Friday, December 24, 2010

Songs for the Scrooge Inclined

At Writers Who Kill blog spot we hope you have a joyous holiday season. We will

put up new blogs starting on January 3, 2011. Until then we offer the songs below

for people who have had more than enough of the festivities:


(To the tune of it’s Beginning to look a lot like Christmas)

It’s beginning to look a lot like prison

Everywhere I see

The jurors’ unfriendly eyes

Prosecution cracking wise

My attorney will not look at me.

It’s beginning to look a lot like hard time

Shouldn’t have testified

But how did I know she’d rat

Because of our little spat

Now everybody knows how much I lied.

The Bailiff’s fitting me with handcuffs

He’s taking me away

More chances to make new friends

Opportunities never end

And I’ll be home in ten years and a day.


(To the tune of Walking in a Winter Wonderland)

Homicide. Were you listenin’?

Did you see the blood glistenin’?

Friends forever. Narcing never.

Sneaking ‘cross a winter wonderland

In the hood there used to be a stoolie

We’ll pretend that we were never there

When they ask, “Where were you? Tell me truly.”

Shopping for my brother’s underwear.

Later on we conspire.

Smoke some weed

And get higher.

The cops come around

To tell us they found

Our tracks across the winter wonderland.

Thursday, December 23, 2010


First, from Writers Who Kill, happy holidays, whatever the holiday, and best wishes for the New Year.

clip_image001I spent the last few days preparing to submit to fifteen agents. The busyness of this time of the year distracts me from right-brain thinking so I’m not opening up my next novel in my missing person series or the two short stories I’ve started. Instead, I’m thinking as though I’m applying for a job by studying agents, agencies, and their clients. Hopefully, my subconscious is busy on the vague images and ideas that need development for my next WIP and for my short stories.

Sometimes I wonder if the magic of Christmas decreases after a person reaches five years of age because by then, a person forms recoverable memories. She holds in her mind an image of imperfection and disappointment.

I consider myself lucky that my parents weren’t equipped economically or emotionally to let me think I should get what I want always or that someone else could provide me with happiness. I’m not sure I ever had an ideal image of Christmas.

Today, I think much about Christmases experienced by others. I can’t shake images of children in Third World countries who need a sugary peanut concoction to avoid stunted growth and intellectual retardation. Mothers in Africa and India can expect to lose some of their babies. How terrible is that?

The peace and goodwill message of Christmas seems an unrealized ideal. I’ll spend Christmas with my children and grandchildren, and enjoy that. But, unless a person is an extreme introvert, it’s impossible to remain happy for long. We keep trying to improve the situation but we seem destined not to see the finished product.


Perhaps our finiteclip_image002 perspective gives us a reason to create stories, dreams captured in black and white, temporary satisfactions or insights.

Congratulations to all those authors published this year and here’s wishing for success for those seeking publication in the coming year.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Our E-Book Journey by Evelyn David

Once upon a time last month two authors who write under the pen name Evelyn David decided to publish an e-book series of short stories featuring psychic Brianna Sullivan. This is our tale.


Hell on wheels or a psychic in a travel trailer? Brianna Sullivan gave up her job finding missing luggage for the airlines in order to seek the freedom of the open road. Her first stop? The small town of Lottawatah, Oklahoma. Using her psychic abilities, Brianna takes on a multitude of jobs to earn gas money, help the local police detective, and direct some troubled souls towards the light.

We had written several short stories detailing psychic Brianna Sullivan's adventures in a small, fictional Oklahoma town, but hadn't found the perfect way to market them. Too short for a novel, but too long for traditional mystery magazines, we decided to develop the series into volumes with each volume having a total word count of 16,000-18,000 words. To date we've published three volumes - I Try Not to Drive Past Cemeteries; The Dog Days of Summer in Lottawatah; and The Holiday Spirit(s) of Lottawatah. The e-books are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords.

Okay, we've told you how we started and where we ended up, but the "in between" is not so simple.

We began the process of converting our stories into e-book formats without any idea of how to do it. Of course, we're used to jumping off into the deep end. We only learned afterward that collaborating on a novel was supposed to be impossible and we've been collaborating for six years now without any problems.

Backing up a bit, we became a "we" by meeting on an Internet writers group. We liked each other's stories and decided it would be fun to write some together. The nice thing about Internet fiction sites is the immediate feedback, and in our case, very gratifying feedback. In a move that can only be described as naïve at best, one day we decided to write a novel length mystery.

We finished the first full draft of Murder Off the Books (the first of our Sullivan Investigations Mystery series) before even speaking to each other on the telephone. Fearing we'd jinx our writing method, we still haven't met in person. The second book in the Sullivan Investigations Mystery series is Murder Takes the Cake, with a third, MURDER DROPS THE BALL, to be published by Wolfmont Press in Spring 2011. These books are available in both print and e-book formats. But these mysteries were e-book formatted by the publisher.

When we decided to publish the Brianna Sullivan Mysteries, we researched the process and taught ourselves how to do it. (This is the Northern half of this writing duo interjecting here: Let's be honest. It is the Southern half who taught herself how to format and upload e-books. The Northern half is limited to being a very enthusiastic cheering squad.)

There are lots of guides and blogs out there for authors on how to format e-books, but we never found one that gave us the amount of detail we needed. If you've ever taken home economics (do they still teach that in schools?) and been given a pattern and a bolt of material and told to make a dress, you'll quickly learn that the directions skip lots of steps and assume you know things you don't. You need directions on how to read the directions. We found the same problem exists with e-book formatting. We even purchased an e-book that was supposed to be the best on the market on how to format your book for electronic publishing. Let's just say that instead of being a "complete" guide, it was really a book to encourage you to hire the author to format your novel.

The best information we found was at Smashwords. Smashwords is an e-book publishing and distribution platform. You upload your manuscript there and Smashwords converts your book into multiple e-book formats, including Kindle, Nook (e-pub), PDF, Apple i-Pad, etc. Smashwords has a "free" guidebook for getting your manuscript ready for uploading to Smashwords' "meat-grinder." You can't just upload your Word file - the file you carefully prepared for your publisher with all the tab indents, page numbers and special fonts. E-books are different animals.

Think of an e-book as a "scroll" not a series of pages. Depending on the e-reader device and the size of the screen, a page is different on a Kindle than on a Nook or an Apple i-Pad. You have to go through your Word manuscript and "clean" it up so it can be read on an e-reader. Note: be kind to yourself and save several copies of your manuscript in a folder far, far, away from the original - just in case you mess up the copy you are editing.

The information you glean from the Smashwords guidebook is very useful for preparing for uploads to not only Smashwords' "meatgrinder," but also Amazon's Digital Text Platform and Barnes & Noble's PubIt!

After reading the guidebook about a dozen times, the next thing we did was find the "show/hide" button in Word. It's located on your toolbar next to the zoom feature. Once you click on the "show/hide" button, you can see all the formatting in your manuscript. And you can see all the items you need to delete. We had used tabs for our first lines on each paragraph. Those had to go. (You can use the Word Find/Replace feature to remove all the tabs at once or you can delete them individually.) We replaced our paragraph indents by using Word's Style feature. You set up the "Style" of your document, which can include an automatic first line indent when a new paragraph starts. Then you select "all" words in your document and apply the new "Style." Then resave your document under a new name.

Other problems you'll find in converting your Word document are "returns." You can't use more than three returns in a row to create space between objects. Remember the "scroll" concept. Too many returns creates too much "white" space for an e-reader. And as we mentioned earlier, page numbers have to be deleted because they are meaningless in an e-reader.

