The second chapter of Talion includes a flashback of Lisa and her brother  visiting their father in Chicago. She receives a locket that becomes significant later. For readers wanting an entirely plot-driven story, the flashback might be an annoyance, but unless they understand who Lisa is, how will they care what happens to her?

Flying Spiders

He was nowhere in the crowd of faces at the airport gate. The other passengers swept her and Randy forward like a powerful river. A crash of voices and distant music echoed from the cavernous airport walls. Lisa searched the endless stream of faces. She desperately had to pee. They passed restrooms, but she couldn’t ask Randy to stop. He grabbed her wrist so hard she yelped in pain. “Stay with me!”

He dragged her through a huge terminal building to the United Airlines counter. They waited in a long line. When their turn finally came, the uniformed woman behind the counter was writing something. Randy drummed his fingers until she said, “May I help you?” Her eyelids drooped as she listened to him, then she lifted a phone and punched some buttons. “I got two kids here’s supposed to meet their daddy.” She pronounced the name, Murray Duncan, so precisely that it sounded like contempt. She hung up and started checking suitcases as if Randy and Lisa weren’t there anymore. Another uniformed woman told them to step aside so the line could keep moving. Squeezed between the ticket line and the baggage line, they got jostled and drew curious stares.

Randy’s face turned red and knotty, like when he lifted his stupid barbells. What if he started a fight and ruined their vacation?

“Dad probably just went to the wrong place,” Lisa said.

“Well, they’re paging him right now.”

A loudspeaker drifted above the noise in the terminal: Murray Duncan, please come to the United Airlines ticket counter. Murray Duncan. . . Something about the sound, hollow and distorted, made Lisa feel the awful moment would keep happening forever. Dad would always forget to meet them, and his name would drift through the airport terminal like a ghost.

Lisa saw the girl coming. She hurried along in snake-skin pumps with ticking steps that made her boobs jiggle. Lisa might have laughed except the girl was gorgeous. She looked like a model with perfect hair and makeup and a flashbulb smile.

“You’re Randy, right? You’ve got your dad’s sexy eyes.”

The swollen anger drained from his face like air from a popped balloon. The girl tossed a conspiring smile over her shoulder. That’s how you handle men, it said. She introduced herself as Angelina and apologized for not meeting them at the gate. The traffic on the expressway had been insane.

Randy carried their suitcases out to the car and stowed them in the trunk, putting lots of effort into lifting so Angelina could see his biceps. Lisa snickered but kept her mouth shut. She wanted his good mood to hold. Breathing the grit and fumes of the airport, she felt excited and a little queasy. Her whole life would change from this vacation, she just knew. It didn’t even matter that Randy took the front seat and stuck her with sitting in back.

“Where’s our dad?” Randy asked once they were on the expressway.

“In a meeting.”

They waited for Angelina to explain further as hundreds of cars spun past, the people inside glowering or desperate or laughing wildly. Compared to them she seemed cool and perfect. Her hands rested easily on the steering wheel, the car just another accessory like her gold bracelet and pink nails.

“Are you his girlfriend?”

“Yes. And I work for him as well. I’ll be staying with you while he’s at the office.”

“So he’s paying you to stay with us?”

“Should he be?”

Randy scowled. Though he teased Lisa without mercy, he hated being teased himself.

The condo, in a high-rise by the lake, was like a picture in a magazine. Everything down to the empty flower vase fit the decorating scheme, but nothing reminded Lisa of Dad. It felt like a hotel. She and Randy watched TV and drank bottle after bottle of orange and lemon Pellegrino.

She felt bloated and grouchy by the time Angelina drove them to a restaurant with pastel tablecloths and napkins spread like fans. Dad sat alone at a table drinking a foreign beer and reading a newspaper. He looked different than she remembered. Didn’t he used to have a tan? Now his skin reminded her of mushrooms. It was stretched too tight over his cheekbones, but under his eyes the wrinkles gathered like cobwebs.

Then he hugged her and said, “How’s my beautiful girl,” and Lisa told herself everything would be OK.

