Marketing and PR with video for authors, writers and poets.

Video is becoming the name of the game in marketing. If you are a writer, that can be daunting. How does one incorporate the written word as an art form into video format? Instagram is made for visual artists, but writers are having to pull double duty by becoming photographers and uploading carefully arranged pictures of coffee next to a strategically placed book, pen, paper or typewriter. It’s frustrating. Most writers have full time jobs and barely manage to fit in time to write. Now we are expected to become photographers, graphic artists and PR social media managers, videographers as well just to get our work read by people? The struggle is real, folks.

There is a huge parasite market that feeds on the struggle in the form of “how-to” for writers. “How to get published,” “How to market your book,” “How to get an agent.” Even published, well known writers are using the market to sell their own work by publishing books on writing, doing Facebook videos on how to write, blogs on how to write, just to keep their name out there. What do you do if you aren’t an expert on writing, don’t teach MFA courses, don’t have a book published? All you have really is you, your personality, and your work. Let’s face it, most of the time even our own families don’t take the time to read what we write. How do we get the rest of the world interested? Where do we find the time to promote when we don’t have the time to write?

Research shows video is becoming crucial for PR and marketing anything and everything through social media. Video production sounds daunting, but it isn’t. I do video production from small presses, but you can do it yourself and save hundreds of dollars. All you need is a computer and a little time and creativity. Adobe Spark is a basic free online software you can start with. It is very user friendly. I’ve used it to make simple education videos for my kid’s schooling. If you outgrow that, there are plenty of other low cost options. A little knowledge goes a long way. To make pictures for instagrams with quotes, snippets of your work, etc, Befunky is a free, super simple online picture editor that can do the job without requiring lots of experience.

Here’s a longer video I just did for Woven Tale Press. It is a visual reading Richard Dokey’s short story, “Give me That Old Time Religion.” Dokey is one of the best story tellers of the last quarter century and I was honored to work with him. He’s also a super nice guy.

Give Me That Old Time Religion

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New video for Woven Tale Press literary magazine

Here is the third video I produced for the Woven Tale Press Voice & Vision series. It features the amazing photographs of  Amy Kanka Valadarsky while Rudy Melena reads his compelling story, “So Much the Better.”

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How I ended up with an identical twin lost in Vietnam.

twin-newborn-photographyI ended up in Vietnam after meeting a guy at church with a strange name. It gave me the idea for a short story about a worship leader from a mega-church named, Glorious. He was going to get so caught up in the emotional throes of “spirituality” that he was going to hurl himself into the arms of the congregation in a stage dive. The story would end with him landing on the floor and staring up through the fog machine at the stage lights as the congregation peered down at him.

It was going to be a sarcastic commentary on marketing Jesus—selling emotional highs as a superior form of “spirituality.” But Glorious decided that wasn’t his story at all. I tried again and again to rewrite it the way I saw it in my head, but Glorious kept saying, “Nope, that’s not what happened, if you would just listen.” So, I decided to trust this new character I created and follow where he led me.

It started with his name. How did you get your name, Glorious? It’s pretty out there for a boy. His parents were hippies—-specifically Mom. His father was just going along for the ride. When she gets pregnant with him, it turns out to be twins. She has a vision.

“My mother had a vision of two siblings rising arm in arm, in a glorious revolution against the institutionalized powers bent on destroying any hope their generation had of finding peace—like the war destroyed the bodies of the boys it dumped from helicopters by the thousands through the green canopy of Vietnam.”

Glorious for the sister. Revolution for the brother. Fraternal twins, just like her and her twin brother. But they aren’t. They are twin brothers, identical. But Revolution has birth defects and is a shrunken version of Glorious—who took up all the nutrients in the womb.