Once you've cleaned up your document by removing all the tabs, extra spaces, multiple returns, headers, footers, and page numbers, you're ready to start adding things. You'll want a cover image, one for the outside of your e-book and one inserted inside. Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords all suggest different cover sizes. You'll have to experiment to see what looks best. You are responsible for creating or providing the cover image. For e-books, a simple cover is best. Remember most of the potential buyers are going to see your cover for the first time as an image slightly larger than a thumbnail. You want the title and author name to be readable.

You'll also need an interactive Table of Contents (This was the hardest thing for us to learn to do and we're still trying to learn simpler and better ways to do it. Smashwords' description of how to create one using bookmarks was the absolute best we've found.)

You must format your title page as required by the specific digital platform you're using. Smashwords wants certain language on the title page, Amazon and Barnes & Noble have different requirements. All platforms allow you to have author notes (biography and website link) at the end.

Once you have your manuscript ready for each platform, be sure to read the directions carefully before uploading. Although you can and should view what you are uploading in the "preview" mode, it looks different (sometimes very different) once it's published. You will have the ability to make changes later, but not immediately. After you "publish" to Amazon's Digital Platform, you'll have to wait 48 hours or more before making any changes. The PubIt! program at Barnes & Noble is slightly faster than Amazon. We've found our books will go live there almost a day ahead of Amazon. Again, you won't be able to make changes or upload a new version until after the first version has actually published and gone live.

So now what? Like any other new product, we still had to promote these e-books. But exactly how was the question?

If there few guides to how to self-publish an e-book, there were even fewer on how to promote one. The traditional venues for marketing, like readings and book signings, didn't seem to apply. Even if we were to read aloud from one of our e-stories, there was no way to then immediately translate a listener's enthusiasm into a sale. No physical book to sell and sign. Were public appearances still worth scheduling?

We decided that it wasn't a zero-sum game. We had an advantage in the e-book market. We still had traditional books to sell. That meant that we would continue to set up book signings and library talks, but we would expand our discussions beyond the paperbacks on the table to include our new e-book series. We developed a handout that listed all the e-books and the various venues where they were available.

And like the e-books themselves which depend on the Internet for existence, we significantly intensified our use of Social Networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, GoodReads, and Yahoo groups. We always strive to maintain the delicate balance between blatant self-promotion and more subtle approaches where our focus is on getting new "followers" to get to know us, and thereby be more receptive to our BSP efforts. So we chat about recipes, holiday traditions, news stories, etc., as well as occasionally more obvious marketing information. On Twitter where messages are truncated, we've often posted one-line pithy character comments and then included a link to the Amazon page where the book or e-story is available.

We've also run a series of contests and offered prizes to readers who simply visit our site and leave a comment. Our basic assumption, from the very beginning of our writing collaboration, has been that if we meet you, either in person or through the Internet, we will be able to convince you to give Evelyn David a chance. It's the oldest advertising gimmick in the world: Try us, you'll like us.

Evelyn David, the author(s) of The Brianna Sullivan Mysteries, Murder Off the Books, Murder Takes the Cake, and the short story Riley Come Home, is the pseudonym for Marian Edelman Borden and Rhonda Dossett.

Marian lives in New York and is the author of 11 nonfiction books on a wide variety of topics ranging from veterans benefits to playgroups for toddlers! For more information on Marian's books, please visit her web site at

Rhonda lives in Muskogee, Oklahoma, is the director of the coal program for the state, and in her spare time enjoys imagining and writing funny, scary mysteries. Marian and Rhonda write their mystery series via the Internet. While many fans who attend mystery conventions have now chatted with both halves of Evelyn David, Marian and Rhonda have yet to meet in person.

Please check out Evelyn's website at and their blog – The Stiletto Gang- for information about Evelyn David's appearance schedule and writing projects.

Our Books - The Sullivan Investigation Series
Murder Takes the Cake - Paperback - Kindle
Murder Off the Books - Paperback - Kindle
Riley Come Home - Kindle - Nook - Smashwords

Autographed Copies and other e-book formats available through Wolfmont Press at The Digital Bookshop.

Brianna Sullivan Mysteries - e-book series
The Holiday Spirit(s) of Lottawatah- Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
The Dog Days of Summer in Lottawatah- Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
I Try Not to Drive Past Cemeteries- Kindle - Nook - Smashwords

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas Gifts (Part 3 of 3)

By J. M. Jackson
(Part 3 of 3 -- here's Part 1 and Part 2

    “That’s what I was doing, Aunt Jody, when Mommy yelled at me.”
    She holds my high school yearbook in front of me, opened to the center. At Jessica’s age, I discovered people’s names sometimes shimmered when I read them. I found out no one else saw what I saw, and I learned to keep quiet about my gift.
    I first understood the gift's meaning in high school. Names of people glimmer if they are going to die within the year. I can’t explain the phenomenon, but it has remained an accurate predictor of death.
    Once I broke my silence and shared the truth with my best friend--about her name. The knowledge drove her to suicide. I never made that mistake again.
    Jessica thinks it’s a fine game to get my yearbook so I can look at the picture of our high school class. She doesn’t know I scan the names next to the picture for the shimmering that presages death, hoping to see my name shine.
    Jessica, as always, asks, “Which one is you?” Continuing the fun, she giggles and points, “It’s this one. Right?”
    I smile at the dance steps of our game. At first, I was relieved my death was not near. Now I’m so tired and so pained I hope to see my name. Today is like the others: not the least twinkling. Nothing.
    She stares at me with Anderson eyes, “What are you looking for, Aunt Jody?”
    Jessica has never asked before, but I had decided some time ago I would answer with the truth--or at least part of it.
    “Sometimes I see words come alive, kind of like they have twinkling lights with glowing colors. Other people can’t see it. It’s a special gift I have.”
    She looks carefully at the yearbook.
    “I can see them too, Aunt Jody.”
    An unbidden spasm runs through me. Surely, she is just trying to make me feel better. She’s such a sweet child. She must have discerned my look of disbelief.
    “Really, I do. There’s one,” she says pointing. “And there’s another.”
    I follow her finger to the two names that stand out. Throughout my life, I’ve mostly cursed my gift. After my best friend died, I forswore having children in case it was hereditary. But here is my niece, sharing sight I thought only I had. Jessica is still talking and I break out of my contemplation.
    “What did you say, Jessica?”
    “I said, your name shines too, Aunt Jody.”
    “My name?”
    “Yep. It’s been that way for a long time. I thought maybe it was because it was your book, that’s why your name stuck out like that--they used special ink or something. I thought the others were a boo-boo. Did I get it right?” She twirls around the room in delight at her guess.
    “Oh honey, come give your Aunt Jody a big hug. You’ve given me three wonderful gifts today. I’m always glad to see you; I love the socks; and thank you for telling me about my name.”
    I change my voice into our conspiratorial whisper. “Now remember, almost no one else can see this shimmering, so it’s best if we keep it our little secret and not tell other people. Not even your mother.”
    “Sure. I like sharing secrets with you. Mommy’s coming.”
    I listen and hear the metronome too.
    Jessica takes the yearbook and replaces it under my bed.
    “All set, Jessica? Make sure to bundle up. It’s cold out, and I don’t want you catching the flu. We’ll see you in a couple of weeks, Jody. Merry Christmas.”
    They’re out the door, Jessica reprising her Glorias. My face hurts from my idiot grin as I wonder at my hubris in thinking I could foresee my own death. Unlike my cursed precognition, Jessica has unknowingly brought joy with her sight. I’m ready to embrace whatever comes next.
    In my mind I join in singing Jessica’s retreating song. Gloria in excelsis deo.

(The story originally appeared in the anthology, Not From Around Here, Are You?)

