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So I'm doing this a day earlier or two years too late, whichever you prefer. I need a little kick-start myself, so here goes. Today's writing prompt, inspired by my recent Rainforest Village Writers Retreat experience, is as follows.

Da Prompt: Write Cinderella minus the evil stepmother or Little Red Riding Hood minus the wolf. Pick one of the two. See how well the fairy tale holds up without the main bad guy.

Da Extra Credit: Use the below 3 words in the story to spice it up a little.

Da Words: Pizza, Dildo, Postman

Da Wordcount: up to 3000

Have fun!

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Writers are frequently asked the question “Where do you get your ideas?” The question is a hard one to answer because we all find our inspiration in different places. Some people need to be given prompts, little snippets of ideas to spark their imaginations.

With that in mind, I am posting Writing Prompt Wednesdays. The goal is to inspire writers with exercises meant to train their skills and fire up the creative juices. There are rules. Most prompts will have associated word counts or style instructions. These are not meant to restrict the writer, but give the writer a chance to explore different ways of writing.

If you are an author in search of that one juicy idea, I hope these posts help. If you have ideas for writing prompts, please let me know.

Da Rules:

1) Anything goes so long as you stick to the spirit of the prompt.

2) I ask that if you do publish something based on one of my prompts, that you post the good news (and the link) in the comments of the prompt that inspired your success. You want other people to help you celebrate, right?

#sfwapro

There is in Indiana a small pizza restaurant called Memories Pizza who is refusing to cater same-sex weddings. Why they would think anyone would want pizza at their nuptual celebrations escapes me, but if you are from Walkerton and GBLTQ, you won't be getting your wedding pizza from there. The pizzeria owners have beligerantly shouted their intolerance and defiance of cultural change across the airwaves. They don't care that this is costing them business, because they are getting some measure of support from like-minded people.

As this is happening, I come across this "New Women Warriors" article on CNN, which brought home a point that I hadn't considered. Then the SO reminded me of an event that happened back when I lived in Columbia, South Carolina.

Around the year 2000, the NAACP went to media war with the state over a confederate flag flying on the state house building. In all the hub-bub, almost no one noticed (at first, that is) when local chain Maurice's BBQ put the flag over each of its locations. It took a few months for the news to spread outside of South Carolina and part of the reason it did was because Maurice Bessinger made a grand statement that his religious views required him to refuse service to black customers.

There are a few things you should know about the later (if you don't already). First, Bessinger was distributing pro-slavery literature (cobbled together from 1800s literature) in each of his restaurants. I saw that literature myself. Second, a lot of young (high school / college) black men and women worked for Maurice's BBQ. Long hours, low pay (sometimes working off the clock), and they worked in a hostile workplace environment where that literature was required to be out on the counters in front of them while they were working in a building under a confederate flag. See, Bessinger had no problems employing blacks. He just had issues with them eating in his restaurants, though he would let them buy from him if they took it immediately out of his places of business.

Thirdly, Bessinger argued before SCOTUS in 1968 that he was allowed by his religion to discriminate against blacks and (if I read the brief correctly) claimed the Civil Rights Act was unconstitutional. You know, the federal law that made it illegal to discriminate against people of color. So what Bessinger did, what Maurice's BBQ did (but apparently does no longer now that his kids have taken over) was illegal.

What Memories Pizza is doing, refusing to serve the GBLTQ community? Not illegal at all. Not even on a federal level. And unlike Maurice's BBQ's overt racism and hostility, if it weren't for the public announcement by the pizzeria owners, no one would even know Memories Pizza was being discriminatory until a GBLTQ couple tried to buy wedding pizza. <- Which could still be covered up by saying "I'm sorry we don't do wedding pizza" without anyone being the wiser.

Federal law states that private businesses doing business with the public are required to make accomodations and to not discriminate against employees or customers. The problem is that federal law only covers Race, Color, Religion, and National Origin. It does NOT (and never has) covered Gender, Sexual Orientation, or Sexual Identity. (read that CNN article. It's an eye opener).

So even if the Indiana RFRA act gets repealed or fixed, Memories Pizza can still discriminate against the GBLTQ community. Heck, they could discriminate against women too and there is little we could do about it.

