Feminist, Fictionista, Foodie, Francophile

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Do You Know This Woman?


I am not a true crime buff. There are crimes that intrigue me--who really killed Jon-Benet Ramsey for instance--but I am not one to purchase thick books by reporters with theories. (For the record, I think Patsy Ramsey took the secret of her daughter's murder to the grave with her.)

I was mugged once, in the city of Brotherly Love. My assailant was a very tall man with a very large knife. His attack took place in full view of an escalator full of people, many of whom watched with avid interest, none of whom notified security.

The guy wanted me to open my purse and hand over just my wallet. I had on bulky gloves--it was January in Philadelphia, it was cold. My fingers kept slipping off the catch on my purse and I remember, distinctly, thinking, "I am going to die because I can't get my purse open." I didn't die, of course, and was fortunate enough to walk away from the encounter with just a bruised knee from where he pushed me to the train station floor.

But I had two friends who were not so lucky. One worked at a nearby mall the summer between high school and college. One night, a man followed her home and stabbed her 27 times. He was later picked up and hanged himself in his cell.

Ten years later, I was living in Richmond, Virginia taking care of my mother when a serial killer who'd done some carpentry at a magazine I worked for tracked down the receptionist and murdered her. It was a notorious crime at the time (It formed the basis for Patricia Cornwell's first Kay Scarpetta novel), and the killer was only caught by accident. The case was the first in Virginia to use DNA evidence.

All to say, I am not fascinated by murder, I don't batten on true stories of pain and death and grief. Which is why I really can't explain the impulse that led me to look through the 180 photos LAPD has released from a stash they found in the possession of the alleged serial killer they have dubbed "the Grim Sleeper."

The owner of these photographs stands accused of the murders of 10 women but the police suspect he is "responsible for" other deaths. They've released the pictures (and they all appear to be live women, although there are two photographs that are a little iffy) in hopes that someone out there knows one of these women.

I do not. But I could. The women range in age from gray-haired to very young. Almost all are African-American. Some are beautiful,some not, but all are vital. Most of the pictures seem to have been taken with the consent of the woman, even the ones where their expressions are wary or hostile or skeptical. In most of the pictures the women are smiling.

It's not completely clear that the accused took the photographs but they were found in his home. How did these women cross paths with this man? Why are so many smiling? How many were lucky enough to walk away with their lives, as I did?

Monday, December 27, 2010

A Publishing Success Story

Yes, there are some out there. Read this interview over at Galley Cat.

Do a Friend a Favor

My friend Sam Park is part of a brand-new comics venture called Comics from the Monsterverse Their very first anthology, Bela Lugosi's Tales From the Grave has been nominated for Best Horror Anthology 2010 over at ComicMonsters.com.
This is part of the Horror News Network site, which is a great place to check out horror games, horror toys and, well, their motto says it all--"Coverage of All Things Horror."

So hie yourself hence and register (you know the drill and it doesn't take long) to vote for Bela Lugosi's Tales From the Grave.

And while you're at it, follow them on facebook. Find them at Comics From the Monsterverse.

More Free Fiction



This week's episode of NoHo Noir is a round-up of the characters we've met so far. If you haven't been following the series--now is a good time to catch up. Check out "Blockbuster" here.

Over at Dark Valentine Magazine, the Twelve Days of Christmas fiction series has begun with tales from Andrew Douglas and Kat Parrish. There are more tales to come from Paul David Brazill, Cormac Brown, Nigel Bird, John Donald Carlucci, Christine Pope, Kaye George and more...(and me). Catch up with the stories here.

The 600-700 word challenge continues over at A Twist of Noir. The excitement is building. I have number 668, which will appear some time in mid-January. Monday is going to be a bonanza day for readers so check it out.

Do Some Damage will be running Christmas Noir through the first week in January. The stories will cut through the Christmas calories. Go here.

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Christmas Story

I originally wrote this for the Do Some Damage Christmas Noir Fiction Challenge but it didn't make the cut. (Sniff.) I still like the story though, in a creepy Christmas kind of way. Merry Christmas y'all. See you next year.

Gonna find out who’s naughty and nice…

Eddie always gets better stuff than I do because our parents love him best. Last year I really, really, really wanted a Bakugan Brawlers Battle Pack and instead I got a Crayola wonder color light brush with a card saying I should explore my inner artist with it. I guess it was a step up from all the “My Little Pony” crap I’ve been getting for the last four years.

Hello, I’m 11, not five.


Eddie always makes lists of what he wants and then types it up on the computer with links to where mom and dad can get the stuff he requested. They think it’s cute. He’s nine and they think he’s a genius because he can navigate Google.

Please. I hacked into mom’s eBay account when I was nine and messed up all her auctions.

She lost out on a vintage 60s dress she really, really, really wanted even though it was a size six and the only size six she wears are her shoes.

Eddie even gets better stuff from grandma than I do because he sucks up to her when she comes over and I don’t. He doesn’t wrinkle his nose when she kisses him and he pretends that he doesn’t mind her old lady smell.

Excuse me, but if I smelled like pee and dead roses, I wouldn’t go around kissing on people.

Mom says I’m an ungrateful brat and don’t deserve presents at all if I’m going to complain about what I get. Dad, whose idea of a really great present is a book, doesn’t say anything. But he doesn’t really like kissing grandma either.

Mom picks out books for us to give him; he gives us new copies of books he read and loved as a kid which was like a million years ago. They always have little messages in them.

Robert Francis Weatherbee, the Boy Who Would Not Go to School. Guess what that one’s about.

Eddie’s been making his Christmas list since Halloween, adding to it and subtracting from it. This year he’s drawing pictures of the things he wants, just in case Mom and Dad haven’t seen the ads on television.

A lot of the things he’s asking for sound like totally good things, things that will help him do better in school. Mom and Dad love that. Remember, they think he’s a genius. They don’t know that he used the chemistry set they got him last year to poison the neighbor’s dog.

No, their little genius wouldn’t do something like that.


They don’t know that the Lincoln Logs Red River Express Building Set they paid $60 for got turned into a log prison for a kitten he found. It was too little and weak to break out, so it starved to death. And then he buried it in our mom’s garden.

I told mom about the kitten but she didn’t believe me, not even when I showed her the tiny grave in her garden. When she finally dug it up and found the dead kitten, she called me a jealous little trouble maker and a liar and she slapped me. I heard her tell Dad later that she thought I was sick and probably needed some help.

Eddie thought that was funny. Eddie thinks a lot of things are funny.

One of the things on Eddie’s Christmas list this year is a set of big cooking knives. Our parents think that’s adorable and probably figure he just wants to be like the Iron Chefs Mom watches on the food channel.

Seriously. They’re that clueless.


They might just buy him that set of cooking knives.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Best Books of 2010

You've got some reading to do!
This is the time of year when critics and magazines and ordinary readers make their lists. If you're looking for a good book to take your mind off the weather, here are some places to start:

California Literary Review.

January Magazine

Publisher's Weekly

ThirdAge.com has a roundup of other peoples' picks here.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Noir at Do Some Damage

So--you're coming down from a sugar rush or just generally feeling Grinchy? What you need is some Christmas noir and fast. So head over to Do Some Damage for a dose of holiday flash fiction that celebrates the season without giving you cavities.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

New at NoHo Noir--After Party


Read the new story in my series NoHo Noir. This features a return of homophobic cop Ethan, who tries really hard to be a good guy here but learns that his efforts are wasted on "Christo," the self-involved wannabe screenwriter:

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Gift Guides for the Gift Challenged

You're running out of time. Christmas is a week away. The pressure is on. But before you resort to a stocking full of gift cards, check out these two excellent guides to gift giving:

Mystery Scene Magazine. Where it's a "Fisticup" Brass Knuckle-handled mug ($18) or a set of three brass "bullet pens," ($13), there's bound to be an original gift that fulfills all your buying needs. We're particularly tickled by the "blackmail postcards" that come with blank cards and colorful letters. ($8).

Dark Valentine Magazine has posted a three-part gift guide that includes books, art, charity gifts and more. Check it out here and here and here.

And the rest of the stories!

