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Showing posts from June, 2011

Review of "Granny Theft Auto" by T.L. Haddix, a single story in the collection "Twists and Turns"

Summary:
A collection of nine short stories resulting from the "Red Adept Reviews Twists Contest."


“Granny Theft Auto” by T.L. Haddix: A klepto-grandma steals a police car.


Review:
The summary basically says it all.  This is a cute story about a kleptomaniac grandma and her son as he tries to deal with his aging parents.  Though this story lacks "twists" and "turns," it will put a smile on your face; especially if you come from a town where everyone knows everyone.


Short stories are the perfect medium to leave things hanging so as to let the reader's imagination take over.  In all honesty, the mental image of a senile grandma blasting down the highway with cops chasing her down is hilarious.  I would have been happy if this story's conclusion had just left me with that rather than detailed description.


3.5/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez



The Short Story Cover Conundrum

The cover is one of the most important features a book can have.  It catches the eye of the reader and will often be a major influence in their decision to read it or not.

Self-published novelists have it easy.  This is often a no-brainer decision: buy the best cover you can afford.  When writing short stories, this becomes less clear cut.  You have to look for both quality and quantity.  If you're putting out a new short story every month, it is simply not practical to be forking over $100-300 on every one of your covers.  Especially considering that short stories are more niche.  So it will probably take a long time before any one of them start to sell really well.  At least enough to break even on the cover.

But, at the same time, a good cover can increase sales.  What to do?  In my opinion, it's critical that a short story author becomes familiar with Photoshop (or some similar software).  Unless you have the money to drop on good covers, spend a headache or two on learnin…

Review of "Should Have Seen It Coming" by Brendan Carroll, a single story in the collection "Twists and Turns"

Summary:
A collection of nine short stories resulting from the "Red Adept Reviews Twists Contest."

“Should Have Seen It Coming” by Brendan Carroll: A man's wife leaves him unexpectedly.


Review:
This is a fun, well-written short story with a touch of horror.  The character development of our protagonist was excellent.  The plot was solid but there were just a few too many hints dropped about how the story was going to end.  It was pretty easy to guess what happened to the wife after just a few paragraphs in.

I would classify this story as entertaining rather than unique.  The skill with which it was written makes it a very enjoyable read that definitely adds to the "Twists and Turns" anthology.

3.5/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Review of "Building God" by Jessica Billings, a single story in the collection "Twists and Turns"

Summary:
A collection of nine short stories resulting from the "Red Adept Reviews Twists Contest."


“Building God” by Jessica Billings: A machine predicts the future of mankind. 


Review:
This was a fabulous short story.  What really took it above and beyond the norm for me was the concept.  So many intriguing questions were raised: What is free will?  How far should we go when "playing god?"  At what point is safety more important than privacy?

Billings presents all of these concepts in a rare combination of effortless style and originality.  The setting feels futuristic yet just similar enough to the present day to have the creepy "not-too-distance-future" effect.  I was very impressed by how quickly the main protagonist becomes real to the reader.  She is both driven and a victim of her times; this creates an interesting juxtaposition.

The ending of this story is really what forced me to pause and think about this review.  It is not disappointing, per say. …

Concept behind "Director of Human Resources," a short story by Alain Gomez

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Director of Human Resources is part four of my five part Space Hotel Series.  It's also the first story in the series to be from the aliens' point of view rather than the humans'.  The purpose of this story was to finally reveal why all the human abductions and experiments were taking place in the previous stories.  Was it just a power trip?  Or is something deeper going on?
I had a lot of fun writing this particular story.  It's very rare to see the flip side of the coin in the human vs. alien fight for survival.  Aliens invade, we usually assume they're up to no good and send in Will Smith to blow up their mothership.  I didn't necessarily want to rationalize the alien's motives, but I did want to reader to think about the fact that both sides are fighting for survival.  It's almost a lose-lose situation.
Keep an eye out for part five of this series, The Hall of Immortals.

Review of "The Very Old Man" by Jenny Milchman

Summary:
A chance encounter in a grocery store spooks a young mother. When small accidents begin to happen around her young child, she wonders if the old man who'd given her daughter a quarter is to blame.


