r/WritingPrompts Short Story #3: The Shepherds of the Rapture.

On July 28th, 2043 at approximately 12:43 am Pacific Daylight Time, the Lycanthrope War was over. So marked the end of a long and brutal conflict that resulted in the deaths of millions of men, women and children on both sides. The end came after an act of desperation. One final hail mary attempt to what was left of the human race. We did what only super villains in comic book and movies had thought to do. Something that broke so many treaties and pacts that, both old and new, that the plans orchestrators were sure to face some prison time, if not death.

We destroyed the Moon.


It was the source of their power and what caused their grotesque transformations. We made several other attempts to hide the Lycanthropes from the Moon. Blocking it with artificial clouds, isolating and quarantining known werewolves. We'd even constructed a massive solar sail to create and artificial eclipse. Nothing worked and the transformations kept occuring.

Our final solution was on everyone's minds. Just, nobody had the guts to say it. Nobody except for Rear Admiral Brian Abrams. A real tough son of a bitch, old school guy who had flown in the Second Korean War and was no stranger to making drastic decisions. After the artificial eclipse failed, he phoned the President's private line and after just a two minute conversation, hung up and told his chief engineer to prepare for a nuclear attack. The engineer asked the question everyone was thinking.

"What are the targets?"

"Target," he corrected before looking up at the partially exposed on the screen. "The Moon."

In minutes, we had nine thousand nukes hurtling towards the Moon and all that was left to do was to wait three days for them to get there.

The explosion was a spectacle. The sky was as bright as day and everyone needed to shield their eyes in order to look at it. We expected the Moon to split into large chunks, at least, that's what the physicists predicted. Instead it essentially vaporized and we watched as glistening chunks flew in every which direction like a firework had exploded. Then, after but a minute, it was gone and the world was as dark as ever.

Reports flooded in of Lycanthropes returning to their human forms. Everywhere there were people stumbling about with their clothing in tatters in need of food, water, and a lengthy, likely horrifying explanation of what's happened. We celebrated. Hugged each other. Sobbed. We'd done it. We won. Only, we didn't.

On July 28th, 2043 at approximately 12:43 am Pacific Daylight Time, the Lycanthrope War was over. On July 20th, 2043 at approximately 1:37 am Pacific Daylight Time, the Vampiric Wars had begun. We would learn later, far too late, that while the Moon had awakened the Lycanthropes, it had also served as a barrier to the previously unknown population of vampires that lived among us. With it gone, so too was their shackles and they were hungry. Not only that, but now the world was overrun by weak and defenseless humans and reports quickly turned for that of rescue and joy to horror and death.

The new war lasted but a week. That marked the end of the human age. The rapture had come and us? It's shepherds.


The Importance of Book Covers

As with any couple, my wife and I both decided to dedicate more time to reading this year. She is doing far better than me in that regard (3 books in 3 weeks while I’m at a measly 25% of a book) however, this led to a lengthy discussion about the importance of book covers. And, despite the common idiom telling us not to, we really do judge books by their covers.

The Good

Let’s begin with what we agreed was good. A good book cover should be simple and garner interest. Not just interest in the story within but also as to what’s on the book cover. Take, for example, Josiah Bancroft’s novel Senlin Ascends (Right). This is an excellent example of a good book cover because it presents the reader with a series of questions the first being “Why is there a man trapped within a city?” followed shortly by “What’s a Senlin?” This will, no doubt, lead to a quick read of the inside or back cover which may then lead to a purchase. Exactly what the author wanted.

Another great example is Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone (Left). This, like Senlin Ascends, presents the prospective reader with a series of questions that they might wish to have answered. But, the most important part of this cover is the artist’s use of the color white. Most book covers, and this is true of movie posters as well, have a blue-orange color pallet. It’s what’s in in the graphic design world at the moment which, in my opinion, makes these covers and posters boring. The color scheme of The Children of Blood and Bone stands out on a book shelf or display. It’s vibrant, unique and it’s bold.

