Lucky & Tough: Gratitude & An Excerpt from “Kit-Cat Clock”

Reading my flash story "Kit-Cat Clock" at the Spider Road Press celebration.

Reading my flash story “Kit-Cat Clock” at the Spider Road Press celebration.

I can’t believe that we recently celebrated three years of publishing at Spider Road Press! It’s been challenging professionally (and, at times, financially), but it’s the best creative adventure I’ve taken so far. I love content editing and I’ve pushed myself to learn more about publishing and marketing. I’ve stared down the barrel of creating an ebook, learned a few snazzy design tricks, forced myself to ask new people, “What do you like to read?” and worked with some stellar consultants. I learned to multi-task more than I ever thought I could, and to delegate to stay sane. I’ve made mistakes and had epiphanies. In my life, both ugly technical mistakes and gorgeous creative epiphanies tend to happen after 11 pm.

It’s taken a lot of hard work, budgeting and stubbornness to get this far. I am damned lucky to have made it. There are too many people who have helped make my dreams a reality to thank everyone here, but expressing my gratitude to Steve, Kessika, Jessica, Lilia, Jo-Anne, Heidi the cover design wizard, Genevieve, Pamela, Wed night CC group, our Indiegogo donors, MaryEllen, Karen, Skipjack Publishing, the Goddard College MFA community and the Houston Writers Guild is a good place to start.

I birth books. I am too busy. I have too many deadlines. I am very blessed.

Through my work at Spider Road, I have been able to celebrate flash fiction. I’m excited that Spider Road’s upcoming collection, Approaching Footsteps, will contain a bonus section of flash by recent contest winners and judges. As I am one of the 2015 judges, my flash fiction piece about a single mother who was sexually assaulted at work, “Kit-Cat Clock,” will be included. It’s a tough topic to write about, and my flash story went through many (many) drafts before I felt that I had depicted my character, Candace, and her pain well. At the Spider Road Press birthday party and flash fiction awards ceremony, I read the following excerpt from my piece. A lovely audience member told me afterwards that the excerpt could be a stand-alone micro fiction piece. I hope that you enjoy this snippet of Candace’s story:

 

Detective Virginia Dubois brought me a Styrofoam cup of weak coffee. Could I identify him? The lack of physical evidence would cost me. She couldn’t make any promises. Driving home, I wondered what cops promised the ponytailed UNH girls, the moms with Lego pieces in their pockets, the librarians carrying The Norton Anthology of Nice. As the P.T.A types whispered, I’d been around. Not a lot of single, white moms with brown-skinned babies north of Manchester. Three consecutive stoner poet boyfriends had been in and out of my one-bedroom before they went back on the road. A leather skirt and a bad-girl-with-a-heart-of-gold wink kept my landlord flirting and my rent under nine hundred a month, but hadn’t won me any friends. Never heard back from Virginia.

 

I look forward to sharing more of “Kit-Cat Clock” with you when Approaching Footsteps is released in November. Thanks again for every page read, every review written, and every encouragement uttered! We’re all in this together.

 

 

Celebrating Women Writers

As my wee son recovers from cleft palate surgery, I have not had time for much writing beyond a few poems. However, I have continued to make time to celebrate writing by and/or about strong women. That’s why I am so thrilled to recognize writers Andrea Barbosa, Mel Algood & Jennifer Leeper at the upcoming Spider Road Press flash fiction awards & birthday party celebration. If you’ll be in or near Houston on 8/18, stop by and join us!

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Guest Blog: Recommended Read by Kessika Johnson

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Looking for a book with a unique point of view? Allegorical or not, “Watership Down” is a literary adventure that you won’ forget. Here’s what Spider Road Press staffer Kessika loves about it:

I decided to attend summer school after my junior year of college so my mom wouldn’t learn about my newly acquired tattoo. My plan included plenty of time for fun so I decided to take Adolescent Literature. Adolescent lit should be easy, right? And not take up much time, right? Wrong. I’m glad this was before the days of Twilight because I had the pleasure of discovering Watership Down by Richard Adams, a story about rabbits.

Fiver, Hazel, and the other rabbits are distinct characters, who/which speak the way I imagine a rabbit would if he spoke English. The syntax conveys the size of each rabbit and their standing in the warren. It even makes me imagine the little mouth and nose motion rabbits make.

