Category Archives: Writing

In Praise of Short Stories by Patricia Dusenbury

Reading short stories is like cruising a buffet. Try a bit of this and a bit of that, experiment with new things. If you find something you love, go back and fill your plate—i.e. read a novel by the author. Or keep nibbling on this and that, enjoying the variety.

Just as the buffet—quick and efficient with lots of choices—fits well into modern life, so do short stories. Do you ride mass transit? Look around, everyone glued to their phone is not chasing Pokémon creatures. Do you go to the gym? I’m not coordinated enough to read on a treadmill, but others are. Your colleague, reading while she grabs a quick sandwich at her desk? Could be a short story.

On the other side of the pen, a short story offers writers a chance to try something new and different, to experiment without investing the chunk of time a novel takes. My novels are about mysteries and relationships. My short stories are all over the place. Part 2 of this post is an adventure story inspired by Paleolithic cave paintings. Anthropologists argue about who the amazingly sophisticated artists were and where they went. I wondered if maybe…

Short stories are defined by length (duh) with under 750 words usually called Flash Fiction and over 15,000 words pushing novella. Perhaps the shortest story, certainly one of the saddest is, “Baby clothes for sale, never worn.”

Can you compose a story—mystery, romance, sci-fi, whatever—in ten words or less? Submit your story as a comment and you’re in a lottery to win a copy of Black Coffee, a newly-released collection of twenty-three short mysteries noir. Edited by Andrew MacCrae, Black Coffee includes my excursion into the dark side, Nor Death Will Us Part.

Bio: Writing is Patricia Dusenbury’s second career. In her first, she was an economist who wrote numerous reports that peoples’ jobs required them to read. Now, she writes mysteries to entertain readers and, perhaps, atone for all those dry documents. Uncial Press e-published Patricia’s first three books, which are now also available in hard copy. A Perfect Victim was named 2015 Best Mystery by the Electronic Publishing Industry Coalition (EPIC). Secrets, Lies & Homicide was a finalist for EPIC’s 2016 best mystery and a top ten mystery in the Preditors and Editors Readers’ poll. A House of Her Own was nominated for a RONE award and is entered in the 2017 EPIC contest. A member of the Sisters in Crime NorCal chapter, Patricia lives with an aged Malamute on a very steep hill in San Francisco.
More information about Patricia’s writing is on her webpage PatriciaDusenbury.com. She is on Facebook as Patricia Dusenbury and on Twitter as PatriciaDusenbury.

Finding a Sanctuary for a Novel by Steve Lindahl

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I dedicated my latest novel, Hopatcong Vision Quest, to its setting, Lake Hopatcong, NJ. The story takes place at the same location, in two different eras: the present time and the early 17th century, when the area was inhabited by the Lenape Native Americans. My history with Hopatcong is important because it helps me understand the feel of riding a power boat across a crowded body of water, the serenity of paddling a canoe on smooth waters, the fun of searching for freshwater mussels in shallow water , and the thrill of competing with a best friend for the most skips of skimming stones. The lake has been a friend for most of my life.

I wonder how many others have a sanctuary near water: a different lake, a place by a river or a creek, or perhaps an ocean beach. If you’re one of those people, you understand the meditative pull of gentle water as well as the power of a storm or a flood.

My family bought the lake house in 1928. My grandfather wanted a country home, to get his family out of Brooklyn during the Polio season. He had a place in Connecticut for a time, but wasn’t happy there, so he relocated to an island on the largest lake in New Jersey. The family’s been there ever since.

Lake Hopatcong is where I spent summers when I was a child. I Learned to swim there, to sail, to explore the woodlands, to paddle a canoe, to drive a motorboat, and to take an outboard motor apart and put it back together. I grew up with my cousins and some of the best friends of my life, people I’m still close to today. When I grew a little older, it was at that lake where I met my wife.

In Hopatcong Vision Quest there is a scene where two nine year old children, a boy and a girl, go into a wooded area between a road and the shore of the lake. They are searching for an entrance hole to a muskrat burrow. This is an example of a section of the book that required research as well as a general knowledge of how it feels to approach a lake through a place where people seldom go.

The Lenape people of the late 16th, early 17th century felt a sense of respect and reverence for animals that lived both in and out of water. One of their clans was called the Turtle Clan, named after an animal that fits the description. In the book, the otter, another animal that fits, is the spirit guide of one of the main characters. So a muskrat, a third fit, was a logical animal to include in my story.

I remember, as a child, how I watched a muskrat swimming in front of our dock to a nearby shore, then disappearing into a hole in the ground. This happened many times and is an example of an experience that led to a plot choice. I never went looking for the animals with a flashlight to peer into their burrows, but I did go to the shore though the woods many times for other reasons.

I had to follow the decision to use muskrats with research. I used YouTube to be sure I understood how they swam and other sources to check on their eating habits and the time of the year when the kits are with their mother.

Hopatcong Vision Quest is a past life mystery, a story of two suspicious deaths and the use of past life regressions to discover clues. It’s about the past and present characters and their relationships: friendships, betrayals, and love. It is both a modern mystery and historical fiction, but it is also a tribute to a place for peaceful withdrawal from the troubles of the world, my own Walden Pond.

***

Steve Lindahl’s first two novels, Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions, were published in 2009 and 2014 by All Things That Matter Press. His short fiction has appeared in Space and Time, The Alaska Quarterly, The Wisconsin Review, Eclipse, Ellipsis, and Red Wheelbarrow. He served for five years as an associate editor on the staff of The Crescent Review, a literary magazine he co-founded. He is currently the managing/fiction editor for Flying South, a literary magazine sponsored by Winston-Salem Writers and is also a board member of that organization.

His Theater Arts background has helped nurture a love for intricate characters in complex situations that is evident in his writing. Steve and his wife Toni live and work together outside of Greensboro, North Carolina. They have two adult children: Nicole and Erik. Hopatcong Vision Quest is Steve’s latest novel.

BORGES REMEMBRANCE AND NOSTALGIA

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Thirty years ago no one used yet such terms as internet, e-mail, nor cell-phone in Latin America. The most advanced in technology available then for popular use was compact discs, which of course represented a luxurious expense for the great majority.

