Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Guest blog on the concept behind "Algernon and the Narcissus," a short story by Die$el

Based on a true experience two months ago, “Algernon and the Narcissus” by Die$el is a short memoir that tells of a young Asian American man's confrontation with the police for writings that were deemed unusually dark and cruel for his age. In four simple passages, the reader becomes immersed in the troubles that the protagonist faced for his writing after the infamous Virginia Tech incident in 2007, the effort and failure to change his image in a social journalism college class, and the ultimatum that the protagonist faces after his detainment: stop his one true passion or risk destroying the lives of those he loves the most.

“Algernon and the Narcissus” didn’t start out as a short story “idea” for me. It was more of something that I had to write for myself. The form, while important, took a backseat to the content in the beginning. The experience was something I wanted to write when I was little, but I brushed off because I thought it was an incidental thing. However, after repeated experiences similar to the first one, I began to find enough energy and passion/pain to write a personal story like this.

Writing the story itself took me a good eight hours, and thirty more to edit. People don’t get how hard it is to write a short story. A novel takes stamina to write, yes, but the quality of writing takes a backseat to the story itself. A short story doesn’t take as much stamina to write and takes less time to make more cohesive, but the quality of writing must be extremely strong throughout. In my opinion, it takes much more stamina to write a good novel, but it takes much more talent to make a short story something deep and thought-provoking. There are only so many words in a short story, after all.

I believe this story was best told in short form because it was a glimpse into a different side of me. It was not enough to expand into a novella, but it was too much for flash fiction. Short story worked best in this case. In general, I think I prefer to read and write short stories because they are focused and do not deviate much from one overarching theme. In my piece, I intertwined two themes, my service work in my social justice writing class as well as my past troubles. The themes go deep without needing to go any broader than they have to.

Monday, May 30, 2011

"The Last Hunt," flash fiction by Alain Gomez

Rain dribbles down his nose as he lays motionless in the tall grass.  He was given the honor of leading the last hunt.  Today he would become a man.  The mammoth herd was grazing not far away.  If he could kill just one of these great beasts, his tribe would have food for the entire winter.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Guest blog on the concept behind two stories found in "13 Broken Nightlights," a short story collection by Barry Napier

My collection 13 Broken Nightlights  is the literary equivalent of one of those cardboard hearts filled with candy that we’re all accustomed to on Valentines Day.  We know what’s waiting inside (in the case of my collection, it’s primarily dark fiction) but are never really quite sure what to expect.
(Did you hear me restraining myself from making a Forrest Gump reference there?)

13 Broken Nightlights was put together with the purpose of creating a collection of my short fiction that had been published in print and online publications over the past 4 years.  More than that, there is a wide range of dark fiction to choose from: from character driven mild sci-fi to twists on traditional myths; from whimsical supernatural dramas to over the top B-movie horror; from coming of age ghost stories to what-the-hell-did-I-just-read?

To cover that vast selection, I have selected two stories to represent the collection.  And just like the Valentines boxes, some have the exquisite caramel centers and some have that pungent “is it cherry or strawberry, I mean what the hell is that?” sort of taste.

“All the Little Secrets”
I have no qualms stating that this story was spawned from my love of The X-Files.  I always wondered if there were departments within the FBI that actually dealt with odd cases dealing with the supernatural and cosmic.  But what interested me more than the cases themselves was wondering how the agents handled being in the midst of such powerful information.  How were they shaped by the things they witnessed and how did it alter their personal lives?  Not at all scary and just scraping the edges of science fiction, this remains one of my personal favorites.

“Lunatic Mile”
On the total opposite side of the spectrum, this story is a love-letter to the horror I grew up with.  A single paragraph in and you know you’re about to witness something grisly.  This one was written with two things in mind:  1) to make the reader squirm and 2)to create the feel of the B-movies that are so gross they are almost funny.  The more horrific parts of this story don’t necessarily come in the form of the grotesque, but in the inner workings of the story’s central character and the lengths she goes through to preserve her sordid family.  I am proud of this story because when it was included in an anthology titled Night Terrors in 2010, Fangoria referenced my story in particular in reviewing the book. They stated: “the sheer dissoluteness of Barry Napier’s “Lunatic Mile” deserves mention for tapping the reader’s gag reflex rather than just settling for a simple gag.”

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Review of "Bed Green" by Caedem Marquez

Never have tendrils of dust been described as beautifully as in Caedem Marquez's haunting story about a boy whose home is nothing more than a tiny mud-baked box in the middle of a desert. Though his family is full of drunks, his strength is found in the calloused hands of his grandmother who shows him what a woman will do to protect all that she loves, even when the enemies are her own family.

It's hard to quantify what it is that makes a character become "lifelike" on paper.  It could be any number of things.  But an author's ability in this arena really stands out in the short story genre.  With so few words to work with, how a character reacts to a situation becomes far more important than a wordy monologue.

Marquez's skill as a short story writer is certainly put on display in Bed Green.  As the summary suggests, this is a beautifully written story.  The characters are incredibly real.  You are immediately sucked into the dusty world presented to you and can almost see every scene play out before your eyes.

The plot is deceptively simple.  On the surface, the story plays out exactly how the summary describes.  But in  roughly 3,000 words, the author manages to delve into emotions such as the love between the grandmother and grandson, the son's relationship with mother and then later his father.  What really impressed me was there was no real attempt to tug at my heartstrings.  There was a down-to-earth matter-of-factness about the whole family dynamic presented which makes the impact on the reader even stronger.

