Thursday, June 30, 2011

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

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.

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

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

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 learning this skill.  Think about it: spending $100 on a cover would mean you are out $1,200 by the end of the year if you release a new short story every month.  Spend $150 at a jr. college and take two semesters of a Photoshop class.  It's a worthwhile investment.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

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

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.

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

Monday, June 27, 2011

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

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. 

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.  But I would describe it as a natural conclusion rather than a "twist."   In a way, it seemed that too much was spelled out.  Loose ends were neatly tied up where dangling uncertainty might have been the more potent storytelling device.

4.5/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Sunday, June 26, 2011

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

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. 

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Review of "The Very Old Man" by Jenny Milchman

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.

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 something, the husband's logic can't help but ring true in the mind of the reader.  I felt this slightly diminished the intensity of the concluding scene.

But this was a fun story, nonetheless.  As the collection title suggests, a good lunch read.

3/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Friday, June 24, 2011

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 will also allow you to delve deeper into a particular genre by experimenting with sub-categories.  What are the difference between contemporary fantasy and high fantasy?  It's easy enough to rattle off a definition, but much more difficult to try and write a story to those specifications.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Review of "Ferryman" by Nigel Edwards

"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.

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 how the author presented different moral points of view.  Instead of throwing everything in your face, he creates side characters that each embody a certain moral position with regard to how people would feel about Ferrymen.  I don't want to give away too much, but suffice to say that all of the arguments for or against Ferrymen are presented with the mere presence of certain personality types and/or job descriptions.  This was certainly an impressive display of writing skill.

I highly recommend this story.  It's definitely one that will stay with you after reading it.

4.5/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Review of "Crush" by Robyn Bradley

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.

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 Soul arena.

Crush is definitely a somber read.  It's enjoyable in that it's a well-written story.  But it's not a light, fun piece to just pass a few minutes with.  You chew on the subject material for quite some time after finishing it.

4/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

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 elfin culture.  The minute detail of their day-to-day lives pulled me into their world."  Is that minute detail really necessary?  Not really.  Does it add anything to the novel?  Arguable.

Which is why I propose all of you to accept the challenge of "The Padding Experiment."  Now, I'm not trying to turn everyone into cynical jerks.  I enjoy beautiful descriptions just as much as the next person.  It's just an intellectual exercise.  While reading the next book you pick up, just detach yourself every once in awhile and analyze the scene or dialog exchange you just read.  How much of it was really necessary?  What did it add to the novel?  Could that particular scene have been described in just a few words?  Or was the length needed?

With today's reading "world" obsessed over word count, I find this is a very eye-opening experiment.  People won't buy books because they're not a certain number of words long.  Publishers won't publish stories because they're not a certain length.  The list goes on.  Point being, what are all those words really saying?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Review of "The Cataline Downfall" by Shane Ward

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. 

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 than taking the time to develop them fully. Ultimately, this leaves the piece feeling more like a storyboard than a fully formed piece of literature.

Beyond the tilt-a-whirl execution of the story, the ideas remain interesting. Ward has created a complicated alien society. However, the compacted writing does not allow the author to expand on this world fully, and the elements that give it originality are not as well developed as they could be. As a result, from cover art to conclusion, the reader is left feeling like they’ve seen it all somewhere before: blue aliens that have telepathic connections with their surroundings, living spaceships, ignored prophecies of warning, time traveling offspring wishing to save their parents...all borrowed elements from other science fiction series. Ultimately, Ward’s originality is hampered by an attempt to squeeze his vision into an improper format (personally, I think a serial format would do wonders for it).

3/5 stars
Reviewed by Aubrey Bennet

Sunday, June 19, 2011

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

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. 

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 brother or neighbor. There are no fantastical settings, dramatic plot twists or attempts at profundity in these stories. Instead, Breslin relies on clean, effortless writing to draw the reader in and turn average people doing average things into an enjoyable and satisfying story. It is realism at its best.

“We Are Not Dog People” seems almost an unfinished piece, coming to an abrupt end that at first left me, at first, wondering if I was missing a few lines or even a page. However, Breslin’s stories are more about the actual telling of a story than the resolution of plot, something he demonstrates more successfully in the second story, “The Pasture.”

3.5/5 stars
Reviewed by Aubrey Bennet

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Review of "Effie at the Wedding" by Tracy Marchini

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.

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 high school, my outlook on the whole story changed for the better.