This novel stands out to me from this summer. I read and reread it. I thought about it when I wasn’t reading it. I recommend it again and again.

 Kessika Johnson is the organizational Goddess who keeps Spider Road Press running smoothly. She also runs her own home organization and de-cluttering service, and raises two awesome boys who like to read. 

Author’s note: This is not a book for children or tweens under 12. The film is definitely not for children under 12, despite being animated. I have still not quite recovered from the day that a substitute teacher showed my 4th grade class a “cartoon about rabbits.” It was  little more intense than any of us anticipated! But it’s a great book for older teens.  -Patricia  

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.

Guest Blog: Birth of An Intriguing Novel

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Spy novels? Aren’t they a bit macho? Until recently, that’s what I would have said if a woman writer told me she was excited about writing a novel about espionage. I would have thought of male characters and car chases. I would’ve noted the loyal male readers (like my dad). I would have argued that novels in which the political operatives and terrorists crash into the emotional lives of everyday people, such as Edna O’Brien’s House of Splendid Isolation, made for a better read.

I would have been wrong. Yes, you should read Edna O’Brien’s excellent novel. But no, spy novels are not just about macho thrills. Case in point, Houston author Mel Algood recently published a gripping, sarcastic, violent novel about espionage and revenge, Blood on the Potomac. I had the pleasure of reading it as it progressed and loved her jaded female characters and their twisted humor. Mel joins us on the blog today to give her impressions of birthing her first book.

The Birth of Blood On The Potomac

Matthew Hale, ex-navy SEAL, joined Erebus at his friend, Jack’s, insistence. Now Jack has been murdered and the newest member of the private spy organization, Samantha Locke, seems to be the key to uncovering the truth behind Jack’s death. Samantha Locke, rogue assassin, has one goal in life, to find her father’s killer. Blackmailed by Erebus to work for them in exchange for the identity of the woman she’s hunted all her life, Samantha finds herself falling in love with her hunky handler,Matthew Hale. As they sift through the web of lies, their passionate attraction draws them closer together. But can they ever truly trust each other? Will their love help them find the truth, or will it tear them apart?

The story of Samantha Locke and Matthew Hale took time to reach readers. Which made the night of my book release even sweeter. The night started off as many spring evenings in Houston-pouring down rain. Thankfully by the time my handsome man Israel and I made it to Gratifi Kitchen and Bar, in the heart of Montrose, the water abated. The weather reminded me of my personal experience while writing the novel. There were pitfalls, and a fair share of challenges, but after three years, my novel was finally available to the reading public.

I was excited when I saw that the menu had named a drink after my debut novel “Blood On The Potomac,” which proved delicious. The venue was crowded, and when I read scenes from the novel there were gasps and laughs at the right times from the audience.

The people that joined me on the evening my novel was released ranged from old friends, fellow writers, and avid readers that were excited to start reading. One of the attendees-a college student and talented author told me that after I read the infamous ‘roof top’ scene in the ‘Looking Glass’ chapter she “couldn’t stop reading even after you did. I just had to find out what happened next!” Gratitude swelled in me that so many people came to support me.

The most memorable moment for me was when someone made a toast to me, easily one of the people who has known me personally for the shortest amount of time. Sherrie along with several of my co-workers from Green Apple Salon- Montrose, http://www.greenapplesalons.com came to the event just a few blocks from our salon. I was elated that they attended-a friend mentioned that no one from my previous salon attended any of my previous, yet numerous, writing events. My fellow hair stylist, Sherrie, stood up, and tapped a knife against her glass. She called the room to attention and began to speak. Her words were moving, and the night was long, thus I can’t quote anything for sure other than how she concluded her toast of love and admiration with “you are a true artist, Mel, and we love you.”

Knowing that others appreciate your gift for the written word is the greatest gift I’ve ever received. Thank you to all my friends, family, and the readers that attended any past or future event-without you I’d be telling stories to myself. Thank you for helping me bring Samantha and Matthew into the world.

You can purchase my debut novel Blood On The Potomac on Amazon or from Inklings Publishing at www.inklingspublishing.com. Check out updates on my blog, melalgoodauthor.com, and follow me on Twitter @MelAlgood.

