DuBois’ Clocks Read Tension

How do you spend your hours? Me, I read a lot. Between my job as an editor, mutual critique with my writing group, colleague’s work, and my own exciting (ever growing) stack of mysteries and thrillers, I am often awash in words. Sitting seductively in a pile of things I need to read for work is a stash of pages that I want to read- the latest story by Brendan DuBois. I tore his story out of a magazine. The corner of page two is ripped and there is a smudge of tomato sauce on page sixteen. When I fished them out and put them on my desk this morning, my cat Dolly sat on all of the pages. I will have to make time to read “Her Final Shot” today, because author Brendan DuBois took the time to write one of my favorite mystery short stories- “Ride-Along.”

Prolific, Barry award-winning writer Brendan DuBois churns out many a well-crafted, suspenseful tale. I discovered “Ride-Along” (no relation to the silly 2014 film) because my savvy and fun Goddard professor Susan Kim suggested it. I read it from The Best American Mystery Stories 2011. I was working on plotting a mystery set in New Hampshire, and boy, can New Hampshire writer DuBois construct a plot! In modern life, people are always trying to rein in the hours to create the life that they want. So DuBois utilizes references to units of time to build the suspense leading to the violent, surprising crime. A veteran cop allows a curious but under-qualified free-lance writer, Erika Kramer, to ride with him for a night. While reading, you can’t help but notice that the main characters frequently check the time. Minutes tick by as the action crescendos to the rich, time-sensitive climax.

DuBois further emphasizes time by vividly describing his antihero watching not just a common wristwatch or phone, but “the light-blue numerals of the dashboard clock flip.” The reader perches on the edge of their seat, as “with each change of the number, it seems like the air in the cruiser” gets “thicker and harder to breath.”

Get your hands on this story and read it. Without spoiling it, I can say that a time frame even lends increased intensity to the crime scene. The cop and mysterious writer hear, “Be advised, other units about ten minutes inbound.” The smart investigator and reporter of uncertain motives have a mere ten minutes in which to enact their plans and in fact, protect their own lives.

You will find the time that you spend reading this tale well spent!

Guest Blog: Silencing Roger

KSpitzmiller Headshot

Today I am pleased to present a guest blog post by the talented writer Kate Spitzmiller. She’s learned from experience not to believe the naysayers, whoever and wherever they may be.

Dear Roger

Let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time, there was a high school senior who was in an honors English class. The English class was given an assignment: write the beginning of a frame story introducing five unrelated characters and put them in a unique situation in which they all must come together, alá Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

Our main character worked her butt off. She spent every minute of her free time on the assignment. You see, she had written stories her whole life – she kept them in secret notebooks tucked away in the bottom drawer of the desk in her bedroom.

This was just the kind of writing assignment that she lived for then.

The night before the assignment was due, our main character was at a friend’s house, where there was a gathering of students from the English class. The students all traded papers and read each other’s stories. One student from the class – we’ll call him Roger – read our main character’s story and turned to her with a smirk on his face and said, “This isn’t what Dr. Brown wants at all.” Our main character was crushed. She had worked so hard; had perfected every word, every phrase, every sentence. It was, she thought, the best thing she had ever written. And it was too late to do anything about it. It was nine o’clock the night before the story was due. Our main character drove home that night in tears.

The next day, she turned in the paper, knowing it was a complete failure, knowing, as Roger had said, that it wasn’t what the teacher wanted at all. Knowing her work, her very finest work, just wasn’t good enough.

A week later, Dr. Brown had the papers graded and began returning them. Our main character was a bundle of nerves. She was terrified that she had failed. She watched as the students around her received their papers, talking to each other and sharing their grades. But no paper appeared on her desk. Imagine that – everyone has a paper, everyone is chatting about their grades – and she had nothing. Nothing but an empty desk and a desolate feeling in her gut. People started asking her, “Where is your paper?” and she realized that her paper was so bad, so very awful, that it wasn’t even worth grading; Dr. Brown had kept it to perhaps speak with her after class about its worthlessness.