Review:
The single point of view from a paranoid character always makes for an interesting read.  There's always that undercurrent of uncertainty.  Is the character blowing things out of proportion?  Or is there really something to be afraid of?

Milchman does an excellent job presenting just such a character.  Add to the mix that our protagonist is a mother; so her fear is accentuated in an attempt to protect her child.  While the mother's suspicions may seem wild, you empathize with her.

While I understood that the husband's role was to provide the "voice of reason" in this story (reassuring his wife that she was just overreacting), I almost wish he had not been included.  Given how little evidence we already have that the old man may have been up to somethi…

Short Stories Allow Me To Experiment With Different Genres - and I love it!

One of the things I like best about writing short stories is that they give me the freedom to experiment with different genres.  As a "new" fiction writer, this really has given me a chance to grow.  What do I like and not like to write?  Just because I read a lot of, say, science fiction books won't necessarily mean that I will be able to proficiently write a science fiction story.

To continue on that train of thought, writing in any genre takes practice.  Since I am a musician, I often equate it to learning a new piece of music.  While the basics remain the same, the detail skills needed to play classical music are different from those need to play jazz.  Creating a science fiction world is different from creating a fantasy world.  Names, lingo, creatures, adventures... all things that need to have subtle differences.  Short stories allow you to practice the creation process over and over again without the worry that you're ruining your epic novel.

Short stories wi…

Review of "Ferryman" by Nigel Edwards

Summary:
"A mythology grew up around the Ferrymen, fostered by a mystique which they wrapped around themselves. Some thought them amoral servants of a ruling elite, sanctioned to undertake work beyond legitimate resolution; others with more fanciful imaginations – or who were more devout, depending on your point of view – believed them emissaries of Evil, with a capital E."

Could the Ferrymen become real in your lifetime? Should they? Read this thoughtful and disturbing near-future science fiction story and decide for yourself.


Review:
This was a fantastic short story.  "Well-written" doesn't even begin to describe Ferryman; it's engrossing.  The simple, clean style perfectly highlights our precise protagonist.  If this future Edwards presents to us does in fact become a reality, the character he describes is exactly the type of person who would become a Ferryman: highly competent with the hint of a god complex.


What's especially clever about this story is …

Review of "Crush" by Robyn Bradley

Summary:
Living a quiet life as a single mother, Louise Gunther is proud to have successfully raised her only child, Teddy, to adulthood. But all that changes one summer afternoon when Teddy dies in a freak accident on a Cape Cod beach. Moved beyond ordinary grief, Louise becomes obsessed with the manner in which Teddy died, determined to recreate his final moments, even if it means dying herself.


Review:
This is a difficult story to review subjectively.  Robyn Bradley's strength as a writer seems to come from her ability to explore deep, soul-searching emotions.  Suffice to say that she definitely gets the job done.

 Bradley has quite a knack for being able to grab your heartstrings and pull them right out.  I was actually kind of shocked about how quickly I was pulled into the pain and suffering of the main character without feeling like the story was "over the top."  It takes skill in order to achieve this effect on the reader without slipping into the Chicken Soup for …

The Padding Experiment

In an effort to improve my writing, I've been reading "with purpose" quite a lot lately.  I've been going through stories of all lengths keeping track of how the author went from point A to point B to point C.  Even if you're not a writer yourself, it's a very interesting study; especially for books that have clever twists and turns in them.  How did I not expect that?  Yet, at the same time, it makes perfect sense.

I've always been a concise writer.  It's just how my brain functions.  But as I work on more and more short stories, I've become acutely aware of the concept of "padding."  For a short story writer, padding is the worst possible offense.  Adding extra words just for the sake of adding words can totally ruin a story belonging to a genre that relies on intense reactions to situations.
In a novel, padding is not only an accepted practice, but also highly encouraged.  "I just loved the beautiful, in-depth descriptions of the e…

Review of "The Cataline Downfall" by Shane Ward

Summary:
Ellie-Soma, a young teenager is enjoying life to the fullest on her beautiful home planet, Cataline. That is until her world is invaded by an ancient alien race called the Krainers. Intoxicated by the telepathic bond that all Cataline posses, the Krainers begin a rampage through her world with a deadly campaign of terror and mass murder.

