Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A friend...

A friend who was recently hit while riding his bike sent this YouTube. We get so busy that we sometimes forget to express our love to friends and family when we have the chance.

This video is from last week here in Phoenix, AZ. Please watch. Then go hug the people you love...every day from now on.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Bostwick Blues

by Don Blinebry

Margot’s jaw muscles are working overtime. She’d take a punch at me if she was sure she wouldn’t break a nail. She’s sitting in the passenger seat staring into oblivion and I wonder if bringing her along is as good an idea as it seemed when I thought of it.
This isn’t what you want running through your head on a stakeout. I focus on the front door of the Bostwick Hotel fifty feet away. I check everyone. Some punk with a shaved head walks by and suddenly I’m thinking about ammunition.
“Excuse me.” I reach across Margot and open the glove compartment. Without taking my eyes off the hotel, I find the spare clip and close the glove box.
“Forget to load your little gun, Pike? I thought you were a hotshot detective.”
I smile. “Call me Hancock. All my friends do. This is a hot load. I’m not taking chances with ricochets on a crowded street.” She’s staring out the window again.
“You’re really going to kill him, just like that.” Her voice is matter-of-fact and it’s not a question.
“No, not just like that. That’s what you’re here for. You said he might listen to you. He’s an escaped felon. Tell him to surrender and nobody gets hurt. That’s the deal. If he puts up a fight, I’ll take him down.”
“Jake would kill you if he knew you dragged me here.”
“Nobody dragged you and who the hell is Jake? Oh, you mean Eugene? Yes, well, if I had a name like that, I’d change it too. Who you gonna scare with a name like Eugene?”
“He scares plenty of people.” I can’t tell if she’s trying to convince me or herself.
“Really? Like who? Children and small animals? You? Did he scare you when he gave you this?” I touch the scar near the corner of her eye. She jerks away and glares at me. It’s supposed to be her angry look but she’s close to tears.
“If it makes you feel better, you’re not the first woman he’s beat up. He did two years for battery in ’04.”
Silence. I check the hotel. She’s staring out the window but the jaw muscles are quiet.
“You didn’t know about the assault conviction, did you? When he got arrested for armed robbery, the judge came down hard because of the priors. What’s a pretty girl like you doing with that scum?”
She lets the question hang there like wet pantyhose draped over the shower rod. Shorty, my street snitch, walks out of the hotel, rubs his neck and goes back in. Nothing to report.
“I suppose you never had a bad day and went home and beat up your wife or your girlfriend?” Her question takes me by surprise. “All guys do that.”
“No, all guys don’t do that. Hell, even if I had a wife or a girlfriend…just because you fell for a creep doesn’t mean everybody’s a bastard.”
I can see the street lights reflect off damp eyes. I wonder if she’s feeling sorry for me or herself or Eugene. Probably not Eugene.
“Do you really think I’m pretty?”
“You don’t have mirrors?”
“Well, of course. I think I look okay, except for my nose and my mouth is too wide. You can’t hide that with makeup. Jake is the only one who ever said I was pretty until you said it, sort of.”
“He’ll tell you whatever you want to hear. Don’t kid yourself. When you’re not around, he says the same thing to somebody else.”
“Oh, like you’d know.”
I take my eyes off the hotel. “I’m the one who brought him in, so yeah, I know what he says when you’re not around. I’m just saying you could’ve done better. When Eugene goes back to the joint, he won’t be getting out.”
“They said that before. The next time he escapes, he’ll be looking for me.”
Shorty is in front of the hotel again. He adjusts his cap and walks into the deli next door. “This is it.” I chamber a round and open the car door. “Get out and stay close to the buildings. Wait for my signal before you tell him to surrender.”
I keep the car between me and the hotel and focus my attention on the entrance. From the corner of my eye I watch her cross the sidewalk.
Eugene pushes through the hotel door, resplendent in a cheap suit and bad haircut. I look at Margot. She’s ten feet away.
Her voice is shrill. “Jake, look out. He’s got a gun.”
Eugene does an imitation of a bobble-head doll, trying to look everywhere at once. I use the car roof to steady my aim while he fumbles for his weapon. Now he’s made me. I’m thinking there should be a warning as I watch the gun come up. “Don’t,” I feel the Colt jump against the heel of my hand, “…even think about it.”
The wall of the hotel breaks Eugene’s fall. Surprise hasn’t had time to register. People are screaming and running but his eyes have never left me. He tries to bring the gun up again.
Margot’s line about a next time comes to mind. The Colt jumps twice and Eugene goes limp.
I move around the car, keeping the .38 trained on my target. Shorty is in front of the deli dialing 911. The smell of Margot’s perfume tells me she’s close. Shalimar and gunpowder and the stench of the city are a heady combination. Her voice is shaky.
“Did I do okay, Pike? Did I get it right?”
“You did just fine, kid. Take a taxi. You’ve been home all night if anybody asks. I’ll call you in a couple of days.”
I listen to her heels click down the row of parked cabs. My toe nudges Eugene’s Glock away from him. The wail of approaching sirens mixes with the murmurs of a gathering crowd and from somewhere, the riff of an alto sax punctuates the night.
All rights reserved by the author.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Here Comes Even MORE Judges!