The night of June 14th, 1986, trapped inside the passionate DX mania, so strange and ancient nowadays, completely antediluvian and left behind in the last century for most of the young, I was listening to Radio Suiza Internacional, found by mere chance after playing with the dial, transmitting from Berna. The overwhelming news was: Borges, the great Jorge Luis Borges, who never received a Nobel Prize even though he deserved it much more than the great majority who had obtained it, has just died in Geneva.

That fact left a mark on us for all time to come, given that there would not be any talking of any other topic in the Special Literature subject. From the following day on, Jorge Francisco Isidoro Luis Borges Acevedo would be, for all of us who represented the specialty of Social Sciences, the great torture or the great passion, according to the characteristics of each of those fifteen-year-old spirits who knew little to nothing about the author of El Aleph. Assignments, monographs, expos, research, essays, mandatory readings (and for that reason not so pleasant as those that arise from the feeding need of a bibliophile) left some of Borges in us: in the case of the author of these lines were his mark, his circling ruins that from time to time raise again to involve and enfold us in oneiric worlds from which no one ever knows how to emerge, or from which one emerges, as in La Flor de Coleridge, disturbed forever and carrying material evidence brought from those orbs, forever tempted to return and disappear in the magical forcefulness of their complacent idealism.

We were only a few, of course, very few, who remained so marked by the fact, that ever since then we would never abandon the Borgesian world, because we would even discover later, as enthused as the one who makes a discovery by his own even though others have already done it before: the Kafkaesque condition of Borges’ literature, and years later the Borgesian condition of Eco’s literature.

From him it was, top and paradigm of the writer, from whom we learned that books are extensions of the thinking and the mind of the human being. The book, the magazine, the newspaper, as extensions of the thinking, must so keep that condition of word and human ideas’ vehicle, must serve as means of broadcasting of those ideas among all cultures, for only so we will be able to move forward on this cosmic journey without losing track, without getting lost nor ending up buried under the uncontainable avalanche of data and images.

Thirty years since his death, the Argentinian tiger, the most universal gaucho, still rests in Geneva, though his work and his name are now more immortal than ever. To me, though Borges did not live to see it, the current world is full of his fiction. For example, if someone wants to meet/know the aleph, they can read and read again that Borgesian tale, but can also connect to the internet from a computer or a cell phone, and in that precise moment converge at a single spot, all the spots around the world.

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Remembranza y nostalgia de Borges
Por: Rodrigo Aguilar Orejuela

Hace treinta años nadie usaba aún en Latinoamérica los términos internet, correo electrónico ni teléfono celular. Lo más adelantado de la tecnología al servicio del consumo popular suntuoso era por entonces el disco compacto, que por supuesto resultaba aún demasiado oneroso para las grandes mayorías.

La noche del 14 de junio de 1986, atrapado por la manía apasionante del diexismo, hoy tan extraña y antiquísima, tan del siglo pasado y para la mayoría de los jóvenes completamente antediluviana, escuchaba por esas casualidades del dial Radio Suiza Internacional, que transmitía desde Berna. La noticia fue contundente: Borges, el gran Jorge Luis Borges, aquél que nunca recibió el Premio Nobel aunque lo merecía mucho más que la gran mayoría de quienes lo obtuvieron, acababa de fallecer en Ginebra.

El hecho nos marcó para siempre, pues no se hablaría de otro tema en la materia de Literatura Especial. A partir del día siguiente, Jorge Francisco Isidoro Luis Borges Acevedo sería, para la gran mayoría de quienes conformábamos la especialidad de Ciencias Sociales, la gran tortura o la gran pasión, según las características de cada uno de esos espíritus quinceañeros que poco o nada sabían del autor de El Aleph. Trabajos, monografías, exposiciones, investigaciones, ensayos, lecturas obligadas (y por ese motivo no tan placenteras como aquellas surgidas de la propia necesidad alimenticia de un bibliófago) dejaron en nosotros algo de Borges: en el caso del autor de estas líneas fueron su marca, sus ruinas circulares que de cuando en cuando vuelven a erigirse para envolvernos e involucrarnos en mundos oníricos de los que nunca se sabe cómo emerger, o de los que se emerge, como en La Flor de Coleridge, para siempre turbados y portando pruebas materiales traídas desde aquellos orbes, para siempre tentados a retornar y desaparecer en la mágica contundencia de su idealismo complaciente.
Por supuesto que fuimos pocos, muy pocos, quienes quedamos tan marcados por el hecho, que desde entonces jamás abandonaríamos el mundo borgiano, porque además descubriríamos luego, con el entusiasmo de quien hace un descubrimiento por sí solo aunque ya otros lo hayan hecho antes: la condición kafkiana de la literatura de Borges, y años después la condición borgiana de la literatura de Eco.

Fue de él, cima y paradigma del escritor, de quien aprendimos que es el libro una extensión del pensamiento y la mente del ser humano. El libro, la revista, el diario, como extensiones del pensamiento, deben por ende mantener esa condición de vehículos de la palabra y las ideas humanas, deben servir de medios de difusión de aquellas ideas entre todas las culturas, pues solo así podremos avanzar en este viaje cósmico sin perder el rumbo, sin extraviarnos ni quedar sepultados bajo la avalancha incontenible de la información y las imágenes.

A treinta años de su deceso, el tigre argentino, el gaucho más universal, aún descansa en Ginebra, pero su obra y su nombre siguen más inmortales que nunca. Para mí, aunque Borges no vivió para verlo, el mundo actual está lleno de su ficción. Si alguien quiere conocer el aleph, por ejemplo, puede leer y releer ese relato borgiano, pero también puede conectarse desde una computadora o un teléfono celular a internet, y en ese mismo momento tener en un solo punto todos los puntos del mundo.