And then Dr. Brown addressed the class. He stood in front of his desk as he always did, holding a paper in his hands. He said, “Students. Someone in this class will be a professional writer one day.” And then he looked at our main character. “Kate,” he said, “Will you read your story to the class?”

The lesson, of course, is not to listen to the Rogers in life.

And further evidence of this is that this month my historical fiction short story “Brigida” won first prize in Spider Road Press’ 2015 Spider’s Web Flash Fiction Contest. My story will be published in their 2016 anthology Approaching Footsteps. In addition, the five contest judges picked my flash story “Pleiku, 1969” to win an Honorable Mention.

What a positive experience. The Spider’s Web Flash Fiction contest was professionally run and very quick in turn-around – it only took one month from the submission due date to the day the results were announced, which impressed me. And I have been invited to attend Spider Road Press’ second birthday celebration and awards ceremony in Houston in August. There, all the prize-winners will be given the opportunity to read their work.

So there is a second lesson in my story. And that is this: when I first learned of the Spider’s Web contest, I stood, hands on my hips, staring at my computer screen – and laughing. “Seven hundred and fifty words?!” I shouted, spooking the cats, who ran off in different directions from their snoozing spots on the couch.

You see, I consider myself a novelist, and have just completed a 72,000-word project. I never thought I could conquer flash fiction. I thought 750 words was an impossibility. “There’s no way I can create complex characters and a rich plot in 750 words,” I said – loudly — to the computer. Seven hundred and fifty words is half a chapter. A quarter of a chapter.

“It can’t be done,” I thought.

There are Rogers lurking inside us, too.

And those are the Rogers that must be silenced most of all.

Kate Spitzmiller has completed an historical fiction novel featuring as its protagonist Andromache, a minor character from Homer’s The Iliad. The novel provides the reader with a view of ancient history from a woman’s perspective. Kate’s prize-winning flash fiction piece, “Brigida” will be published as a reader’s bonus in the 2016 Spider Road Press collection, Approaching Footsteps.

Follow Kate on Twitter @KateSpitzmiller.

Reading for Guilty Pleasure


I enjoy school. I tend to understand the rules of going to school: if you attend class and work hard, and don’t have to battle a learning disorder, you do relatively well. If you think outside the box, and write or read something a little different, you don’t do as well, but once you hit university there is a general academic respect for thought and writing. Even odd writing shows effort, which is less flashy than talent, but wins you grudging respect over time. Effort often goes unrecognized in other realms. Over the years, I have become a big fan of amassing academic credits and, if I had the money, I would probably study until my eyesight faded.

I liked school so much that I briefly thought I might want to be a public school teacher. Unfortunately, that’s even more difficult than it looks. Teaching takes patience and stamina that make marathon runners look like wimps. And thanks to a bizarre tendency in some Americans to think that the adage “you get what you pay for” relates to shoes but not schools, young teachers get to work a second job. It’s always fun to bartend or tutor at night so that you can have the privilege of giving one hundred and ten percent to educate American kids all day long. Teachers who are willing to do this, it turns out, are nicer than I am.

Yet the lure of academia never fades. One of my favorite advantages to attending various universities is that universities attract smart people. In them, I meet students and professors who recommend new writers and foreign films and weird, brown and yellow foods that tastes surprisingly good. I love this! The only problem with academia is the supremacy of what a core group of academics, editors and publishing industry types dub “literary fiction.” When I was younger, this generally meant books by dead white guys, but happily that is shifting. Ever sooo slowly. As long as they don’t write mystery, science fiction or horror, some writers of color can gradually sneak into this category.