Judith A. McKee was born in Kansas, USA. As a child she moved frequently with her family following her father's job. She attended many schools until her father established his welding and blacksmith business prior to Judith entering high school. She graduated high school with the desire to attend college. She love the sciences and hoped to become and veterinarian. Her hope was dashed when she learned that women were not admitted to veterinarian schools without being recommended by a state representative or senator. Her family did not have those ties. She eventually married the cousin of her best friend. Five years and two children later he abandoned her and the children leaving them behind along with a huge amount of debt.

Judith struggled to support the children and pay the debt left behind by working two jobs. Years later she met her second husband and children were born of that marriage. Judith helped her husband establish a business and entered college to fulfill the dream of higher education. She graduated with a BS in Horticulture after changing majors. A divorce followed. She entered graduate school and received an MS in Horticulture. After working in the landscape nursery business for several years, Judith accepted a job as Director of Public Grounds for a community in north central Kansas. During those years, Judith met Nadine Laman and became "over the fence gardening buddies". Judith is now semi-retired, living in Southwest Missouri, working on her Masters certificate in Herbalism, gardening at her new home, doing Native American-like bead work and enjoying being active in her church.

Judith is one of my first beta readers. It is a bit funny that all the years we lived next door, I never mentioned my writing. I was truly a closet writer, and to me, it is like having blue eyes, writing is just part of me. With her scientific mind as well as her artistic nature, Judith is a fantastic beta reader. She is very exacting and keen on the emotional and artistic component of my writing style.
Glyn Pope writes full time in the solitude of his home in rural France. His writing style is varied and robust giving readers a choice of competition and award winning short stories and poetry, novels as well as children’s fiction. Glyn’s historical novel To The End Of Love was published by Turner Maxwell 2008. He has completed his second novel, The Plutocrat, The Mendacious Minister, and The Doctor which will soon be published. Glyn is now writing the follow up with the working title of The Dead Plutocrat, The Doctor, and His Dog. He is also writing a novel Accused. Glyn’s blog can be found at

I met Glyn last summer just prior to the Blog Party. When the time came for the party I hadn't realized that it was essentially set up to run 24 hrs a day - yes, for a month! Glyn jumped in like a life-time friend and helped moderate the party when I slept. From there we chatted about writing and I gave him a few writing tips geared to publication particulars. From there, we have reached a point where Glyn will be the debut author for Cactus Rain later this year with his historical fiction about post WW II England. Watch for when it is available for purchase!


Jan Zitek. Jan didn't have time to send me a bio, so when she does I'll update this post. Jan is my sister-in-law. She beta reads for me. She travels a lot and has lived all over the world, but beta reads via email wherever she is. Jan did the contest judging just before leaving for Bolivia to deliver wheelchairs. She is an awesome person and I'm so lucky to have her help with my books. She lives in California and has a beach house as their second home. She helped with research for Kathryn's Beach. She is a priceless addition to my team. She is a 49ers fan and a graduate of Kansas State University.

Jan Laman Zitek. As Nadine mentioned in her blog I have known Nadine for a long time as she fortunately or unfortunately, depending on the day, married my only brother, Charley and joined my 2 sisters as my third sister!! I have lived, thanks to the US Army, in many places and still have that wanderlust which I inherited from my father. I was born in southern California and was raised in my parents' hometown of Concordia, Kansas and always planned to leave. I attended Kansas State University where I met my husband, Lyle, a veterinarian. Since Viet Nam was in full swing, we joined the Army after a year in South Dakota and yet another school. I have 2 children, Dawn & Kyle, and 2 grandcats which visit often.

I love to read anything and everything which led me to be an English major. I am retired and enjoying the freedom to travel whenever the spirit and the money permit. As Nadine mentioned I just returned from Bolivia where we delivered 280 wheelchairs which our local Rotary district raised $42,000 to purchase. Bolivia was not on my "Bucket List" but was a special place as we sat in the jungle in a semi-restored Jesuit mission and listened to Baroque music being played by a string orchestra composed entirely of 8-14 year olds with no formal music training, or seeing the tears in the eyes of the parent of a 10 year old as we sat her in a wheelchair so that after 10 years of being carried everywhere by her mother suddenly had mobility, or the smile on the face of an old gentleman as we gave him back his dignity and his independence. Our next trip is to the Dominic Republic and Cancun, Mexico, entirely for fun--a beach, a book, and a marguerita are all I have planned unless Nadine has something new for me to read!!!

