Friday, November 28, 2014

Black Friday Fiction

In honor of Black Friday and the trending hashtag #talesfromblackfriday on Twitter and the fact that my ebooks The Vanished and Quicksilver Breach will be available for free this weekend (starting tomorrow), I here share my award-winning short story, Last Chance Sale. Read it if you dare.

Last Chance Sale
By Alicia VanNoy Call

August 27
11:43 PM
I'm tired. That pileup on the freeway took hours to clear. The last place I want to be is here, but it will only take a few minutes. I pull into an empty space away from other cars. Warm asphalt under my work pumps, I lock the doors and shove my purse over one shoulder. The moon is full over the vast parking lot. The sky is clear.  Illuminated windows shine from the cathedral across the street. A line of cars waits in the McDonald's drive-thru nearby.

In and out, I think. In and out and then home to bed.

11:44 PM
A grizzled, grey-bearded man stands on the corner. He holds up a sign that reads: The End Is Nigh!

He calls out: “Behold, the end soon cometh! Put away your wide-screen plasma TVs and your recreational vehicles and come unto me, sayeth the Lord! Soon it will be too late!”

He turns toward me as I approach.

“Beware!” he says, one hand high. “High-interest revolving credit is not of me, sayeth the Lord, but of the Devil!”

“Thanks for the tip,” I tell him.

He steps in front of me, the warning hand held at arm's length and I stop. His eyes are wild. I notice that he has no shoes.

“Cease thy blind consumerism!” he says.

“I just need trash bags." I step around him.

He catches my arm. “Beware, child,” he moans. “Beware!”

I pat his gnarled hand. “Everything will be okay."

He releases me and turns back, brandishing his sign.

11:45 PM
Double doors slide open, circulated air laden with the scent of produce, twin-pack DVDs and some-assembly-required furniture. I pull a cart from the interminable nested row. The front right wheel screeches as I push it through the theft detectors.

“Welcome to Wal-Mart,” the aged greeter says to me, peering through horn-rimmed spectacles. “Everyone's in Hell today.”

I stop. “I'm sorry?” I ask.

“Everything's on sale today.” The greeter beckons me into the store.

11:51 PM
I browse through greeting cards. I didn't come to purchase greeting cards, but I will doubtless leave with no less than five. I pick up one with a photo of a nun on the front. The caption reads: Eat, drink and be merry. I open the card. The text inside finishes: I'll pray for your depraved soul tomorrow. I chuckle.

11:58 PM
I wander through the seasonal aisles.

It's only August, I think, examining bags of Halloween candy.

I pass the costume aisle and sees a group of seven black-robed shoppers gathered around a large  cauldron. The cauldron bubbles greenly and emits a cloud of smoke. I think that it's a pretty impressive decoration. I wonder how many other people try on Halloween costumes right in the aisle. The black-robed shoppers chant something and one of them holds out a wailing baby. Light gleams off of something silver held in another's hand. I shake my head, moving past.
Imagine bringing a kid to Wal-Mart at midnight. What are these parents thinking?

12:00 AM
I push my basket through Crafts. I can see four old ladies on motorized carts driving in my direction. A shopper three aisles up slips and falls as the ladies pass.

They should really make sure the floors are clear, I think.

I move to the side of the walkway so that the ladies can pass. Instead of passing, they direct their  chairs to my side of the aisle and stop in a semi-circle around me. One of them is dressed in a white housecoat, her white hair pinned in silver curlers. The next must be a member of the Red Hat Society. She wears purple pants and a knitted red blazer, along with a large red hat pulled low. In one hand, she waves a silver-tipped umbrella. The third is draped in a black lap-blanket, the knotted veins in her arthritic hands a deep shade of blue. In her basket are a postage scale and a set of measuring cups. The last is barely covered by a pale green hospital gown, an oxygen tube running to her nose from the tank she is pulling along behind her. There is a hole at the base of her throat.

The lady in red speaks: “The hour is nigh,” she says through a dentured mouth smeared in scarlet lipstick.

“I think this Wal-Mart is open 24-hours,” I say.

The one in black speaks: “A measure of wheat for a penny. A measure of barley...”

“Try baking goods,” I point. “But I don't know what they sell for a penny.”

The emphysemic holds out a pack of cigarettes, offering one held between skeletal fingers, her oxygen tank hissing.

“No thanks,” I wave the pack away. “Those things'll kill you.”

A voice sounds over the intercom: Clean-up in aisle seven.

The lady in white looks at the others, milky eyes wide. She leers through toothless gums, “The Seventh Seal!” She lifts one shaking hand to indicate the way they came.

The others cackle and all four turn their carts back down the aisle and disappear into Grocery. I can hear a song by R.E.M., It's the End of the World as We Know It, on the speakers overhead.

12:14 AM
I pass through Electronics, a DVD display catching my eye. $5.00 Rollback! I can only find three discounted movie titles: The Day The Earth Stood Still, Armageddon and Apocalypse Now. None of them are widescreen.

Must have been an overstock, I think.

12:21 AM
I pass aisle seven in Grocery on my way to the frozen foods. The shelves are dripping red. Two attendants smear mops across the floor. I wonder if a shipment of tomato sauce burst. I hear a high-pitched squeaking and turn my head to catch a black shadow dart past above. Nine bats flit back and forth among the ceiling beams.

Time to call the exterminator, I think.

12:28 AM
I stand in line, wait for an open register. I pick up a copy of The Inquirer to kill time. Nostradamus' Secrets Revealed! the headline claims. I thumb through the pages, looking for my horoscope.
Sagittarius: Things are about to change. Make sure your house is in order. I snort and put the magazine back on the rack.