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!

Graphic Novel Review: “Blacksad”

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Philosophical Noir, Neo-Nazis & a Tough Feline Hero

A graphic novel has to tell a damn good story to garner my attention. Until five years ago, the only graphic novel I really admired was the powerful Holocaust story Maus. Boy, was I missing out on a rich, diverse genre. Mystery fans, take note of Blacksad, an unlikely gem. Even if you’re not “a graphic novel person.” Canales and Guarnidno anchor their exciting yet philosophical graphic novel of danger and passion by depicting a surprisingly complex feline protagonist in both text and illustrations. This is not a story for kids. Both the ideas and the illustrations are for readers at least 16 and up. Yet, even in translation, the author and illustrator convey that Blacksad is much more than a noir-style anthropomorphized detective trying to solve two intriguing murders, a kidnapping, and the disappearance of a nuclear scientist. P.I. John Blacksad uses all of his skills to seek his own brand of justice; he’s both a fixer and a thinker.

Capable, Blacksad scares off a stalker for a famous actress in a manner that is firm and “efficient.” Both the text and the illustrations, which reveal a gun flashing and a teeth baring panther, keep the reader engaged. I certainly agree that Blacksad could handle any villain when he “puts his mind to it.” In an unusual twist, Canales and Guarnidno further stress Blacksad’s ability to dodge lies and bullets by portraying him as able to circumvent both family drama and neo-Nazis as he tries to return a kidnapped girl to her dedicated teacher. Guiding the reader from solving murders into a battle with Neo-Nazis seems unlikely, but the author and illustrator pull it off with ease. That’s because you believe that this man- er, I mean cat -Blacksad is worth following. Furthermore, the author and illustrator highlight not just the panther’s ability to land a punch and solve a case, but also to think deeply. They render one of Blacksad’s reflective moments as he discusses the unfinished train station in a racially divided suburb known only as The Line. Drawn in black silhouette against a snowy sky, Blacksad notes that the unused train station remains “an image of what could have been, but never was” in the poor suburb.

I recommend Blacksad to fans of both noir fiction and graphic novels because the author and illustrator work in concert to create a feline hero as real and complicated as any human being. They use text and artwork to communicate both Blacksad’s streetwise problem solving and his deep meditations. Discover this unique read yourself: Blacksad by Juan Diaz Calales, illustrated by Juanjo Guarnido., an published by Dark Horse Books is available on Amazon and in indie bookstores and some comic shops. Become “a graphic novel person” for a little while and you’ll enjoy it.

Ongoing Passion: The Joys and Challenges of Writing A Series

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What’s so special about writing a series? Today I sit down with a best-selling author to find out exactly that. Affable, talented and driven, Pamela Fagan Hutchins is a pro at writing best-selling romantic mysteries featuring engaging characters. Her fans can’t wait to see what will happen next to her feisty heroines. I gave my sister one of her mysteries for Christmas two years ago, and now she looks forward to a P.F.H mystery every birthday and holiday! Engaging series are satisfying to readers (like my sister) and sometimes easier to sell to agents and publishers. But how do you keep readers hooked and keep telling a tight story??]

Pamela, what are the two best things about writing a series peopled with strong characters?

Readers engage with and follow characters far more than they follow an author who told a good story. So if I can write a great character or characters, the reader will develop an attachment, even a relationship with that character that they want to continue. Think about the success of authors like Sue Grafton with Kinsey Milhone or Janet Evanovich with Stephanie Plum. Their characters’ names are as well known as the authors.

As an author, I enjoy sitting back down to start the next book in a series with strong characters. I look forward to spending time with them, to seeing what trouble they’ve gotten themselves into, and—most of all—to seeing them grow in the latest installment. Give me a series with strong, complex characters who experience authentic personal growth in each installment, and I’m yours forever.

You teach helpful workshops on creating great scenes and authorpreneurship. Imagine that you taught a class specifically about crafting an exciting fiction series. What challenges would you point out to writers?