Here are the stories from this session of Icarus' Flight to Perfection fiction prompts. Stories from Cormac Brown, David Barber, Carolina Beach Bum, and Nicole Hirschi. Enjoy a quick infusion of fiction before heading out to face the Christmas shopping crowds.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Situation Ethics

This story was inspired by "the starter sentence" on Cormac and Nicole' blog Icarus' Flight to Perfection.
I hope you like it.


Sometimes promises are made to be broken.

That’s my first thought when I see the man they’ve wheeled into the operating room.

It’s a miracle he’s still breathing. He’s got multiple stab wounds in his torso and neck and slash wounds on his arms. Whatever happened to him, he fought back hard.

I run through a mental checklist of the pathophysiology of “penetrating trauma,” thinking, as always, that medical jargon is worse than legalese for obscuring pain and suffering behind big words.

This guy’s got it all—hypoxia, partial paralysis, unequal pupils, and active major bleeding. Whoever attacked him got his lungs, his spinal cord and who knows what all else. I count 12 different entry wounds and then, over the hot copper scent of his blood, I catch a whiff of shit, which means his bowel has been pierced too.

Everybody’s moving fast and with purpose. The nurse monitoring his vitals looks stressed.

I am not stressed at all. I issue orders. A nurse cuts off the patient’s blood-stained clothing and drops it on the floor, kicking it out from under our feet. Someone else starts a second I.V. line. We’re pouring fluids into him as fast as he’s bleeding out. Everyone’s looking at me, waiting for me to do my thing.

Looking down at the man on the operating table, I think, if this man dies on my operating table, no one will miss him. No one will mourn him. And more importantly, no one will ever question his death.

When I became a doctor, I swore the Hippocratic oath. I said, “I will practice and prescribe to the best of my ability for the good of my patients, and to try to avoid harming them.” I meant every word of that promise at the time.

But that was before I met the man on the table. His name, he had told me, was Cory and that was the first of his lies, but not the last. He stole my car. He emptied my bank account and he broke my heart. That last betrayal is the one I can’t forgive.

The men he owed money to came to my door and when they didn’t find him, they took out their anger on me. The cops who were looking for him came to my door and when they didn’t find him, they let me know they thought I was worse than scum. And then the other women came to my door looking for him and when they didn’t find him they told me their stories.

I look down at the man on the table whose karma has finally caught up with him. The words of the oath I swore go through my mind and…I let them go.

Sometimes promises are made to be broken.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

'Tis the Season: NoHo Noir, Chapter 8

In this week's episode a wannabe screenwriter whose former partner has been wildly successful attends a Christmas party at his old friend's house. He leaves feeling very unfestive.
As always, Mark Satchwill has contributed a terrific illustration.

Here's a short excerpt from the story:

Christopher "Christo" Garland had gotten lost on the way to Eric and Celia's house. He had Mapquested it but he'd ended up in the wrong lane at that crazy intersection near the Iliad Bookshop and somehow he'd ended up on Burbank Boulevard going east. When he passed Circus Liquor, it reminded him that he hadn't bought a gift, so he parked and ran in to see what was cheap.

Circus Liquor
5600 Vineland Avenue
North Hollywood, CA 91601
8:15 p.m.


He grabbed a black bottle of Freixinet and brought it to the counter. He swiped his credit card as casually as possible, mentally crossing his fingers the transaction would go through. It didn't.

He tried again as the clerk eyed him sympathetically. When the verification failed a second time, Christo made a show of examining the card. "Expired last month," he said. "I forgot to put the new one in my wallet."

The clerk, who knew all about expired credit cards, just nodded as Christo pulled the last bill from his wallet, a twenty.

And just to show the clerk he didn't need his pity; Christo stuffed the change into one of the charity jars set up by the cash register. He probably makes what? Minimum wage? And he feels sorry for me?

By the time Christo finally arrived at his destination, there didn't seem to be a vacant parking space left in all of Toluca Lake. In front of Eric and Celia's house, there were uniformed valets hiking cars back and forth.

Eric and Celia hired valets for their party? I wonder how much that cost?

Read the rest of the story here.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Best Gift for a Christmas Geek Ever

So you know that person in your office who loves Christmas and identifies with the Geek tribe? This present is for that person. (Or for yourself--I ordered the tree and star for my own tree.) You can buy the ornaments here, at $5.95 for each set of two, and part of the money goes to feed the hungry.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Cranberry Chutney Recipe

I was at La Salsa today and was delighted to see that for the holiday season, they've added a cranberry salsa. It's pretty tasty and it reminded me that I haven't made cranberry chutney in a long time. If you like chutney and you like cranberries, you might like this recipe. Th recipe originally appeared in a now-defunct food blog.

SPICY CRANBERRY CHUTNEY

This spicy cranberry chutney is a tangy alternative to the usual cranberry sauce side dish. Adapted from a recipe shared by a New Orleans chef, it not only works well with turkey (and leftover turkey sandwiches), it pairs well with juicy roast pork or prime rib.

1 bag cranberries, washed and sorted
1 medium red onion, chopped
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 ¼ cup granulated sugar
3 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp grated fresh ginger root
Dash salt
I tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

Sauté the chopped onions in the butter until soft and translucent
Add everything else but the optional crushed red pepper.

Cook over medium heat until the mixture is reduced and syrupy.
Stir in the crushed red peppers if desired. Or you can substitute a pinch of cayenne pepper for a little more heat.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Speaking of Baghdad

Chances are you have not even heard of this movie, much less seen it, but it's worth seeking out. It is only 28 minutes long and features stories written by modern Iraqi writers about what life is like there now, voiced by American actors. (The tagline of the movie is "Their words. Our voices.") It's a lot like the acclaimed documentary Dear America: Letters Home From Vietnam. Here's a link to the trailer on IMDB.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

New NoHo Noir--Cosmos

The story continues over at NoHo Noir with this flash fiction about a father and a son contemplating the mysteries of life. You'll see these characters again when the father is accused of murdering his ex-wife's new boyfriend. (The title of the series is NoHo NOIR after all.) The illustration by Mark Satchwill features my favorite building in the world, L.A.'s Griffith Observatory.

Here's an excerpt: The L.A. Observatory was Ty Garrett’s favorite place in the world so when the boy asked him to take him there, James was happy to oblige. Ty had been moody and restless all weekend, unwilling to open up about what was bothering him. James hoped a little star-gazing would make Ty feel better.

James hated that he didn’t know what was going on with his son all the time. He was 11 now, more little man than little boy, and it seemed like every time he saw him, Ty had changed in some subtle way. At least Erika had been good about the custody thing. But still, he hated her for breaking up the family, hated her for leaving him for the whitest man in Encino, a dentist who had billboards in three languages polluting the landscape all over the Valley.

It wasn’t the money. James was a good provider. He had parlayed a stint working in an Army motor pool into a business servicing temperamental foreign cars and their equally temperamental owners, people who pronounced “Jaguar” as three syllables like they’d been born in London, England and not London, Kentucky. In a good year, James pulled down six figures. Erika had no cause to complain there.

“Tooth guy wants me to call him ‘Uncle Tim’,” Ty blurted out, as if in answer to his father’s thoughts. Erika didn’t like it when Ty called Tim that and asked James not to encourage the disrespect. Most of the time he respected her wishes but now didn’t seem to be the moment for a lecture.

James glanced at his son’s anxious face. “Must be getting serious with your mother,” he replied neutrally.

Ty nodded. “We’re going to move in with him at Christmas,” he said.

READ the rest of the story here.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Christine Pope's Sympathy for the Devil



Looking for a little romance to spice up your holiday? Christine Pope has a Christmas/Chanukah gift for you. Her 105,000 paranormal romance Sympathy for the Devil is now available from Pink Petal Press in all digital formats for just $5.99.
Christine is, as you may recall, a "friend of Dark Valentine Magazine." That's her cover story in the Winter issue, available (free) on the Dark Valentine Magazine site now.
If you missed her hilarious mad scientist in love serial Welcome to Skullcrusher Mountain don't waste another minute--click on the link and catch up.
If you like what you read (and you will), Pink Petal Press has more Christine Pope available, including "Mistletoe Magic," a contemporary romance short story.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Kelli Stanley Has a New Website

Writer Kelli Stanley has a new website up, swing by and say hello and register for her newsletter. You can win copies of her upcoming books and get news about her appearances. Post in the forum or just give Kelli a shout-out. She's good company.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Winter is Coming!