Effie herself is charming and goes through the usual list of high school mental uncertainties that I'm sure just about any girl would relate too on some level.  What I liked about this story was that the author touched on some pretty heavy teenage topics (self-image, self-esteem, relationships, change, etc...) without really weighing down the the plot.  It wraps up with a few heart-warming lines that let you know that Effie's family really does love her despite all the mental torture she put herself through.

This is a sweet, well-written short story with lots of good messages for the young adult reader.  If you are an adult reader that appreciates a cute "girly" story, I would recommend this story.

3/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Friday, June 17, 2011

Plotting Short Fiction

This was a neat article I stumbled across on 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...?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Review of "An Unholy Encounter" by Tracey Alley

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.

This series continues with another action-packed installment.  While part one (A Very Hairy Adventure) featured all four of our young heroes, this story focuses on only one of the characters, Wulfstan.  As a story, I actually liked this one better than the first part.  Zombies and skeletons are always classic.  When are they not scary?

One thing I've thought to be kind of clever about this series is that Vestland, the kingdom where this all takes place, is at peace.  This is really perfect for the short story format.  They are not bogged down with the politics of war and the author is free to focus on minor (but fun) encounters such the one seen in An Unholy Encounter.

Since this story did just feature one character, it would have been nice to have had just a tiny bit more character development.  Some aspects of his past were touched on, but not many.  Normally details like this do not bother me in short stories.  But Wulfstan is a reoccurring character in what will obviously be a several part series.

Otherwise, I thought this was a great young adult story.  I definitely recommend this series.

3.5/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Review of "Block" by Mike Dennis


From the other side of the human condition comes this collection of noir tales by Mike Dennis.

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.

This was a really, really well-written story.  It grabbed me from the start and I got sucked into the slightly twisted psyche of a crime fiction author.  But the spell cast by the story was broken for me during the last half as the plot suddenly started to follow twists and turns identical to that of the movie Stranger Than Fiction.  Perhaps this is just coincidence on the part of the author.

Taken by itself, this is an excellent read with a hint of spine-chilling creepiness.  I loved the way the protagonist was developed and explored.  I also found the point of view changes between the story she was writing and the author herself to be creative and interesting.

This is definitely a story worth looking into.  However, if you are a movie buff, you may feel like you've been told this tale before.

3.5/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

"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."

Monday, June 13, 2011

Review of "A Very Hairy Adventure" by Tracey Alley

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.

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.  The action has good pacing and the characters are likable.

The only complaint I really have about the story is that sometimes the author falls into the trap of spelling things out a little too much.  This is great for longer works, but in the short story format "show me, don't tell me" is the best rule of thumb.

A highly recommended read to anyone who enjoys light, young-adult fantasy.  But I would particularly recommend this as a good literary introduction to young teens who may not care for reading.  There is a little violence in this story but nothing compared to what is seen in most PG-13 movies these days.  I am very much looking forward to reading part two of this series.

3.5/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Sunday, June 12, 2011

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

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.

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 of fantasy/sci-fi/supernatural.

The beautiful imagery in this collection seems to be its strongest and weakest points.  On the one hand,  I found myself enjoying the rich and colorful details Irvine presented to me.  On the other hand, that same imagery seemed to eclipse the plot at times.  So much effort would be put into the description that the story's train of thought would become blurry.  In his longer works, this would sometimes lead to a series of scene jumps where I had no idea what was really going on with the protagonist.

However, I found the breakdowns in plot only really popped up with the longer works.  Irvine's strength as a writer really comes out in the flash fiction length stories.  "Flight of Fancy" and "The Cloaked Man" were my two favorites in this collection.  In these cases, the imagery allows the reader to instantly connect to the story rather than become confused by it.

3/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Saturday, June 11, 2011

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

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.

Friday, June 10, 2011

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

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 does not suspect that he may have met his match, who is dead set to take another life. The battle of wits begins and only the most devious mind will survive.

Blame Hollywood if you like, but this story seemed to follow a plot similar to any psychological thriller movie produced in the past ten years.  In this light, I found Intoxication to be entertaining but a hair on the predictable side.

Given the psychological/thriller genre the author was trying to corner, more of the characters introduced could really have used some fleshing out.  Leslie herself is very real to the reader but the other characters are not.  In the end, this kind of diminished the intensity of her complete breakdown since I didn't know enough about any of the other characters to empathize with them.