There really isn't once specific target audience I could recommend this story too.  It's not really something I could just say "hey, if you like science fiction, check it out!"  Bed Green is a story that would appeal to people who like stories.

4/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Friday, May 27, 2011

Guest blog on the concept behind "The Chemist," a short story by Chris Blewitt

The Chemist is based on a true story from the 1920's Prohibition era.  About a year or so ago, I came across an article about something that happened in 1926.  It was a story of corruption that was shocking to me.  I thought to myself that this would be a great movie.  In fact, I was surprised that it wasn't a movie already!  I found myself obsessed over this story and scanned the Internet to find more information.  My mind wandered and pretty soon I had the concept for The Chemist.  I had already written a novel, Deep Rough, and was working on my second one, but I could not wait to tell this story.  So I thought, how about a short story.  I probably could have made this into a full-length novel, but I felt that the short story portrayed the event so much better.  It's filled with action from beginning to end.  My beta-readers loved the story and were disappointed it was so short!

I'm extremely happy how The Chemist turns out.  There is also an interview in the back of the story with a PhD in Chemistry.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Word of mouth as it applies to authors

A term authors (or any self-employed person) love to throw around is "word of mouth."  That golden moment when books just start to sell themselves because they have taken on a life of their own.

But is it really "word of mouth"?  I mean, be honest, how often do you bring up books in daily conversation?  Do you highly recommend to your friends every book you really enjoyed?  I'm sorry to say that I don't.  Lots of things factor into a book recommendation.  For one thing, I have to think about it at the time.  For another, the friend or family member I'm talking to has to share the same taste in books.

Way back when, people used to talk about books the way we talk about TV shows.  "Word of mouth" was definitely how an author got exposure.  But I would say the more accurate term these days is "word on the internet."  Sad, but true.  I would argue that an author can be extremely successful by simply being an internet presence alone and never having a single live person recommend their book to another live person.

From a marketing perspective, this is very important to keep in mind.  Everything that you do online as an author is your modern day "word of mouth."  Of course, live referrals do certainly help things.  But it's important to realize that you're not just an internet profile you can hide behind.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Comic Book Hero by Kate Jonez

           “In comics, the hero's story always has a happy ending,” Joe said aloud, or perhaps the words appeared over his head in a bubble. In a flash, the speed at which Joe’s life unfurled increased so much that space lost it grip on him and time stopped. But time didn't really stand still. Joe knew this because the squiggly lines all around him told him so. They emphasized his monumental descent.

            Before time and space got all turned around, Joe was the good guy – a hero even. Like all heroes, he had one true love. Joe loved Kelly the moment he saw her big blue eyes at the bank. Kelly waited patiently when Joe talked. She didn’t glance sideways at her co-workers. She didn't complete his sentences when he took too long to get them out. Joe’s heart stuttered in his chest whenever he saw her.

            A hero has one true love. Joe told Kelly it was his duty to protect her. Kelly didn’t understand. She told him never to come to her apartment again.

            Kelly read the letter Joe slipped under her door. The letter explained how much he loved her. It explained how a hero must watch over his one true love wherever she goes.

            Kelly didn’t like the note Joe left on her car. Her hands trembled when she held the paper. Joe tried to explain, but this time Kelly didn’t wait patiently while he sputtered out the words. Kelly’s blue eyes grew wide with fear when he held her in his arms. She struggled to get away. Joe held her tighter because she was his one true love. Kelly screamed when Joe didn't let go.

            The police came to Joe’s room. They snatched the comic out of his hands and tore it because he didn't move fast enough. The cops told Joe he could never see Kelly again or he'd go to jail. Joe told the police that Kelly was his one true love. He tried to gather up the torn pages and show them how things were. He tried to explain how the hero protected his one true love. The cops laughed. Joe knew they didn’t understand things like love. They didn't understand about heroes and love.

            Joe pushed open the doors and stepped into the lobby of the bank. He wore his best clothes so Kelly would think he was handsome. He smiled at Kelly as he stepped into her line. She didn’t smile back. Her face became pale and her big blue eyes grew bigger. She fumbled under the counter. Joe hurried up to her window. He wanted to explain that everything was okay. He wanted to tell her that he still loved her even though she'd called the cops on him. Kelly backed away. The other customers in the bank moved away from him too. Kelly didn’t understand. Joe couldn’t make her understand no matter how hard he tried. The words came out of his mouth like hiccups. Kelly said she'd called the cops – again. Joe was going to go to jail this time. Joe forgave her, because that's what heroes do. Kelly was his one true love and he would never have another.

            Joe stared into Kelly’s beautiful blue eyes. The idea came to him in a flash. “I have to prove myself.” The words flowed from Joe's lips with clarity and precision. Joe ran for the stairs. He ran as fast as he could up flight after flight. He used all of his superhuman strength as he ran. Without hesitation, he flew through the door and onto the roof. He didn't stop running. He didn't stop even when he got to the edge. He jumped. Like a hero he flew into the great big blue sky.

            In the comics, heroes land on their feet. In the comics, Kelly would throw herself into the hero's arms, Joe said, or perhaps the words only appeared over his head in a bubble. In the comics, Kelly would cover Joe with kisses because she's his one true love and Joe would do anything for her – anything. Kelly would be Joe's one true love – if real life were more like it should ...

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Review of "Martian Rebirth" by Walt Trizna

Mars seems to be a dead planet to the first of Earth's astronauts to walk its red surface. Any signs of life appear to be long gone as the explorers search for evidence. But the possibilities for life are found with the evidence carefully sampled and taken with the space travelers back to Earth. What results from this journey will forever change both planets.