Okay, where the hell is this going, Glorious? Even for a hippie, those are bizarre names. Why is your mother so worked up about the Vietnam War and finding peace? I mean, your Dad protests and does acid with her, but he’s not obsessive like she is. She had to have some personal skin in the game or she’s a cardboard cut out of a hippie. Did her brother get drafted? Maybe he died over there? Close. Missing in Action? Presumed dead? Warmer…

My story took off from there. The more I researched the hippie movement, the Vietnam War, and the stories of soldiers who fought in Vietnam—the stranger the twists and turns became. Truth really can be stranger than fiction.

I have to let Glorious tell the story. He lets me know when I’m off base, or I’m restricting him because I’m uncomfortable with what he’s telling me. He tells me when to dig deeper and when to back off. I’m going to hear him out—follow him  to the end. So far it’s been quite the ride.

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Write what you know. Know what you write.



Write what you know.—I have stumbled across this aphorism more times than I care to recount in writing advice articles. There is truth in it, but there is also a lie. The lie discourages writers from going outside of their comfort zone—a woman will never be able to write from the viewpoint of a man without the same authenticity that testicles bring. A straight person can never write from the viewpoint of any other sexual orientation. Same goes with ethnicity. Don’t have your character grow up in the south if you grew up in Boston. Don’t put them in conflicts you haven’t experienced yourself. Don’t. Don’t Don’t. If that advice was sound, our libraries of solid literature would be very small and uninteresting—autobiographies and nonfiction with minor name changes.

Storytelling is about recognizing the negative and positive aspects that being human entails—revealing the byproduct of love, birth, death, reproduction in a compelling way. Where your character lives, what their biological gender is, the language they speak, how they make money—none of those things are as important as what your character comes to understand about themselves, others, and life itself.

But there is also truth in writing what you know. If your character is in the Korean War and you don’t even know what continent that was fought on, that’s a problem. If your main character gets raped in one scene and is over it in the next scene, that’s a problem. If your character is Jewish and you describe them as having a doily on their head and curliques hanging down either side and call it a day—that’s going to be a problem. Unfortunately, all these are examples of stories I have encountered in the slush pile.

Inadequate research creates inadequate characters, whose experiences are anemic and unremarkable. They offer the reader no insight into the human condition, they only entertain the mind for a moment and then fade away like an eighties situational comedy.

The further removed you are from your subject matter, the more research will be required to create an authentic reading experience. If your main character’s parents are Amish and it greatly affects their life, and all you can conjure up are buggies and hats for details, then you will need to start researching the Amish until you could talk about them like you were one yourself in a former life.

If your character leaves a cult, don’t just research the cult, research individuals inside the cult. Find interviews, videos, pictures, stories. Get first hand accounts. Research what conflicts played out between members, what family members outside the cult thought of the cult, what the townspeople nearby thought. You will walk away with a treasure trove of possibilities. Your story will take on new twists and turns entirely on its own. The hours spent researching will be well worth it, when your hands fly over the keyboard with the sure strokes of somebody who knows what the hell they are talking about.

Readers will not trust a voice that is not authentic. They will not care about your characters. They will not invest time in finding out their outcomes. So take the time to do the research. Invest time in your characters. Investigate their backgrounds, think about what led them to be the character they are on the first page when your reader first meets them. Don’t create a sketch of a human being, create a human being so vivid they jump right off the page and into your reader’s head.


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The Matryoshka Women: A Mother’s Day Story.

via The Matryoshka Women: A Mother’s Day Story.

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Last Hope

So, I got a new job doing video production at The Woven Tale Press It is more like play for me than work. I got to work with acclaimed poet Richard Hoffman who has published six books and won numerous awards and the talented artist, Sharon Stepman who’s work is exhibited internationally, and has been featured in the MoMA in New York and the Boboli Gardens in Florence.  I’ve listened to Richard’s audio of this poem so many times while editing the video, I have it memorized and I have fallen in love with the images Sharon contributed of homeless people. It is haunting. I would LOVE it if you could comment and like the video on the new YouTube channel so I can keep making more videos!

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The Meaning of Flight

I wrote this short story about 15 years ago. It was based on my experience as a nanny for a wealthy family. There is a world that exists that only “hired help” knows about. I hope I did a good job of bringing it to light.  Published in New Reader Magazine.


