Category Archives: Uncategorized

Cheers to Creative Independence

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Happy Independence Day, American friends! This is the weekend that we celebrate the courage, beauty and stubbornness of our great nation. Speaking of courage and stubbornness, it’s the perfect time to reflect on what creative freedom means.

When you take a leap of faith (and finances or fundraising) to start your own literary project, be it an online literary journal, a graphic novel, the novel our heart has been writing for twenty years, or a small press, you declare your creative independence. When you sign with a small press or self-publish, you’re declaring that creative independence and connection to the creative process is your priority. More than the security of a big publisher that will make all the creative decisions for you.

Make no mistake, when I started Spider Road Press, all this creative independence felt overwhelming. Wow, if I risk the funds, I have the freedom to make risky decisions. Bleep-I have all these risky decision to make! What if I make mistakes? And I made a few. Because every one who risks does. That’s how you learn.
I have found the cost of creative independence, the financial gambles, the fundraising, the late nights when chamomile tea and melatonin can’t quiet the voice that the manuscript needs just one more edit, is, eventually, worth it. I have published good pieces by skilled authors that other publishers rejected because the fiction was “too dark,” or “too experimental.” Readers enjoyed them. In a special flash fiction bonus section to Spider Road’s upcoming collection, Approaching Footsteps, I am including a piece of my own flash fiction, “Kit-Cat Clock,.” It feels like a creative gamble. A fictional piece about the rape of a small business owner, inspired by someone I once met, the piece has been called both “disturbing” and “realistic.” I’m exercising my independence and including it anyway.

I wish you a lovely holiday. It is my adoptive son’s first American Independence Day, and he will be looking at flags and parades and the fireworks he associates with other holidays. My creative independence means that while I take time off to celebrate with the most important person in my life, editing and publishing work sits undone. Independence means you have to do it yourself.

Yet what an amazing feeling it is when you hold the final book in your hand (yes, I still love the feel of a paperback or hardback in my hands and that wonderful new paper smell)! This book, this world of stories, was birthed with the blood, sweat and caffeine of you and your team. That’s pride. That’s reward. That’s independence.

My Reward: Connecting With Talented Authors

Small Press Publishing Panel at Comicpalooza.

Small Press Publishing Panel at Comicpalooza.


Last weekend I was fortunate to represent Spider Road Press at the Small Press Panel at the fun & fantastical Comicpalooza here in Houston. We discussed how small presses help authors & what authors can realistically expect from them.

As we discussed how we came to found or connect to the small press in our lives, I shared one of the most rewarding aspects of my job as editor-in-chief at Spider Road: connecting with unique, skilled writers. A small press can’t offer the big bucks or a big marketing team. What we offer our writers is the personal touch and continued support.

A wonderful result of this process for me is I get to learn about and promote the exciting projects that writers from Up, Do, Eve’s Requiem & our upcoming collection of four novellas, Approaching Footsteps, are doing outside of Spider Road Press. Catherine Edmunds, Mardra Sikora, Eden Royce & Jennifer Leeper are among the authors I would never have connected with had it not been for my editorial work. Balancing my own writing with running an indie press is intense (especially when you throw in a toddler! Sleep? What’s that?), but the writers I meet through Spider Road continue to inspire me in my creative life. Which is sweet indeed.

This Writing Mom Writes A Poem

Wee boy's favorite things.

Wee boy’s favorite things.

I respect all women who write. But, before my adoption leave, I confess I didn’t really uderstand the communities, blogs, and social media groups about Moms Who Write. “Being a mom who writes must be hard,” I thought, “but being a teacher of kids who writes is hard, being a nurse who writes is hard-writing is just hard!”
Boy, I was naive. I now know that being a full-time caretaker of a loved one-whether a sweet boy adopted from far away, or an aging parent losing their memory-takes creative energy of its own. So saving precious moments of story making for the page takes special effort. And exhausted is too weak a word for at-home caretakers some mornings! Writing-wise, one upside is that my smiley, mischievous boy has inspired me to jot down a few kid’s poem. Here’s one that I like. Cricket Magazine gently rejected it, but I hope to find it a home someday. Enjoy its squishy messiness. Caretaking is messy and wonderful.

BEWARE THE UGLY BUGGLIES
Beware the ugly bugglies
who crawl up from the dark ground.
Beware their marching feet
invading, without a sound.

They’ll skate out on your ice cubes
and climb up on your cakes.
They’ll swim in your soup
and they’ll dance on your steaks.