The Bad

Now for the bad, and there’s a lot of them. My wife and I agreed that one of things we hated most in a book cover was when the main character was depicted. We, as readers, enjoy imagining the main character for ourselves and making them our own so to speak. In addition, I cannot stand when the author’s name is larger than the book title itself. Maybe it’s an ego thing with me, but I want the story or art to be at the forefront, not the artist. Lastly, any book cover that depicts something only tangentially related to the story drives us insane. Like, if the story starts with a car crash so the cover is the wreckage of a car, that’s just lazy and only describes the first 10% of a story that could go in a completely different direction.

Look at the covers above. These stories could go anywhere, be about anything. Would you ever guess that Senlin Ascends is about a man who (Spoiler Alert) loses his wife in the Tower of Babel and must find her by stealing a painting, acting out a murder and becoming a pirate captain? Thought not. Now look at these covers.

This is just - bad. Now, I love Brandon Sanderson, I do, but his book covers make me cringe. Sure when you look at them you know for sure that you’re going to read a fantasy novel. But, would you in any way be able to pick out a Brandon Sanderson book when it’s on the fantasy shelf at your local book store? Not without his name plastered in gigantic letters on the top. That’s another pet peeve of mine. When the author’s name is larger than the title of the book. Maybe it’s just a thing with me but I always get the sense that it’s due to the author’s inflated ego rather than a marketing tool.

Finally, look at the colors. The James Patterson novel is beige, a color chosen by interior designers specifically to not be noticed. Same with the Sanderson novel. Now I know what you’re thinking, “Well, Bancroft’s book cover has beige in it.” You’re correct, but it’s so your eye is drawn the the interesting part of the cover. The tower in the middle not abiding by the rule of thirds, subverting your expectations.

As for Dan Brown’s cover, this is just - blah. It looks like a movie poster for a low budget science fiction movie from the early 2000’s looking to ride the coattails of The Matrix. It also REALLY wants you know that there is a female protagonist. And look, female protagonists are great and we need more of them, but if the simple fact that they are female is what you expect would garner my interest, then I immediately have very low expectations for the character and the story.

The Ugly

To find the ugly, you simply need to explore the world of self-publishing. Now, I have absolutely nothing against self-publishing a novel and I am almost certain that’s the route I will need to take in publishing my own novel(s). However, scrolling through Kindle store feels more like exploring the worlds worst art gallery than the shelves of a digital library. You wonder, sometimes, if these covers were created by the author in MS Paint. It’s like everyone is too scared to deviate from the norm. Self-help or spirituality books must have a birds eye view of the beach, political thrillers always must feature an intimidating man in a suit, a mystery novel about a woman in a thing needs an image of a female staring at the reader. If I had a dollar for every time I saw a cover of a fantasy novel with a white dude in a suit of armor with glowing eyes, I surely wouldn’t need to be working from 9-5 any more.

If you’re to take anything from this as maybe an aspiring or current author, please, for all of us readers out there. Take some time to think about what you want your book to look like, to feel like. It’s often said that it is in your first chapter or prologue where you make promises to the reader. I would argue that it starts with the cover. If your cover is generic or drab, so too do I expect your story to be. If it’s interesting, then I have the opposite, likely more desirable reaction that will get books off the shelf and money into your pocket.

r/WritingPrompts Short Story #2: The Plight of the Purest Soul

[WP] You’re a time traveler hired to find incriminating evidence of people and snap a photo. This person is your toughest case yet.

I’ve done it. I have officially found the purest soul ever to exist in the history of mankind. I’ve followed him for nearly a decade. Watched and cataloged his every movement, everything he’s said and have yet to find a single act that could even be considered “questionable” let alone “incriminating.” And, if I didn’t get something soon, then my sorry ass is fucked.

The guy simply can do no wrong. On paper he’s done some bad things. Fought in a war, punched a few people, made out with a hooker on New Year’s Eve. Hell, he even mooned and elected official! The problem is, if anyone else did these things, they’d be ridiculed for life but when he does it, it’s somehow charming. I don’t understand!

Look, I’m the best at what I do, make no mistake about it. I’ve photographed actual saints fucking prostitutes, Buddhist monks snorting coke, and billionaire philanthropists stabbing hobos. Who the fuck do you think took the photo of R Kelly peeing on an under-aged girl? Me, that’s who.