The winter issue of Dark Valentine Magazine that is. This issue has 15 tales that are guaranteed to chill you to the bones and freeze your blood. The illustration here is by Natasha Killeen, an 18-year-old Aussie artist who was up for the challenge of illustrating Eric Dimbleby's incredibly dark story "Baby on Board." He seems like a nice fellow but after reading the story--I'm not sure I want to run into him in a dark alley. Other stories include Patti Abbott's "Too Beautiful," Edward A. Grainger's "Justice Served," Brian Trent's take on a Poe classic, "Down Memory Line" and much, much more. The cover story is Christine Pope's inspired twist on the classic "Snow Queen" fairy tale. In other words, there's a little something for everyone. The winter issue of Dark Valentine Magazine will be available on the site tomorrow, December 3.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

For the Crime-Loving Cookbook Collector



As it's getting toward Christmas, it's time to start looking at those Christmas lists. Here are two very different cookbooks, both of them with connections to crime. First up there's Shane Bugbee's Cooking With a Serial Killer--recipes from grandmotherly serial killer Dorothea Puente, who was known for the delicious meals she served to her boarding house guests.

Then there's Susan Whitfield's Killer Recipes Cookbook, a collection of recipes contributed by mystery writers with the proceeds going to cancer research. For background on the cookbook, click here; to buy the book, go here. The Kindle edition is only $4.69.

Dearly Departed at NoHo Noir

There's a new installment of NoHo Noir up at patch.com. The "Noir" is subtle on this one but it's there. I'm still introducing characters but along about Christmas, you'll see some story arcs beginning to emerge. (My initial contract is just for three months, and that'll be up early in the new year, so just in case I don't get "renewed," I do want to tie off some of the story threads.)

As you can see, the story is illustrated by another great piece of art by Mark Satchwill. You can see more of his art on his site, but also in the upcoming Dark Valentine Magazine winter issue. The winter issue of Dark Valentine will be available Friday, December 3.

One of the things about the stories appearing on patch.com is that I'm visiting the site several times a day and they publish hyper-local crime news. I never knew my little corner of the world was so ... crime-infested. Ignorance is bliss, I guess.

I hope you like the story. If you do, please click on "recommend." Or leave a comment. My editors love comments and so do I. Thanks for your support.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Do it again, harder!

I am not a fan of remakes. Seriously, it's gotten silly. When I heard that the "classic" Charles Bronson, Jan-Michael Vincent movie The Mechanic was being remade, my response was pretty much a shrug. Even when I heard Jason Statham was going to be in it, I still wasn't all that enthusiastic. But then I saw the trailer and it looks...badass.

Nikki Finke's Deadline Hollywood has the most recent trailer at her site. You can see it here.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

New at NoHo Noir--15 Items or Less

This week at NoHo Noir, a trophy wife and an unimpressed supermarket checker go mano a mano in the express line. There's a bit at the end, where the trophy wife--who's wearing a quarter-million dollar watch--tries to use an expired coupon. That was inspired by a story I once heard about Bill Gates holding up a line because he had a five-cent off coupon for some ice cream. I don't know if it's true--it's so deliciously snarky--but it makes for a great story.

If you're following the series you'll note the tattooed guy in line behind the trophy wife is Chris from "House Blend" who ended up with the wrong Jessica on his coffee date. We'll see him again. We'll also see the wife and the checker again.

I hope you enjoy 15 Items or Less.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

We've Come a Long Way Baby (Not)

Most of the time I really don't think about gender in publishing. I learned a long time ago that the best place to meet unattached male writers in LA was at a WGA union meeting where men outnumber women by a huge margin, but as far as publishing, I read mostly mysteries and urban fiction, two genres where women rule. Or so I thought. She Writes, a website resource for women writers has put together a post that shows a shocking disparity in critical acclaim for female vs. male writers.

Here are just a few of the stats they culled from 2009:

Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2009
71 Men
29 Women

Publishers Weekly Top 10 Books of 2009

10 Men
0 Women

Washington Post Best Books of 2009

Nonfiction
69 Men
17 Women

Fiction
57 Men
27 Women

Slate- Best Reads of 2009

15 Men
7 Women

As a woman writer, I find this just a little depressing.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Fly Your French Flag!

Laurel Zuckerman's Paris Weblog is sponsoring a new contest for the best short story about Paris. Here's everything you need to know: Deadline: November 30.

Prize: 200 euros plus publication of top 12 stories in a book called "The Best and Most Delightful Stories About Paris"
Entry fee: 10 euros (paypal)
Finalist judges : Nicola Keegan, Janet Skeslien Charles, Elizabeth Bard, Charles Trueheart, Brian Spence, Charles and Clydette De Groot, Cara Black, Anne Korkeakivi, Heather Stimmler Hall, Penelope Fletcher, Robert Stewart, and Diane Johnson.
Open to writers worldwide.

Restrictions: Maximum 5,000 words. Submission in the body of the email (no attachments, please)

For info and submissions go here.

Even if you're not a writer, you should check out Laurel's blog if you're a francophile. Tons of great links and news of interest.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

New fiction at NoHo Noir

A picture really is worth a thousand words, isn't it? The image here is by Mark Satchwill, who is my partner in crime over at NoHo Noir, where each week we chronicle the lives of a diverse set of characters whose stories intersect and converge in unexpected ways. This week's story is called "Aftermath" and it's about a cop, a paramedic and a beat-down. Here's an excerpt:

Ethan hated car crashes. He hated them more than murder scenes and he’d seen enough murder scenes to know his preference wasn’t theoretical.

It wasn’t the blood. Ethan once worked a case where a murderer had used his wife’s blood to repaint the kitchen and then sat down at the table to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. One of the crime scene techs had puked when he first walked in but Ethan hadn’t been bothered at all.

The thing about murder was—and he’d thought about it—in the end there was always a reason somebody ended up dead, even if that reason was that some douche just got up in the morning and decided it was a good day for someone to die.

Car crashes though—they were just random events, hiccups of fate unless you subscribed to chaos theory and nonlinear dynamics where everything could be predicted from simple, deterministic equations. Ethan had never been particularly good at math so he just went with random. Read the rest of the story at: NoHo Noir



Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Win a Napa Valley Experience

I love sweepstakes like this. I know they're marketing ploys but I like the idea of winning time in Napa with a plus one. If you do too, here's where you enter.

Words. Words. Words.

1662 words yesterday. (I know...would it have killed me to add four more words to get to the magic 1666 that NaNo recommends?)

Nine hundred 35 so far today.

I've been thinking about numbers as well a words. My father died on 10/29, which is also my best friend's birthday. His father was born on 6/15, which is my brother's birthday. My sister's birthday is today and it would have been a ZERO birthday for her. She would have hated that.

On my last birthday I marked the age that our mother was when she died...Sounds like I'm being morbid, doesn't it? But it's just the calculus of existence. My brother and I are only 21 months apart and now we both wonder, sometimes, which one of us will be the last. (Like the Highlander, there can be only one.) Neither of us was particularly lucky in the genetic lottery but we've tried to adapt. He's very fit, with the lean body of a runner. But he smokes. I don't run unless I'm rushing somewhere but I don't have a lot of bad habits either. It makes us even I think. Mostly it makes us both sad to know we've outlived our baby sister. And I think it still surprises both of us that the grief is still so raw after three years. Three years? Another number.

Then there are the other numbers that matter. Today's election day. If you haven't voted already, go do so. If you haven't? Don't complain to me...

Monday, November 1, 2010

It's November...Hit the ground running...

Up until last year, I'd never heard of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Last year, thanks to Facebook in particular and social networking in general, it was everywhere with its challenge to write 50,000 words in just one month. (That's roughly 1666 words a day if you don't have your calculator handy.) I can do 1666 words a day standing on my head. The tricky part is linking them together to get 50,000 words of a novel...

The idea is that you're supposed to start something new on November 1st and then emerge a month later with 50,000 words. Of course, 52,000 words is not quite a novel-length manuscript, but no one seems to quibble abut that.

I've decided to use the NaNoWriMo challenge as a spur to help me finish my novel Misbegotten. It's been sitting in a file on my hard drive for awhile now. I'm afraid if it stays there much longer it will never see the light of day. (Although, since some of its characters are vampires, that might be a good thing.)