 

RODRIGO AGUILAR OREJUELA
Bio: (Ecuador – 1970) Writer, ghostwriter, journalist, editor, columnist, I have worked as a journalist of opinion and information for twenty five years at different press media institutions from Ecuador. In 2004 I was the absolute winner in the First National Essay Contest. My books: Colombia-Ecuador: an Example of Coexistence (2004), The Charm of Cuenca (editions in Spanish, English, French, and German, 2005), Market, Barrio and City: History of the Ninth (2009), The Hummingbird’s Flight (2011), Like a Thistle: spoken portrait of Eudoxia Estrella (2013), Monologue of a Castaway (2016).

The Story Behind the Story Trish Jackson

 

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Every story starts with an idea—that one little spark of information that triggers a blaze of creativity.

A little while ago I was walking on the beach early in the morning and as I passed a man who was in conversation with two women I heard him say, “It all started at Melanie’s slumber party in 1978.” I immediately thought what a great first line for a story.

I’m still working on that one, but ‘Scorpio’s Sting’, my next romantic suspense thriller in the Zodiac Series is in the final editing process, and will be released by my publisher soon.

Here’s the story behind Scorpio’s Sting:

Several years ago when I lived in Young, Arizona, I was sitting at my desk in the real estate office, when my friend and co-worker received a phone call. I could tell immediately that this was something serious, and as soon as she hung up, she turned to me and said that her brother in Phoenix employed an illegal immigrant from Mexico. No biggy there. Lots of people in southern border states do that. This Mexican guy, let’s call him Juan, had paid a lot of money to have his wife safely escorted over the border (illegally) so she could join him and live with him in the United States.

The men whose ‘profession’ it is to get people across our southern borders without detection by Border Patrol are known as ‘coyotes’ and they are tough, ruthless people, often affiliated with the major drug cartels who also move drugs across our borders.

In this instance, the coyote had called Juan and demanded more money. He had Juan’s wife in a remote part of the Arizona desert and threatened to abandon her there without food or water unless he was paid another three thousand dollars.

As far as I remember, my friend and her brother were able to scrape up the money and help Juan out, but I wondered how many people can’t meet the coyote’s demands. I cannot start to imagine the terror of the victims and the helplessness of their family members.

In Scorpio’s Sting, Drew McBain has developed a system he calls a Virtual Mine Field, which will be installed along our borders, and will help to stop illegal border crossings as an alternative to building a wall. The major Mexican drug cartel in the area, La Serpiente Coral Cartel stands to lose millions of dollars in human trafficking and drug revenues. They mount a ruthless campaign to stop Drew from manufacturing the product, leaving him saddened, sickened, and driven by a desperate need for revenge.

ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) officer Neelie Nelson has a history with the Cartel. Her Border Patrol husband was tortured and gruesomely murdered by its leader, Jose Marie Iglesias. Now cartel members are following her home every night, and she is terrified they may hurt her child.

In a strange twist of circumstances, Drew and Neelie end up having to work together with a group of undocumented (illegal) immigrants living in the sewers under the city of Los Angeles to take Iglesias and his cartel down.

I write romantic suspense, so you know they’re gonna fall in love sooner or later. Here’s the opening paragraph:

Drew McBain’s eyes opened wide, and before he could do anything to stop her, a smoking hot blonde filled his arms. “Watch it!” he said.

“Oh no, I’m so sorry,” she yelped.

“You should look where you’re going.” He held onto her. She smelled good, and he had just groped a delectable, firm breast. “I didn’t mean to—”

She ran her tongue over her lower lip, and for a moment their eyes met. “I’m sorry, again.” She held up the cell phone she had been checking. “My bad.  I’m late for work.”

He released his hold on her, and watched her ass until she disappeared into the darkness.

~*~

I’d love to hear where your ideas come from.

Trish Jackson writes romantic suspense thrillers and romantic comedy, and loves to

include fictional animals that are not limited to dogs in her stories.  http://www.trishjackson.com

 

3 Reasons Writing LGBTQ Fiction is Mega Rewarding

 

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Like many authors, I have lots of book ideas in my head. One of the most difficult decisions I had early on was choosing which one to start first. That started The Great Debate (trademark pending). I even made spreadsheets with pros and cons of releasing each novel. OK I made that up, but I did think about it a lot.

Finally, I decided it was the right time for my LGBTQ novel. Things today are progressing, but there’s still a lot of hate and ignorance out there. So many teenagers are struggling with their sexuality and bullying. And I really wanted to give them something that attempts to be funny and poignant at the same time. I had to say “attempts” because it’s not up to me to decide if it succeeded. SEE! I’m a humble author! For reals! Hello? Is this thing on?

Anyway, since The Gay Teen’s Guide to Defeating a Siren was released, I’ve realized the decision to publish it first was absolutely, one million percent correct. So many wonderful things have happened as a result of the novel being LGBTQ. And I wanted to share a few! So let’s take a trip down memory lane, shall we?

I had the most fun LGBTQ book launch party ever!

When planning the book launch, I racked my brains on how to make it interesting yet relevant. I had some really, really bad ideas, like doing those stupid teamwork games where everyone sits on each other’s laps in a circle. Or conducting trust falls off the top rungs of ladders.

Finally, someone suggested that, because my book is set at a pray-away-the-gay school, why not take everyone there? Consequently, I made name tags for everyone that read, “My name is X and I’m a gay”. Then, I conducted the same orientation written for Sanctuary Preparatory Academy (the homophobic school in my novel). Sanctuary is WAY over-the-top with their homophobia. There are posters depicting the stereotypical signs of gays and lesbians. They even serve food like “Cleansing Corn” and “Healing Hamburgers”. With all this in mind, I made my own posters and handed out meal coupons listing some of the food. For a half hour, everyone knew what it was like to be told they were essentially evil.

The fun part was half of the attendees were straight. So I got to pull them into my world along with everyone else. And they took it so well. I even convinced a few of them to come out. OK that’s not true.

But, in the end, it was a really fun, memorable event.

I dominated a Barnes & Noble event (Mwahahaha!)

Early this summer, I was fortunate enough to attend a young adult book event at my local Barnes & Noble. I had no idea what to expect so, the day of the event, I showed up all nervous, toting my box of books. Why was I nervous? Well, although I’m proud of my novel, I did have this little worry in the back of my head about backlash. I started concocting worst-case scenarios about prejudiced people shaming my novel or throwing giant Shakespeare books at me.

