Tuesday, September 5, 2017

1st Place Winner at White County Creative Writers Conference

That's Life Award


Love from One Perspective

“Rachel, come on. I’m not cleaning this attic by myself. Gran left a lot of stuff up here. Bring the trash bags.”

     “Good grief, Bev. You’d just throw away everything. We need to go through this stuff.”

     “Why?” Bev rolled her eyes. “It’s just old junk that Gran stuck up here fifty years ago.”

     Rachel sighed. “You have no sense of history. Look at this old trunk. I wonder what’s in here.” The lid creaked as she opened it.

     “Wow!” Bev exclaimed sarcastically. “A trunk full of crap. Shocking.” As the sass dripped from her lips, Bev dropped to her knees and reached for a small book with a faded leather cover. Flipping through the pages she commented, “I think this is Gran’s diary.”

     Rachel smiled at her sister’s sudden interest. “What does it say? And before you get cranky again, think about Gran. She loved sharing family history.”

     “You should know. All that old stuff is your thing.” Bev passed the book to her sister.

     “Like I said, you have no sense of history.” Rachel opened the diary and flipped through the pages. “Look here.” She began reading.

“January 21st.  Dear Diary. Today I met the most interesting young man at the church social. We talked for hours. He is so smart. He is planning to attend college next fall. He even introduced himself to Daddy and asked if he could come calling. His name is James.

Bev perked up. “Hey that’s Poppa.” She no longer tried to hide her interest. “What else does it say?”

Rachel scanned through several pages. ”Accounts of their dates.”

February 10th. Dear Diary. James and I went to the rodeo with Cora and Luke. It was fun. When it got chilly, James gave me his jacket. He’s a real gentleman.”

 “That must be Great Aunt Cora.” Rachel flipped more pages. “They held hands at a church service. He came to a family dinner. She went shopping with his sister…blah, blah.”

“Blah, blah? I thought family history was important. Aren’t you always telling me that?” Bev scolded. “Now read on. And wipe that smirk off your face. You got me. I’m interested.”

Rachel grinned widely.

“March 16th. James and I went for ice cream this afternoon. We sat in the porch swing until after dark. When he got up to leave, he kissed me. Right on the lips. It was nice but I wasn’t ready. I can do better next time. I am looking forward to kissing James again.”  

She laughed out loud. “Go Poppa! Stealing that first kiss. Don’t you just love it?”

Bev shook her head. “That’s sweet and all but it took him two months to kiss her!”

Rachel rolled her eyes and continued reading.

March 18yh. After church today, James had lunch with us. He and Daddy went down to the barn and talked for a long while. Cora teased me that he might be asking Daddy if he could marry me. Turns out that ain’t it at all. James wants to join the Army. He will be gone at least two years. How can he do this to me? I was so mad I told him to just go. Then I cried half the night.

March 19th. I’m so mad at James. Does he think I’ll just wait for him to come home? What about college? Does he think I’ll just pine away for him while he goes off and gets himself killed? Well I won’t. There are plenty of fish in the sea.

March 20th. What will I do if James doesn’t make it home? My heart is breaking. I think I may even love him. What shall I do?

March 23rd. I saw James in town today. He said he leaves for basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia next month. After training, he’ll get one chance to visit home before he ships out over seas. I tried to wish him well but found myself scolding him for joining up. He said I didn’t understand. We had a big argument. I never want to see him again. He can do as he pleases.

April 9th. Today James left for Basic Training. I wasn’t going to go but found myself down by the bus station as the boys were loading up for Georgia. I saw James. He looked so handsome. I waved. He ran off the bus, took me in his arms and kissed me. This time I was ready. I kissed him back. We kissed until the bus driver honked for James to board. All the fellows on the bus applauded. I will love him forever.

Rachel wiped away a tear. “That’ so sweet.”

Bev snorted. “If you ask me, Gran was a flake. She couldn’t make up her mind.” She placed the diary into the trunk.

2nd Place Winner at White County Writer's Conference

The Rest is History Award (A little rewrite on a historical event)


The Interview

     “May I get you anything else before we get started?” The pretty blonde producer hovered around her guest as he waited for the interview to begin.

     “I’m fine. Thanks darlin’,” he drawled.

     “I see they have your microphone all set up. Would you like some more water? Anything? Anything at all, just ask.” 

     He shot her a crooked grin. She blushed and scurried off.

     The interviewer adjusted his tie and took a seat across from his illustrious guest. They shook hands. He took one last look at his notes as the director counted him down. Looking directly into the camera he smiled widely. “And we are back.  In today’s movers and shakers segment we are honored to have someone who’s impacted music, film, and even world politics over the last forty years. This guest is here to tell us about his new book that chronicles his career and delves into the darkness that almost ended his life.  Join me in welcoming the King!”