There are widgets and applications that can help writers keep track of their word counts. Some of them are here. But I'm going to do it the old fashioned way. My friend novelist Christine Pope tells me to think of a novel being built one chapter, one short story at a time. I'm taking her advice to heart. I already have roughly 25,000 words of Misbegotten written. If all goes well, this time next month, I'll have 75,000 words. And that is a book.

Wish me luck...

Sunday, October 31, 2010

New NoHo Noir Story: Wrong Turn



With the Halloween story "Wrong Turn," my print-based web series NoHo Noir really starts rolling on Patch.com's North Hollywood-Toluca Lake site. This series of interlocking tales will follow a diverse cast of people who live and work and drive through the cities of North Hollywood and Toluca Lake, California--two cities that could not be more different.

The series made its debut the same day as the website and the first story in the series, "House Blend" got a lot of buzz. ("House Blend" was the most popular story on the site from Sunday, when it was posted until late Friday night.)

The series is a collaboration between me and illustrator Mark Satchwill, who furnishes illustrations for each story and also created the creepy clown logo for the series. I'm really hoping to develop a following for NoHo Noir. The NoHo/Toluca Lake Patch site is the first to offer fiction and I am, frankly, having a ball.

Read the story here.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Red-Hot Writing Contest

These days, the hottest thing in romance writing is heat and Ellora's Cave is one of the publishers that is bringing the heat. For the next 13 days, writer Tawny Taylor of the blog Redlines and Deadlines is hosting a contest "Some Like it Hot." The prizes involve critiques from editors at Ellora's Cave, which is not as instantly gratifying as, say, a gift card to amazon.com, but better for your career if you're prone to reading other people's books instead of writing your own. Here's the low-down in her own words:
Starting October 25th, 2010, I will be hosting a writing contest!
The final judge is an editor from Ellora’s Cave.

All SubGenres of erotic romance accepted.

This contest is open to both unpublished and published authors of erotic romance fiction. All entries shall be the author's original work and not contracted for publication prior to the entry deadline. (Authors currently published with Ellora's Cave are not eligible to enter.)

How the contest works:
* You may submit one chapter--not to exceed 5000 words. Stories must be complete. (A one-page synopsis may be included.)

* Each Monday, two stories will be selected by Ellora's Cave editor Grace Bradley. At the end, six weekly winning authors will submit a partial (first three chapters, last chapter and synopsis) to the final judge for ranking.

The first place winner will receive ...
A critique of the full winning manuscript by EC editor Grace Bradley!

The second place winner will receive...A critique of the partial manuscript by EC editor Grace Bradley (first three chapters, last and synop).

The third place winner will receive...
A critique of the first chapter by EC editor Grace Bradley.

Additional Prizes:
One entry will be selected each week by random drawing to received a detailed critique by an author published with Ellora's Cave.

THE DETAILS:

* Starting Date: October 25th 2010. Entries will be accepted until 11:59 pm November 12, 2010.

* Three rounds
Submissions received between 12:00 am October 25th and 11:59 pm October 29th will be considered for round one. Submissions received between 12:00am Oct. 30 and 11:59 pm November 5th will be considered for round two. And submissions received between 12:00am November 6th and 11:59 November 12th will be considered for round three.

* Weekly Finalists Announced on November 1, 2010, November 8, 2010 and November 15, 2010.

* NO Entry Fee or purchase necessary to win.

* Send entries to writingcontest@tawnytaylor.com. Include genre, word count, and your name and contact information. A one-page synopsis may be included.

Before entering, please see all the details at: http://www.tawnytaylor.com/WritingContest.html
For any questions, email Tawny (tawny@tawnytaylor.com)

Halloween Horror--Painkiller from G. Wells Taylor

If you don't know the work of horror writer G. Wells Taylor, now is a perfect time to remedy that situation. His seven-part serial The Variant Effect is available in a free e-book and just in time for Halloween, he's released a sequel novella, Painkiller. Painkiller bridges the gap between The Variant Effect and Taylor's upcoming novel, GreenMourning.

Painkiller features the return of Variant Squad Captain Joe Borland in a gut-wrenching story of grisly horror that reminds readers that the Variant Effect has returned and this time...it's personal. Both Borland and his colleague Hyde have had bitter losses and there are more to come.

The Variant Effect: Painkiller is available in FREE multi-format downloads at SkinEaters.com and other locations. If you haven't read the novel that started it all--Get a free copy of The Variant Effect for your digital library at Taylor's site; SkinEaters.com, , BarnesandNoble.com, Amazon.com, Kobobooks.com, iBookstore, Diesel-eBooks.com, Smashwords.com and eBookstoreSony.com where all other G. Wells Taylor titles are available as multi-format eBook for $3.99 or to order in paperback.

If you're not in the mood for Skin Eaters, then bite into a very different kind of horror with Taylor's vampire novel Bent Steeple. I'm going to keep telling you about Bent Steeple until you go out and read it, so you might as well listen to me now.

Friday, October 29, 2010

And the Dead Will Walk

Here's all you have to know about The Walking Dead, the new AMC series that will debut on AMC Halloween night:
Frank Darabont.
Zombies.
Enough said.
Stick around for the introduction of Steven Yuen's character. He's repped by friends of mine.

Watch the trailer here:

Are You a Stephen King fan?

If not, stop reading this post. In fact...maybe you don't belong here at all...
Now then...Would you like to win a signed copy of Stephen King's new book, Full Dark, No Stars? If you're a completist, it will round out your collection of Kingania nicely. King's publisher, Simon & Schuster, is sponsoring the give-away and you can sign up here.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

NoHo Noir--Tales of the City of North Hollywood

If you've ever driven through North Hollywood, California, chances are you've passed Circus Liquor. And if you've passed it, you've seen their creepy clown logo looming over the street. That image perfectly encapsulates the feel of a new series of weekly fiction I'll be writing for patch.com, a hyper-local news site based in North Hollywood and Toluca Lake.

I am really, really, really excited about this new writing gig. (I almost used exclamation points, which I almost never do. That's how excited I am.) Illustrator Mark Satchwill will be collaborating with me to create stories and visuals that are connected by characters, themes, locations and plot elements. Eventually the stories will stitch together in a patchwork quilt of a novel along the lines of Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City. We hope.

The first story isn't really noir but trust me, they'll get darker next week with the publication of "Wrong Turn" for Halloween. This is how we describe the series: NoHo Noir is fiction that’s not for the faint-hearted. Written by Katherine Tomlinson and illustrated by Mark Satchwill, these tales are weekly walks on the wild side, narratives torn from the bleeding heart of North Hollywood and Toluca Lake; stories of love and death and everything that lies between…

Please go by the site and check out "House Blend." I think you'll like it. Stories will post every Sunday and be up until Monday. They'll be archived.

Seven Days of Skullcrushing Fiction!


The Fall Fiction Frenzy at Dark Valentine Magazine is winding down but not running out of steam as we begin a 7-part presentation of Christine Pope's hilarious novella, "Welcome to Skullcrusher Mountain." That's right, even evil geniuses need love too. Illustrated by Dark Valentine's art director Joanne Renaud, the series will run until October 30. Check it out.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Pizza for Pammie

I'm not a snob about fast food. I've eaten my share of hamburgers and fries and tacos and the like. But the one thing I never touch is pizza-parlor pizza. When other people want to order a pizza to snarf while watching a movie, I pass. I don't care where they're calling, the pizza is not going to work for me.

The reason is that my mother made a pizza unlike any other I've ever had. I learned how to make it as a teenager and it spoiled me for the pizza other people think is just fine. Try this recipe and you'll never be able to eat Domino's again.

The Homemade Pizza of Your Dreams

Make your own pizza crust or buy one. (I'm not a complete purist.) A grocery store near me sells pizza dough by the ball and I buy that. I also used to use Pillsbury Hot Roll Mix, but that's nearly impossible to find if it's not the holidays. It's also easy enough to make. But we're not really concerned with the dough here. It's the sauce that counts.

2 packages pork sausage (don't use the one flavored with sage)
1 small tin of Parmesan cheese (don't use fresh)
1 small yellow onion, chopped
2 small cans tomato paste
Italian seasoning to taste
Garlic powder to taste
Crushed red pepper flakes to taste
Olive oil

Preheat oven to 450 degrees

Oil two baking sheets with the olive oi.