The disadvantage to “literary” circles is that you have to ferret out the readers who understand that, once in a rare while, a book is so bad that it’s good. Melodramas have their moments. Now I’m not talking about a predictable vampire book peopled with whiny teens expecting boys to save them (ahem). However, deep down inside, when I’m not using words like “impervious,” listening to Billie Holiday and worrying about the ongoing consequences of trickle down economics, I love The Thorn Birds. That’s right, that fat, cheesy book that went on to become an even cheesier mini-series with the androgynous looking Richard Chamberlain. I see a tiny gem of wonder in this sweeping romance set on foreign shores because it completely transports the American reader to a new world. Science fiction and fantasy novels do the same thing, and their popularity endures.

I should hate The Thorn Birds. I loved it when I was fourteen and, thankfully, my reading life has matured. McCullough over-does her prose and uses ten words when three would do. She glosses ever instances of colonialist misunderstanding and all but erases the presence of aboriginal people in the general area where she set her book. Worse still, the book romanticizes the sexual lives of Catholic priests. In some archdioceses, like the one that I grew up in, these sexual lives were not so romantic.

Yet there is something about the setting, the sweeping nature of the novel and its illicit romantic premise that make me love to hate it. Tales of star-crossed lovers, like hot dogs, can be enjoyable if you don’t think about them too much. Nostalgia is certainly part of it. Some women remember Flowers in the Attic or Go Ask Alice (spoiler-not a real diary!) with the same embarrassed affection.

So, I admit it. I secretly kind of love it. And upbeat Kelly Clarkson pop songs. Don’t tell my writer friends.

“Tides of Impossibility” is Fantastically Fun


Today I’m happy to interview C. Stuart Hardwick, the science fiction author and witty coeditor of the recently released fantasy collection, Tides Of Impossibility. (I’ve been writing about this collection lately because I am thrilled to be experimenting with this new genre and to be included in this diverse anthology.) C. Stuart Hardwick is an L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future award winner who combines Golden Age optimism, adventure, and fun, combined with modern social themes. A southerner from South Dakota, he now lives in Texas with his family and dogs, and has been known to wear a cape.

So, what elements contribute to a great fantasy story?
The best stories are about interesting people in interesting circumstances changing in interesting ways. That’s what we tried to put into Tides. Even when the “people” are witches or fantastic creatures, you still look for recognizably human motivation and growth.

One of the things that drew me to scifi was how readily it skirts reality to act as a lens through which to view ourselves. Fantasy can fly further afield, as it were, and this can give the author even more editorial leverage, but storytelling isn’t just social commentary. Great stories can be heart rending, hilarious, or just plain fun, but what makes us care about them, I think, are characters, relationships, and struggle.

Who are your top three favorite fantasy writers?
I loved the Harry Potter books, and Tim Powers’s On Stranger Tides is one of my all-time favorites. Whether you loved or hated the last Pirates of the Caribbean movie, the book (on which it was only loosely based) is far better. And to that list I’ll add my friend Randy Henderson, who’s debut, Finn Fancy Necromancy is just plain fun.

What was the experience of coediting Tides of Impossibility like for you? What was the biggest challenge posed by the project?
The biggest challenge, really the only challenge, was finding enough time. The hardest part of editing an anthology is selecting the stories. Kyle was very organized and all the authors we selected were responsive and accommodating, so it was a real pleasure to put together.

Any reader can take something from a good story, but some people think, “Fantasy isn’t my genre.” What can the reader who is less familiar with fantasy fiction expect from this anthology?
I call that the Tolkien effect. So many people loved Tolkien and so many set out to imitate him, that the band of oddball adventures making plans over tankards of ale has become as hackneyed as the line “It was a dark and stormy night.” Well rest assured, modern fantasy isn’t just recycled Tolkien, D&D campaigns, and pixie dust. The Tides anthology offers a diversity of tales, from medieval to surreal, lighthearted to positively dystopian.

It’s a great collection and I’m honored to be a part of it. Thanks for discussing your experience with it. What other projects do you, as a writer and editor, have in the works for 2015?
Happy to discuss it!