I gotten close though, so very close. I photographed this guy having a one-night stand with a lady. Okay, not too bad, pretty typical. But here’s the thing. She gets pregnant and has the baby without him. The kids a bastard! Classic!

So, I take some photos, follow the mom and son around for a couple years hoping the kid becomes a serial killer or something. But then, sure as shit, mister perfection waltzes in and starts being a father. Not only that, but the mom dies, and this guy then raises the kid all on his own. Fuck! He even makes unplanned pregnancies pure!

The whole purpose of my occupation is to find people doing something shameful but how am I supposed to do that with a guy who feels no shame? And I’ll do my best to not be offensive here, but the guy is sort of, ah - simple minded - so to speak. He doesn’t worry about the things other people do and he is able to feel content no matter his station in life.

It’s admirable, to be sure, but it also means that I am stuck in the 1980’s until I find something. And before you go off on your lecture about how the 80’s was the golden age or some shit, just wait until the 2130’s when things get fucking incredible. I’m talking space colonies, teleportation and, of course, time travel. So, you can take your teased hair and leather pants and shove it straight up your ass!

I apologize, the guy’s driving me insane and absolutely killing my good reputation that I spent years to build up. If I could just catch him doing one bad thing then I can finally go home, hug my wife and kid and maybe consider a different career path. Or, and this is more likely, this dude, Captain Content as I call him. Evidently the kindest, most genuine soul to grace this Earth, will result in my immediate termination

Imagine that, being fired because of a man by the name of Forrest fucking Gump. Unbelievable.

r/WritingPrompts Short Story #1: Blessed be the Waters of the Giving Well

[WP] There is a well in your village that never dries up, never freezes over and always has the clearest water that heals many ailments. One cold winter day, when you accidentally slip on ice and fall in, you find out why.

In the same moment that Kieran realized he was falling, he hit water. Hard. The impact made the air rush out of his lungs and caused a ringing in his ear that was most likely due to a ruptured ear drum. Kieran tried opening his eyes but discovered that the water may very well have been ink. Everything around him was black and he had no idea which direction was up or down. Desperate, he kicked violently, and, to his relief, Kieran broke the surface. He took in two, huge gulps of salty air, then cried out in agony at the pain shooting through his chest. As if things could get any worse, he realized that he must’ve cracked a rib or two when he fell.

Kieran paddled over to the well wall but found the bricks to slick to climb. His eyes darted around in search of anything that could help his ascent but alas, there was nothing. Unable to do much else, Kieran pointed his chin to the heavens and screamed “Help!” knowing full well that he would be frozen solid well before anyone came to his aid.

A feeling of dread washed over him and Kieran, just as any sensible person would do in this situation, begun to sob. His whimpers resonated of the walls and his sorrow quickly evolved to anger. Why had he been so stupid? He knew that it was a terrible idea to go this early in the morning. Especially after the chilly weather they’d been having. But, he was reckless and impatient. So, nagged his father and it turned out, as always, that the stubborn man was right.

But, he decided, that if this was how it was going to end for Kieran Corleau, then it would not be by him crying alone in the dark, waiting for the cold to take him. No, it was going to be on his terms. Kieran mustered whatever courage he had left, inhaled what he figured would be his last breath, and dove beneath the icy surface. Kieran emptied his lungs, allowing himself to sink. To his surprise, he felt his butt rest against the bottom of the well which had to have been no more than ten feet deep.

As Kieran stared up at the tiny light from the opening above. He did his best to ignore the burning in his chest and waited for the resounding peace that comes in the moments before death. At least, that’s how the holy scripture described it. He wondered if he’d lived a decent enough life to earn his place beside the King of Kings.

Sure, he got into his fair share of shenanigans, but he figured he was generally a good enough person to counteract that. Kieran recited his chants each night, confessed his sins to the village shaman, didn’t kill or hurt anyone that didn’t deserve it. All things a good-natured person was to do.

As he pondered this along with the fond memories and deep regrets in his short life, he came to the realization that a significant amount of time had passed without him feeling at all like he was dying. Kieran’s lungs had stopped burning, his ribs no longer ached, and he found that his ringing ears had since recovered. Not only that, but he found himself at a rather comfortable temperature in the ice-cold water. When he understood what had gone wrong, Kieran felt like bashing his head against the wall.