NOTES: The certificates and checks have gone out to our three winners. Please watch your mail, Jo, Peggy, and Don. Coming on Wednesday will be Don's winning story. Again, I want to thank the judges and all those who took the time to enter the Short Story Contest.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Hunger

by Peggy Nolan

"Without a sense of time, how would we function in this world?" I let the question hang in the air as I stare at my undergraduate class of bright, eager, and yet all too vacant students.
"Anyone?" I ask as I look around the room.
One of my students sitting in the back row clears his throat. Another taps a pencil on her knee. I shift my gaze towards three students in the front row. A young woman with brilliant green eyes and glossy red lips twirls her auburn hair. She smiles as we make eye contact. I allow my gaze to linger on the curve of her creamy white neck.
I turn to the black-board; my tweed jacket covered in chalk dust, and write "Eckhart Tolle" in big square letters. "Did anyone actually read the assignment?"
Chair legs squeak on the floor. Someone in the back row giggles. I underline Tolle's name and drop my piece of chalk. I feel slightly queasy. "Did anyone see him on Oprah the other day?"
The girl with the green eyes raises her hand and snaps her gum.
"You..." I point at her as I grab the student roster from the lecture podium. "Sophie Williamson, right?"
She nods and snaps her gum again.
My gaze drops to her delicious neckline for a second time. "She's too young," I think as I feel a thud where my stomach used to be. I brush the sleeve of my tweed jacket across my forehead and breathe in a trail of stale chalk dust.
"Anyone else?" I ask, fumbling for my handkerchief.
Three more hands shoot up.
"Good," I scratch my nose. "At least we've got a quorum."
Sophie raises her hand. I notice her nails; painted a deep purple, almost black, filed short and squared off. "Yes, Ms. Williamson?" I inhale more dust and cough. I reach for my bottle of water, unscrew the cap, and take a sip.
"If I had no sense of” she pauses and snaps her gum again.
I catch a hint of cinnamon, Big Red perhaps. Or maybe Dentyne.
"I wouldn't know when to go to class, right?" She tilts her head to the right and smiles, showing off her perfectly straight white teeth.
"Riiiiight." I can’t take my eyes off the pulsing blue vein on the side of her neck. Transfixed by the imaginary taste of her oxygenated blood, I struggle to maintain the equanimity that took me nearly two hundred years to cultivate. I can feel my carefully crafted sense of enlightened poise unravel inside my mind.
"And,” Sophie continues, “I wouldn't know how long to bake the lasagna or when to serve the Mellini."
I can hear the sound of her mascara coated eyelashes crash together as she gives me a slow unsophisticated wink. I watch as she shifts in her seat, lifting her skirt as she crosses her right leg over her left, exposing a hint of her well-toned luscious thigh. In the dark recess of my mind, I hear the echoes of my savage past. A past I thought I had banished forever. “A slow drink on her Femoral artery to tempt my taste buds? Or perhaps I should go straight for the jugular and dispense with the formalities of a civilized feeding.” Oh I can taste her now.
“Patience!” I chide myself. My hand shakes with anticipation, releasing tiny particles of even more chalk dust into the air. I notice the miniscule hairs on my knuckles stand up as my cold skin tingles with anticipation. I flick my tongue across the tips of my fangs as the back of my throat and the insides of my cheeks begin to salivate. I clinch my hands into fists…it’s all I can do to maintain control.
I glance at the clock. The sound of the minute hand roars in my ears. “Well,” I say, “It appears that only Ms. Williamson has grasped the basic concepts of the assignment.” I glimpse at the roster and pick a few names. “Davis, Watson, and the rest of you - be prepared to discuss chapter two on Wednesday evening.”
“Professor Gaines?” I’m not sure if it’s Davis or Watson.
“Yes?” I turn. It’s Davis.
“You just want us to read chapter two?”
I nod my head and clear my throat. “Class dismissed. Ms. Williamson?”
“Yes Professor?” she looks up as she gathers her books.
“If you don’t mind, a word before you leave.” A hunger I haven’t felt in centuries burns deep inside my hollow core. I walk from my lecture podium to her front row desk. "Dinner?” I ask. Sophie arches her right eyebrow and shifts her gaze down and then back up at me. She gives a quick nod of her head and I glimpse a half smile. I can smell trace elements of iron as the symphonic sound of her blood dances on my eardrums.
“The Mellini,” I say, handing Sophie her notebook, “sounds delicious.”
All rights are retained by the author.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Here Come More Judges!

Here are more of the people who judged the short stories. I can never thank them enough for the time and energy they put into this little contest. Again, my comments are in blue after the bios.

Mary Edington
An Abridged Story of My Life: Mary Edington. So, how did a Yankee-born, Southern bred woman get to be a judge in a web based writing contest? It all goes back to my profession…..that of teacher. I am a veteran teacher with an undergraduate degree in Elementary Education, and a Master’s in Education with an emphasis in Mathematics and Science. I taught for many years in Florida, where I honed my skills in a variety of areas. Eight years ago, my career brought me to Arizona, where I eventually met up with the Laman family. As a teacher to one of the boys, Nadine saw my take on education and how being able to communicate coherently is integral to being an educated person. Nadine and I became friends, and the rest….as they say, is history.