When I arrived, I was put at a table with two other local authors who immediately put me at ease. They were both friendly and approachable. However, both of them were much more established than me, so I imagined giant lines forming in front of them while I filed my nails.

Nope.

First of all, the event planners got us involved, making us compete in a spelling bee against the teenagers. It was really fun, except I was one of the first people out! You can laugh, but I was given a word from Harry Potter, like densaugeo or aparecium or broom. Who in their right mind knows how to spell those?

As embarrassing as it was – all the kids laughed and one even threw some Chocolate Frogs at me, screaming, “Spell this!” – being eliminated allowed me to chat with the teens. Their interest in my book was incredible! Virtually every teen there grabbed a copy and some talked with me about their own struggles. One teenager told me about her love of writing and interest in the LGBTQ community.  She and I have since exchanged e-mails.

Although I’m kind of bragging, don’t think this is how all my events go. I had another event where I brought 20 books and left with 19. And the only reason one was gone is because I forced someone to take it for free so it at least looked like I’d sold something. See! Humble.

I got to speak with an LGBTQ school!

Late last year, a friend connected me with a man who’d founded Pride School Atlanta in Georgia. While their students are primarily LGBTQ, the school is for anyone who wants to learn in a safe, bully-free environment.

I ended up sending him copies of my book and we’ve since become friends. Last week, he invited me to be a guest speaker to his students. It was amazing! I was expecting to jump onto Skype and see two students interested in writing. Instead, I found a room full of students and teachers all asking me questions about writing, LGBTQ issues, Pokemon Go, and everything in between.

One of my favorite parts of the chat was when I held up my book. When the students saw the word ‘Gay’ in the title, they gasped and clapped. That really touched me. Young people everywhere are clamoring for fiction they can identify with. And being able to fill that gap just a little is so rewarding.

All in all, I’ll never forget their reactions, and the reactions of everyone I’ve spoken to about the novel. It made the decision to write a novel about a gay teen and a siren one of the best I’ve ever made.

 

About the Author

Cody Wagner loves to sing, mime (not really), and create. He writes about topics ranging from superpowers to literate trees (really). His award-winning debut novel, The Gay Teen’s Guide to Defeating a Siren, recently “came out”. See what he did there? He’s handing out cookie dough to everyone who grabs a copy. Check out his writing and see more of his wackiness at www.wagner-writer.com or find him on Twitter @cfjwagner, Goodreads at www.goodreads.com/wagner_writer, and Amazon at www.amazon.com/Cody-Wagner/e/B016NYGV40.

Special Places by Patricia Dusenbury

 

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Special good or special bad, some places are simply more interesting than others. A unique character makes them tourist destinations—and popular settings for fiction. My first three books are set in pre-Katrina New Orleans.

The Big Easy, The Crescent City, The Paris of the Americas—New Orleans has nicknames to spare, and more than enough personality to support them all. How can you not be charmed by the food, the music, the glorious mix of people, and the easy-going atmosphere? But wander off the beaten path and you’ll see poverty. Don’t go too far or you’ll risk being mugged. Dig a little deeper and see how easy-going can lead to an acceptance of corruption. Put the good and the bad in a pot, stir it up, and you have a great setting for mysteries.

New Orleans also has numerous old houses in various states of repair, which makes it a perfect location for Claire Marshall whose vocation is the restoration of historic houses. Claire loves her adopted city, but she learns that its old houses hold secrets: hidden cupboards, ghosts, skeletons real and metaphoric. People have their secrets, too, things no one wants to talk about, and if you insist …  Well, you get the picture.

After three mysteries set in New Orleans, I wanted a change of scenery. Geary, NC cannot be found on any map, and the imaginary 700 miles that separate it from New Orleans are a chasm. Where New Orleans is a diverse and tolerant port city; Geary is small town Appalachia, homogenous and judgmental. The anonymity that is part of city living doesn’t exist in Geary, but there are things no one wants to talk about.

The new setting gets a new heroine. Older and wiser than Claire, Susan Randolph has been around the block. Her history includes a shotgun marriage to the scion of Geary’s first family, two sons, growing unhappiness, and a hasty departure. That was eleven years ago, and as far as Susan is concerned, Geary exists only in the past.  But then she sees Chris on television. The boy she left behind is now a young man, a suspect in a brutal double murder, and the object of an intensive manhunt.  Susan, who works for a criminal defense attorney in New York City, thinks she knows where Chris is hiding. She knows she can help him. Desperate for another chance to be a good mother, she returns to the town she hates.

I think the right setting adds color to a story, and some settings cry out for a story. Copper Hill TN and McCaysville GA, really one town divided by the state line, are calling to me. For almost a hundred years, they sat in a biological desert. Deforestation and copper smelting had created fifty square miles of eroded red clay and acid creeks where only man, the species that made the mess, could survive. Much has been written about the environmental devastation and the decades of reforestation efforts that, finally, is bringing back plants and animals. What interests me is the people who lived there.  Does such an extreme environment affect behavior?  I’m thinking the answer is yes, and one day I’ll set a book there. Meanwhile, the second installment of this blog will be a stranger-than-fiction true story from McCaysville.

***

Before she became a writer, Patricia Dusenbury was an economist and the author of numerous dry publications. She is hoping to atone by writing mystery stories that people read for pleasure. Her first book, A Perfect Victim, was named 2015’s best mystery by the Electronic Publishing Industry Coalition. Book 2, Secrets, Lies & Homicide, is a finalist in the 2016 EPIC award and was a top ten finalist in the Preditors and Editors 2014 readers’ poll. Book 3, A House of Her Own, released in October 2015, completes the trilogy. It has been nominated for InD’tale’s RONE award. Pat’s newest book, Two Weeks in Geary, is a finalist for the Killer Nashville 2016 Claymore Award.