Grammatical accuracy and the beginnings of an interesting twist at the end are the two things this story has going for it.  Stylistically, it reads like a technical manual.  Much of the potential tension that could have occurred in the promising setting of exploring Mars is lost with action sequences such as these:

"The touchdown on the Martian surface set both their hearts racing. Each had wondered about the feelings this moment would produce. In the end, pure awe was the product."

Emotionless characters and virtually no dialog gives the reader very little to connect with.  I will give this author credit for the enormous amount of thoughtful scientific detail he put in to this story.  The concepts were all good, though lacking execution.

2/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Monday, May 23, 2011

Saturday Schooled by Eileen Granfors

Bus exhaust spews over me on this quiet Saturday, and I smile, remembering high school in Missouri.  I cross Weyburn Avenue, anticipating today’s seminar, reveling in the freedom to step into the role of avid student, leaving the blown-off teacher to the week days. I spot two Asian women, each sporting a UCLA visor, one blue, one gold, pointing towards Wilshire Boulevard, studying a map, pointing again. The blue visored woman opens her phone and taps the key board. They argue.
“Tourists,” I think. “Looking for campus. Or maybe Beverly Hills.” I am good at directions. I can help them. My hearts thumps with the thrill of their gratitude for my good deed.
            A homeless man who camps near the Westwood Center Building kicks out of his blanket and rises from his fortress of possession bags and newspapers.  His bulk shadows the sidewalk.  He lurches forward, grabbing the wrist of the smaller woman of the gold visor.  Her friend yells and pulls her companion towards her. The gold visor clatters to the ground.   The man’s bulk is triple that of the two women together. His next pull lifts his victim off her feet.
            He has frowzy, filthy hair and raw, scabby hands.  I am getting closer, assessing how to safely intervene. He shakes the woman as if he is a bear with a fish.  He claws at her backpack.  She goes limp.
            I should run to them, but I am afraid.  I look for a passing pedestrian, a sympathetic passenger in a car.  Where is the meter reader?  I am closer, having edged two steps forward or perhaps he has pulled her in my direction.
            I smell him now:  musty, damp, acrid, vomitous, urine-soaked.  The woman’s eyes are dazed. 
Her friend cries out, “Ai, ai, ai ai,” her mouth forming a rigid O.
            The man turns to me, shouting, “You.”  He shakes the woman, and her head flops.  “You hear me?” 
I don’t answer.
            “She cut off my mother’s cock.”  He shakes her again. “She cut off my mother’s fucking cock.”
            I can hardly breathe through the thickness of his smell and my fear.
            He yells and shakes her again and again, “She got to pay.  She cut off my mother’s cock.”
            I back up to the door of the building.  The door opens.  I rush in as the unarmed security guard rushes out, leaving the door askew.  I collapse in the guard’s wheeled chair and lean forward, head between my knees. 
The security guard is speaking in the soft, relaxed voice I use when the grandkids act out.  “Hey, man. It’s all right.  You’re all right.  Let her go.  Let’s talk.  It’s all right. No reason to get yourself upset, now, is there?”
The homeless guy drops the woman and resumes his cross-ankled residence on the sidewalk, muttering into his sweatshirt. The women are weeping as the guard leads them to the door. 
I flee before they reach me, to the elevator, getting off on the wrong floor, washing my face in the restroom, getting back on the elevator, finding my classroom, waiting, hoping for a classmate to come, needing to tell this story. I write in my journal.  I wonder what these two will remember of America. Will they turn this episode into a funny travel story? Or an indictment of us. Of me? My lined journal page smears with tears, blurring the edges of the words I, me, my, them.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Multiple Publishers -- Is That a Good Thing? Guest blog by short story author Wanda DeGolier.

When Alain suggested I blog about having multiple publishers, I hung my head. I felt as if I’d been caught cheating. Where is my loyalty—what kind of heathen am I? Then I thought about it, and I decided my side of the story should be told.

I imagined myself in front of a support group, “Yes, I’ve been playing the field,” then to gasps, “I don’t intend to stop.”  The extent of my problem? I currently have seven stories out with three different publishers and four more under contract with these same publishers.

Do I play one publisher against the other hoping for the best contract? Never. Not my style. Am I a philandering writer with my eye on the next cute guy, er, I mean publisher. No! Then why can’t I be happy with just one?

I have a few reasons:

1. The industry is volatile: diversify.
That’s my kind way of saying, no publisher is safe. I know every company opens its doors with the intention of staying in business, but the harsh reality is ninety-five percent of businesses fail in the first five years. Case in point, three publishers I sold short stories to less than five years ago gone. Too many friends have lost money and/or their stories have been held captive when a publisher went out of business.

2. Growth as a writer. 
Having worked with six different publishers and eight different editors over the years, I’ve learned every publisher and every editor is different. Each one of them will teach you something. For example, one editor cited the Chicago Manual of Style when she changed some grammar. I have since adopted the manual as my grammar bible. Besides, seeing how each work is fascinating.

3. Marketing and Publicity.
Because I have multiple publishers and each has their own focus, my work can be purchased in thirteen different places on the web. Among the usual suspects like Amazon, my stories can be found in the Apple iBookstore, the Android Phone Marketplace, and more. Plus, each publisher has relationships with different reviewers thus spreading my products, however thinly, across a broader spectrum.

If a reader likes one of my stories well enough to visit my website, this model this is a win-win for everyone involved. This way I am actually driving readers to my publishers’ sites.