But this is not to say that the story is poorly written.  It's quite well-written, in point of fact.  The author does an admirable job introducing to us a twisted individual in a very real way.  Our protagonist could literally be any "normal" office co-worker, which adds a nice creep factor.  In many ways, this aspect of the story outshines the minor twists and turns introduced.

All in all, this was not at all a bad read.  It will definitely keep you engaged.  If you enjoy those sliding down the slippery slop of insanity type tales, I would recommend this story.

3.5/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Thursday, June 9, 2011

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.

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 really off-the-wall in a Monty-Python-Killer-Rabbit kind of way.  It was so absurd I had to read it through two times just to make sure I read it right the first time.  Both times I found myself laughing at the sheer randomness.

The writing style is strong and concise.  This is really what allows Graves to pull off this type of humor.  Absurdity can easily become lost in wordiness.  It would seem that this author has found his calling in the short story genre.

That said, this story (the whole collection, actually) has a very select audience it would appeal to.  The reader really has to enjoy both the idea of a short story and totally random humor.  Not slapstick, not sarcasm... just short, absurd situations.  Fortunately, for the sake of this review, I like both of these things quite a bit.  But I could definitely see how this story would not sit well with others.

Highly recommend for those off-the-wall types.  Be warned: leave all your preconceived notions at the door.

4.5/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

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

Rachel’s Eyes is 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 Eyes is a spinoff, or maybe a continuation, of my western historical novel Eyes 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 wrote Rachel’s Eyes for 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, and Sing 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 desire in reviews.

The truthful answer to these requests is that I don’t see another novel in any of these characters. In my opinion none of the secondary characters in Eyes is suitable as a hero or heroine in another romance. Even so, I hate disappointing people who like my book so much they write and tell me and make such requests.

As an indie author, I frequent several author forums such as the Kindle Boards Writers’ Cafe and read any thread that looks interesting. One day I read a thread discussing “shorts”— short stories, novellas, and novelettes. That thread started me thinking. Maybe there are no more novels in the characters of Eyes, but I’ve always known how my characters’ lives turned out 3, 5, even 10 years down the road. Could I tell short stories giving glimpses of their later lives? The more I thought about it, the more I decided the answer was yes.

So, in writing Rachel’s Eyes my purpose was not to introduce new readers to my writing (although if it does that, I’ll be very happy), but to satisfy existing fans by continuing the story of characters they already love. The story features Cord and Anne Bennett, the hero and heroine readers love, and their interaction with a woman who was a minor character in the novel. My plan is to write several more stories about Cord and Anne, their friends and relatives. Not only do I hope readers will like them, but also that the stories will keep me on readers’ radar screens during the longer stretches between full length novels.

Visit Ellen's website.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Review of "Coffin Humor" by John Brinling

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.

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 wits, holding the reader’s interest throughout.

There are a few grammatical and editing errors, but on the whole I found this piece very enjoyable. The ending was a tad abrupt and, if the story were meant as a serious piece, would elicit an exaggerated eye roll from readers. However, the story’s humorous tone serves Brinling’s surprise ending well and makes it truly enjoyable. Brinling manages to craft likable characters and an intriguing storyline in a short amount of space...a hallmark element of a good short story.

3.5/5 stars
Reviewed by Aubrey Bennet

Monday, June 6, 2011

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

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 Rhode Island.”

“And no, I don't do this all the time. I'm trying not to think about my girlfriend – I mean my ex-girlfriend, Tina. She broke up with me last month,” he said. “I can't get her out of my head.”

“I know how that is. I broke up with a guy last year, but I kept wanting him to want to get back with me,” she said. “I'd leave the bathroom door open when I showered in case he called. One time I nearly broke my neck making a dash for the phone from the shower. There I was, naked as a jaybird, dripping all over my floor. It was a telemarketer.”

“Ha! I would have liked to have seen that!” the man said, and then realized what he had said. “I mean, well, not that I want to see you naked or anything.” Madge just looked at him and opened her eyes even wider. “But I'm sure you look good naked too, I don't mean I wouldn't want to see you that way,” He was desperate for a new topic. “I still haven't emptied the ashtray.”   

“The ashtray? How did we get on that? Tired of me naked already, huh?”

“Hey, I'm sorry about that. You know what I meant,” he said. “Yeah, the ashtray. Tina smoked. It still has her cigarette butts in it. I don't clean it because I don't want her to be that gone.” He looked up at Madge. “So what's your story? Why are you here?”