What Mary doesn't say is that she is one of my beta readers. We will discuss her read over lunch at the Sweet Tomato and (get this) she will tell me what page and which paragraph she took issue. No big deal unless I mention that she does this without notes and will comment on things that I find later are not in her notes. Not only that, Mary checks EVERYTHING. When Kathryn goes on the commuter flight to San Francisco, Mary checked to see if there really were such flights at the time I said there were. I don't remember what she found, but was thankful that I had checked that at the time I wrote it. Mary is very good hearted about the whole thing of me being dyslexic. Mary now teaches at the one of the schools on the Navajo Reservation in northern Arizona. How's that for cool?

Carolyn Howard-Johnson
Carolyn Howard-Johnson's first novel, This is the Place, and Harkening: A Collection of Stories Remembered ( are both award-winners. Her fiction, nonfiction and poems have appeared in national magazines, anthologies and review journals both online and in print. Howard-Johnson is a popular seminar leader at conferences like Dayton University's Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop, San Diego State's world renowned Writers' Conference and Sinclair Lewis Writer's Conference. She also appears in national TV commercials. She is an instructor for UCLA Extension's Writers' Program. She was named Woman of the Year in Arts and Entertainment by members of the California Legislature and her nitty gritty how-to book, THE FRUGAL BOOK PROMOTER (, USA Book News' "Best Professional Book" and was an Irwin award winner. Her THE FRUGAL EDITOR ( was also a USA Book News award winner as well as a Reader Views Literary Award winner and her marketing campaign for that book won the New Millennium Marketing Award. Her chapbook of poetry, TRACINGS (Finishing Line Press) (, was named to the Compulsive Reader's Ten Best Reads of 2005 list and her newest chapbook series of holiday celebrations coauthored with Magadalena Ball includes SHOW WORE EMERALD THEN ( and CHERISHED PULSE ( She loves to travel and has studied writing at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom, UK: Herzen University in St. Petersburg, Russia; and Charles University in Prague. She has a completed screenplay commissioned by a now-defunct publisher now moldering in a drawer. Her website is: She blogs at Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites pick and several others.Website: E-mail:

Carolyn is such an underachiever as you can tell from her bio. BTW, UCLA is the University of California, Los Angeles. She did briefly mention that she is a model and actress, but not that she was an editor for a big name magazine in New York City. Carolyn was also a participant in the Blog Party, always making time in her busy schedule for me and my little projects.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Lemon Man From Agerola