Fry the sausage until there's no pink left. Add the chopped onions.
Add garlic powder, Italian seasoning and crushed red pepper to taste. (I basically just sprinkle the garlic over the whole pan and then do the same with the Italian seasoning. Go easy on the crushed red pepper. A little goes a long way.)

Add the parmesan cheese and stir until the cheese melts into the mixture.

Stir in the tomato paste and mix well. Set aside.

Roll out the dough into the two oiled pans.

Spread the sauce mixture on the dough and bake until the dough is cooked and golden. (Not very long, depending on your oven.) While the pizza is baking, put together any fixings--pepperoni slices, green pepper, olives, mushrooms.

When the crust is just getting golden, take the pizzas out. Top with veggies. Add mozzarella cheese. (I usually use one bag of the shredded cheese PER pizza.)

Put the pizzas back in the oven and bake until the cheese is melted and bubbling.

That's it. Perfection in a pan.

I'm making this tonight for my friend Pam's birthday. It's my present to her.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Write Early and Write Often

Novelist Stephanie Draven has created a literary contest for young women inspired by her upcoming trilogy of novels about Cleopatra's daughter Cleopatra Selene. There are two categories--Teen for writers 13-18) and Young Women (19-22), with cash and other prizes for the winners. Go here for more information.

Writer/illustrator Joanne Renaud will be one of the judges. A fan of historical fiction, Renaud illustrated Stephanie Draven's story "The Threshing Floor" in the debut issue of Dark Valentine Magazine.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Just Another Day in Paradise--now on Kindle!


If you've gone through the process of posting a book on amazon.com, you know it can be...an ordeal. Thanks to my awesome publisher G. Wells Taylor, though, Just Another Day in Paradise is available in a Kindle edition less than a week after it was published. To celebrate, I'm offering another free sample story below. I hope you enjoy it. The illustration is by Joanne Renaud, my friend and colleague at Dark Valentine Maqazine.


BROKEN DREAMS


The old woman who’d lived in 206 had been a happy person, not sour and bitter like so many of the people who lived in the apartment building Marisol managed. She’d never trapped anyone in the elevator with a rambling self-absorbed monologue. She’d never scolded the children who ran back and forth in the hallways because they had nowhere else to play. She’d always been nice to Marisol, not like some of the tenants, who saw her as the enemy because she was the one who had to post the three-day pay-or-quit notices when they were late with their rent.

The old woman had always paid her rent on time. Although she was on a fixed income, she had no problem living within her means. She was a vegan who ate soups and pasta and salads. She didn’t drink coffee, didn’t smoke cigarettes, didn’t touch alcohol.

She had a computer but not a television set. The only telephone she used was a cheap princess phone she’d picked up at a yard sale some time in the 80s. She wrote a lot of letters in an elegant script she’d learned at a fancy private school. Her parents had been wealthy and thought educating their only child was money well spent. She had loved her parents very much.

She read voraciously, borrowing books from the library—five or ten at a time. She never went to the movies. She told Marisol once that the last time she’d seen a film, Kennedy had been president. She didn’t remember what the movie was but did remember she hadn’t thought it was worth the money, even then.

The old woman had known she was ill, but unlike every other sick person Marisol had ever known, she was not eager to waste anyone’s time with a recitation of her troubles or an accounting of her aches and pains. It was only near the end that her body betrayed her, and Marisol would sometimes see her hunching over in the hallway, defeated by her pain.

Knowing her death was near; the old woman had made preparations. There had been discreet deliveries of envelopes filled with cash to people the old woman had cared about. In addition to the cash, the envelopes had contained lovely handwritten notes that spoke of her gratitude for their friendship and her hope that the gifts would be welcome.

Marisol had gotten one of the envelopes. There had been ten thousand dollars in it. The note had made her cry.

The old woman had left behind few possessions. She had never been someone who needed “stuff” in her life. She had been a teacher on the Yavapai-Apache reservation in Arizona, but had left when the tribe began building casinos. She disapproved of gambling. She’d joined the Peace Corps at 50 and spent time among the inhabitants of the Brazilian shanty towns known as favelas. Once, in a rare moment of melancholy, she had told Marisol that in some parts of Brazil, infant mortality was so high that people sometimes brought a tiny coffin as a gift to a child’s christening. That was the saddest thing Marisol had ever heard.

The old woman had not wanted to rot. The Neptune Society took care of everything. Her ashes were scattered at sea while one of her young actress friends sobbed her way through lines from The Tempest, the verses about suffering a sea-change into something rich and strange. The old woman had wanted a party afterward and had paid for it in advance.

There’d been a lot of booze, even though the old lady wasn’t a drinker herself. There was more than a little pot (all her old hippie friends came baked). And there were lots and lots of pastries from the Moroccan bakery around the corner. The Muslim owner of the bakery had come with his shy wife, who wore the headscarf and was skittish among all the strangers. The baker and his wife had gotten envelopes too and put the money away for the education of their unborn child. Both the money and the child were blessings from Allah they believed, and they included the old woman in their prayers.

Marisol’s boyfriend Lee had gotten drunk at the party and then he’d gotten mean. Lee hadn’t liked the old lady. He ran into her sometimes when he was rolling in from a gig, coming to Marisol for food or sex. He told Marisol that the old lady looked at him like she was judging him, like she knew everything there was to know about him and wasn’t impressed.

That wasn’t the old lady’s way, Marisol knew, but she also knew the old lady was no fool. When the envelope of cash was delivered to Marisol, the note inside had included a postscript suggesting, in the nicest way possible, that she not mention the financial windfall to Lee. Marisol had taken the advice and hidden the money in the one place she knew for sure he would never look—under the kitchen sink where she stored cleaning supplies.

The old woman had died in the hospital after collapsing near the pool on her way to post a letter. Marisol saw her fall and called 911. Two days after she died the apartment owners called Marisol and told her to clear out 206 and get it ready to show to new tenants.

There wasn’t much to clean up. The old woman had been tidy. There was hardly any food in the fridge, and just the usual clutter of bathroom stuff. She had used Jergens hand lotion, Marisol noticed. Her mother had used Jergens, and the cherry almond scent always took her back to her childhood. Marisol had loved her mother and still missed her.

In the bedroom, Marisol stripped the mattress and decided to keep the sheets for herself. They were well worn but pure cotton and felt comfy and clean in her hands. Over the bed was a dream catcher, an authentic one made of sinew and willow hoop, decorated with rough-carved totem animals of stone.

The thing caught her fancy, so she took it and hung it up over her own bed. She slept alone, as she often did, and her dreams were sweet.

Lee was in a bad mood when he got back from his gig at some club in Fresno or Modesto or Bakersfield—some dusty town that wasn’t L.A. Marisol couldn’t keep them straight.

The gig hadn’t gone well. Lee’s band had opened for a band people had actually heard of and the audience was vocal about wanting Lee and the others to get out of the way so real musicians could take the stage. The girl he’d had his eye on hooked up with the drummer instead of him and wasn’t interested in a three-some. Lee had spent most of his share of their pay-day buying junk food and booze to fuel him up for the return trip.

Marisol was bone tired when Lee showed up. She’d tried to get some food into him but he’d said he wasn’t hungry. At least not for food. When she told him she was too exhausted to have sex with him, he called her names and stomped out of her apartment.

She was already in bed when he returned and she regretted—not for the first time—that Lee had his own key to her place. He was so blind drunk that even before he stumbled into her bedroom and flopped down next to her she could smell the alcohol stink on him. And then he moaned and vomited. She managed to roll him over so he spewed on the floor instead of her bed but the stench made her gag.

“You’re cleaning that up Lee,” she warned as she fled to the bathroom, so disgusted she was afraid she might puke too. Cursing, Lee stumbled off to the kitchen for some paper towels and spray cleaner. Marisol was just rinsing out her mouth when she heard a roar from the kitchen, and remembered too late that she had stashed the old woman’s money under the sink with the SOS pads and the Bon Ami powder and the spray-bottle of Clorox Clean-up.

Lee came back into the bedroom brandishing the envelope of money in one hand and the Clorox bottle in the other. “What the hell is this?” he demanded, whipping her face with the envelope, giving her a paper cut. She tried to think of some excuse, some placating lie she could tell him but nothing came to her, so she just stood there mutely as he began spraying the Clorox at her in blinding bursts. She begged him to stop and he did, only to attack her with his fists, punctuating each blow with an incoherent grunt of rage.