Courtesy Amy Judd Photography


The Meaning of Flight


One morning, Rhea saw it there, pecking in the pristine landscape under the Kensington Country Club sign as she waited to turn into the gated community—a black chicken scratching in the pansies at sunrise. It was still there at dusk when Rhea left, the sun casting long shadows in the Georgia summer twilight and the day after. Rhea started looking for it every morning when she drove by, throwing crackers out the window into the grass by the bushes, hoping it was smart enough not to wander into the street.

Rhea thought she knew where it came from. Down the road, past the developments, a single trailer home hunched on a square of land, fending off the flock of developers that swooped down from Atlanta to buy up everything in the vicinity and turn it into expensive gated communities. The trailer had a makeshift wire fence surrounding it that kept in a brood of chickens and a few goats. All the neighborhood women grumbled, saying it was a black stain on the town. They complained it smelled up the new park where they marched around the man-made lake pushing strollers and talking out loud into hidden cell phones attached to their ears. They held community meetings and petitioned the city council, but the trailer’s owner wouldn’t budge—even when offered large sums of money.

Rhea wondered how the chicken found its way there. Surely, it didn’t walk the three miles from the trailer to Kensington Park. Chickens are (as everyone knows) flightless birds. She thought about trying to corral it and return it, but it seemed fat and happy, scratching out a quiet living in the flower beds and retreating into the woods at night to roost.  

Rhea was a nanny for one of the many  rich families in the Kensington Park Country Club, where the residents were tucked safely behind cast iron gates inside sprawling houses in neighborhoods built in less than a month. The gigantic homes stood stamped onto the hillsides in a pattern of three or four alternating models—so close they almost touched. They appeared made of  brick or stucco on all sides from the street, but they hid shingled backs—like dresses pinned to the fronts of mannequins in a store window display to create the illusion of being completely clothed.

It was a new neighborhood, and most of the cul-de-sacs were unfinished. The houses sat on their streets like embryos in jars displaying descending forms of development. They started out fully formed at the top, bulging with families on green lawns thick as carpet. Expensive cars hid behind garage doors designed to look like carriage houses. But as you drove down the street, the lush lawns turned into freshly laid sod with the seams still showing. For-sale-signs advertised barren three-story houses with naked windows staring at the road like lidless eyes. Newly planted flowers budded in beds around the foundations. Saplings sprouted along the driveways, tethered to stakes to keep them upright.

At the end of the cul-de-sacs lay red clay and skeletons—partially framed buildings swarming with construction workers like flies on a carcass. They perched in the eaves in the afternoons, eating their lunches from plastic grocery bags as Rhea walked by with Katie in the stroller. Something kept them from whistling and cat-calling like they did in her town. The same unspoken rule decreed they idle their leaf blowers and lawn mowers as she passed. Rhea used to say hello and smile, but they only stepped aside and looked at the ground.

Outside the gates of the neighborhood, Rhea was Mommy, not to the two-and five-year-olds she watched, but to the endless amounts of people she interacted with every day—a generic tag they gave her to avoid actual conversation.  

“What would you like, Mom?” the woman from the ice cream store asked.

“How long has this fever been going on, Mom?” the nurse asked at the pediatrician’s office.

“Wait for your Mommy, Honey!”  warned the mothers at the playground.

Rhea stopped correcting them. It was easier. Their eyes didn’t drift while she continued talking, trying to cling to the intimacy of the prior conversation like a child to its mother’s knee.  

So, Rhea took on the role. She slipped her arms into the designer sweat suit costume of the neighborhood mommies, bought a fake Gucci bag online, stole a pair of Chanel glasses from the Gymboree lost and found and traded in her Volkswagen Bug for a black shiny SUV she couldn’t afford.

Her husband was a good man. He worked two jobs while putting himself through school. Rhea barely saw him. All she wanted to do was stay home and have children, but bills kept her at work, getting up before daybreak to drive an hour to the rich side of the county.