by Jo Smith

We clink our glasses and the noise echoes round the restaurant.
'To the birthday girl. May your boobs stay pert until you're at least thirty-five.' I wink and we drink.
Josie leans across the table, looking around. 'There's nobody else here.' She turns to Jenny.
'It's a good job you booked,' she says, her voice heavy with sarcasm.
Jenny lifts her hands in protest. 'Roberto told me it's the most popular restaurant in Agerola.
How was I supposed to know nobody eats out on a Monday evening?'
Josie reaches for the wine and spills droplets on the table as she pours. She begins to giggle and I join in.
'How about ringing Roberto?' I say. 'He can come and join in the fun.'
'Ooh, yes.' Jenny rummages in her bag for her phone. 'He's got a brother as well.'
Josie and I listen as Jenny speaks in rapid Italian, but the wine clouds my understanding.
Jenny hangs up and announces that Roberto will be with us in five minutes along with his brother, Mauro.
'Good,' says Josie and waves the empty wine bottle at the waiter.
'He keeps staring at us,' I say.
'Let him,' Josie shrugs.
'He's creepy. He looks like Eddie Munster.'
The door rattles and Roberto and Mauro walk in, ducking under the low wooden beams.
There are cries of 'ciao bella' and kisses all round. A minute later the candles flicker again as a third man enters and Roberto introduces him as Salvatore, a friend who makes his living from lemons.
'I like lemons,' I say.
'Ah, then you must come to my house, I give you Limoncello.' Salvatore leans close to me
and I smell lemon on his skin.
The boys join us for dinner. They insist on buying our meal and make sure our glasses are
never empty. Salvatore doesn't leave my side and I edge my chair away slightly. Josie and Jenny are oblivious. Josie manages to cover the table with red wine and Jenny snorts with laughter. The waiter rushes over with a cloth while Josie jabs Mauro's chest to drive home her point. I have no idea what her point is and I seriously doubt she does either.
Salvatore stands up and we all turn our heads to look at him. 'I think we go for a drive now,' he says.
I have the vague feeling that I would rather go back to the hotel, but Josie thinks a drive is just what we need and her enthusiasm steam rolls over my qualms.
The fresh air hits me and I sway into Salvatore, who props me up and steers me toward a battered van. He is driving before I realise I'm alone and Jenny and Josie are ahead in Roberto's car.
'Where are we going?'
Salvatore pats my leg. 'It's a surprise.'
I grip the door handle and fix my gaze on Roberto's car. I can see Josie leaning forward,
talking animatedly, Jenny interjecting with helpful vocabulary. They swing from side to side as the car follows the twists in the road.
I check my seat belt and notice that Salvatore isn't wearing his. He lights a cigarette and in doing so takes both hands off the wheel. The van veers to the left and I breathe in sharply.
'Don't worry.' Salvatore grins. 'I know these roads since I was a child.'
I nod, unable to speak. Then, without warning he swerves off the road and bumps down a
rough track. I look over my shoulder at the main road.
'What are you doing? The others have gone straight on.'
'Sure. We make a stop.'
I can just make out a small garage at the end of the track and as Salvatore drives closer, a path leading around the back. Salvatore pushes a button on his keyring and the door opens. We drive in, he cuts the engine and I immediately unclip my seatbelt and open the door. I feel his hand on my arm, gently restraining me.
'Please,' I say. 'I want to find my friends.'
He smiles, then gets out of the van. I try to think rationally. If I run, he will catch me, but if I stay... I swivel round and don't see him. Decision made, I jump down from my seat and rush
outside. I stumble on the grass, curse my heels, but keep going.
Behind me I hear an engine start up. I take off my shoes and begin to run, but headlights
appear out of the darkness and the spotlight is on me. My heart hammers in my chest and I can't breathe. I can see the main road and know I won't make it.
Salvatore catches me up, but he is no longer driving the van. He leans over and opens the passenger door.
'What are you doing?' He frowns. 'I wanted to show you my baby. When I found out your
name, I knew I must introduce you. Joanna, this is Joanna.'
'A car?' I say in high-pitched incredulity. 'You just wanted to show me a car?'
'Not any car. A 1964 Fiat 500.'
I fold my arms and glare at Salvatore. He beams back at me, his teeth as white as his
precious car, and gestures to me to get in. I huff and slide in beside him. Looking round at the Fiat I understand his pride. It looks as though it should be in a museum and I run my hand over the wooden dashboard and admire the cream and red interior. I reach for my seat belt and Salvatore lets out a shout of laughter when I realise there isn't one. There's a twinkle in his eye as he promises to drive carefully and my resolve cracks. Josie and Jenny tell me they heard laughing before they heard the car.
All rights are retained by the author.

(And this is one of our winners!)
I'm sorry about the lack of indents. I tried several things and have no clue how to format this so blogger will do what I'm trying to do. However - what do you think of the icon Joyce, my web designer, made for the winners? That only took her a couple of minutes. Winners Jo, Peggy, and Don may display it on their blogs, websites, or anywhere they can imagine. Congratulations again, Jo!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Here Comes the JUDGES!

First off, I alphabetized the judges' list. I'll introduce the eight judges in several posts. Between each post, I'll post the winning stories - both should keep you coming back!

After the bios the judges sent me, I'll do my comment thing like I did during the blog party. (Yeah, that should worry the judges - no one ever knows what I'll say next!) Not everyone submitted photos so you'll have to track them down through their links.

Anita Beery
Anita is a certified proofreader whose clients are usually new authors preparing their manuscripts for submission. She has proofread numerous works of fiction, pamphlets, and poetry for small publishers in Arizona, California, and Colorado. Her "8-5" job has been with Maricopa County Superior Court for the past 18 years. An avid reader, she also enjoys her houseful of cats, tortoises, and a very patient husband.

Anita is here in the Phoenix area. We met at a local writers' conference several years ago. I've worked with Anita and can highly recommend her to anyone needing a proofreader. She is prompt with returing works, probably the only person in this industry who moves faster than a snail's pace. She will be the official line editor for Cactus Rain Publishing. How's that for awesome?
Joy Collins
Joy worked for many years in the nursing profession. So, it was logical that when she started her writing career, she authored many health-related articles. However, her love is fiction and in 2007, she published her first novel. Titled Second Chance, it dealt with many timely topics, such as marriage, step-families, and aging parents. Her second novel Coming Together, co-authored with Joyce Norman, highlights not only a love story but also the plight of orphans in Brazil.

Joy now divides her time between working on her third novel and her two publishing companies. Chalet Publishers is a small traditional publisher. For more information go to Her other company is Coyote Moon Books, her newest venture for self publishers. For more information, visit or contact her at

Joy is also in the Phoenix area. We are officially 'competitors' by all the definitions, however we are non-partner partners. Joy and I get together regularly to share tips and tricks we use in our own books and our publishing enterprizes. We also team market our books and refer authors to each other. Ain't that cool?