Here's the thing, though. Yelling and screaming and threatening people / businesses who indulge in this reprehensible behavior doesn't do anyone any good. By all means, boycott the business. By all means, pull business out of Indiana. Vote with your wallets, then go to the polls. Encourage your local, state, and federal representatives to pass anti-discrimination laws. But let's not give the haters ammo by posting threats of violence. Such behavior opens us up to arrest and harrassment. If the owners of Memories Pizza want to be stupid, let them be stupid. But don't let their stupid be contagious. We're better than that, especially since we're going to win this fight.

After all, history and culture are on our side.

RIP Beloved Pet

Over the weekend, Eldest Cat has eaten less and less. This morning, he took only three bites of food, hid from me by crawling to the back of the kennel behind his bed, and basically insisted on being a little curled up ball of kitty all day. I figured his renal failure was catching up to him, which the SO confirmed on our way home. Eldest Cat had that kind of smell to him that my other cat had right before she died. He did do me the favor of cuddling with me last night for about an hour in bed before he moved, inch by inch, then paused, then inched a little further, until finally he left the bed.

He got a last meal, a little bit of the Whiskas tuna broth. He loves tuna but has been stuck on the Hills YD food for his thyroid condition. I figured it couldn't hurt to give him a little treat about an hour before his procedure. He practically tripped over his own feet trying to stagger out of his kennel to get to the broths. At least he hadn't lost his sense of smell.

I carried him to the vet in my lap instead of the kennel. The SO drove. We had the window cracked open so he could smell the world for his last trip. Then I carried him in. He died very quickly, very peacefully, in my lap.

We came home, threw out all his special diet food (the girls don't need it), put the girls' food out in the hallway because we no longer need the cat door to keep Eldest Cat from getting to food he can't have. And now we are finishing up the grieving process. I really thought I'd be cried out by this point, but there's apparently still a little left. I wrote a really horrendous poem for him yesterday, well for me really, but about him. I could barely see the computer screen.

Anyway, the deed is done. The cat has passed. I feel somewhat relieved because I no longer have the Sword of Damocles hanging over my head (i.e., coming home from a vacation or business trip to find he's died when I wasn't around).

I might visit pet stores this weekend to seek out kitten therapy. Seeing the pets the foster / humane groups bring out on the weekends does wonders for my mood on a normal day. But after this past weekend? I don't know. We'll see.

Share happy pet tales with me, please. What is your favorite pet story?

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The Long Goodbye

It's official. Eldest cat isn't getting any better. His appetite is still not up to par, he's losing motor control of his limbs, can't climb into the litter box any more, and is in so much discomfort he wants to hide in his kennel when he's not eating or drinking.

I want to cuddle with him, but the best I can do is lie beside his kennel for a few minutes every couple of hours and let him lean against my hand. We've made the decision, this is his last weekend and we're making the most of it. Come Monday, I call the vet to make the appointment.

I don't know how many times I've broken down crying the past two days. He's bounced back from so many health issues the past 19 years, I was beginning to think he'd out last me. But letting him live any longer is just going to be torture for him, and I can't let him continue to hurt.

Oh, how I hate this. Everything I write this weekend is dark and tragic. Well, what little I'm actually managing to write, that is.

Existential Angst (#humor)

Got home today, started doing dishes. The SO was microwaving some leftover egg rolls and this happened:

SO (conversationally): Oww.
Me: What's that about?
SO: It's probably gas... (beat) Or existential angst.
Me: Isn't that the same thing?
SO: Well, one tells you you're alive, the other is debatable.

What can I say. The little things crack me up.

What was the weirdest conversation you had with someone?

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I only got to go to ICFA for one day (Saturday) but from what I saw, it was pretty decent. I definitely want to attend future events.

I didn't get to all the panels I wanted to go to, but the first one I stepped into was someone doing a paper on trauma in Disney movies. She made a very good point about Arendelle being a very bad place for children (and the most well-adjusted character being the reindeer). Things like that make me want to go back. Plus there was very interesting pool-side conversation about life in general, the conference in specific, and the trauma of posing for a Locus photo shoot. (Apparently there's an alligator involved or a succubus. I never quite figured out which).