Marisol made a desperate break for the door as he paused for breath. He lunged at her and because he was drunk, misjudged the distance and hit his head on the wall. Dazed, he reflexively grabbed for something to steady himself. His fingers caught in a strand of the dream catcher, breaking it. He slid onto the bed face down and laid there, unmoving, a carved bead of turquoise caught in his hand.

Without stopping to collect her purse or shoes, Marisol ran out of the apartment, wearing only the t-shirt and shorts she slept in. She spent the night in her car, which she never locked because it was such a piece of junk that anyone who stole it would be doing her a favor.

Upstairs, in Marisol’s bedroom, Lee’s drunken stupor passed into natural sleep and he snored. And he dreamed. And one by one, every nightmare the broken dream catcher had ever captured dripped out of it and into Lee’s sleeping mind.

Like most bullies, Lee was a coward to the core and when he became conscious of the horrors attacking him in his sleep and realized he couldn’t wake up, his mind snapped and his heart stopped and he … died of fear.

When Marisol ventured back into her apartment the next day, she found Lee stone dead, a look of terror frozen on his face. She found the broken dream catcher still clutched in his fingers. Just the one strand had come loose, but it had been enough.

Lee had been a big fan of the movie Pulp Fiction, but he’d never heard of a pulp writer named Cornell Woolrich who once wrote, “First you dream and then you die.” Marisol had read a couple of Woolrich’s books in an English class she took at junior college. She was thinking she might take the old lady’s money and spend it to finish her associate degree. She’d gotten good grades in school. And she thought maybe she’d like to be a paralegal. Or a CSI tech, like the ones on TV. That sounded like a job that would be recession-proof. People never stop dying.

Lee had had a bad heart she told the paramedics when they came to pick up the body. She knew they would find drugs in his system if they did an autopsy and no one would question his cause of death.

She repaired the dream catcher and hung it back up over her bed.

She slept alone and her dreams were sweet.

Totally Unsolicited Testimonial

I grea up in a Southern household, which means that we drank iced tea with every meal. My mother always had a big pitcher of it chilling in the fridge. It wasn't sweetened--my father was a diabetic--but I loved "sweet tea," that peculiarly Southern concoction where sugar is one of the main ingredients. Arizona Ice Tea does a nice "Southern sweet tea" variant, although the only place I've ever been able to find it is in the cooler case in gas station food stores.

These days, I tend to avoid sweetened teas for the same reason I don't drink soda very much--the bottles are just delivery systems for sugar. But, I still have a hankering sometimes. Diet teas are mostly nasty--with chemical aftertastes that make you wonder just what is in there besides tea and water. (And really, I can't get my thrifty grandmother's voice out of my head when I look at the prices of tea bags versus the prices of a SINGLE bottle of already-made tea.)

But now I have discovered Sweet Leaf Tea's DIET sweet tea. And it's really good. So good in fact that the first time I drank one, I had to look at the label again to make sure I wasn't quaffing the real deal. I don't know anyone at Sweet Leaf. They didn't send me any bottles. But I am happy to spread the word.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Fiction on the Bleeding Edge...


New dark fiction over at Dark Valentine Magazine. "Bleeding Edge" by Robert Alden. Illustration is by Marie Zeleny--Marzel. This is number 16 of the month-long Fall Fiction Frenzy. Read it here.

Kill the Bat-Man


Or at least critique him... A new book, Gotham City 14 Miles collects 14 essays about the 1960s "Batman" TV series. The book critically examines the show, in an effort to determine its weight and worth in current pop culture. PRE-ORDER IT NOW at all comic shops!!!

I don't know the guys who put this together (one of the essayists is a friend of a friend) but the idea of the collection appeals to me. Burgess Meredith as the Penguin; Frank Gorshin as the Riddler, Cesar Romero as the Joker. With all due respect to those who came after...these are the actors who defined those roles. (Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker transcended the role, so he's i a category all his own.)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

So you like it dark?

You thought Liam Neeson ruled in Taken? Embrace the bad-ass awesomeness that is Dwayne Johnson playing an anti-hero in Faster. See the new trailer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5vePC5C6MsM. It'll make you forget about The Tooth Fairy. (No, I'm not going to link to that title. I'm going to pretend it never happened.)

Auld Lang Syne

I had a landmark high school reunion this summer and have been looking at the pictures posted by my former classmates on Facebook. I did not attend, but thanks to the wonders of social networking, I was able to catch up with everyone. It was wonderful to get back in touch with people I cared about back then and see how their lives have been.

But every time I read an update from the guys organizing the event, the germ of this story took firmer root. I finally succumbed and wrote it. Just in time to squeeze it into Just Another Day in Paradise.

I hope you enjoy it. (And in case you're wondering, I did go to the prom--with an interesting boy who became an interesting man.)

AULD LANG SYNE


I got a few jealous looks when I signed in. It’s possible some of the women working the registration desk remembered me but I doubted it. Back in high school I’d had lank brown hair, bad skin and had carried an extra 30 pounds. I’d spent my four miserable years at Woodrow Wilson High School dreaming of better times to come. And they had. I looked good for my age.

I spotted Alicia Cooper almost at once. Alicia Womack, that is. Everyone had expected her to marry Tommy Womack and she had. They’d been king and queen at our senior prom.

I hadn’t gone to the prom. I wasn’t asked. I’d spent that night sobbing in my room while my poor mother tried desperately to distract me with homemade vanilla milkshakes and offers of shopping trips. I was inconsolable. But I drank two of the milkshakes. I did things like that in those days.

I never really thought I’d come to a reunion but as the years slipped by, the notion of making an appearance at my 50th began to seem attractive. I’d long ago lost touch with everybody, but the reunion committee had set up a group on Facebook, so I was able to get all the information I needed. I sent in my reservation, made my travel plans, and bought a new dress.

A cocktail party at the Sheraton was just the first of many activities planned over the weekend. The banquet room was decorated with huge black and white photographs blown up from our senior yearbook pictures. There were black borders around the edges of those who’d died. The only one I remembered was a girl who’d been in a car crash two days before graduation; hit by a drunk driver on his way back from a lost weekend in Myrtle Beach.
I drifted around the ballroom, staying at the edge of the knots of couples and just observed. A few people glanced my way and smiled, inviting me to join their conversation but I kept moving.

I saw Anne Todd and her husband talking to Harvey and Henrietta Martorelli. I’d liked Anne. She’d been nice to me in a way that didn’t feel like charity. She’d aged gracefully and the way she and her husband stood shoulder to shoulder told me that she was loved. I was glad. As for Harvey and Henrietta? They looked more like siblings than spouses; both had evolved into sexless, blocky creatures with the same graying skin and thinning hair. Henrietta had been in my honors history and English classes. She’d been an earnest grade-grubber. Her brothers had all gone to Yale and she had the GPA and SAT scores to qualify but back then, Yale didn’t accept women, so she’d settled for Bryn Mawr instead.

Finn Johnson had come with a woman half his age. His hair had turned white but it was full and he wore it longish, much as he had back in high school when he was our resident bad-ass, sneaking cigarettes in the rest room and taking shop and auto mechanics instead of calculus and biology. Nobody thought he’d amount to much, not even me. He had joined the Marines a week after graduation and five years later was part of the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade, the first American combat soldiers sent to Vietnam.

Finn came home with a case of PTSD, an addiction to heroin and a 600-page manuscript in his duffel. That book, Chrome-Plated Dream, was the best-selling book of 1970, beating Jonathan Livingston Seagull by approximately 10 million copies.

Finn knew how to make an entrance and by the time he reached the bar, a little buzz had gone around the room. Tommy Womack was looking at him with the feral gaze of an alpha male who’s just sensed a challenge. The women were looking at him too, perhaps thinking about lost opportunities, perhaps wondering if Finn needed the little blue pills the way their husbands did.

I caught Alicia looking too. Back in high school, she could have had him. She could have had anyone she wanted with her pale skin and her auburn hair. She had the figure of a beauty queen when the rest of us were still stuffing our bras with Kleenex. In fact, she had been a beauty queen, snagging the title of Miss Talbot County when she was 16 and reigning over the Talbot County Fair that fall.