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Christmas Present-Part 4

This is Part 4 and the conclusion of my Christmas short story. If you missed previous installments, here are the links for Parts 1, 2, and 3. Hope you enjoyed reading it, even if dividing it into four parts disjointed the continuity. Enjoy the holiday, and may it bring you peace. E. B. Davis

I drifted through the crowded police station. The heating had gone berserk and sweat poured off everyone and their woolen clothing. A bedraggled Santa looked wasted, his fake beard pulled down past his chin, which featured dark stubble. A woman arrested for shoplifting screeched nearby. Floating upstairs, I found Detective Graham interviewing Crofton’s receptionist.

“That woman stormed into our offices just today. You can see her on the security camera,” she said.

“Do you know what she wanted, Mrs. Carter?” Graham asked. Carter was a common name, but I wondered about her relationship to Mr. Carter, the security manager.

“No, she didn’t give me an explanation for demanding to see poor Mr. Taylor. Just came in with a bad attitude and then started shouting at him. Ask my husband, Don, he’s head of security and saw her on the monitor.” Ah-ha! The wife.

“My partner’s questioning him now,” Graham said.

Pin the tail on the donkey, I thought, and Janet had dressed herself in the donkey suit. I perused the offices and found Graham’s partner sitting in another office with a guy I saw at the loading dock. Listening in, I couldn’t believe my ears.

“Yeah, she caused a real ruckus in Mr. Taylor’s office. But what you don’t know is that I saw her driving her SUV behind the store a few nights ago, after hours.”

“Mr. Carter, what are you saying?” the detective asked. I now had a name to go with the face.

“I’m saying that we’ve had a big theft problem at the store. The thefts upset Mr. Taylor. I had tried to find the culprits, but now I’m starting to put two and two together.”

“You suspect Mrs. Gavin’s involvement.” I couldn’t tell if it was a statement or a question.

“Hey, I saw her in an SUV behind the store. One of our dock workers went over and talked with her.”

“What’s his name?”

“Joe Smith. Hired on as seasonal help.”

“Not a distinctive name. You submit his prints to NCIC?”

“We don’t bother checking out seasonal help if they don’t use a cash register. By the time we’d find out anything, January would have come and gone.”

“You submitted his data for a criminal-records check?”

“Yes, normal procedure, but with a name like Joe Smith, there were fifty-four possible matches, none of which confirmed a criminal record.”

“So you think Joe Smith and Mrs. Gavin were working together.”

“They seemed chummy. I saw them smiling at one another. We knew that some of the stolen items were too large for normal under-the-coat shoplifting. With the seats down, her SUV could hold a bunch of TVs, which were missing, and other high priced electronics.”

“She has no criminal record.”

“Maybe she’s having financial difficulty.”

“Hmm…Mrs. Gavin’s listed as a widow on the form my partner made her fill out. Maybe her old man didn’t have life insurance,” the detective speculated. “You have information on Joe Smith, a picture and where we can find him?”

“Sure, when we realized someone killed Mr. Taylor, I brought his personnel folder with me. There’s a picture in there that’s on his security badge. Here you go.”

The detective opened the folder, blinked with what looked like surprise, and then stood up. “Wait here, I want my partner to see this.”

Before the detective got out of the office, I rattled the window blinds, but the two dummies didn’t notice. They ticked me off with their stupid assumptions. Not only had I left Janet financially able, I’d made sure Ashley had the funds for college. If only the detective would check, rather than jumping to conclusions. After their accusations against Janet, I knew Carter and his wife were scamming, scheming murderers. Dimples, aka Joe Smith, would serve as the gang’s fall guy with Janet implicated in the frame. But how could I prove it?

I wandered through the station and saw Janet and Bea being led up the stairway. Detective Graham ushered Mrs. Carter down the hall. As Janet and Bea passed her, she pointed at Janet. “There’s your murderer. I’d swear she killed Mr. Taylor. We have her on the hard drive.”

Janet flinched from the accusation. Bea put her arm around Janet while looking outraged at Detective Graham. After stashing Mrs. Carter in another room, Graham gestured for Janet and Bea to take a seat in his office. He closed his office door. “Sorry, we’re playing musical rooms at the moment. Please don’t talk with one another—“

A knock resounded on Graham’s door, to which he responded. “We’re ready for Mrs. Goodwin,” an officer said from the doorway.

“Thanks, Charlie.” Detective Graham stood and asked Bea to go with the other officer. Bea had no sooner left the office then another knock resounded on the door. Graham’s partner came in and whispered to him.

“Make yourself comfortable, Mrs. Gavin. Do you want a cup of coffee?”

“No, thank you, I’m fine,” Janet answered. I knew if she drank coffee after noon, she couldn’t sleep at night. Waiting with Janet seemed to take forever. The clock on the wall advanced an hour. I heard phone calls, terse messages, laughter, and finally Detective Graham came back into his office.

“Please come with me Mrs. Gavin.” Janet stood and walked to a conference room. We both saw Dimples sitting at the table. I tried to temper my temper. Who was I kidding? I’m a lousy angel.

Impeccably dressed in a black suit with a red seasonal tie, he talked with another man at the conference table. Cool as a cucumber, I thought. What nerve!

Janet looked at Dimples with a confused look on her face. He glanced over at her, smiled and stood up, offering his hand and greeting her. Taken back, Janet went through the motions.

That’s right sweetie, he’s a conniving SOB!

Startled by my sudden intrusion into her thoughts, her eyes wandered around the room as if trying to find me.

“Mrs. Gavin, I’m so sorry you were caught in this mess. Have a seat.” Dimples pulled out a chair for Janet. She sat down facing the men at the table.

I found paperclips on a nearby desk, ready to menace those at the table. If they so much as frowned at Janet, I’d flick them in their faces.

Another man I hadn’t seen before spoke. “Mrs. Gavin, my name is Walter Campbell. I’m Chief of Police. Crofton’s security manager, Mr. Carter, tried to implicate you in theft and murder, but when he tried to implicate ‘Mr. Smith’ here,” he said with a chuckle, “he cooked his own Christmas goose. We recognized ‘Mr. Smith’ and called him. He’s actually Saint Bernard, regional program manager of the FBI’s Organized Retail Theft Division.” He turned to Bernard and said, “I almost bit my tongue laughing when I saw your picture. You haven’t gone undercover in years.”

“This Christmas, we were spread thin. Besides, it’s good practice.”

Janet sat perplexed. She asked, “I’m sorry, but I’m confused. What happened?”

Agent Bernard turned to Janet. “Crofton’s corporate office contacted us about four weeks ago. Shortages were escalating at the store. They weren’t sure of Mr. Taylor’s involvement, so they asked us to investigate. Since the store hired extra help during the Christmas season, I signed on and went undercover. Carter, his wife, and the dock supervisor were ripping off the store big time. While his wife kept track of Taylor, Carter arranged the location of his security officers, avoiding detection. The dock supervisor used the seasonal help, who had no idea what they were doing, to load merchandise onto the trucks. Using miniature cameras, I recorded their actions and documented the trucks used to haul the merchandise. We’ll have no problem convicting them, and within a few hours, their extended gang will be brought down.”

“What happened to the store manager?” Janet asked.

Campbell took over from Bernard, “After you left Taylor’s office, Carter or his wife turned off the security camera in the office area.”

“Carter must have recognized you from the night when you were teaching your daughter to drive stick. He feared you saw too much. We had placed taps on Taylor and Carter’s phones. In his last conversation with Carter, Taylor threatened to call the cops,” Bernard said.

“After you left, we believe Carter killed him. We’re working with the forensic team now to obtain evidence, and we’re confident we’ll get the evidence we need to convict. I’m not sure how he knew the location of your vehicle. When he saw you on the camera giving Taylor trouble, and then found your SUV parked near the loading dock, framing you for murder and blaming you for the stolen merchandise killed two birds with one stone,” Campbell said.

“I’m astonished. I had no idea what I saw that night,” Janet said.

The man, standing on the loading dock earlier in the day, must have been Carter, I surmised and then listened to what Dimples was saying.