Beware the ugly bugglies
who creep and crawl about
for once your drips and crumbs
have brought them in,
you’ll never get them out!

76 Words About My Writing Life

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This winter, I was challenged to create a response to a quotation that inspired me. Bhanu Kapil’s call for courage and tenacity inspired me to share some of the facets of my writing life that keep me going, despite the unfinished chapters and those terse rejection emails every writer gets at some point.

“I give you the number 76. I encourage you not to give up until you’ve tried something seventy-six times, whether that’s applying for a job, revising a draft or sending it out. I encourage you to write with endurance and abandon.”
-Poet Bhanu Kapil

My Response

Seventy-six Words

Untether your thoughts and clench your will. Dare a poem. Wear green. Defy blank pages. Play “Born at the Right Time” once again. Wake up before your doubts. Cook stew. Use a freshly sharpened, flowered pencil. Twist again. Open cracked journals and embrace old friends. Delete adverbs. Remember Mr. Mechem, who taught you how to R.E.A.D. Sculpt. Send your novel that is “not suspenseful enough” to one more agent. Stay too stubborn to die.

Seventy-six words was first published in the WiVLA of Houston chapbook, “Inspired by Her Quote.”

Celebrating Inspiring Women

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Who inspires you? Are there women writers, artists, and/or activists who have majorly impacted how you think and work?
If so, March is the perfect time to thank them, in person, on the page, and in the community. Write Amazon reviews of your favorite author’s books. A few stars and one sentence means so much to a writer. Recommend a class taught by your motivating professor. Better yet, email her or him and let she or he know how their teaching influenced you. Go beyond the “retweet” and “love” buttons to donate one hour or ten dollars to the cause of the leader who inspires you to be a better person.
A MFA graduation speech that I heard at Goddard College continues to inspire me. If you have ever taken my flash fiction writing workshop, or even attended a longterm writers’ group with me, I have mentioned this speech by Bhanu Kapil. Heck, it wasn’t even my graduation. But her words live on in my heart. Inspired by her vision, I wrote a response piece. Happily, this piece, “76 Words,” is being published by Women in the Visual and Literary Arts in Houston in their upcoming chapbook.
Please join me as I read my flash essay “76 Words” along with the talented women of WiVLA at Houston Public Library on International Women’s Day! Our reading is on 3/8 at 6:30pm. It will also be my first literary event as a new mother, and reminds me of one of the most inspiring women in my life – my hardworking mom, Marge Flaherty. For more info on the reading see WiVLA’s homepage at http://wivla.org/inspired.htm

Rainy Day Friendships – My Latest Flash Fiction Story

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Sharing the latest flash piece that I’ve created. Flash is a great outlet for capturing emotional moments. It’s also easier for me to write in small chunks of time that I’m stealing away from preparing for a new addition to our household. Thanks to my encouraging HWG critique circle for a few nice polishes. Hope that you enjoy the story.

Runners

As the rain hits the window that faces the street, thin streams of city grime trickle down the slick surface of the pane. Pale blue painted letters proclaim, “Omelets 99 Cents.” A group of white haired women sit at the counter, their thick, nylon-encased thighs rubbing against the red pleather stools, and harrumph about how 27th Street is filling up with fancy townhouses. Across the back booth, Jennifer S. and Jennifer G. stare each other down.

“No more Doc Martens,” Jennifer S. says, raising one plucked, accusatory eyebrow.

“Not the best footwear for playgroup,” Jennifer G. replies. Her smile belies her tone. In her mind, the space across the tabletop widens.

The hands on the wall clock seem to remain fixed, the big hand on the nine, the little hand on the three. But from time to time the hands twitch, like the fingers of a corpse in rigor mortis.

“They say green tea is good for you,” Jennifer S. points to her chipped white mug, “but this stuff is nasty.”

“It’s not Captain Morgan, that’s for sure,” her friend replies.

“Well that’s kinda nasty, too, just in a different way. If we were going to knock so much back, we should have sprung for better booze back then!”

They laugh and ten years of two-line emails blow between them and dissipate like steam. Jennifer G. pushes her plate of hash browns between them so that they can share.

“Were you able to get an annulment?” Jennifer G. dabs her mouth with a napkin to hide her frown.

“Didn’t try. Nine months and thirteen days felt like twenty years. Leaving is leaving. A few weeks after I rolled into Atlanta, his lawyer sent me divorce papers, so I signed ‘em.”

“That’s too bad.”

Jennifer S. shrugs. “Not a bad guy. We were just… different. He knew I wanted to go abroad again. Then, all of a sudden, all he talked about was redoing our family room into a nursery. I married a guy with a pool table.”