In the face of losing everything and everyone she has ever known and loved, Elli-Soma will do what she was destined to do-save her race. 


Review:
Let me begin by saying that this story is jam-packed with action and adventure. So packed that it leaves the reader feeling rushed. As Ward zooms from one hair-raising event to the next, the reader barely has time to comprehend what is going on. The short story format simply does not work for someone with as complicated a vision as Ward has for this piece. There is so much to describe that the author ends up rushing through the whole story, glossing over each scene in order to get to the next, rather …

Review of "We're Not Dog People," a short story collection by Jim Breslin

Summary:
As Evan struggles with his finances and career, he grows increasingly agitated that his neighbors allow their dog to freely roam the neighborhood. Is freedom all in a man's mind? Is one man's freedom another man's mess? In "We're Not Dog People," Jim Breslin explores these themes with humor and compassion in this story of a man's downward spiral.

Bonus: This single comes with a B side. "The Pasture" is short story about a life lived and love lost. In the course of a day at the beach house with his son and grandchildren, Frank Bausch reflects on life with his late wife Aggie, his son Scott's transformation and the sign his grandson will carry on the family legacy. 


Review:
The two pieces in this collection, “We Are Not Dog People” and “The Pasture” focus on the lives of two ordinary American men. Both men are unremarkable, but it is this unremarkableness that makes them so believable to the reader. They could be anyone’s father or brot…

Review of "Effie at the Wedding" by Tracy Marchini

Summary:
Effie has a million reasons why she's not thrilled to be at her sister's wedding -- and the monstrously pink bridesmaid's dress isn't even on the list. When Effie finds herself locked in the bathroom, she thinks she might just stay there. After all, it's better than hearing from her mom about how often she's been to the buffet or how beautiful Ophelia looks in her wedding dress.

In this hysterical young adult short story, Effie will have to find a reason to celebrate... or get used to her porcelain throne.


Review:
I will be the first to admit that Princess Diaries-esque stories aren't really my cup of tea.  I've definitely read my share of them.  But, as far as stories go in this particular genre, Effie at the Wedding I would say is better than most.  


Since ages were not really given right away, I was at first kind of turned off by how emotionally immature our protagonist was.  But when it was later revealed that Effie was, in fact, a teenager in …

Plotting Short Fiction

This was a neat article I stumbled across on plotting short fiction:  http://twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/2011/04/13/plotting-short-fiction/

The author shows a helpful chart that she uses to help map her stories.  Specifically, she discusses how to work out scenarios.  What I really liked what how she emphasizes the idea that "plot happens."  The best scenes are created when you just let the characters react to each other or the scenario.

I thought it might be a useful resource if anyone happens to be stuck on their story.  Maybe to help work through the writer's block...?

Review of "An Unholy Encounter" by Tracey Alley

Summary:
It was meant to be a simple trade mission to Karameikos but an unexpected encounter with a massed force of skeletons and zombies has turned it into a night of terror. Everyone knows that the undead can only be destroyed with blessed weapons and High King Erich of Vestland, his son Slade and adopted son, Wulfstan have no blessed weapons with them.

Wulfstan overrules the objections of King Erich and volunteers to venture out into the night to seek out a temple and find a way to defeat the deadly zombies and skeletons. Wulfstan knows that finding a blessed weapon is their only hope of surviving the night and protecting the man he loves like a father and Slade, his best friend.

But the night holds many dangers and there is no guarantee that Wulfstan can succeed in his self-imposed mission. Now High King Erich of Vestland and his son, the Crown Prince, Slade wait in the darkness hoping and praying for Wulfstan's return.


