is no time for beginnings. We start in the middle, dammit. I can’t hand-hold the audience through pointless exposition. No time, kids! Keep up!

Dramatis Personae? NO: Dramatis Persona

I’ve got space for basically one actual character. There can be other people, but there just isn’t time for anybody else to be developed.


I can cheat, especially on that last one, by using characters and places my audience is already familiar with. The more I can get the reader to fill in the blank spaces themselves, the more space I can have to developing plot.

Pith Over Wit

Being clever takes words and space to accomplish. Being pithy just requires the right jab at the right moment. You can’t tell a raft of jokes – maybe one or two. You can’t build great towers of words – you have to lay foundations of just the right ones, and let the audience do some of the building for you.

…and that’s what I got, folks. We’ll see where it takes me.

And, for the record, this post is 507 words long. The whole damned story would only have 193 left to play with.