     The elderly guest looked slightly embarrassed when the studio erupted in cheers and applause. “Thank you. Thank you very much,” he said. The result was a roar of adulation.

     “Well let’s get to it shall we?” the interviewer continued. “Everyone in the world knows your music. You catapulted rock and roll into the stratosphere in the 50’s and 60’s. In the 80’s your new music inspired a new generation. Your influence can be heard in hip hop, rap, country, of course rock and roll and pretty much every other genre of music since. Your humanitarian efforts spawned a movement that has impacted the globe. The hunger relief organization, PB&B, funds nutritious school lunches for millions of American children and sends food to 34 countries. And if that’s not enough, and it really should be…your support of the arts in schools has insured that music, dance, film, and drama will continue to be offered in every American high school in the country.”

     “The arts are important and I…I can’t imagine why anyone in this world should have to go hungry. There’s plenty of food. We just have to get it to folks.” The King absently ran his hand through his silver hair. “That’s why I started PB&B (peanut butter and banana, for my favorite snack) so nobody goes hungry.”

     The interviewer stole a glance at his notes. “The whole world feels like they know you from your music and movies but this book (I couldn’t put it down once I started reading it.) covers what you call the dark decade, the 70’s. What can you tell us about those times?”

     “Well, sir. It…it’s like this. I had some successes in the 70’s but for the most part my career was in decline. I was touring the country a lot but my music was getting stale. I surrounded myself with folks who never told me no. My marriage ended in 73. I was in a sorry state. By 1977 my health was real bad. I had an enlarged heart, high blood pressure, chronic migraines, and severe back pain. I stayed hopped up on prescription meds. I was so overweight, I could barely make it through a show.”

     “On August 16, 1977 I had a massive heart attack. It should ‘a killed me. I was technically dead for a couple of minutes. When I woke up in the hospital, I knew somethin’ had to change.”

     “That is when you decided to check into rehab?”

     “Not immediately. I was always so opposed to recreational drug use, it was hard for me to understand that I was an addict. It took a brave and very straightforward young doctor, actually he was an intern at the time, to tell me I was addicted to drugs. I was so used to being the one that everyone depended on, it was really hard for me to ask for help. It was hard to admit that I needed help. In the week I spent at the hospital recovering, I began to understand.”

     “On August 28th, I checked in to Hazelden in St. Paul.”

     “That’s the Hazelden Clinic, which later became the Betty Ford Clinic,” the interviewer interjected.

     “Yes. That’s right. I learned real quick that I needed to change pretty much everything about my life. I had to learn to eat right and exercise. Most importantly, I had to learn to manage my health concerns without overmedicating. It was not an easy road. It took two years. I lost 65 pounds, which helped my overall health a lot. I took up yoga, which is a lot like martial arts but calmer. I needed calm in my life. I began to surround myself with positive people who cared enough to tell me the truth.”

     “What truths did that entail?”

     “The truth about everything. My wardrobe was dated. The jumpsuits had to go. My music was stale. I needed new writers. I even started writing some original songs for myself. Facing my issues with substance abuse, I learned a lot.” The King shifted in his seat to look directly at the camera. “There is an epidemic in this country. Prescription drug abuse is out of control. That’s why all the profits from this book, LONG LIVED THE KING; HOW DYING SAVED MY LIFE, are going to the Hazelden Foundation. This organization funds rehab centers across the country.”

    The interviewer nodded and gestured to the large screen behind them. Images of smiling people and a manicured campus scrolled by. “A worthy cause indeed. Let me remind our viewers. The medical facilities and free clinics funded by the Hazelden Foundation have changed the face of healthcare in the United States.” More images of small town clinics and more smiling patients. “In 1985 the first clinic in Memphis opened to service the people who couldn’t afford quality healthcare. Since then, over 1200 medical facilities in towns all over the country have joined to insure that no one goes without medical care.”

     “That’s right.”

     “Now before we must go, I have to ask you one more question. Did you really have a hand in designing the flying car?”

     The King laughed. “No. Elon started that rumor. That kid.” He shook his head. “He was meeting with his engineering team to work on their hover car concepts. Someone turned on my music. Elon said they were inspired. The rest is history. Now just about everyone has one of his solar powered or electric hover cars.”

     “I’m getting the nod from our director so I guess we’ll have to wrap this up. I just want to say thank you for all that you’ve done.”