I’m drafting a novel that’s a sort of City of Ember meets The Hunger Games, which I hope to have ready to market this summer. In the meantime, check out Galaxy’s Edge magazine, issue 14., where my story appears along with those of Robert A. Heinlein, Larry Niven, Nancy Kress, David Brin, and Alan Dean Foster, among others. Galaxy’s Edge is edited by the inestimable Mike Resnick and filled with scifi and unique and quirky fantasy far afield of the traditional fae and dragon fare. My story, “Luck of the Chieftain’s Arrow,” is a good example, about an elemental spirit that learns about love and loss as the copper it’s trapped in is passed down through human history.

I’ll be sure to check that out. Thanks again.

Tides of Impossibility will be for sale at Comicpalooza in Houston (5/22-5/25) and is available now from
Coming in April, 2015...

Lessons Learned From an Author-a-go-go

It has been four days since I returned from my very first trip to Malice Domestic, and I have almost recovered. My brain is swimming with smiling faces and new ideas. I find myself telling any soul who will listen, including a polite dental hygienist who was trying to scrape off my plaque, that I met Charlaine Harris in the hotel elevator. Charlaine Harris! Can you believe it? Imagine my wide, bookworm grin.

If I can focus my full & tired brain long enough, I’d like to tell you about the pleasant and brave authors who survived an interesting event called Malice Go Round. Billed as “speed dating with authors,” it was a fun and exhausting session in which we readers sat in groups of six at tables while teams of mystery authors rushed from table to table (with admirable stamina) telling us about their books in rapid fashion. They pitched their books to at least twenty different tables of booklovers. It was an onslaught of friendly writers, interesting premises and clever sleuths. Chatting with the readers on either side of me, I saw that their eyes were starting to glaze over about two-thirds of the way through the event. Certainly our minds were wandering by the end. To remember an author and their novels, we needed more than their smile. We needed their savvy marketing.

As an author myself, I found the various marketing techniques employed fascinating. The room was full of smart writers who can craft a good story. The ones who stood out could also create a good connection. Some had that seemingly natural gift of charisma and eye contact that is so helpful in any sales arena. Some had the kind of genuinely bubbly personality that no professional event, even a grueling one, can suppress. Some roved about in teams with friends who could support them. Some, like Accidental Alchemist author Gigi Pandian, had written interesting articles for First Draft, and Malice Go Round allowed me to connect their byline with a face and a book. And some authors just seemed very, very well prepared. They used materials provided by their publishers (and by themselves) to augment interpersonal experiences. Those were the authors that I tried to pay particular attention to before my synapses got too tired.

For a socially nervous person like me, marketing my stories and myself does not come naturally. I would much rather talk to you about food (did you see that chocolate teacup?), other people’s books, travel, music, liberal politics, my love for We Have Always Lived In The Castle (Haven’t read it? It’s a strange and wonderful little book), Broadchurch, or Orphan Black. So I came away from that author-a-go-go feeling like I’d taken a master class in marketing, if only I could remember it all! The marketing materials that authors and their publishers used to remain memorable varied: lovely sets of recipe cards, convention care packages, chocolates in pretty bags, marker sets, a mystery press’ promotional sewing kit, etc. These seemed well-suited to a mostly female fan convention.

Colorful, high quality marketing materials packaged in an original way (and given in a low-pressure manner) caught my eye. More importantly, they survived in my tote bag, and I could fish them out to remember an author before hitting the book dealer’s room. That is exactly what I did with the bookmark for Jennifer McAndrews’ book Ill-Gotten Panes. I love mysteries, and stained–glass, but I never would have heard of heroine Georgia Kelly and this quirky new series of books without McAndrews’ marketing.