The next day Angelina took them shopping. In a jewelry store Lisa found the locket. She knew right away it was what she wanted — a smooth hunk of 14-carat gold with a thick chain. Inside, Dad’s picture would fit beneath a crystal. Angelina slapped down a credit card without asking the price.

That evening they had dinner at an Italian restaurant too fancy to serve pizza, and Lisa asked Dad for a picture of himself.

“You don’t need my picture.”

Lisa was too surprised to answer.

“Can’t you give a picture to your own daughter?” Angelina said, careful not to presume. She was just asking.

“I don’t have one.”

“I’ll take one,” Randy said.

“No. If there has to be a photograph, I’ll get it done professionally.”

At the end of their visit, he’d given each of them a photograph that looked like it came from his driver’s license.

On the plane home Randy said, “What an asshole. He’s paranoid of his own kids.”

“What do you mean?”

“He doesn’t want pictures of himself floating around for the cops to get a hold of. He scams people. He talks them into phony investments and steals their money.”

“He does not.” Lisa yelled so loud the flight attendant frowned a warning at her.

“Ask Mom if you don’t believe me.”

“Mom hates him.”

“Because he’s an asshole. He spent more time with Angelina than us.”

On a bright Sunday afternoon, Dad and Angelina had taken them to the John Hancock Center. They rode an elevator at breakneck speed to the observatory on top. It was swarming with tourists. Everyone jockeyed for a spot at the windows. Luckily Randy was big enough to elbow past the adults, and Lisa was small enough to stand in front of him without blocking his view.

Sailboats drifted across the lake in dreamlike silence. Lisa imagined sailing out there, the sun on her shoulders, the waves lifting her with the promise of excitement. She imagined diving into the jeweled water of the pool on the roof of an apartment tower. Knowing her father lived in just such a building, she felt like a princess. When she was older and ready, he would bring her into his world. She would dedicate herself to preparing for that time.

She realized Dad and Angelina were gone. They had to be somewhere in the observatory, but she felt anxious. She turned to Randy. He was staring, not at the lake or buildings but into the vacant sky.

“What’s up there?”

“Spiders. On the outside of the window.” He pointed to some darkish specks Lisa had dismissed as dirt. But they were spiders. “I wonder how they get up here. And what do they eat? Probably insects that come flying along. And if the wind blows them off, they’re so light they float along on air currents to another skyscraper.”

“You can see spiders anywhere,” she said. “Where’s Dad?”

“Who cares.” His eyes never left the spiders. “You go find them.”

The observatory’s corridor followed the outer windows to form a big square. On the opposite side she found Dad and Angelina. They were each leaning a shoulder against the inner wall, touching foreheads as if sharing secrets through telepathy. His arms circled her waist. Lisa knew then he wanted to be with Angelina. His kids coming to visit was a pain, and he could hardly wait for them to leave.

They never heard from him anymore. The child-support checks were signed by his lawyer. The birthday and Christmas presents were certificates from upscale catalogs, but Mom still made them send thank-you notes. “Your actions show who you are,” she said. “And if he’s got any shame he’ll help pay for your college.”


You could write a book on why readers dislike ambiguity in fiction. Someone probably has. It might seem arrogant (or at least reductive) to address the question in 500 words or less, but I’m going to try.

The answer comes down to what a reader wants — challenge or comfort.

Ambiguity is a lack of clarity or certainty in a situation. In fiction, it’s found in open endings, unsolved disappearances, characters whose nature remains mysterious, events that may or may not be real. For me, ambiguity enriches a story and keeps me thinking long after I put the book aside. It makes the story more real. More like life.

We live with ambiguity every day. Someone texts a friend several times and gets no reply. An insecure person thinks, “I did something to make her hate me.” A fearful person thinks, “Maybe she’s in trouble.” An optimistic person thinks, “She’s having too much fun to check her messages.” The point is, people feel the need to come up with an explanation.

Oftentimes more is at stake. You interview for a job. The interviewer promises to get back to you, but doesn’t. Maybe you should call and ask whether you’re still in the running. But what if your call annoys the interviewer?