 

When she isn’t writing, Patricia is reading, gardening, hanging out with the grandkids, or exploring San Francisco, the fabulous city that is her new home

 

WHAT’S NEXT? How Adversity has Changed My Life By Nancy Cole Silverman

I started writing the Carol Childs Mysteries when I was bucked out of my previous life. That’s right, bucked. If I substituted the B in that word for another more suitable letter – namely the letter F – you may have a more accurate description of how I felt.

Yes, I was #%-ucked!

You see after a long career in radio, I had launched The Equestrian News, a southern California newspaper I founded for the horsey-set. At the time, I thought I was literally in my heyday. Pun intended. I was like a little kid at the barn. I was there every day, and when I wasn’t at the stable I was having so much fun writing and reporting on horse shows and the like, that I never dreamed I would one day want to be doing anything else.

That is, until the day my horse spooked and my world changed.

My bulletproof horse, who I thought would never do such a thing, was frightened by a tractor. No doubt he thought it was a dinosaur, and he took off with me. And when the horse you’re riding is better than seventeen hands I can tell you that’s scary. To make a long story short: He ran. I held on. He stopped. I didn’t. I ended up going over his head and nearly breaking my neck and losing my hand. Fortunately I didn’t, but two surgeries later, and after a year of very painful rehabilitation – not to mention being told by the doc I couldn’t ride again – I found myself staring at a computer keyboard and wondering, so what’s next?

Prior to my accident, I had spent nearly twenty-five years working for news and talk radio stations. I had done everything from commercial copywriting to news, and because I was always one of those lean-in type of gals, I retired as the general manager of a sports talk radio station here in Los Angeles. At the time, there were only two female general managers in the market. Some might say it was a feather in my cap. I like to say, it’s proof that God has a sense of humor.

So that’s my background. And as I stared at the keyboard, I knew one thing. Writers write what they know and nobody knew the inner workings of a radio station like I did. The stories behind the mic? The personalities? The political workings of a station? I could have fun with that. Plus, I didn’t think it was very likely I’d get bucked off my desk chair, and that had a lot of appeal.

What I wanted more than anything was to create a different type of female protagonists, one that was more brain than brawn and who believed a microphone was more powerful than a forty-five.

Thus, Carol Childs, a thirty-nine-year-old, single working mother of two, was born. At least on the page, and along with her boss, Tyler Hunt, a twenty-one-year-old whiz kid who considers her the World’s Oldest Cub Reporter, I had a built-in conflict. Something I felt most women could relate to.

How about you? What experiences have you had that lead you to where you are today and influenced your writing?

Nancy Cole Silverman

Nancy Cole Silverman credits her twenty-five years in news and talk radio for helping her to develop an ear for storytelling. But it wasn’t until 2001 after she retired from news and copywriting that she was able to sit down and write fiction fulltime. Much of what Silverman writes about today she admits is pulled from events that were reported on from inside some of Los Angeles’ busiest newsrooms where she spent the bulk of her career. In the last ten years she has written numerous short stories and novelettes.

Reflections on life—a grouping of poems by Kenneth Weene

Early Breakfast

The worm – half eaten – burrows deeper
The robin’s beak is even fleeter.
Regrets the worm that he must eat her;
the apple makes her that much sweeter.

 

Antique

With a sneeze of nostalgia
I go antiquing.
I like things made of bronze, brass, copper –
Shiny memories that whir and clang.
I don’t want to buy –
Only to look.
I create new memories –
Reminiscences never lived.
It terrifies me when I find
My childhood in a shop,
Reminding my mortality
That I am getting old.
Wheezing with historic dust
I go antiquing
Only to see me in a mirror
Abandoned on a musty shelf.

 

Barbie

Sprung full boobed
Ready role model
For a generation
Willing to die
Of self-starvation
For flatter stomachs
For thinner thighs.

 

in time

the sweet mary and joseph flow of life
lost itself
as she wandering from man to man
sitting in the parlors of wheelchairs
touching each upon the head
in sweet caress
was lost

 

afeared

crossing herself with nervousness
wearing away the bodice nap
of the off-purple robe
that the angel of death
seeing such proof
might pass her by

stopping to preen her close-cropped gray
gazing in a mirror of empty air
and then again
the rounds renew
at once the sinner and the saint
without the bit
to pay her freight
across the river of her doom

 

I wouldn’t want to anthropomorphize

I wouldn’t want to anthropomorphize –
Not about penguins at the Chicago aquarium.
I wouldn’t want to over-identify
With the Rockhopper
Trapped on the highest ledge –
Marching un-surefooted back and forth
Not quite learning the narrow passage
Or perhaps inhibited by the Magelenites
Playing house and talking about the weather,
Which they could no longer remember
Never changes when one lives in glass cages.
I wouldn’t want to over-interpret
Her trapped marching back and forth,
Unaware of the desperation
A lesser species – such as man –
Might feel in her place.

 

While Love Sleeps

You stir in the dark, and I waken.
Strands of light poking through the blinds
outline your body curled beneath the covers.
Controlling my urge to reach into your dreams,
I watch – counting your breaths –
until sleep again descends.
In our sleep we breathe as one.

 

Ken Weene observes, “Every now and again I find poetry rather than prose expresses my mood and vision.”  Ken’s poetry, essays, and prose often reflect on the irony of life. Still he celebrates the humor and the intimacy that we can salvage from the only experience of which we can be sure, our earthly existence. You can find more of Ken’s work and view at http://www.kennethweene.com

Kenneth Weene
http://www.kennethweene.com

Who I Am, and What I Do by John B. Rosenman

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In 1952, when I was eleven, I sat in a theater watching “The War of the Worlds.” When the scene came where three men were left alone with a smoldering meteor that started to unscrew, I got scared to death. What was in that meteor? What would it look like and do? It took all my courage to stay in my seat and not run.

Originally I wanted (implausibly) to be an opera star, but I think that movie, plus others like “Them!” and “The Thing,” influenced me to follow a more gruesome path. Also, I became addicted to horror comics such as “Tales From The Crypt.” Around this time, a friend introduced me to Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson, and I quickly Biographydevoured  “The Martian Chronicles,” “The Illustrated Man,” “I Am Legend,” and “The Shrinking Man.” These science-fiction books lived inside me, fired my imagination. I’ll never forget the episode in “Chronicles” in which Earthmen discover a town on Mars with all their dead loved ones WAITING FOR THEM.