4. Publish where it make sense.
Publishers are different, really. What sells well at one doesn’t necessary sell well at another. Most publishers know what sells for them, and they focus their marketing efforts toward that market. However, many will publish a great story even if it isn’t their forte.

Yes, it’s great to be published, but having a sweet romance at a publisher known for erotica doesn’t do your work justice.

Do I grow weary from publisher dating and long to settle down? Sure. It would make my life easier. But for now, I’m playing the field and trying to make the most of my products. I think that decision is good for the publishers too. 

Find Wanda's published works:

Available from Breathless PressToy Training  Coming Soon: Sex-O-Matic
Available from BooksToGoNowNew Year's ResolutionChristmas DeliveryPhilosophical Fling, and A Little Bit Cocky  Coming Soon: Day Dreamer and The Great Toilet Adventure
Available from Red Rose PublishingRaymondAnimal Attraction Coming Soon: Old Married Sparks

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A Future Imperfect by Garry Grierson

I will walk into a new world, and it will change me. There will be so many things to learn, glimpsed at things. I will do it. I will. Soon, I will do it soon.

There it will shine, covered in a cacophony of light. My lives work, a molecularly engineered miracle of biomechanical engineering, it will be my doorway.
Although very real it will only half exist in this reality. The other half of its existence will be somewhere else, over the rainbow, at the end of the yellow brick road.

Any minute now I’ll step into the machine, and everything will be the same until I return. Then I will be different. Then the world, the universe will be different.

We have already achieved so much over the long millennia. Our ancient ancestors learned what it is to open their minds to the past, and to the future, and look into the torrent of time.
We began to glimpse the myriad of other possibilities of existence. Places that lay beyond and between our own thin realities. We will spread our reach throughout the universe, but still the infinite exploration will beckon us.

People will always glimpsed it through the ages, a telepathic conversation that flows into the higher reaches of consciousness, a glance into the past, or a future that drifts sideways. A longing, a knowing that more is out there, that more will be revealed if only we will just extent our reach that immeasurable distance further.

These possibilities have remained closed to us, the last vestige of the unknown.
We will have mapped the stars and learned all that is learnable. All we have left is the unlearn-able, and I will go there.

Will I talk to whatever intelligence may exist there? Will I learn what it is to be like them? It will be because of this knowledge that I will come back looking so sad? I will wonder if it will hurt.

I am destined to be the first human to enter a higher realm, many have seen it, and I have seen it. I will bring back knowledge that will let us build miracles. I will open up bridges that allow others to cross into the unknown, building on my achievements. We will become truly omnipotent, but only if I go. If I go they are going to call me a visionary, a radical and a genius. I live on; sainted in the living history of tomorrow, if I step into the machine. We have learned much as a species, almost everything. Almost omnipotent, and if I didn’t step into the doorway this would have been our epitaph.

The final calibrations will be ready soon.

Like the past the future will have a shape. It takes us a long time to learn that shape could be moulded. I have the tools to mould the future and I have the knowledge of the past to guide me.

We have seen the other future, the future that will happen if I didn’t go. Reality is fickle. We won’t suffer if I don’t go. We will have a long and glorious future; lords of our domain.
We would remain the largest fish in the pond, still unable to jump the thin wall into the ocean, unable to grow and change into other forms, yet safe from the sharks.

My legs will falter when I attempt to board the machine, although I will try anyway. This will be the final turning point of the future history.

I shall take the first step soon. When the time is right my leg will move forward.

At the last second I will look back for inspiration, back into the ancient past where a small hairy creature will first become self-aware. The creature will look lonely. It will be excluded by its pears. The event will radiate through the timelines, and it will fuel the machine.

Time will slip forward, to an early human. A man will sits hunched over an early machine He is going to stare into his viewing device and see what others will have missed for millennia. He is going to be the first to glimpse the time stream. His primitive brain will barely able to grasp what he sees. But he will be the first, and he will power the gears of the machine.

I will go to join these luminaries, although I will not go blindly into the light.

If I do not go my experiment would never be repeated. Nobody will ever have the vital spark of insight.

When I come back I am changed. A grate weight will rest with me for the rest of my life. My personal burden will somehow be at odds with the great and glorious future my sacrifice foretells for humanity.

The sweat will start to soak my collar. For the first time in my long life I will do something that I can’t see unfolding. The other side will be an empty book, my stomach will churn. My breathing will change to short sharp bursts. My legs will work again as I knew they would.
My steps will be tentative, each one steady and measured.
I am going to stop before the machine.
The blue shimmering surface is going to loom above me. It will pulsate and shimmer with energy.

In just one more step, just one more leap of faith all things will change. I will ponder that I worked all my life for this moment. Yet I shall falter, the unforeseen thoughts will crowd through my head.

I shall be afraid to explore the unknown.

What shall I say in my defence? What shall possibly justify me stopping the magnificent further development of our species?

I shall be only human, yet I will close my eyes and I will jump. No, that would be to kind a thing. I will fall from the tree of evolution, into the savannah of the gods…

Find out more about Gerry on his blog or website.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Review of "The Pit" by Andrew Warwick

The Pit; Thrust into the fighting pit is Elad, a bitter, jaded knight who remembers better days, before the Empire fell in ruin. Against him is sent a creature unlike any he has seen before, for it comes not from his world; a giant bull-man. Who lives, who dies?

Buy this story here on Amazon UK.