Review:
This series continues with another action-packed ins…

Review of "Block" by Mike Dennis

Summary:

From the other side of the human condition comes this collection of noir tales by Mike Dennis.
1. FULLY LOADED It's 1984 and Biloxi, Mississippi has seen better days. Sherry Lamar, used car saleswoman extraordinaire, is feeling the pinch. Then one day, a stranger walks onto her small car lot and ushers her into a world of steamy sex and murder.
2. THE DEVIL DRIVES A BIG MERCEDES A seven-year-old boy is playing with his two younger sisters when a minor accident occurs. One of the sisters is to blame, but she blames the boy and their mother believes her, punishing the boy. This starts him on a downward spiral into self-doubt and later, depravity, that will last his entire life.
3. BLOCK A famous crime fiction novelist thinks the current book she's working on will revive her sagging fortunes. Halfway through it, however, she develops writer's block and is unable to continue her story, until a mysterious early-morning phone caller claims to have the answers.
Review: This was…

"Cliffhanger," flash fiction by Alain Gomez

The detective lit his pipe and looked about the room.  Every face was anxiously awaiting his verdict.

"The solution could not have been more obvious," he said.  "In fact, the murderer is right here in this room."

Review of "A Very Hairy Adventure" by Tracey Alley

Summary:
The first of a series of short stories outlining the history of some of the Witchcraft Wars various characters.

In this tale Slade, Wulfstan, Ursula and Ming are young recruits looking for mischief and adventure. When they hear about a marauding werewolf attacking local farmers the young teens decide this is exactly the kind of adventure they're looking for... but when face to face with the monster will the teens be able to prevail?

A fun, action-packed adventure tale for teens and adults alike.


Review:
This is a wonderful fantasy short story specifically targeted for a young adult audience.  I actually brought up on my blog some time ago the idea that short stories could help interest children/teens in reading because they're accessible.  This story is exactly that.  It's engaging, fun and fast.

I really like that the author set up the framework for a series following these four young protagonists.  There are many hints dropped of a greater world to be explored.  T…

Review of short story collection "Into the Rift" by Brett James Irvine

Summary:
A collection of six short stories covering love, death, dreams and prophecy, with a tendency to the dark side of things. A taster of the styles to be found in other stories by up and coming South African author Brett James Irvine.

A poet walks along a street, searching for inspiration. A man kills a pedestrian, and struggles to live with his choice to leave the scene before anyone arrives. When the cloaked man arrives as destined, he is not at all what a believer expects. Irik lives in a world where the words we speak have physical power. James goes for a quick flight in a small aircraft. A simple tale of love and loss.

Each story explores a different topic and writing style by the author.


Review:
This was an interesting collection that contains quite a bit of variety.  The stories range from flash fiction length to solid 2,000(ish) word stories.  Though the topics fluctuate from heart-warming to outlandish, the thing that seems to tie them together is that they all have a hint …

Concept behind "Hotel Moonwalk," a short story by Alain Gomez

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Hotel Moonwalk is part three of my Space Hotel Series.  Again, the idea behind this series was to explore different points of view all revolving around the same concept of place and time.Even though all the stories revolve around this space hotel that I introduced, Hotel Moonwalk actually takes place on the hotel.
This story follows a celebrity athlete as his vacation turns into a trip from hell.  In part one and part two of this series, most of the alien/human interaction could best be described as abduction.  Some people go missing but nothing we have to be worried about.  What I liked about this story in particular is that the reader is really starting to get the sense that the aliens are not just observing the human population, they're infiltrating.
I'm planning on the Space Hotel Series to consist of five parts.  I feel that Hotel Moonwalk is the perfect bridge as I introduce the rest of the stories from from the alien's perspective.

Review of "Intoxication," one of two short stories in a collection by Tim Kizer

Summary:
For the fans of Stephen King and Dean Koontz...

Should you use torture to extract a confession from a coworker trying to poison you? Do you kill those who dismiss your fears and believe you are paranoid? What do you do if you start questioning your own suspicions--and sanity--as you take the law into your hands?

In this disturbing tale of derangement, a young psychopathic woman is slipping into madness as she fights an enemy that may exist only in her imagination. She has to resort to desperate measures when she realizes that a gun, security cameras in her apartment, and constant vigilance will not be enough to survive. It is hard to find a black cat in a dark room, especially if the cat is not there, but Leslie, with her resolve fueled by paranoia, is hell-bent on finding and slaughtering it.

