Short Stories & Texas Salt

So here’s some exciting news: I’ve just had a short story accepted for publication in an upcoming literary anthology.

This isn’t my first short story rodeo. But this one is particularly fun, since my tale, “Moonshine,” will be appearing in the inaugural edition of Keep Texas Salty. The debut publication for new Texas press Quartermarch, Salty is to be a collection of poetry and short fiction paying tribute to the Texas Gulf Coast.

And as anybody who reads my blog will tell you, that sort of theme is right up my Texas-surfer-girl alley. As they say, you can take the girl outta Texas, but you can’t take Texas outta the girl. You can, however, distill it into a work of fiction or two.

A gothic noir (many thanks to the husband for helping me quantify this strange little story set in Prohibition-era Texas), “Moonshine” isn’t what you’d call a polite tale. But it should fit in just fine given Quartermarch’s aim for the anthology:

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Bite-Sized Book Reviews: “Bone Gap”

Lovely. If I was describing Laura Ruby’s Bone Gap in one word, “lovely” would be it.

As anyone will tell you who’s seen my one two three four bookshelves, my taste in books is somewhat eclectic. I read everything from stylistically-bizarre literary fiction (looking at you, A House in the Country) to lean-and-mean, plot-driven urban fantasy. And I love it all.

Often, I walk away with an overarching impression of why I loved a particular book. For The Historian, it was “research”–Elizabeth Kostovo does an amazing job of digging into her various histories and settings, then weaving them into a riveting story. For The Night Circus, it was “atmosphere”–Erin Morgenstern evokes her novel’s incredible magical landscape with language and imagination lush and dark.

At first glance, Bone Gap doesn’t sound super unique. It’s about a girl who goes missing, and the boy who’s the only witness to the kidnapping. Any one of a dozen thrillers could be summed up the same way.

But Bone Gap‘s treatment of this story sets it completely apart, weaving a layered, atmospheric magical realism novel with evocative language and hand-to-your-heart themes of love and persevering hope. Since finishing Bone Gap, I’ve found my thoughts wandering back to it again and again.

There’s a reason it was a Printz Award Winner and National Book finalist.

Beautiful Roza appears in Bone Gap, Illinois under mysterious circumstances. But her goodness has the small town quickly falling in love with her–no one more so than Sean, Finn’s stoic brother. The day Roza disappears, Sean’s world crumbles; he’s sure she left by choice. But Finn knows Roza was taken–he saw someone do it. No one can find evidence of Finn’s claims, though. And as everyone knows, Finn’s always been a bit… odd.

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Bittersweet

After a multi-year hiatus–peppered with rare, stolen moments of work–and half a year of concentrated effort, I’ve finished the rough draft of my speculative novel, NIGHT GARDEN.

Emphasis on the word “rough.”

A quick glance at my Track Changes application shows 119 comments sprinkled throughout the manuscript, indicating spots where I need to weave in world-building elements, affirm timelines, research further, fill in creative pits, and shore up plot points and character motivations. In addition, I have notes scrawled on napkins, sermon notes, and Post-Its–whatever I could grab before the thought fled.

Then there are the two notebooks (including one of those ultra-sexy yellow-pads) full of the most poorly organized notes imaginable.

I’ve got just a wee bit of work to do before this baby’s ready for prime time.

Still, it’s a major accomplishment, just completing the beast. I typed 112,632 words. I wrote 35 chapters. I hit the point where I could legitimately pen that final flourish: “The End.”

I should be skipping. Dancing. Celebrating with a glass of wine.

Continue reading “Bittersweet”

Bite-Sized Book Reviews: “The Things She’s Seen”

Given my tendency to write long, winding novels that later have to be hacked back like overgrown rosebushes, I’ve come to really respect those writers who’ve mastered the art of trim fiction.

The Things She’s Seen, the work of brother/sister duo Ambelin and Ezekiel Kwaymullina, is a prime example. At just 193 pages–half of which are in verse, making them even less text-intensive–this young adult novel nevertheless tackles heavy themes with succinct, heart-pricking grace.