I quite enjoyed this story.  It terms of flavor, it reads like a scene from Spartacus with a touch of gore from Gladiator.  The premise and plot is very straight forward.  In many ways, this is why I like reading short stories so much.  I find reads like this to be refreshing after getting a throbbing headache from needless drama often found in novels.

Warwick's writing style is strong and highly engaging.  The Pit is basically a single action scene told from two points of view.  The author manages to pull this off without creating confusion or redundancy.  I also liked that the reader is highly aware of what is taking place but is not bogged down by a bombardment of detail description.  This is testament to the author's writing skills.

I felt that Elad was by far the most interesting character but I was surprised that he comes across as the primary character when I later read the author's summary.  Though this is a short story, I felt like his character/background could have been more thoroughly explored.

All in all, an excellent short story and well worth looking into.

4/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Looking Back by Melanie Nilles

She looked back at the road. It had straightened since she set out walking it. All the curves had vanished, the dips and holes leveled out. The obstacles she had struggled so hard to overcome, sometimes until she reached the verge of giving up, had vanished.  Behind her lay nothing but a straight road to where she stood. The land was flat and barren, as if none of the tears and pain and moments of wanting to give up had happened.
Ahead lay deep valleys and tall spires and wide and sharp curves peaking out occasionally through mounds of boulders and dense foliage. The growl of predators rose from hidden places.
And yet she must go on.
"You can stay here," a sweet melodious voice said. "Take it easy, never hurt again."
She could indeed. It would be so much easier than all the sweat and blood and tears and the risk of failing to reach the end somewhere ahead.
"Where would that get you?" a deep, rich voice countered. "You would be stuck in familiar, boring territory, never changing, never growing. Always wondering what you don't know, what you could be."
"Ah, but you forget the injury and heartache. What about the ones you lost along the way? Those were tragic. You still show the scars of your suffering. You would never suffer again if you stay in this place." The sweet voice cradled her in its gentle embrace of comfort.
She didn't want to go through the pain again. It hurt too much. A growl from the road ahead startled her.
"But you triumphed over those difficulties and now look how far you've come. Can you really say you wish you hadn't faced those challenges?"
Yes, she could. And yet, if she hadn't, would she have made it that far? She could have given up her walk long ago and rested.
"You've come far enough. Enjoy what you've achieved. It's time to rest."
The idea of rest let out in a sigh that sunk her shoulders. Yes, to rest. Dangers and obstacles lay down the road ahead.
"You don't need to risk the pain again. Be proud of what you've done. That's enough for you."
"Only by facing the challenges on the road ahead will you know what treasures lie in wait. Go on, take the next step. You want to know." The deep voice boomed in a fearful thunder.
She looked back again at the straight, flat nothingness, her starting point far behind and out of sight. It all seemed so easy now, from that point, everything obvious to her.
Turning ahead exhausted her. Dark places passed over the road, obscuring it in shadow. She shuddered to think what dangers awaited.
"Go on. You've done this before. You'll reach the end, but you must travel that road to find it."
"What's at the end?"
Fangs gleamed from below yellow eyes in the shadows.
"What you most seek."
"Lies! You'd be safe here and comfortable."
"For a while. It never lasts if you stay in one place."
She heaved a great sigh and took a step forward. Inevitably, the argument would arise again, but for now, she walked the road.

Check out Melanie's site.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Review of "5 Short Stories from this Small French Town" by Pia Isabella

A collection of stories in the series called "This Small French Town."

In this series of five short stories, the author shares her experiences as an American living in a small French town. The pieces alternate between heartwarming, funny, and just plain entertaining. However, the stories are poorly edited. Punctuation and spelling problems, run-on sentences and a generally clumsy writing style make the collection difficult to read, even confusing at times.

Several of the pieces, most notably “How to Kill a Guineahen,” feel more like school reports than short stories. “The Wifebeater” is particularly disjointed, sprinkled with off topic and unnecessary paragraphs that make this reviewer wonder if the author was attempting, but not quite succeeding at, a stream-of-consciousness piece. Of the five, my favorite is “The Green Chair.” It has all the potential to be a great story, but again the execution leaves something to be
desired and the tale falls flat.

Ultimately, the reader is left feeling disappointed. The author has some truly wonderful, funny experiences to share, but the writing itself is not up to the task of conveying these experiences with the vividness and depth they deserve.

2.5/5 stars
Reviewed by Aubrey Bennet

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Man and His Castle by Rejean Giguere