At the end of any event for readers and or writers, I summon my social courage and make a real effort to thank people who are supportive of my books (my readers rock!) or inspire me as a writer. These generous souls make the writing life, a solitary path, warmer and brighter. So here’s a big “Thank You” to the “speed daters” at Malice Domestic 27, who taught me more about marketing. Kudos. Now go nap for a few days. You’ve earned it.

Back Cover Dreams

When I was a tween, mass was a mystical celebration, but the bookstore was my secondary church. The colorful displays of award winners and best-sellers, the crisp pages and new-book smell, I loved them all. I would enjoy the cover art, read the blurbs and then turn over the books to drink in the tempting back cover copy. In particular, I would look at the author photo with a mixture of awe and envy. This author had not only gotten their hair to behave (the daily struggle of my pre-Frizzease existence) in a formal picture, but they had written an entire book. A book that someone liked enough to publish! Novelists and authors of short story collections were just as cool as Blondie, and even a little smarter.

This week I was pleasantly surprised to find my photo on the back of the fantasy anthology, Tides of Impossibility. I have to admit, my inner tween bounced with glee. I write for the love of the story, and because characters keep popping into my mind and nagging at me until I let them run on across my keyboard into my prose. In the long run, it’s about, as Jean Rhys famously wrote, “feeding the lake.” In fact, the fiction containing the most of my love, fear and vulnerability, Trail Ways Pilgrims: Stories, only exists in eBook form, so it has no back cover. As a writer, I know that a little old cover photo doesn’t mean that much. Many talented writers from my Goddard writing program, some far better writers than me, have never been published in any book.

But my inner tween, daydreaming in the bookstore in Harvard Square, delights in this moment.

Tides of Impossibility benefits the Houston Writers Guild and can be purchased from>

"Tides of Impossibility" Brings the Fantastic to Life

What elements contribute to a great fantasy story?

That’s the question I posed to KJ Rusell, the talented speculative fiction author and co-editor of the new fantasy anthology, Tides of Impossibility. I had a lot of fun writing my first fantasy story, “Puca Dawns,” which is included in the collection. I wrote it while thinking about how a child whose everyday life is dangerous might confront an unusual, and possibly menacing, mythical being. However, as a fantasy newbie, I sought out my editors to get their take on the genre….

1. Welcome to my blog. In your experience as an editor, writer & reader, what elements contribute to a great fantasy story?

Great fantasy is great literature. If I run into someone in the industry who really harps on how literary stories are better than genre fiction, I like to ask them what exactly the difference is. What makes “magical realism” okay for mainstream literary journals and not “fantasy”? Somewhere in the sea of confirmation bias, the best answer I found was that it’s the intent; in literary fiction, fantastic elements need to be a metaphor for something. Of course the person who gave me that answer thought they were excluding most fantasy, but they really weren’t. Great fantasy lets us look straight at things that less speculative stories have to turn crooked and skim over. Fantasy is an excellent tool for exploring and commenting on reality, and great artists know how to use their tools.

2. Who are your top 3 favorite fantasy writers?

I can’t think of any writer who writes straight fantasy without dipping into horror or sci-fi occasionally, nor vice-versa. For that reason I’d challenge that Lovecraft is my favorite fantasy writer, and a hard counter to the idea that there’s no such thing as an original thought. I think Tolkein goes without saying, so I wont. I’m just going to run away from this question before I start listing off great writers typically associated with horror or sci-fi, like Poe and Frank Herbert.

3. What was the experience of editing Tides of Impossibility like for you? What was the biggest challenge posed by the project?

Stuart, my co-editor, was great to work with, and he really helped simplify the organizational challenges of the job. This freed me to focus more on the actual content. While all of the writers brought fully formed stories to the anthology, a few of them were revised from start to finish before the anthology was ready to go. This is normal: an editor is expected to squeeze as much potential out of their writers as they can, and even great stories can sometimes be better. This is a unique challenge, very different from editing my own stories. I can’t just tell an author to rewrite their story according to how I want it. I have to make the writer see the unfulfilled opportunities and trust the writer to fill them out. This worked out really well, as some of the revisions the writers did were better than anything I could’ve suggested.