Eight weeks into her pregnancy, Rhea developed hyperemesis. She got so dehydrated from vomiting, she spent the night in the hospital. She didn’t go in to work for three days. Maggie, her boss, used it as an example of how flexible she was when Rhea complained later about the long hours. Rhea felt like a fly caught under the glass of her financial situation and thought Maggie used it to her advantage. Rhea needed her and her money, and Maggie knew it. So, forty hours a week became fifty, and fifty became fifty-five. Helping with the laundry turned into picking up Maggie’s bloodstained underwear off the bathroom floor and scrubbing it in the laundry room sink until her hands were white and cracked from bleach. Rhea put up a fight when Maggie expected her to baby-sit on the weekends without compensation. Maggie turned on her and hissed. I was just asking you for a favor as a friend.

The friend card—one Maggie could whisk out like a Visa and use at a moment’s notice. She seduced Rhea into a false sense of camaraderie, insisted she call her Mags, confided in Rhea about  her husband’s negligence and what a jealous bitch her sister was. She cradled Rhea in the cozy nest of girlfriend closeness and then turned on her for a favor—something you wouldn’t ask of an employee without compensation but something you wouldn’t ask of a friend either. Can you do me a favor and stay late and clean the basement? I have a big party tomorrow. Rhea stopped fighting it. She swallowed down the protests sticking in her throat and agreed to whatever Maggie wanted. It was easier than flinching through the day, waiting for Maggie to slap her with some new argument proving how unreasonable she was being when Maggie had been so flexible with her.

At least the children loved her. There was solace in that. She wasn’t hired help to them. She was just Miss Rhea, a constant presence they didn’t question or wonder about, an intrinsic part of their tiny five and two-year-old lives.

Rhea’s job included dropping off  and picking up the five-year-old, Hunter, from the bus stop at the top of the cul-de-sac. So every morning, Rhea packed Katie into her stroller and took the journey to the top of the hill with Hunter. Mothers left their houses and joined them in the line with their offspring trailing behind like ants. They ignored Rhea and neglected to reprimand their children when they picked up Katie and swung her around, or pushed Hunter out into the street. Tired and nauseated from being pregnant, one day Rhea lost her temper. She called out in a voice loud enough for the mothers to hear, “I know your mothers don’t care, but if you do that one more time, you’re gonna be in big trouble.”

She got into a yelling match with Diane, Maggie’s neighbor, who called Maggie and complained. Rhea thought she might lose her job.

But Maggie just rolled her eyes. I could care less what they think, Rhea. They are no friends of mine, just a bunch of stay-at-home-bitches with no lives of their own.

Rhea gloated the next day at the bus stop. They had not gotten the best of her. They had not defeated her.

After that, the neighborhood mommies formed a tight flock away from her, calling out to their children in first names that should be last ones: Conner, Carter and Madison before turning back to their conversations about how hard it was to find good help or a decent lake lot to build their summer houses on. Rhea was close enough to hear, but not near enough to feel involved. She busied herself with buttoning Katie’s coat and tying her laces. She pretended to talk on her cell phone, laughing into the dial tone.

The morning Rhea came back from the miscarriage, the chicken greeted her at the neighborhood entrance. Some of its feathers stuck out at an odd angle as it scavenged through the pine straw. It looked thin. Rhea rummaged through her glove department but found nothing to give it. It waited, cocking its head and studying her with one yellow eye as she drove past.  

Maggie was on the phone when Rhea walked inside the house. She looked up and placed her hand over the phone receiver. “Did you get the flowers I sent?” she mouthed to Rhea, her lips stained a dark red.

Rhea nodded.

Maggie gave her a thumbs up then returned to the phone, pecking at her laptop. Katie cried through the monitor beside her.

“I’ll get her,” Rhea said, going up the steep stairs to the second floor.

Katie sat in her crib and squinted at her in the semi-darkness. The smell of urine drifted from her crib. “No, Rhea. Want Mommy.”