You meet someone and want to start dating. But maybe he’s a con artist with a string of ex-wives. You run an online search and hope it uncovers the truth. Some of the truth anyway.

The uncertainty of life can be exhausting and anxiety provoking. What a comfort to escape into a story where the mystery is solved, the lovers are united, and both characters and reader stand on solid fictional ground.

The trouble is, the real complexity of experience is missing from those stories.

Margaret Atwood’s “Death By Landscape” is a short story built on ambiguity. The protagonist, Lois, goes to summer camp and meets Lucy. The two girls become friends over several summers together at camp. One day while they’re alone on a hike, Lucy goes off to pee and never comes back. A search of the surrounding countryside turns up nothing. The owner of the summer camp blames Lois.

For the rest of her life, Lois carries the guilt and perplexity of not knowing what happened to her friend. She collects paintings of wilderness landscapes but otherwise pushes the experience to the back of her mind — until she gets old. With her husband dead and her children gone, the mystery of Lucy’s disappearance reemerges. Lois spends her days gazing at the landscape paintings in search of Lucy.

“Death By Landscape” illustrates how devastating lack of closure can be. Lois seeks closure in her collection of landscapes. They are attempts to recapture Lucy by placing borders around the uncharted territory that swallowed her up.

Many readers seek closure in fiction and abhor the holes where certainty and clarity disappear. I can’t really blame them.

Today’s featured guests, seven prominent indie writers, are here to discuss what ought to change in mainstream publishing. Their limited edition box set—Outside the Box: Women Writing Women—will be available in e-book format beginning February 20 for just 90 days. The set may be pre-ordered now.

The project is the brainchild of Jessica Bell, an Australian writer living in Athens, Greece. A literary author and the Founder/Publishing Editor of Vine Leaves literary journal, Jessica wanted to showcase the most exciting fiction being released by authors who are in full charge of their own creative decisions. “I couldn’t imagine collaborating with a finer group of writers,” Jessica said. “The authors in this box set are at the very top of their game.”


The compilation of novels introduces a diverse cast of characters: A woman accused of killing her tyrannical father who is determined to reveal the truth. A bookish and freshly orphaned young woman seeks to escape the shadow of her infamous mother—a radical lesbian poet—by fleeing her hometown. A bereaved biographer who travels to war-ravaged Croatia to research the life of a celebrity artist. A gifted musician who is forced by injury to stop playing the piano and fears her life may be over. An undercover journalist after a by-line, not a boyfriend, who unexpectedly has to choose between her comfortable life and a bumpy road that could lead to happiness. A former ballerina who turns to prostitution to support her daughter, and the wife of a drug lord who attempts to relinquish her lust for sharp objects and blood to raise a respectable son.

Jane Davis said, “This set of thought-provoking novels showcases genre-busting fiction across the full spectrum from light (although never frothy) to darker, more haunting reads that delve into deeper psychological territory.”

But regardless of setting, regardless of whether the women are mothers, daughters, friends or lovers, the themes are universal: euthanasia, prostitution, gender anomalies, regression therapy, obesity, drug abuse, revenge, betrayal, sex, lust, suicide and murder. Their authors have not shied away from the big issues. Some have asked big questions.


Orna Ross (founder-director of The Alliance of Independent Authors, named by The Bookseller as one of the 100 most influential people in publishing) selected Blue Mercy, a complex tale of betrayal, revenge, suspense, murder mystery – and surprise.

Joni Rodgers (NYT bestselling author) returned to her debut Crazy for Trying, a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection and a Discover Award finalist.

Roz Morris (ghost writer and teacher of creative writing master classes for the Guardian newspaper in London) presented My Memories of a Future Life, the haunting story of how one lost soul searches for where she now belongs.

Kathleen Jones, best-selling award winning author, Royal Literary Fund Fellow, whose work has been broadcast by the BBC, contributed The Centauress, a compelling tale of family conflict over a disputed inheritance.