4. Any reader can take something from a good story, but some people think, “Fantasy isn’t my genre.” What can the reader who is less familiar with fantasy fiction expect from this anthology?

We open with Elfanticide by Lisa Godfrees and T.J. Akers, and here’s a great example. The story has a very sardonic humor to its characters and plot — a noble who is so annoyed with one particular elf that he convinces the king to exterminate the entire elven race — and it’s absolutely not something that would be funny in a non-fantasy setting. If you tried to set this story in the real world, it would be too political and grim. It wouldn’t work. Godfrees and Akers understand the tools of the fantasy genre and use them exquisitely to make this story what it is. All of the writers in this anthology use the genre to its utmost.

5. Thanks so much! What other projects do you, as a writer and editor, have in the works for 2015?

Tides of Impossibility was produced with the Houston Writers Guild. The HWG is moving forward with starting their own press to produce more work in-house, but I’m not currently attached to any upcoming projects with them. For now, I’m taking a step back from editing to work on my own writing. My big project right now is my upcoming novel, The Dusty Man, which is hitting print in May. My eBook, Atargatis, is now available on Amazon. I am also presenting on panels and at tables at Comicpalooza in Houston next month. I’m hoping to meet a lot of readers there.

Good Book Alert: I was fortunate to read the first half of Russell’s Atargatis in a writers’ critique circle and I highly recommend it. I am not usually a fan of more technical science fiction, but I found the story exciting, well-crafted, and introspective. I can’t wait to see how it ends! Speculative fiction readers, I encourage you to download this intriguing eBook from

Blessings of Book Release Month

The release month push for my ecollection, Trail Ways Pilgrims: Stories soon rumbles to a close. I hoped, I rejoiced, I worried, I focus-grouped, I advertised, I strategized, I thanked, I prayed, I pleaded, I danced, I worried more. I even faced down the rat hole of my “earnings” during tax time and agreed to price the collection at 99 cents for the first month (ending on 4/11). I desperately wanted to help readers find my characters and to love, or despise, them as much as I do. But now, like fidgety kids on a blue rug in kindergarten, my stories need to make their own friends.

Now is the time to thank the universe for the blessings that got me through the intensity of the release month juggernaut (in no particular order):

-My family. They listened to me ramble about the fellow travelers and events that inspired the stories. Over the years, they read drafts of the stories and made a suggestion or two. They considered and reconsidered eBook covers I didn’t end up using. And then, God bless ‘em, they actually helped me promote my eBook. That’s love. (A special thanks to my mother-in-law Julia, who always cheers me on, even though genetics didn’t leave her stuck with me.)
-My beta readers and advance review angels. There’s chocolate fondue in the next life for the busy, wise folks who provide smart suggestions and honest reviews. In a timely manner, no less! You’ve earned your heavenly marshmallows and chocolate.
-Stevie Wonder and the guys from UB40. It’s easier not to stress about Amazon sales when you’re jamming out.
-The wisest critique circle in Texas. Y’all make killing my darling almost fun.
-My readers, possible readers, eBook shop browsers, and word geeks everywhere. Your consideration of my stories means more than you know. Seriously. Mumsie always said that what comes around goes around, so hopefully I can support a professional or a charity that matters to you someday.
-My teachers from Goddard: the writers of Kilpatrick, Jeanne Mackin, Susan Kim,
Jan Clausen and the Pitkin Review crowd. “Trusting The Process” bloody sucks, but, to my annoyance, it works.
-Pudding. Enough said.
-Writers who share the spotlight, read each other’s work and cross-promote. “Cross-promotion” looks and sounds like a word, but really it’s a magic elixir.
-The genre-writing powerhouses dubbed The Women of Mystery and stewards of the HWG. (See above.)
-Poorly behaved cats. When your orange and white, bobtailed cat falls asleep on your keyboard, it keeps your ego in check.
-The generous teachers of my unofficial book-marketing-by-fire course: Pamela, Eric and Nicole at Houston’s thriving SkipJack publishing.
-Anne Lamott, for writing about ignoring the negativity on “radio station KFKD.” Crucial to know that other writers share your crazy.
-The improbable rosebushes by the garage. I never remember to water them, but somehow, on the strength of last month’s handful of Miracle-Gro and a generous helping of grace, they bloom.