     “Yes sir. Thank you, sir. But I…I haven’t really done all that much. I’m just a singer.”

     “Oh, no sir. You are so much more than just a singer. You are an innovator, philanthropist, and an inspiration to us all. At 82 you are still making a difference in the world. I’d hate to think what a sorry state this world would be in if you hadn’t survived back in 1977. The King, ladies and gentlemen. His new book LONG LIVED THE KING; HOW DYING SAVED MY LIFE is in bookstores now.”

     The old man stood and bowed to thunderous applause. “Thank you. Thank you very much.”

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Winner; White County Creative Writer's Conference

I attended the conference for the first time this year. It was a lot of fun. I entered three pieces in the contests and was fortunate to take home a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winner. Congratulations to all the attendees and winners.

This is my 3rd place Winner, The Gary R. Hoffman Award. It's a bit of an inside joke around here. There is a writer based in Florida who regularly enters and wins many of the contests from our groups here in Arkansas. We haven't met him. No one knows him. He's become something of a legend. With his permission, this contest was to construct a fictional biography of him. He did the judging.

The Good Life in Obscurity

     Now in my 80th year I find a need to pen my memoir. Contemporary memoirs seem to be written by increasingly younger figures. I always thought it rather presumptuous to write about your life before you’ve lived. Life is for the living of it. Old age is the time for reflection and hopefully only little regret. I have lived a good life. Oddly enough, living it in obscurity has been my greatest achievement.

     I was born Donald Raymond Flowers in July of 1937. The family farm wasn’t much. We survived on fish and game from the area as much as what the farm provided. Life was tough but Big Sky country is beautiful. As a lad I didn’t appreciate it as I do now. All I wanted was to flee as far as I could get from the Milk River and the rural life that threatened to suffocate me. The military was my salvation.

     I joined the Army in 1954. The Service taught me discipline, confidence and self-reliance among other skills.  I also learned that the military life was not for me. I fulfilled my two year commitment and was discharged in 1957. Looking back with the eyes of history and experience I see that I dodged two wars, enlisting at the end of the Korean conflict and getting discharged just as the Vietnam War was getting started.

     I took my last paycheck from Uncle Sam and bought a nice suit. In the military, I found that most people were kind and respectful of the uniform. It became evident that a fine suit garnered respect, as well. While searching for work, I discovered (quite by chance) that people will assume a lot if you let them. I showed up in my new suit, resume in hand, to interview for a job. I signed in at the desk like everyone else and settled down with a magazine to wait my turn. It pleased me to note that I was the best dressed in the office. There were a good many young men waiting when I arrived so I figured it would be a while.

     The receptionist at the desk scanned the sign in sheet and motioned me over. “I’m sorry to make you wait Dr. Flowers. You may go on in. Mr. Davenport’s office is on the left.”  Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth as it were, I strolled right on down to Mr. Davenport’s office.

     Understand, I had no intention of deceiving good Mr. Davenport. I thought we’d have a chuckle at the fact the receptionist thought D. R. Flowers was the physician he’d been expecting. But it was so easy. He shook my hand and launched into a harried diatribe about his ulcer. I noted the bags under his eyes and the empty coffee mugs on his desk while he spoke. When he finally took a breath I did my best to sound like I knew what I was talking about.

     “Mr. Davenport, I know I’m not your regular doctor but I’m sure he’s told you that too much coffee is not good for your ulcer.” He tried to speak but I was having so much fun I cut him off with a serious look. “You aren’t getting enough sleep. More coffee is not the answer.” I shot him a knowing glare. “And you’d do well to ease back on the bourbon.” The last gibe was a guess but he looked the type.

     He sat down hard. “I know. I know. Old Doc Simpson said the same thing. I was just hoping that you might have something that would get me through the day.” For the first time since I had strolled into his office, Mr. Davenport looked me over. “You sure are young for a doctor.”

     I was certain that I was caught. I eased myself toward the door. “You know, I get that all the time. I take after my mother. She always looked young.  There’s nothing more for me to do here so I’ll be going. Remember, you have to actually follow the doctor’s orders. Have yourself a glass of buttermilk and you’ll feel better for a while. Cut back on the coffee and bourbon and drink some water.” I kept talking as I slid out the door.

     Making my way to the exit, I tried not to run. Just as I reached for the door, Mr. Davenport burst from his office.  “Wait right there, doc!” he shouted. 

     My feet wanted to run, but I turned and smiled instead. I thought I might just talk my way out of it. “Now Mr. Davenport…” I began.