Rhea tried to pick her up from the crib, but she flattened herself against the bottom of it, making her body a dead weight Rhea struggled to lift. Katie screamed as she put her on the changing table and unzipped her pajamas. Rhea said nothing, just changed her, stoic and silent and as if she was dissecting a cadaver. Katie calmed down half-way through, hiccupping and sucking her thumb.

Rhea sat Katie up and took a deep breath. “Let’s go eat breakfast. Okay, sweetie?” She knew Maggie could hear her through the monitor.

Katie looked up at her from underneath a curly mop of blonde hair, then pulled Rhea’s shirt up with one hand and put her tiny finger in Rhea’s belly button with the other.

“Baby?” Katie asked, her eyes wide and blinking.

Rhea pulled down her shirt and shook her head slowly. “No, no more baby. Baby all gone.” A single rivulet slipped down her face and splattered on Katie’s arm.

Katie touched the wet spot with her finger and looked at it. She scrunched her tiny face into a frown. “Boo-boo Rhea?”

Rhea picked her up and put her back into her crib. “I have to go potty, Katie. I’ll be right back.” Rhea locked herself in the bathroom and rocked herself on the toilet as blood trickled out of her into it.

Katie yelled, “Out, Rhea. Out!”

If Maggie heard, she never came up, retreating somewhere deep inside the massive house.

When Rhea came downstairs, she saw a note on top of a box of baby clothes. Can you return these for me? I bought them for my friend’s baby shower, but I think I’m going to get her a stroller instead.

Rhea trudged up the hill to the bus stop, ignoring Hunter and Katie fighting over a toy. She had been almost fifteen weeks along—in the safe zone. When she found blood spotting her underwear, she had called her doctor. He reassured her it was probably just from intercourse. He advised her to rest and not lift anything over twenty-five pounds but Maggie wanted her to come in to work, because her designer was coming over to show her some new ideas for one of the three gigantic guest rooms. So, Rhea went in. She didn’t bother telling Maggie what happened or ask her to bring down the heavy loads of laundry from upstairs. Maggie was too busy poring over paint colors and fingering swatches of rich fabric.

When Rhea reached the top of the hill to wait for the bus, she stood there, a pad thick and bulky between her legs. She dripped as she waited, listening to Diane gossiping to the others. Diane was the fat one of the group, thick and round like a hen. She stood in the middle of the circle, talking about a mother missing from the bus stop that morning. A wattle of skin jiggled under her neck as she whispered in a loud voice. She had a big bruise on her arm, and when I asked her about it, she said she didn’t want to talk about it. The women clucked their tongues in disapproval.

When the clots came like dark pieces of liver, Rhea had called the doctor again. Her husband drove her to the office, his face white and drawn as he gripped the steering wheel. Rhea wailed against the car door, clutching her stomach. Her breath fogged the window around her head, leaving a disembodied silhouette when they pulled into the empty parking lot. Her doctor unlocked the office and ushered them into the examining room. He put Rhea’s legs up into stirrups and inserted the thin cold wand of the ultrasound. Her husband walked behind him and watched the screen, looking for the tiny flutter of the heart beat. Rhea watched his eyes as she lay there with her legs spread. He searched the screen then settled on something, and she knew. The doctor gave her a sympathetic grimace. I’m sorry. I think we’ve got a miscarriage here. He told her some women choose to pass it at home, but she could go to Mercy Hospital for a D&C. Rhea asked if she would be drugged for it and he said yes. She nodded to her husband. She wanted to feel nothing.

Mercy Hospital was on Rhea’s side of town. It was an old brick building, crumbling around the edges, who’s waiting room was always crammed with families speaking a dozen different languages.