Bonus: "Hitchhiker" by Tim Kizer, the first entry in the As the Darkness Falls series.
When a serial killer hitches a ride one sunny day in a beautiful California valley, he do…

Review of "Job Interviews," a single story in a collection by Greg X. Graves

Summary of the collection:
Do you want to recycle but aren't sure how? Are you concerned that a potential suitor may be a vampire? Have you attended a job interview only to be greeted by Hideous Telepathic Space-faring Lizardmen in Mansuits? 


The Guide to Moral Living in Examples educates on these and many more common moral conundrums, offering bite-sized advice for nearly every improbable situation. Fueled by years of unintentional research on the connections between robotic bears, talking tattoos, and the best type of soap to remove irremovable rings, Greg X. Graves gives simple, friendly yet essential guidance on the twisted path to moral life. With an introduction by Brenton Harper-Murray and stunning illustrations by Jeff Bent, this anthology is a must-have for young and old aspiring moralists alike.


Review:
This story surprised me.  I want to say "pleasantly surprised me" but I'm still kind of reeling.  So let's just stick with "surprised."  It's…

Guest blog on the concept behind "Rachel's Eyes," a short story by Ellen O'Connell

Rachel’s Eyesis my first venture into the short story world, and I suspect both the way I came to write the story and my purpose are different than many authors. You see,Rachel’s Eyesis a spinoff, or maybe a continuation, of my western historical novelEyes of Silver, Eyes of Gold.Although I deliberately found two beta readers who had never read the novel to be sure that the story worked as a standalone, the readers I wroteRachel’s Eyesfor are fans of the novel.

When I first indie published, I never considered putting out anything but novels. The three books I published in 2010 areRottweiler Rescue, a cozy mystery at 75,000 words,Eyes at 118,000 words, andSing My Name, also a western historical, at 134,000 words. As you can see, short was far from my mind. However,Eyes of Silver, Eyes of Goldresonates with some readers so strongly that they send me emails asking for a sequel or another romance featuring one or another of the secondary characters. A few readers have even mentioned such a…

Review of "Coffin Humor" by John Brinling

Summary:
Noah awoke in a casket.
The casket was on display in a funeral parlor.
He awoke several times more in the same casket and each time had a conversation with the funeral services practitioner, a strange man named Jeremy Black.
During these exchanges, he became aware that his memory was seriously impaired.
Each time, however, he learned a little bit more about his past through a reliving of the last desperate few days.
He also learned that the recovery of his memory would lead to his death.
Problem was: It might already be too late.


Review:
As I read this story it reminded me a little of a compressed version of the 1985 movie Clue, what with its elements of mystery, humor and mayhem. I can almost picture Tim Curry as the undertaker. “Coffin Humor” is both entertaining and a bit bizarre, venturing almost into “zany” territory thanks to the quick pace. What starts off as an offbeat piece of realistic fiction develops quickly into into a mystery, and finally into a classic battle of …

Guest blog on the concept behind "Texas Pancakes," flash fiction by Mark Asher

TEXAS PANCAKES He was using his knife and fork like he was a surgeon rather than a man having breakfast, carving off a very precise portion of his pancake. He seemed more interested in the pancake left on his plate than the piece poised on his fork. The counter girl, Madge, was watching.
“I couldn't help but notice,” she said, “the rather odd way you eat your pancake. You cut it up so carefully. It's like you're a food artist or something.”
The man looked up at her. “It's Texas,” he said, and pointed at the pancake on his plate. “Let me show you.” He rotated the plate so that she could see it from the proper perspective.
“Yeah, I can see that now,” She said. It did resemble Texas. “Do you always turn your food into geography lessons? What's that strip of bacon supposed to be? Chile?”
He smiled. “I hadn't gotten to it yet,” he said. “But look at it now.” He broke it in two and laid one piece back down on the plate and popped the other piece into his mouth. “It's …

Review of "Algernon and the Narcissus" by Die$el

Summary:
As a college student, he feared it would happen again. On the eve of February, his fear came true.