“Obviously you would.”

“Obviously.” Jennifer S. crinkles the corners of her mouth. “Get me a cue, and I can still kick your ass, missy.”

Their hipster waitress wearing an exaggerated Rosie The Riveter kerchief shuffles over and halfheartedly asks if they need anything else. They shake their heads.

“Still running?”

“Six miles a day. Two miles the week I was in Stockholm visiting my old roommates, but it snowed. Going to train for that half-marathon you have down here. You?”

Jennifer G. flushes. As her left hand twists her napkin, her three-carat diamond solitaire ring glints in the light. “No, there’s always… I went to spin class for a while… Hell, I run up and down the stairs after Zeke twenty times a day. That has to count for something.”

Jennifer S. nods. “Probably. I over-invested in sneakers at the outlets over the holidays, if you need a new pair for inspiration. Assuming that you’re still my size.”

The waitress returns with their check, and Jennifer G. slowly reaches a well-manicured hand over to grab it. Her friend says nothing and makes no move to stop her.

“I got this.”

“Cool,” Jennifer S. smiles. “Thanks.”

“So… think Houston is home now?” Jennifer G. asks.

“For a while. I never was good at jogging in place.”

They stand and walk towards the register. As Jennifer G. waits to pay, her friend hovers near the pie case. On the way out, the friends give each other one last, long look. Jennifer G. withdraws her umbrella from her Coach purse.

“Thanks. See ya,” Jennifer S. calls as she pulls the hood of her sweatshirt up and over her head. She strides off.

Raindrops spatter onto the cracked sidewalk. In their hearts, both Jennifers feel a small crest of satisfaction wash over them, sure that they have made the better choices.

Blessings and Books

Reads that Dolly Cat and I Recommend

Reads that Dolly Cat and I Recommend.

Dear Readers:

Happy holidays! I wish you precious time to savor with family and friends and good novels to read. This festive season of laughter is also a time of reflection. It is a great time to count your blessings – and mine start with you, my readers. I am so grateful for your interest and your support. Many voices compete for your attention in the din of popular culture and every time you scroll down the screen, turn the page, or write a review of one of my books, I feel very fortunate.

In 2015, I was pleased to bring my stories to new audiences. Spider Road Press published my collection, Trail Ways Pilgrims: Stories, as an eBook. This collection contains my prize-winning story about baby brokers in Asia, “Bargaining.” Short stories don’t sell as well as novels, but I am honestly proud of the effort I put into every piece in this collection. The talented group of Houston area mystery writers known as The Women of Mystery – particularly Pamela Fagan Hutchins and Gay Yellen- played a crucial role in encouraging me to write and revise these literary and suspense pieces. I send my heartfelt thanks to everyone who has read and reviewed this special eBook! It means more to me than you know.

I was also happy to have my work published in several anthologies. My crime story “Blood-red Geraniums” was just published in the tense, fun anthology, Waves of Suspense, from HWG Press. This book is a great vacation read. My first fantasy story, “Puca Dawns,” was included in the diverse collection, Tides of Impossibility, from Skipjack Press. Finally, I took on the challenge of writing and editing poetry for the Spider Road Press fundraiser book In the Questions: Poetry by and about Strong Women. I learned a lot from the more-experienced poets involved in this project. (It is available from Spider Road Press and on Amazon.) Loyal readers, fellow writers and helpful critique partners, you supported me every step of the way, and I could not have published these stories without you!

Writers are first and foremost readers, so I wanted to share with you a list of some books that I enjoyed reading or rereading this year. If you have any favorite reads from 2015, please share them in the comments. It seemed like everyone stole a few hours to enjoy The Girl on the Train, but here are a few books that I recommend that you may have missed.

Good Reads
Family Furnishings: Selected Stories, 1995-2014 by Alice Munro (rich and precise)
Bootlegger’s Daughter by Margaret Maron (a classic American mystery)
Little Pretty Things by Lori Rader-Day (a smart mystery)
Erebus by Jane Summer (a unique poetry/memoir hybrid)
Writes of Passage: Adventures on the Writer’s Journey written by Sisters In Crime, Edited by Hank Phillipi Ryan (writing craft and inspiration)
Red Thread: Poems by Teresa Mei Chuc (poetry)
Cover of Snow and As Night Falls by Jenny Milchman (excellent thrillers)
Heaven to Betsy by Pamela Fagan Hutchins (great mystery featuring a sexy cowboy)
The Closing by Ken Oder (legal thriller)
Spook Lights: Southern Gothic Horror by Eden Royce (horror)

Thank you again, generous readers and reviewers! Happy holidays and happy reading. Peace to you and our world in 2016.