Nick Daws
Nick is a full-time professional freelance writer, editor, and writing teacher. He is the author of over 80 non-fiction books, ranging from 'Living & Working in Germany' to '365 Ways to Have Fun at Work'. He has written innumerable published articles and short stories, and has also had scripts broadcast on BBC TV and radio. He has written several top-selling distance-learning courses, including 'Write Any Book in Under 28 Days' and 'Essential English for Authors', both published by The WCCL Network.

In recent years Nick has specialized increasingly in writing for the Internet, and runs the popular online writers forum He has a blog at, where he regularly shares hints, tips and market information for writers, and a FaceBook Fan Page at He is also an active Twitter user at Nick lives with his partner Jayne, an IT lecturer, at their home in Burntwood, Staffordshire, England.

I met Nick when I stumbled upon My Writers Circle several years ago. I wasn't finding what I needed from other forums and soon found that I only went to MWC. Not only did I gain writing info about the international writing community, I shared the little bit I knew. I've always found Nick to be supportive of my crazy ideas for this blog (the blog party and this short story contest), and of me as a fellow writer. I think Nick is a Peach of a guy!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Mea Culpa

I have theories, but no real explanation how this happened. It just did.

There is a third winner to the short story contest. Somehow the story didn't get posted for the judges to read. I have poled a few and this story should also be recognized as a winner.

All I can do is sincerely apologize and say that we have three winners! Yes, how's that for a cool contest? No entry fee and three winners!

So... here ya go! The envelope please. (Do a drum roll, if you are so inspired to such things.)

Our third winner, or second winner in the published writer category, goes to BOSTWICK BLUES by Don Blinebry! Yeah Don. You are in good company with Jo Smith and Peggy Nolan.

So how about it you three, may I post your winning entries on my blog? Please answer in the comment section or send me an email.

BTW, I'm very honored that everyone took the time to enter my first ever writing contest with the total prize money now adding to $150 USD.

I will get the comments put together for all of the writers and the judges to see. If the judges spotted something you need to work on, you're miles ahead in knowing than you were a few weeks ago - and these judges are a tough audience. If I'd judged, everyone would have won because there is something special about each story submitted, and I'd be broke - so it is better this way.

Monday, March 15, 2010


It wasn't until I was cooking lunch for guests this weekend that I learned my stove has two temps, burn-to-a-crisp and OFF.

Forget that, I bet everyone wants to know who the winners are in the short story contest, yes?

The judges have sent in their votes and most sent comment which I will share with each writer. In addition to the judges' take on the story itself, they judged with the criteria that is linked to the cactus logo in the top left on the sidebar.

I want to make sure everyone understands the crux of this gig. If I had a dozen lit agents judge this contest, the results would be much the same, their opinions would run the whole spectrum - as it did this contest. There was of course clear winners, but the non-winners were not too far behind and mostly grouped close to each other.

The point of this is: take rejection letters from agents with a grain of salt. Do improve your query letter, but also know, as I've said before, this is a subjective industry. I think everyone can recall a time when there was a buzz about a certain book, then after reading it couldn't figure out the big fuss everyone else was making. Keep writing, keep improving, keep sending out queries., the envelope, please!

In the published writer category, the winner is THE LEMON MAN FROM AGEROLA. Congratulations to Jo Smith!

In the unpublished writer category, the winner is THE HUNTER. Congratulations to Peggy Nolan!

I will get your prize checks in the mail and see about getting a winner icon you can use if you like. Also the rest of this week I will be introducing our judges on my blog.

Important note: I'm thinking about posting the link to the entries for everyone to go read the entries and see if you agree with the judges' decision. If anyone who entered the contest does NOT want their entry available, please email me this week, or leave a comment on this post.

Again, congratulations to our winners and thank you to everyone who entered. Keep writing!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Contest Comments

Several people have asked how the short story contest is coming and when the winners will be announced. Peggy Nolan was the latest to ask. See link below.

The judges have been submitting their decisions and comments - with just a few left to come in. On Monday, I'll email the two winners, published writers and unpublished. Before I announce the winners, I will introduce the judges. They have done a fantastic job and all have taken the duty quite seriously. I'm very proud to know each of them and honored that they agreed to judge for 'us' considering how busy they are. I haven't done the final tally of the scores, so at this moment, even I don't know who the winners are.

The judges have each said they enjoyed reading the entries and there was a nice mix of genre and some very original works. There is a consensus that all of the works could have used just a bit more work on them, some needing polishing and some just a bit more of this or that.

I will compile all the comments, good, bad, and ugly for each writer as a bit of feedback with the spirit of assistance the judges unanimously sent.

The odd thing is that each story has received the lowest rank by one or another judge and one of the two highest scores by other judges - proving, once again, this is a subjective business. They commented on the strong and weak points and I think that information will be helpful to each writer. These comments will be combined in one email per writer.