My life is a normal one I think. I work and come home. We all know about a man and his castle, here’s my take on it.
I like settling into my yard when the night has set, the stars and the fresh air are relaxing. Usually I sit back in the dark, among the shadows where it's calming.
The lawn’s cut short and the shrubs are lined and pruned. I can see the outline of the barbeque up on the deck. The kid’s lights are on upstairs and will be going out soon. 
I see the woman who feeds me daily and smile, she is always so busy, never a chance to talk. She brings a platter out to the yard and sets it in a container with a cover. While she marches off to the house, I check over the assortment of food. I always enjoy the variety, even if in small amounts.
I settle back into the dark, leaning against the fence and take a contented look around. I keep the bottle hid here, just for occasions like these, where an after meal drink is more than appropriate and where sleeves rolled up, right from the bottle, is the preferred way to go. I light up a half smoked cigar I’ve been carrying in my pocket, and wonder if it can be much better.
An hour slips by just like the night breeze and I gather myself back together when I hear my woman let out the dog. “Here fella, I got your treat.” It’s usually a scrap from my food, a bone or a bit of leftovers. We end up with him sitting in front of me, with his ears and head going back and forth as he tries to understand my slightly slurred speech. Anyways, he is usually called back in as the woman of the house wants to retire to bed.
Eventually I end up walking around the yard having a look at things, enjoying the quiet, surveying the land as they say. I sit on the bench under the tree and then the lawn chair. I always pick one flower or another and you know, smell the roses, enjoy the fruits.
I go about my business every day and cause no man harm. I expect to come home to my castle - a man and his domain, and have my privacy, as I’m having right now. If I want to peel off my clothes and dance to the stars naked, as I am about to do, then so be it, bottle in hand I can howl to hell and back.
I know. yeah, I know there are neighbours and rules and many reasons to not push the envelope or their patience, so I won’t yell. Instead, I turn and turn, spinning with the wind, I dance up a storm. I am truly a king, lord of this place and would be able to stand chest out and proud if I hadn’t just banged into the garbage can and made a racket.
“Honey wake up.”
“What’s wrong dear?”
“There’s a noise outside.”
 Johnson rolled out of bed and walked to the bedroom window overlooking the backyard. As he pulled up the window he was shocked, and then angered.
“You crazy bum, get your naked ass out of my yard! I told you I’ll call the cops you moron.”
As I stumble up the road, clothes in my hand, I'm a little embarrassed. I know there is a conflict here, I mean I said a castle, but I also mentioned a different take on things. I have many castles and even towns that I have surveyed and call my own.
Almost tripping on the pants I’m carrying, I stop and try to orientate myself.
I need somewhere close, so it’s off to the McCormack’s where the servants cook too much and there’s this lazy creek at the back of the property where the hammock is always hanging. 
Check out Rejean's site or go and say "hi" on his blog.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Review of "Rachel's Eyes" by Ellen O'Connell

Rachel's Eyes features characters from the author's western historical romance novel, Eyes of Silver, Eyes of Gold. Rachel Miles Ross has shunned her former best friend, Anne Wells Bennett, since the day of Anne's marriage to half-breed Cord Bennett. Yet when Rachel's life crumbles around her, she turns to Anne for help. Anne can give sympathy, but Cord is the one whose help Rachel really needs. Will he help a woman he considers an unworthy friend and first-class snob?

I had to think a bit about this story before I could write a review.  My initial reaction was that it was not really a "short story" in that it almost reads like a mini-novel.  But as I thought about it, I was able to accept the fact that this story was created to fulfill a specific purpose: to be a spin-off from a novel.  TV shows have "webisodes" these days, so why shouldn't a novel have a short spin-off?  A very intriguing idea and an interesting approach to the short story genre.

That being said, I very much enjoyed O'Connell's writing style.  She creates characters and situations that have a down-to-earth feel to them.  Our hero, Cord, gives the impression of being realistic rather than romantic.  While this story is a spin-off, O'Connell does a fantastic job introducing relationships in a way that makes this story stand-alone.  Past history is implied, but not necessary to know about in order to appreciate what is going on now in the story.

Though I have not read any of O'Connell's other work, "Rachel's Eyes" has certainly piqued my interest.  It is an impressive feat to create a story that both stands on its own and be a taste of a larger body of work.  Well done and a recommended read if you like western romance.

4/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Little Red Boots by Karen Cantwell

Geraldine Hinkle would be meeting her maker any day.  The doctor said it could be weeks, but Geraldine knew better.
Leaning one frail hip against the wooden counter of Watson’s Western Wear, and rubbing a hand over her bald head, Geraldine didn’t think about dying.
“Can I hold one?” Her coarse voice was weak.
The lanky man behind the counter waited a few beats before responding.  “Beauties, ain’t they?  Hand crafted, ever inch.  Three thousand dollar pair a boots right there.”  He scratched his crotch.
“Are ya gonna let me hold one or are ya gonna just stand there all day playin’ with yer balls?”
The lanky man frowned.  His long arm extended toward the shelf as he issued a warning.  “Don’t think about runnin’ off with this.  I got a gun.”
Geraldine’s spontaneous laugh quickly turned into a wet, spittle cough.  That was the funniest thing she’d heard all week.  Damn funny, this bony man.
By the time her coughing fit had subsided, the boot stood proudly on the counter.  Geraldine picked it up with both hands, gently caressing the fine, silver snakeskin foot.
“That there’s the belly skin of a python come from Thailand.”  The man nearly scratched his crotch again, but stopped mid-air.  He scratched his left butt cheek instead.
Turning the boot on its side, Geraldine traced the intricate detail.  Turquoise blue waves under a yellow sun stitched and painted on soft brown leather.  She closed her eyes and remembered.
Waves crashing on hard sand.  A young girl laughing.  The laughing girl was running back and forth along the sand, her little red boots carrying her effortlessly.  Her red skirt and vest fluttering with the wind.  A tiny cowgirl frolicking on the shore as a coral sun dropped toward the sea like a colossal balloon pulled down by an invisible string.  Sky the color of rainbow sherbet.  Orange, pink, yellow.
A man swooped up from behind the laughing girl and threw her high into the air.  “Who’s mah little hedgehog?” he said catching her in his strong, safe arms.  The laughing girl laughed harder.
“Geri is, Daddy!  Geri!”
Geraldine’s sides hurt with the remembering.
Her heart ached with the longing.  The rainbow sherbet sunset and little red boots.
Geraldine had lived a long, hard life, drinkin’ way too much drink and smokin’ way too much smoke.   Good memories – they were far and few between.
The lanky man blew a hard breath, waking Geraldine from her reverie.
“I’ll take ‘em.”  She smiled.
The man scratched his five o’clock shadow.  “You got three thousand dollars, lady?”
Geraldine coughed into her elbow before answering.  “First, I wanna thank ya fer callin’ me a lady.  Been a long time since someone’s been so kind.  Second off . . .” she pulled a wad of bills out of her jeans pocket.  “. . . money – you can’t take it with ya, like they say.  But these boots, they can go with me to the grave.  I’d like to wear ‘em now, if you don’t mind.”
With his bony fingers, the man counted the bills.  When he was satisfied, he put the other boot on the counter then watched as she slipped each boot on like a knife slicin’ into warm butter.
Invigorated with energy she hadn’t felt in weeks, Geraldine slapped the counter and hooted, “Hot damn!  Like they was made for mah feet!”
A hint of a smile on his pointed face, the man held up the wad of money as he slid his way to the cash register.  “This here’s over four thousand dollars.  I’d say you got some change comin’.”
The shop door opened, triggering a tiny bell.  A small girl bounded in followed by her mother who tried to grab a chubby hand before it could break something.
Seeing the girl, Geraldine turned to the man.  “You got little red boots?”
“Fer girls.  Little red cowgirl boots.  Maybe a skirt and vest too?”
“Yeh.  We got somethin’ like that.”
“See that girl gets the sweetest little cowgirl suit and boots she desires.  Same for every little girl that walks through those doors until the money’s gone.”
“That’s a kindly gesture.”
She shrugged. “Maybe they’ll bring her good memories when she needs ‘em.”
Geraldine’s boots clopped on the wooden floors as she left Watson’s Western Wear.  She looked up at the sign above the door that said, Come Back Now, Y’Hear?
With a laugh and a cough, she answered, “Not in this body, I ain’t.”