Besides enjoying such movies, comics, and books, I received Poe’s collected works from a family friend. Even better was a birthday gift–-a year’s subscription to the SF magazine “Amazing”!

Looking back, I find it’s not easy to determine just when my psychic twig received its first weird bent. Much earlier, when I was seven, I loved to turn the lights out, go to bed early, and listen to “The Shadow” and other programs on the radio. In the dark, my imagination swept me along in ways that even later TV shows like “Thriller” couldn’t match. Who knows, perhaps my original ‘warping’ took place listening to such eerie tales, or even earlier-–in the womb! Oddly, while I liked creepy books, I went through stages when I read primarily other genres. First it was mysteries, especially those by Ellery Queen. Then in my early teens, I read enough westerns to die of lead poisoning. It’s not always easy to look back and trace a clear path to the present, perhaps because there isn’t one.

But one thing I always did like to do was write. As a little kid, I scribbled stories and drew cartoon panels in crayon rather than go out to play. Later, I crafted a never-ending novel with a fistfight every ten pages. Nope, The Twisted Years wasn’t about a space pirate or psychopath but a gunslinger with a tough childhood. I still remember that masterful first sentence: “Jeff Stancher didn’t pay any attention to the Abilene stage as it bumped and rattled into town.”

While I liked to write, I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a living. My father, a lawyer, insisted I be practical. Yes, he thought I had a knack for writing, but one didn’t count on making a living that way. As a student, I was lazy and lousy. Somehow, my father got me into Hiram College where I belatedly learned to take notes and study. I majored in Political Science with a vague idea of becoming a lawyer, and graduated in three years. After that I attended Western Reserve Law School. Soon, bored by classes, I stayed away, writing stories and reading things like Mill’s “On Liberty.” Then one day I sold all my law books and hopped a bus to New Orleans, a “romantic” destination where I wrote bad stories in a cheap, $8 a week room and slung hamburgers for a buck an hour.

Cut to the future. I returned to Hiram, took some English courses, then received an M.A. and a Ph.D. from Kent State in English, my dissertation being written on William Faulkner. What a background for a speculative-fiction writer, right?

After teaching in Canada for three years, I found myself out of work. I landed a job at a Southern black college where, at the age of thirty-nine, I completed my first novel, Down From Oz in 1980. It reveals how our educational system, which is a long way down from beautiful Oz, fails minority students, and it ultimately cost me two jobs and rattled away like the skeleton it was in my closet for years. Though it won McPherson & Company’s First Book Award, the publisher wanted a different title because he thought “Down” was a downer. So we settled on “The Best Laugh Last,” which ain’t as good.

In 1982 I was hired by Norfolk State University and moved to Virginia with my wife Jane and two kids. And here, my life changed forever, for I discovered SPWAO and the small press. For two decades I’d collected umpteen rejection slips by submitting stuff to blueblood magazines like The New Yorker and The Sewanee Review. Now I learned there were other, spikier magazines whose editors actually gave you feedback. If you were unendingly persistent (and I was!), you could serve an apprenticeship and polish your craft.

Soon, I finally began to see what my true direction was, and in years to come, I sold H/SF/F/Paranormal fiction (and a little poetry) to over 150 magazines, including Iniquities, Weird Tales, The Horror Show, Aboriginal SF, Cemetery Dance, Terminal Fright, The Blood Review, New Blood, Starshore, Galaxy, Offworld, Figment, Nova SF, and Yankee. My fiction can also be found in such places as “Hot Blood,” #’s 6 and 8 (erotic horror), Whitley Strieber’s “Aliens” (where a high roller in Las Vegas takes an unplanned galactic journey), A Horror Story A Day: 365 Scary Stories, and Treachery and Treason.  Plus many more. My imagination just seems to be strange or askew. Even a space-opera novel which I published with Mundania Press, Beyond Those Distant Stars, contains a sinister, godlike menace. I suppose it’s not surprising that one of my stories killed five magazines that accepted it.

     Ask me why some of the fiction I write is horror/dark fantasy, and I’ll say I do it because life itself is horror. Health and happiness are anomalies. Either nature or circumstance is always trying to kill or maim you, as when my wife developed breast cancer. (She’s fine now, thank you.)  I love all kinds of horror, from splatterpunk to erotic to psychological to Lovecraftian supernatural. In general, I think subtle, suggestive horror that is ambiguous and open to interpretation is the best. But hey, I’m not proud, and will be glad to gross you out if necessary. I do like to write about religion. “The Last Snowman,” for example, appeared in Iniquities and features a young boy who fights Satan in order to save the world.

            In recent years, I’ve published several novels, including my Inspector of the Cross science fiction-adventure series (now in its fourth and fifth books) and the YA novel The Merry-Go-Round Man, which is drawn from my childhood. I’ve tried to range afield in other ways, too. For example, when I went to Rome, I was so awed by the Sistine Chapel, I wrote ”A Spark from God’s Finger,” a story about an American art teacher in Rome who has a vision that he’s the reincarnation of Michelangelo. I’ve also published stories that take place in 19th and 25th century Nigeria (part of a novel, A Senseless Act of Beauty published by Crossroad Press); in the New Hebrides in 1946; and in Nauru, sometime in the past. Who knows? Perhaps it will be Russia next, or I’ll cook up my own dark country

 

Going Away by John B. Rosenman

photo for john

            “I don’t love you anymore,” Marvin said. “I’m leaving.”

Agnes had heard her husband say the same thing three or four times before in her thirty-year marriage. She had always shrugged and ignored it. After all, she knew she was a good wife and had done her duty to Marvin. She had borne him three children and kept a nice home. What more could he want?

So she did just what she had on those other occasions. She advised him to take a warm coat and enough money.

This time it was different, though. He did not blow up and tell her how cold and selfish she was and how sorry she’d be. Nor did he storm out, slamming the door behind him. He simply sighed, turned around, and left the room.

She picked up her knitting, sighed in return, and forgot the matter.