Set in small-town Australia, Things is told in two voices. 15-year-old Beth Teller, recently dead, has lingered as a ghost only her detective father can see. When he’s dispatched to investigate a suspicious death, she accompanies him, desperate to help him survive his grief. Isobel Catching, found wandering near the murder site, is the sole witness of the crime… but will only tell her story in poetic riddles.

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Bite-Sized Book Reviews: “The Last Voyage of Poe Blythe”

The newest offering by Matched author Ally Condie, The Last Voyage of Poe Blythe is not unlike crowd favorite Firefly in its futuristic-meets-Old West atmosphere. But where Firefly is about traversing the skies, The Last Voyage is all about navigating waterways.

Set on what appears to be a near-future Earth where the human population has fragmented and thinned, The Last Voyage follows Poe Blythe, the 17-year-old captain of the Gilded Lily. A gold-mining dredge, the Lily is designed to scoop up riverine gold for the Admiral, who leads the remote Outpost where Poe’s society resides. But for Poe, who designed the ship’s deadly armor, the dredge is the means to a very different end–revenge against the raiders who destroyed all she loved. But this time, there’s a traitor aboard….

I found a lot to like in Poe’s story. Condie clearly did her research on river-based gold mining and the corresponding destruction. I recently spent a few years living in Suriname, a South American country with a large gold mining sector. My day job at the time included reporting on the impact of mining on Suriname’s rivers and rainforests. The effects are bleak indeed. Condie’s evoking of the heat and noise, grime and devastation of mining is spot-on.

The Last Voyage is also well paced. The novel has a fair number of twist and turns and Condie manages them nimbly–the pace is tight without being rushed. The various story complications unfold gradually, keeping the reader guessing. And flashbacks are skillfully woven throughout, in support of later plot revelations. There’s also disinformation sown by various characters, both intentionally and accidentally. By leaving the reader unsure what to believe, this sprinkling of deception replicates what Poe would experience as she hears rumors and reports, accusations and counter-accusations: deep uncertainty about who to trust.

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Wasted

Here’s another one of my short-fiction assignments from my undergraduate degree in Professional Writing….

WASTED

A time-warp had swallowed the months since I’d last stirred the air here—the NYU lecture hall hadn’t changed a bit.

“Mags!” Professor Beckett’s beard scratched my cheeks as he kissed one then the other. “Great to have you back, Tex.”

“Thanks.”

He adjusted his horn-rimmed glasses, his lime-colored tie, casually preening as always. “I want to see you after class.”

Before I could ask why, he’d flounced to the lecture hall’s front, out of range of interrogation. Uneasiness simmered in my gut.

Glancing at the clock, I moved for the nearest empty chair. My uneasiness boiled into discomfort when I realized who occupied the desk neighboring mine, but it was too late to find another seat without it becoming awkward. Tentatively, I lowered myself into my ill-chosen chair. Continue reading “Wasted”

Characters & Complexity

Recently, I had a bizarre moment. A person (we’ll call them Person #1) who has largely been kind to me–even going out of their way to be so–was portrayed by someone else (Person #2) as having a completely different, far less amenable side.

The tricky part of this was that I totally buy Person #2’s take. I trust their opinion, believing them when they say they’ve had this bad experience. But I also don’t think the kindness shown me by Person #1 is totally fabricated.

So it was throwing me for a bit of a loop, trying to square Person #1’s very-opposed-but-apparently-equally-genuine qualities. I kept thinking: “How can they be like this to me, then turn around and act like that to others?”

Here’s the truth, though: People are complicated, complex, mysterious creatures with shades of motivation, perception, and desire that can be difficult to impossible to untangle. Sure, some universals exist (at least among those not tormented by serious psychoses): We’re all selfish. We all want to love and be loved. We’re all afraid of something. We all see ourselves as the hero of our own story. But we can never entirely know what it’s like to inhabit another person’s shoes, because each pair of shoes is so marvelously unique. What to me looked like dissonance within Person #1’s character made perfect, logical sense to them.

I sometimes feel badly because I’m prone to the writerly habit of seeing the living, breathing people around me in character-terms. I pick up this person’s quirky gesture. I crib that guy’s unique cadence of speech. I tuck people into categories: courteous southern gentleman. Friendly, fun-loving party girl. Brash, bullying Type A father. Continue reading “Characters & Complexity”