Check out more of Karen's work on Amazon.  Or go and check out her website.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A Blog Series in Defense of Short Stories

James Everington is hosting a series of guest blogs with the subject "In Defense of Short Stories."  So you could write whatever you like so long as that was the theme.  I got to start the ball rolling with the first post but I'm actually really interested in what others come up with.  

Read the series on his blog.

Review of "Fools Gold" by Sheryl Nantus

The Canadian wilderness can do strange things to a man. But there are stranger things out there, under the snow and ice, than anyone could ever think of.

For one poor trapper trying to survive, his discovery just might be the way out. Or the way to Hell...

In this piece, Nantus dresses up a story that has been told and retold for thousands of years: the discovery of a mysterious, magical object that requires horrific sacrifices in exchange for fabulous wealth. As happens in most such stories, the discoverer is ultimately consumed by the object’s power. I, personally, enjoy this type of story and believe the theme endures because of its versatility: it can be set in any place at any time and still work. In this case, the author certainly makes it work.

The author’s decision to set the story in the wilds of Canadian trapping territory is both fun and original, proving, as Robert W. Service wrote, that there are indeed strange things done in the midnight sun. Thankfully, Nantus refrained from giving the “mysterious object” specific origins and venturing into any cliches involving Native Americans, Egyptians, Atlaneans or aliens (as a trained archaeologist, I offer a sigh of relief and extend a heartfelt “thank you” to the author).

Particularly in the beginning, some grammatical and punctuation issues muddy the descriptions provided and prevent the reader from being fully drawn in to the story. However, the story is well done overall and keeps the reader entertained.

3.5/5 stars
Reviewed by Aubrey Bennet

Friday, May 13, 2011

Urine Trouble Now by Isaac Sweeney

The cat won’t stop peeing everywhere. We have two litterboxes, but the cat just uses the damn floor.
And all my husband can do is tell me it will be alright. That’s what he always says when I’m crying. How does he know everything will be alright?
The damn smell. I’m two rooms away from the litterbox and I can smell cat urine. It’s a strong smell, bitter and distinct, that doesn’t go away. We tore up carpet and put down hardwood. We’ve replaced this sofa I’m sitting on twice because of cat pee.
It’s costing us a fortune.
“It’ll be okay,” he says. The damn smell. His arm is around me now. Of course I push him away. I can’t stand when he gets like this. He thinks he can fix everything by giving me a hug and telling me things will be better.
When will things be better? We’re nearly 30 and we still live paycheck to paycheck. He doesn’t know what he wants to do. He’s a writer, but he doesn’t know what he wants to do for money. I hardly ever see him write anymore.
I’ve been working steady for five years. In that time, he’s had three career changes and gone back to school twice.
“We’re supposed to struggle now, while we’re young,” he tells me. “This is when things should be hard.”
I’m sick of struggling; I can’t live like this.
The damn smell. It’s getting in my nose, my eyes, my mouth. It’s choking me. The smell is invading me, crawling down my chest, rolling across the lining of my stomach, wrapping around my sides, my back. Pulling. Tightening.
I’m falling into this sofa. I can’t help but lie on my side and cry more.
It’s not a pretty, petite cry; I’m not a pretty, petite girl. It’s one of those loud, heaving weeps.
He’s sitting at my feet with his hand on my calf. I’ve told him four times now not to touch me. If he only knew this feeling. He can live with the smell, he’s told me. He’s able to brush everything off. I wish he cared more about the way we live. He doesn’t. He doesn’t care. He just goes through every day as if there are no problems.
I’m sinking into the sofa. The damn smell has overpowered all other smells in the world. I can feel the stench, the weight.
There’s the cat, peeking at me from the hallway. I know she doesn’t realize what she’s doing. Still, I hate her.
My husband has left me alone. He has gone to bed mad. He said something about me always pushing him away, and about how things will be fine someday.