12:37 AM
The overhead lights begin to flicker as I load my purchases onto the conveyor belt. The checker stares at nothing as he scans each item. BEEP... . BEEP... . BEEP... . 

"That'll be thirty pieces of silver," says the checker in a monotone.

"Pardon?" I say.

"Thirty dollars on the button," he says, his eyes blank. An employee-of-the-month pin winks on his vest.

Something rumbles outside.

Must be the trucks bringing new shipments, I think as I dig in my purse.

12:44 AM
I push my cart past the greeter.

“You are damned,” the greeter says.

I stop. “Excuse me?”

“Come again,” the greeter says.

12:45 AM
I push my load of Wal-Mart merchandise through the double doors and out into the night. Seven spaces away, I can hear something that sounds like maniacal laughter. A spat of raindrops falls from a clear sky. The swollen moon is an angry, pregnant red. A man surfs past me in a rolling shopping cart, arms out.

“Woohooo!” he calls.

A murder of crows circle the cathedral tower in a black cloud of harsh squawking voices. I notice that an entire city block is blacked-out, the eternal Golden Arches of McDonald's dark for once. I look back at Wal-Mart's double doors. They still emit their white, welcome light. Fireworks explode over the mountain in the distance. Overturned carts scatter through the parking lots.

I see the grizzled man sitting on the curb at the bus stop, his bare feet in the gutter. He doesn't seem to notice me this time.

“Where's your sign?” I ask him.

He looks up at me, forlorn. “It's out of date,” he says. “I need to get a new one.”

“What will it say?” I ask him.

“Free car wash.” The righteous light has gone out of his eyes.

I put the bags in the trunk, shoo three hairless cats off the hood of my car, and slide into the driver's seat.

I shake my head. Next time, I think, I'm shopping at Target.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Blogging and NaNo

It's hard to do this:

When you feel like this:

But then I remember this:

And I just try to get back to this:

Thursday, November 6, 2014

ilys Review

Okay, you guys. I have to write a quick post about ilys.

Who has heard of this? Go to and watch the intro video featuring creator Michael Gurevich (click on What is ilys?), read the FAQs, and if you're still not convinced, read the feedback. If you're too lazy to follow the link, then here's the ilys gist: You put your word count goal into the little robot, you hit start, and the text box in which you type will only show you one letter at a time. Like this:

So you can't see what you're writing and you can't edit until you reach your goal. You are just caught in the pure flow of your thoughts.

One of my challenges with writing is that I find it very difficult to shut off the internal editor. I love editing, cutting things apart and making them better. Unfortunately, when you're doing this as you're creating an initial manuscript, this makes for a very slow rough draft.

Rough drafts aren't supposed to be perfect. They're not even supposed to be good. Because of my latent perfectionist tendencies, I have a lot of trouble doing a real ROUGH draft. My initial draft is usually very clean (very few typos, etc) because I'm editing as I go. Slow. Slow. Slow.

But then I discovered ilys and this awesome little robot and it is the answer to that pesky internal editor. Since I'm doing NaNoWriMo, this was the perfect opportunity to try out ilys. Especially since the goal of NaNoWriMo is a quick and dirty draft to get your juices flowing. 50,000 words in 30 days. While it didn't really seem possible for me looking at it at on October 31st, thanks to ilys, the word count goal is going to be no problem. And this draft is dirty. Seriously. Here's an excerpt from my draft:

"What mission?" and I"m thinking it's a game. Some kind of crazygame that he got involved in witout telling me. Why didn't he tell me? Maybe he's just got this id software upgrade that scrambles any lens and makes it so that people can't ID him in the network, and he's just a straigh-up gamer afterall. Thinking like that starts to make me laugh. So I'm standing into front of this lady laughing. 

I would never have been able to write like that before using ilys. And while reading through it made my inner editor start to itch, the flow ilys unlocks is pretty incredible. It would normally take me an hour to do 500 words on a rough draft, but with ilys I can do 500 words in 20 minutes.

I haven't actually looked back at any of my pages yet, that's how buried my editor is right now. Which is PERFECT for the rough draft. (Reading through to find an excerpt was painful.)

So thanks, Michael Gurevich, for creating ilys. It's like the deus ex machina for my rough draft.

*Just so you guys know, I do not know Michael Gurevich. He didn't pay me to write this. I'm just so happy with ilys that I need to spread the love.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Book Reviews for October

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith

I first got to know Seth Grahame Smith through his first novel, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which I loved. This second novel is just as much a mad-genius mashup. On the outside, it doesn't make much sense, but once you dive into Lincoln's "lost diaries," it's strangely believable. This twisted-history romp is a lot of fun.

Warnings on: language and violence. Lots and lots of violence. And blood. Tons of blood.

The Strain by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan

This graphic novel version definitely captures the creepiness of a horror pandemic. Vampirism as a parasite makes for a compelling and terrible mystery for the main character, a CDC scientist and his allies. They race against time (and a horde of terrifying creatures) to save humanity.

Warnings on: everything. This is not for kids. In any way.

The Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman

This is a reread. You guys know I'm a huge fan of Neil Gaiman. And he's brilliant in this comic. Seriously. It's great. Love it. Love him.

Warnings on: everything.

Saturday, November 1, 2014


NaNoWriMo = National Novel Writing Month

It's that time of year again. After finally finishing my dark, psychological, introspective novel, The Angel Room, it's time to do something totally different. I'll be working on something light, fun, and somewhat snarky.

You can follow my progress on the NaNo website.

Who else is doing it?