They waited fifteen minutes for the woman at the front desk to finish her phone conversation and admit them. Giant cramps gripped Rhea’s abdomen like a fist as she paced and listened to the woman complaining about her boyfriend into the phone. Rhea’s husband gripped the counter and stared at the woman, but she ignored him and took her time winding down the conversation before finally hanging up. She admitted them and directed them to the wrong floor. As they entered an unmarked office to ask directions, Rhea’s water broke. She bent over and held her knees together as it rushed out of her and splashed onto the floor. Red strands floated in yellow liquid around her feet. Two women in scrubs behind the counter ran over with a wheelchair and rushed her upstairs. Doctors and nurses turned in the hallways as the women wheeled her by, trying to locate the source of the inhuman sounds before turning back to their conversations. Rhea tried to lean over the side of her wheelchair so that she wouldn’t put any weight on the tiny mass between her legs in her underwear. She felt something—the flutter of a butterfly wing.

She waited four hours before getting the D&C. They pumped her full of Stadol and she floated in and out of dreams where she walked through a park following the sound of crying. An old woman sat on a bench feeding birds. Didn’t she hear it? The woman just shrugged and threw bread to a group of blackbirds who shrieked and stabbed at one another with their sharp beaks. Rhea woke to see her husband sitting by her bedside. The small mass was still between her legs. Rhea told the nurses something was down there, but they said they couldn’t clean her up until she stopped bleeding. She tried to tell them something was there, the flutter of a tiny wing, but they just shushed her and dripped more drugs into her IV.

Finally, before they wheeled her into the operating room, they cleaned her up.

“We have remains here, the nurse said.

“What? What are you talking about?” asked the other one, peering between Rhea’s legs.

“We have some fetal remains here,” said the first one pointedly, holding up something between her gloved fingers. Rhea squeezed her eyes shut and mumbled. They had to save it. The doctor wanted to run tests. The nurse put it in a plastic container marked “biohazard” and left it on the side table next to Rhea.

“Don’t,” Rhea’s husband said, following her eyes. “It’s not something you want stuck in your mind for the rest of your life.”

Rhea turned away and looked out the window. She stared at the wall of the brick building facing her until she drifted back to sleep. She remembered nothing else until after the procedure was over—her uterus scraped clean like a dirty plate.

Rhea placed her hands over her still swollen abdomen as she waited for the bus. She pressed her fingers into it, almost expecting to feel something there. Hunter ran wild in the neighbor’s yard. Katie screamed from her stroller to get out.

“Hi, I’m Robin.” A woman Rhea didn’t recognize stretched out her hand to her. Her fingers were long and bony, trapping Rhea’s fleshy hand in them like a rabbit. The other mothers paused and turned sideways, listening to their conversation.

“And what’s your name, you precious little princess?” Robin asked Katie, who frowned at her.

“That’s Katie.” Rhea said, staring at the woman’s legs. They were so thin, Rhea imagined she could make out her joints under the thick fabric of her sweat pants.

“She’s so cute!” Robin said, smiling at Katie.

Katie scowled and slapped at her leg.  “Out! Out!

Which one is yours?” Robin asked, looking at the brood of children swarming through the yards.

“Hunter,” Rhea said, pointing to him as he wrestled another boy to the sidewalk and sat on him. She felt the other mothers’ eyes on her.

“Oh, wow. You must have your hands full.”

“You could say that,” Rhea said, looking at the rings crusting Robin’s fingers and her long painted nails.

She pointed with one of them at a fat little girl with pigtails who had small piggy eyes and an upturned nose. “That’s mine over there—Gracie. She’s five. We just moved in down the street.”

“Adorable,” Rhea said, watching Gracie dig inside her nose, pull something out then eat it.

Robin shook her head, embarrassed. “Well, she’s my little project. You can’t have everything!” She smiled and shrugged her bony shoulders like wings. “I’m working on another though. Hopefully, this one won’t be as challenging.” She rubbed her stomach, a small bump Rhea hadn’t noticed before.

“Congratulations,” Rhea said dully.

“Thanks. Are you going to have anymore?” Robin asked, her eyes blinking wide with mascara. Rhea saw Diane watching her out of the corner of her eye, cocking her her head, listening.

This was usually the part in the conversation where Rhea stopped pretending and admitted they weren’t hers—that she was just the nanny. But the words lodged deep in her throat. She stared silent at the ground. Robin shifted her stick legs, waiting.