I didn’t think you saw anything, but even so, I made up a quick story to get your daughter and you safely out of the area. We already got your friend’s statement. Let’s get yours so you can go home,” Bernard said.

I hung around to make sure Janet safely made it home. She composed and signed a formal statement. A patrol car took Bea back to the parking lot to get her car since Janet’s statement took longer. As Janet left the station with a patrolman, Bernard, aka Dimples, met her at the door.

“I’ll take her home, Officer.”

“That’s nice of you, Agent Bernard,” Janet said, with a smile.

I sat in the backseat because I still didn’t trust Dimples. After Bernard got on the road, he seemed nervous, like he wanted to say something to Janet, but didn’t know how. Finally, he came out with it.

“I understand you’re a widow.”

“Yes,” Janet said. “Two years.”

“I’m a widower, three years,” Bernard said.

“Heart attack,” she said.

“Cancer,” he said.

“I’m glad you drove me home because I wanted to ask you a question,” Janet said.


“The police chief called you Saint.”

Bernard laughed, “It’s an old nickname.”

“You’re that good?”

“No, I’m no saint, but I’m trustworthy, loyal and true—like a St. Bernard dog.”

“I’ve always liked St. Bernards,” Janet said.

“Good, because I’d like you to have dinner with me on Friday night.”

“You won’t serve dog food, will you, Saint?”



“No dog food, but I might show up with a cask under my chin. Something smooth, like Canadian Club.”

“It’s a date,” Janet said.

My mission seemed complete. Dimples met all the qualifications I had on my list, but the case and his lack of middle-age spread still made me suspicious. I decided to hang around, at least until Valentine’s Day. If Bernard doesn’t come through with a dozen red roses, I’ll perfect my skill with rubber bands.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Snoopy Dancing Through Chocolate Roses

I’m Snoopy dancing through fields of chocolate roses

I got copies of my book today! Yay. It’s beautiful in my totally unbiased opinion with cover art by Ginnie E, L. Fenton. My tremendously helpful publisher at Ninth Month Publishing was Susan Ferguson.

My collection of short stories is titled Murder Manhattan Style and available at

New York Times Bestselling Author, Nancy Pickard wrote a blurb saying in part, "Warren Bull is a short story master, and this collection shows him at his best…" Earl Staggs wrote a review, saying in part. "Highly recommended morsels for when you want to spice up your reading diet with variety."

Now that the commercial is over, I can say that it is an amazing feeling to see so many hours of writing and so many more hours of rewriting distilled into paper and print. I can see it, touch it and smell it, weigh it and measure it. I’m tempted to taste it too. But I won’t.

Just possessing the book gives new meaning to the concept of “sweat equity.” In my working life as a psychologist, I did not create a tangible product. I always asked my clients if therapy helped them. I used anonymous paper and pencil scales. I set measureable real life goals like fewer days in a hospital per year, being able to keep a job longer, completing a grade in school and so forth but success and progress were only inferred from behavioral change.

As a writer the years of apprenticeship, skill building, grammar honing self-editing and word-smithing have paid off in a book that other writers and editors I respect have said kind things about. I admit, now, to some trepidation about sending it off to reviewers who might have been critical. The whole writing life, it seems to me is a test of courage and willingness to open up emotionally, knowing that some feedback will be negative. Years of effort may not pay off in publication. The only validation may come from within.

I figure I had a monetary return that entered the five-digit range (including two numbers after the decimal place) over the time my novel was in print. I hope to do at least that well with my short story collection.

Of course, in reality I know my book may vanish into the sea of published material without a discernable ripple. I’ve been struggling to get my work into the sea. Let me pause and enjoy this moment.

Please share your latest success at writing.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


(Eight year old Mandy decides chocolate will make her mom smile again, something she hasn't done since the birth, three weeks ago, of Mandy's twin brothers. Finding the right chocolate proves more difficult than Mandy thought. Her search continues.) clip_image001

Three more stores and still Mandy couldn’t find the chocolate her mom liked at a price she could pay. Her legs were tired and it was getting dark. Her mom had been so excited when her dad came home from fighting in Iraq. She’d promised Mandy everything would be better. Well, it wasn’t. Her mom had stopped spending time with Mandy after breakfast. She was busy with Dad and then the smelly twins. They never had these problems when her dad was overseas. And Mom was so miserable. She told Mandy not to complain and grumble but her mom did that all the time.

Mandy stepped inside a store where she remembered her mom bought Easter eggs. A pretty young woman asked her what she wanted.

“I have to get chocolate for my mom. I’ve only got four dollars.”

“Let me see.” The young woman searched the shelves. “What about this? I bet your mom would like it.”

She held up a white box with gold stars.

“You bite into the chocolates and they’re filled with caramel or berry flavors.”

Mandy held out her crumpled four dollars. “Will it be enough?”

The pretty young woman pulled off the price tag. “The exact amount.”

She took a long time at the cash register before she placed the box in a red bag with handles. Mandy knew she’d been right to keep looking.

It was dark outside the store. Back over the bridge, but now she couldn’t see all the cars. She could do this. Her legs ached and the wind hurt her ears. Nearly there, and she could see the twenty-four hour store. Someone bumped into her pushing her across the sidewalk so she almost fell.

“Hi, Mandy. Shouldn’t you be in bed?”

Mandy stared up at Fran, the fattest girl in the school and a big bully.

“What’ya got there?” She grabbed Mandy’s red bag.

“No. It’s for my mom.” Mandy reached up for the bag.

Fran tore open the box and stuffed one of the chocolates in her mouth. She smacked her lips. “Good.”

“Please.” Mandy stretched up for the bag again.

“They’re mine now.”

Mandy grabbed Fran’s arm. Fran jerked her arm down hitting Mandy on the head before she shoved her to the ground.

Winded, Mandy pushed on her hands, and scrambled to her feet. Fran had gone. Mandy hopped away from the curb and leaned against a fence. Her left knee was bleeding. People rushed past her. This was worse than when her mom went to the hospital. Mandy just wanted to stay where she was. Everyone would go home and she would freeze here in the dark.

“I saw what happened.”

She looked up at a man covered with tattoos on his bare arms and wearing a leather vest.

“I lost the chocolate for my mom.”

“Here. Take one of these.” He held out a red box big enough to hold a pound of candy. “I was taking these for the girls in the office and I always have extras.”

She wanted the box but she didn’t have any money.

“Take it.” He pushed the box into her hands. “I hope your mom likes them.”

He was gone before she could thank him. She blew her nose. Blood dripped down her leg onto her sock. No time to stop. She placed the box so her jacket covered it. When she got home, she’d sneak upstairs and hide the box until tomorrow so her mom would be surprised on Christmas morning.

As she turned the corner into her street, she saw her house ablaze with light. Two neighbors stood with her mom.

“Where have you been?” her mom said. “I was frantic. And what’s that?”

She reached down Mandy’s jacket and pulled out the box of chocolates. “Oh My God. Did you steal these?”

“No No.” The surprise was gone.

“I can’t believe you’d think about candy when you knew I was waiting for the Tylenol.”

The neighbors turned away.

“They’re yours. For Christmas,” Mandy said. “My birthday money—”

“Oh, sweetie.” Mom hugged her close before putting an arm around Mandy and leading her indoors.

Mandy’s dad stood in the hallway, buttoning up his coat.

“She’s okay. No need for you to go out again.”

“What happened to your knee?” her dad asked.

Mandy wanted to tell her parents everything that happened but where would she start. “I fell on it. It doesn’t hurt now. Do you like the chocolates?” What if her mom hated the candy?

Her mom opened the box. “The stores must be clearing everything out on Christmas eve.” Her hand hovered over the top layer before she picked out a candy. “Caramel and nuts.” She put the chocolate in her mouth.