     “Oh, I know what you’re going to say.” He cornered me at the door. “You didn’t do anything but tell me to do what old Doc Simpson said, but you came down here. It’s worth it to me for the second opinion. Thanks.” He pumped my hand in a hearty handshake and deposited a crisp twenty in my palm. I walked out of there with a new career having just completed my first grift.

     I charmed and sweet talked my way through the next few decades. I enjoyed being someone else. Crisscrossing the country several times with a different identity every few months, I got bold seeking the big score. I was nearly caught impersonating a bank examiner in Idaho. I did make some cash selling knock off art in California.  In 1971 I hatched a reckless plan that involved an airliner and a parachute. It nearly got me killed. It did put an end to my career in the Pacific Northwest. I headed south. I grew a beard and sought mundane employment.

     In Missouri, I sold cars. I was well suited for the job. However, I found it unsatisfying. I moved on to Florida. I always enjoyed the beach. With the Eighties came the computer age and it was time for me to pick an identity. It was becoming more and more difficult to falsify documents. No more Dr. Flowers, no more Dan Cooper, no more Fred Johnson; I became Gary R. Hoffman. I found I could make a decent living selling insurance. I also found a way to continue to be someone else.

     I became a writer. At first, it was just an outlet for my adventurous side. I wrote a short story for a local contest and I won. Even as my beard got gray and my waistband expanded, I found a way to continue my adventures. Nowadays I write what makes me happy.  Instead of traveling the country, I enter contests worldwide. I send my alter egos everywhere. I could have been famous. One of my identities was infamous. But my greatest grift has been enjoying the good life in obscurity.


Thursday, August 17, 2017

A Little Light

WINNER : 73rd Annual ARKANSAS WRITERS CONFERENCE (2nd Place for Lights Out)

Thump, thump, thump. Adina could hear the footsteps of her pursuer getting closer. She squeezed her little body into the dark space behind the water barrel. She held her breath and hoped the ogre would pass by. Adina had escaped her cage and managed to elude her captors, but the little fairy was far from free. While there were many places to hide on board, she was still a prisoner of the pirate ship.

     She could smell the ogre’s foul breath, as he stood over her. The lantern in his hand cast shadows on the walls of the hold. She exhaled. The ogre’s keen ears twitched. 

     “Pardon me. Could I trouble you for some water?” The prisoner in the cell at the back of the hold distracted the ogre. “Just a cup, if you wouldn’t mind. I’m parched.”

   The ogre lifted the lid from the barrel and scooped out a bucket of water. Adina watched as he stomped to the cell and threw the water into the prisoner’s face. The ogre chuckled cruelly and ambled out the door. Adina breathed sigh of relief.

     “You may come out. He’s gone for now.” The prisoner whispered. “You’ve led them on quite the jolly chase. Good for you.”

     Adina crept from behind the barrel. “Thanks for the distraction. I was sure he had me” she said, approaching the cell. “I’m Adina.”

     In the gloom, she could see the prisoner was a human. He dropped to one knee to be face to face with the tiny fairy.  “I’m Job.” He smiled. “Forgive me for asking, but why don’t you just fly away from this fetid vessel?”

     Adina hung her head. “I can’t.” She turned her shoulders to show Job her damaged wing. “I fought the brute that caught me and he crushed my wing when he shoved me into that stupid cage.”

     “Dear me. Is it painful?” Job showed concern.

     “Not anymore.” Adina fluttered her wings. “But I won’t be flying for some time.”

     “If you can’t fly, how did you manage to escape your cage?” Job sat down and leaned against the bars. “Can you use fairy magic to open locks?” He looked hopeful.

     Adina smiled. “There’s something on this ship that blocks fairy magic.”

     Job sighed loudly. “Not even your little light? I thought perhaps…wait. Then why are you smiling?”

     “Because I can do something most fairies can’t.” Adina looked smug. “I know how to pick a lock.”

     “Splendid.” Job brightened. “Could you?” He motioned to the door of his cell.

     “Of course.” Adina agreed. “But we should wait until tonight. Once it gets dark…” The look on Job’s face made her swallow the rest of her words.

     “No, no.” He cried out. “I cannot spend another night in the belly of this filthy tub. I must…please let me out now, before darkness falls.” Job’s pleasant features twisted in anguish.

     “All right. I’ll unlock the door. But before you try anything, you ought to wait until I can free some of the others. The two of us can’t possibly escape alone.” Adina fished around on the littered floor until she found a nail. “Now lift me up.”

     Job reached through the bars to lift Adina. “What others?” he asked while she poked and twisted the nail in the lock.