The cat is on my lap, purring. She’s apologizing, I hope. It’s sweet, these things she does.
Still, I hate her.
The news is on TV. The anchors keep messing up, stuttering and saying the wrong things. Damn channel. Amateurs.
He’s asleep. I can hear him snoring. Sometimes, he wakes me up when he snores. Sometimes, he wakes me up when he wraps his hand around my waist while he’s asleep. I like that. I don’t like the snoring so much.
The cat is asleep. She’s not purring anymore, but has this deep, rhythmic breathing.
I’ve settled down a little. It usually just takes time. I wish he would understand that. I just get so worked up and he wants to touch me and hold me and tell me it’ll be alright.
I’m tired. He’s stopped snoring. For now. I’m staying on the couch.
The cat’s quiet, deep breaths are soothing. I close my eyes and imagine it’s not the cat on my lap, but my 
husband’s hand.
And it’s warm. And we sleep.
And he dreams, quiet and deep.

Check out "Against Her Fading Hour" on Amazon or Smashwords.  If you buy this story, send Isaac a copy of your receipt (isaac.c.sweeney@gmail.com) and he will send you a coupon to download "Wouldn't Last Forever" for free!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Review of "The Project" by Sheryl Nantus

Jeff McAllister's wife, Jessie, loved her quilts and her computer. But now she's gone, and Jeff has to figure out how to survive without her and how to deal with her online legacy. With the companionship of his faithful Golden Retriever, he begins the toughest project of his life, still grieving over his loss.

This story follows a widower’s quest for closure after his wife’s death. The author avoids the dark side of death, choosing instead to focus on the characters’ love for the deceased and their desire to help her legacy live on.

While the story is necessarily somber, it is ultimately a celebration of life. The author’s simple, smooth writing style makes this an easy read while the twist at the end keeps the story from being overly predictable. Overall, the story reminded this reviewer of a Chicken Soup for the Soul type piece. For those romantic souls who enjoy love stories and don’t mind getting a little choked up, this makes for a pleasant read.

3.5/5 stars
Reviewed by Aubrey Bennet

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Some Like it Hot by Annie Bellet

 Her name was Aidia and she never slept.
The grey mists seeped down from the hills and covered her in a damp shroud as she walked. Her grey hair was pulled back and her steel eyes stared straight ahead. She stepped out onto the lake, the water clinging to the soles of her boots. Ice crystals formed and slivered outward from beneath her feet. As cold as midwinter she moved toward the island.
Aidia looked up at the ruby walls of the keep and for a moment trembled. She gripped the icicle hanging from its silk cord around her neck and felt cold determination replace her fears. She set foot onto the island and walked through the open gate. It struck her how much easier it was to enter this time than before, but this time she had no intention of stealing anything away and she guessed that she was expected.
The carved double doors of the hall swung open and a wave of heat rushed out to bid her welcome. Arhidfel did not.
He stood at the end of the hall near the great hearth in robes the shimmered with all the colors of flames. His blood red hair hung to his waist and as she drew near she saw satisfaction flash through his molten eyes.
“Aidia,” he said. “You return.” He gestured at the icicle hanging around her neck. “I could use that back. It is difficult to be a fire and ice mage without ice.” His mild voice was betrayed by the tension in his body.
Aidia stared up at him for a moment and then looked into the hearth. She couldn’t feel the heat from the fire, only currents of air. She closed her eyes and wondered what has possessed her years ago to cut the icicle from his neck. She could have taken anything to prove she’d been there and still won her place in the hidden guild. Cutting the ice-power’s vessel from Arhidfel’s throat had been nothing but arrogant stupidity. But she didn’t feel she’d deserved his curse.
“I do not sleep,” she said and opened her eyes, “nor do I dream.”
“You do not carry mage blood.” He shrugged contemptuously. “The ice-power does not belong to you. I knew you’d return someday.”
“I was wrong to take it,” she whispered, unable to meet his gaze again. “Please, remove this curse.”
He held out his hand expectantly. Aidia lifted the cord over her head and held the icicle in her hand.
“Will this end it? Will I sleep?”
“I will see what I can do,” he said. “Give it to me.”
Aidia looked into his eyes then and despaired. She was no longer that young, inexperienced girl eager to believe. His hunger for the power lay naked in his eyes and she saw the lie for what it was.
She tried to recall how it had felt to hold the ice-power for the first time and couldn’t. She’d been too terrified, too elated and now she was too chilled, too hollow. She realized suddenly why he’d never come after her, why he’d waited all these years for her return.
The ice-power protected her from his fire magic, as long as she held it, she would be safe from him. There was only one way to walk out of this hall.
Arhidfel leaned forward in anticipation and the top of his robe slipped open, revealing the fire gem embedded in his breast bone. Aidia hesitated for the space of a breath, weighing death and a life without dreams. Then she shifted her grip on the icicle and lunged.
She stabbed the icicle into the fire gem. The force plunged both gems deep into his chest. He gasped and gurgled, falling backward into the hearth.
Golden eyes stared up at her in shock.
“I didn’t deserve it,” she said, her smile small and cold.
“You are still cursed; you’ve carried it too long. Nothing… changes.” Arhidfel choked, blood running out his mouth.
“I know,” she murmured, “I know.”
Aidia shivered as his body burst into a thousands pieces of ash and ice. Then, cold as ever and hollow with a grief she could not name, she walked from the hall and back into a world that held no dreams.
                                                                         * * * * *

Check out more of Annie's work on Amazon