Mandy waited, her heart beating faster. Maybe they were the wrong ones.

“They’re very good,” her mom said.

She offered the box to Mandy’s dad. Before Mandy could say the chocolates weren’t for him, he shook his head, refusing the candy.

Mom smiled. “You really surprise me sometimes.”

The chocolate worked. Mandy stopped holding her breath. Tomorrow, no, the day after Christmas, she’d start her errand service. She knew which neighbors would give her some of their change if she picked up at the store the paper or milk they’d forgotten. When she had five dollars, she’d tell her dad it was for her first dance class.


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

An Interview with Kate Thornton

KATE THORNTON was born in Great Lakes, IL, and enjoyed traveling the world as a child with her family. Opting for even more world travel, this time with an edge to it, she served 22 years in the US Army, retiring in 2001. With a rich background of exotic locales and an insatiable appetite for reading in all genres, she began writing short stories. Her first short, "Just Like In The Movies," was published in David Firks' legendary Blue Murder and nominated for a Derringer award. With over a hundred stories in print, she enjoys teaching short story workshops in Southern California.

EBD: Your short story anthology Inhuman Condition is an apt title. You show humanity through inhumane situations, settings and through technology. To a reader, your shorts are like a slider coming over home plate to a batter: the reader doesn’t anticipate the angle. How do you decide on the slant?

KT: Usually, I get the slant first, after playing "what if" with a situation I find intriguing. Then the story sort of wraps itself around the slant, which to me is the point of the story.

EBD: I can’t help but feel that your military background has factor in your choice of subjects. Where do you get your ideas?

KT: I get them from everywhere, really. I save clippings from newspapers, magazines and the web and I keep an idea file on my desktop. But mostly I listen in on peoples' conversations, and old Army habit. I don't always hear things correctly. Or maybe I do.

EBD: There is an amalgam of genres in your stories, mystery coming out of the barrel, a little sci fi here, a bit of paranormal there…and sometimes the timing of your stories, the future, allows you to comment about our current society. How do you choose? Is this intentional, by design, or do you think of the story first and the reflections just come?

KT: I write mostly for magazines in print and on the web – many of them are specifically mystery-oriented or definitely science fiction, so I must be aware of the genre when I am writing for a particular magazine or anthology. But given that, I am then free to write about the things I find interesting and if a story I was writing for a mystery venue turns into a speculative fiction piece with little mystery but lots of speculation, then it gets polished that way and sent to the science fiction venues. I guess I think of the story first, then think about where it would fit, and then write it. It doesn't always fit where I thought it would.

EBD: Cosmic justice and injustice seem to be prevalent themes, from sixteen-year-old girls already doomed to overheard words that can evoke disaster. Is that a theme you see in the world?

KT: Yes. And I really like both the idea of cosmic justice and the idea that I personally can mete it out through writing.

EBD: Some of your characters seem to step out of life and onto the page. Are they real people, composite people or imaginary?

KT: Well, thank you. Everything I write is fiction, but I try to make my characters as real as possible. I am pleased when that happens.

EBD: Some of your protagonists aren’t easy to like. Some are bad guys. Is that perspective one you purposely get across to readers?

KT: Yes. So many of the people we know – the protagonists in our lives – are not very nice.

EBD: In one of my favorites, “Key Witness” a two-year-old captures the bad guys. In another, “Two Mules for Sister Sarita” the protagonist has a most unlikely profession. Can the normal be found using extremes?

KT: Well, they are all part of the normal human tide that makes up our experience of life – in that way they're normal. But we all have different ideas of what "normal" means, and only by experiencing the extremes can our own versions of normal be put into perspective.

EBD: Are you happy with your publisher, Denouement Press?

KT: Haha! Trick question! I gotta say yes - after all, they did publish me! Not that I would turn down a meeting with Simon & Schuster or Knopf…but there is a lot to be said for the personal attention a small press can give an author. I am very happy with the book and with Denouement Press.

For an excellent review of Inhuman Condition, one I totally agree with, go to: Jackie Houchin's website.  November 12, 2010 review.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Christmas Gifts (Part 2 of 3)

By J. M. Jackson
(Part 2 of 3 -- Here's Part 1

    Doris pulls a package wrapped in reds and greens and yards of tape out of her oversized leather purse and calls her daughter over to her. “Give this to your Aunt Jody.”
    Jessica runs back to the bed and drops it on my chest. It’s about the size of a book, but much softer, which is good because I don’t have the energy to read books anymore. I miss reading books.
    “Aren’t you going to open it?” she asks. “I wrapped it myself.”
    “I’m sorry. I was thinking about something. Why don’t you open it for me?”
    She grabs the package and tears off the paper like Tyrannosaurus Rex ripping into dinner. “I picked them out all by myself,” she says as she holds out canary yellow socks with individually colored toes.
    “Grandpa told me that when you were little you liked socks with toes and I told Mommy that’s what we had to get you.” She cups her mouth to my ear, “Mommy thinks they’re dumb, but I think they’re great.”
    “They’re wonderful, Jessica. Thank you very much. They’re so colorful; I’ll stick my toes out from under the sheets to show them off. Everybody’ll be jealous.”
    “Put them on.”
    I can’t reach my feet, so I look toward her mother, who checks her watch and comes to my rescue.
    “Give them to me; I’ll do it.”
    After placing her purse carefully on the room’s sole chair, she takes the socks from Jessica, moves to the foot of the bed, undoes the bottom covers and slides the socks onto my feet. I smile my thanks. Jessica gapes at the process.
    “Aunt Jody, how come the bottom of your legs are purple? Did you hit them against something?”
    “No dear, they get that way if I stay in the same position for too long. I can’t play around like you and pretend I’m a horse anymore.”
    She whinnies a reply and admires the socks.
    “Do they tickle your toes?”
    “They feel nice and warm. I love them. What a special present they are.” I catch Doris’s eye. “Thank you for putting them on. And thank you for coming and bringing Jessica today.”
    Doris’s smile is tight, forced. “Everyone should have company for Christmas. Your brother decided he had to chauffer your Dad and my parents. My brother and his family are coming over too, so we’ve got nine for dinner. Your Dad said he’ll try to get here when the roads aren’t so icy. He doesn’t drive on--
    “Jessica, get out from under that bed!”
    “Aw, Mom. I was just looking for something.”
    “Well, leave it alone. You’ll get dirty under there. Now put your coat on; we need to go. I have to get back and finish cooking.”
    I try pleading with my eyes, “I know how busy you are, Doris. Can you leave Jessica with me for a few minutes? We enjoy our little chats.”
    She hesitates and I hold my breath, willing her to say yes. “Well, I do need to use the facilities and I want to talk to the nurses about your new socks. I guess she’ll be all right for a few minutes.”
    “We’ll be fine,” I say.
    She picks up her purse and walks from the room, stops, glances back and goes on her way.
    “Jessica, I don’t think your Mom’s going to be long. Quick, get the book.”

Part 3 concludes the story next week
(The story originally appeared in the anthology, Not From Around Here, Are You?)

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Christmas Present-Part 3

Today, I present Part 3 of my short story, “The Christmas Present.” You can read Parts 1 & 2 clicking the links. Hope you enjoy it. E. B. Davis

Anger consumed me. What a jerk! I’m not an avenging angel, so I carried no sword, but I’m developing my skills at moving air, and I’m talented with paperclips. After Janet left, I zipped into the guy’s office. A nameplate on his desk proclaimed his moniker as “Dave Taylor.” I hovered over his desk, contemplating my next move. Should I pass through him to freeze him to the core? Rustle papers on his desk to make him freak? Or paperclip his shoe laces together? I wasn’t feeling too angelic.

Taylor talked on the phone and jabbed his pen at papers on his desk. Exasperation filled his voice as he spoke. “How can merchandise just walk out our doors?” He paused, listening to someone on the other end.