Each book in a series needs to be able to standalone on its own merit, so it’s more important to write one really great book than a series. I find my readers don’t like to be “forced” to read the next book either. They want to feel compelled from within to read it, rather than having a cliffhanger where they don’t know the ending unless they continued. I also find readers who read my books in reverse order or start in the middle. The only way that’s possible is if your books can standalone.
Readers expect that if you use a character they’ll appear again in later books, if they don’t die or go to prison. Write characters with the potential to play further roles down the line, then use them in interesting ways. Readers welcome them back like old friends, or hiss and boo when the villain reappears onstage.
Series writers must not repeat themselves in terms of plot, but they must absolutely be consistent on the details of their characters and worlds. Keep a style sheet/series Bible to keep it all straight. You’ll thank me later.

Can you think of themes common to the books in your current series? For example, readers & reviewers have noted that the themes of transformation, tenacity & grief reoccur in my stories in Trail Ways Pilgrims: Stories and Our Space. Which issues do you rest from book to book?

I explore two common themes in trying to write strong characters within a rich setting while still pacing and delivering a pulse-pounding mystery.
The impact of regional history and culture on our contemporary views of spirituality
In Going for Kona—What Doesn’t Kill You #4—the protagonist, Michele, learned of Itzpapalotl, a knife-winged butterfly goddess in Aztec mythology, from her Mexican grandmother. Her father nicknames her Itzpa, and the mythology exerts a powerful influence on her in the novel.
The role and self-view of modern women in family and relationships
For instance, in Heaven to Betsy—the fifth book in my What Doesn’t Kill You series and the 2015 WINNER of the USA Best Book Award in Cross Genre Fiction—Emily loses a husband to divorce and a baby to miscarriage, moves back to her hometown, and begins trying to adopt as a single woman. It’s a confusing and painful time for her, and she has to figure out who she is, at the same time as she has to learn to care less what others think.

Speaking of your current series, your readers are excited that you have
a new novel coming soon. What’s it about?

Hell to Pay is the seventh book in my What Doesn’t Kill You romantic mystery series. In her third and final turn as one of the series’ protagonists, big-haired paralegal and former rodeo queen Emily has her life back on track. Her adoption of Betsy seems like a done deal, her parents have reunited, and she’s engaged to her sexy boss Jack. Then client Phil Escalante’s childhood buddy Dennis drops dead, face first into a penis cake at the adult novelty store Phil owns with his fiancée Nadine, one of Emily’s best friends. The cops charge Phil with murder right on the heels of his acquittal in a trial for burglarizing the Mighty is His Word church offices. Emily’s nemesis ADA Melinda Stafford claims a witness overheard Phil fighting with Dennis over a woman. Before he can mount a defense, Phil falls into a diabetic coma, leaving Nadine shaken and terrified. Meanwhile Betsy’s ultra-religious foster parents apply to adopt her, and Jack starts acting weird and evasive. Emily feels like a calf out of a chute, pulled between the ropes of the header and the heeler, as she fights to help Phil and Nadine without losing Betsy and Jack. It’s a pulse-pounder of a book, but with lots of heart and humor. I love this one.

Your What Doesn’t Kill You character-driven series features strong female protagonists, and readers enjoy the woman’s adventures all the way through to the end of that character’s journey. Do you have any advice to emerging writers about how to keep each new book in a series fresh?

This is actually a really important question to me. I have had series in the past that I fell in love with, but lost interest in after three or four books, because the characters didn’t grow. In series, especially in mystery/thriller/suspense series, we tend to focus too hard on plot and forget that it is compelling, complex characters who readers follow. Give your protagonist and other main characters interesting stories that keep evolving with your series. Personally, this is the reason that I decided to create a revolving cast of protagonists in my fictional world for my series. I only want to write books where the protagonists experience personal growth and development. I’ve capped it at three books per protagonist, which I think of as a three-act structure, where those three books as the three acts in a larger story in that protagonist’s “life.”

Thanks, Pamela! I can’t wait for my copy of Hell to Pay to arrive. And, don’t worry, sis, you are getting a copy for your upcoming birthday, too.

Hell to Pay, and all the fun, fast-paced romantic mysteries in Pamela Fagan Hutchins series are available as ebooks and books on Amazon and ibooks, as well as in bookstores. To find out more, read Pamela’s fun and informative blog (bonus: you’ll learn about her cute baby goats): http://pamelafaganhutchins.com

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.”