Alicia had not aged well. Her hair was now the color of white zinfandel, a pink candy floss that only ever really looked good on Lucille Ball. That porcelain skin was ravaged with deep ruts like a dirt road after a hard rain. Her boobs had sagged and her decision to wear something low cut had been a mistake. Despite the deep décolletage, the dress was matronly and designed to hide her thick waist and heavy bottom. She wasn’t truly fat but it wasn’t going to be long before she would need more than Spanx to fit into a size 16. Keeping the weight down after menopause is a bitch. But then, so was Alicia.

I saw her eyeing the platters of hors d’oeuvres being circulated, saw her decide against tasting even one as she looked over at Tommy holding court with Rob Dennehy and Nelson Brandt and Tad Grainger, his former teammates on the Woodrow Wilson Bulldogs. They were all glancing at Finn’s arm candy and trying not to drool. I’d always thought of the school’s football players as the Woodrow Wilson Woodies, and it didn’t surprise me that they were all still horndogs.

Tommy looked good. He’d gone bald, but with style, shaving his head like Yul Brynner and embracing the inevitable. His suit was tailored, not off the rack, and his shoes looked handmade. Tommy Womack had done well for himself. He’d taken over his father-in-law’s business and turned it into a multi-state franchise. That he was still married to Alicia told me that either he was very discreet about his affairs or Alicia had an iron-clad pre-nup. He wasn’t even glancing in her direction as she stood alone, smiling stiffly, looking around vaguely for someone to come up and talk to her.

Bird-like Cindy Renfrew-Cheung patted her arm fondly as she passed by on her way to refresh her drink and Alicia recoiled slightly. She and Cindy had never run with the same crowd in high school and Alicia probably didn’t even know her name.

Cindy had been a free spirit, a good-time girl who had to drop out for a year when she got pregnant. During that year, she taught herself Fortran and COBOL. By the time Fortran 66 was released, she’d created ALLI; a programming language meant for kids that she’d named after her daughter, Allison. Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper, the inventor of COBOL, was Alli’s godmother.

Cindy was now on her third husband, a Hong Kong businessman 23 years her junior. I’d overheard her telling someone that Gordon Cheung was in Singapore on business and that she’d brought her daughter along as her “date.” It wasn’t hard to spot Alli Renfrew; she was a 40-ish version of her mother and just as lively. All the waiters were flirting with her, even the gay ones.

Alicia’s eyes followed Cindy as she trotted across the room in three-inch heels as if she were still a teenager, her turquoise Vera Wang a bright spot among all the little (and not so little) black dresses. Alicia’s own shoes were sensible low heels, made more for comfort than style.

I saw Alicia head for the bathroom and followed, pushing open the door soundlessly. The overhead lighting was harsh, falling on Alicia’s dyed hair like a spotlight; revealing a patch of naked pink skin on the top of her head.

“Hello Alicia,” I said as I came up behind her. She spun around, startled. She hadn’t heard me come in as she rummaged in her bag for her lipstick. It was a deep burgundy red that was all wrong with the hair.

“Hello,” she answered. Seeing no reason to engage in any further conversation, she turned back to the mirror to fix her lipstick. And then she gasped.

Because of course, I no longer cast a reflection; hadn’t since I was 23 years old and turned into a vampire.

“Who are you?” she managed to stammer and I gave her points for that. Most people usually say “What are you?”

I smiled, showing my fangs, which terrified her. “Suzy Wisnicki,” I said. “Remember me?”

She looked at me, at my golden hair and my clear skin and my slender body and saw no trace of the mousy fat girl she’d tormented so long ago. She didn’t recognize me but she remembered my name. The memory made her go pale. Alicia had been a mean girl before the term was ever coined. She’d reveled in her beauty and the power of her popularity. She had hurt people just for fun.

I could see all her emotions flickering across her face and not one of them was shame.

“But you’re young,” she finally managed to say and that made me smile wider.
“Yes,” I said. And then I bit her. Her blood tasted of nicotine and diet pills and diabetes. It tasted nasty, so I rinsed my mouth out at the sink before leaving her on the floor.

I paid a maid to post an “out of order” sign on the door. She was only too happy to help after I looked deeply into her eyes. Later, she would remember nothing.

No one saw me leave the hotel except the valet who delivered my car. I tipped him well. I was feeling good.

Alicia would rise in a couple of hours. Immortal like me.

But unlike me, she would live the rest of her very long life in the shell of a wrinkled old woman. Vampirism is a youth culture. I gave her six months before she walked into the light.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Almond Joy Cake

I'd never heard of "Almond Joy Cake" until I read Shane Mullins' story "Leftovers" in Dark Valentine today. So I googled it. And let's just say there's a baking experience in my future. Check out the recipe here. Marshmallows are involved, which is not exactly a traditional Almond Joy ingredient but I'm willing to work with it. I suspect that this is one lethal confection but you'll die happy.

And even more fiction!

My story "House of Half a Hundred Cats" originally appeared at A Twist of Noir, but it's now up at Hazard Cat. Check it out. It's kind of a companion piece to "In the Kingdom of the Cat."

More Free Fiction at Dark Valentine



There's a Fall Fiction Frenzy going on over at Dark Valentine. Check out today's story by Shane Mullins with an illustration by Laura Neubert. Another good reason to stop by? Yesterday's story, "Introductions Are In Order" by Cormac Brown and my own story "In the Red Room."

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Taste a Free Sample!

This is my favorite story from Just Another Day in Paradise, but because it's the last story, it isn't among the free samples offered.

"In the Kingdom of the Cat"

Otto loved the Lady.

He had met the Lady when he was nine weeks old and not much more than a scrap of fur stretched over soft bones. She had seen him cowering under a car while some mean boys threw rocks at him, trying to hit him and getting very close. The Lady had jumped out of her car to yell at them. The boys had jeered at her at first, but they ran away when she kept coming toward them.

She’d gotten down on her hands and knees—shredding her stockings—and coaxed Otto out of his hiding place with the tuna-fish sandwich she had in a paper lunch bag in her car. (The Lady was thrifty and brown-bagged it most days.)

Otto had been hungry enough to eat the sandwich, but when she reached out to pull him from under the car, he’d scratched her in his panic, drawing blood in parallel lines down her plump forearm, ruining her new blouse. (She’d bought it at Lane Bryant on sale just the week before.)

The Lady had stopped at a payphone and called in sick, telling her supervisor she thought she had the flu. Then she’d taken Otto to the Vet. Terrified of the smells of sick and dying animals at the Vet, Otto had scratched the Lady again and then he’d pissed on her and the table and then on the Vet himself. He expected her to leave him then but she hadn’t. Instead she’d stroked his head and cooed soft words to calm him while the Vet went about his business. There were shots and tests and finally a snipping but in the end, Otto went home with the Lady and had been with her ever since.

The Lady had named him Otto von Orange Cat but mostly she called him “my good boy” and “my handsome boy” and “my sweet boy.” He loved it when she called him “my sweet boy” because then she would nuzzle him and kiss the spot between his ears where his striped fur formed an M.

When the Lady retired, Otto was thrilled. He followed her from room to room like a faded orange shadow and made certain that no spiders or other bugs dared enter her domain. In return, she bought him cat dancers and laser pointers and little leather mousies that he would eviscerate and leave all over the house for her to step on with her bare feet. (They felt uncomfortably real.)

There was only one room in the house he shunned—the magic room where the Lady made it rain on her command. Otto remembered rain and how cold and wet it was, so he never went in that room, but would lie across the threshold on a thick, fluffy bathmat to protect her.

As the Lady got older, she began to take a lot of naps. Her hands were still gentle when they petted him but Otto could tell her hands hurt her. She moved slowly and once he nearly tripped her when she got out of bed in the night. She stepped on his tail more than once but he never complained.

One night, she’d been more tired than usual and she’d gone to bed early. He had climbed up to the bed to be near her, using the little stool she had bought for him to make the climbing easier. He settled at her feet, as was his custom, and was still awake when the shadowy figure came into the room.

Although the shape was large and unfamiliar to him, Otto sensed the figure meant no harm. In fact, Otto could feel a sense of calm and love radiating from the shadow as it moved toward the Lady’s bed. He watched as the shadow looked down on the Lady and then bent and kissed her gently.