“Why am I here?” She shook her head and frowned slightly. “Why, I'm the Queen of France, I am! But every once in awhile I put on this waitress outfit to check on the peasants, make sure they're eating enough cake. What do you mean why am I here?”

“I meant you seem nice and everything, so why...” his voice trailed off. “That wasn't exactly very nice of me. Let me start over,” he said. “What I meant to say is would you, maybe, like to have dinner with me sometime?”

Madge looked at him. He does have a cute smile, she thought. And he seems nice. Those are positives. On the other hand, he doesn't clean ashtrays and he plays with his food. I think there's enough to work with here, though, she thought. So sure, why not? “Ok,” she said. “But under one condition.”

The man's smile was broader now. “What's that?” he said.

“Neither one of us orders Baked Alaska.”

Guest  Blog:
Texas Pancakes was a piece of flash fiction borne out of a desire to be in love. I had recently gone through a breakup with a woman and I don't do breakups well. What I do know is that the best way to get over a woman is to get over another woman, and that's a paraphrase of a famous Mae West quote. So this piece of fiction was imagining meeting someone new. 

The dirty ashtray was real -- I stared at that for weeks in my place. It really was the presence of the very recent ex-girlfriend. The bit about rushing out of the shower I got from a friend who consoled me with tales of his past breakups. 

All I really wanted to do in the story was show a moment in time when two people meet. That seems perfect for flash fiction, to write about a moment. You, the reader, are given that and then you can imagine what happens after. I hope that's more fun for the reader, and it's certainly less work for me, the writer.  

I don't currently have this story in a published collection. Maybe someday. What I'm working on now is erotica. I hope my erotica is both well-written and a hot read. I just started a writer's blog and you can find it here, including links to my books:

Thanks for reading! 

Sunday, June 5, 2011

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

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?

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 to tell him to get over himself and move on. Really? You can’t share your work with the world so we must pity you? Move over for someone who has REAL problems.

However, I reached a turning point when the author pointed out that this was more a case of ageism than anything else. Throughout history, we have celebrated, even encouraged, the eccentricities of artists. At times it is even expected. Dark, tragic, tortured...these are the qualities that go so often with genius. Unfortunately, when these qualities are observed in teenagers they take on a whole new meaning. For better or worse, it is socially unacceptable to be tragic until you are at least in your mid-twenties. Seen from this point of view, Die$el’s frustration is much more palatable.

That being said, Die$el’s strength lies in the big picture. The writing is good, perhaps even better than most. Smooth and descriptive with minimal grammatical errors, I enjoyed, but was not blown away by the technical execution of this piece. However, any piece that causes the reader to give pause and reconsider a social norm is, in my opinion, worth reading. Even better when the author leaves the reader conflicted on the issue. This author has something to say that goes beyond obnoxious teen angst, and his point is certainly worth listening to. If you can wade through the ego, there is a raw, honest quality to this piece that is both thought provoking and appealing.

4/5 stars
Reviewed by Aubrey Bennet

Saturday, June 4, 2011

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 interesting thing about the book.

For a limited time, you may download this story on Smashwords for free by entering this coupon code:  ZQ67L

Friday, June 3, 2011

Review of "A Memorable Weekend" by John Brinling

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.

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 characters are realistic enough for the reader to connect with. Being both uplifting and a pleasant read.

3/5 stars
Reviewed by Aubrey Bennet

Thursday, June 2, 2011

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 make the narrator’s role more culpable since she should have helped.  She had planned to help them with directions to show American hospitality, but when she is most needed, she flees the scene.

Later, I rewrote the scene for Stairs of Sand, letting the protagonist and her friend act with more passion and less fear. 

I love the scene both ways, as a short short story and as a part of the development of the character in the novel.  In the short form, the reader is left wondering why the narrator, who seems confident and outgoing, shrinks into herself, allowing craven fear to control her life.

In the novel, the scene helps the reader see another side to Zoozle, someone with many interior demons. It also develops her friendship arc with her friend, Chloris, and divulges some previously unknown information about another friend, Chris.

Although the scene is exciting in the novel, it is more powerful in the short story where it underlines the narrator’s fallibility and leaves the reader angry with the narrator’s obvious flaws, even though many readers would react in the same way as the narrator, others might have stepped up and stepped in.

I love writing flash fiction told by flawed narrators. Short stories condense time and make me as a writer conscious of the power of every word. The tense, lean construction of the short story, especially flash fiction, is my writing workout to gain confidence in writing muscular prose.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Review of "Crimson Lake" by David Wisehart

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

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