Jane Davis (a British writer whose debut won the Daily Mail First Novel Award) nominated An Unchoreographed Life, an unflinching and painfully honest portrayal of flawed humanity.

Carol Cooper (author, doctor, British journalist and president of the Guild of Health Writers) provided One Night at the Jacaranda, a gripping story about a group of people searching for love, sex and everything in between.

For Jessica Bell (Australian novelist, singer/songwriter, Publishing Editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal and whose award-winning poetry has been broadcast on ABC National Radio), her latest novel White Lady was the obvious choice, an intense, suspenseful ride rife with mystery.

Each of the authors addresses this question:

If you were Queen of Publishing for a day, what’s one thing you’d change about the industry as a whole?

Orna: The reason I love self-publishing so much is that it’s democratising and it encourages diversity. Readers and writers together are now creating new genres and books that London and Manhattan would never have published. If I were Queen of Publishing for a day, I’d make it much more diverse. I’d love to see a greater variety of voices at every level of the industry.

Jessica: That’s a tough one. Can it stop being such a popularity contest and get back to its roots? Focus on the writing, not how many followers the author has on Twitter? In an ideal world…

Roz: I would ask for more literary awards to open up to new writers. Not just to indies, but to all the new talent that comes along. Too many literary awards are given on the basis of pre-existing fame. If those authors genuinely wrote the best book of the year, then they deserve the prize, but otherwise we should give awards to the genuinely surprising, interesting and wonderful – not the usual suspects. Sometimes the best book has been written by Hilary Mantel, Julian Barnes or Neil Gaiman – but sometimes it’s been written by someone relatively unknown. And those are the books that awards should be finding for us.

Carol: Although it should be obvious that there’s more than one way to publish quality books, some people in both camps sadly take up entrenched positions. Those in traditional publishing especially tend to snipe at the other side, and the antagonism does nobody any favours. We shouldn’t be at war, because in the end it’s all about the reader. I’d like to bring in a lot more enlightenment and a bit more peace, but I may need more than a day to achieve it.

Kathleen: I’d ban accountants from the commissioning meeting! Books should be accepted on literary value alone; it’s the only way to get a quality product. Readers quickly tire of being sold ‘the next best thing’. They want variety, good stories, original, surprising prose – they deserve the best, not some publicist’s idea of what they can be conned into thinking is the best. Not only that, but many of the books they buy purporting to be written by celebrities are in fact written by someone else – usually a professional writer whose own work has been rejected but who needs the money. To pass off a book in that way is fraudulent – at best a con trick. We need to take the fake out of the fiction industry and writers need to be free to write the books they want to write and readers want to read.

Jane: The options for those wishing to publish are now wider than ever before, so I don’t think it’s the publishing industry I would change. It is the perception of publishing and the value that we place on books and art that I’d like to target. This year, I’ve been out speaking to librarians and booksellers trying to encourage them to stock – and read – more indie titles. If Andrew Lownie’s prediction is right, over 75% of books will be self-published by the year 2020. Any outlet that refuses to stock indie titles will be doing readers an enormous disservice by restricting choice. The other thing I’d like to be able to do is to get out there and sell my books for the listed price. I hear parents talk about spending £120 on trainers for their children – something that will be outgrown in 6 months. People will fork out over £50 to see a band play, they’ll happily pay £2.45 for a coffee or £3.60 for a pint of beer, and yet they throw up their hands in horror at the idea of paying £8.99 for a paperback. Is the real issue that readers’ needs are not being catered for? £8.99 may seem a lot of money for something you don’t enjoy. I found the results that Kobo have collated about books readers give up on half way through very telling, with The Goldfinch and Twelve Years a Slave topping the list (the books readers were told they should be reading), whilst the book they were most likely to finish? Casey Kelleher’s self-published thriller Rotten to the Core.

Joni: Oh, Lord, I’d tell everyone to take the day off and read a book. That’s the single most important thing writers can do—for ourselves and for the book culture at large—but we leave ourselves so little time for it.