     Adina bit her lip in concentration. “There’s three more fairies. They’re in the captain’s quarters in cages. Almost got it. There’s also four cells in the upper hold, just above us.” She motioned toward the ceiling. “I saw a Minotaur and others in those cells when I ran through to get down here.”

     Adina heard the thump of heavy boots. She dropped the nail. “Put me down.” she whispered. Just as the door opened, Adina slipped through the bars of the cell and hid herself behind Job’s boots.

     Pale light brightened the front of the hold but did not reach the depths of the cell where Adina cowered behind Job’s feet. A thin, rat-faced human stuck his head through the portal. “Seen a fairy here about?” he asked, looking at Job.

     “A fairy, you say?” Job smirked. “Well of course. There’s one here in my cell.” Adina swallowed hard and pinched the back of Job’s leg.

     “Ha. Funny one, ain’t ya?” Rat face scoffed and slammed the door.

     “Ouch.” Job rubbed his leg. “That was unnecessary.”

     “Oh it was necessary.” Adina elbowed him in the knee. “What if he had looked?”

     “He wasn’t going to look. He couldn’t be bothered to step through the door.” Job flinched to avoid another tiny elbow. “Now about that lock?” He pleaded.

     In moments the cell door swung free. Job stepped out and stretched his tall frame. “I wish we had a lantern. I…uh… can’t see a thing.” He started for the door.

     “Wait.” Adina stopped him. “We need a plan. There may be half a dozen pirates in there. You don’t know.”

     “Okay.” Job agreed. “I have an idea.”

     “Good.” Adina stood next to the door expectantly. “What’s your plan?”

     Job opened the door just a crack, then shoved Adina through and slammed it loudly. Adina squeaked and flattened herself against the door. Looking up, she saw the surprised faces of two pirates.

     She smiled and shrugged her shoulders, hopping out of the way just as the first lunged for her.  His head hit the door with a thud. He hit the floor, dazed. Adina scurried across the room with the second pirate on her heels. She ran left, faked right, and ran straight through the bars of the second cell. In his haste to grab the fairy, the pirate ran into the cell bars and the outstretched hands of the Minotaur. The terror in his eyes lasted for only a moment as he was rendered unconscious when the beast slammed his head against the cell door.

     The Minotaur looked down at Adina and chuckled. “I can’t believe I’m being rescued by a fairy.”

     As the first pirate was getting to his feet, Job stepped from his hiding place and punched him in the jaw. The thug hit the floor, unconscious.

     Job was busy tying the hands and feet of the first pirate.  Adina kicked him in the shin. “That was your plan? Just throw the fairy out into a room full of pirates? Really?”

     “It wasn’t a room full. It was just two.” Job giggled, rubbing his leg.

     “You didn’t know that!” The furious fairy kicked again.

     “Hello. Excuse me.” A red faced dwarf with a red beard hissed. “Could you two stop arguing long enough to let us out?”

     “Of course.” Adina pulled a stool over to the bars of the cell, climbed up and proceeded to poke and twist the nail in the lock.

     “Ahem.” Job cleared his throat.

     “Not now.” Adina squinted and bit her lip. “Almost got it.”

     Job tapped her on the shoulder.

     “Not now!” She snapped and waved him off. Another tap on her shoulder brought Adina’s full fury. She spun around to give Job the scolding he deserved only to be met with his smug grin. While she toiled with picking the lock, he had retrieved the keys from one of the unconscious pirates and unlocked the other cells. Without another word, Adina hopped down from the stool to stand aside so that he might open the dwarf’s cell. 

     Once the pirates were bound, gagged and locked away, Job took stock of his companions. “We are one warrior, a Minotaur, a dwarf, a centaur, an elf and a fairy. Does anyone know how many pirates await us in the upper decks?”

     The elf spoke up. “There’s at least ten, maybe more.

     “Hey, remember there’s three more fairies locked in the captain’s cabin.” Adina commented.

     “We can rescue them after. Fairies won’t be much help taking the ship.” The dwarf grumbled as he rummaged through the cargo for weapons.

     “A fairy got YOU out.” Adina crossed her arms and sat down in a huff.

     The Minotaur chuckled. “She’s right.” He ignored the angry stares from Job and the dwarf. “Well, she is. She’s the one that escaped on her own.”

     Job helped the dwarf sort through the weapons he’d found. “We need a plan.”

     “A real plan.” Adina piped up.

     “First of all, introductions” he said, tossing a disdainful look in the fairy’s direction. “I’m Job.”

     “Call me Fred.” The Minotaur spoke up.

     “Fred? Really?” Adina was in a sour mood. “A Minotaur named Fred. Well, Fred I’m Adina.”