An hour later she smiled as she looked out the window, remembering the other times Marvin had acted like a child and threatened to leave her. Each time, she had just waited calmly, and he had soon returned.

Agnes’s smile faded when she noticed Marvin’s Toyota parked in the driveway. In the past, when he’d left, hadn’t he always taken his car?

Puzzled, she poked about the house, searching for Marvin. She finally located him in the spare bedroom. He was lying in bed, the cover raised to his chin.

“I thought you were leaving,” she said.

He looked at her. “I have left.”

“But you’re still here.”

He turned his head to the wall, ignoring her.

Mid-age tantrum, that’s what it was, she decided. Marvin was just being difficult, probably because she insisted on being sensible and wouldn’t give in to his pleas to buy a new car.

At lunchtime she made his favorite, chili and cheese sandwiches, and called upstairs. “MARVIN!”

No answer. She tried again with the same results.

Finally, she went back upstairs. He was lying in the exact same position, his head turned to the wall.

“Marvin, lunch is ready.”

No answer.

She started to speak again, when she noticed that Marvin seemed smaller, more distant somehow. It was as if he were ten feet away even though she was standing right by the bed. She blinked and tried again.

“Marvin, it’s your favorite. Chili and cheese sandwiches.”

Still no response. Marvin stared silently at the blank white wall.

She sighed audibly and left. Downstairs she did some washing, then decided to go shopping. Leave Marvin alone for a while and let him see how foolish he was being. Maybe then he’d appreciate her better and come back to her like always with that same hangdog look. She smiled in anticipation. As usual, she’d play with him a little just to teach him a lesson, and wouldn’t forgive him for days.

Why, though, had Marvin seemed so small and distant? She shook her head. It must be the lighting in that room, she thought. Or perhaps she needed to have her eyes examined.

She returned with a trunk full of groceries. After she put them away, she stood listening to the house. It felt empty. Before it had always been easy when Marvin left, because she knew he was elsewhere and would soon return. But this time Marvin hadn’t left. He was still here, and she knew just where to find him. And yet there was no sound of him moving around, perhaps writing one of those silly stories which he always insisted she read. For all it mattered, he had left her, just as he said he would.

Nervously, she went upstairs. Marvin was just as she’d left him. And yet he wasn’t. Though she could touch the bed, the walls at his end of the room seemed to be retreating and fading off into space, becoming less distinct. Marvin himself now appeared to be at least twenty feet away. She swallowed, troubled by a strange thought. If she moved closer and reached out to touch him, would she be able to?

Her fingers twitched. She started to move toward him, then turned and fled the room.

Downstairs, she had three cups of her favorite herb tea. What was happening?  Marvin was here and yet, he was leaving. Or had already left. He just kept getting smaller and smaller, more and more distant. Could she be losing her mind?

During the following week, Marvin drew farther and farther away. When his boss called, she made excuses. Marvin had the flu. He had tried to call in, but their phone had been on the blink. Yes, he should be returning to work soon.

Going upstairs, she stopped just outside the bedroom. Please let Marvin come back, she thought. When I go inside, let me find him the way he always is, full-sized and eager to go to work. She decided that this time, if he returned to her, she wouldn’t act coy but would forgive him at once.

Taking a deep breath, Agnes entered the bedroom.

It was even worse than before. His end of the bedroom appeared to have faded and retreated even more, acquiring an ethereal quality that belonged to another realm. That was ridiculous, of course. She knew Marvin was still in this bedroom. Still, he did seem immeasurably distant. His tiny form now floated surrounded by stars, as if he were in deep space.

“Marvin?” she cried.

Silence. He lay with his head turned to a wall that was perhaps a hundred light-years away.

“Marvin,” she pleaded, “you haven’t eaten a thing all week. Aren’t you getting hungry?”

A shooting star fell across his face. She made a strangled sound and ran from the room.

Downstairs she choked on her tea and broke into tears for the first time since she was a little girl. Oh Lord, what was happening? How could Marvin do this to her? She thought of going to the police, but imagined how it would sound. “Marvin’s left me. He just lies up there in that room and gets smaller and smaller, farther and farther away. This morning I saw a comet shoot across his face.”

She lowered her head to the kitchen table and let self-pity claim her. She’d been such a good wife. How could Marvin treat her like this?

After a while, a thought rose. Was it possible the fault was hers? That she was to blame for Marvin’s leaving?  She scoffed at the idea but started to recall things she’d said to him.

You’ll just have to cancel your hunting trip, Marvin. We’re going to my cousin’s wedding.

She raised her head. Had she said that?

Marvin, forget those golf clubs. We can’t afford them.

After a while, such occasions cascaded in her memory. Time after time after time she’d said such things! In fact, now that she thought of it, she had even overruled him by insisting that they go to Niagra Falls on their honeymoon. She frowned, trying to remember where Marvin had wanted to go.

Finally she rose and went to the phone. She cancelled their newspaper subscription, saying she was going away, then turned down the thermostat.

Next, she mailed out house, insurance, and other payments, and made sure all the windows and doors were locked.

Then, slowly, she marched upstairs.

In the bed, Marvin was a mere speck, located someplace beyond the Milky Way. Yet, though he had traveled perhaps ten billion light-years, she could still see him. In a way he hadn’t moved an inch.

“Marvin,” she said, “won’t you come back?”

His tiny, distant figure didn’t stir. He lay staring at the wall as always.

“Marvin.” She hesitated, then leaned toward him. “I’m sorry.”

Still no response. It was as if she hadn’t spoken. Even worse, he had gotten so small that for the first time, she couldn’t see him clearly.

Agnes sobbed, realizing that soon she would lose him completely. “Marvin,” she said. “I’m sorry for the way I’ve treated you. Won’t you come back and give me another chance?”

She waited, but as she’d expected when she’d come up here, he wouldn’t respond. This time, Marvin had been serious. He had left for good, entering a whole different realm that she knew was immeasurably remote from her own.

Wiping away her tears, she climbed onto the bed. She hesitated a moment, shivering in the distant cold. Then, ever so slowly, she began to crawl after him.