Late last year, Awesome Indies published Awesome Allshorts: Last Days, Lost Ways, the first of a series of planned anthologies. Last Days, Lost Ways contains stories by 21 authors, including Tahlia Newland, Dixiane Hallaj, Bill Kirton, Shauna Bickley — and me. I’m honored to have my story “Smilin’ Mike” published in the company of stories by so many accomplished indie authors.

“Smilin’ Mike” is one of several stories I wrote about a nine-year-old girl whose life is disrupted when her parents divorce. The girl and her mother move in with Nana, her eccentric paternal grandmother, in a quiet suburb of San Diego. (The stories are set in the 1950s, when San Diego had quiet suburbs.) Nana harbors the hope that her son will come to his senses and the family will reunite, a hope shared by the little girl but not her embittered mother. Caught up in the tension between two adults who love her, the child must negotiate a world far more complex and uncertain than the one she has known. When Nana meets one of her favorite TV personalities, Smilin’ Mike, a professional wrestler known for his humor and geniality, the girl discovers that people aren’t always what they seem and even adults can be fooled by a false image.

Last Days, Lost Ways is available as a paperback and ebook from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other online booksellers.


checking your grammar day and night

She’s back! Grammar Nazi is here to remind me that, no matter how hard I try, I’m doomed to be a screw-up and a loser. And the worst part is that no matter how mercilessly she harasses me, I need her.


If a writer must mark a character for death, it’s safer to choose one that readers hate. In my novel Talion Norlene Jakes falls victim to the sadistic serial killer Rad Sanders, the Professor of Death. Rad kills her to make an impression on her stepdaughter Lu, for whom he has special plans.

Norlene is hard to love. She boozes and does hard drugs and cheats on her husband. She feels endlessly sorry for herself. Listen to her bemoaning a hangover:

Used to be you could have a few Coke-and-whiskeys without paying for it with this torment. Not anymore. You’re old and worn down by life. Sex is like taking a shit for all the pleasure you feel. Wake up every morning with a truckload of shit piled on your chest. A loser husband and a crazy stepdaughter and just enough money to scrape by. Might as well put a bullet in your brain.

Oh yeah, she has a mouth on her. I blame Norlene for all those readers who complained about the bad language in Talion.

She vents her rage on Lu, abusing the poor kid emotionally and physically. Norlene is not very bright, but her real problem is lack of self-awareness, which isn’t the same thing as intelligence. Self awareness requires the honesty to look within yourself and understand how you came to be who you are. Only once does Norlene have a flash of insight that she abuses Lu because she herself suffered abuse as a child:

Today Lu knew better than to answer, “It’s not a house, it’s a trailer,” or some other backtalk. She needed a smacking now and then to make her behave.

“Look at me when I’m talking to you.”

Lu obeyed with her face showing there was no sass on it. Norlene used to face her own mother in the same humbled way. The recognition stabbed like a needle. Why should the girl be anything to you? You ain’t blood.

Norlene immediately dismisses the parallel because she and Lu aren’t “blood.” It never occurs to her that the biological connection never stopped her own mother from beating on her.

Later in the story, after giving Lu a whipping that will leave scars, Norlene puts on a dress that hides her thick waist and shows off her still-shapely legs, and goes off to turn a trick with Rad. Readers know what’s coming. I doubt many of them care what happens to her, but in case they forget Norlene is a human being, there’s this:

Norlene started walking along the highway’s narrow shoulder. Meeting down the road from the lodge was his idea. “We don’t want to compromise your reputation,” was his excuse, but most likely he was scared of Duane. The high roadside weeds tickled her arm with stalks and pods and shriveled flowers. Grasshoppers jumped up and rasped her legs. The weeds were thick with them. When she was little, Norlene thought grasshoppers grew inside weed pods and hatched out like birds. Kids got some strange ideas.

Poor Norlene. Maybe things could have been different.

When I wrote this post, my blog was called Ancient Children.  The photo above shows me with a friend back in the 1970’s.

I named this blog Ancient Children for a couple of reasons. One is that it gives me an excuse to use an old photo of myself, taken when looking good required no effort. Another is that Ancient Children is the title of my first novel, which was nominated for a Pushcart Prize and almost got published.