     “Frederick the Magnificent just sounds so ostentatious. I prefer Fred.” Fred picked up a huge hammer, swinging it a few times. “This will do me just fine.”

     The dwarf strapped two short swords to his back. “I be MacDunnah Shleghorn, but you may call me Red. This here is Novan, the centaur. He don’t talk much.”

     The group turned to the elf. “I usually call upon magic but I’m not unfamiliar with weapons such as these. I am Kevin.”

     Adina face palmed but kept her comments to herself. Her tiny face blushed bright pink with undelivered snarky comments.  

     “Okay.” Job said. “Now that we’re all properly armed, we need a plan.”

     “I’d feel better if we could use our magic.” Kevin whined. “There must be something on this ship that’s blocking all magic.”

     “They have a Quelling Sphere.” Novan spoke for the first time. He nodded to the elf, who raised his eyebrows in recognition.

     “Well, don’t just stand there nodding. Tell us. What is a Quelling spear?” Red was impatient.

     “A Quelling SPHERE is a powerful magical item that blocks all other magic in a given area. It should be a ball about this big.” Kevin spoke and held out his hands to the size of a large apple. “It will have swirling light inside. I expect it will be guarded.”

     “Whatever we’re going to do; we must do it soon. It’s getting late.” Job looked nervous.

     “We should wait till it’s good and dark and take them by surprise.” Red offered.

     Adina watched Job standing on the steps to the next deck. “Is he sick or is he going to cry?” She nudged Fred. She held her breath as he moved up the stairs. “He’s not…oh yes he is. Job, no.” She whispered as vehemently as possible.

     Job threw open the door and charged up the stairs to the next deck. The rest of the group brandished their weapons and followed. They found themselves in an empty corridor. There were two doors and a short staircase at the end. Portholes lined one wall, filtering in the waning light from outside. Job leaned against a porthole, basking in the natural light. He sighed deeply before speaking. “Those stairs lead to the deck.” He whispered.

     “That’s got to be the galley. I can smell it.” Fred offered.

     “And this is the captain’s cabin.” Adina put her tiny ear against the door. “I hear fairies. We have to let them out.”

    “We’ve no time. They’ll be safer out of the way. Leave them…for now.” Red pulled open the cabin door and pushed Adina through. “They’ll all be safer.”  The group nodded in agreement.

     Job stood on the steps to the deck with the others gathered around him. “The first thing we do is find the Quelling…thing. Whoever finds it, throw it overboard. That should free his elf magic and even the odds a bit. They may have us outnumbered but we have the element of surprise.”

     Suddenly, the galley door opened. The rat faced pirate strolled out closely followed by three others. Rat face looked up in utter surprise. Fred, being the closest, charged them. But the alarm had been raised. “I’ll handle these. Go, go.” He shouted heroically.

     Job dashed up the stairs and burst through the door to the deck. Red and Kevin cleared the door quickly but Novan had a problem with the stairs.    

     Fred charged the pirates, pushing them back into the galley. He grabbed a bench, stepped back out the door and blocked it. He dusted his hands and chuckled as they pounded on the door. “Ha.” Fred hurried for the deck. He had to push past Novan, who was still trying to manage the stairs.

     Topside there was chaos.  The setting sun cast a dim light over the deck. Red battled multiple pirates with a sword in each hand. Job stepped over the unconscious forms of several others in his pursuit of the captain.  Kevin ran back and forth across the deck screaming, with the ogre on his heels. 

     When the ogre spotted the Minotaur he ignored the elf and charged. Fred planted his feet to absorb the blow but it never came. Kevin scurried in front of the ogre, who tripped over the terrified elf. When the ogre landed hard, a shiny orb rolled from his pocket across the deck. All eyes followed the Quelling Sphere as it rolled port then starboard with the pitch of the ship. For a moment, no one breathed. Then everything happened at once.

     The sun sank below the horizon and cast the deck in darkness. Fred and the ogre dove for the sphere. Red knocked a pirate overboard. Job shrieked and fell over; and the shiny ball rolled right into Kevin’s hands as he lay weeping on the deck.

     “Heave it over!” Red shouted, knocking out another pirate.

     “Take it,” the captain roared from the upper deck.

     The ogre grabbed the sphere from Kevin, who promptly fainted. He raised the sphere above his head in triumph. 
     Just then, Novan burst from the stairwell and landed a mighty kick with both back legs to the ogre’s midsection. The brute flipped over the railing and sank under the inky waters. As the light of the sphere disappeared under the waves Kevin looked up, feeling his magic return. Fred lit a lantern.