The Evolution of Suspense

Stories twist and evolve. One summer while I was studying at Barnard College of Columbia University, I took a job at a farm stand. Between studying with friends and a financial aid work-study job in the stacks, I felt like I’d spent far too much time in the library in New York. (And I love libraries!) Sunshine and flowers called to me. At the fragrant, upscale farm stand and greenhouse in my upper middle-class suburb of Boston, I learned about more than shucking corn and growing perennials. I learned about working eight hours a day with a diverse crew of people.

There were lots of nice people working at the popular and well-landscaped farm, but nice people rarely make it into my

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This tense, new page-turner from HWG Press includes my story “Blood-red Geraniums.”

fiction. One day, while on break, I overheard the jerk from my shift (every crew at every entry level job seems to have that jerk) make a racist comment. I was disgusted, but then I started to get an idea for a story. The next semester, despite being a student of political science and psychology, I groveled my way into a creative writing class for English majors. I left with several stories that I liked. One, “A Summer’s Day,” was a coming-of-age tale about a college girl who has learned about class and race mostly from books. I set it on a scenic suburban farm.

Fast forward twenty-ish years (ahem). I developed a penchant for reading and writing crime, suspense and mystery stories. A discussion with a new friend about summer jobs led me back to “A Summer’s Day,” but with a new plotline twisting in my brain. What if the pretty veneer of a suburban farm covered something bloodier? I cast off the reality of my experience and dove into the dark corners of the imaginary Maplewood Farms. With helpful feedback from my wonderful critique circle, the more poignant and sensual “A Summer’s Day” evolved into the suspenseful “Blood-red Geraniums.”

Excitement rushed over me this fall when I learned that “Blood-red Geraniums” had won third place in a local contest, and that the new HWG press would publish it in their debut collection, Waves of Suspense. I was pleased to learn that this anthology also features a chilling tale, “Roll the Bones,” by my pal David Welling. I got a chance to read his story at a critique group, and it will keep you up at night. In addition, the prize-winning Houston poet Andrea Barbosa branches out into suspense and contributes a cautionary tale about breaking into creepy old houses. There’s something for every suspense reader in this collection of ten dark tales.

HWG Press and anthology editor Elizabeth Domino underwent their own evolutions. The last two excellent HWG anthologies, Tides of Possibility and Tides of Impossibility (which included my work), were published in conjunction with the well-respected Skipjack Publishing. All of Skipjack’s books are wonderful (check them out online sometime), but there’s a lot of indie publishing talent in Houston, so the Houston Writers Guild decided to keep their publishing in-house and start their own press. It was a bold and exciting move.

New HWG Press editor Elizabeth Ann Domino took the reins. Creative and affable, she was previously known for her fiction writing. She published five short stories in the Bayou Review, a biannual journal of fiction, poems and artwork by students at UHD. This is the first time that she has edited an anthology, but Elizabeth’s love of craft and diligence lead me to believe that she will edit many more quality collections.

The Houston Writers’ Guild will celebrate the release of Waves of Suspense on Thursday, December third at 6:30 pm at the Kelvin Arms Pub in Houston. Stop by, meet fun writers, and peruse this tense new release.

Waves of Suspense will also be available on Amazon.com. If you enjoy a page-turner with your eggnog, this is the ideal collection for you to read and gift this holiday season!          

 

Celebrating Poetry and Community

What could be better than the satisfaction and warmth of a community coming together to support and celebrate women’s words? Thanks so much to the wonderful donors and poets of the Spider Road Press family for making our “In the Questions: Poetry by and about Strong Women” reading and release party a success! Readers old and new who stopped by made my day. I am happy to announce that Spider Road Press will have more copies of the book available for a donation of $25 in December. I am proud to have my poetry featured alongside such great work by women from around the globe, and so happy that the proceeds from the book will help Spider Road continue to publish writing by and/or about strong women without instituting reading fees. Thanks again to all who took part in the fun this past Sunday!

Reading my poem "Lunch Hour in Isabella's Garden."

Reading my poem “Lunch Hour in Isabella’s Garden.”

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“The Body Business” author Gay Yellen ventures into poetry.

 

Houston writers Chantell Renee and Fern Brady share their poetry.

Houston writers Chantell Renee and Fern Brady share their poetry.

 

Proud to share the spotlight with my talented coeditor Kessika Johnson.