An eighteen-year old Asian American teenager found himself against the bed. According to the police report, the manuscript of his novella, The Blank Album, contained unusually graphic and shocking content.

This did not shock him.

Four years ago, the Virginia Tech massacre occurred. He felt its wrath ever since. Time and time again, he found himself in trouble for his one true passion. And he doesn't know to stop it from happening.

Now grown up, he struggles to find redemption in his writing again. His last hope lies in Honesty, his social justice writing class. Will he succeed, or will he fail trying?


Review:
Let me say first and foremost, there is a lot of ego in this piece. It is, at times, difficult to sympathize with the author’s situation. He’s young and insecure, a fact he overcompensates for with a serious superiority complex. Only a few pages in I found myself wanting …

Guest blog on the concept behind "Killing Max," a short story by S. Wolf

My short story Killing Max arose from the popular concept of going back in time to kill Hitler before he rose to power.  I wanted to write the story from Hitler's point of view, where these random people are showing up trying to kill him, but something always happens to save his life.  


I decided there was too much baggage with Hitler, so I created a new character, Maxwell Madison, who is a teenager in 2010, but will grow up to be the worse dictator the world has ever seen.  I always thought of it as a short story, but when I presented it to my writing group, they suggested it could be made into a novel.  Perhaps sometime in the future I'll expand it.  But the way the book is structured now, it works better as a short story because the fact that he's a future dictator is kept secret from the reader, which creates a mystery as to why these things are happening to him.  This actually makes the book hard to market, because I can't tell potential readers the most interestin…

Review of "A Memorable Weekend" by John Brinling

Summary:
When Marge Harper decides to host a Special Olympian for the weekend, she knows only that he is somehow handicapped and is an avid skier. Despite her own infirmities--which are significant--she is sure she will be able to help her Olympian—until he turns the tables and changes how she sees the world.


Review:
In this story, Brinling’s portrayal of the emotional and physical hardships those with disabilities face is both compelling and honest. The compression of so many emotions into a story that spans just over twelve pages feels overwhelming at times. The main character oscillates wildly between self-doubt, self-loathing, fear and joy. However, the emotions feel genuine and the reader is left feeling satisfied at the end that things are looking up for all the characters.


Brinling’s writing is smooth and easy to read. The author is fond of employing metaphors, which, though not always spot on for the situation, are entertaining. The dialogue is acceptable if not wowing, and the ch…

Guest blog on the concept behind "Saturday Schooled" and "Stairs of Sand," short stories by Eileen Granfors

I write short stories as a break from the novel-in-progress (I always have a novel in progress).  Sometimes, when I am having trouble with a scene in the novel, I try it again as a short story.  Most of my short stories fall into the flash fiction category, under 1000 words.
My short story, “Saturday Schooled,” is featured in my new anthology called Flash Warden and Other Short Stories (due out this summer).  “Saturday Schooled” was highlighted on this blog a while back.
The story arose from a writing prompt to journal about a moment when we observed something that made us feel guilty or unworthy.  I had been trying to write a scene in my novel, Stairs of Sand (also out this summer), with this very emotion, and so I began writing the scene from something I had witnessed on the way to class one day in Westwood. I saw a homeless man conducting an insane rant with his possessions on the sidewalk near my classroom.
I added in the two Japanese tourists and the violence that takes place to mak…

Review of "Crimson Lake" by David Wisehart

Summary:
Leonardo da Vinci must solve a locked room murder to save the city of Florence from certain destruction.


Review:
I must admit that had I worked out this “perfect murder” well before Leonardo da Vinci revealed the brilliant solution, and I suspect that other readers will as well. The author has hit upon a clever and unusual method for disposing of a political enemy in this engaging short story, but his presentation of the facts of the case makes the outcome a little too predictable for this reviewer. With tweaking, this storyline could give And Then There Were None a run for its money, but in the meantime it reads like an Italian version of Encyclopedia Brown. The disparity is frustrating because the potential is there.


2.5/5 stars
Reviewed by Purity Jones