     In the circle of light they saw the captain with his sword to Job’s throat. The captain gave an evil chuckle. “You’ve made a fine mess of my crew but I still have the upper hand.”

     “Shut up, stupid human.” Adina stood at the top of the stairs with three gleaming fairies hovering in the air behind her. “I’ve had it with you. All baddies, go to sleep.” The captain and remaining pirates hit the deck with a thud. “And you!” she yelled at Job. “I thought you were a warrior.”

     “Adina,” Job called meekly. “A little light please.”

     Adina rolled her eyes as she swirled her hand above her head. The rigging and masts came alive, bathing the whole ship in fairy light. “Now take me home,” she commanded.

     Red took the helm and turned the ship for Fairy Land. It lit the night with twinkling lights across the dark waters. As they journeyed home Adina could be heard for miles. “What kind of warrior is afraid of the dark? Honestly! A little help, girls. You know I can’t fly. See what you can do with this wing.”…

Thursday, June 8, 2017


I had the pleasure of meeting Tom Howard at the Arkansas Writer's Conference. He writes science fiction and fantasy. Tom has published over seventy short stories. 

1. What inspires you to write?
I can't not write. Even if I didn't sell a thing or no one ever saw what I wrote, I'd still have to write. I feel the need to put words to paper and become uncomfortable if I don't write for a day or two.

What inspired Sara’s Station?
I was signed up for my fifth NANO where I had to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. I always succeed, but I have a bad habit of spending the month before outlining the entire thing down to the paragraph level. When it comes to the actual writing, it’s pretty lackluster, in my opinion, because I can’t escape the outline.  For this particular NANO, I decided to become a pantser and not use an outline at all. Knowing I’d have trouble, I chose to emulate Andre Norton and use her YA novels as a model. Sara and her companions, Tig and Banglebus, pounded on the inside of my skull to get them out of one frying pan and into another.

2. How much time do you spend writing weekly?
I spend a couple hours a day. My schedule is fairly loose as a banking software consultant so whenever I finish my writing related emails in the morning and send out the
short stories that have been rejected the day before (I usually have twenty-five short
stories making the rounds of various anthologies and SF magazines) in the afternoon, I finish or polish whatever short story I have in the works.

How much time did you spend on Sara’s Station?
As I said, it was a NANO product; and I finished the 50,000 words in 30 days. However, before the publisher would accept it, I had to add an additional 10,000 words. A friend suggested I add another character to add that many pages, and the evil planetary administrator was born.

3. What projects are you working on right now?
For a workshop I’m attending in Oklahoma City the end of June, I had to write a 5,000 word story for them to critique. Having watched the entire season of Closer recently (and being heavily influenced by what I read and write), I decided to write a SF procedural.  Unfortunately, by the time I got to 5,000 words, they’d just discovered the body. So this one will be considerably longer. I submitted an old short story to the workshop and intend to complete the murder mystery. I am also putting together an anthology of my own SF work for a local publisher. It contains all the SF stories I’ve written in the last couple years that have been bought and published. I’m calling it Volume 1.

4.  What are you currently reading?
I am currently reading a really stereotypical sixties SF book called Mission to Universe by Gordon R. Dickson. I am reviewing it for a book blog called Cannonball Read. I review a book a week for them. I’ve just finished beta reading Crimson Son 2 for my friend, Russ Linton.

5. What is your writing process?
I have an office but I rarely write there, finding it easier to compartmentalize my life and keep business and pleasure separate. Instead, I have a 14-foot table in my living room where I tend to do all my projects, including writing. The table is a result of me hosting the Central Arkansas Speculative Writing Group, a critiquing group of local writers, for the last seven years. I tend to fabricate the stories in my head before I put them to paper, and as a SF and fantasy short story writer, that seems to work. I only write on my Macbook, but I had to install MacWord. I write until I reach a good stopping place, usually an hour or two. I’ve also got several stories in the rewriting process at any time. Rarely, a story will sweep me up and keep me at the keyboard until it’s finished. I don’t write flash. My stories tend to average 5,000 words, and those seem to sell best. I don’t know how we survived before Duotrope started matching up anthologies with writers.

6. What do you do when you are stuck or blocked?
I’ve heard about this strange thing called writers block but haven’t experienced it yet.

(I think you just confirmed that you are an alien.)

I have writers flood. Usually I have more ideas than I have time for. I think it’s because I write what I read or see. If I’ve just finished reading a short story collection about animals in space, I usually write my own story on the same theme.  If I have trouble within a story, my crit group is happy to tell me where I’ve gone off the tracks. One of my most popular stories was nicely vivisected by a beta reader who said “you have a really good story until this point when it turns to crap.” They were exactly right and when I removed the crap, it was a great story and sold immediately.