Yes, I am in the Locus photo, sitting on the pool's edge in purple skirt and white top. Props to anyone who can point me out. It will be my first appearance in Locus and I will be so tiny, no one will know who I am. @=)

The possibility of a Florida writers retreat is starting to become more and more of an actual thought process instead of a glimmer of an idea. When I broached it to several people, they definitely seemed interested. So now I'm throwing it out to anyone who is reading this blog post. Would you be interested in a writing retreat somewhere in northern / central Florida?

If so, what time of year would you like to attend one?
Eldest cat has his ultrasound today. He's been blind most his life, became deaf the past few years, and then got a heart murmur. The vet declared "no more surgeries" because he might not survive them.

Over the past year, he's lost almost half his body weight. The past few weeks he's hardly been eating anything. He's 18 years old at this point and I've been preparing on and off for the past few years for the fact that I will lose him. It hasn't helped. When the SO and I got to the vet's office, we heard her tell an appointment "Sorry. We're backed up today because of two unexpected euthanasias."

My heart lurched. I hadn't seen my cat yet. I didn't know if he was still alive.

She called us back, telling her assistant to bring him up from the back. I heaved a sigh of relief. Then she got to the bad news. Mass in the abdomen. Start of renal failure.

My cat has had four or five tumors over his life time. None of them cancerous. The last one we haven't been able to excise because "no surgery." And now he has something in his belly that we can't identify because "no surgery." I almost made it through the visit without sobbing. Almost. Because I know what comes next. She gave us an antibiotic and steriods to see if it will improve his appetite and his quality of life, but basically we have a few months at most. Probably not even that. Especially not that if we can't get him to take the drugs this week.

My heart is in shreds. This cat kept me sane during some of the worst moments of my adult life. I really don't want to lose him. And this all happens right as I'm trying to write a comic short story. How the hell am I supposed to be funny when I'm grieving?

But that's what we writers do. We compartmentalize, and then we mine the crap out of our emotions. I wonder what this story is going to look like when I'm done with it. Will it still be funny? Will it be dark?

I'm only going to know at the end of it. In the meantime, eldest cat just had his first dose of meds and was extraordinarily unhappy about it. He went to hide in his carrier. And I went to hide in my office.

To write and grieve.

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When I come into work, I double-check all my SQL databases and jobs, fix any failures, then catch up on emails and respond to my customers. After all this, I take a few minutes to catch up on my SQLServerCentral notifications and newsletters, and any other interesting professional newsletters I have coming to my inbox. I always learn something new from these newsletters, and sometimes I learn something surprising.

This morning, I opened up my Database Weekly and found an article from Brent Ozar titled "No, the DBA role still isn't going away." Hmm, says I. Because apparently I didn't get the news that the role was going away. So I open it on a whim.

Brent is ranting (and properly so) about how he heard yet another comment that "DBAs are dinosaurs." He goes on to explain why this attitude is wrong (I agree with him), but then he lays a little gem right in the middle of his blog that I think is worth noting. Sit up and take noticed, boys and girls (but especially the girls), because this is IMPORTANT.

'When you need to pick your training plain, go to your manager and ask them, "What's the biggest problem you're facing right now, the problem that you'd give me a raise if I could solve?"'

Suddenly I see a path for women in technology to open the conversation about raises. Suddenly I see a way for women to insert themselves in the technology field and to make a difference.

Ask the boss about the biggest problem. Document the conversation. Then solve the problem and bring the boss our solution.

How many times has the Old Boys' Network actually done this? From my experience, most men just see the problems they want to solve and go for those issues, without actually starting the conversation about the company's and the boss's needs.

So, ladies. What are we waiting for?

EDIT: A further addendum after opening up the discussion on SSC. Do you assume you know what your company's issues are? Do you have to be told? Or do you pro-actively ask? I'm geniunely curious.
Lately I've been reading a lot of reviews about Gotham, Fox's new television series about the origins of the entire Batman-related universe. The one that struck me the most was this review by Bustle complaining about the show's erratic development of the villain characters. Specifically, that Penguin and the Riddler had both been introduced right out of the gate but that "Gotham is trying to gain all the weight and importance of introducing the Joker without having the writing to back it up."