Proud to share the spotlight with my talented coeditor Kessika Johnson.

Dare to Love Horror- Interview with Author Meg Hafdahl

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I am pleased to introduce you to the talented and humble author Meg Hafdahl. She made me shudder with her frightening tale, “Willoughby” in Eve’s Requiem. When I meet readers at events and signings, horror fans will volunteer that her writing reminds them of Stephen King. That’s high praise. She and I recently discussed the pull of a vivid, dark story in today’s messy world.

Welcome, Meg. What do you love most about reading and writing horror?

What I love most about horror stories is the opportunity for a character to realize they are stronger than they previously thought. I think there is something empowering about watching/writing about a normal person thrust into a scary situation and seeing them use their smarts or brawn or resourcefulness to save their life and the lives of those they love. Also, I just really like exploring the dark side of life!

What is your favorite horror novel or story collection and why?

My favorite novel is Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier because of the gothic setting and atmosphere. Du Maurier creates such an amazing world with such a command of place, it’s really something to behold. My other favorite novel is The Shining, there’s nothing scarier than not being able to trust your own mind which is what Jack Torrance ultimately goes through. This is a theme I like to play with in my own work. I think The Shining is such a special novel with so many different themes and also it’s just plain scary.

The still remember the visceral impact that the ending of “The Shining” had on me. I sat up all night thinking about it! But back to you, Meg. Name one thing that scares you in real life.

Birds. They have always scared me, especially when they are indoors. If I see an enclosed aviary at the zoo, I run the other way! I get a physical reaction to their presence, like a chill down my neck. One of the stories in Twisted Reveries is entitled “There’s Something About Birds,” so I get to explore why they are so frightening. I’m pretty sure I was uncomfortable the entire time I wrote it!

I see a few more horror books by women in my local bookstore. Do yo think that there are more women writing horror these days, or that female horror writers are finally getting noticed, or both?

I think that women are inextricably linked to horror. Back when novels were considered a lower form of literature and “gentlemen” were more focused on poetry, women, like the Bronte’s, began to write these amazing gothic novels. In my first semester of college I read “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and I was struck by her fusion of horror and female issues.

From the time women are born we are told we are smaller and weaker. We are told that we are natural prey for some boogeyman, a real threat, who can grab us off the street. We’re trained not to be alone or not to wear certain clothes because we can cause our own death. It’s a really a frightening reality. So I think women have always been drawn to creating horror stories where we prevail, where we win. I think unfortunately when horror movies came along there was a lot of sexism involved in the making of the films as well as how women are portrayed in them, so I think horror, for a while, became a man’s game in literature and film. But I think recently there is a shift of women abandoning some of these sexist horror tropes and creating great scary stories and owning their place in the genre. And I’m so glad to be a part of it.

I was excited to learn that you have a new short story collection coming out this month! What inspired you to write “Twisted Reveries?”

The idea really started with “Willoughby,” the story that I was very pleased to have included in Spider Road Press’ anthology celebrating women in horror; Eve’s Requiem. I wanted to write a book about a bunch of different women, young and old, weak and strong, and have varied settings from the suburbs to the Texas desert. Each story has a central character, a complicated woman whom is forced to rise or fall in a terrifying situation. Some stories are supernatural, “Guts” for example is about a group of strangers trapped inside of a hospital being stalked by something with a very peculiar appetite. And then there are stories that are very much grounded in reality like “Hannah Goes Home” about a young woman with a dark secret she is trying desperately to hide from her new fiancé. While all the stories have different settings and characters and events I think they all link together with the universal reality that we are all going through something rough and we have to grow and become stronger to get through it. Thankfully, most of us don’t have to deal with zombies or hungry wolves!

I am both eager and afraid to read you new book! You’ve got interesting ideas about the horror genre. Where can readers learn more about you and your point of view? 

I’d love to chat with readers about books, horror, anything! Visit my website www.meghafdahl.com to read my blog and find out more about me! You can also follow me on Facebook on my author page: https://www.facebook.com/meghafdahlhorrorauthor and I’m @MegHafdahl on Twitter. 

Meg Hafdahl ​was raised in British Columbia, Canada and Duluth, MN. She studied literature and creative writing at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, where she received a grant for playwriting. Her short story “Dark Things” was a recent finalist for the 2014 Jane Austen Short Story Award. She has published short stories with Spider Road Press in their anthology “Eve’s Requiem,” as well as with Inklings Publishing in the “Eclectically Criminal” anthology. Currently, Meg lives in Minnesota with her husband and two young sons.

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