Some of the merchandise is too big to fit under people’s coats. There are TVs on this list, appliances, hell there’s even a sofa gone!” I moved behind him so I could read the list.

“Mr. Carter, I want whoever is ripping off this store caught now. Corporate is holding me responsible for the theft. They’re breathing down my neck, and our profitability will go in the can during the season when we make our profits for the entire year.” He grabbed some tissues and wiped his forehead while listening to the man on the other end. But he jumped back into the conversation saying, “It’s time I called the cops. You’re head of security. If you can’t handle it, they will. You certainly haven’t proven that you can catch the thieves, so at least cooperate with the authorities.” Taylor slammed down the phone and placed one hand on his stomach, as if he had an ulcer.

Okay, so the guy had problems. I already knew that from eavesdropping down at the loading dock. Janet and Ashley had seen men loading a truck. I had asked myself why, at this time of year, the men loaded trucks with merchandise instead of unloading trucks. Most stores didn’t ship out merchandise, but brought it in by the truckload. From the few conversations I’d overheard, the loading dock employees had a nice profitable business of stealing and selling what they could load onto trucks during the off-hours.

Dimples must have been a member of the gang. He had lied to Janet, beguiling her with his physical attributes. Despicable! Women were always pushovers for lean and handsome men. If he’d possessed one ounce of fat, I might have given him the benefit of the doubt, but his rippling shoulders made me suspicious.

Like Taylor, I had been a businessman, and I felt sorry for him. He had no excuse for taking his troubles out on Janet, but there’s always another side of the story, isn’t there? Just when you peg someone for the biggest turkey, someone informs you that the turkey’s child has leukemia or his spouse just died. Then, you feel badly for casting judgment on them. Guilty as charged!

I left him to his troubles, and drifted over to the high school to visit Ashley’s senior class. I wouldn’t even allow myself to contemplate what might happen to her next year as a college freshman. Janet used to call me a worrywart. Guess she was right.

A half hour later, Janet met Bea in the bar of a mall restaurant. “I need a beach,” Janet said, as they sat in the booth.

“Let’s get Champagne Fizzes and pretend,” Bea said. The women had learned about Champagne Fizzes while on an Ocracoke, North Carolina vacation. Now, the cranberry juice mixed with the champagne looked seasonally festive and tasted delicious.

“Just close your eyes and think of Ocracoke.”

“I wish I could, Bea, but I can’t believe how that store manager treated me.”

“I can. No one gives a damn anymore, Janet. We live in a dog-eat-dog world and at Christmastime, the contrast between the ideal and the reality gets a lot of people down. Suicide and depression rates go way up around Christmas.”

“I know, but his actions were illogical. Doesn’t he care about repeat business? He wouldn’t care about me personally. But doesn’t he care about my money? I must spend several hundred dollars in that store every year.”

“Store managers come and go without reason. Headquarters may think he’s the best thing since sliced…. No, make that iPods, I seem to get older every minute.”

“The other night, one of their dock workers must have lied to me, unless the store manager lied to cover his lack of buying safety equipment.” Janet told Bea about their encounter with the dock worker. “No one seems accountable, especially the people at the top.”

“Want me to call The Washington Post with that news?” Bea asked.

“Maybe we should! Organizing a protest or getting the media involved maybe the only remedy. They should be publically shamed and condemned for their indifference. No one has respect anymore.”

“Janet, you’re spinning your wheels. Eat the chocolate, get Joyce something else, dry clean the sweaters—“

“And never go in that store again.”

“Yeah, and have another drink.”

An hour and half, appetizers and another drink later, Janet grabbed the door to the restaurant and pushed her way outside. Commiserating with Bea had banished the Grinch.

“Where are you parked, Janet?” Bea asked.

“Behind Crofton’s. Give me a lift.”

The short drive didn’t take long. Bea’s luck found an empty parking space next to Janet’s car. Janet got out, retrieved her bags from the rear seat, opened her SUV with the electronic fob, and pushed the button to open the hatch, but the hatch didn’t pop the way it normally did. The metal around the lock was punched out in a perfect circle. The hatch contained no lock. “Bea! Come look at this. Someone broke into my SUV.”

Bea shut off her engine, got out of her car and walked to where Janet stood staring at the hole in her lid.

“Unbelievable! What did they accomplish breaking into an empty cargo space?” Janet said.

“They made an assumption that could have resulted in a haul of gifts. In fact, they could have stolen the entire SUV,” Bea said.

“So, I should be happy, right?”

“No Janet. You’ve had a miserable day and this is just the cherry on top.”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to snap at you. But the last thing I need now is to have the SUV in the shop.”

Janet lifted the hatch. Inside, a man’s body lay, tied up with red ribbon like a Christmas present. A hole in his forehead and the gone look in his open eyes trumpeted his death.

“Oh my God!” Bea yelled.

Shocked, Janet pivoted in the opposite direction and hid her face behind her hands. The image of the corpse shattered her equilibrium, and she moved her legs to a wider stance so as not to topple onto the tarmac. She gulped the cold winter air to settle her stomach.

“Call 911. We have a situation,” Bea said. But Janet stood immobile. Bea leaned over and gently shook Janet’s arm. Finally, Janet responded.

“The last time I saw a dead body, it was Steve’s.”

“I’m sorry,” Bea said. “This really is the last thing you need.”

“Bea, I just fought with him. This is the body of the store manager.”

I accompanied Ashley from Science to English class. Since I always liked science, I had a great time in twelfth grade until the kids in her English class, required to stand in front of the classroom, read poems they’d written. My agenda didn’t include hearing badly rhymed teenage-angst, so I returned to the mall parking lot. Janet and her friend Bea stood rigidly by Janet’s SUV. Something bad had happened.

Bea cocked her head to one side. “The cops are coming. I hear the siren.”

They wouldn’t have called the cops without good reason. I circled round the car and spotted the open circle in the metal where the lock should have been on the hatch. Hoping Janet hadn’t stored presents in the cargo space and wondering about her spare tire, I slid through the hatch and…yikes, bumped into a corpse. I backed out just as a cop lifted the hatch.

"Ladies, stand over by the other car. In fact, why don’t you get in and wait out of the cold?” the patrolman said to Janet and Bea. He went back to his car once the women were stashed inside Bea’s car. Soon, other cars arrived. A man in a suit went over to Bea’s car. She lowered her window to talk.

“Hi, I’m Detective Ron Graham. Sorry you had such a nasty surprise. I need to get a statement from you ladies. Would you mind if I got into the rear seat to question you? We don’t want to contaminate the crime scene anymore than it is.”

The ladies acquiesced to his request and introduced themselves. He wrote their names and particulars in his notebook. I slid in the backseat along-side the detective. Once we were seated, the women recounted coming from the restaurant to Janet’s SUV and their discovery.

Inexperience and innocence go hand-in-hand with stupidity. If only Janet hadn’t volunteered more information than he needed to know.

“The man in my trunk is the store manager of Crofton’s Department Store.”

“How do you know that?”

“I got into a fight with him earlier today.”

“Really, what happened?”

“I tried to return something, and he refused.”

“Enough to make you mad.”

“More like furious,” Janet said. “Especially after I had to go up to his office to talk with him while carrying all my bags.”

Bea gave Janet a nudge with her elbow. She knew what Janet had said didn’t sound innocent. We both must have noticed a change in the detective’s posture.

“Ladies, I’ll have to take you down to the station so you can make a formal statement. I’ll also need to fingerprint you. A car will take you down to the station.”

“I can drive us,” Bea said.

“I’d rather you didn’t,” the detective said, rather pointedly, I thought.

Bea looked down and stared at her lap, dismayed. Janet looked like Bambi caught in the flames. Disbelief still marred her insight, but realization dawned. A tow truck pulled in.