Ancient Children is a typical 70’s novel. It tells the story of a crew of aimless dopers who devise a harebrained scheme to kidnap one of their friends whose parents happen to have money. Since I was more into realism than plot back then, the scheme never really comes off. Too bad. If it had, maybe the novel would have got published. It also might have helped if the protagonist were more likable. She’s a cynical little shit.

I haven’t looked at the manuscript for years, but I remember the beginning: “Maggie steps into her shadow.” As a young writer, I wanted every sentence to be fraught with symbolism.

Now the manuscript sits in a box in the storage area of my office along with other writing that’s unfinished or unpublished, or both. I think of the film The Hunger, with Catherine Deneuve as a beautiful vampire whose lovers succumb to old age but cannot die. She locks them in coffins and finds someone new, but she can’t forget them. They call to her constantly, a chorus of voices in her head, begging her for release, reminding her of the love they shared. Ancient Children calls to me occasionally, but it’s mostly silent now. I’m afraid to look at it. If you saw The Hunger, you know why.

Catherine Deneuve in The Hunger

I began wondering about the fine distinctions between a writer and an author after encountering some online snootiness toward those who self-publish. One commentator sniffed that self-publishers cannot be authors since no one has validated their work; they’re merely writers who scribble whatever nonsense comes to mind and upload it to KDP or CreateSpace or Spark or wherever. Another commentator sneeringly called self-publishers authors because they’ve published books, no matter how awful, but refused to consider them writers because they have yet to master their craft.

Which title confers respect and validation: author or writer?

In the broadest sense, a writer is anyone who writes, but usually the word refers to a person devoted to the craft of writing — as opposed to someone making a grocery list or dashing off email messages. A writer of fiction works at shaping a narrative, developing characters, choosing the right word, finding an appropriate voice, and expressing a theme that will resonate with readers. A writer of nonfiction works at developing an argument or presenting information in a fresh way that engages readers.

Anyone who wields a pen or taps a keyboard in pursuit of these goals is a writer at some level. Beginning, aspiring, accomplished, masterful.

Jenny Sanford Signs Copies Of Her New BookAuthor refers to a writer who has published a book, article, or poem. The title’s kinship to the word authority lends it prestige. I get uncomfortable at the way some folks puff up at the prospect of being authors, as if publishing a book is an accomplishment. It’s the writing that matters. Does it show craftsmanship? Does it offer anything fresh or entertaining or informative to readers?

In a way, the author is the writer’s public face.

Suppose you sign up for a writers’ workshop. What do you expect? Probably to read and critique the work of other writers and receive their feedback on your work, all with the goal of improving your craft. At an authors’ workshop you’re more likely to learn about marketing and promoting your books. Both kinds of lessons can be useful.

My understanding of the distinction between writer and author coalesced when I read Stephen King’s novel Misery. Some readers say The Stand is King’s best work, but I think Misery surpasses it. Annie Wilkes is the most compelling psychopathic character I’ve encountered in fiction, scarier than Hannibal Lector, whose abilities verge on the supernatural. Annie is terrifying in her realism.

Misery Cover 2She drags author Paul Sheldon from his car after an accident and takes him prisoner. Crippled in the accident, he’s trapped in her isolated house in the mountains of Colorado. She calls herself his “number-one fan.” When she reads his just-finished manuscript and discovers he has killed off her favorite character, she demands a rewrite. Addicted to the drugs she feeds him, at the mercy of her violent whims, Paul doesn’t have much choice. He rewrites the story and even takes inspiration from his tormentor’s criticisms.

His breaking point comes when she chops off his foot to punish him for leaving his room. After that he stops caring whether he survives, yet he continues to care about the book Annie is making him write. He hangs on from day to day to finish the book. For Paul authorship and the acclaim that comes with it are secondary to the process of creation.

So what are you — writer or author?