Diane walked up and touched Robin’s arm. “I’m Diane,” she said. “This is Maggie Wallace’s nanny—Rhea.”

Rhea’s face burned.

“Oh,” Robin said awkwardly.

Diane tucked Robin’s arm under her fat one. “Let me introduce you to the other mothers.”

“Okay,” Robin said, looking helplessly at Rhea.

Rhea stared after them as they absorbed Robin into their circle.

Diane’s whispers floated over in snatches. Rude to our kids. Doesn’t have her own, so she doesn’t understand. Gives Maggie an awful hard time. Miscarriage.

Robin glanced over at Rhea, her face growing more pointed as she listened to Diane. The others bobbed in agreement.

Rhea bent down in front of Katie’s stroller. She untied then tied Katie’s shoes.

Katie frowned and touched the wetness on Rhea’s face. “Boo-boo, Rhea?”

Rhea stood up and jerked the stroller around and headed back to the house.

Hunter yelled after her, “Where are you going Miss Rhea? The bus isn’t here yet.”

Diane called to him, “Come over here with us, son.”

Maggie was on the phone in her office. Rhea tore a piece of paper off a notepad and scribbled on it: I’m going home. She deposited Katie in Maggie’s lap, handed her the note then walked out the door. Maggie ran out after her, but Rhea was already in the car. As Rhea backed out of the driveway, Maggie followed with her mouth hanging open and her arms flapping up and down. Katie tottered after her crying. Rhea drove past the bus stop. The women surrounded Hunter and watched her as she drove by, swiveling their heads on their necks like owls then snapping them back to Maggie, who was still yelling from the driveway—Katie, a tiny dot by her side in Rhea’s rearview.

Rhea drove to the entrance of the subdivision, her breath tight in her chest. She paused at the stop sign where the access road met the highway. It wasn’t too late. She could still go back. Her cell phone rang deep in her purse. Something moved in her peripheral vision and she turned to look. A large hawk stood at the base of the Kensington Park sign, ripping long pink shreds out of something clutched between its talons. It looked at her and cocked its head, examining her like an insect—one yellow eye at a time. There were dark feathers strewn around the carcass—a black stain on the ground. Rhea stared at it until a car beeped at her from behind. An angry looking woman with big black sunglasses motioned in her rearview for her to go. Rhea looked one more time at the hawk—its beak sharp and bloody—then pulled out onto the highway and went home.


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“Leo’s Bomb” by Sheldon Costa

In my quest to read a quality short story every day, I came across “Leo’s Bomb,” by Sheldon Costa in the Georgia Review. You can read it here. It is a story about an introverted artist that makes his living off of doing portraits for tourists in the street. While he is trying to capture the essence of a pet chihuahua a customer is holding on her lap, a bomb goes off. The rest of the story is the artist trying to deal with the aftermath by not dealing with it all.

I enjoy writing that makes reading effortless. When I have to re-read the same page three times because my mind keeps wandering off, reading becomes a chore. Many of the Pushcart Prize short stories I’ve read lately are tedious reads like that, but I push on to the end because they are supposed to be worth it, like getting in those 5 servings of vegetables everyday. Sometimes they are, but more often they aren’t worth the struggle.

“Leo’s Bomb” is an effortless read. When I first came across it, I thought, “oh great” another story about a terrorist attack, but Costa gives it a fresh angle. It instantly pulls you in and doesn’t let go until the end. It is a poignant existential look at the human condition and the need for connection. Costa writes his characters beautifully without pretention. Even the peripheral characters fill up the page, although they are given only a few paragraphs. The themes rise naturally yet still surprise with clarity. The ending resonates and satisfies. One of my favorites so far. I hope you will give it a read. Here is one of my favorite parts. 

Leo has always enjoyed sketching strangers. Back in art school, when his peers were experimenting with materials—compiling abstract pieces out of their childhood toys or building environmental screeds from plastic bottlecaps dragged out of birds’ intestines—he had spent hours drawing nothing but portraits. It was an excuse to stare at people for as long as he liked, to occupy space with another person without the exhausting responsibility of carrying on a conversation.