He was in the Giving Well. The well’s whose waters bring strength to the weak and vitality to the weary. Any damage or harm done unto him in here would be quickly relieved by these magical waters. His initial excitement that he had survived was almost immediately tarnished by the realization that he could be down here for an eternity. The well was much too dark for anyone to see him and the opening too far away for his cries to be heard. Even if someone, somehow figured out he was down here, how were they to pull him up? Kieran resurface and soon felt the tears return to his eyes.

But, before he could utter a sob, Kieran heard was sounded like rumbling in the distance. It was faint at first, but with each passing moment it grew louder until it was almost deafening. Kieran then turned just in time to be met by a wall of water that pushed him back below the surface and pinned him against the well’s bottom. Several seconds passed until the stream of water subsided and Kieran returned to the surface in a daze.

“Hello!” he cried out. Thinking that the water had come from someone above, but no one answered. Kieran heard the sound of dripping water behind him and turned to see a gaping hole in the side of the well he had not noticed before. It was close enough to the surface that Kieran could grab the edge and pull himself up with little effort. He then saw that hole was actually a long tunnel. Had he found a way out of the well? There was no way to know except to push further. Kieran took one final look behind him before charging into the darkness.

He only had to walk a few feet before a light appeared. This one was warm in color and grew with every step he took. Kieran found that the light came from yet another tunnel that travelled upwards. He peered up the tunnel and saw that the passage was lined with hand and foothold. He hoisted himself up and started climbing for what felt like a half hour. The light brightened with every inch until it was almost blinding. At the same time, he could hear noises coming from above him. They at first sounded like metal on metal, then he heard what sounded like someone speaking.

Was he nearing his village? Perhaps he’d gone far enough to reach the nearby city of Gloren. There was but one way to find out. He quickened his pace until the passage widened and was able to Kieran pull himself up and over the edge. He laid on his back, his chest heaving from the agonizing climb. The room was a dome of sorts, with six, rectangular windows that all led to an opening at the very top which let in the blinding orange light. Everything was wet to the touch, and Kieran’s nose crinkled at a pungent aroma that lingered.

He struggled to his feet and made for what looked like a doorway on the opposite side of the room. When Kieran walked through the door, the very first thing he noticed was the ground had turned from a gritty stone to something that was smooth and white as snow. Kieran’s eyes adjusted slightly to the brightness, he saw that he was standing on a ledge high above the ground, maybe a few hundred feet or so. On the other three sides, the white ground gradually sloped upward until it was near vertical.

Kieran was about to call out when he heard a loud bang which was then followed by voices.

“Oh, thank Jesus, there isn’t a line.” One said in an accent Kieran had never heard before.

“When does that every happen? I’ll meet you outside.” Replied another, perhaps he was the one named Jesus.

“Yah, sounds good.” Just then, a looming figure appeared to Kieran’s left. His eyes were still adjusting to the brightness, so he couldn’t make out exact details. But he knew that whatever this thing was, it was big. With each step, everything around him shook and it was soon, so loud, that Kieran had to cover his ears with his hands.

He heard a pop and then a rustle from above and when he looked up, Kieran’s jaw fell agape. In front of him was penis, hundreds of feet in length held by hands twice that in size. Kieran’s eye’s drifted upward to see, looking down on him, a man’s face. He then saw the penis quiver and just as he realized what was about to happen he was hit by a stream of yellow urine that sent him flying backwards down the tunnel.

Kieran screamed as he fell until he slammed against the tunnel floor. He was then whisked down the tunnel and out into the well once again. Once the urine had ceased, Kieran floated aimlessly, to injured to move and eventually passed out.

When he came to, he saw his father’s face above him, tears cascading down his face.

“My boy!” Bellowed his father before pulling Kieran into his chest. “You’re saved! Oh, thank the gods above and below you’re alive.”

Kieran blinked and saw over his father’s shoulder that almost the entire village had assembled.

“I thought I lost you,” his father whimpered as the village shaman place her hand on his shoulder.