“Detective, why is there a tow truck?” Janet asked.

“After we’re finished processing the crime scene, your vehicle will be towed to the compound so the technicians can go over it.”

“Obviously my fingerprints and those of my daughter will be on the car.”

“Yes, she’ll have to come down to the station and give us her prints, too.”

“I don’t want my daughter mixed up in this. She’s been in school all day, and you can check that.”

“Mrs. Gavin, I’m sure you daughter is innocent, but we need to eliminate her prints.”

“Can’t you come to the house and get her prints?”

“We used to take prints anywhere, but now we use electronic readers that take the impression so we can compare them to others in the system. Sorry.”

Now I was peeved, too. Couldn’t they have just taken ink impressions at the house and scanned them at the station? Maybe they could have, but now that Janet had made him suspicious, there would be no accommodations.

Taylor’s corpse in the SUV made me wonder if the thefts at the store were related to his demise. Had he called the cops like he told the security manager, Mr. Carter, he would? If they had a record of his call, then maybe the detective would look at other suspects. I knew a whole dock load of suspects were at the store, including Dimples.

When a patrol car came near Bea’s car to take the ladies to the station, I felt pained seeing Janet’s expression. As she got into the caged backseat, she looked at her SUV and the tow truck. Her eyes no longer held disbelief, but fear.

Come back next Monday for the conclusion!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Is Your Prose Flat?

Is your prose flatter than a fiddle left out in the rain?

Does the scene you’ve written lie there on the page like malodorous gym socks on the floor next to the clothes hamper? Is your work as flavorless as Aunt Molly’s tofu casserole?

Well, my friend, step up close. All you need is a taste of Nancy Pickard’s pre-

patented prose perking up process. It’s not fattening and sugar free. It contains

no more alcohol than the law allows, although it can become habit-forming.

It’s not my idea but it works. Here’s how.

Read your piece and check Nancy’s recipe. Does your work include the ingredients


Conflict: Conflict is the basis of all drama. Does somebody want something? Does your heroine want to prove that her best friend did not really spike the postal carrier’s lemonade with powdered oleander? Does she want to survive an attack by the baseball bat wielding rodeo clown?

Action: A movie director does not start filming by shouting, “Think about it.” Something has to happen. It may be internal action as well as external action. Does the scene advance the plot? If it does not, pull out your red pencil and start slashing.

Emotional shift (Turn): Someone should experience a change of emotional state. Although it is usually a character, occasionally it may be the reader. Lee Child’s hero, Jack Reacher, doesn’t show much change in emotion as he decimates the opposition but the author does a masterful job of evoking emotion in readers.

Surprise: There is a reason birthday, special occasion and holiday gifts are almost always wrapped. The gift the recipient gives to the giver is the surprise and excitement he or she shows while unwrapping the present. I suspect part of Steig Larsson’s appeal, despite the need for better editing, is his ability to take his readers unaware. Humor and horror both rely on surprise.

For extra flavor and to enhance emotional involvement by readers, try to use as many senses as possible in every scene. For me sight and sound are easy. I have to look for chances to include the rest.

Will Nancy’s pick-you-up make you a national best-selling author, winner of Agatha, Anthony, Macavity and Shamus awards and many others? Nope, you’ll have to settle for being a better writer and earn awards on your own.

Whoa, no pushing, son. There’s plenty to go around. Yes, Ma’am, that’s it Uncork the bottle. Drink deeply.

Step right up, sir. Step right up.

Count your change before you leave the window.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


(This is half of the story and one child's Christmas)

“Don’t be so selfish. Think of your brothers?”

Mom still wore her flannel dressing gown and she hadn’t combed her hair. Mandy could remember four months ago when her mom cared what she wore.

“It’s only twice a week. And I can go with a friend.”

“I told you yesterday. No more dancing classes. We can’t afford it with all the Christmas stuff and I need you to help me.”

Mandy’s stomach dropped. In her dancing classes, everyone was like her. They talked about important things—shoes, steps, and music. She was good, a star even, and her teachers had plans for her. It was all snatched away. Worst of all, she’d spend the time she should’ve been dancing, babysitting the twins. She didn’t like them. They smelled bad.

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“I can’t wait for your dad. I need you to go to the store and pick up a bottle of Tylenol. My head is ready to burst.”

None of her friends did shopping. Even though she was only eight, her mom trusted her. She pushed the money her mom gave her into her pocket.

“Put on a jacket. I don’t want you getting a cold and giving it to the twins.”

Upstairs in her bedroom, Mandy caught sight of the envelope with what was left of her birthday money—four dollars. Only yesterday, she’d heard her mom say she loved chocolate, not the dark, bitter stuff but the light brown, creamy kind. Mandy decided to buy her mom surprise chocolate for Christmas. Dad had put her name on the watch he bought for Mom but that wasn’t like picking out the present she wanted to give. Chocolate would make her mom happy again. She hadn’t been happy for months and she was worse after the twins came home, three weeks ago.

On her way downstairs, Mandy looked in on the twins in their white and blue cribs. She stuck out her tongue and blew raspberries at them. Her dad thought they were wonderful because they were boys but they were noisy, whiny, nasty little slugs. And if they weren’t here, Mom would have more money. Why couldn’t she see that?

“Don’t take too long,” her mom called out as Mandy left the house.

She had to go down the street, turn left and cross three streets to reach the twenty-four hour store with the Tylenol. She practiced dance steps on the way. She could even stand on her toes for a few seconds.

At the twenty-four store, before picking up the Tylenol, she checked out the chocolate. She couldn’t get kid’s bars or Reese’s peanut butter cups. No, her mom liked Lindt or big Cadbury bars with nuts. Everything cost more than she thought. She counted her birthday money again. It had to be enough.

“Can I help you?” a man who kept sniffing asked.

“No. You don’t have the candy I want.”

She bought the Tylenol, dropped it into a pocket, and left the store. Sales, that’s what she needed. Her mom talked all the time about sales. Mandy hurried up to the bridge and then she had to cross with cars coming four ways but she could do it. She was grown up enough to do the shopping. Her mom and dad had said she’d have someone to play with when the babies arrived. By the time they were old enough to play with her, she’d have a job and an apartment outside her parents’ home.

On the narrow path that crossed over the bridge and wound around to another main road, she couldn’t put her feet side by side but had to put one foot in front of the other. Should she go to the big Stop and Shop or should she turn right where she could check out several stores? She turned right. Cars dared her to cross. They were in such a hurry to turn onto Route 9. They’d be in a lot of trouble if they ran her over.

The first store had chocolate her mom liked but it was seven and eight dollars.

“Do you have anything on sale?” she asked the old woman behind the counter.

The woman shook her head. Mandy had to keep looking. She knew chocolate would put her mom in a good mood again. Mandy didn’t even care if her mom agreed to dancing classes as long as she’d smile again. Why did she want the twins when they made her so miserable? Mandy would never have kids or get married. If she couldn’t be a dancer, she’d be an ice road trucker. She’d show her dad she was tougher than her brothers.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Guildy As Charged by JM Reinbold

When my friend, Ramona, invited me to guest blog for Writers Who Kill, she suggested I write about my experience as Director of the Written Remains Writers Guild and the tangible ways in which belonging to a guild can benefit writers.

Let me begin with a little background about the Guild. The Written Remains Writers Guild grew out of the Written Remains Writers Group, a critique group that has been in continuous operation for eighteen years. The Guild celebrated its first anniversary in August. At present, we have eleven members and membership is by invitation. Our statement about who we are reads as follows:

“The Written Remains Writers Guild is a coalition of Delaware authors working together to advance their craft and careers. The Guild was founded on the belief that writers can achieve greater literary excellence and a larger audience by working together, sharing knowledge, skills and resources, rather than as individual authors working alone. In addition to supporting one another as literary artists, the Guild also supports the Delaware writing community as a whole through its blog and website, monthly Get Out & Write gatherings, sponsorship of two critique groups for fiction writers, and our developing reading series.”