Not everyone can win (I couldn't afford the prize money) but I thought each piece has some very strong points to them, as well as areas that need work. Do not use any less than flattering comments as an excuse to get discouraged. This is a fantastic opportunity to see what a sampling of industry professionals thought of the works.

One thing I noticed was that we need to be more mindful of the global audience. I found in reading the comments there were times when the non-American judges didn't get the nuances of the American pieces and vise versa with the American judges not quite getting the non-American pieces. When it comes to marketability of our works, something agents and publishers look at, we need to reach the widest audiences possible while still finding a balance with our native voice.

Not that I'm the perfect example to follow, but look at the comments about Kathryn's Beach from my Egyptian friend, Asmaa Kadry, "... I enjoyed the part describing her beach and the ocean, lovely! Love of the sea is in my blood! I felt I was on the beach in Alexandria, Egypt's first harbor, and I swear I almost smelled it and felt its breeze touching my face!" To read the full comment, go here:

Peggy Nolan:

Asmaa Kadry:

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Golden Goose

Lately the industry news has bored me silly. (Well, maybe I was already a bit silly.) Have you ever sat back and watched someone make a big fuss about nothing? That's about how this eBook stuff strikes me.

Hullo? We live in a digital world - or at least we need to get up to speed that technology is catching up to the original StarTrek. There are five million-zillion eReaders (or a few less) - pick one. I'm just not there because I've seen it (and so have you) with videos - Beta, VHS, DVD, BluRay...and whatever is next.

I'll get excited when there is a universal or multiversal (made-up word) format. Until then, I'm sitting back watching everyone scramble to win our affections by aligning their catalogue with this reader or that one, and don't forget the app, thank-you-very-much. In the meantime, I'm not interested in reading about the price issue because if I don't like the price, I'm not buying it (whatever "it" is - including eBooks and their readers).

The same goes with the GoogleBookscan question that has been in and out of the news for years now. It's simple. Non-writer people got excited with their ability to digitalize printed matter and went off like "a house-a-fire" copying books like they were there for the taking. Just because a kid leaves their bike in the front yard doesn't mean it is free for anyone who wants it, it means the kid left it there and plans for it to be there when they return (not likely, but that is the expectation).

I don't buy for one minute that the bookscan project has anything to do with preserving our literary history - it has to do with making money off of writers' imagination and ability to do something talented with it. I don't really think anyone at GoogleBooks project came from a novelist background. The part that bugs the heck out of me is that libraries condoned this without regard to the fact that they own the book, not the content. How dare they! I'd have thought they knew better. I would have thought they had more respect for the craft.

While every other industry news item is about one of these, in one form or another, here we are writing our hearts out. (And laughing our butts off.) "They" don't seem to get it. All of this is about the business of making money off of our craft.

(Here's the silly part.) So I was thinking, what if we kept working in our cottage industry (that's what this is - a craft) but for SIX months didn't submit any queries? What if [also] all of us stopped selling our books - on our websites and shipping to the online retailers? Sure I know there are far too many writers who would cross the imaginary picket line, but wouldn't it be something to get everyone's attention that they are nothing without us?

Monday, March 8, 2010

Sense of Direction

I got lost [again] the other day. Usually I have a keen sense of direction and once I've been some place, I can find it again. I was so tired and there is so much going on [that you don't know about] that I became really, really, really frustrated and almost cried.

What I do is own the moment; acknowledge how I feel, accept it and my humanity, and move on. RosettaStone is an excellent program, but sometimes it is simply frustrating. It moves at lightning pace and did I mention that I'm dyslexic? However, the motivator is my new job requires that I become fluent in Spanish.

For those of you facing query letters with a profound dread, I can tell you that rejections get old. As much as anyone says that it isn't personal, there are days that it feels otherwise. At first, I followed sample queries of two renowned experts in the industry. They didn't work. Or I didn't do them correctly. Some agents list on their websites or blogs what flips their cookies when it comes to queries.

Let me say my theory is if they had a fuss with their spouse that morning, it is likely no query letter will be good enough that day. Surprise! They are human and most of this industry is subjective.

I had three returned SASE come at once (this is pre-query by email). I left them sit on my desk for the better part of a week. I knew what they were, either a "not for me" scribbled on my query or a form rejection. I simply wasn't in the mood. But one of them was a request to read my full ms with the promise to respond in six weeks! I lugged that ton of paper to the Post Office and sent it off.

I marked off the minutes until six weeks came and went. What did it mean that the deadline had passed with no contact. It was confusing and a bit discouraging. Eventually, the phone rang and the agent was calling to offer a contract. The delay was because he liked it and wanted to have a couple of the women in the office read it since it was women's lit.