Otto meowed plaintively and the figure turned toward him. With a finger as light as a feather, he stroked Otto’s head in the very same place where the Lady always kissed him. Otto smelled a scent that was like fresh-baked salmon and then it was dark.


A concerned neighbor called 911 when she realized the Lady hadn’t collected her mail. A call from the police dispatched a team from the county morgue. It was their second call of the morning and the senior partner, a middle-aged woman going through a nasty divorce, had a throbbing headache. The sight of the old lady curled up in bed with the dead cat at her feet broke her heart. “What do you want to do about the cat?” her partner asked her.

“What cat?” she replied as she tucked Otto into the foot of the plastic body bag. She knew about loneliness and she knew about love and without making much of a fuss about it, she wrapped the Lady and Otto together and took them out of their home and slid them into the back of the ambulance.

The neighbor told the police that the Lady had a nephew back east and they located him and gave him the news of her passing. He was interested in knowing if there was any money coming to him and when he found out the answer was “no,” he suggested that the county go ahead and cremate his aunt and do whatever they wanted with her ashes.

The Lady had enough in her bank accounts to cover the cost of a county cremation, so in due time, she was removed from a shelf at the morgue and put into a cardboard coffin that looked for all the world like a banker’s box.

The man who oversaw the cremation saw Otto in the body bag and quietly slipped him into the box with the Lady, breaking all kinds of regulations and not really giving a damn. In the end, when the bodies were reduced to ash and broken bits of bone, it really wasn’t possible to tell where the Lady left off and Otto began.

That night the man in charge of the cremation went home to the apartment he shared with his silly little dog and took her for a very long walk. Then he fed her chicken tenders off his plate and let her get up on the couch to cuddle with him as he channel surfed. They fell asleep together sometime after the end of So You Think You Can Dance.


The scruffy gray kitten was three months old and had been at the pound since he was born to a pregnant cat that had been dumped by her owners because of sudden-onset allergies. His whole family had been red-tagged, but he didn’t know that because cats, although not color blind like dogs, have trouble seeing red.

One of his siblings, a long-haired calico, had been adopted when they were all younger, but it was kitten season and the pound was overflowing with cute babies and they were the ones that caught the eye of visitors—not scruffy, runty gray ones. The gray kitten hadn’t even looked up when a family walked in just before closing time.

“Look at that precious little sweetheart,” the mother said, pointing to a frisky, long-haired tuxedo cat who had come to the front of her cage to investigate the visitors. “Isn’t she darling?”

“Hmmm,” said her husband, who wasn’t really a cat person and thought the black and white kitten looked exactly like every other black and white kitten they’d looked at that day. And they’d looked at a lot of kittens. Their little girl had been asking for a kitten since she was old enough to spell C-A-T and they’d decided to get her one for her fifth birthday. And they had to find it today. Because her birthday was tomorrow and five year olds are not known for their ability to delay gratification.

He’d tried to beg off the cat-hunting expedition but his wife had insisted he come along—to make it a family experience. She was getting tired too, though, and privately hoped they could just grab one of the little fur-balls and get it over with.

“Look honey,” the mother said again, pointing to the black and white kitten. “Would you like to hold her?” The pound attendant hovered expectantly.
Ignoring the adults, the little girl walked over to the cage where the gray kitten was sitting and opened it. The attendant was about to protest when the little girl reached in and picked the kitten up.

“Otto,” she said happily as her parents exchanged puzzled glances over her head.

“Otto,” she said again as she cuddled him. Then she kissed the top of his head on the place between his ears.

And Otto remembered his name then and recognized his Lady even though she was small and brown instead of pink and large. He rubbed his cheek against her face to mark her as his own and then he started to purr.

Otto fell asleep in the Lady’s lap on the car ride home and did not wake up until she carried him up the stairs and into their house.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

This is the picture. Just Another Day in Paradise is a collection of 28 of my stories, some published, some not. The epub version will be available this week; with the print version available before Halloween.

Christopher Grant was kind enough to give me a blurb and the blurb was enough to make me blush, so thanks to him. I also owe a huge debt to my publisher and epublishing mentor, G. Wells Taylor. If you haven't checked out his novel Bent Steeple, you must. Thanks also to my editor, Joy Sillesen who is also my colleague at Dark Valentine Magazine.

The cover photograph was taken by Keith Cullom, a former firefighter whose photos of fires are available at fire-image.com. I first saw the picture in a news story and it haunted me.

I'm baaack. Did you miss me?

The last month has been a blur of fiction and food and precious little else. As you may know, the Fall Fiction Frenzy (31 stories in 31 days) is going on at Dark Valentine. Coming up we have stories by Brian Trent, Cormac Brown, Christine Pope, and Barbara Emrys, among others. Stories already posted include my own "Animal Lover," and "In the Red Room," John Donald Carlucci's "I Love You to Pieces," A. H. Sargeant's "Lost in Transit" and many many more.

I've also been finalizing the order of stories in my upcoming fiction collection "Just Another Day in Paradise." Due out this month.

As for food, I've been getting up close and personal with it all month. In September I worked with Word of Mouth Catering on a film shoot. (Birds of a Feather. You can see a trailer for the original short film here.) It was 113 one of the days we shot. No AC because of sound. Good times. Actually, I had a blast but it was pretty labor intensive.

This weekend I worked on an emergency gig involving 250 wedding guests and a caterer who simply ... decided he wasn't feeling it and bailed out. The day before the wedding. Let's just say I never want to bake another pita chip in my life but a good time was had by all. The biggest hit, chicken salad on the aforementioned pita chips. Couldn't be simpler:

2 large cans chicken (or three of the smaller cans)

Shred the chicken with a fork.

Add lemon-pepper to taste. (I like a lot of it.)

Add only enough mayonnaise to make everything bind together. (This is important. I normally loathe mayonnaise, but in this recipe, it's not intrusive at all.)

Eat with crackers or chips. Also good with plain pita bread. Enjoy.

Except for the one person who said, "This tuna fish tastes funny," the guests snarfed it.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

9/11/10

In 2001, the population of the United States was 285,669,915, which sounds like a lot of people. But on September 11, 2001, we found out just how small our part of the world really is. Because everyone in America suddenly seemed to know someone who had died in one of those planes or in the Towers or in the Pentagon or in that field in Pennsylvania.

And if they didn't know someone personally, they knew someone who knew someon and it felt personal. My sister knew a college friend. My roommate knew a favorite teacher.

My brother knew Mohammad Atta--the man who became the face of hate. There were 19 hijackers but Atta always got top billing and today, his is the only name anyone really remembers.

My brother represented Atta on some sort of traffic matter. The case was dismissed. And my brother and the most notorious hijacker in the history of America went their separate ways. Until September 11th when Rob suddenly saw a face he knew flashing up on CNN.

Its' a big country but we're all family. In the words of the 17th century poet John Donne:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manner of thine own
Or of thine friend's were.
Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

Less is More

I have been thinking about word count as I write the introduction to my short story collection (Just Another Day in Paradise, coming next month). I'm titling the essay "Long Story Short" and I have been thinking about how you only hear that phrase when it's way too late to make a long story short and the speaker has tried the patience of his or her listeners.

At Dark Valentine, we capped the word count at 5000 and promptly made several exceptions for stories we thought were exceptional. Beginning with the winter issue, though, we're going to be sticklers. I know, I know, I know. A story takes as long as it takes, but very, very few stories justify a word length of more than 5000 words. For example, Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" is only 3773 words. Frank Stockton's classic tale, "The Lady or the Tiger?" is 2747 words long. Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" comes in at 2811. Two of O. Henry's best-loved stories, "The Gift of the Magi" (2163) and "The Ransom of Red Chief" (4372) were comfortably under 5000 words.

Virginia Woolf's "A Haunted House" is only 710 words long. James Joyce's short story "Araby" is only 2399 words long. Come on, if James Joyce--the most wordstruck writer in English can write a short story that comes in at under 3000 words, there's no excuse to not write economically.

Of course, there are exceptions. Richard Connell's "The Most Dangerous Game" is worth every single word of its 8426 length. D.H. Lawrence's "The Rocking Horse Winner" (6015) and Jack London's "To Build a Fire" (7176) are masterpieces.

If you're curious about the word count of the best short stories ever, there's a site that breaks it down for you: Classic Short Stories Bibliography. Worth spending a little time there because they have clickable links to the stories themselves.