I am a HUGE DC Comics fan. I read the comics religiously and watch most of the DC related tv shows: Flash, Arrow, and Gotham. I'm looking forward to Supergirl (CBS), the Teen Titans series,  the possibility of a Flash / Arrow Justice League or Birds of Prey spin off. But I don't just watch as a fan. I look at these shows as a writer and a theatre veteran. I examine the costumes, critique the characters, and pay close attention to the story beats and plot lines as training and research for my own writing career. So when Bustle came out with their complaint about how poorly the Gotham writers were handling the villains, I had to stop and think about it.

I'm a little behind on Gotham. I just watched "The Red Hood Gang" this morning. Angelica Bastién's (Bustle's reviewer) review stuck in my head as halfway through the show I realized something.

Gotham isn't about the origin of Batman villains, or even of Batman himself (although there's a little bit about him in here). Batman is a foregone conclusion. We know what's coming for him, how he turns out. What the writers sprinkle into the show about him is just topping on that particular cake. No. This show gives us the evolution of his allies and his city. Gotham shows us why Batman IS the foregone conclusion, and it only has a little bit to do with the death of Bruce Wayne's parents.

So, yes, I get why Angelica is so out of joint about the writing for Gotham's villains. She's right. There are things missing. The development is not smooth and it smacks you upside the back of the head with a baseball bat screaming "HEY! BATMAN MOMENT HERE!" Television shows are designed to be episodic, to allow just any watcher to step in for a single episode in the middle of the season and not feel like they have to have know the entire series background. So the writers have a choice. Either use the baseball bat or pull the series so tight that no new fans can come into it at the middle of a season or the middle of the series. It's a tough choice and rare is the series that can pull tight and survive multiple seasons at the top.

It's not just Angelica's opinion, though. There are a lot of critics who disagree with the villain arcs (how they're set up, what they're accomplishing, etc.). In my opinion, though, the bad guys are just set dressing. They are eye-candy, setting the most important story element of all:

What kind of city needs a caped crusader to strike terror into the hearts of bad guys?

Welcome to Gotham. It's like Bête Noire, only Batman-flavored.

So, what do you think? Agree? Disagree? Have a different take?

#SFWAPro
My sister Shannon does graphic design. She charges $30.00 an hour as opposed to a flat fee. I'm not sure how that stacks up against what other graphic designers charge, but she's won awards for her newspaper and advertising layouts. And she's recently designed a couple of book covers for some people.

The reason I bring this up is that I just got off the phone with her and I'm going to give her services a whirl for Another Day, Another Labor. I like that story, a lot, and I hate that the anthology it's in has fallen off the charts (so to speak). So I'm going to self-publish it on Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords to see if I can't make a go of the self-publishing thing. If I get interest in ADAL, then I'll probably start self-pubbing a few of my other shorts.

We will see how this goes. In the meantime, I've instructed her to reread my story and come back to me with her thoughts on cover design before starting work. I want to make sure she and I are on the same page before she puts any work into it. I'd hate to waste my money and her time on hours of work for something I disagree with. I have an image in my head, but I want to see if she comes up with something more interesting than me.

Anyway, I need to get back to work on The Rapture Came, But You Weren't Home. And yes, that really is the title.

Sometimes my stories scare me. In a good way, of course, but they still sometimes scare me.

Brandie's Stories

The Monster of Mogahnee Bay (reprint ebook, Coming Soon, Musa Publishing)

The Drunkard's Progress (Coming Soon, Musa Publishing)

Slipping Thru the Cracks, Latchkeys #7 (Sept 2012 Crazy 8 Press)

Legend of the Beemen (June 2012 Musa Publishing)

Feast of the Torn (upcoming Buzzy Magazine)

The Hunt for Liberty Jones (Space Tramps, Flying Pen Press)

The Tales We'll Tell Tomorrow (Shadowrun: Street Legends, Catalyst Game Labs)

Silk and Steam (The Ladies of Trade Town, HarpHaven Press)

Love Me Knot (A Lady Katya Story, Storyportals.com)

Another Day, Another Labor (A Career Guide to Your Job in Hell)

Locke-Down (Blue Kingdoms: Mages & Magic)

The Rose Garden (Shadowrun: Corporate Guide-Mitsuhama Fiction, Catalyst Game Labs)

The Monster of Mogahnee Bay (Blue Kingdoms: Shades & Specters)

Just My Luck (Pirates of the Blue Kingdoms)

Two for the Price of One (Transformers: Legends, iBooks Inc.)

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