“The holy waters of the Giving Well had preserved you long enough that we could rescue you.” The shaman then turned to the crowd. “Blessed be the King of Kings!” The villagers repeated this chant, as did Kieran’s father.

“Blessed be the waters of the Giving Well! Amen!” She shouted with the villagers echoing immediately after.

“Blessed be the waters of the Giving Well,” whispered Kieran.

Noah's 11 Lessons

I was given the distinct honor to serve as the student commencement speaker for the UWL Winter 2018 Graduation ceremony as I completed my English writing and rhetoric studies. Below is a transcript and video of my speech which I hope you enjoy reading as much as I enjoyed giving it.

Introduction

Good morning all. Faculty, staff, friends, and families, I thank you so much for being here on this incredible morning. My name is Noah Finco and there is nothing else you need to know about me other than that I am one of you; a graduate from the University of Wisconsin - La Crosse.

Seeing that I am one of you, it gives me the distinct pleasure of knowing the question on everyone’s mind which is something to the effect of “What do I do now?” Now, I am sorry to say that I am not here to answer that question, and truth be told, only you can answer that question. But what I can do, is tell you about some lessons I've learned in my time at UWL that were either taught to me by people far more intelligent that myself or by screwing up spectacularly.

I can't guarantee that you'll find any of it inspiring, amusing or even comprehensible but, my hope is that you'll find a nugget of wisdom somewhere in there to take with you as you go off and do whatever it is you'll do. So, with that, here are Noah's 11 Lessons to Living a Semi-Decent Life.

Number one, having a dream is overrated.

There is a common adage that goes "You can't have your cake and eat it too." Like eating a cake, fulfilling a dream tastes sweet, but only for a short time, and then it's gone and you're left wondering what to do next. Rather than having one big dream or making one giant cake, I offer you to instead make cupcakes. For the same amount of time, effort and resources it takes to bake a cake you can make 12 to 24 cupcakes and extend that sweet taste over a long period of time, and if you do it right, perhaps even a lifetime.

If I lost you in my sweets metaphor, here it is another way. Having one singular dream causes you to have tunnel vision and you might miss some incredible opportunities in your periphery. Make small, attainable goals and put 100% of your effort into what's in front of you, but don't be afraid to explore because you never know what you might find.

Number two, a plan is only good until it's not.

There are two types of pregnancies, planned and unplanned and both of them led to you all. I am not saying don't plan, because you absolutely should, but you cannot go through life expecting everything to go according to plan. If there's something to be said about life after graduation, it's that it is far more chaotic and unpredictable. Being a skilled planner is as important as being a skilled improviser. And with any skill, they should be both practiced and appreciated.

Number three, be a student

Yes, we've graduated. No more tests, quizzes and exams right? Well, some of us have exams tomorrow so, wrong. Your diploma does not signify that you know everything there is to know about whatever your degree is in, it's a certification that you're teachable. Be exactly that, be teachable. Study the world around you, ask questions, seek advice. Though you may no longer be encouraged to attend the office hours of your professors, I implore you to attend the office hours of your mentors. Everything in life is a test, except this time, there is no syllabus and no one is going to answer you truthfully if you raise your hand and ask "Is this going to be on the exam?"

Number five, be a teacher.

Teachers some of the most important people in our society and to those of your who studied education, I both applaud and admire you. But, you don't have to be working in a school to be a teacher. Share the knowledge and skills you've acquired and remember that teaching is only 10% what you say and 90% what you do. Your students, your employees, your children will emulate what you do more so than what you say, do the things you want them to do and show them how to do it. If you do nothing else in our time after graduation, I ask that you strive to be the giants whose shoulders the next generation can stand upon.

Number six, be hard on your beliefs

Be intellectually rigorous, identify your biases, your prejudices, and your privileges. Constantly and thoroughly examine your opinions so you can have the confidence to stand by them when the moment arises.

Also recognize that one's beliefs only make up a small percentage of who they are, and you can still love someone with vastly different beliefs that you. You can still love you parents even if they voted for a different candidate than you. You can still love your friend even if they practice a different religion than you and you can still love your uncle who believes the moon landing was a hoax and that the government is comprised of lizard people in disguise. We all have one of those. Remember that love and acceptance don't require complete and total understanding, just patience and an open ear.