I mentioned earlier that membership in the Written Remains Writers Guild is by invitation. Some folks might perceive this as exclusionary, but there is a good reason we are an invitation only group. I learned this the hard way from running a critique group. What I learned is this: open groups, whether critique or guild, get a lot of turnover. An open group attracts many people who are not committed to either their craft or their writing community, a dynamic that causes instability in a group and will also prevent serious writers from joining or staying. Another reason for an invitation only group is that while we are looking for highly accomplished and ambitious authors, we are also looking for writers with valuable contacts, established networks and strong skills in promotion, marketing and technology to bring to our community. If this sounds calculating and a bit uncompromising, it is. And it works.

As an example of how this approach works, I’m going to use the occasion of our first public reading – the first in our guild’s developing reading series – which we presented this past August, to show how membership in the Guild can benefit individual writers.

One of our members, Tery Aine Griffin, had recently won a prestigious Delaware Division of the Arts Fiction Fellowship Award. As part of her responsibilities as an award recipient she was required to give a public reading of her work. She decided this would be an excellent opportunity to launch our new reading series. With that in mind, Tery invited two other guild members, myself and Ramona Long, another Division of the Arts award recipient, to read with her.

Tery is a member of the Friends of Kirkwood Library and through her connection with the Friends, she was able to book us an excellent venue, and the Friends also offered to co-host the reading which included publicity through the County library system and a reception after our performance. Additionally, Tery used some of her award money to publicize the reading with colorful and cleverly designed postcards.

As part of the Guild’s advance publicity for the reading, I conducted an extensive Member Spotlight interview with Tery that was published on the Written Remains Writers’ Guild blog. Since its publication in early August 2010, Tery’s interview has continued to be one of our most popular and frequently read posts. In addition, as a contributor to the Delaware Arts Info blog and a friend of the publicist who runs it, I was able to arrange for a reporter to cover our event.

We also have a contact at the News Journal and our reading was listed as one of the top ten things to do in Delaware.

And, in addition to each of our own networks of family, friends and colleagues, we also had the benefit of all our guild members’ networks.

At the time of our reading Kirkwood Library did not have an in-house sound system, however, the Guild has its own sound system and a Guild member who is a sound technician ran the sound for us and flawlessly monitored and adjusted the system to accommodate each reader. Other Guild members served as greeters and door monitors to make sure we weren’t interrupted once the reading was underway.

I have to admit, because of the time of our reading, early August, and the number of folks on vacation, we were afraid we would have low attendance. We were surprised and elated when the community room, which seats forty people, was filled to capacity and people were standing in the back. After the reading, guests surrounded us to offer congratulations, ask questions and discuss our readings. It was great. Do I think I could have achieved this degree of success on my own? I do not. The success of our reading was a result of the collaborative effort of many, each person acting with the assurance that s/he could count on their fellow Guild members for the same degree of assistance and support when needed.

It is also important to note that the success of our reading didn’t end that day. A few months later, as a result of our performance, the Guild was invited to partner with the New Castle Library for a public presentation during Library Week in April of 2011 and to partner with Kirkwood Library to facilitate monthly community free writes. Also, the Friends of Kirkwood Library, our reading hosts, have offered to sponsor our reading series. Each one of these events offers opportunities to all Guild members to give readings, promote and sell their books, interact with the public, teach, and receive media exposure.

And that, my friends, is the power of the Guild. Our members, like Alexandre Dumas’ three inseparable friends, operate by the motto: "tous pour un, un pour tous" (“all for one, one for all"). At least, that is the goal to which we aspire.

JM Reinbold is the Director of the Written Remains Writers Guild, editor of the Written Remains Blog, moderator of the WR Mixed Genre and Literary Critique Groups, and co-editor with Ramona Long of Stories from the Inkslingers, an anthology of short fiction by Delaware authors. Her work in creative non-fiction has been published by the OBOD and Mything Links On-line Encyclopedia in Britain; her fiction and poetry by Gryphonwood Press and Red Fez magazine respectively. Her interviews with Delaware authors appear on the Delaware Arts Info blog and in the PRATE interviews from Full of Crow Press.  The Written Remains Writers Guild can be accessed at  Their blog url is:


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Christmas Gifts (Part 1 of 3)

I am of mixed minds sharing this story. I am still haunted by the protagonist and wish to share more of her life with readers. Yet some years have passed since I wrote it and the editor in me would make changes. That seems unfair to the writer who wrote the piece--the me of a few years ago. I have refrained using the red pen, and this is the story as I wrote it:

By J. M. Jackson
(Part 1 of 3)

The metronome clicks of marching heels announce my sister-in-law’s approach. My face broadens into a smile as I hear my niece burst into song--melismas on the Gloria, with no attention to her mother’s beat.
    The aide appears at my door. “Miss Anderson, you have visitors. Would you like to see them?”
    I overheard the staff talking a few nights ago after I was supposed to be asleep. Asking permission is now added to their “dignity in dying” initiative. Imagine trying to bring decorum to the indecency of bone cancer.
    I nod assent and squeeze my morphine pump. A tear works at the corner of my eye as I remember the last time they visited. My clairvoyant sight informed me I had many months before I would die. I feel no dignity in the wait.
    Jessica careens around the corner, pouring into the room with all the enthusiasm of the Niagara thundering over the falls, her mother’s words of caution lost in the tumult. She circles the room like a whirlpool, arms twirling in ever faster circles until she bumps into the bed and falls down in a pile of giggles.
    “Jessica! Stop fooling around. You know how to behave in the nursing home. You could hurt one of these old people if you knock into them. Merry Christmas, Jody. How are we feeling today?”
    “But Aunt Jody’s not old.”
    “Jessica, what do you say to your Aunt Jody?”
    “Merry Christmas, Aunt Jody. Why are those tubes sticking into you?”
    Her mother bends into the child’s face. “Jessica, you know what we talked about. Now behave yourself.”
    I find my voice. “I can’t eat solid food any more, so they feed me through the tubes. Merry Christmas to both of you. I’m glad you came.”
    “Why not, Aunt Jody?”
    “It’s fine. She can ask anything she wants; it’s fine. Jessica honey, have you ever been sick to your stomach?”
    “Uh huh.”
    “When they feed me through the arm like this, I don’t get sick to my stomach.”
    “What’s it taste like?”
    I turn my head toward my sister-in-law in her tailored suit, starched white blouse, freshly coiffed hair and precisely plucked eyebrows. “Doris, maybe you could leave Jessica with me for awhile. We have lots to talk about, don’t we, Jessica?”
    Jessica vigorously nods. “Yeah, Mommy. We want our special time alone. Just like always.”
    Doris checks her watch. “You have to give Aunt Jody her Christmas present.”
    Jessica breaks into a gapped grin. Her two top teeth, half emerged from pink gums, are upside down tablets large enough to contain five commandments each. Her bottom teeth have not yet risen.
    “Jessica, let me see your teeth.”
    She sashays over to the bed. “I got a gold dollar for each one, Aunt Jody. The tooth fairy took away my teeth in the middle of the night and left gold know, the one with the Indian on them...left them under my pillow. And this one...” She opens her mouth wide enough for me to inspect her tonsils, and points.
    “I got a dollar even though I swallowed the tooth when I ate an apple. It wasn’t my fault that I couldn’t put it under the pillow.”
    “No, not your fault at all.”
    She leans in close, peering back under her arm at her mother and whispers, “You know, I don’t believe in the tooth fairy, but I keep pretending I do.”

Part 2 continues next week
(The story originally appeared in the anthology, Not From Around Here, Are You?)