7. What were your influences growing up?
Wow, I had so many. I remember reading all fourteen Oz books when I was ten. We had a great Carnegie library in my little hometown of South Bend, Washington, and I spent most summers locked away in the juvenile section. My “gateway” book into fantasy and science fiction was Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. In school, we had a great SF selection, and I read Asimov, Heinlein, Norton, and anyone else I could get my hands on.

8. When did you know you were a writer?
Probably the fifth grade. I had talked a few friends into collaborating on a serialized story of movie monsters as super-heroes. I did a lot of writing for my bachelors and masters degrees after joining the military, but I did some fun writing as a Star Trek fanzine writer. I specialized in Lieutenant Uhura stories. Looking back on the bad grammar, foggy POV, and unoriginal stores, I cringe. When I helped form a writers’ group and sold my first story in 2010, I knew I was a writer. Funny how having a paycheck makes it all legitimate.

9. What advice would you give other writers?
Persevere, persevere, persevere. Write something and have others read it. Go to every workshop you possibly can and learn everything. I recently attended an online seminar by a life coach sponsored by an online crit group I’m a member of (plug for Inked Voices). Study other writers and what they have to say. Learn to take criticism but don’t believe everything you hear (especially from writers who are also beginning). Use the constructive criticism you receive and make your story better and better. Hang onto your individual style. Avoid offers too easily obtained (SFWA, Science Fiction Writers of America, posts a Beware of Publisher page that you don’t have to be a member to access). Use Duotrope if you’ve got some funds available, Submission Grinder if you don’t. Learn grammar rules and use them. I heard an interview with a professional violinist recently who said he gets all the technical parts of a piece down before adding the personality and passion. I think all artists should do the same, including writers.

10. What should readers know about you? 
I’m an average guy with an average background. If I can write and sell stories, anyone can. I’ve sold almost seventy-five stories in the last seven years (sold, not merely published). I find short stories much easier to write and sell than novels, but I have tried my hand at a couple (I wrote a 100,000 word novel for last NANO). I think I’ve written three or four novels, and I have nothing but respect and admiration for people who can keep all those subplots and characters juggled satisfactorily.  I use a great deal of my own life in my stories. Write about what you know, right?  Several people have commented on how my characters seem to come to life in a very short span of pages. Mostly it’s because I use real people so it’s easy to give them a full-blown personality. I’ve written several stories about my rustic upbringing in the Pacific Northwest.

Check out Tom's other work available on Amazon with this link. 
Tom Howard

  • REVIEW: SARA'S STATION by Tom Howard

    I bought this book at the Arkansas Writer's Conference from author, Tom Howard. SARA'S STATION is a classic scenario with twists and turns that kept me turning the pages.

         Sara is independent and more than capable, working to pay space port fees while her father recovers from an illness at the hospital. As Free Spacers, they carry goods from other planets to places like Sargon in their aging transport, the Provider.

         She never intended to get drawn into local politics but she also couldn't sit idle and watch an assassination. Saving Lordling Tig pulls the teen mechanic and Acting Captain into a drama that involves ancient technology with an attitude, a telepathic monkey, a jealous girlfriend, royal intrigue, a reptilian policeman, ancient ruins, and several white poofy dresses. Her accidental involvement might just save the planet...or destroy it.

         SARA'S STATION is a fun, easy read that left me wanting more from these well developed characters.

    Available in paperback and on Kindle at Amazon.com

    Tuesday, June 6, 2017

    Review: The Case of the Invisible Souls by R. Weir

    Author R. Weir shines a light on social injustice and the plight of the homeless in this latest Jarvis Mann detective story.

         When a homeless veteran asks our erstwhile P.I. for help, he must confront his own preconceptions and notions about the invisible souls living in the city around him.

    Once on the case, Jarvis learns a bit about life on the streets and the fear and depravation of that life. The rich and powerful seek to sweep the helpless aside for their own gain. It isn't a difficult case. The hard part is getting people to care. 

         In past cases, we've seen P.I. Jarvis Mann's cunning as an investigator, his failure as a boyfriend, and his badass moves as a fighter and protector. In this case, it is his loyalty and heart that take center stage. 

    The Case of the Invisible Souls is slated for release June 24 on Amazon. Enjoy More from the Jarvis Mann Detective Series: 
    Tracking a Shadow http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00MQHVKJA
    Blood Brothers - http://www.amazon.com/dp/B019S6AQXW
    Dead Man Code http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01LY8JZND