The introductory sale price of 99 cents for my ecollection Trail Ways Pilgrims: Stories, currently offered for Kindle readers on, and for tablet and Nook readers on, ends on 4/11/15.

Love, or Close Enough (A Story Excerpt)

1909844_32102491672_7617_nAsk any traveler – unexpected, imperfect alliances form abroad. In this excerpt from my short story, “The Wisdom of Oranges,” available now in my collection Trail Ways Pilgrims: Stories, a Canadian E.F.L teacher in South Korea negotiates the steep terrain of competing for the man she might love.


…Soon the path surrendered into mud, shifting, sticking beneath the treads of my boots. I tromped through thoughts of the slim, twenty-two-year-old Lily, also known as Yeun Mi, teaching Matt the Korean words for “bicycle” and “eye glasses” and “teapot” and “kissing.” I had seen them once, slow dancing in the back of our regular room at the Noribong [or singing room], while all the other teachers drank or sang along to the yellow Oasis lyrics scrolling down the screen on the wall. She had been pressing her cheek to his when a newly arrived Singaporean teacher had sat down next to me and asked about my divorce.

The cool breeze, smelling faintly of plant hearts, blew across my exposed wrists, the back of my neck, and the bridge of my nose. Picking up my pace, I put distance between myself and Matt.

Yellow dust had crouched and waited. Suddenly, it fell on us in thin sheets. I coughed. My two American friends swore they’d been choked by the cloying, gold-colored pollution so badly last spring that our boss had sent them directly to the clinic. The headmaster had wished them a speedy recovery but no paid sick days.

“Cover your mouth, and you’ll be fine,” Johan, a Dane, said as he hiked past me. “I’ve seen it worse.”

Jagged rocks forced us first down, then sideways, then finally up as we descending-ly ascended. Mud gave way to exposed roots and the yellow dust fell in more diffuse patterns. Letting others pass me,  I stopped next to a large tree and calculated. To the right three slick, gray stones led directly to a wooden step. However, the tree’s branches hung over at a slight left angle, providing a natural handrail if the soil became too slippery. I veered left. An elderly Korean woman pushed past me with her hiking stick raised in complaint. I had taken too long to decide.

I pushed my legs into a jog until I could see the blue of Matt’s jacket. Behind me, snatches of French, English and Russian blended into a friendly din.

“He’ll leave her for the pretty, skinny tutor,” Carolyn huffed to a fellow Aussie. “They say it’s the exotic factor.”

“Sure, and she knows it. We’re all three kinds of lonely here.”

Summits cleansed. Jeongsusa at dusk wrapped us in a sweaty embrace. In the half light, the lotus flower-shaped lanterns, strung high above our heads on thin lines, danced like fire flies. Bells chimed. The prayers of the monks echoed. The musky scent of incense clung to the arm Matt threw around my shoulder.

“What’s your favorite book?”

“Whatever I’m reading today, Heart of Darkness, and whatever I start reading tomorrow,” I told him.

“You know, even back in Oakland, I think I’d ask you out.”

Blood rushed to my face. My fingers tingled in my mittens. As she pretended to be staring past us at the flowering treetops in the valley, Carolyn nodded at me. Among expats, this constituted high praise.