When he arced his pencil over paper, capturing the swoop and curve of a stranger’s jawbones in as few lines as possible, it felt less like drawing and more like sculpting. Less about adding things and more about taking them away—removing the impediments that stood between him and the person’s real face. Looking past the sagging jowls, the eyes pickled by sleepless nights and caffeine, the teeth yellowed by refined sugars, down to whatever was hiding behind the face. He liked to imagine that each person he drew had an essential self that only he could see, a shimmering and delicate thing curled up within.

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The Secret Life of Pearls


It sits inside the soft dipped U of her throat:

“something white” pried loose from the mouth

of the Australian South Sea and

hung on a gold chain.


The alarm of clinking glasses

forces another kiss.

My mother whispers from behind her place card.

Can you imagine how much all this cost?

I drink my champagne

and  imagine the hidden tree fort,

a game for only a girl and a boy,

that He,

(and later she)

insisted all children play.


My mother leads a conga line

of  sisters, uncles, nephews and nieces.

She finds Him at the end

closes the circle,

clasps hands to hips.


I imagine it expelled onto the white tablecloth,

amongst the origami napkins, the sugared almonds.

I imagine it glistening on the fine bone china,

The thirteen years of nacre.

I imagine the cost.



























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Writing Outside Your Comfort Zone


Today, I read a short story that made me utter, “Damn that was good” at the end. I love finding strong voices that are completely unlike my own style in a setting I know nothing about. 

Eli Cranor’s, “Don’t Know Tough” the 2018 Miller Audio Prize Runner-up for The Missouri Review and won The Robert Watson Literary Prize in The Greensboro Review. 



Cranor was a football coach for a small highschool in the Ozarks. He writes:

During that time, I came face to face with the desperate lives of some of my most at-risk players. These are the boys I picked up before school, took home after practice, bearing witness to the scars and the pain they fought so hard to hide.

He drew on those experiences in writing “Don’t Know Tough” and the result is a story of a kid so real you want to go out and find him, talk to him, tell him things won’t always be this way.

The audio of Cranor reading “Don’t Know Tough” brings new layers and angles to a story that is already rich and well rounded. Cranor uses dialect perfectly to immerse you completely into Billy’s world, which is as violent and unpredictable as it is heartbreaking.

Still feel the burn on my neck. Told Coach it was a ringworm this morning when he pick me up, but it ain’t. It a cigarette, or at least what a lit cigarette do when it stuck in your neck. Just stared at Him when He did it. No way I was gonna let Him see me hurt, no way. Bit a hole through the side of my cheek, swallowed blood, and just stared at Him. Tasted blood all day.

Tasted it while I sat in Ms. Miller’s class, woke up in algebra tasting it. Drank milk from a cardboard box at lunch and still, I tasted it. But now it eighth period football. Coach already got the boys lined up on either side of the fifty, a crease in between, a small space for running and tackling, for pain.

Which brings me to my comfort zone. I don’t normally use dialect in writing. If I do it is with a light brush because I find it distracts from the story, yet Cranor is able to use dialect to bring the story to life and saturate it with color.

The main character in the story, Billy, refers to his mother’s boyfriend as “Him.” The reader never even is told his real name, a very effective tool to show the reader how Billy feels about “Him” without having to say anything else.

Now for the comfort zone part. A good exercise for writing is to take a story in a style completely unfamiliar and write your own version of it with your own characters and plot. Pay attention to sentence structure, patterns and tone. A good exercise using “Don’t Know Tough” would be to write a scene using dialect in the first person point of view, focusing on using it to bring the scene to life, to immerse the reader into the character’s world instead of distracting from the story, which is often a problem for many writers with dialect. Forcing yourself to pay attention to elements and style you are unfamiliar with is like working out muscles you normally don’t use. You’ll be sore after but stronger the next time you put pen to page. It’s all about adding tools to the arsenal. 




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