If anything you’ve written has been published, you’re both. What matters is where you love to be. Is it sitting behind a table in Barnes & Noble, autographing copies of your book for adoring fans? Or alone in front of a computer screen or notebook, perhaps late at night, practicing your craft?

As for respect and validation, either you don’t need it or you can never get enough.

Daniele is a loner. The way she looks at it, who needs other people when you can read a good book? Worried about her reclusive ways, her brother gives her a parakeet so she won’t be altogether alone. She takes the bird reluctantly and names him Yubi. To her surprise Daniele enjoys having Yubi around. Then Yubi begins a romantic courtship of Daniele, and she finds herself unable to resist his bold advances. The pair settle into a happy relationship — until Daniele steps out into the world and begins dating her boss.

Now she becomes torn between two lovers. One of whom is very jealous.

“Yubi” is a short story with comedy, mild erotic content, and a touch of magical realism.

It was first published in Yellow Silk: A Journal of the Erotic Arts.

Available below as a free download:


For Kindle

 Cover Draft 5


For iBooks, Nook, and Kobo


Cover Draft 5


The Awesome Indies are looking for short stories for their upcoming anthology. Submissions are open to anyone. Here are the guidelines:

1.    Length: 4500 word maximum with no minimum. Short shorts are as welcome as longer works.

2.  Target audience: We want to appeal to a general adult audience.

a.  No explicit violence or sex, nothing offensive to any cultural or religious group, nothing encouraging socially inappropriate behavior.

b.  Follow the grammar and spelling conventions you are comfortable using. We can include a short note somewhere about our multinational authors.

3.  Send submissions to: by July 14, 2014. You may submit as many stories as you like.

4.  We prefer stories that have not previously been published and that you don’t intend to publish elsewhere for at least a year, but pre-published stories are acceptable; just let us know where they have been published and make sure that they aren’t under some preexisting agreement for exclusivity. We don’t want stories presently in publication as stand-alone short stories.

5.  Payment: All fame and glory accrue to the authors. Awesome Indies will use the remainder for maintenance of the website.

6.  Authors who do not already have a book listed on the Awesome Indies site will get priority on our review request list for one of their books.

Have questions? Send them to the submissions address or leave a comment here.


checking your grammar day and night

There’s nothing like a dose of ambivalence to add unwelcome melodrama to your life. Allow me to introduce Grammar Nazi. She takes up space in my head, and like any good nazi she’s always looking to expand her territory. I think I remember her from sixth grade.


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No way am I a grammar nazi. I think any writer who finishes a novel, no matter how flawed, deserves some respect.



Grammar Nazi ThumbnailImpertinent fools, they presume to pen a novel without having mastered the fundamental skills of their trade. They deserve your scorn.



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Who am I to criticize?



Grammar Nazi Thumbnail

Your sole mission in life should be to point them out and humiliate them.



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Experience has made me what I am: a reader so bothered by grammatical errors that they sometimes spoil my enjoyment of a book.



Grammar Nazi ThumbnailNever apologize for having received an adequate education. You are right to disdain the ignoramuses who cannot understand why the prepositional phrase “between you and I” is improper usage.



Screen Shot 2013-10-15 at 4.54.17 PMWhile teaching writing at a university I marked thousands of comma splices, run-on sentences, clumsy sentence fragments, comma errors, apostrophe errors, etc. I learned that small mistakes matter less than creativity and thoughtful argument.


Grammar Nazi ThumbnailOne expects such errors in students’ writing, not in books offered for sale.



Screen Shot 2013-10-15 at 4.54.17 PMCreative writers have great leeway in their use of language.



Grammar Nazi ThumbnailThank you for stating the obvious. Good writers know how to break the rules because they have mastered them. We are speaking of people who cannot even punctuate the vocative case correctly. They ought to go back to grade school.


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Here’s the thing: correctness doesn’t always result in effective writing, but mistakes often prevent writing from being effective.



Grammar Nazi ThumbnailFine. I enjoy a catchy platitude as much as anyone.



Screen Shot 2013-10-15 at 4.54.17 PMMost readers don’t even notice the mistakes that bother me.