One thing my mother used to say during tough times was it is always darkest before the dawn. There can be dark mornings in this industry. It is the litmus test to your perseverance. Now that we all have computers everyone is writing a novel - yes, everyone. The ones who get published - through one means or another - are the writers who chase it with the drive of an eight-year-old chasing an ice cream truck.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Dead Reckoning

Traveling back and forth 70 miles across Phoenix to my new home, I look at the mountains with their green fuzz from the monsoon rains. These aren't the Rocky Mountains, but still most people don't expect any bump in the desert landscape. I thought I'd share a photo of Camelback Mountain - he looks west. Photo was taken from Papago [the name of a Native People] Mountains by one of my sons. See the camel's two humps? Go left to his ear and follow his nose. There is another mountain behind it that gets in the way - sorry, I didn't notice that at first. BTW, all of this is in the middle of the City. Cool?

There are all kinds of embarrassing stories to tell about me getting lost in my new hometown. The thing is, Phoenix is laid out on a grid where the roads are wide and point in the four compass directions. The exception is the mining roads, such as Grand Avenue which cuts a diagonal to the assay office (or where it was then) from the mines in the northwest. All I can say is there must have been a lot of directional impaired people in this part of town. Nothing is on the compass in my new town - but I do like it here even if I can't see Camelback and fix my position.

And what's the point of all this, you ask? Readers. Readers expect to be able to navigate through a story without feeling lost. My big annoyance is dialogue that I can't follow without stopping to count down to see who said what. Misdirection is a part of mystery writing. There are all kinds of writing tools, but we are expected not to misuse them or slop through our stories.

The point is: if your dialogue needs tags, use them. Who cares what 'they' say is the way to write, if it isn't clear without them, use tags. The other point is: don't get cute with misdirection. I hate being on the outside of an inside joke - I think it is a rude thing to do to guests.

The point is: Write to your readers. Write honestly - no tricks, no alligators over the transom. Write clearly, tell your story to the reader, don't just write to hear yourself talk. (Okay mixed metaphor, but you got it, didn't you?)

I've heard novice writers talk of falling in love with their characters, of needing to write like it is an addiction. My opinion is, they are writing for the wrong person. Fall in love with your readers. Romance them. Adore them like a lover. Bring them gifts and surprises. Bring them the flowers of your best work (and that metaphor isn't my best work).

This isn't about what's in it for the writer - I guarantee very few make a bucket of money; this is about the reader, your reader. Love them well. Everyone else (agents, acquisition editors, publishers) will fall into place if you fall in love with your readers.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Contest Thoughts

Glynis mentioned in the comments on Monday's post that some contests are closed - only open certain country's writers. That might have to do with local and international laws, especially for those offering the prize of a publishing contract.

Some contests are 100% gimmicks and solely had to raise income. But don't discount a contest just because there is a fee. Advertising the contest is a huge expense in some cases. Sometimes judges are compensated for their time. There are expenses beyond the prize money, so I don't mind a reasonable fee.

The judges for my short story contest have nothing to gain for donating their time, it is just one of those relationship things that develops. I'm blessed with many good industry contacts.

Some contests are prestigious to win. Certainly those that provide judges' feedback are useful - often for an additional fee. They give a snapshot of what industry pros think of the submission at that moment in time.

However, keep in mind that some people have submitted the same [rejected] ms to an agent at a later date with no significant changes and it was "loved" the second time around. This industry is subjective. It is also a lot of educated guessing.

I think there are several reasons to enter writing contests. The free contests, of which there aren't very many, are budget friendly - a no brainer. It is important to set a budget on what will be spent for contests. There are contests with prestigious names that are a real boost to a writing career, if won. Usually those cost more than some of the others. I like those that give out the judges' comments - good, bad, and ugly. If you don't win, at least you have feedback from the process. Also, you know your work was read.

I'm suspect of contests with anthologies, publishing contracts, and a bunch of services that I wouldn't buy, so don't really want to win.

Take the time to research who can enter. Some contests have geographic boundaries, some the publisher has to submit the work while others the author has to enter.

At any rate, thank you to everyone who entered this contest. I am delighted with the response since this is the first time to host a contest and it certainly isn't a prestigious one. But I hope that the ease made it a little less stressful for those who were entering their first contest.

Keep in mind that the world doesn't end if you don't win. Regardless of what anyone thinks of your writing, you have to keep the faith, continue to hone your skills, and follow your dream.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Judge this!

The comments from the judges are that they are enjoying reading the contest entries more than they expected. I think it might have to do with the entries and the judges being international, which allows for them to read outside their countrymen's work and see new styles.

Three judges are finished with their task. They have made comments to the writers. I'll consolidate the comments into one email for each writer. I think it will be helpful feedback to see what the judges agreed on and where they differed. Also, they are saying what worked - and why - and what didn't.

Usually it is best to take comments with a grain of salt and weigh them. But at least they should be considered, after all, this is free for the writers and the judges are a good mix of professional writers, editors, and hardcore reading maniacs. (Plus that international thing I said before.)

So, stop the nail biting we are getting there.