Learn what happens between this possible couple in my collection, Trail Ways Pilgrims: Stories. It is available now from Spider Road Press for the special introductory price of ninety-nine cents. Order yours today from or (for tablet and Nook readers). For more information, see:


In Your Heart, There Are No Small Books

TrailWaysPhoneThink big. Like it or not, I always do. This past year, I had the good fortune to participate in panels and book signings with Houston’s witty and talented Women of Mystery. At an early December book signing at the lovely River Oaks Bookstore, we were discussing upcoming projects. I felt excited about the first few chapters of my new arson novel, Zippo. However, I also had a case of the holiday blues about how far away I was from feeling like either of my novels was finally good enough. Before I could get too lost in the internal radio station of self-doubt that my literary idol Anne Lamott calls “KFKD,” one of my compatriots congratulated me on winning the Houston Writers Guild short story award.

“Thanks. It was an awesome surprise,” I said. “People seem to like ‘Bargaining.’ But it’s been published on-line, so I don’t know what else I want to do with it.”

“Short stories are your thing right now?” Kay Kendall, savvy author of the popular 1960s era mystery Desolation Row asked me, “I’ll tell you what you do. You or that press of yours pulls some of your stories together with the prize-winning story as the anchor. Then boom-you’ve got ‘Bargaining and other stories” out there.”

My mouth fell open. Really. Why didn’t I think of that? I left that festive event determined. The next morning I spread some of my stories out in a fan on my desk. Files on a Mac are fine, but I’m a visual person, so seeing the stories got my mind going. I pulled out “Bargaining,” and then six more shorts that called to me. I’ll pull together a small collection and this project will keep me motivated while I work on my novels. It’ll be a great little, low-budget project. Three of these stories have already been published, how much work could they need? With a smile, I grabbed and old story about EFL teachers I’d met in South Korea negotiating the steep terrain of relationships. It contained strong emotion and too many adverbs. So I started revising “The Wisdom of Oranges.”

By January, with the two employees and two consultants of Spider Road Press on board, I forged a collection. My talented and disciplined Houston Writers Guild critique circle offered helpful feedback on the stories I’d chosen. My patient friend Gay Yellen, (author of the fun romantic suspense tale The Body Business, and it’s even better upcoming follow-up novel) took time out of her own buy, page-filled days to help me work, and rework (and rework) my desired order for the stories. When I edited Up, Do: Flash Fiction by Women Writers, the flash seemed to fall into obvious categories almost organically. With my own work, it was harder, so, so much harder, to keep hold of the silver thread connecting the stories. I chomped down a big piece of coffee cake. Maybe this is a bigger project than I thought.  

I had coffee with the Sci-Fi author E.L. Russell, and he shared his hard-earned knowledge abut e-publishing short stories. You could do it quickly, he assured me, and you could do it well, the key was finding the balance between the two that suited you.

Three and half months and many drafts later, my “small” collection of five stories and a bonus novel chapter, Trail Ways Pilgrims, has come together. Planning sessions with Spider Road folks and the smart, kind marketers at Skipjack Publishing have gone on for many hours. (Just knowing the marketing juggernaut that is SkipJack Publishing, and their driven Going For Kona author Pamela Fagin Hutchins, has been like a Masters in Publishing course for me.) Then I luckily snared helpful, generous beta readers who gave invaluable suggestions.

What did I learn? To me, no project is small. For me, late feedback from an intelligent author was a big red stop sign. “I meant to mention this when I beta read, but…” she said, and her spot-on suggestion of a cut kept me up one night. On a small project, a lot of authors would let a thing like one paragraph that was OK, but not perfect, go. Spider Road has deadlines. I have a life. Call me a neurotic perfectionist, but I want the best fiction on the page that I can muster. So yeah, I called the formatter for a literary Hail Mary play. We cut that offending paragraph. My reader, even of my small 50-page e-collection, deserves my creative best.

Now, as my e-book Trail Ways Pilgrims will be released on this week, and on soon thereafter, I laugh at the idea of any book being small to me. In my mind and heart, every story looms large. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.