Number seven, learn to listen.

As is said before, listening is a skill and with any skill, it needs to be practiced and appreciated. Two people trying to converse while being unwilling to listen is much like two chess masters executing perfect moves on two separate chess boards. It's a massive waste of time and while everyone thinks that they won, they in fact lost.

Listen to what other people are trying to say rather than focusing on your response. Remember, too, that there is much to be learned from how someone saying something versus what they are saying. Some of you might have noticed that I skipped number four, good, you're killing it in the listening game. To those who missed it, you've got some work to do.

Number four, don't let fear keep you from doing the things you want to do.

Even if that thing you want to do goes poorly, knowing something is bad is a lot easier to deal with than wondering if it could've been good. Remember too, that it is in our failure to achieve what we perceive where we find our true selves and where authenticity comes from. Don't think of the butterflies in your stomach as nerves but rather as bravery building inside you.

Number eight, don't run a marathon in a chewbacca costume

This lesson was taught to me by a finance professor here. In every marathon, everywhere, there is always someone who chooses to run the race in a chewbacca costume. Sure it gets a few laughs at the start, but about halfway through, this individual begins to realize how warm it gets when exercising beneath a shag carpet.

And yet, despite the pain they endured and their commitment to the joke, they get the same exact medal as everyone else at the finish. That is to say, you don't get rewarded for making things hard on yourself and if you find yourself doing that, it is either from an excessive amount of pride or stupidity, and you don't want to have either of those.

Number nine, don't set yourself of fire to keep others warm.

It feels good to help others and it makes the world around us a better place. But don't let the needs of others pull your attention away from your own needs. The only way you can do the most good for the greatest number of people is if you're the best you that you can be. That requires self-care and the ability to say no.

Number ten, invest in experiences, not things.

If you make more than $32,400 annually, you are in the top 1% of the world in terms of income. And yet, despite this affluence, the U.S continues to be one of the most depressed countries in the world. Things don't make us happy, experiences do.

The newest iPhone X costs $1000. I've compiled a short list of experiences you could have instead of purchasing a phone that does the exact same thing the last four models did.

  • Go on a road trip, $1000 is gas will get you just over 9000 miles.

  • See a broadway play with a love one. Plays are usually $89 a ticket, musicals $125 and special productions are $319

  • Buy a national park annual pass. A $1000 will get you one for eleven years. That's eleven years to explore some of the most beautiful sights our Earth has to offer. And on the topic of our Earth, we get one, take care of it. Remember what I said earlier about being the giants whose shoulders the next generation can stand upon? This is a big part of it.

And finally number eleven, there is no real world.

I'm sure you hear this all the time. “Just wait until you get into the real world," as if college was some sort of fantasy land filled with gumdrop forests and tiny singing elves. You and I both know that it wasn't. The relationships you forged and lost, the times when you thought you couldn't go on any longer and did, the late nights studying in your dorm or in Murphy library or, for some of you, after your children have gone to sleep. The stress, the fear, the love, and the triumph. It was all real.

I invite you to think back to the person you were when you first set foot on this campus as a student. I would venture to guess that a very different person sits before me today. An adviser here once told me that college is a two to six year sliver of your life dedicated totally to the improvement of yourself. Don't sell that experience short. Appreciate and love the things that you've done here. Be proud of this accomplishment, celebrate it because it's worth celebrating

Today is commonly referred to as the start of a new chapter. While true, it is not chapter one, but rather a chapter succeeding several others equally as important as this one. The only way for you to continue writing your life story is for you to look back and appreciate where you've been.

I want to thank the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, it's faculty, staff and students for this unforgettable experience you've provided me and the others sitting in this room. I and many of us here have made the most of this opportunity and I am forever grateful to this institution. However, while I am grateful, I have accumulated a fair bit of debt because of it so could you just chill on asking for donations for like five years or something? Thanks.

With that, I thank you all for listening, I hope some of what I said was somewhat applicable. I congratulate you all on this accomplishment and eagerly await to see the wonderful things you will do as we move forward with our lives.