(Previously published in Space and Time, Spring 2007).

 

Author BIO:


A retired English professor from Norfolk State University in Norfolk, Va., John has published three hundred stories in The Speed of Dark, Weird Tales, Whitley Strieber’s Aliens, Galaxy, The Age of Wonders, and elsewhere. He is the author of The Turtan Trilogy, the first three novels of his Scifi-Adventure series, available at lrd.to/Turtan-Trilogy/

Website: http://www.johnrosenman.com

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Before you write your memoir By Kenneth Weene

 

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As co-host of It Matters Radio, I am asked to read many memoirs. Some of them I find good; some are incredibly impressive; many, to be honest, I could do without.

Personally, I’ve never wanted to write a memoir. I’ve never thought my life complex or meaningful enough to warrant one. My preference has always been to stand back and observe while others took action and risk, which is not to say that I have no great moments of revelation to be shared. There have been a few, but not a coherent set that would make a memoir—not a full foundation on which to base a tale.

That said, I’ve noticed that most memoirs rest on the shaky foundation of post-traumatic stress. Often they are piacular, meant to make atonement for the guilt that accompanies the memory of those traumatic events. That guilt may be for harm done to others, for almost doing harm, for not doing right, or simply for ones own unacceptable actions. Whatever the nature of the remorse, it eats at the writer’s innards and demands expiation.

Of course, who among us is not haunted by at least one traumatic event from the past? Who among us does not remember at least one reason to feel guilt? I certainly have had my moments, but they don’t suffice for a memoir because they are not the thread that binds the meaning of my life.

To be effective, a memoir must go beyond the event and provide a grain, a consistent integrating pattern for the writer’s life. Horrible as it may have been, that one anxiety attack, that one experience of rape, that one moment of confronted rage: these are not sufficient for a memoir. A good memoir vibrates with continuity and repetition; it has a quality of pentimento in which the same themes and even events keep returning to the narrative flow—each time with deepened understanding. The therapeutic journal your shrink has suggested you keep, the one in which you write over and over about that traumatic event, that is not a memoir. It may be helpful to you, but it isn’t for publication.

Sadly, the availability of self-publishing has debased memoir more than any other form of writing. It is too easy to conflate one’s therapist’s interest with a waiting audience.

Even when you are cured, when you leave that last therapeutic appointment, your experience is not sufficient if there is not a clear repetition, a growing crescendo of experience.

But experience—even repetitive experience—without growth is not the stuff that makes a memoir work. Unhappily, there are many women—and men—who have been sexually abused. Starting in childhood and continuing into adulthood, they have suffered at the hands of others who have cared for nothing but their own gratification. A number of these people have decided that their stories are important. And they are, only not to the world. When faced with another version of that all-to-frequent gothic tale, I want to know how did the woman grow, how did she come out the better person. “I’ve learned to let go and go on with my life,” “I’ve accepted my savior and am healed,” or similar one-liner solutions to the devastation of such a life do not make a memoir. The cessation of your personal suffering does not mean that you are offering the world a lesson that deserves $14.99 on Amazon.

No, the lessons you offer must be part of a larger fabric of your story. You are weaving a tale. Just as weaving cloth, you need a warp and woof, so in weaving your tale the repetitive trauma must crisscross the growing awareness of who you are and who you are becoming to give a whole cloth.

Which brings us to yet a third essential element in memoir. If we go into a store to buy cloth or clothing, our eyes are drawn to patterns more than to the simple one color fabrics. That piece of cloth has to evoke something in us. To be stirred by a memoir, the reader must find something in its fabric that is personally arousing. That doesn’t mean it has to be something the reader has personally experienced, quite the contrary. I can read a well written memoir by a rape survivor and become very involved. I care about the person and am furious at the perpetrator. More importantly, I suffer with the author through their personal journey to wholeness and redemption. The key is that I can relate to the person, not identify with the experience. Indeed, I would be less interested in a story that I could find in my own life. I want a story that will take me to new places and ideas. Relatability is not being like me but in sharing our common humanity. For you to share that with me means that you have come across as real, as authentic.

How do I know that I am meeting the real you? How do I know that you are authentic? First, I look for a sense of humor and a realization of the irony that is in your life—as it is in every life. Is it not ironic, for instance, that the child of an alcoholic marries somebody who is marijuana dependent? Isn’t it part of the paradox of life that we all move not from the pot into the fire but from one pot to another? How about the man driven by his desire to succeed in business who is fleeced by the sharper predator? If the memoirist can’t see the irony and laughability of their life, how can they possibly be in touch with its meaning?

If I can relate to you, if I believe in you, then I want to read your story. But there has to be a story for me to read. That is the fourth key element in a successful memoir. Memoirs are not autobiographies; they are not a history of the writer’s experiences. They are stories that are being shared. They take the reader on a journey. That the road is personal and based on true events rather than being made up by the novelist’s mind does not make the storytelling less important.

Think about good fiction. No matter how much it focuses on the experience of a central character, there has to be a world in which that character’s life is set. Events cannot come out of the blue as if the world is at the mercy of whimsy. Motivation and complexity of character, appropriate richness of detail, and a narrative voice that fits with the content are some of the requisites for writing a good story. They are just as necessary for a memoir.

Recently, my abstract thoughts about writing memoir have been challenged by the experience of working with a man who asked me to help him write his story. From South Sudan, Deng Atum left his home at age eight and has not been back since. His journey has taken him on torturous routes replete with starvation and death. He has survived refugee camps. Eventually, he was sent by a charitable organization to the United States, where he has lived for many years. The events of his life are overwhelming and horrific. Clearly the stuff of memoir; but are they? Taking those events and shaping them into his story has been a consuming task for the past few months and we are far from finished.

With each chapter, I go back over the list of ingredients that I have laid out above: Trauma, check; growth, check; humanity and humor, check; and story telling, check. If they are all there, the memoir writer is ready to go on to the next chapter; each building on the ones before, a carefully crafted tale that will in the end intrigue, entertain, and enlighten. At least that’s the goal.

 

Novelist Ken Weene is also co-host of It Matters Radio