Grammar Nazi ThumbnailOh, they notice. The mistakes are a major reason why many readers ignore indie books and why critics argue that the self-publishing revolution has flooded the market with garbage. You, Mary Maddox, are an indie writer. Join the procession to the virtual landfill.


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As a reviewer I dislike downgrading an otherwise good book because of rampant grammatical mistakes, but to overlook them would be a disservice to the author and potential readers. I guess the key is to balance faults with virtues and remember that everyone makes mistakes, including me.


Grammar Nazi ThumbnailYou made a mistake? Where? Where? Find it at once. You will be the object of universal derision. You must scour every page of the manuscript for errors that have escaped your scrutiny. Take all night if need be. I stand at your back with my whip.

Author Tahlia Newland has offered me the opportunity to join in this blog tour. The idea is simple. I answer a series of questions on my writing process and my current work, then I tag new authors to answer the same questions, and the chain carries on, a pattern of infinite growth. Unfortunately, the authors I hoped to tag could not participate. Ah well. Suppose every branch of a tree kept growing and sprouting new twigs that grew into branches and divided. It would be one cancerous tree, and eventually someone would attack it with a chainsaw. But I had lots of fun answering the questions.

I want to thank Tahlia for tagging me . Check out her website here.

What am I working on?

Right now I’m revising a suspense novel, Darkroom, for about the sixth time.

Kelly Durrell, assistant curator at a small museum, befriends Day Randall, a footloose and immensely talented photographer. While Kelly is home attending her sister’s funeral, Day disappears. Kelly is too grief stricken to care until Day’s boyfriend, art collector Gregory Tyson, asks for her help. He’s determined to find Day. As Kelly searches for her missing friend she finds herself drawn into a world of dangerous people. She begins to question Tyson’s motives. What is he really after? How far will he go to get what he wants?

And will I ever finish this novel? The story is radically different from the first draft I wrote some years ago. Maybe I should have left this one in a virtual drawer, but something about it keeps pulling me back. I hope it will have that effect on readers.

Why do I write what I do?

My stories come from a bleak place. Though I’ve been lucky enough to find love and joy in my life, my imagination thrives in the dark. The darkness of my stories puts some readers off, but it’s so much a part of my worldview that I can’t change it without losing my authenticity. If I wrote lighthearted romance readers would sense the phoniness.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I write urban fanstasy and horror as well as straight suspense. I also like to mix genre elements. But I’m hardly the only writer who does these things. In the end only one thing sets my writing apart from others in my genre: its voice. Voice encompasses a writer’s prose style, imagination, and worldview. It’s a quality hard to define but easy to recognize. Like a singer’s voice it can’t be acquired, only developed. You can often recognize a writer’s work by voice alone. And of course some voices are more accomplished and versatile than others. Not everyone can write a first-person narrative with an unforgettable voice. Mark Twain sure could. He’s one of the greats.

Sometimes I think stylistic rules (which, let’s face it, change through time) hamper the writer who is trying to find his or her voice, but without rules the new writer usually produces awful prose.

How does my writing process work?

Voice is important to my writing process. It can slow down my writing. If a paragraph sounds wrong — off key or discordant with the rest of the piece — I can’t proceed until I’ve solved the problem. If it sounds right I can move along at a steady pace. I know voice shouldn’t matter so much in a first draft, but my creative process depends on it. Fortunately I’ve reached the point where I can find the right note quickly, but sometimes I fail to catch false notes until I read through the draft later. They make me wince.

I wish I could write faster. Commercially it’s a good idea to produce two or three books a year. But what’s the point if they suck?


About Tahlia Newland:

She writes heart warming and inspiring contemporary fantasy and magical realism . You can also call it metaphysical fiction. She has  been writing full time since 2008, and is also a respected reviewer with over 300 published reviews. All her novels have been awarded a place on the Awesome Indies list of quality independent fiction, and have received the AIA Seal of Excellence. Two of her novels, You Can’t Shatter Me and  Lethal Inheritance, also received a B.R.A.G Medallion for outstanding independent fiction.